Building on work from the Greeks to the ancient Chinese, from the French and English essayists of the 17th and 18th centuries to the postmodernists, from comic books and other pop culture nuggets to high canonical texts and high theory, David Shields writes what he calls a lyrical essay. He explains the concept throughout the text, but he never really explains how much of the text that he’s using is borrowed, quoted, or plagiarized (he uses all three terms) until a note at the end that he says his publisher’s lawyers forced him to add a “complete list of citations.” He then encourages readers to rip those pages out.
I’m telling you the ending before you begin, but somehow I think that Shields would be okay with that. In that appendix he notes that:
This book contains hundreds of quotations that go unacknowledged in the body of the text. I’m trying to regain a freedom that writers from Montaigne to Burroughs took for granted and that we have lost. Your uncertainty about whose words you’ve just read is not a bug but a feature.
A major focus of Reality Hunger is appropriation and plagiarism and what these terms mean. I can hardly treat the topic deeply without engaging in it. That would be like writing a book about lying and not being permitted to lie in it. Or writing a book about destroying capitalism but being told it can’t be published because it might harm the publishing industry.
- He spends a lot of time critiquing fiction, noting the impossibility of it in comparison to what lyric essayists do, which is write something that actually happened (even if only in their minds).
- He provides long lists of texts that he appropriates, and as I noted earlier he utilizes all kinds of texts from all kinds of places.
- “Genre is a minimum-security prison” (70)
- What I initially took to be him expounding upon the lyric essay (in ways that felt self-indulgent if coming from his own brain) turned out to be him utilizing scholarly essays as a way to show what he means by the essay, the “theater of the brain.” (131)
- I love this part of reclamation project, when he appropriates two scholars (D’Agata and Tall) who argue that “we turn to the writer to reconcoct meaning from the bombardments of experience: to shock, thrill, still the racket, and tether our attention” (131).