DISCUSSED IN THE ESSAY:
Reality Hunger. David Shields. Knopf. 240 pp., $24.95.
David Shields, novelist, non-fiction writer, editor, verbal collagist, has published a book called Reality Hunger, which he calls (while impugning the notion of genre) “a manifesto.” Shields the novelist has lost his mode d’emploi, and his loss could become our loss because Shields the collagist would remove from use the very wherewithal of the novel’s existence, if he can. But his loss also becomes our gain because Shields gives us a house of mirrors comprised of provocative thoughts from a wide variety of sources, addressing the inadequacy of thinking in terms of fiction or non-fiction, providing not simply a reconsideration of genre or labeling but a critique aimed at the relation of the author to the written self, and of the reader to the read text.
“My medium is prose, not the novel.” What do we expect of a manifesto? The work should “manifest” something, and that “something” is generally a new aesthetic, e.g., the Surrealist Manifesto professed the tactics of a radical approach to painting and language. Though I would argue that Shields’ books is primarily a confession, confessing his dissatisfaction with reading and writing fiction and with the notion that non-fiction should be demonstrably factual, Shields claims he is calling for a new form, something that falls between fiction and non-fiction. It has to be autobiographical and personal (which neither fiction or non-fiction has to be), and as immediate as the mind of the writer, which has become in Shields’ case, and, he strongly implies, for all of us, a tissue of quotations and borrowed phrases.
For the book to work as a manifesto, we must accept ourselves as circumscribed by a paratactic universe of discourse where one thing follows another thing, one statement another, without connective tissue, without expressive context or compositional placement, ad infinitum. No one is minding the store, least of all the omniscient narrator of so many of our consoling fictions. In the narrator’s place now, Shields suggests, is the author as an endless parade of streaming video clips where no one is sure who is talking, and we probably remember only the things we agree with or which surprise or shock us. In such a universe of discourse, we are free to argue with whatever points seem to present themselves as most contentious or most in need of further reflection. Shields’ collage doesn’t ask for such engagement: it wants only to be read, the way a mirror must be looked at to show us anything. And what it shows us is so obviously what we want to see: ourselves looking.
Shields’ mirror provides an aesthetic for the YouTube generation, of “deliberate unartiness: ‘raw’ material, seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored, and unprofessional,” including “reader/viewer participation” and some prescriptive attributes as well, such as “an overly literal tone.” It’s a bit like saying that the three minute pop song killed the symphony, that the trailer makes the film de trop; others might talk about attention-span and then sadly concede that the argument against the aesthetic of the mini would probably take too long to be demonstrated. Better make it quick. By the same token we might say there’s no point in eating a meal that must be prepared according to exacting standards of time-consuming preparation, with ingredients hard to come by; that the only way “we can eat now” is to go to fast food, demonstrated by the obvious demand for it, its successful marketing, and because our tastes are so pitiable we can appreciate no better. Flashcard fiction, bumpersticker poems, and so on.
Offering bite-sized versions of an array of arguments—somewhere between the full meal and the taste sample—Shields’ book is a mashup of ideas, a collage of texts. As a manifesto for its own manifestation, it works and is even fun, in limited doses. The restrictions of Shields’ form are readily apparent and the necessary condition for its existence—the aphorism or apothegm, the appropriated, appropriate, and approximate quotation—is too limited to be anything more than a provocation: it can’t analyze, provide sustained argument, create characters, present description, transport through language, or circumscribe any mental state beyond the immediate. Still, Shields does achieve some salutary effects.
Shields’ willful lack of attribution keeps us guessing and gives us at times the feel of eavesdropping at a conference reception where everyone is picking over the same themes. One thing this technique allows for is contradiction. Because there is not a single spokesperson here, Shields is able to “contain multitudes” by appropriating voices not always in agreement and not always supporting the same points. Such juxtaposition works like the overlays of visual or aural collage where we look at or listen to several things at once. Analogies to the visual and musical arts also come into play with a certain overload via repetition—much of Reality Hunger
says the same thing in different ways, and that means it could be extended indefinitely, but also that it achieves its effects much as does advertising, using a variety of pitches to preach the same message. The text is also free of interpretaion or explication. Shields lets the words speak for themselves and doesn’t feel he has to explain their relevance, as a critic would, nor, as a scholar would, describe their provenance. Finally, there is an oddly univocal authority that emerges through the multivocal prose: regardless of a statement’s provenance, we’re aware that only the parts that suit Shields’ purpose have been included, so that a controlling hand is always implied and implicated. As controlling collagist, Shields “acts out,” in propria persona, by protesting the publisher’s inclusion of the quotations’ sources, and insists upon dotted lines at which to cut or tear away the offending material. A send-up of the artist who, quaintly, wants to control what his work contains or how it should be used? Or maybe Shields believes it would be better for us, more character-building somehow, to have to search all the lines on Google ourselves?
