Synopses & Reviews
An open call for new literary and other art forms to match the complexities of the twenty-first century.
Reality TV dominates broadband. YouTube and Facebook dominate the web. In Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, his landmark new book, David Shields (author of the New York Times best seller The Thing About Life Is That One Day Youll Be Dead) argues that our culture is obsessed with “reality” precisely because we experience hardly any.
Most artistic movements are attempts to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art. So, too, every artistic movement or moment needs a credo, from Horaces Ars Poetica to Lars von Triers “Vow of Chastity.” Shields has written the ars poetica for a burgeoning group of interrelated but unconnected artists in a variety of forms and media who, living in an unbearably manufactured and artificial world, are striving to stay open to the possibility of randomness, accident, serendipity, spontaneity; actively courting reader/listener/viewer participation, artistic risk, emotional urgency; breaking larger and larger chunks of “reality” into their work; and, above all, seeking to erase any distinction between fiction and nonfiction.
The questions Reality Hunger exploresthe bending of form and genre, the lure and blur of the realplay out constantly all around us. Think of the now endless controversy surrounding the provenance and authenticity of the “real”: A Million Little Pieces, the Obama “Hope” poster, the sequel to The Catcher in the Rye, Robert Capas “The Falling Soldier” photograph, the boy who wasnt in the balloon. Reality Hunger is a rigorous and radical attempt to reframe how we think about “truthiness,” literary license, quotation, appropriation.
Drawing on myriad sources, Shields takes an audacious stance on issues that are being fought over now and will be fought over far into the future. People will either love or hate this book. Its converts will see it as a rallying cry; its detractors will view it as an occasion for defending the status quo. It is certain to be one of the most controversial and talked-about books of the year.
From the Hardcover edition.
"In his new book, Reality Hunger, David Shields makes a case that a new literary form has arrived. [He] challenges our most basic literary assumptions about originality, authenticity, and creativity. Reality Hunger has caused a stir in literary circles. [The book] has struck a nerve." Andrew Richard Albanese, Publishers Weekly (cover article)
"Maybe he’s simply ahead of the rest of us, mapping out the literary future of the next generation." Newsweek
“On the one hand: Who does this guy think he is? On the other: It’s about time someone said something this honest in print....[I am] grateful for this beautiful (yes, raw and gorgeous) book.” Los Angeles Times
“I’ve just finished reading Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, and I’m lit up by it — astonished, intoxicated, ecstatic, overwhelmed.” Jonathan Lethem
“Good manifestos propagate. Their seeds cling to journals and blogs and conversations, soon enough sprawling sub-manifestoes of acclamation or rebuttal. After the opening call to action, a variety of minds turn their attention to the same problem. It’s the humanist ideal of a dialectic writ large: ideas compete and survive by fitness, not fiat. David Shields’s Reality Hunger has just the immodest ambition and exhorter’s zeal to bring about this happy scenario.” The Wall Street Journal
is a collection of wisdoms and aphorisms, some borrowed/stolen/appropriated from others, some written by Shields himself — which layer one upon the other to shimmer with an insistence on a literature that reflects modern life's many complexities and contradictions. The book presents its arguments in the style of Pascal's Pensees
or Montaigne's Essays
, and is equally as scintillating — a thrill to many who'll read this book, a poke in the eye to plenty of others." Debra Gwartney, The Oregonian
(read the entire Oregonian review
Fresh from his acclaimed exploration of mortality in the genre-defying, best-selling The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead
, David Shields has produced an open call for new literary and other art forms to match the complexities of the twenty-first century.
Shields's manifesto is an ars poetica for a burgeoning group of interrelated but unconnected artists who, living in an unbearably artificial world, are breaking ever larger chunks of reality into their work. The questions Shields explores — the bending of form and genre, the lure and blur of the real — play out constantly around us, and Reality Hunger is a radical reframing of how we might think about this truthiness: about literary license, quotation, and appropriation in television, film, performance art, rap, and graffiti, in lyric essays, prose poems, and collage novels.
Drawing on myriad sources, Shields takes an audacious stance on issues that are being fought over now and will be fought over far into the future. Converts will see Reality Hunger as a call to arms; detractors will view it as an occasion to defend the status quo. It is certain to be one of the most controversial and talked about books of the season.
With this landmark book, David Shields fast-forwards the discussion of the central artistic issues of our time. Who owns ideas? How clear is the distinction between fiction and nonfiction? Has the velocity of digital culture rendered traditional modes obsolete? Exploring these and related questions, Shields orchestrates a chorus of voices, past and present, to reframe debates about the veracity of memoir and the relevance of the novel. He argues that our culture is obsessed with “reality,” precisely because we experience hardly any, and urgently calls for new forms that embody and convey the fractured nature of contemporary experience.
