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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 You’ll 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 Horace’s Ars Poetica to Lars von Trier’s “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 explores—the bending of form and genre, the lure and blur of the real—play 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 Capa’s “The Falling Soldier” photograph, the boy who wasn’t 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.
“Reality Hunger urgently and succinctly addresses matters that have been in the air, have relentlessly gathered momentum, and have just been waiting for someone to link them together. . . . [Shields’s] book . . . heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come.” —Luc Sante, The New York Times Book Review
“Maybe he’s simply ahead of the rest of us, mapping out the literary future of the next generation.” —Susan H. Greenberg, Newsweek
“Aphorism, science, poetry, history, dogma, philosophy, pronouncement, rant, cant, news report, act of faith, funkadelic exploration, literary criticism, one-man wiki, print-page blog, confession, anecdote, truth, and beauty—David Shield’s book is that, and more. It tells us who we are and why we read and why the things we read exist and where it all might go tomorrow.” —Albert Goldbarth
“The subtitle of David Shields’s Reality Hunger categorizes it as ‘a manifesto,’ which is a little like calling a nuclear bomb ‘a weapon.’ In a series of numbered paragraphs, Shields explodes all sorts of categorical distinctions–between fiction and nonfiction, originality and plagiarism, memoir and fabrication, reality and perception. It’s a book designed to inspire and to infuriate, and it is sure to do both. . . . Audacious, coherent, compelling . . . a work of original criticism that consistently raises provocative questions about the medium it employs.”–Kirkus, starred review
“I’ve just finished reading Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, and I’m lit up by it—astonished, intoxicated, ecstatic, overwhelmed. It’s a pane that’s also a mirror; as a result of reading it, I can’t stop looking into myself and interrogating my own artistic intentions. It will be published to wild fanfare, because it really is an urgent book: a piece of art-making itself, a sublime, exciting, outrageous, visionary volume.”—Jonathan Lethem
“This is the book our sick-at-heart moment needs—like a sock in the jaw or an electric jolt in the solar plexus—to wake it up. Reality Hunger will create sensations of like-mindedness in scattered souls everywhere. Shields has goosed the zeitgeist. The point of the polemic is his pugilistic and performative assertion of appropriation’s inevitability: literary artists need to be given the liberties that have long been accorded to visual artists (ever since Duchamp).”—Wayne Koestenbaum
“Reality Hunger seems to come from one author but in fact is a compendium of quoted passages from writers, poets, rockers, and whatnot—all of it traversing the disputed terrain of the real. It’s cranky, generous, ridiculous, serious, and subtle; it’s ambitious but with a nonchalant, throwaway feel, like a Lou Reed lyric. Its parts are so tightly strung together that you can’t pick a single thread without involving yourself in the whole shivering web. Anybody who writes or thinks or breathes is already living inside the questions raised by Reality Hunger, which is one of the most provocative books I’ve ever read. It’s perfect for now, for our time: it has that vitality. It’s truly great. I think it’s destined to become a classic.”—Charles D’Ambrosio
“David Shields’s Reality Hunger is a rare and very peculiar thing: a wake-up call that is a pleasure to hear and respond to. A daring combination of montage and essay, it’s crammed full of good things. Reading it, I kept thinking, ‘Yes, exactly, I wish I’d said that,’ and then I realized I had.”—Geoff Dyer
“I’ve just finished (for the first of what I know will not be the only time) Reality Hunger. Shields says things here that I have thought, wished I thought, wished someone would say. A sparky, brainy, passionate, often very funny, and never small-hearted or pinch-minded book: rigorous, demanding but generous and searching and self-debunking. I have written in the margins, underlined, and be-starred many passages and in general have ruined the book as a physical object.”—Patricia Hampl
“Reality Hunger is brilliant. It keeps the reader alert and attentive and excited through intelligence, epigrammatic concision, wit, and sheer rightness, as when a pronouncement is so correct that it just pulls all the clouds aside. The style of pronouncements in the book—imperious, comic, menacing—feels a bit like Wilde, the great commentator on aesthetic boredom. At other times, the book sounds to me like Flaubert or Baudelaire. There’s a feeling of the imminence of violence in these perceptions. This is a great compliment.”—Charles Baxter
“Reality Hunger demolishes all the conventional literary pieties to which nearly everyone pays eager lip service.”—Tim Parks
“Reality Hunger is a splendid opening of the chest cavity, where the discussion of the real might take place, and we, Medical Examiners all, are delighted Shields has cut so cleanly, brought so many instruments to bear all at once. David Shields has written yet another stunning book: an exhortation to attend the sublime pleasures of truth and ‘truth,’ and the suspicious and clandestine meetings of fact and ‘fact.’ Why is this man always writing the most interesting books? I think he is not from our country.”—Frederick Barthelme
“Reality Hunger is witty, insightful, and compulsively readable. Every page abounds in fresh observations.”—Lydia Davis
“William Empson, an atheist with the temperament of a theologian, liked to use the word ‘argufying.’ Reality Hunger is a terrific piece of argufication. It’s an engrossingly interesting performance.”—Jonathan Raban
“This exhilarating, audacious plunge into the controversies of fiction and nonfiction cannot help but illuminate and subtilize the discussion. Shields’s brilliant insights and playful, forthright, devious mind are a tonic in our solemn literary life. Reality Hunger is, above all, a pleasure to read.” —Phillip Lopate
“Reality Hunger is brilliant. I’m going to use it in my syllabus this year, and I’ll be quoting it endlessly. It’s refreshing to find such a like-minded and eloquent writer. I take heart from this book.”—Amy Hempel
“Reality Hunger is thoughtful, provocative, and querulous, and I hope it helps to start a much-needed conversation.”—Ben Marcus