“Genre is a minimum-security prison.” One of the merits of genre is that it allows writing to work with the reader’s expectations. Shields wants his writing to overwhelm such expectations in order to surprise himself with “the contingency of life, the unpredictability, the unknowability, the mysteriousness.” To my mind, such a purpose can be achieved within the novel because its form can accomodate anything (I’ve just finishing teaching a class on Ulysses, again, so I know whereof I speak), but it may be true that such constant surprise can’t be achieved by the kinds of novels Shields wrote or by those which, he says, and I agree, are published most of the time. Thus Shields’ manifesto turns on what form the literary object should take. Shields says it should take the form of reality as we now live it and must accept it—a “mongrel form,” “fiction, fantasy, memoir, meditation, confession, reportage.” But elsewhere he seems to concede that, for the likes of Proust for instance, the novel can be as mongrel as one would like—except that he has to insist the Recherche is not a novel but an essay. “In Search of Lost Time begins and ends with the actual thoughts of the author.” Even if that’s true, and, in a manner of speaking it is, or could be, between the beginning and end are several novels presenting people who do not exist outside the Recherche; they are not simply actual people whom the author is recalling—but Shields, in dropping his novelist mode, apparently has no interest in characters as semi-autonomous figures who live in fiction, independent from the life of the author. He wants to read the narrator of the Recherche simply as Proust explaining himself. And while that is the nature of the very effective conceit that Proust uses in creating his narrator, that’s not how the Recherche attains its monumentality. The Recherche is the supreme fiction because it seems to account for the experience of an actual person, from the inside. But a fiction it is.
It’s important for Shields to see Proust’s narrative as “real” in some way, because he wants to champion works that provide “a blurring (to the point of invisibility) of any distinction between fiction and nonfiction: the lure and blur of the real.” The search for the blur between “fiction” and “nonfiction” causes him to rehearse the bullet points of the James Frey fiasco. Never mind that the pundits who weigh in on the story do so according to the modus operandi of the most traditional kind of fiction imaginable, the kind that imparts a definite lesson or a moral: what Frey’s blurring teaches us. Frey’s “memoir” is of interest because Shields wants to deny that its value, such as it is, depends on whether or not it is fiction or true. The memoir is always literature, not reportage, he insists. But this is obvious to anyone who cares about literary forms. The people who were outraged at Frey are the people who need to believe something they read “really happened.” But Shields’ approach never lets him get at the real problem: that a written account in the first-person could ever cause readers to grant authority to what is said as true. When in fact it should be obvious that one person’s view of the facts is simply that: subjective, not objective. We can accept that one might propose to “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” and still be wrong because one doesn’t know the whole truth. But we can’t accept as “truthful” when a person tells us they were somewhere they never were, or met someone they never met, and so on. Frey’s book contains counterfactuals. No problem for fiction, but a problem if, as author, he wants to claim that the experiences recounted in the book explain the person he later became. And this, as I understand it, is the claim Oprah made about the book. This doesn’t matter for the “fictive” Frey in the text, it only matters for how someone like Oprah should understand the actual Frey when he appears on TV as the alleged experiencer of what he wrote about. We can go on, as Shields seems willing to do, about what the nature of a lie is—in literary terms—but that’s not very interesting, and one suspects it’s not the reality or irreality of Frey’s memoir, nor the spectator sport of judging Oprah’s sancitmonious judgment on Frey, that holds Shields’ interest, but rather the amounts of money, and the numbers of readers involved. In other words, at such moments, part of the assumption of Reality Hunger is that “hunger” is shown by receipts and that nothing is quite as real as money. If Oprah would lionize or demonize—it comes to the same thing—more writers, we could experience more often the frisson of that blur Shields finds so wonderful: a person who really wrote a book about experiences he didn’t have, appearing on TV as the person in the book where, on camera, he will become an image for someone who never existed, thus giving more reality to his fiction. Until someone calls him on it. Then he becomes another fiction: the contrite speaker of a confession that may or may not be the way he really feels. It’s at such moments that my hunger for reality steps out for a snack, so to speak.
