Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Epigraphs: Opening Possibilities

In the Guardian, there's a discussion about epigraphs and their function at the beginnings of books.

From the piece...

"Never use epigraphs, they kill the mystery in the work!" (Adli)

The above piece of epigraphic genius prefaces Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book – though we later learn that it's lifted from the writings of a protagonist in the novel. Postmodern paradise doesn't get much better, and neither do opening gambits. It does, I think, what every epigraph should aspire to do: surprise the reader, catching us off guard and subtly manipulating our approach to the text.

A good epigraph should be more than mere adornment. Better to think of it as a lens – or a sucker punch. Indeed, the very presence of an epigraph can make us question what lies before us. Playful or authoritative, omnipotent or throwaway, it acts as a kind of shadowy third figure, somewhere between the author and the audience.

Pictured above: The epigraph to Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

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