Reality Hunger/David Shields: Reflections

Sunday, February 27, 2011

All right, then.  Along with the ten new memoirs that sweep into my home last week slides David Shields's manifesto, Reality Hunger—a meditation on and exercise in literary collage, appropriation, fusion, blend, bend, thought poem, risk.  Do you believe in, say, fiction as one category and nonfiction as another?  Go talk to Shields.  Do you actually believe that other people's thoughts or ideas should be housed inside quotation marks, that truth can be located, that plot is story, that fiction (or at least conventional fiction) has something to say?  Do you know what you love?  Do you honor beauty above raw?  Have you given enough space to white space?

Go talk to Shields, or read him.  Or, I should say, read this book, which is only, perhaps, 82% Shields, in terms of the lines themselves, the rest being borrowed from, say, Vivian Gornick, Patricia Hampl, William Gass, Margo Jefferson, John D'Agata, Lauren Slater, Philip Roth, Charles Simic, J. M. Coetzee, Ross McElwee, Anne Carson, and if I listed them all, I would be taking you through the 618 citations in the back of the book, reluctantly delivered by Shields, at the advice (or insistence) of his attorneys, though Shields, begging us not to refer to the citations at all, declares, "Reality cannot be copyrighted."

(Please, Mr. Shields, forgive my quotation marks.)

When you write across genres, as I do, when your autobiography of a river feels like the truest book you've ever written (the angriest, the most beseeching, the least afraid of either beauty or despair, the most unprotected and therefore the most vulnerable), you engage with Shields, you talk to him in your head, saying:  Yes, this is so.  No, not quite so much.  Or, Are you perhaps dangerously close to exhibitionism with your extremism, even if (I admit) this extremism is engaging?  And, Will you be offended if I thank you for this late-in-the-book chapter called DS, where it is you and only you straight for a couple of pages, you getting (unassisted) to your heart of things, your unmediated why of things, though I recognize, I obviously do, that appropriation and plagiarism are your method here, your trump card, your manifesto, your heart?

What does, indeed, offend Shields?  Boring does.  Boring gets him big.  Conventional forms, conventional ideas, conventional courtesies—these would not survive in the land of Shields.  What Shields wants, in his own words, is found under section 457:  "So:  no more masters, no more masterpieces.  What I want (instead of God the novelist) is self-portrait in a convex mirror."

That is what Shields wants.  And you?


reiko rizzuto said...

Interesting line, "Self portrait in a convex mirror." What we do as memoirists, even fiction writers, okay any kind of artist, is to shape that mirror, hold it up, then freeze it and see what that fleeting image looks like and what we can learn from it. What we do as humans is to put the mirror into constant flux and to always see ourselves anew.

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