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Writing About Writers

Reality Diet

David Shields becomes the poster boy for The Death of the Novel.

Book Cover David Shields’s Reality Hunger, which claims to be a manifesto of sorts, is an interesting read—around 600 epigrams illustrating something or other about the demise of fiction. Actually, I am still not sure what it claims, which may cause you to stop reading right here.

I have talked to Shields a number of times in the past. He’s an engaging fellow and my most recent chat with him may find its way to publication in the fullness of time. For the time being, if you are interested in being au currant on Shields (and you should be), he has engagingly laid out his literary and ontological notions in an interview at The Millions, as well as in a provocative essay, “Long Live the Anti-Novel, Built from Scraps,” which concludes:
Numerous bloggers appear to think I’m the anti-Christ because I don’t genuflect at the twin altars of the novel and intellectual property (there’s a misnomer if ever there was one). I’ve become the poster boy for The Death of the Novel and The End of Copyright. Fine by me. Those have become something close to my positions. However, when I began, I was just trying to follow the Kafka dictum, “A book should be an axe to break the frozen sea within us.”

My literary sea was frozen, and this book was my axe.
Art, like science, progresses.
Forms evolve.
Forms are there to serve the culture, and when they die, they die for a good reason.
The novel is dead.
Long live the anti-novel, built from scraps.
Marco Roth ‘s “Throwback Throwdown” insists:
Reality Hunger is very much a book of our age of confusion about books, their future, their intents and effects, the meaning of intellectual property, and the worth and the self-worth of those who produce them: a manifesto in search of a movement; a polemic in search of an argument. Self-consciously avant-garde in a comfy retro way, an outsider work brought out by a major publisher, Shields’s book simultaneously revels in and is tormented by the paradoxes it generates—sincerely inauthentic yet looking everywhere for authenticity, obsessed with originality in an all-too familiar way, but an original act of copying. It advertises its own sense of importance everywhere, beginning with a dust jacket design composed entirely of blurbs, like an invalid’s room pasted with get-well cards from so many friends: Lydia Davis, Geoff Dyer, Wayne Koestenbaum, Tim Parks, Jonathan Raban.

Although Shields thinks he’s doing one thing, he’s only protecting himself from doing or thinking something more interesting or risky than what he thinks he’s doing. The supposed freedom from anxiety that comes with unrestrained plagiarism is just a form of anxiety medication that soothes without solving.
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