“Reality Hunger” — Part II
So the question (following Part I below) is whether professor and novelist David Shields is a dilettante and a liar (he praises himself for both), or a genuine intellectual who’s onto something original and possibly profound as “author” (itself a lie) of “Reality Hunger” (Knopf; 219 pages; 24.95 obscene dollars).
Certainly many of the reviews and interviews thus far have brought acclaim to “Reality Hunger,” a collection of 619 statements that are sometimes attributed to the correct source (Picasso, Orwell, Kierkegaard, etc.), sometimes “remixed” with (a better term might be “violated by”) Shields’ own statements, and sometimes rewritten according to Shields’ whimsy.
So let’s see what happens when we take Shields seriously.
First a little background:
To paraphrase Shields’ first point, “reality” in our time has become a bombardment of comments on reality from, say, YouTube, 9/11, Google, two wars, Wikipedia, bailout funds, Tea Party antics, the Obama “Hope” poster, climate change, Russia from my window, professors like David Shields, Oprah, “bail out,” Twitter, “Glee,” Mobb Deep and the Texas Board of Education’s version of “history” (more about this in a later column but really, in an age where history books may replace Thomas Jefferson with 16th-century puritan John Calvin, literary con artists like Shields look like scholars).
Excuse me, back to taking Shields seriously.
So instead of having a mental blueprint of current history and culture in our minds, average people like you and me carry the chaos around with us — wildly random bits of information that in the past have made sense only through artistic forms, like fiction.
As a novelist himself (tragically, he was a good one), Shields used to think that reshaping of facts through story could bring readers closer to the truth about life than nonfiction ever could. Reading fiction, we could decide how to build our own mental blueprint, turning to it often as a guide to how the world works and what life asks of us. Continue reading