Because events on reality TV shows aren’t quite real nor quite not, they underscore the fact that there’s something irksome about the inexactitude of such literary labels as “fiction” and “non-fiction.” Shields offers us a continuum: “at one end fantasy (J. R. R. Tolkien and the like) and at the other end an extremely literal-minded register of a life,” but the continuum seems only to register a text’s “remove from the literal.” If Tolkien is giving us an allegorical tale about defending British culture from the depradations of the Huns, enhancing our sense of history with his own version of a mashup of ancient saga and contemporary anxiety, its purpose is not simply to retell “what happened,” or how Tolkien experienced it, but rather to create what we used to call literature, by which was meant a work of imagination that took cues from reality and then did what it liked with it, for its own purposes, for its own “reality.” Perhaps the working assumption, in some periods of literary history, is, as Shields quotes, that “human kind / Cannot bear very much reality,” but there was also a concomitant faith in the poeticizing mind as, from Aristotle on, better able to engage emotional involvement than any simply personal story could, thus arriving at a truth that was not simply factual nor individual. But now, Shields argues, readers eschew fiction for something that satisfies their craving for “the real thing.” It’s just that he balks at calling the writing they get “non-fiction,” if only because of the term’s status as a negation. Nor does he like the term “memoir” (because it is not only based on memory any more than the novel is). “Memoir is a construct used by publishers to niche-market a genre between fact and fiction, to counteract and assimilate with reality shows.” How the real world became a marketing strategy.
Shields wants to dispense with the specific qualities of form and narrative coherence that make fiction work, and he wants to dispense with the fact-checker (or quotation attributer) of non-fiction. To be free to use fact, but to be free to twist it as one wishes, which gets one into trouble with those who insist upon factual integrity in “non-fiction.” Shields dances about with the terms memoir and autobiography, but never addresses the basic limitation that underlies those terms: that the author and the actor/protagonist are one and the same. “A memoir is a tale taken from life—that is, from actual, not imagined, occurrences—related by a first-person narrator, who is undeniably the writer.” Much of Reality Hunger‘s argument, ostensibly aimed against fiction, really has little to do with the work of the novel. In memoir, or whatever we agree to call it, we can only have (something like) the experience of the person who is writing. Fine, as far as that gets us, but as a riposte to the novel it falls flat. In such a universe of discourse, Flaubert can’t tell us the story of Emma Bovary, he can only tell us the story of Flaubert. If we read his journals and the letters, we don’t need the novels, apparently. The fact that “life, friends, is boring,” seems not to dawn on the incessant memoirist of our day. If it is, jazz it up with fancy prose, or make up something more interesting. Just so long as you claim it “really happened,” it’s ok. What seems to bore those who share Shields’ dicta is having to enter a story an author proposes to tell about someone else—someone who never really even existed! And it’s Shields’ insistence on “experience” that leads me to believe I’m reading a confession, maybe an apologia. “He is to be accepted and forgiven because his faults are the sad, lovable, honorable faults of reality itself.” Not bad art, friends, bad life. But that presupposes we read with the author in mind, not as the one who has devised a work of artifice, but as one who authenticates what he writes: “It must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel (minus the novel).” Fiction gives us the wherewithal to forget about who wrote it and to read who is written. Confession, such as Reality Hunger, presents the character of “the author” to account for the author.
The value of fiction is that the author is not the narrator nor is the author the central character: both are projected persona, inventions that do not exist on the street any more than a figure on a canvas or even in a photograph, no matter how lifelike or “true to the original,” can move about outside its frame. The person can; the image cannot. Shields elides the distinction between author and narrator in his reading of Proust, one of his foremost heroes, and that’s where a lot of the trouble begins.
