Another One for the Books

Since we have recently considered the utter uselessness of blurbs on account of their noxious sycophancy, it occurs to me that it would not be altogether inappropriate to provide further proof in support of my earlier argument.

After rather some time of (to borrow Felix Culpa‘s felicitous expression) “studiously ignoring” the work of one David Bentley Hart, Wednesday evening I finally convinced myself  to purchase a copy of his new book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale, 2009). The back of the dust jacket features a blurb by John Milbank which reads as follows:

“Surely Dawkins, Hitchens et al would never have dared put pen to paper had they known of the existence of David Bentley Hart. After his demolition job all that is left for them to do is repent and rejoice at the discreditation of their erstwhile selves.”

This is so excessively adulatory as to be nauseating. (Incidentally, that John Milbank should have written such a blurb for David Bentley Hart is not lost on me: birds of a feather, as they say, flock together. Nor, I believe, would it have been lost on the eminent and learned Jürgen Hauwerwas, had he not altogether ceased to grace us with his online presence.) Mercifully, Fr Jonathan Tobias has already commented on the fatuity of this particular blurb and so I won’t have to concern myself with that point any further. But, in the face of blurbs like the above, I wish repeat here the conclusion to my earlier post:

[I]t is the nature of blurbs to be given to exaggeration of various kinds because, by and large, blurbing is an exercise in truthiness. Blurbs toe party lines, deride straw man opponents, and hyperbolize the merits of any given book beyond recognition. For this reason a majority of them are useless, and if considered at all, should be taken with an enormous grain of salt. More often than not, however, they should be altogether disregarded.

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10 responses to “Another One for the Books

  1. Isn’t the blurb really just a modern form of the classical encomium? especially those that praised men, writers, leaders, etc. not known by the author and perhaps even long reposed? It would seem to this modern reading reading back into those encomia that they, too, are given to exaggeration of various kinds because, by and large, they toe party lines, deride straw man opponents, and hyperbolize the merits of any given book or person beyond recognition and should be taken with an enormous grain of salt. It seems that the value in such encomia – as well as in blurbs – is in a certain feigned art of over-compliment. There are differences of course between modern and classical styles as well as purpose – the modern tends to the commercial – but they do seem birds of a feather to me.

  2. I’ve got another one: Milbank concludes his blurb for Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing with the statement, ‘All theologians, philosophers, and Church leaders must read this supremely important book.’

  3. Hmmm, I am in the process of seeking blurbs for a forthcoming book, but alas, dear Esteban, you have drained my hope wherewith I sought therewhich. What must I do?

  4. wouldn’t it be better to ask someone who’s read the book for a blurb? or are you operating on the john hobbins method in which you offer opinions about books before you bother to read them?

  5. Christopher> Oh, I don’t know about that — I would not be inclined to dignify blurbs like this one by comparing them to the ancient encomia!

    Aaron> Augh, make it stop!!! No more Milbank sycophancy!!!

    Steve> You should probably get a close relative to write something like, “Stevie’s book is really nice. He worked really hard on it, and I think you should read it.” I’d trust such a blurb. ;-)

    Jim> Milbank probably would have no words of praise for the esteemed Dr Runge, since he writes about relevant things like discourse analysis.

    Jim> I don’t understand your point. In my post, I offer an opinion about Milbank’s sycophantic blurb, not about the book. Are you perhaps offering an opinion about my post without having carefully read it? ;-)

    As for the book itself, I’ve read 12 out of its 17 chapters since Wednesday night, and I’m seriously thinking of returning it this weekend. But I’ll probably finish it first.

  6. I’ve got another one for you, Esteban: Desmond Tutu’s blurb for the book ‘Saving Jesus From the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus’ by Robin Meyers, Oklahoma City’s own local heresiarch. Tutu says, ‘Every once in a while, a book comes along that changes everything. This is the book.’

  7. Unbelievable. How did we ever manage without this book by… whom?

    Today I was talking to my Godson on the phone, and I came up with a blurb of my own: “Thus far, the earth has rotated around its axis in anticipation of this book. Now that it is here, it does so in thanksgiving.” I eagerly await the opportunity to use it.

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