Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography

Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography

by David Shields

Hardcover

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743225786
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/23/2002
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.76(d)

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Prologue: In Praise of Reality

And I shall essay to be.

— Emerson

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

Table of Contents

I.Prologue
In Praise of Reality3
II.M-m-me
Rousseau's Distance11
Two Houses of Language15
Letter to My Father21
Games and Words and Ice25
III.Me
Autobiography's Rapture33
Satire35
Rebecca's Journal41
IV.Me as You
Using Myself51
The Same Air57
Remoteness61
V.Me and You
In Praise of Collage73
Downward79
Properties of Language91
S & M: A Brief History99
Possible Postcards from Rachel, Abroad107
On Views and Viewing115
The Problem of Distance125
VI.You as Me
Other People133
Are You Who I Think I Am?135
Doubt141
The Only Solution to the Soul Is the Senses147
Blindness171

What People are Saying About This

Wayne Koestanbaum

David Shields is a marvelous writer, and in this excellent book he makes a valuable contribution to the literature of introspection. His sentences are clean, sharp, funny, and smart; his juxtapositions are startling; he is comically candid about his own adorations and foibles. Enough About You offers sheer amusement: I devoured it in a single sitting.

Robert Clark

This slim, smart, and funny book might at first glance strike you as yet more ironizing and self-advertisement from the hipper precincts of literary formalism. But Shields is a serious writer in the best possible sense of the term. He’s set out not merely to remind us yet again of the difficulty of saying anything—especially and particularly about “selves” (our own or anybody’s)—in postmodern times, but to engage that difficulty head on, to make it yield some truth about us in spite of itself. Shields is thinking hard and writing beautifully about what most contemporary writers only sense: that both fiction and nonfiction as represented by the memoir and the essay have credibility problems; that the ‘truth’ contained in fiction has been undermined by its very success at producing verisimilitude; that the veracity of nonfiction—the authenticity of both the authorial subject and its object—has been rendered suspect by its adoption of the story-making machinery of fiction. Enough About You is, for all its humor, feeling, and lightly worn wisdom, a profound attempt to discover a kind of prose that can speak of, through, and beyond those dilemmas. Shields is a pioneering writer, breaking new ground. The future of personal narrative looks a lot like this book.”

Charles Baxter

David Shields is a marvelous writer, and in this excellent book he makes a valuable contribution to the literature of introspection. His sentences are clean, sharp, funny, and smart; his juxtapositions are startling; he is comically candid about his own adorations and foibles. Enough About You offers sheer amusement: I devoured it in a single sitting.

David Gates

David Shields has managed to achieve near-total self-exposure without being a damn showoff. In Enough About You, he’s a postmodern Ancient Mariner, fixing us with his glittering eye and buttonholing us about everything, and we can’t help but listen. He even volunteers for the ultimate suicide literary suicide mission—answering your critics—and he comes back without a scratch.

Vivian Gornick

This remarkable book—a smart, moody collage of memory, criticism, and story-telling—is a wonderful evocation of the paradox at the heart of all nonfiction writing: how to enter the self only to leave the self behind. Enough About You is a bold and altogether original approach to the pleasures and punishments of the personal narrative. I salute its enterprise whole-heartedly.

Wayne Koestenbaum

David Shields is a marvelous writer, and in this excellent book he makes a valuable contribution to the literature of introspection. His sentences are clean, sharp, funny, and smart; his juxtapositions are startling; he is comically candid about his own adorations and foibles. Enough About You offers sheer amusement: I devoured it in a single sitting.

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