Exaggerated Rumour

Mark Thwaite notes with surprise that the Metro freesheet features a fine piece of literary criticism – a guy called Ben Felsenburg on David Shields’s Reality Hunger. It’s a good review; it pisses on mine.

Whatever criticisms David Shields will attract for Reality Hunger – and he can expect plenty for a book as divisive as Marmite – no one’s going to accuse him of modesty.

This collection of 617 pensées is subtitled A Manifesto and sets out its stall in grandiose style: ‘Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.’

For some that line will be playfully provocative, for others ridiculous and infuriating; the same goes for all that follows.

Shields draws upon Ezra Pound, Eminem, Proust and Moulin Rouge as if they’re all knocking around one pick’n’mix bag. Wave after wave of quotes and Shields’s wearying pontification work that old saw about the way fiction and non-fiction are blurring into one.

Telly viewers know the concept – it’s called Big Brother. One surprise, though: Reality Hunger might be mistaken for the notebook of a naive undergraduate after a first encounter with Postmodernism 101. Shields is a middle-aged professor.

I also liked Mark’s addition in the comments, in which he calls Reality Hunger a ‘commonplace book’:

No more, no less. As such, it contains some lovely quotes about art and life, but the Metro reviewer is dead right to say that, overall, it is wearisome exercise in the banal. Shields, at tedious length, expounds (but doesn’t really investigate) his one idea: fiction and non-fiction aren’t always easy to distinguish clearly and absolutely. Yes, well done, they aren’t!

And Norm has written what could be a Twitter-style, two-line review:

Here’s a prediction not all that bold. The novel will survive despite David Shields’s manifesto.


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