For the author of a memoir, the effort is to give a plausible account of experience, as dictated by memory and the creative insights that are part of the writing process. In Proust’s Recherche, characters, whatever their provenance, exist for fictional effect, which at times is more allegorical than autobiographical. Shields believes he does something similar when, in a reminiscence from his own life, he conflates a girlfriend and her brother, but the effect is simply a reassignment of a detail, not the creation of a character who exists independent of the author’s life and memory, the way Baron de Charlus or Swann do for readers of Proust, or Bloom does for readers of Joyce. One of the challenges that fiction, through invention of character, presents to journalistic media: no amount of incisive interviews or access to all the relevant documents can yield the grasp of character that the great novelists deliver. Are we too trivial to sustain the attention of a Henry James? I don’t believe so, though televised reality is—because of the demands, primarily commercial, of the medium. But Shields implies that we have no need of a James for our times because there’s no time for such subtleties in our slapdash and aggressively immediate culture. Shields is happily of his age in pointing out that the ability to create, in writing, indelible, seemingly autonomous characters has largely disappeared, or seems passé for a large percentage of our writers and of the reading public. The documentary camera takes over: it shows us what people do and what they say about it. What need have we of a narrator to tell us how people think? What evidence do we have that people do think, apart from novels?
Apropos of Proust in a way, one might say that Shields’ dissatisfaction with the parameters of fiction and non-fiction as they exist today is a modernist dissatisfaction driven to seek a post-postmodern solution.
I was born in 1959, and in my youth I was convinced that the realist novel of plausible fiction about recognizable types in specific settings should not have survived World War II. And if we look at the trajectory of narrative from Flaubert to Proust to Beckett we can argue that it didn’t. Here is T.S. Eliot in 1922: “If [Ulysses] is not a novel, that is simply because the novel is a form which will no longer serve; it is because the novel, instead of being a form, was simply the expression of an age which had not sufficiently lost all form to feel the need of something stricter.” For the modernists, the traditional novel gave up the ghost and something else became the driving impetus of “narrative,” the term I would substitute for “fiction” and “non-fiction.” Narrative needn’t even always tell stories, but rather simply maintain the momentum of consciousness in prose, from first page to last. And there are plenty of ways to play about in that continuous stream. This, I would say, is the legacy of literary modernism: writing is its own excuse. Granted—and here I’m with Shields—some writers were able to do that way back when: Montaigne, Sterne, Emerson, Nietzsche. They are unique writerly performances and do whatever they want. But still, if readers want to hear stories told, as so often they do, they don’t turn to such writers. The novel as a certain coherent narrative performance about characters in assimilable settings continued despite the great modernist challenges, so much so that early in the twenty-first century, Shields can still take exception with it. But what made those modernist challenges provocative at the time and even in our time is that they are challenges within the form of the novel. Shields wants to step out of that form and find another, but is there enough “there there”?
The problem for modernism, in its day, was that the “traditional novel” never really went away, notwithstanding what the young Eliot told his readers. Only certain kinds of writers were dissatisfied with the form, and only certain kinds of readers would gladly follow them into the terrain they sought. Shields is right about the incessant desire to participate imaginatively in a tale well-told. “A novel, for most readers—and critics—is primarily a ‘story.’ A true novelist is one who knows how to ‘tell a story.’” Modernism couldn’t dissuade readers, and the cacophony of today’s media doesn’t make them want to give up “tales” either, witness the bestseller lists, now being downloaded to Kindles. The same readers who are content with the invented, but seemingly “real,” stories of novels can easily be courted with the plausible reality of “fictionalized” memoir; these forms are comparable, near each other on the continuum, and can bleed into one another. Shields decries the fact that most readers seem content to stay in that somewhat middlebrow area. If Shields is right about the impetus for his collage, the failing is with the reader. The serious common reader is so endangered a species it seems unforgivably nostalgic and sentimental to write for her. But once you dispense with such a reader, even if only as an ideal, then you are courting only the literati, and largely preaching to the converted.
Thus the post-postmodern solution, coming after a slew of novelists who were willing to play about with the possibilities of narrative reality—Nabokov, Gaddis, Barth, Pynchon, Rushdie, Wallace et al.—through extremely clever storytelling, asserts that reality is back, only now no one can give it form, for the sake of narrative intention, or control it, for the sake of literary effect, and to attempt to do so is a cop-out. “The poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be,” as The Boss sang (in 1975, when Shields was just into his twenties). Reality is what we live with in the piecemeal bricolage of our day-to-day consciousness. A reality so permeated with unconscious immediacy, an immediacy so permeated with media, that no simply “made up” story will satisfy our thirst for access to another consciousness. Our means to access such input is neither fiction nor nonfiction, it’s not art or fact. It’s simply a manner of being spoken to about something like life. A text message. A YouTube clip. A tweet.
