Was going to post on Why I hate the word pretentious and love the word abstract, but have decided to leave that for another time—or maybe something else. Because I’m reading David Shields book Reality Hunger, and what a thrilling manifesto it is. Rousing, affirming, audacious, genuinely un-put-downable. The book has received some harsh reviews from critics who accuse Shields of being anti the novel. But I don’t think he is; I think he’s asking important questions about literary fiction and narrative; about cohesion and fragmentation, about composition and reality; I think he’s putting forward the idea that the novel—that writing—can be many things. Nor do I think he is, as some of his detractors have suggested, anti metaphor and the imaginary.
Here’s one of my favourite sections:
‘For me, anyway, the fictional construct rarely takes you deeper into the material that you want to explore. Instead, it takes you deeper into the fictional construct, into the technology of narrative, of plot, of place, of scene, of characters. In most novels I read, the narrative completely overwhelms whatever it was the writer supposedly set out to explore in the first place.’
Not only novels. How many plays have I seen where exactly that has happened? Where an interesting idea or sensibility has been squashed flat under a ton of plot points, character arcs and narrative crapola.
Reality Hunger is one of the most exciting books I’ve come across since I read Therapy’s Delusions (years ago) and Ethan Watters’s and Richard Ofshe’s contentious argument that Freud’s notion of an active unconscious that affects our everyday lives is nothing more than a culturally supported myth. But that’s another story.