Shockingly audacious even today, Tristram Shandy was printed in installments from 1759 to 1769, about two hundred and fifty years ago. Laurence Sterne misuses the stuff novels are made of — the ink, the symbols, the pages, the fly-leafs — to make readers aware of the materiality of the book. Flipping through the novel you will come across a totally black page, front and back. I say totally black, but only the part of the page where the text normally appears is blacked out. The block of ink is framed by normal margins and includes page numbers (33 and 34 in my edition). The motivation for this famous black page is the exclamation “Alas, poor YORICK!”, which appears twice on the previous page.
Cervantes’ preface to Don Quixote is a caustic satire of academic writing, just as valid today as it was four hundred and five years ago. Full of delicious irony, Cervantes brags with the deepest humility. He points out the flaws in the book are its qualities.