Such a strange, interesting book. Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields is an examination of the evolving nature of the personal essay, and yet, it really isn’t that, either. Shields’ technique is like a collage, using small passages of his own thoughts remixed with the words of others, stitched together into more than 500 pieces of writing take out of context of their original home around themes of writing. What comes across from this wonderful book (I happen to like the non-traditional narrative that Shields promotes and uses here) is that the act of writing itself is the act of reinventing and stealing and appropriation and reformatting ideas of others through our own lens of interpretation. And, he notes, the most interest forms of writing are the ones that push against boundaries and forge new terrain.
His larger point about writing is that we, the writers, never tell the truth. We never know reality. We only know our version of it, and then we writers twist and turn and rework our reality to make it flow on the page. So, he believes that biographies and autobiographies and most non-fiction is false work, and the truest way to show reality is through fiction, since it is clearly made up yet becomes an interpretation of the writer. And both writer and reader are in tacit partnership on this.
The book garnered some headlines when it first came out because Shields did not want to cite or credit any of the hundreds of authors that he steals from here and Shields tells us, his readers, that ” …I’m trying to regain a freedom … (but) Random House lawyers determined that it was necessary for me to provide a complete list of citations …” which Shields does. He then tells the reader to pull out their scissors and cut away the citation pages.
In fact, one of the greatest pleasures I had with this book was digging back to the citations and seeing just where and from whom it was that Shields stole from. I found that quite fascinating to try to figure out the voices and I played a sort of game with myself, the reader, in trying to determine if it was Shields the writer, or Shields the stealer.
Peace (in high art plagiarism),