Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A review of "Reality Hunger" by David Shields

“Reality Hunger: A Manifesto” comes out next month.

In telling the origin story of this book, David Shields begins by describing the household of his childhood, where journalism is the ruling religion.

David Shields began his career in writing with three works of fiction. Reality Hunger is anything but. Is it essay? Is it prose poetry? Is it a collage or confession?


Is there a narrative?

Yes. The narrative in Reality Hunger is the story of literature through the ages and up to the modern day, with it's modern dilemmas. It is also the story of the author's own struggle with writing and language throughout his life.

Some quotations from the book and David Shields himself:
“All art is theft.”, “Art is not truth. It is a lie that enables us to recognize the truth.”, “There is no way that a non-fiction work is 'true'.”

Reality Hunger is constructed from a series of numbered paragraphs organized according to theme and random flashes of inspiration. Shields did not write many, if not most of these paragraphs. As the scissors and paste man, however, he can take credit for the subtext inserted between each passage.

In Reality Hunger, you will find citations for all quoted passages in very tiny type. This is in the interest of legality, and against the author's will.

More quotes from the author: “I want the reader to experience that uncertainty.”, “The reader not being able to tell who is saying what.”, “Don't read the footnotes or I'll come after you.”

If Reality Hunger can be said to come from anywhere, it would not be from a desire to lay the facts out flat. The facts presented in this book may conflict with one another or magnify each other until a rich texture of thought pushes out and away from anything you've read before.

There is an urgency to Reality Hunger that can't be ignored. If you can imagine reading “Les Miserables” or “Moby Dick” with all the plot cut out and cast aside, perhaps you can imagine reading this book.

“Fiction is meaningless.”, “Novels are often so languorious as to be catatonic.”, “You're wasting my time.”

What do you get when you cut plot from a novel? You get a series of ideas, and a ton of questions. In the case of Reality Hunger, these questions come with high stakes. What is reality? Why do artists try so hard to preserve reality or truth in their works? How can they even begin without knowing what truth is?

Reality Hunger is the screen. David Shields is the magic lantern. In this theater, are you the rapt audience member in the front row, or the old man asleep in the back? Or somewhere in between?

Legend has it that Werner Heisenberg was once pulled over by a cop. “Do you know how fast you were going?” asked the cop. “No,” said Heisenberg, “but I know where I was.”

One interpretation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that by his very presence, the observer alters what is observed. This interpretation has little to do with quantum physics, but it's an interesting idea.

I can't tell you what you will experience when reading Reality Hunger. I am trying to tell you what I experienced.

“I was bored to death writing fiction.”, “I found my life raft.”, “If you want to get on my bus, here we go.”

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Each Eternal I Turned In" a response to Robert

Here's the piece I'm responding to.

Here's my response.

Each Eternal I Turned In

Overheard on the bus:
"The complex structure of life
does not exist to override entropy."
I'm not sure what that meant, although
I asked the person sitting next to me
who shrugged, saying: "I'm a smart
architect. I know it's not this
simple, and yet I see my lust
for structure echoed everywhere.
What does that suggest?"

Effortless, we fall from text
to subtext, flaking away layer
by layer, a stack
of printed papers, a plate
of frosted glass, shattered.
Even as the axe severs synapse
from synapse, a phantom hand
rests behind the neck.