Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

by David Shields
     
 

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With this landmark book, David Shields fast-forwards the discussion of the central artistic issues of our time. Who owns ideas? How clear is the distinction between fiction and nonfiction? Has the velocity of digital culture rendered traditional modes obsolete? Exploring these and related questions, Shields orchestrates a chorus of voices, past and present,

Overview

With this landmark book, David Shields fast-forwards the discussion of the central artistic issues of our time. Who owns ideas? How clear is the distinction between fiction and nonfiction? Has the velocity of digital culture rendered traditional modes obsolete? Exploring these and related questions, Shields orchestrates a chorus of voices, past and present, to reframe debates about the veracity of memoir and the relevance of the novel. He argues that our culture is obsessed with “reality,” precisely because we experience hardly any, and urgently calls for new forms that embody and convey the fractured nature of contemporary experience.

Editorial Reviews

Luc Sante
To call something a manifesto is a brave step. It signals that you are hoisting a flag and are prepared to go down with the ship. David Shields's clarion call may in some ways depart from the usual manifesto profile—it doesn't speak on behalf of a movement, exactly—but it urgently and succinctly addresses matters that have been in the air, have relentlessly gathered momentum and have just been waiting for someone to link them together…[Shields] is a benevolent and broad-minded revolutionary, urging a hundred flowers to bloom, toppling only the outmoded and corrupt institutions. His book may not presage sweeping changes in the immediate future, but it probably heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Shields's latest reinvents the "how to" while explaining how the hazy line between truth and lie undermines all forms of modern communication, an understanding that requires accepting the inherent imperfections and idiosyncrasies of a single writer's memory, intent, desire, and point of view. Shields's manifesto reads as a mixture between a diary and lecture-hall notes, each well-thought-out entry (titles include "mimesis," "books for people who find television too slow," "blur," "hip-hop," "in praise of brevity") made up of a series of numbered paragraphs. Incorporated into his consideration of general themes in art are specific pieces of writing and music as well as current events, like the election of Barrack Obama. Shields references a multitude of well-known writers whom he considers definitive (or re-definitive) in literature; one writer that Shields returns to repeatedly is James Frey. Shields considers the Frey debacle, including his guest appearances on Oprah, by way of the imperfect human faculty for memory and communication, finding in Frey's story damning evidence that human beings are doomed to experience life alone. Touching, honest, and dizzyingly introspective, Shields (The Thing About Life is that One Day You'll be Dead) grapples lithely with truth, life, and literature by embracing his unique perspective, and invites each reader to do the same.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Seattle City Arts
Reality Hunger is a readable, entertaining, and frequently funny series of observations and pronouncements.
—Joe Darda
The Guardian
Thrilling to read, even if you disagree with much of it.
—Zadie Smith
Bookforum
Absorbing, even inspiring. The ideas [David Shields] raises are so important, his ideas are so compelling, that I raved about this book the whole time I was reading it and have regularly quoted it to friends in the weeks since . . . Shields is a funny and sharp writer with a flair for the dramatic. I am grateful for Shields’s sometimes brutal interrogation of what I believe. His critiques led me to reconsider my own creative process.
—Jami Attenberg
Library Journal
Shields's tenth book (following The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead) is intended to rock the foundations of the literary world. This "manifesto" is a challenge to the rigid thinking that seeks to define the boundaries of fiction and nonfiction and redefine truth in art in the 21st century. To signal a departure from convention, the 26 chapters are assigned letters of the alphabet rather than numbers. However, numbers are employed to give order to 617 bursts of thought that range from a single line to several pages in length. Among these entries are remarks from such diverse sources as Emily Dickinson, Michael Moore, and Pablo Picasso. Citations for his numerous references are included grudgingly in an appendix on the advice of lawyers. For Shields, not identifying the sources in the text itself is part of the point that he is trying to make. He challenges his readers to reflect on what the popularity of American Idol, Facebook, and Twitter, for example, tell us about the need for new ways of looking at and presenting reality. Shields demonstrates his point about truth when he makes this simple statement: "This sentence is a lie." VERDICT This book will appeal to a limited audience interested in a modernist view of literary criticism. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/09.]—Anthony Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY
Kirkus Reviews
The subtitle of David Shields' Reality Hunger categorizes it as "a manifesto," which is a little like calling a nuclear bomb "a weapon." In a series of numbered paragraphs, Shields explodes all sorts of categorical distinctions-between fiction and nonfiction, originality and plagiarism, memoir and fabrication, reality and perception. It's a book designed to inspire and to infuriate, and it is sure to do both. In an era of hip-hop sampling, James Frey, artistic collage and the funhouse mirror of so-called "reality TV," Shields maintains that so many of the values underpinning cultural conventions are at best anachronisms and at worst lies. And he does so in audacious fashion, taking quotes from myriad sources, removing the quotation marks, attribution and context, leaving the reader to wonder what is original to Shields and what he has appropriated from others. "Anything that exists in the culture is fair game to assimilate into a new work," writes Shields (or someone). He later explains his methodology: "Most of the passages in this book are taken from other sources. Nearly every passage I've clipped I've also revised, at least a little-for the sake of compression, consistency or whim."The mash-up results in a coherent, compelling argument, a work of original criticism that consistently raises provocative questions about the medium it employs. It asks whether everything we know is provisional-and then asks who's asking that question, or if such authorship even matters. At his publisher's insistence, Shields includes an appendix of sources for each citation, but urges the reader not to consult it: "Your uncertainty about whose words you've just read is not a bug but a feature," he insists."A major focus of Reality Hunger is appropriation and plagiarism and what these terms mean. I can hardly treat the topic deeply without engaging in it."Shields' argument isn't a lone howl from the wilderness. Novelist Jonathan Lethem employed a similar technique in his February 2007 essay for Harper's ("The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism"). Bob Dylan's recent releases have invited copyright sleuths to trace the origins of work he presents as original. The artist who bills himself as Girl Talk has built a musical career on aural appropriation kindred to Shields'. As nonfiction increasingly verges on novelistic narrative and fiction continues to draw inspiration from "real life" (whatever that is), as computer technology makes cut-and-paste far easier than William Burroughs ever imagined, as the same image of Barack Obama informs both Shepard Fairey's art and an AP photographer's journalism ("a watershed moment for appropriation art," according to Shields), the formerly firm foundations of ethical distinctions find themselves crumbling. Or were those foundations ever as firm as we believed? " ‘Fiction'/‘nonfiction' " is an utterly useless distinction," states Reality Hunger. How so? "An awful lot of fiction is immensely autobiographical, and a lot of nonfiction is highly imagined. We dream ourselves awake every minute of the day."Author tour to Boston, New York, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle
From the Publisher

