Few books in recent memory have caused as much of a stir as Reality Hunger, the 219-page “manifesto” by David Shields.
It’s a book that defies easy classification.
An argument. A clarion call. An affront. A life story.
An unapologetic assault on the literary status quo.
An essay-memoir-pointillistic-literary-collage-and-exercise-in-appropriation-art, one which argues that a new artistic movement is forming, a movement which prizes as its virtues things like randomness, self-reflexivity, reader/viewer participation, and the total obliteration of the line between fiction and nonfiction.
The book has been greeted as a revelation. A game-changer. A thunderous ars poetica.
The book has been greeted as reprehensible. Tired. An irresponsible attempt to subvert existing copyright law, all while generating a massive wave of cheap publicity.
Writers in particular have reacted strongly to the book. Some with venemous anger; others, a fit of nervousness; others still with unbridled enthusiasm.
“To call something a manifesto is a brave step,” writes Luc Sante in the New York Times. “It signals that you are hoisting a flag and are prepared to go down with the ship.”
Shields—as far as I can tell—is still afloat, and he was kind enough to speak with me recently about his life, his work, and his assessment of the cultural moment.