The freer forms of poetry and prose that derive in the last century largely from modernist practices—and what Shields champions as the “lyical essay,” mixing autobiography, essay, memoir, fiction, prose poem—are a manner of speaking more than they are anything else. Though actually, of course, a manner of writing. The drive to invent new ways of writing, or of revisiting old ways for the sake of finding a provocation, is one of the more engaging aspects of Reality Hunger—though I’m rather surprised by serious writers of our day who seem to find the provocation truly unprecedented. Joyce, writing Finnegans Wake between the World Wars, called himself (as Shields quotes) a “scissors and paste man,” and Shields wants to be a sample and splice man. As Joyce would say, “the seim anew.” Except that Shields balks at a revolution of the word, the splicing of morphemes to produce an utterly new reading experience. Which is one reason Reality Hunger gets boring: everyone comes off sounding more or less the same. How the literary tradition became “copy.”
Shields avoids discussing poetry for the most part, since he seems to sense that poetry is a special case of writing—free from both fact and fiction in the way he would like more prose writing to be. But if he did, he would have to address the fact that if memoir or first-person stories became more like poetry they would lose readers, that people read memoirs because they want a version of the facts, not greater and greater poetic license. Here the aesthete in Shields, like a good modernist, becomes a doctor prescribing something the patient won’t like, but insisting “it’s good for you.” Shields even dutifully quotes Robbe-Grillet, champion of the “nouvelle roman” (“nouvelle” circa 1950): “The creation of characters, in the traditional sense, no longer manages to offer us anything more than puppets in which they themselves have ceased to believe.” But writing based on this principle did not win over hosts of readers, not even in France, not even in academia. In our day, the turn against the novel and poetry—as writing that achieves a decidedly literary effect—is the symptom of a readership that has come to view what Barthes (to cite a pal of Robbe-Grillet) called “the reality effect” as the sine qua non of the reading experience. We might agree with Shields that this is an aesthetic fall-out from the way the literate mind must make sense of so much non-literary data, so that the processing of information becomes the driving force of most reading, not the suspended disbelief that allows entry into a fiction or fantasy or into an entirely idiosyncratic manner of writing. When they are young they read Harry Potter and Twilight, when they become adult they put away childish things and enter “reality,” reading books about real people whom they might see on television. To reach these practical readers, writers mostly aim for the flat declarations, with occasional flashy rhetorical flourishes, of journalism.
Not so coincidentally, journalism is where Shields’ real impetus for writing seems to begin, inasmuch as both of his parents wrote for newspapers. Writing fiction, we might say, was a part of Shields’ rebellion against parental givens, and now that he’s a father himself, he sees how insignificant such gestures are and wants to find a way to circumvent fiction, by means of what we might call “the literature of ideas.” And where do we find ideas today? Why in the public forums and the blogosphere, of course. And so Shields’ manifesto promotes forms best suited to such outlets while dismissing the consolations and challenges of the novel as a form.
And yet there’s no reason “the novel” can’t exist in a web environment, with embedded clips and wavs, with hypertext links to sources, other stories, other sites. My point: the novel is whatever novelists make it be. Novelists tend to make it be what readers will read. If Shields is truly onto “the way we read now,” then new forms of fiction will emerge to meet that need, notwithstanding Jonathan Franzen who believes novels and journalism must share the same fate. Journalism, it’s commonly assumed, is disposable, a synchronic form, tied to its moment. When journalists want permanence, they publish books. But now there seems to be a sense that permanent forms, such as the novel as a book that contains its own reality, have lost out to the readily available Internet, which is much more porous to our unique historical and cultural moment. How should any text have the audacity to declare itself a reality separate from the reality of the software we use to access “the world”? The server is forever, authors mere content providers.
