Proxies: Twenty-Four Attempts Towards a Memoir by Brian Blanchfield review – 21st-century Montaigne

From an owl’s face to canteen food to tumbleweed, this collection of essays is a thing of wonder

With its roots in the Latin “exigere”, to examine, and in the Middle French “essaier”, to attempt, to put something to the proof, the essay form, from its inception, has been peculiarly alive to the interrogative relationship it has with the self that writes it. Montaigne, held to be the progenitor of the form with his Essays, published in 1580, asked the question “Que sais-je?” (“what do I know?”) in his essay “Apology for Raymond Sebond”. Proxies is award-winning American poet Brian Blanchfield’s first book of essays, and it returns the form to “Que sais-je”? The short introductory note outlines what might be seen as the book’s USP, “a total suppression of recourse to other authoritative sources” while composing it.

The single-subject essays were written with the internet off and ...