While browsing in a bookstore, I remembered an old article by Geneviève Idt in which he defined Jean-Paul Sartre as “un maître-préfacier”, that is, as a master prologue or, more colloquially, attending to the double meaning of maître in French, like a fucking master of prologues. At the time this article was published, Sartre, who was still alive, had already made fifty of them and had smashed the production records of outstanding late maîtres-préfaciers such as Anatole France or Paul Valery. The catalog that he bequeathed to readers is not only very assorted, but also offers a sample of very diverse pieces. We find prologues that take advantage of the reissue of classics to revisit them with an interestingly updated look. Food prologues for tourist guides. Prologues that sponsor new authors or those in the process of consolidation from on high and offer instructions for reading their books. Prologues that promote the rehabilitation of old friends thrown into the bin of History by the Communist Party. And also prologues that stage a tactical convergence with Maoism. Or that they are strung like pearls to make, as if it were a necklace, a choral manifesto of anti-colonialism, which is to be endowed with a canon and a theory.
In The Social Conditions of the Circulation of Ideas, Pierre Bourdieu sarcastically defended the need for a comparative sociology of the prefaces considered as typical acts of symbolic capital transfer. The method he proposed was simple. The aim was to see how the circulation of this capital could materialize in the respective income statements each time an author X made a preface for an author Y, considering their relative positions in the political-cultural ecosystem and the value and significance that the public could attribute to their profiles and works. The application of this method converts the act of looking at the book covers of bookstore displays into an entertaining index exercise in cultural and political sociology and a field study of applied strategy.