Part memoir, part manifesto, this exploration of the underside of Americaandrsquo;s obsession with safety is prompted by the authorandrsquo;s visit to a thrillingly alarming adventure playground in Tokyo.
andldquo;Amy Fusselman writes with a unique depth of feeling, and Savage Park is a fascinating and daresay essential meditation on childhood, parenthood, and the importance of wild spaces for those wild creatures known as kids.andrdquo; andmdash; Dave Eggers
Part memoir, part manifesto, this exploration of the underside of Americaandrsquo;s obsession with safety is prompted by the authorandrsquo;s visit to a thrillingly alarming adventure playground in Tokyoandquot;How fully can the world be explored,andquot; asks Amy Fusselman andquot; . . . if you are also trying not to die?andquot;
On a visit to Tokyo with her family, Fusselman stumbles on Hanegi playpark, where children are sawing wood, hammering nails, stringing hammocks to trees, building open fires. When she returns to New York, her conceptions of space, risk, and fear are completely changed. Fusselman invites us along on her tightrope-walking expeditions with Philippe Petit and late night adventures with the Tokyo park-workers, showing that when we deprive ourselves, and our children, of the experience of taking risks in space, we make them less safe, not more so.
Savage Park is a fresh, poetic reconsideration of behaviors in our culture that andmdash; in the guise of protecting us andmdash; make us numb and encourage us to sleepwalk through our lives. We babyproof our homes; plug our ears to our devices while walking through the city. What would happen if we exposed ourselves, if andmdash; like the children at Hanegi park andmdash; we put ourselves in situations that require true vigilance? Readers of Rebecca Solnit and Cheryl Strayed will delight in the revelations in Savage Park.
About the Author
is the author of nine previous books, including The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead
, a New York Times
bestseller; Black Planet
, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Remote
, winner of the PEN/Revson Award. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.
Visit his website at www.davidshields.com.
Table of Contents
and#160;2.and#8194;Above and Belowand#8195;25
and#160;3.and#8194;What There Is to Seeand#8195;44
and#160;9.and#8194;The Structures Trembleand#8195;127
Reading Group Guide
1. The book’s epigraph is a statement from Picasso: “All art is theft.” At many points in the book, Shields brings up issues relating to copyright law. How do you feel about an artist using copyrighted material in the creation of a new work of art? Would you call this an act of theft? Or does this practice promote the free flow of ideas between past, present, and future artists?
2. Discuss the meaning of the phrase “reality hunger.” When Shields uses this phrase, what is he attempting to describe?
3. There are many quotations stitched into the fabric of Reality Hunger. While reading the book, were you able to identify the source of one or more of these other voices? Why do you think the author made use of so many quotations? Why did he leave the sources unidentified? How did this technique affect your experience with the book?
4. James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, was highly criticized after it became known that parts of his book were fictitious. Why do you think Shields defends Frey? If Frey had published his book as a novel, would it have received so much attention?
5. In what ways does the structure of Reality Hunger reflect the actual subject matter it discusses? Why do you think Shields chose to arrange the book the way he did?
6. Shields writes, “The world exists. Why recreate it? I want to think about it, try to understand it. What I am is a wisdom junkie, knowing all along that wisdom is, in many ways, junk. I want a literature built entirely out of contemplation and revelation. Who cares about anything else? Not me.” Discuss what you think Shields means when he calls himself a “wisdom junkie”? Do you agree with Shields when he says, “The world exists. Why recreate it?” What implications does this statement have for literature? For other arts?
7. In the chapter entitled “Memory,” Shields suggests that the “truth” is very subjective, due in large part to the fallibility of human memory. Have you ever remembered an experience differently from how it actually happened? What are some reasons why two individuals could remember the same event in very different ways? Can we trust the “facts” in our memories?
8. Throughout the book, Shields praises the essay and the self-reflexive documentary film. What do these two forms have in common? In your opinion, what makes these forms so appealing to Shields’s aesthetic?
9. Before reading Reality Hunger, had you ever read any of David Shields’s other books, such as Remote, Black Planet, The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead, or Enough About You? What links these books? How have these previous books pointed the way toward Reality Hunger?
10. On the surface, a reality TV program and a memoir seem to have little in common. However, Shields makes connections between these and other works of art and entertainment. How does Shields’s concept of “reality” and the “real” serve to illustrate these connections? Can you identify any ways in which a reality TV program and a published memoir are similar? It what ways do they differ? Why are both so popular these days?
11. Shields is critical of the traditional novel as a contemporary art form. In the chapter “Books For People Who Find Television Too Slow,” he writes, “Painting isn’t dead. The novel isn’t dead. They just aren’t as central to the culture as they once were.” Do you agree with this statement? Shields began his writing career as a novelist. Why do you think Shields at this point is so critical of the novel as a genre?
12. Over the last half-decade, social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have emerged as a major new communications technology. In the “Hip-Hop” chapter, Shields calls Facebook a “crude personal essay machine.” In what ways is a person’s Facebook page similar to an essay about the self? What can and cannot be learned about a person through his or her social network page?
13. Has this book changed your attitudes toward collage art, sampling, and artistic assimilation? If so, how and why has your opinion changed? If your feelings have not changed, why not?
14. Discuss the role autobiography plays in the book, in particular the “DS” chapter. Did this chapter change your understanding of the book as a whole?
15. The book’s penultimate chapter, “Manifesto,” ends with the line “Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one.” What does this statement mean to you? Why did Shields place this line in such a prominent place in the book?
Read exclusive essays by David Shields from 2010