Reality Hunger – A Manifesto, by David Shields
We’ve suddenly entered an age of choices – as least it seems sudden in retrospect – and this book is not so much a manifesto as a proclamation of the author’s personal choices regarding literature.
It seems here that society suffers, not from an overdose of reality, but from a desperate need for a dose of such magnitude. Reality Hunger is a collection of loosely linked epigrams, sound bites, and personal vignettes that extol Shields’ perspective on the field of fiction versus non-fiction. The best way to depict this book is though Shields’ own pithy statements:
“Painting isn’t dead. The novel isn’t dead. They just aren’t as central to the culture as they once were.”
“Everything processed by memory is fiction.”
“Since to live is to make fiction, what need to disguise the world as another, alternate one?”
“…I still feel that the writer and the reader can jettison the pages leading to the epiphany.”
“I want a literature built entirely out of contemplation and revelation.”
The above bon-bons are only a sampling of where Shields wants to take us in this book. Some of his insights are philosophical, some leaning heavily on cutting-edge literary theory. But most, to this reader, are his wave at the flag of social trends.
He wants to skip the traditional story in literature – this bores him – and get right to the depth of what story has to tell us. He wants this to be concise enough to read on one’s iPhone while on hold between phone calls.
He favors – and here I offer little in the way of argument – something he calls the lyric essay, a literary form that presents the “hungry pursuit of solutions to problems.”
This is the way an over-caffeinated world wants to work today. But is Shields’ manifesto viable? I think not. While the body of humanity seems to feel that instant gratification isn’t quite quick enough, such urges hardly resolve problems, whether they be personal or political.
Literature works only because it presents specific cases of the human condition in ways that lead us to understand that condition in a much more general sense. Fiction, poetry, and the newbie on the block – non-fiction – get our attention, despite Shields’ condescensions, because they entertain. This isn’t my thought – this idea is as old as story itself.
Reality Hunger is hardly an answer to such yens – it’s Shields’ way of attempting to cut though the discord of a world in flux, a world perhaps too full of choices of all sorts – perhaps a symptom of a new Axial Age in the making – and arrive at the businessman’s bottom line. While we’ll all likely to continue to debate the nature of Truth – that’s with a capital “T” – we won’t find an enduring literary presentation in such a pell-mell rush to the depths of understanding.
Despite all this, I like much of what Shields says here. His is a creative, parsing mind – and we see too little of that today. I can only wish he’d hadn’t felt the dogs of trendiness nipping so feverishly at his heels.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.