Stuff Next to Other Stuff.

May 21, 2010 § 2 Comments

Things from “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto” by David Shields, an essay I read this morning after going through a pile of back issues of The Believer, looking for another essay I never actually found.

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.

Verboten thematic: secular Jews, laureates of the real, tend, anyway, to be better at analyzing reality than recreating it.

…which is what I love.  The critical intelligence in the imaginative position.

Great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings.

You can read more things about/by Shields here, which is totally weird, seeing as I sat down just now with the March 2006 issue in my lap, then opened my Google reader & the words “Reality Hunger” popped up & I didn’t write them.  I think I might’ve made it happen with my brain. Ice cream.  Ice cream.  Ice cream.

Really, I just like this essay because it mentions Jews.  I haven’t read the book of the same name, but from what I’ve now read about it, it sounds as if reading his argument in the short form may be the best way to take it.

It’s subtitled “Why the Lyric Essay Is Better Than Fiction.”  So there you go.  What he’s really saying, though, seems to be that the lyric essay is “better” than a particular kind of fiction that relies heavily on plot, & that does that in order to move things forward, to an end which, Shields argues, is chiefly entertainment.  He also seems to be pushing for fiction to adopt what he perceives to be qualities of the lyric essay, a genre somewhat unburdened by expectations re: plot.  He wants a fiction that relies on voice, on characters that are mostly feeling/interpreting/articulating machines, that can keep us with them when plot’s scaffolding falls away.  Analyzing rather than creating reality, etc.

Yeah, me too.  Probably because I’m a secular Jew.  I can’t really tell the degree to which he’s arguing that this kind of thing isn’t already being written, though, because I think it is*, though maybe more since 2006.  I don’t know.  Fiction baffles me.  Mostly because there’s so much of it.

*(Blake Butler thinks it is, too, & has been.  & I’m inclined to agree with what he says, not having read Shields’s book but still having the feeling that if this essay went on much longer, he’d start taking shots at his feet, which it appears is exactly what he did.  What I think this essay is useful for is that it’s one of many that, at points, offers some ideas about the ways in which we approach reality.)

I promised Things though, not Thing, so here’s another.  Because this is the part where I try to understand things I don’t by reading everything through Wallace Stevens, who I also don’t understand.

The subject matter of poetry is not that ‘collection of solid, static objects extended in space’ but the life that is lived in the scene that it composes; and so reality is not that external scene but the life that is lived in it.  Reality is things as they are.

Every image is an intervention on the part of the image-maker.

Thus poetry becomes and is a transcendent analogue composed of the particulars of reality, created by the poet’s sense of the world, that is to say, his attitude, as he intervenes and interposes the appearances of that sense.

Yeah.  I like this guy.  This idea that when we render the seeing of a thing, as in an image (maybe poetry’s “plot”?) or even render an event (actual plot), it is the way the rendering of these things reveals something about the unique position of the writer that’s important for us to be aware of & approach with intention.  Analyzing through creating, maybe.  Which, I think, doesn’t exclude plot (or whatever), or anything really, though it probably does tend away from the entirely plot-or-image-driven.  Though maybe not.  I’ve at least got the mixed feelings part squared away.

Either way, I’m going to go check my freezer.  There’d better be ice cream.


§ 2 Responses to Stuff Next to Other Stuff.

  • Amy P says:

    LOVE this – and completely agree with Shields (and you). I think so often a certain kind of fiction sounds very contrived because it is – relying on plot and something clever – without much of the visionary or transformative -which is what makes literature great. Lyric essays always end up including a great deal of action – it’s just in an original, uncontrived form. I think the way many fictions writers think of plot has everything to do with intellectualization – a defense – and nothing to do with experience. And so we get a bunch of writers deciding on the rules of a closed system and then analyzing the work of others and deciding whether or not it meets their rather plodding criteria. And really -this has nothing to do with why people write, read or remember anything from literature.

  • Amy P says:

    The man bent over his guitar,
    A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

    They said, ‘You have a blue guitar,
    You cannot play things as they are.’

    The man replied, ‘Things as they are
    Are changed upon the blue guitar.’

    And they said then, ‘But play, you must,
    A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
    A tune upon the blue guitar
    Of things exactly as they are.’

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