So, not so much manifesto as confession. As in a sense every blog post and editorial is a confession, a statement of one’s likes and dislikes, an appeal to the reader as companionable other at a cafe. And as confession, Shields’ glib autobiographical dismissal of deconstruction offers a case in point: because he stuttered as a child he’d already learned its lesson (which he gives as “Language as a self-canceling reverb that is always communicating only itself”). This is confessionial detail (the author had to overcome stuttering), and also a pithy disregard for intellectualism (“everything I needed to know about language I learned by stuttering“). But the fact is Shields has no theory of writing qua writing—he hasn’t thought through the metaphysical suppositions that one writes a fiction, or writes an experience, or writes fact, or writes reality. Time and again he states, or quotes, views that suggest that there is a reality available in writing. “I’d found a way to write that seemed true to how I am in the world.” But the problem that deconstruction made available is that, as an effect of text, “reality” is metaphysical, not actual. In that sense it doesn’t matter what we call what we read; it is text, and language is its agency, and “the reader” is a textual simulacrum that only processes other text, and text is all the author is. When Coetzee says, in Shields’ quotation, “everything that you write, including criticism and fiction, writes you as you write it” he glimpses this, as a writer, and then asks “among the fictions of the self . . . are there any that are truer than others?” But truer to what? More in keeping with some other text, the text one “lives by”? “How I am in the world” means what? Put into words, “how I am in the world” is simply another text. What textuality assumes is that “the author” exists only as text and can never appear on television, which is why Frey can’t be the person his readers read. Shields wants Frey to say that, like Proust, he wrote a more interesting version of himself; but that gesture maintains a self “inscribing itself” in the text. Shields’ desiderata: a text that is “like” what he really is. But the value of the novel is that, as a reader, I don’t have to care about what Shields is really like. And in Reality Hunger, text from David Shields’ library has been arranged by David Shields to advertise David Shields.
Though he cites with apparent approval phrases such as Beckett’s “it writes,” Shields seems to believe in the author as the one who “makes up” everything. The novelist even makes up a narrator, but, in his Reality Hunger, Shields wants to dispense with narrators and have authors only, as conduits of “experience.” And the author isn’t simply a result of the device of language, in Shields’ view. Shields seems to believe, at times at least, that we are dealing with a real consciousness, and we can have access to it through text. This is the confessional mode par excellence: everything I say or do is a part of my world and so is relevant to me, and becomes mine. Everything I say, even if a quotation, is applicable to my situation. I have no need of characters. I’m only interested in me speaking to myself, and when I can’t find a way to say what I want to say I’ll take someone else’s utterance as mine. Thus Shields’ defense of the technique of appropriating other’s words, expressions, sounds, rhythm tracks, images, what-have-you to use as one likes: it matters not who said it when or why, it only matters what mix artist mixes it.
As a mix artist, then, Shields doesn’t need a philosophy of writing or a theory of writing or even of genre. He’s an artist, man. A manifesto dressed in borrowed robes? A confession of appropriation? The book is both those things, but it is the latter status that seems to me more striking, for the confessional nature of the book gives it a drama that makes the fulminations of manifesto seem more pose than reality, and if our hunger is for reality, no matter how attenuated, than we find ourselves inside a confession which might have chapter headings, à la Nietzsche’s Ecco Homo (a book Shields cites), like: “Why I Can No Longer Write Novels,” “Why I Did Not Become a Journalist,” “Why I Want to Be a Journalist By Other Means (And Write About Me),” “Why I Am Distracted by Other Media—TV, Music, Video—from the Medium of Writing,” “Why We Care About James Frey,” “Why I Am Bored by and Envious of Jonathan Franzen,” “Why I Like My Friends and What I Choose to Read,” “Why I Want to Be on TV and Novelists Rarely Are.”
Reality Hunger works best, then, as a “novel” form of confession. It reveals Shields as a writer who is willing to exist mostly as the words of others. “Here I quote I can do no other,” a Martin Luther for our time might say, appropriating and adapting the words of the original Luther. And, indeed, one sometimes has the sense that Shields sees himself nailing his “theses” to some Ivory Tower bastion of the art of writing. To bring down the novel that modernism tried to supplant (but which simply bolstered the Tower) in the name of a generation that really doesn’t care about the value of the extended prose work, regardless of what we call it. Shields’ book has landed him on TV (The Colbert Report, speaking of cleverly “real” fictionality), and that, I suppose, should be deemed fulfillment of his intention. For then the TV Shields can discuss what the author Shields (the one who made the book) said as the textual Shields (the one who exists only in cut-up texts) and it can play indefinitely on the web.
For me, Reality Hunger‘s most striking success is achieved when we realize that we, as writers living and writing today, are all characters in Shields’ book. Like someone who reads a friend’s novel and finds herself or himself included in it as a character, we may be unhappy or uneasy with what Shields has “done” with us, but we do recognize ourselves, if by “we” is meant those who write and read and who are dissatisfied with the state of the world of letters and with the context in which reading and writing take place. And it may be that our hunger for reality is the biggest fiction of all.
In the future, reality will be virtual or not at all.
Donald Brown reviews poetry, fiction, and theater for The New Haven Review and The New Haven Advocate.
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