“Thank goodness for David Shields and his new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, which, among other things, is a literary battle cry for the creation of a new genre, one that doesn’t draw distinctions between fiction and nonfiction, originality and plagiarism, memoir and fabrication, scripted and unscripted. . . . Shields, brilliant, thoughtful, and yes, original, is calling for an ‘ars poetica for the burgeoning group of interrelated but unconnected artists in a variety of forms and media.’”
By David Shields
(Excerpts from Reality Hunger)
Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art. Zola: “Every proper artist is more or less a realist according to his own eyes.” Braque’s goal: “To get as close as I could to reality.” E.g., Chekhov’s diaries, E.M. Forster’s Commonplace Book, Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up (much his best book), Cheever’s posthumously published journals (same), Edward Hoagland’s journals, Alan Bennett’s Writing Home. So, too, every artistic movement or moment needs a credo: Horace’s Ars Poetica, Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesie, Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry, André Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto,” Lars von Trier’s “Dogme 95” statement. My intent is to write the ars poetica for a burgeoning group of interrelated (but unconnected) artists in a multitude of forms and media (lyric essay, prose poem, collage novel, visual art, film, television, radio, performance art, rap, stand-up comedy, graffiti) who are breaking larger and larger chunks of “reality” into their work. (Reality, as Nabokov never got tired of reminding us, is the one work that is meaningless without quotation marks.)
Jeff Crouse’s plug-in Delete City. The quasi-home-movie Open Water. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.Joe Frank’s radio show In the Dark. The depilation scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Lynn Shelton’s unscripted film Humpday (“All the writing takes place in the editing room”). Nicholas Barker’s “real-life feature” Unmade Beds, in which actors speak from a script based on interviews they conducted with Barker; the structure is that of a documentary, but a small percentage of the material is made up. Todd Haynes’s Superstar—a bio-pic of Karen Carpenter that uses Barbie dolls as the principal actors and is available now only as a bootleg video. Curb Your Enthusiasm, which—characteristic of this genre, this un-genre, this anti-genre—relies on viewer awareness of the creator’s self-conscious, wobbly manipulation of the gap between person and persona. The Eminem Show, in which Marshall Mathers struggles to metabolize his fame and work through “family-of-origin” issues (life and/or art?). The Museum of (fictional) Jurassic Technology, which actually exists in Culver City. The (completetely fictional) International Necronautical Society’s (utterly serious) “Declaration of Inauthenticity.” So, too, public-access TV, karaoke nights, VH1’s Behind the Music series, “behind the scenes” interviews running parallel to the “real” action on reality television shows, rap artists taking a slice of an existing song and building an entirely new song on top of it, DVDs of feature films that inevitably include a documentary on the “making of the movie.” The Bachelor tells us more about the state of unions than any romantic comedy could dream of telling us. The appeal of Billy Collins is that compared with the frequently hieroglyphic obscurantism of his colleagues, his poems sound like they were tossed off in a couple of hours while he drank scotch and listened to jazz late at night (they weren’t; this is an illusion). A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was full of the same self-conscious apparatus that had bored everyone silly until it got tethered to what felt like someone’s “real life” (even if the author constantly reminded us how fictionalized that life was). At once desperate for authenticity and in love with artifice, I know all the moments are “moments”: staged and theatrical, shaped and thematized. I find I can listen to talk radio in a way that I can’t abide the network news—the sound of human voices waking before they drown.