David Shields’s clarion call...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. His is a complex and multifaceted argument, not easily reducible to a bullet-point list—but then, so was the Surrealist Manifesto. Reality Hunger does contain quite a few slogan-ready phrases, but they weren’t all written by Shields, and some are more than a century old ... his book...argues forcefully and passionately, but not like a debate-team captain, more like a clever if overmatched boxer, endlessly bobbing and weaving. And for all that so much of its verbiage is the work of others, it positively throbs with personality. This is so not simply because Shields includes a chapter of autobiographical vignettes; he puts his crotchets on display. He is serious perhaps to a fault ... On the whole, though, he is a benevolent and broad-minded revolutionary, urging a hundred flowers to bloom, toppling only the outmoded and corrupt institutions. His book may not presage sweeping changes in the immediate future, but it probably heralds what will be the dominant modes in years and decades to come.
The merely literary questions...the questions for readers and writers, are not what distinguish Reality Hunger as the truly necessary book that it has become. Shields identified a spiritual state that has come to dominate American culture as a whole ... Reality Hunger is an artifact from the birth of the post-fact. It was only through a glass darkly that Shields could see what was happening, but he did see it. He saw it, but he did not know quite what to make of it ... Like an archeological relic, Reality Hunger provides essential information about the crumbling of meaning in our time, showing that, as recently as 2010, it was still possible to discuss facts as if they existed ... Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of rereading Reality Hunger is how its most sophisticated and nuanced ideas of the interplay between memoir and reportage, between facts and identity, have been utterly assimilated into everyday life ... In a world turned upside down by reality hunger, Reality Hunger needs to be turned upside down too. The post-fact world no longer demands, as the condition of creative fluidity, a rush away from the tyranny of facts, as Shields imagined. Rather the opposite: the moment demands an art of focused observation. The essay is the theater of the brain, but it is also a harvest of vision. We need a new art of information. We need to start building it right now.
Reality Hunger...is not just a manifesto for a new kind of genre-blurring 21st-century prose, it is also a series of short, sharp provocations ... For all its supposed 21st-century cut and thrust, Reality Hunger reeks of a certain kind of endlessly referential, post-modernist lit-crit theory from the 1980s that briefly made Barthes and Baudrillard fashionable names to drop whether or not one had read their books. Which is a shame, because there is much here that is thought-provoking ... Shields has a point when he nails the traditional contemporary novel for being, for the most part, not at all contemporary ... Some of the most illuminating sections in Reality Hunger are, unsurprisingly, to do with the memoir, one of the defining literary forms of our time. Refreshingly, he argues for the unreliability of memory as a basis for memoir writing ... your tolerance for [Reality Hunger] may well depend on which side of the great post-modern divide you stand. It is not often that Ezra Pound and the Beastie Boys are celebrated in the same paragraph ... I doubt whether his manifesto will have any great impact beyond the rarefied world of literary culture, but it certainly seems to have struck a chord within it.
He's right to praise short-short fiction, an exciting genre, but he does so in such clumsy fashion that the point is virtually lost. Similar problems crop up throughout Shields' frustrating 'manifesto.' Some of his observations are interesting—occasionally they're even inspiring. But there's a huge gulf between his ideas and their execution ... Shields tends to undermine his own argument ... which is it: Are we lacking compelling narrative artists, or has Shields simply chosen to check out on contemporary fiction? ... Shields' method treats 'art' of all different kinds in democratic fashion—too democratically, in fact ... This is an awkward, artless book. Shields might hope we believe that's by design - the new movement he wants to embody, he writes, will be notable for its 'deliberate unartiness'—but that sounds like a pre-emptive salvo meant to fend off criticism.
... an important book. The fiction vs non-fiction debate has become intense in recent years, and Shields cranks it up a notch ... there are frustrations, not least with his discussion of reality TV, which fails to explore what, if anything, The Apprentice and American Idol have to do with reality. The real problem, though, is the central thesis. It's smart, stimulating and aphoristic, even when the aphorisms are stolen. But the more you think about it, the dodgier it seems ...
Shields has written a provocative and entertaining manifesto. But in his hunger for reality, he forgets that fiction also offers the sustenance of truth.
