In case you missed it, there has been something of a storm raging in some parts of the world of letters over David Shields’ new book: Reality Hunger. Why? Because in this brave manifesto, he takes on the future of literature by means of ‘some 582 aphorisms, mini-essays, provocative statements and quotations–most of them from sources other than Shields himself.’
The bone of contention? None of the sources are referenced, leaving us the reader to ponder the nature of what is original, what is inspired, what is stolen, what is… art. As my good friend Stacy has written in her excellent review of the book:
The book asks enormous questions like, `What’s next for literature?’ While some will applaud, many will take issue with Shields’ conclusions. Among them: the death throes of the novel, and a call for the end of copyright as we know it. He makes the controversial argument that fiction is on the decline… Reality – elusive, contradictory, and open to interpretation – is more interesting than made-up stories because it requires readers to struggle with the complex idea of what might be true. So what’s next for literature? Shields makes a case for the essay…
What I’ve loved about the book is the tension it forces me to deal with with every line.
107: These are the facts, my friend, and I must have faith in them.
Except we have no idea if this is Shields speaking, or someone else. It’s brilliantly unbalancing, forcing the reader to really read the text, and read again, wondering if they’ve read it somewhere before, pondering its familiarity.
And as ‘people of the Book’, this mashing up of text is precisely the tonic we need in our overly familiar and overly comfortable readings. Just how confident are you on authorship? Just how good is the translation? And just how much do we really mean sola scriptura? I’ll get to that in the next post.
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