“A literary battle cry for the creation of a new genre, one that doesn’t draw distinctions between fiction and nonfiction, originality and plagiarism, memoir and fabrication, scripted and unscripted. . . . David Shields [is] brilliant, thoughtful, and yes, original.”
—Cathy Alter, The Atlantic
 
Reality Hunger urgently and succinctly addresses matters that have been in the air, have relentlessly gathered momentum, and have just been waiting for someone to link them together. . . . [It] heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come.”
—Luc Sante, The New York Times Book Review
 
“David Shields draws on a wide range of reference, mixing historical reports, personal events, discussions of new media, and literary quotations (some verbatim, others rejigged), to construct a protean polemic that is also an account . . . of his own mental life. . . . Most importantly, Shields knows how to provoke argument without needing to crush all opposition. Rather, the tussle between reader and writer over the nature of reality, the nature of the text we are reading, is itself the aesthetic experience he is after.”
—Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books
 
“Good manifestos propagate. Their seeds cling to journals and blogs and conversations, soon enough sprawling sub-manifestoes of acclamation or rebuttal. After the opening call to action, a variety of minds turn their attention to the same problem. It’s the humanist ideal of a dialectic writ large: ideas compete and survive by fitness, not fiat. David Shields’s Reality Hunger has just the immodest ambition and exhorter’s zeal to bring about this happy scenario.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
 
