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TyL's picture

My Problems With Reality Hunger

 Ok, so this book pissed me off big time. First of all, it's under Shields' name--by David  Shields, not edited by David Shields. If I hadn't known beforehand that this book was essentially a collection of quotations--a few by him, but most by other people--I would have assumed he was the writer, not usually bothering to check in the index, and his purpose would have been served. Even, however, had I not known, I would have assumed he was a sanctimonious, self-serving elitist asshole, for the simple fact that he made me pay 25 bucks for this book, while espousing the idea that ideas cannot be copyrighted and thus we should just stop trying. quote a recent TV character, where do I start with the bad? First of all, Shields is the nastiest of hypocrites. If he had a grain of integrity, he would make like Cory Doctorow--a British (I think) writer and lit professor who espouses many of the same ideas Shields does. But here's the difference between Shields and good ol' Cory, who I think is wrong but who I can at least appreciate: I can access all sorts of free domain books on my Droid e-book app. Most of these books are antiques, featuring titles like Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, Sun Tzu's The Art of War--but the only real recent exception is Cory Doctorow's books. Doctorow not only talks the talk, like Shields delights in doing, but walks the walk as well: all of his books are available on the internet, for absolutely free. None of this paying 25 dollars for a collection of quotes by other people bullshit--Doctorow is the real deal, and Shields should practice what he preaches.

Then there's the ideas Shields espouses in his collection of ideas. Specifically, his advancement of collage as the single significant art of the 21st century (or something like that; I'm not feeling very quotey tonight). This, as well as his entire chapter "m: in praise of brevity", smacks of Bradbury. But first, the quote that got to me: in describing the "short-short story," we find a glorification of the abbreviated modern attention span, the sort of ADHD of the mass consciousness that Shields' entire work revels in: "Delivering only highlights and no downtime, the short-short seems to me to gain access to contemporary feeling states more effectively than the conventional story does. As rap, movie trailers, stand-up comedy, fast food, commercials, sound bites, phone sex, bumper stickers, email, voice mail, and Headline News all do, short-shorts cut to the chase. Short-shorts eschew the furniture-moving, the table-setting typical of the longer story...I've become an impatient writer and reader: I seem to want the moral, psychological, philosophical news to be delivered now..." 

Contrast with Captain Beatty's speech from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and you will find my concerns: "Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending...Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume... Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern, for the past five centuries or more... Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, pic, look, eye, now, flick, here, there, swift, pace, up, down, in, out, why, how, who, what, where, eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, bing, bong, boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!" 

That sounds so, so eerily similar, the casually arrogant, impishly impatient quote of (pause a moment to let me look this up, because Shields sure as hell won't do it for me) ha! Shields himself! I am validated--Shields' quote to the classic dystopia of Ray Bradbury's invention. Everything boiled down to the snap close, the meaning right out there in the open, without all that annoying buildup--and yet, I would posit, doesn't that kind of invalidate the meaning? Food for thought right there.

But why am I getting so very, very exercised about this? These quotes were, after all, taken not from me, but from other authors. It is they who have to feel the itchy welt of Shields' parasite proboscis. And yet I, too, am a writer, or I intend to be one. I'm working on stuff that I hope to see published within the next few years, and it galls me to the bone to think that someone like Shields could simply come by and, willy-nilly and without asking my permission, hack off some particularly nice bit of prose from here or some poetic invention from there, stuff that I put in the time and effort and bloodsweatandtears to invent, and he did not. Yes, I had my influences--these I will acknowledge. But I did NOT--in fact made every effort NOT to--copy from them wholesale. I took what they wrote, mashed it together, and put my own spin on it--and that is the difference between me and Shields' collage "artistry." In the end, you are only taking bits and shards of what others have written (or painted, or photographed, or whatever) and fitting them together in different ways. The invention you do there is minimal. If you are putting a puzzle together in the way it was not meant to fit, you aren't creating a new puzzle--you're simply arranging the pieces in a different way. Maybe some of the pieces of my puzzle bear resemblances to other writers, but none of them are exactly the same. Where they paint the sky blue, I paint it purple. My flowers are more important to the puzzle than theirs, and they are violets as opposed to daisies. Shields has simply put the daisies in the sky and the blue on the ground. 

But it's more than all this logicking can explain, honestly. To see Shields take a quote of mine (yeah, some of you are thinking, I should be so lucky) would be like watching him hack off a piece of my child--the one I had sweated and screamed out into the world--and being powerless to stop it, because the weight of the world is on Shields' side, telling me I have no right to try, because, after all, ideas can't be copyrighted.


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