Reality Hunger

Posted by on August 12, 2017 8:38 am
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Categories: Media

Reality Hunger consists of 618 numbered passages divided into twenty-six chapters. Approximately half of the book’s words come from sources other than the author. Because of Random House lawyers, attribution for the quotes is given in a fine print appendix at the end of the book, but with Shields’s encouragement to cut those pages from the book so as to preserve the book’s intended disorienting effect.

“Who owns the words?” Shields muses, reiterating the book’s central thrust, but also referring directly to the 618 aphoristic chunks – ranging in length from a few words to a few paragraphs – that he has gathered, arranged, spliced and manipulated in order to convey both his distaste for conventional narrative and his excitement at what he identifies as an emerging movement of reality-based art.

 

it allows you not only to bring your own knowledge to the party (surely not a bad thing), but also to chart Shields’s train of thought; to watch it curve its way around those he admires and steamroll over those he doesn’t.

 

Jonathan Lethem employed a similar technique in his February 2007 essay for Harper’s (“The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism”).

 Following are some “pieces” from this book which are particularly relevant to the Mindfulnessless website:

An artistic movement, albeit an organic and as-yet-unstated one, is forming. What are its key components? A deliberate unartiness: “raw” material, seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored, and unprofessional…. Randomness, openness to accident and serendipity, spontaneity; artistic risk, emotional urgency and intensity, reader/viewer participation; an overly literal tone, as if a reporter were viewing a strange culture; plasticity of form, pointillism; criticism as autobiography; self-reflexivity, self-ethnography, anthropological autobiography; a blurring (to the point of invisibility) of any distinction between fiction and nonfiction: the lure and blur of the real.

“As a work gets more autobiographical, more intimate, more confessional, more embarrassing, it breaks into fragments. Our lives aren’t prepackaged along narrative lines and, therefore, by its very nature, reality-based art–underprocessed, underproduced–splinters and explodes.

Copies have been dethroned; the economic model built on them is collapsing. In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connection, and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer, and engage a work. Art is a conversation, not a patent office. The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship, not art. Reality can’t be copyrighted.

“The opposite of broadcast: the distribution economics of the internet favor infinite niches, not one-size-fits-all. The web’s peer-to-peer architecture: a symmetrical traffic load, with as many senders as receivers and data transmissions spread out over geography and time.

The new model is based on the intangible assets of digital bits: copies are no longer cheap but free and flow freely everywhere. As computers retrieve images from the web or displays from a server, they make temporary, internal copies of those works. Every action you invoke on your computer requires a copy of something to be made. 

 Now relationships, links, connection, and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer, and engage a work. Art is a conversation, not a patent office. The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship, not art. Reality can’t be copyrighted.

“Science is on a long-term campaign to bring all knowledge in the world into one vast, interconnected, footnoted, peer-reviewed web of facts. Independent facts, even those that make sense in their own world, are of little value to science. (The pseudo-and para-sciences are nothing less, in fact, than small pools of knowledge that are not connected to the large network of science.) In this way, every new observation or bit of data brought into the web of science enhances the value of all other data points. In science, there’s a natural duty to make what is known searchable. 

No one argues that scientists should be paid when someone finds or duplicates their results. Instead, we’ve devised other ways to compensate them for their vital work. They’re rewarded for the degree to which their work is cited, shared, linked, and connected in their publications, which they don’t own.

Copies don’t count anymore; copies of isolated books, bound between inert covers, soon won’t mean much. Copies of their texts, however, will gain in meaning as they multiply by the millions and are flung around the world, indexed, and copied again. What counts are the ways in which these common copies of a creative work can be linked, manipulated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, enlivened by other media, and sewn together in the universal library.

  In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail. On this screen, now visible to a billion people, the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge.

“We all need to begin figuring out how to tell a story for the cell phone. One thing I know: it’s not the same as telling a story for a full-length DVD.

“Facts quicken, multiply, change shape, elude us, and bombard our lives with increasingly suspicious promises. The hybrid, shape-shifting, ambiguous nature of lyric essays makes a flowchart of our experiences of the world. No longer able to depend on canonical literature, we journey increasingly across boundaries, along borders, into fringes, and finally through our yearnings to quest, where only more questions are found; through our primal senses, where we record every wonder; through our own burning hearts, where we know better.

“I don’t know what it’s like inside you and you don’t know what it’s like inside me. A great book allows me to leap over that wall: in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness, I feel human and unalone.

“I bear in my hands the disguise by which I conceal my life. A web of meaningless events, I dye it with the magic of my point of view.

“How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means.

“The essayist gives you his thoughts and lets you know, in addition, how he came by them.

“Someone once said to me, quoting someone or other, “Discursive thought is not fiction’s most efficient tool; the interaction of characters is everything.” This is when I knew I wasn’t a fiction writer, because discursive thought is what I read and write for.

Freud (declining drugs to alleviate pain caused by cancer of the jaw): “I prefer to think in torment than not to be able to think clearly.”

“The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist and then offer a résumé, a commentary.

“He then learns that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the secrets of all minds.

“We don’t come to thoughts; they come to us.

“Painting myself for others, I have painted my inward self with colors clearer than my original ones. I have no more made my book than my book has made me.

“Johnny Carson, asked to describe the difference between himself and Robert Redford, said, “I’m playing me.”

I’m not interested in myself per se. I’m interested in myself as theme carrier, as host.

Andy Kaufman went way beyond blurring the distinction between performer and persona, past the point where you wondered what separated the actor from the character; you wondered if he himself knew anymore where the boundaries were drawn. What did he get out of such performances? The joy of not telling the audience how to react, giving that decision–or maybe just the illusion of such decision making–back to the audience. Afterward, he typically stayed in character when among fellow performers, who resented being treated like civilians.

“The source of my crush on Sarah Silverman? Her willingness to say unsettling things about herself, position herself as a fuck-me/fuck-you figure, a bad-good girl, a JAP who takes her JAPiness and pushes it until it becomes the culture’s grotesquerie: “I was raped by a doctor–which is, you know, so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.” “I don’t care if you think I’m racist; I only care if you think I’m thin.” “Obviously, I’m not trying to belittle the events of September eleventh; they were devastating, they were beyond devastating, and I don’t want to say especially for these people or especially for these people, but especially for me, because it happened to be the same exact day that I found out that the soy chai latte was, like, 900 calories.”

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. 

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