Sunday, February 27, 2011
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?