Ideas So Stupid Only An Intellectual Would Believe Them, A Continuing Series

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

Via this essay, time to add another entry to my Enemies List — David Shields:

These books made David Shields’s “Reality Hunger” (2010) seem prescient. An earnest “manifesto” against the traditional novel (which Shields finds “unbelievably predictable, tired, contrived, and essentially purposeless”), “Reality Hunger” galvanized many critics and novelists alike. Shields argued that novels are often flashes of “narrative legerdemain”; he calls for “serious writing,” in which “the armature of overt drama is dispensed with, and we’re left with a deeper drama, the real drama: an active human consciousness trying to figure out how he or she has solved or not solved being alive.” He particularly prizes the lyric essay, which forsakes plot and character entirely.

If aspects of “Reality Hunger” were familiar, refrains on old arguments (in fact much of the book consists of direct quotations from other books), Shields’s points are worth considering again, both because he is laudably serious about what literature ought to aim for and because his ideas about the novel are so firmly entrenched in contemporary literary culture. Shields’s belief that the traditional novel is dated and that the way forward—aesthetically, if not commercially—lies in non-novels or at least non-traditional novels now represents the fashionable position in the literary world.

“[A]n active human consciousness trying to figure out how he or she has solved or not solved being alive” — what the hell does that even mean? Like representation in painting, ornamentation and comfort in architecture, plot and character in novels, or melody in music, for at least 100 years intellectuals have been at war with the basic pleasures people look for in art.

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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13 Responses to Ideas So Stupid Only An Intellectual Would Believe Them, A Continuing Series

  1. H.D. Miller says:

    The real problem is that most lit-fic writers have all the breadth of experience of a garden snail: a self-regarding, upper-middle-class, liberal-arts-BA, got-an-Iowa-MFA, gonna-write-about-my-womanly-problems-even-though-I’m-a-man, garden snail.

    All their dreary novels seem drearily the same, because all of them have the same dreary educations and aspirations. They’re all round pegs slotted easily into their round holes, shouting their imagined squareness to the world.

    At least I have the pleasure of knowing that five minutes after Shields and the rest of them die (and probably much, much sooner) no one, least of all people who enjoy reading, will remember who they were.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zooza says:

      “He particularly prizes the lyric essay, which forsakes plot and character entirely.”

      Isn’t this line of thinking at least a hundred years old? Wasn’t this all hashed out beginning (at least) with Tolstoy in Anna Karenina (stream of consciousness), Faulkner, Pynchon, etc., etc., etc.?

      This guy sounds like the endless string of education “radicals” who have breathlessly attacked “rote memorization” year after year after year for the past hundred years, constantly congratulating themselves on their daring attacks on educational “orthodoxy”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • peterike2 says:

      “They’re all round pegs slotted easily into their round holes, shouting their imagined squareness to the world.”

      That’s a great line.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Faze says:

    1. This idiot sounds like Bertolt Brecht, who proclaimed that the old drama was tired out, and that the new drama should be as unpredictable and exciting as a sporting event. In other words: A sporting event.
    2. Fortunately for the novel and the theater, they are not expensive propositions (like architecture), and people can vote with their dollars for what they prefer. And people overwhelmingly prefer the traditional, or incremental innovations upon the familiar. Until they don’t, and then we won’t need this guy to tell us about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. agnostic says:

    “unbelievably predictable, tired, contrived, and essentially purposeless”

    But enough about literary theory…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. agnostic says:

    Thinking back on my exposure to that kind of meaningless masturbatory lit-crit in college, I’m struck by how absent it was from the study of visual art. They didn’t use trendy nonsense to analyze paintings, let alone did they drag out entire discussions and courses about the analytical theories themselves (nothing “meta”-theoretical).

    Visual art is too sensual and corporeal — too definite and palpable — to leave it open to the airy-fairy, cerebral conceptualizing that verbal media are vulnerable to. If you learn any analytical theory, it’s all objective: which colors contrast with each other, what cues suggest near vs. far placement, and so on.

    The prof / critic is limited to being a guide through the artist’s creation, and cannot assume their own creative role as a theory-builder. I was impressed by how insightful these guides could be, in stark contrast to thinking how silly and pathetic the literary people were (profs, TAs, and students alike).

    It also helps that visual-spatial skills are a masculine trait, weeding out the effeminate arm-folding lit man (like the baldo pictured above), as well as the blubbering and hysterical sort of woman. There were plenty of chicks in those classes, though — they wanted to appreciate high culture, only without having to suffer through daily doses of gobbledygook, administered no less by a weak faggot who they could never respect.

    It’s sad to see the study of verbal media so immuno-compromised. The theory germs would have infected art history departments, too, if only visual media were vulnerable. That means there’s an even greater need for stewardship, rather than anything-goes, in the lit departments. Fail to stand watch for just a little while, and boom — your department has full-blown AIDS.

    Like

    • Faze says:

      The art world was actually ahead of the literary world in this sort of thing, and jumped the shark early on in the 20th century. It’s happened long enough ago that pockets of sanity are beginning to emerge (of which this blog is an example), and there is hope that nice pictures may one day become the staple of the art establishment. In the meantime, if you want to read art history major gobbledygook, check out wall labels at the Brooklyn Museum, or most other major museums.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. LemmusLemmus says:

    Rediscovering dislike of the wheel.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Slumlord says:

    The problem here is the inability to do simple well. The lack of talent is obscured by an appeal to a supposed higher intellectualism which attempts to dress up faults as virtues.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. JV says:

    “[A]n active human consciousness trying to figure out how he or she has solved or not solved being alive”

    See, I enjoy that kind of novel more than plot-driven fiction, but I don’t feel the need to justify my preference by proclaiming it “serious writing” and the other “narrative legerdemain.” It’s just different styles and preferences. This guy Shields is giving us lit-fic fans a bad name.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JV says:

      On the flip side, what do those here who prefer plot-driven fiction think of “lit-fic?” Is it crap? Is it the pretentiousness, not of the work itself, but maybe of the critics and some readers? Do you view it as just another genre?

      Like

      • I tend to dislike it, but I have enjoyed some lit fic in the past. (Paul Auster’s “New York Trilogy” comes to mind.) Paleo Retiree has made the point that it’s best thought of as its own genre, which I think is a sensible approach. I think of “literary fiction” as a term of art for a particular kind of writing and not as a substantive description of the work.

        Speaking for myself, yeah, the claims made for it by its fans (particularly profs and English lit nerds) are hard to take. They just assume that whatever is best and will be the most lasting comes from lit fic, despite at least of century of examples to the contrary.

        Like

  8. Kevin O'Keeffe says:

    By just reading what this guy wrote, I would’ve already known what he looked like. The photograph was entirely superfluous.

    Like

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