In Search of Lost Epigraphs


At The Millions, Jonathan Russell Clark ruminates on the idea of the epigraph. Over the past decade, Clark has kept a Word document filled with quotes from literature, and the amassed 30,000 words, he admits, are less for insight and inspiration than a source of potential epigraphs for his own work.

Clark analyzes several epigraphs in the contemporary canon, and comes to see them as serving various functions:

Epigraphs are, ultimately, like many components of art, in that they can pretty much accomplish anything the writer wants them to. They can support a theme or contradict it. They can prepare readers or mislead them. They can situate a book into its intended company or they can renounce any relationship with the past. And when used effectively, they can be just as vital to a novel’s meaning as the title, the themes, the prose. An epigraph may not make or break a book, but it can certainly enhance its richness.

Alex Norcia is a writer living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in VICE, The Millions, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Electric Literature, Word Riot, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among others. He is an editor-at-large at The Offing. More from this author →