Drawing from so many varied sources as Shields does, there is the question of, curiosity about, insistence upon, authority.
Writing fiction has little to do with telling someone how to live their life, or attempting to show them how, nor in edifying. It is a compulsion for turning out a possible reality, in words. (Maybe that should be, a variation of reality, or a supposition of reality, or just, a fiction.) It seems inherently material: words are tools, words are the medium. Words are the prime medium because they are where the point is put across.
In architecture school, I recognized this truth: limitations give me freedom.
Plot often comes out of a work incidentally. I'm thinking of statements such as: "She was in the park watching the men cut the grass." In the narrative convention, one expects and usually gets that something comes next, a further development and detail. A built-in anticipation, a narrative, a plot, drives the telling onward.
John Cheever mined exhaustively from his life for hundreds of stories, and several novels, and no one ever questioned that it was anything but fiction.
Truth doesn't reside in what happened, but how we come to frame what happened.
When I first saw Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, I thought it was a documentary. A voice over of a woman reading from the dispatches of an itinerant anthropologist. But it occurred to me after the second viewing that these letters were a fictional device.
Fiction doesn’t condone wholesale plagiarism, which would not be called sampling, because such literature is considered a deliberated work of intellect. The simplicity of its expression means the component parts are the whole of the thing. In general, literature is a one person show (usually). A work of literature is not multi-layered, thus it is far easier to appropriate illegally, and less recognizable when it is done.
276. To put it another way: Literature has the most worked out d.i.y. ethos next to your neighbor’s garage band, but neither is your neighbor’s band going to become as big as the Beatles, nor will P. Diddy be sampling them.
An interesting form could come out of, for example, “take the seventh line from the 92nd page of the first five books on your shelf with “The” in the title.”
I think plot is mostly a result of narrative. The concession I make toward plot is because it is usually demanded, and I am likely to admit, “I did not plot.” The basis of the demand is an inability to embrace something different, hybrid, open.
Does story necessarily seem to say everything happens for a reason? It is questionable to take only the strictest and literalist of terms for what anything is.
Plot, in the most compelling works, is almost residual. Cortazar’s Hopscotch; Beckett’s Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable; Bernhard’s On A Mountain; Carla Harryman’s Gardener of Stars; Bolano’s 2666.
The closer one gets to genre, the more over-determined the prose vehicle becomes: genre=anti-art.
We characterize fiction as an escape (and that this is somehow bad?), but isn’t that more an escape for the reader? Isn't there an equivalent escape for essay and memoir?
I craft for myself first, for an interested reader, second.
We aspire to life as art because when it’s done masterfully, that’s what it looks like.
Doubting myself one day, a friend edified me with my predicament (and paid me a high compliment): “You’re a painting, man. You’re a fucking Rauschenberg.”
In the naïveté of my writing apprenticeship, I assumed the goal of writing fiction was to strive to write something beautiful. I’ve come to see the goal as a combination of an artistic and aesthetic expression that aims at truth. The result will ultimately alienate some, and provide frisson, for others. So, it has more to do with truth than beauty, though that can be beautiful in itself.
*I’ll admit, I was prepared to despise David Shield’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Yet what’s so compelling is the ground covered in advancing an idea that I don’t in any way agree with (more or less, that “the novel is dead”). The ideas are presented in such a way that makes me think about the process of writing, and in so doing, made me manifest a bit myself (It is “a manifesto”). The book feels like a microcosm of how writing is about assimilating information and thinking on the page. Thus my review here is a reaction, a refraction, and a reflection. I have responded to a selection of the numbered segments (there are 618 in total) in the body text of Reality Hunger; the subsequent footnotes indicate the reference number and a facsimile of the text, or the complete text, whichever I found easier to crib from, in the book’s appendix. In the spirit of the book, I’m also playing fast and loose with attributions. If you want to see them in full, you will have to look at the book.
139. “In the end, I missed the pleasure of a fully imagined work in which the impulse to shape experience seems as strong as the impulse to reveal it.”
143. The notation refers to the Dogme 95 manifesto, which Shields quotes at length.
182. “For example, in Proust, who is to me at base an essayist, nothing ever happens. The only obstacles are that someone might rebuff someone else or someone might get sick or grow old, and even these are usually hypothetical obstacles. People get educations, travel, buy paintings, go on diplomatic missions, but the events are for the most part meetings between various people (or simply sightings of one person by another, sometimes thanks to a stroll or a ride in a carriage) and what these meetings being out on a psychological level, about life itself. How can a work be considered fiction when there's no plot? Philosophy, perhaps, or criticism, but not fiction.”
192. “The line between fact and fiction [...]” Raban
193. “[...] Just what is the relation of your memoir to the truth? It is as close as it can be. The moment you put pen to paper and begin to shape a story, the essential nature of life--that one damn thing after another--is lost.” Dorothy Gallagher, “Recognizing the Book That Needs to Be Written,” New York Times.
199. "[...] The border line between documentaries and feature films is blurred; in fact, it doesn't exist." Werner Herzog
261. Art is theft
276. Sampling, how rappers get the MC name.
283. A literary equivalent of sampling.
321. “Story seems to say that everything happens for a reason, and I want to say, No, it doesn’t.” Shields.
324. “The absence of plot leaves the reader room to think about other things.”
384-397. Various annotations on genre
420. “[...] I most admire those books that not only enable me to endure life but show me how they got there [...]”
503. “Everything in life, turned sideways, can look like--can be--art. Art suddenly looks and is more interesting, and life, astonishingly enough, starts to be livable.” Shields.
540. “Anything you do will be an abuse of somebody else’s aesthetics.” Rauschenberg.
601. "Beautiful Illusion."