Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiographyby David Shields
Enough About You is a book about David Shields. But it is also a terrifically engrossing exploration and exploitation of self-reflection, self-absorption, full-blown narcissism, and the impulse to write about oneself.In a world awash with memoirs and tell-alls, Shields has created something unique: he invites the reader into his mind as he turns/p>/em>… See more details below
Enough About You is a book about David Shields. But it is also a terrifically engrossing exploration and exploitation of self-reflection, self-absorption, full-blown narcissism, and the impulse to write about oneself.In a world awash with memoirs and tell-alls, Shields has created something unique: he invites the reader into his mind as he turns his life into a narrative. With moving and often hilarious candor, Shields ruminates on a variety of subjects, all while exploring the impulse to confess, to use oneself as an autobiographical subject, to make one's life into a work of art. Shields explores the connections between fiction and nonfiction, stuttering and writing, literary forms and literary contents; art and life; he confronts bad reviews of his earlier books; he examines why he read his college girlfriend's journal; he raids a wide range of cultural figures (from Rousseau, Nabokov, and Salinger to Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, and Bobby Knight) for what they have to tell him about himself; he quotes a speech he wrote on the occasion of his father's ninetieth birthday and then gives us the guilt-induced dream he had when he failed to deliver the speech; he also writes about basketball and sexuality and Los Angeles and Seattle, but he is always meditating on the origins of his interest in autobiography, on the limits and appeals of autobiography, on the traps and strategies of it, and finally how to use it to get to the world. The result is a collection of poetically charged self-reflections which reveal deep truths about ourselves as well.
About the Author
David Shields is the author of two novels, Dead Languages and Heroes; a collection of linked stories, A Handbook for Drowning; and three previous works of nonfiction, Baseball Is Just Baseball : The Understated Ichiro, Remote (winner of the PEN/Revson Foundation Fellowship), and Black Planet (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle, where he is a professor in the English department at the University of Washington.
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Prologue: In Praise of Reality
And I shall essay to be.
Standard operating procedure for fiction writers is to disavow any but the most insignificant link between the life lived and the novel written; similarly, for nonfiction writers, the main impulse is to insist upon the unassailable verisimilitude of the book they've produced. I've written three books of fiction and three books of nonfiction, and whenever I'm discussing the supposed reality of a work of nonfiction, I inevitably (and rapidly) move the conversation over to a contemplation of the ways in which I've fudged facts, exaggerated my emotions, cast myself as a symbolic figure, and invented freely. So, too, whenever anyone asks me about the origins of a work of fiction, I always forget to say, "I made it all up," and instead start talking about, for lack of a better term, real life.
Both of my parents were journalists. For many years my mother was the West Coast correspondent for the Nation. My father, now ninety, wrote for dozens of left-wing publications and organizations and for the last twenty years has been a sports reporter for a weekly newspaper in suburban San Francisco. "The true poem," my father likes to say, quoting Walt Whitman, "is the daily paper." When I was growing up, the New York Times was air-mailed to our house every day. Mornings, I would frequently find on the kitchen counter an article neatly scissored out of the Times for me to read as a model of journalistic something or other. (Actually, I may have made this detail up, but it sounds right, it feels right, maybe it happened once; I'm going to leave it in.) I was the editor of my junior high school newspaper. I was the editor of my high school newspaper. Woodward and Bernstein were my heroes. My parents' heroes, interestingly enough, weren't journalists but what they called "real writers": Thomas Wolfe, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow.
My father stammered slightly, and in the verbal hothouse that was our family (dinner-table conversations always felt like a newsroom at deadline), I took his halting speech and turned it into a full-blown stutter. My stutter not only qualified any ambition I might have had to become a journalist I couldn't imagine how I'd ever be able to imitate my mother's acquaintance Daniel Schorr and confidently ask a question at a presidential press conference but also made me, in general, wary of any too direct discourse. In graduate school, when I studied deconstruction, it all seemed very self-evident. Language as self-canceling reverb that is always only communicating itself? I knew this from the inside out since I was six years old. In a stutterer's mind and mouth, everything is up for grabs.
I have a very vivid memory of being assigned to read The Grapes of Wrath as a junior in high school and playing hooky from my homework to read Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. Steinbeck's humorlessness, sentimentality, and sledgehammer symbolism hardly had a chance against Hunter Thompson's comedy, nihilism, and free association. I loved how easily Fear and Loathing mixed reportage or pseudo-reportage with glimmers of memoir. My sister and I had a rather fierce debate about the authenticity of a scene in which Thompson has a conversation with Richard Nixon at an adjoining urinal. She wrote to Thompson to ask him which of us was right. I was wrong; he called me a "pencil-necked geek" for thinking the scene had been invented.
During freshman orientation, I joined the Brown Daily Herald, but by February I'd quit or perhaps I was fired when there was a big brouhaha surrounding the fact that I'd made stuff up. I started spending long hours in the Marxist bookstore just off campus, reading and eating my lunch bought at McDonald's; I loved slurping coffee milkshakes while reading and rereading Sartre's The Words. I closed the library nearly every night for four years; at the end of one particularly productive work session, I actually scratched into the concrete wall above my carrel, "I shall dethrone Shakespeare." Fueled by such ambition, I was a good bet for graduate school, where my first creative-writing instructor said she wished she were as famous to the world as she was to herself, and my second creative-writing instructor said that if he had to do it over again, he'd have become a screenwriter.
On my breakneck tour of European capitals the summer after grad school, I carried in my backpack two books: García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Proust's Swann's Way. Just as Steinbeck's allegory had bored me and Thompson's meditation on the real had enthralled me, García Márquez failed to hold my attention and Proust became a year-long addiction. I loved how Marcel was both sort of the author and sort of a character; how the book was both a work of fiction and a philosophical treatise; how it could talk about whatever it wanted to for as long as it wanted to; how its deepest plot was uncovering the process by which it came into being.
And yet my first novel was pretty much whole-cloth invention. My second book was an extremely autobiographical growing-up novel. My last book of fiction was a collection of stories, many of which read more like essays. My next book was a collage memoir. My most recent book was a diary of a basketball season. You can see, I hope, how I'm going in the wrong direction from how I'm supposed or once thought I was supposed to be going.
And now this: not only an autobiographical book but a book about the impulse to write autobiographically, to turn oneself into one's subject. A fiction writer (an ex-fiction writer?), knowing full well how invented such representations are, is hopelessly, futilely drawn toward representations of the real. He's bored by out-and-out fabrication, by himself and others; bored by invented plots and invented characters. He wants to explore his own damn, doomed character. He wants to cut to the absolute bone. Everything else seems like so much gimmickry. This book is an attempt to embody these ideas, to make the case that the only real journey is deeper inside and the only serious subject is the mystery of identity mine, especially, but yours, too, I promise. Here, in other words, is how I give you me. Here, also, is how I give you you. Here, finally, is how you give me me.
Copyright © 2002 by David Shields
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