Reality Hunger has a very New York feel about it. For all its manifesto-making, the book seems to work with a certain dignified confidence in its well-established context. It does not have the disheveled, slouching, skeptical, laughing insolence of the West Coast ... Much of the book feels like an argument about 'taste' ... Why does Shields take so little interest in the American traditions that have worked more seriously, more murderously, in the name of the anti-realist? American modernists like William Carlos Williams. The Beats. Black Mountain poets. The great figures of postmodernism like Barth, Pynchon, and Ishmael Reed ... Here's the obvious thing that, for whatever reason, Shields doesn't recognize: the kind of work that he claims to want already exists in abundance ... I think this book reflects Shields' visceral ambivalence about living in 'the shadow of celebrity' that he rendered so powerfully in Remote.
David Shields's Reality Hunger has...immodest ambition and exhorter's zeal ... there will be readers (and I'm among them) who take issue with the way that Mr. Shields divorces a novel's form from its content. Reality Hunger makes virtually no mention of fiction's capacity for emotional discovery or, as old-fashioned as it sounds, moral instruction. Many people have little interest in reading things that are purely simulacra of anxious everyday disorder; they look to books to escape that disorder or to make sense of it, to stir their deepest feelings or their noblest impulses in ways that real life rarely does ... Reality Hunger is less a manifesto than a narcissistic exercise. By the time you reach entry No. 194 or so, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that Mr. Shields is indifferent to perspectives that vary from his own. Instead, because he has a short attention span, so must the rest of the world.
At its best, Reality Hunger is a suggestive, opinionated dictionary of the moment. Even when Shields plays author-as-arranger, the force of his arguments comes through ... There's something straw-mannish, though, in his antagonism to fiction. He fails to account for what fiction, at its most thoughtful and exhilarating, can do ... Reality Hunger falls short in its refusal to take the hunger for narrative seriously, or to consider why, culturally, we might not want to abandon fiction's entering of another consciousness through character ... I want people to read his book and passionately debate these issues. I want this discussion to matter. And I want to be part of it.
This, and I say this as a reader grateful for this beautiful (yes, raw and gorgeous) book, is the voice of a child (or an adolescent). Genre has failed us; narrative has failed us; literature fell to pieces when it was wrested (and it had to be) from the clutches of elites. We live in a loud, phony, unsubtle culture in venal times. We have been failed. We will write a manifesto that says we will do something different. Good. But writing is not all autobiography. Not everything can be seen in a convex mirror. There is an important striving for something beyond the self that is the task of a mature organism ... Form is a way to get there, beyond the self, that’s all. It’s a tool, not an end in itself.
[A]nyone looking for a systematic (or deep or original or coherent) discussion...anyone looking even for the manifesto promised in the book’s subtitle—will be disappointed by the reality of Reality Hunger. It’s hard to figure out exactly what the book is trying to say ... Shields repeats things so often, and so smugly, that you want to reach across the art-reality threshold and slap him ... The book’s supposed profundities...are, to anyone who’s ever thought seriously about any of these issues, a bunch of remedial Grade-A head-slappers. And yet Shields intones them with the air of a holy man whispering the final secret of the universe from his mountaintop. Meanwhile, he says nothing about what he means by 'reality'—what it is, where its boundaries lie ... what Reality Hunger actually does is remind us how boring and frustrating this kind of [genre-bending] art can be.
Shields is a balance-beam critic, taking his critiques of life and art to the edge and executing breath-catching leaps and flips. He doesn’t always stick the landing, but he’s always entrancing ... provocateur Shields constructs just the sort of mash-up he audaciously and brilliantly celebrates as the new art paradigm for the participant-driven Internet zeitgeist, where art and life entwine in one big, loud reality show.
It’s a book designed to inspire and to infuriate, and it is sure to do both ... The mash-up results in a coherent, compelling argument, a work of original criticism that consistently raises provocative questions about the medium it employ.
Shields's latest reinvents the 'how to' while explaining how the hazy line between truth and lie undermines all forms of modern communication ... Touching, honest, and dizzyingly introspective, Shields...grapples lithely with truth, life, and literature by embracing his unique perspective, and invites each reader to do the same.