Book of the Week: Reality Hunger

“Our culture is obsessed with real events because we experience hardly any.”

Reality Hunger

We usually find and look for books. This one found me. I walked along the library’s hallway when I noticed this bright yellow book with red type on it. Picked it up and gave it a look. I read it cover to cover. Any book that starts with mentioning Curb your Enthusiasm, the concept of “truthiness”and The Real World (as in that 90’s show I used to watch in junior high-school), in the same sentence is definitely going to catch my attention. A book that challenges how a book is structured, and plays with appropriation, fiction and reality, while mentioning some of my favorite bands, gets my thumbs up.

This is a very unusual read. David Shields makes a critique about fiction (in writing and life), and creates a pastiche of personal anecdotes, letters, quotes, rants and thoughts, all wrapped up in a manifesto, organized alphabetically and by themes. Some of the them are mimesis, reality, memory, blur, now, hip-hop, and risk. As I read through it I couldn’t help but notice that some of these words I’ve read before, and even recognized Nirvana’s “All in all is all we are” All Apologies lyric in there somewhere. But this is what was fascinating about it: it feels as if someone was lurking on this guys brain, writing down his thoughts, the ramble on his head. It is also a reflection of the times: where’s the line between art and life, fact and fiction, real and fake? Blurred.

The author didn’t elaborate in a cohesive way about mixing genres, or reality vs. fiction. He mixed and matched sources, thoughts and quotes and turned out a lot of information in all directions. But isn’t it how it is, now a days? Some of the chunks of text that caught my attention are these:

  • Randomness, openness to accident and serendipity, spontaneity; artistic risk, emotional urgency and intensity, reader/viewer participation; an overly literal tome, 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.
  • In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connection, and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer, and engage  a work. Art is a conversation, not a patent office. The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship,not art. 
  • We all need to begin figuring out how to tell a story for the cell phone. One thing I know: it’s not the same as telling a story for a full-length DVD.
  • In this rush for technological innovation, we’ve lost something along the way and are going back to try to find it, but we don’t know what that thing is.
  • Your uncertainty about whose words you’ve just read is not a bug but a feature.
  • Reality cannot be copyrighted.

(although, to avoid lawsuits, the publishing house made Shields credit the authors he mentioned. A partial list is on the end pages of the book). 



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