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David Shields Takes a Side

                                    Joe Oestreich, Nonfiction Editor

In his latest book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, David Shields argues against nonfiction's monopoly on truth, while complicating conventional notions of objectivity, authorship, and the nerdy-lawyer “need” for a works cited page. Vanity Fair hails Reality Hunger as “... a rousing call to arms for all artists to reject the laws governing appropriation, obliterate the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, and give rise to a new modern form.”

Any writer that has the cojones to label his work a manifesto is clearly one who is unafraid to tackle the thorny questions. So Waccamaw asked Shields to weigh in on a few issues that have have been stuck in our collective craw. Liberated by Shields’s theories on appropriation and co-optation, we’ve padded his answers with handy-dandy hypertext. Without clearing it with him first.

Thorny Question #1

Which genre is in more trouble, the novel or the straight-ahead memoir? 

Shields: The romantic comedy.

Thorny Question #2

Tom Wolfe’sStalking the Billion-footed Beast.” Still Has Something to Teach Us or Dated Bloviation? 

I deplore his fiction and almost all of his nonfiction, and I see all of the lacunae in this article, and yet it influenced me greatly when I read it, and I think it was a trigger for some of my evolution from fiction to nonfiction.

Thorny Question #3

In art-making, which is more important, originality or proficiency

Shields: Well, that’s an easy one: originality.

Thorny Question #4

Where is creative nonfiction headed, toward the lyric or toward the visual

Shields: First of all, the term “creative nonfiction” is useless and meaningless. The essay is headed in a more lyrical direction. Simultaneously, the entire culture is overwhelmingly visual, obviously, overwhelmingly sensational. I don’t see lyric and visual as being antithetical here. Take Alison Bechdel,  Art Spiegelman. Obviously, both lyrical and visual.

Thorny Question #5

Legalizing doping in Olympic athletes would be shattering the line between fiction and nonfiction. Agree or Disagree. 


Thorny Question #6

The TV show, Bridalplasty. Harmless Entertainment or Proof We’re Doomed?

Don’t know it. An acutal show? Genius title. Everything is proof we’re doomed. All I want is a front row seat on the 747 while it’s going down.

Thorny Question #7

LeBron James. Competitor or Backstabber?

LBJ = Runaway Slave.

Thorny Question #8

Which player would you want on your baseball team: .350 Batting Average And 5 Home Runs or 50 Home Runs But Hits Only .250?
Shields:  I’ll go with Murray Kempton on Willie Mays’s final days as a Met.

Thorny Question #9

The musical mash-up. Art or Novelty? 

Shields: Paging James Blake’s James Blake. Asked and answered, as they say.

Thorny Question #10

The human tendency to reduce the world to simple binaries. Useful or Dangerous? 

Shields: Dangerously useful.

David Shields’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, was published by Knopf in February 2010. The paperback version was released by Vintage in February 2011. His previous book, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (Knopf, 2008), was a New York Times bestseller. He is the author of eight other books, including Black Planet: Facing Race during an NBA Season, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity, winner of the PEN/Revson Award; and Dead Languages: A Novel, winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.


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