Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity


In this truly one-of-a-kind book, the author/narrator—a representative, in extremis, of contemporary American obsession with beauty, celebrity, transmitted image—finds himself suspended, fascinated, in the remoteness of our wall-to-wall mediascape. It is a remoteness that both perplexes and enthralls him.
    Through dazzling sleight of hand in which the public becomes private and the private becomes public, the entire book—clicking from confession to family-album...

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Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity

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In this truly one-of-a-kind book, the author/narrator—a representative, in extremis, of contemporary American obsession with beauty, celebrity, transmitted image—finds himself suspended, fascinated, in the remoteness of our wall-to-wall mediascape. It is a remoteness that both perplexes and enthralls him.
    Through dazzling sleight of hand in which the public becomes private and the private becomes public, the entire book—clicking from confession to family-album photograph to family chronicle to sexual fantasy to pseudo-scholarly footnote to reportage to personal essay to stand-up comedy to cultural criticism to literary criticism to film criticism to prose-poem to litany to outtake —becomes both an anatomy of American culture and a searing self-portrait.
    David Shields reads his own life—reads our life—as if it were an allegory about remoteness and finds persuasive, hilarious, heartbreaking evidence wherever he goes.


Winner of the PEN / Revson Award?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Remote should, in retrospect, be seen as one of the definitive texts of the 1990s . . . a mordant meditation on the odd way we live now—in the thrall of celebrity, at the mercy of the media, at once desperate for authenticity and in love with artifice."—A. O. Scott, Newsday

"An idiosyncratic, droll, ravishing assemblage that both investigates and replicates the fragmented, irony-poisoned, celebrity-obsessed consciousness of fin de siècle America."—Kirkus Reviews

"The talented Mr. Shields gives us a clever collection of vignettes, descriptions, commentaries, and aperçus held together by the author's voice and a finely tuned sense of the absurd. . . . Remote is elliptical, funny, and ironic."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"An extraordinary book—wholly absorbing, brilliant, and utterly Shields's own. Early on, I thought of the word 'extrospective' to describe its wonderfully paradoxical method: one follows a character who is built out of the transient material of American popular culture but who turns into as singular a voice and (all irony intended) 'personality' as anyone now writing in America." —Jonathan Raban

"In the current craze of personal and family memoirs, David Shields's Remote is unique. It's a mishmash, a potpourri; it's impersonal, it's embarrassingly revealing. It's very funny, and it tells us more than we want to know about American life."—Carolyn See, Washington Post

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Mixing journalism, cultural criticism and autobiography, the 52 original short pieces collected here document novelist Shields's obsession with celebrity, images and the general ephemera of popular culture. He joins a test audience viewing potential sitcoms, follows A Current Affair reporter Mike Watkiss on assignment, muses on stuttering Howard Stern sidekick John Melendez and collects people's dreams about late rocker Kurt Cobain. What makes Shields's perspective on popular culture so interesting is its highly personal, even confessional nature: his essays often examine the private connections he feels to public figures and events. At times, however, Shields (Dead Languages) slips into narcissism; at others, such as in his "found" essays, composed entirely of bumper-sticker slogans, he is sterile if clever. But Shields is a gifted writer capable of surprising perceptions and considerable wit, and his idiosyncratic book offers intriguing insights into the ways the media can shape both the identities and the perceptions of its viewers. (Feb.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299193645
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 8/8/2003
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,446,854
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

David Shields is the author of three other nonfiction books, Black Planet (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), Enough About You, and Baseball Is Just Baseball; two novels, Dead Languages and Heroes; and a collection of connected stories, A Handbook for Drowning. His essays and stories have appeared in dozens of periodicals, including the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney's, and Utne Reader. He lives in Seattle, where he is professor of English at the University of Washington.

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Read an Excerpt

Remote: Excerpt
Why We Live at the Movies

That is why we, snatched from sudden freedom, are able to         communicate only through this celluloid vehicle that has immortalized and given a definite shape to our formless gestures; we can live as though we had caught up with time and avoid the sickness of the present, a shapeless blur as meaningless as a carelessly exposed roll of film. There is hardness and density now, and our story takes on the clear, compact shape of the plot of a novel....
--John Ashbery

Whenever my then girlfriend and I would go to plays they would inevitably strike us as odd and antediluvian in their absence of a mechanical framing device. We would spend entire afternoons and evenings in cineplexes, sneaking from movie to movie, lugging vats of popcorn and soda. We would always stay until the absolute end of the credits--the studio logo. The appeal for her was the "sensory overload" of image, music, and speech. What I love the most is that it's almost the only time I cry. The worse the movie, the more I cry.

Someone somewhere says that a darkened movie theater reminds us of being in the womb and that the images we see evoke the worlds we dreamed before we were born. This seems to me to be simply true: by far my favorite moment in a movie theater comes when the final trailer is over, the last house lights dim off, and the otherwise dormant right side of my brain takes over completely.

During trailers, my girlfriend and I would compete to see who could whisper first into the other person's ear the name of the movie beingpreviewed. I would almost always win, because I read movie reviews the way other people eat candy; I read movie reviews the way I eat candy. We were members of video stores all over Seattle, and video clubs all across the country. On long weekends we'd choose a film that bore watching and watch it on an endless loop, until it felt physically painful to walk around outside the environment of the movie.

She was a genius at following and predicting plot developments; I was a great one for tracing themes and analyzing motive: she would explain to me what happened, and I would explain to her what it all meant. Together, we felt like Fellini. At first our worst arguments would occur when I would start analyzing the movie the moment we walked out of the theater. Then our worst arguments would occur when one of us was preternaturally attracted to one of the stars of the movie. Daniel Day-Lewis, for instance. Annabella Sciorra, for instance. Daniel Day-Lewis, for instance.

Whenever we had people over for dinner, invariably we talked about movies all during dinner, then watched movies afterward. If people came over and somehow we managed not to watch a movie and our guests left before ten, sometimes she or I would race out to the video store and return with our fix. What was this jolt we came to crave so deeply? I'd read a book, then she'd read it, and we'd talk about it. Or, out on a drive, one of us would read a story aloud to the other. Or we'd read different books together in bed. It was nice, but it wasn't the same.

The glory of watching a movie with someone else is the illusion that the same experience is being simultaneously imprinted upon both participants' brains. It's very romantic, like simultaneous orgasm or double suicide. You (who are so different from me and who just saw what I saw) thought and felt what I thought and felt, didn't you? The crime you saw (your understanding of the crime you saw) didn't differ from the crime I saw (my understanding of the crime I saw), did it? She would always check to see if I had been crying.

The crucial moment in Hemingway's The Garden of Eden occurs when David and Catherine come to understand that everything they've been doing has been an attempt to keep alive, or perhaps to resurrect, the feelings they first had when they fell in love with each other. Movies, of course, are the synthetic injection: the whole world comes into focus and seems interesting and dangerous; our lives, which are not lived on the grand scale, are lived on the grand scale. Give me the heated-up myth, each of us practically prays to the screen: make life seem coherent and big and free of my qualifying consciousness.
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