Friday, December 17, 2010

David Shields, Reality Hunger 2010, pt. 2

A continuation of my responses to David Shields' assemblage of numbered quotations on nonfiction as a question, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.

#73 Shields or an unidentified source writes in rebellion against the niche marketing of Hollywood movies, comparing his preference to a dinner party at which he and his guests together will serve tacos, cordon bleu, and "perhaps some Japanese food as well. I want to mix it all together, because I think that's what life is like."

My response: Shields and those he approves of spend so much time doing things because they think "that's what life is like." Don't they know? Is their only access to life through their reproduction of it as an idealized pastiche of pop cosmopolitanism? Are they conflating life and commercial media?

#74 Cyberpunk novelist William Gibson, writing in Wired, plays the part of a 19th century railroad booster on behalf of the internet, declaring it "the opposite of broadcast... with as many senders as receivers." Well, that's just not true, but it's hard to hold Gibson responsible for such misinformation without knowing when he wrote it. Which we don't, because Shields, angry about being forced to source anything, fails to include dates in his begrudging citations. Maybe "because that's what life is like" -- if life, for you, is comprised of nothing but wit and irony. Gibson, whose fiction is more than that, offers even less in his attack on citation: "The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship, not art." So once again these brave pioneers of genre crossing insist on the preserving the gated sanctuary of "art," into which the genres they raid are never to be allowed entry, lest art's purity be sullied. Which is to say: Lurking beyond all this pop art piracy is the same old regime of fauxhemian capitalism the would-be pirates say they're decrying. "Reality can't be copyrighted," concludes Gibson; it's worth noting, though, that his novels are. I suppose that's the kind of quibble Gibson might dismiss as pedantry akin to citation; I think it's just reality, no more, no less.

#78 The old regime resurrects another one of its dearest ideas, dressed up in the drag of techgnosis: "It's important for the writer to be cognizant of the marginalization of literature by more technologically sophisticated and more visceral narrative forms," argues an unidentified writer who may or may not be Shields.* "You can work in these forms or use them or write about them or through them, but I don't think it's a very good idea to go on writing in a vacuum. Culture, like science, moves forward. Art evolves."

Only if you're a social darwinist. Implicit in this statement is the idea that art is a form of progress, that it "moves forward" -- that art is, by definition, a social good. But there's no suggestion in Reality Hunger that Shields or those he subsumes into his manifesto believe that all art is a social good. Indeed, most use "art" as a term to indicate that which they believe "evolves," that which serves the greater good of social darwinism. I suspect Shields would strongly reject this notion, as I've rephrased it. Hence, I'd argue, the veil of "art" drawn between genres even as these writers declare their own transgressions.

* Eager to evolve, I turned to a "more technologically sophisticated" form of citation, Google. This remark from Reality Hunger is widely cited, and usually sourced to Shields, himself.