Reality Hunger

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reality TV has taken over the networks, and YouTube and Facebook dominate the Web. David Shields argues that our culture is obsessed with “reality” because we experience hardly any in our real lives. In Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, he explores the bending of form and genre and the blur of fiction and reality.

Event: David Shields will be part of a panel discussion, titled "Nonfiction Under Oath" with Wayne Koestenbaum, Brenda Wineapple, and John D’Agata
Tuesday, April 13, at 6:30 pm
CUNY Graduate Center
Martin E. Segal Theatre
365 Fifth Avenue, between 34th and 35th Streets


David Shields

Comments [24]

Lynne Elliott from Colonia, NJ

Kudos to you, Leonard - this guy was a drag and you still made it interesting.
You are right about Rothko.

Apr. 14 2010 10:44 AM
Arthur Vincie from Astoria

Much of what Shields says is rather obvious in one sense and short-sighted in another.

The obvious: the novel can't continue in the Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy et al mold, if it has any hope of representing anything beyond a ship-in-a-bottle view of the world. But this was recognized at least as early as Melville - "Moby Dick" is fractured, absurdly paced, unreliably narrated, detailed in its technical descriptions, and shifts from first to third person. Many postmodernist tricks are rooted in works like "Moby Dick" (and "Sandman" and Poe's stories, which all date to the same century).

Genre fiction has long been the frontier where new ideas, forms and methods get worked out, often by fairly unsung artists, before someone else comes in and "legitimizes" them. (Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and Joanna Russ come to mind, to name a few). They blur the boundaries of fiction and nonfiction, truth and artifice, every day. Perhaps Shields should look on some of the other shelves of the Barnes and Noble’s before he declares the novel exhausted.

The short-sighted: "mediated" versus "actual" reality? We’ve always mediated reality. Before the internet we made phone calls. Before that we wrote letters. Before that we had a town crier, murals, stained-glass pictographs, cave paintings, shamans, etc. These are all methods of communicating "packets" between souls, and are thus always one step removed from actual experience. But the results are NOT less real. Anyone who's ever attended a really intense sermon, or cried after reading a letter can attest to this.

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. are a powerful way to communicate reality. It may look slick and disconnected but it's no more so than a writer typing at a typewriter. The act is the same: translating reality into a symbolic form, then sending that form out to others.

I still enjoyed the conversation and it gave me a lot to think about. I hope the book gives Shields the mojo he needs to keep going as a writer.

Apr. 13 2010 06:49 PM
Stephanie from Brooklyn

I do see what he's getting at, but as an academic with a salary he has the luxury of treating sampling and borrowing as an aesthetic issue. I write for a living and for me copyright is crucial. Plus, nonfiction as art is one thing. Nonfiction as reporting on important political or social issues is another.

Apr. 13 2010 04:36 PM
db from nyc

... not dumb but VERY snoozy AND snooty!


Apr. 13 2010 02:01 PM
Phoebe from Brooklyn

Or maybe this a belated April Fool prank?

Apr. 13 2010 01:58 PM
Phoebe from Brooklyn

"Art is conversation between and among artists"? Oh, irrelevant viewers and readers, do not even try to understand this miserable, would-be risk-taking genius!

Apr. 13 2010 01:57 PM
Gary from UWS

Picasso said: "good artists borrow; great artists steal".

Apr. 13 2010 01:56 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC

Ugh....I am SO sick of post-modernists and their boring, boring ideas. maybe everything bores them because they are such boring people with such boring ideas.

There is nothing radical about what this guy is saying. It's just a bunch of subjective statements from which he has built a rationalized "theory" around. SNOOOOZE!

Apr. 13 2010 01:55 PM
Amy from Manhattan

OK, sure, plot (usually) implies coherence; hence the saying, "Of course trth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense." But character implies bourgeois? Wow, what a limited worldview. There's plenty of fiction w/characters that aren't bourgeois, middle class, or rich. Where is Shields looking?

BTW, I never thought nonfiction was necessarily non-literary. I've seen plenty of examples to the contrart.

Apr. 13 2010 01:53 PM
clonshee from nj

Oh thank you for your comments re:Marquez. For the same reason I get antsy when someone starts telling me about last night's dream, I cannot read Marquez without a feeling of irritation. I got within 40 pages of the end of One Hundred years of Solitude, and had to put it down,
for good. In fact when I talk about the book, I often slip and say 1000 Years of Solitude.

Apr. 13 2010 01:52 PM
Lydia from New York

OK, so he is backtracking a little here. But honestly, this is one of the most unoriginal and annoying interviews I have ever heard. Why is he so incredibly pretentious?
If he hadn't had a few books published no one would bother listening to a thing he says - he's that sophomoric in his insights

Apr. 13 2010 01:52 PM
Christine from West Village

I'm not sure he's talking about "reality," I think he's really talking about surprise. If people really craved reality, they'd turn off all the electronic devices and experience actual reality. Shields's definition of reality seems to be less about what's real than about originality and surprise Also, he seems so wrapped up in his own tastes and problems, that I'm not sure his ideas hold up for the rest of us.

Apr. 13 2010 01:52 PM
Gretchen Kelly from Queens, NY

This seems like an argument for argument's sake. Fiction often tells truths that "reality" cannot encompass. Dickens' "fiction" tells more "truth" about Victorian England than hundreds of books of statistics and facts. Reality shows are sapping our ability to dream and create. Structuring and reimagining reality through our imaginations is part of what makes us human.

Apr. 13 2010 01:50 PM
John DeFazio from Long Island City

Ugh! Another Post-Postmodern Writer. (Look! I found my navel)! Fresh from the Academy of the Perpetual Revolution. God help us!

Apr. 13 2010 01:48 PM

What does he mean by simulation?

Apr. 13 2010 01:47 PM
Mark from Brooklyn

Why are we meant to care? God, what a lout.

Apr. 13 2010 01:45 PM
Joan from Queens

There is nothing new under the sun in what Mr. Shields is saying. There's always a revolution, always a manifesto, always. Life goes on. People still read fiction from all eras. Fiction is, in any case, more real than so-called reality, where people pose ad nauseum.

Apr. 13 2010 01:45 PM

So what's the cause of this state?
And is it permanent?

Apr. 13 2010 01:42 PM
Lydia Andre from New York

Wow, I have never heard such ignorant comments from a relatively smart guy. So many great novels are genre-bending. Many of the great novels are discomfiting. Maybe Mr. Shields should not assume that his own limitations as a reader and a thinker are worthy of such

Apr. 13 2010 01:42 PM
Jennifer from NYC

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz what a bore this fellow is....

Apr. 13 2010 01:41 PM

The reason Kafka is right and Mr. Shields is wrong is that description (fiction or non-fiction) is still literary.

Re-presenting "reality" in the form of reportage just further engages a sense of delusion by pretending that this representation somehow has a privileged relationship to reality, vs. fiction. That's a classic form of "FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS".

If Mr. Shields prefers (or is better at) writing non-fiction, that does not mean it is a better choice for everybody, or anybody in particular. Kafka certainly describes "a reality" more in a more ice-shattering way than most examples of non-fiction "reality reporting", which tend to just gloss it over and reify/reinforce normative interpretive prejudices.

Apr. 13 2010 01:40 PM
Brad from Brooklyn

or werner herzog and his notion of ecsatic truth

Apr. 13 2010 01:40 PM
Brad from Brooklyn

sounds like joseph campbell

Apr. 13 2010 01:37 PM

What is reality?
What is important to me may not be to another.

Apr. 13 2010 01:33 PM

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