Jonesin’ For Reality

March 16, 2010

I’m very excited for David Shield’s new Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, a quest to define our obsession with the appearance of the real, truth, and authority. You know, truthiness. Half of the book is made up of unsourced-until-the-end quotes. You’ll never know what belongs to Shields, and what he lifted from other authors unless you constantly flip through the index. Some might find this fun, and others might just enjoy the ride. The mash-up culture orwhathaveyou.

Everyone invokes Walter Benjamin’s desire to write a whole piece consisting of nothing but quotes, so I won’t do that here. Nor will I address the scandal over James Frey and the general proliferation of memoirs in recent years. I will mention Andrew Sullivan’s running list of “The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin,” (because it’s great) many of which stem from her own memoir, since it led Stanley Fish to revisit his argument in the Times that a memoirist is incapable of lying since the lie serves their project of constructing the narrative of their life. This is interesting. Perhaps the conflict here owes to the fact that we (at least some of us) expect our politicians to be honest. How else could we know if they’re representing us? Either way, Fish is far from the (more accepted) idea of the “autobiographical pact,” the compact said to exist btw readers and autobiographer that everything about to be described is the truth.

My own thought on the matter is that all autobiography is like Roth’s The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography, in that all autobiography is a draft waiting for someone to smack it down, but one impression of a life. Truth and reality is only ever provisional.