Dedications, like Prefaces, are a neglected field in the study of book construction and creative composition. But they can reveal quite a lot about power and politics; authorship and authority; celebration and bitterness.
In critical terms deconstructionists would argue that a preface displaces and defaces the text that follows, perhaps (humorously?) tripping it up, or tying it up in precursor knots.Often Jacques Derrida never got past the deconstruction of the preface, or a footnote therein, in order to make his 'point'.
And you probably recall all the levels of ludicrous entrapment that Jonathan Swift employed in A Tale of a Tub (1704) ?
Have dedications grown shorter and more ironic (or bitter) since the decline of aristocratic patronage? Are they still a zone of praise or insult?
What about this one, taken from Herman Melville's Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1854)
(Discussed in detail in Edgar A. Dryden's Monumental Melville: The Formation of a Literary Career, Stanford University Press, 2004; and in Ian S. Maloney's Melville's Monumental Imagination, Routledge, 2006).
America repaid the 'compliment' on a 20c stamp.(See below)
Recently, I came across a polite call to action from the late 1960s.
In those days dedications offer a different diet for democracy:
This book is dedicated to sensitive Americans.
May they create a sensitive America.
- Anaïs Nin, The Novel of the Future (1968).
If you're interested in this topic a good place to start is Alasdair Gray's anthology and commentary: The Book of Prefaces. (I started reading it backwards, beginning with the cleverness of G.B. Shaw and the haunting words of Wilfred Owen).
Have you come across any memorable prefaces or dedications? Let me know if you have!
|Herman Melville postage stamp|