After a whistle stop tour of my hometowns of LA, San Diego and NYC, I’m back in my other home, Petersham, NSW, back teaching, writing. The dog, cat and kids. My office in the upstairs hallway. My beloved is here, and an indispensable best friend, family both there and here, my livelihood (for the present) is here, but my characters, my soul-mates, are there.

Not as horny a dilemma as you think. I drive on the left but glance to the right. I watch SBS News, but hear CBS 8. I eavesdrop on the conversation behind me on the train (a couple of call center managers talking about ‘escalations’ and ‘dehiring’) and give a SoCal edge to their antipodean jive. As the train winds out into the suburbs I see the two story timber homes of Brooklyn rather than the single-story brick bungalows so prevalent here. The boarded up bookstores are the same everywhere, as are the basement dildo stores and thrift shops and Laundromats and pawn stores, but instead of VIP Lounges I see gun stores, and smell Mexican instead of Thai, slices instead of pies and great vats of undrinkable swill instead of aromatic shots of espresso. And water water everywhere. I imagine the azure Southern Pacific washing up on the silver sands of southern California and see frozen lakes instead of mangrove swamps.

It’s a little scary, a little schizo, and I wonder what I’m missing. I think about Flaubert and Faulkner, neither of whom were entirely where they wanted to be and I also think of Stephen King who transformed Flatline, Maine into a febrile field of dreams and whose words stare back at me from a post-it on my monitor.

YOU CAN DO THIS.


“…the books from which entire literatures have flowed, like Homer, Rabelais, are encyclopedias of their time,” wrote Flaubert to Colet. “They knew everything,” he said. He was writing in 1854 and grappling with a momentous, essentially silent, event in human history: books had surpassed the human brain for universal capacity. The encyclopedic individual to which Flaubert referred–Homer, Rabelais and their ilk–had been eclipsed by the summation of knowledge as contained in the book. The course of flowing knowledge had reversed–no longer would it flow from individual to book. Rather, the book, the compilation and accumulation of knowledge, would forever inform the individual. (In modern life, the flow has again transitioned: book to computer–and most recently, computer to internet.) It is related that Gottfried Leibniz was the last man to know everything that could be known; that after he died in 1716, the knowledge the world contained was greater than what one individual was capable of knowing. There is no fact to support either of these notions, Leibniz’s omniscience or the quantity of knowledge in the world at his time. Regardless, it is a concept that gives me pause.

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.