“Shields’s radical intellectual manifesto is a rousing call to arms for all artists to reject the laws governing appropriation, obliterate the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, and give rise to a new modern form.”
—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
 
“I’ve just finished reading Reality Hunger and I’m lit up by it—astonished, intoxicated, ecstatic, overwhelmed. . . . It really is an urgent book: a piece of art-making itself, a sublime, exciting, outrageous, visionary volume.”
—Jonathan Lethem
 
“Raw and gorgeous. . . . It’s about time someone said something this honest in print.”
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
 
Reality Hunger is more than thought-provoking; it’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer

“Provocative, brain-rewiring. . . . A book that feels at least five years ahead of its time and teaches you how to read it as you go.”
—Alex Pappademas, GQ
 
“Maybe he’s simply ahead of the rest of us, mapping out the literary future of the next generation.”
—Susan H. Greenberg, Newsweek 
 
“A work of virtuoso banditry that promises to become, like Lewis Hyde’s The Gift for earlier generations, the book that artists in all media turn to for inspiration, vindication, and altercation as they struggle to reinvent themselves against the headwinds of our time.”
—Rob Nixon, The Chronicle of Higher Education
 
“A rare and very peculiar thing: a wake-up call that is a pleasure to hear and respond to.”
—Geoff Dyer
 
“This dude’s book is the hip-hop album of the year.”
—Peter Macia, Fader
 
“I don’t think it would be too strong to say that Shields’s book will be a sort of bible for the next generation of culture-makers.”
—David Griffith, Bookslut
 
“One of the most provocative books I’ve ever read. . . . I think it’s destined to become a classic.”
—Charles D’Ambrosio
 
“Voracious and elegantly structured. . . . Entertaining, insightful, and impressively broad. . . . An invigorating shakedown of the literary status quo: recommended for readers, essential for writers.”
—Scott Indrisek, Time Out New York
 
“Shields has put a bullet in the brain of our ridiculously oversimplified compulsion to think of everything as a narrative.”
—Paul Constant, The Stranger
 
“Might be the most intense, thought-accelerating book of the last ten years.”
—Chuck Klosterman
 
“Shields has a point. He gives a damn. He’s trying to make a difference. He’s using the best of his formidable talents to do that.”
—Wayne Alan Brenner, The Austin Chronicle
 
“Witty, insightful, and compulsively readable. Every page abounds in fresh observations.”
—Lydia Davis
 
“This is the book our sick-at-heart moment needs—like a sock in the jaw or an electric jolt in the solar plexus—to wake it up.”
—Wayne Koestenbaum
 
“Absorbing, even inspiring. . . . The ideas [Shields] raises are so important, his ideas are so compelling, that I raved about this book the whole time I was reading it and have regularly quoted it to friends in the weeks since.”
—Jami Attenberg, Bookforum
 
“Brilliant. It keeps the reader alert and attentive and excited through sheer intelligence, epigrammatic concision, wit, and sheer rightness, as when a pronouncement is so correct that it just pulls all the clouds aside. . . . There’s a feeling of the imminence of violence in these perceptions. This is a great compliment.”
—Charles Baxter
 
“Thrilling to read, even if you disagree with much of it.”
—Zadie Smith, The Guardian (London)
 
“Shields says things here that I have thought, wished I thought, wished someone would say. A sparky, brainy, passionate, often very funny, and never small-hearted or pinch-minded book: rigorous, demanding but generous and searching and self-debunking.”
—Patricia Hampl
 
“I love this book and am amused to see some of the hysterical reactions it’s provoked—proof, I think, of its radical truthfulness. Shields is utterly uninterested in providing intellectual comfort; he bravely, uncompromisingly delivers the news.”
—Walter Kirn

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307273536
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/23/2010
Pages:
219
Product dimensions:
8.72(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Reality Hunger

