Friday, May 21, 2010

Reality Hungry: A Manifesto - David Shields

I'm not quite sure how to describe this book. The basic premise is Shields's belief that our culture is obsessed with "reality" because we rarely, if ever, experience it. To make his point, Sheilds launches into an in-depth discussion about memoirs. People ostensibly read memoirs because they want "real" stories. But, memoirs by their very nature are distorted reality - they contain the memories of the writer, not necessarily verified reality, but the facts as one remembers them, with the impressions and viewpoints of the individual at a given point in time. They are not objective biography. Despite this, people are up in arms when they realize that a given memoir has been exaggerated or fabricated (James Frey receives a number of mentions in the book). Sheilds discusses this phenomenon in a variety of other media, including the most obvious, Reality Television. People are fascinated by reality television, yet it's clear that many (if not all?) of these shows rely on scripted plot-lines and manufactured drama. The most interesting (to me) aspect of this book is that it is made up entirely of passages lifted from other sources. Shields has managed to put together a basically coherent argument about the state of reality, by compiling writings of other individuals. As he says, it wouldn't make sense to write a book about lies, without including a few lies. Because of the way the book is written, it does come across as a bit of a hodge-podge at times. Nonetheless, I did think it raised some interesting arguments about the nature of truth and reality, and why people are obsessed with truth in a world where we can never be sure to actually have achieved it

No comments: