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There are new ideas

AyaSeaver's picture

Hi everyone! My name is Aya and I'm a sophomore trying to put together some kind of creative writing/english independent major. I work a lot with memoir. 


Something I have done since I was very young is collect quotes. I think we all try to hold phrases with us so that when we are sad or bored or even just engaged in conversation we can remember that in his Nobel Prize speech in 1950 Faulkner said the great problem facing modern writers is their question of "when will I be blown up?" or that Emily Dickinson advised us to tell truth "slant"--she also advised against putting floods and rivers in dresser drawers. 


     I'm not going to call Reality Hunger nihilistic, but I do think that Shields has tried to lock a flood inside a bureau. He has tried to contain and express the stretching and pulsing textual anxiety that has come into our modern age (e-books, Kindle, Copyright?). To me what Reality Hunger proves most poignantly is that writers in the modern world must move past their own fear, or fascination with it to the realities, the details underneath.   

Yes, we live in the 21st century--it's a horrible number, we have computers and bombs that can kills millions of people with a series of algorithms. We have achieved--not just  "America" but humanity-- a terrible victory: the ability to create refrigerators and velveeta alongsidethe inability to have every human being over the age of 13 read The Allegory of the Cave or the Bhagavad Gita


Shields proves that we have been concerned for ages that nothing is original, that every book is someone else's book or story or dream. He proves this by filling his book with other people's words, Thoreau, D'Agata. His book is intertextual it's meta, it's current. At the same time, we all do what he does. We all remember quotes that worry or nag us or make us happy. Interestingly, he does "craft" them into a text. 

 Not a novel. Not an essay. Probably not a narrative in most people's definition of the word. An argument?

Really just a vocalization. Ultimately that is where the book falls flat for me. Not because he only uses other people's words--a student I met in the campus center saw me reading the book and complained that maybe if he had joined the passages together instead of separating them, it would have been "more". More what?  (Worthy I think is what she was implying.)


I don't think artistry is what is missing here. Plenty of books lack artistry and climb the best seller's list. But all Shields ever does is begin his argument. His argument--his suggestion? Seems to be: it's all old, so it's all everyone's? But he's not entirely correct. And that's patently obvious in the hunger that actual waits under neath his text. 

Because ultimately, yes, we actually do have new ideas. Shields afterall isn't just quoting. He isn't even just collecting. He's compiling. There's an idea here, an argument. It fails when he hangs behind the words of others, when he doesn't make his own text distinguished from those of others.  And his ideas are waiting there. Underneath the quotes and sometimes even in his passages, is a perspective on the text on the modern world of literature. Otherwise, how could he have thought of this book? 

It's no an anthology. He is an editor, but at the same time, this could have been a very personal admittance. of words he love and loves loving. I don't think that's what has been done here, but there's possibility, in this form, of altering anthologies. of opening up the intertextual. 


Where there is space there will be growth. It's depressing (and boring) to think that just because we built the colosseum and the H bomb we can't build a new sentence structure. 




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