A Manifesto
By David Shields

Knopf

Copyright © 2010 David Shields
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307273536

a

overture


1

Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art. Zola: “Every proper artist is more or less a realist according to his own eyes.” Braque’s goal: “To get as close as I could to reality.” E.g., Chekhov’s diaries, E. M. Forster’s Commonplace Book, Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up (much his best book), Cheever’s posthumously ?pub?lished journals (same), Edward Hoagland’s journals, Alan ?Bennett’s Writing Home. So, too, every artistic movement or moment needs a credo: Horace’s Ars Poetica, Sir Philip Sid- ney’s Defence of Poesie, André Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto,” Dogme 95’s “Vow of Chasity.” My intent is to write the ars poetica for a burgeoning group of interrelated (but unconnected) artists in a multitude of forms and media (lyric essay, prose poem, collage novel, visual art, film, television, radio, performance art, rap, stand-up comedy, graffiti) who are breaking larger and larger chunks of “reality” into their work. (Reality, as Nabokov never got tired of reminding us, is the one word that is meaningless without quotationmarks.)

2

Jeff Crouse’s plug-in Delete City. The quasi–home movie Open Water. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit ?Glo?rious Nation of Kazakhstan. Joe Frank’s radio show In the Dark. The depilation scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Lynn Shel- ton’s unscripted film Humpday (“All the writing takes place in the editing room”). Nicholas Barker’s “real-life feature” Unmade Beds, in which actors speak from a script based on interviews they conducted with Barker; the structure is that of a documentary, but a small percentage of the material is made up. Todd Haynes’s Superstar—a biopic of Karen Carpenter that uses Barbie dolls as the principal actors and is available now only as a bootleg video. Curb Your Enthusiasm, which—characteristic of this genre, this ungenre, this antigenre—relies on viewer awareness of the creator’s self-conscious, wobbly manipulation of the gap between person and persona. The Eminem Show, in which Marshall Mathers struggles to metabolize his fame and work through “family of origin” issues (life and/or art?). The Museum of (fictional) Jurassic Technology, which actually exists in Culver City. The (completely fictional) International Necronautical Society’s (utterly serious) “Declaration of Inauthenticity.” So, too, public-access TV, karaoke nights, VH1’s Behind the Music series, “behind-the-scenes” interviews running parallel to the “real” action on reality television shows, rap artists taking a slice of an existing song and building an entirely new song on top of it, DVDs of feature films that inevitably include a documentary on the “making of the movie.” The Bachelor tells us more about the state of unions than any romantic comedy could dream of telling us. The appeal of Billy Collins is that compared with the frequently hieroglyphic obscurantism of his colleagues, his poems sound like they were tossed off in a couple of hours while he drank scotch and listened to jazz late at night (they weren’t; this is an illusion). A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was full of the same self-conscious apparatus that had bored everyone silly until it got tethered to what felt like someone’s “real life” (even if the author constantly reminded us how fictionalized that life was). At once desperate for authenticity and in love with artifice, I know all the moments are “moments”: staged and theatrical, shaped and thematized. I find I can listen to talk radio in a way that I can’t abide the network news—the sound of human voices waking before they drown.

3

An artistic movement, albeit an organic and as-yet-unstated one, is forming. What are its key components? A deliberate unartiness: “raw” material, seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored, and unprofessional. (What, in the last half century, has been more influential than Abraham Zapruder’s Super-8 film of the Kennedy assassination?) Randomness, openness to accident and serendipity, spontaneity; artistic risk, emotional urgency and intensity, reader/viewer participation; an overly literal tone, as if a reporter were viewing a strange culture; plasticity of form, pointillism; criticism as autobiography; self-reflexivity, self-ethnography, anthropological autobiography; a blurring (to the point of invisibility) of any distinction between fiction and nonfiction: the lure and blur of the real.

4

In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking.

5

It must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel (minus the novel).

6

I need say nothing, only exhibit.



z

coda


Part of what I enjoy in documentary is the sense of banditry. To loot someone else’s life or sentences and make off with a point of view, which is called “objective” because one can make anything into an object by treating it this way, is exciting and dangerous. Let us see who controls the danger.


