Reality Hunger:
A Manifesto

Knopf, 2010

Excerpt

Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art. Zola: “Every proper artist is more or less a realist according to his own eyes.” Braque’s goal: “To get as close as I could to reality.” E.g., Chekhov’s diaries, E.M. Forster’s Commonplace Book, Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up (much his best book), Cheever’s posthumously published journals (same), Edward Hoagland’s journals, Alan Bennett’s Writing Home. So, too, every artistic movement or moment needs a credo: Horace’s Ars Poetica, Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesie, Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry, André Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto,” Lars von Trier’s “Dogme 95” statement. My intent is to write the ars poetica for a burgeoning group of interrelated (but unconnected) artists in a multitude of forms and media (lyric essay, prose poem, collage novel, visual art, film, television, radio, performance art, rap, stand-up comedy, graffiti) who are breaking larger and larger chunks of “reality” into their work. (Reality, as Nabokov never got tired of reminding us, is the one work that is meaningless without quotation marks.)

 

Awards

  • Chosen as one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications

 

Reviews

 “Reality Hunger is an exhilarating smash-up. . . . a work of virtuoso banditry that promises to become, like Lewis Hyde’s The Gift for earlier generations, the book that artists in all media turn to for inspiration, vindication, and altercation as they struggle to reinvent themselves against the headwinds of our time.”—Rob Nixon, Chronicle of Higher Education

“Maybe he’s simply ahead of the rest of us, mapping out the literary future of the next generation.”—Susan H. Greenberg, Newsweek

“The driving force behind this entertaining and highly persuasive polemic is a frustration with the contemporary mainstream novel. . . . I can’t stop recommending it to my friends. There is no more effective description (and example) of the aesthetic concerns of the internet age than this.”—Edward King, The Times of London

“On the one hand: Who does this guy think he is? On the other: It’s about time someone said something this honest in print. . . . [I am] grateful for this beautiful (yes, raw and gorgeous) book.”—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

“This is the most provocative, brain-rewiring book of 2010. It’s a book that feels at least five years ahead of its time and teaches you how to read it as you go.”—Alex Pappademas, GQ

“I find Shields’s book absorbing, even inspiring. The ideas he raises are so important, his ideas are so compelling, that I raved about this book the whole time I was reading it and have regularly quoted it to friends in the weeks since.”—Jami Attenberg, Bookforum

“Thank goodness for David Shields and his new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, which, among other things, is a literary battle cry for the creation of a new genre, one that doesn’t draw distinctions between fiction and nonfiction, originality and plagiarism, memoir and fabrication, scripted and unscripted. . . . Shields, brilliant, thoughtful, and yes, original, is calling for an ‘ars poetica for the burgeoning group of interrelated but unconnected artists in a variety of forms and media.’”—Cathy Alter, Atlantic

“David Shields’s radical intellectual manifesto, Reality Hunger, is 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.”—Elissa Schapell, Vanity Fair

“I don’t think it would be too strong to say that Shields’s book will be a sort of bible for the next generation of culture-makers.”—David Griffith, Bookslut

“Reality Hunger urgently and succinctly addresses matters that have been in the air, have relentlessly gathered momentum, and have just been waiting for someone to link them together. . . . [Shields’s] book probably heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come.”—Luc Sante, The New York Times Book Review

“As is true of any good manifesto, [Shields] clocks or locks a feeling in the air, something already everywhere, familiar but not fully formed.”—Alexandra Juhasz, The Huffington Post

“Essential reading for both readers and writers. Bold, entertaining, contentious, it pushes us to think about the processes and future of fiction-making, as well as its relation to nonfiction. In short, it shakes us up a bit.”—Stephen Emms, The Guardian