Blowhard, Esq. writes:
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.