Appendix:

2      Sentence about Unmade Beds: Soyon Im, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Seattle Weekly
4      Thoreau
5      Roland Barthes, Barthes by Barthes (who else would be the author?); “minus the novel”: Michael Dirda, “Whispers in the Darkness,” Washington Post
6      Walter Benjamin

618  Carson, Decreation

Continues...

Excerpted from Reality Hunger by David Shields Copyright © 2010 by David Shields. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Chuck Klosterman
"Reality Hunger, by David Shields, might be the most intense, thought-accelerating book of the last 10 years."
"On the one hand: Who does this guy think he is? On the other: It's about time someone said something this honest in print. . . . [I am] grateful for this beautiful (yes, raw and gorgeous) book."
--Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"David Shields's radical intellectual manifesto, Reality Hunger (Knopf), is a rousing call to arms for all artists to reject the laws governing appropriation, obliterate the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, and give rise to a new modern form."
--Vanity Fair

"This is the most provocative, brain-rewiring book of 2010. It's a book that feels at least five years ahead of its time and teaches you how to read it as you go."
--Alex Pappademas, GQ

"For those of us who have been thinking about these issues for a long time, Reality Hunger is an orgy of geekiness, and Shields is the one responsible for everyone getting laid. Much like Dave Eggers, Shields will be repaid for hooking his friends up by becoming a bona fide tastemaker and culture-shaper. Actually, I don't think it would be too strong to say that Shields's book will be a sort of bible for the next generation of culture-makers. . ."
--David Griffith, Bookslut

"This dude's book is the hip-hop album of the year."
--Peter Macia, Fader

"Good manifestos propagate. Their seeds cling to journals and blogs and conversations, soon enough sprawling sub-manifestoes of acclamation or rebuttal. After the opening call to action, a variety of minds turn their attention to the same problem. It's the humanist ideal of a dialectic writ large: ideas compete and survive by fitness, not fiat. David Shields's Reality Hunger has just the immodest ambition and exhorter's zeal to bring about this happy scenario."
--Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"Entertaining, insightful, and impressively broad. . . . brings to mind an amped-up Nicholson Baker. . . . Most important, it's a guidebook for where literary writing could go in the future. . . . You might not agree with Shields's broadside or his hardheaded conclusions, but it's difficult not to fall under the sway of this voracious and elegantly structured book. Reality Hunger is ultimately an invigorating shakedown of the literary status quo: recommended for readers, essential for writers."
--Scott Indrisek, Time Out New York

"A collection of wisdoms and aphorisms, some borrowed/stolen/appropriated from others, some written by Shields himself-which layer one upon the other to shimmer with an insistence on a literature that reflects modern's life's many complexities and contradictions."
--Debra Gwartney, Portland Oregonian

"It's already become required reading in university spheres, galleys passed from one student to the next like an illicit hit of crack cocaine. I came away from Reality Hunger excited about writing my own fiction, and impatient about books that don't offer these same thrills."
--Sarah Weinman, Flavorwire

"David Shields has put a bullet in the brain of our ridiculously oversimplified compulsion to think of everything as a narrative."
--Paul Constant, The Stranger

Wayne Koestenbaum
"This is the book our sick-at-heart moment needs—like a sock in the jaw or an electric jolt in the solar plexus—to wake it up."
Jonathan Lethem
I've just finished reading Reality Hunger, and I'm lit up by it —astonished, intoxicated, ecstatic, overwhelmed. It's a pane that's also a mirror; as a result of reading it, I can't stop looking into myself and interrogating my own artistic intentions. It will be published to wild fanfare, because it really is an urgent book: a piece of art-making itself, a sublime, exciting, outrageous, visionary volume.
Charles D'Ambrosio
"One of the most provocative books I’ve ever read . . . I think it’s destined to become a classic."

Meet the Author

David Shields is the author of nine previous books, including The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, a New York Times bestseller; Black Planet, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Remote, winner of the PEN/Revson Award. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.

Visit his website at www.davidshields.com.

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