Sunday, February 3, 2013

No more , no more

 Lowen Liu does a savvy take down of later day deconstructionist  David Shields and his new book, How Literature Saved My Life. 
Click the link and relish the reviewer's astute debunking of a writer too lazy to be a genius on his own terms.  The implied evidence here is that David Shields has concerned himself far too much with the last fifty years of literary criticism and not enough with an inquiry as to how literature, for all its obviously failings at achieving fidelity with what is lazily termed The Real World, nonetheless creates meanings, subtle distinctions between character psychology and exterior narrative events, and , frankly, a language that is at times moving and beautiful.

He focuses instead on the generalized failture of the singular book to dissolve contradiction and bad feeling , curse it for exploiting his supposed gullibility, and mounts an argument that the whole thing needs to be taken apart , pieced out like old autos in a scrap yard, existing as no more that a rusted husk of a thing that houses spare parts that are used only when needed. Collage indeed. 

A move away from narrative fiction is not a "gigantic innovation" by any means; more novels are written and published than ever before, and the readers for them are steady.


What Shields does is a symptom of any age with too many databases and too many comedians passing off one liners as stinging editorializing. The elevation of nonfiction to literary status is as well hardly innovative or provocative--the list is too long long and expansive of nonfiction books with profound literary merit to mention even a few. Pastiche, Shields' actual stock in trade, is also an old ploy. What Liu gets right in her review are the disguised symptoms of writerly slackerhood. He engages Shields rather nicely and reveals him to be a bright boy with a lyric bent who hasn't yet given us an idea worth debating.

This makes his books little more than trash can robots, noisy things of no particular elegance that are books by a rewrite of existing definitions. It is the worst of the post-modernist tricks that writers have fallen into, the smart chap in the audience cross talking a string of authors who have actually written books, beginning to end, those who have done the work of writing.

This grazing approach to literature and writing is a stale substitute; Shields might well be able to write a whole book without lifting large chunks from the canon to obscure his lack of depth--he does manage a nice paragraph here and there--but his sensibility is that of an editor, someone with solid tastes in writers and ideas who , in their own efforts to engage the muse, manage only minor key ironies achieved at little or no personal expense. Shields hasn't the strength to go into the deep end of the pool.
For publishers, major or minor, issuing forth writers doing something close to what Shields does , first we have to realize that what the author under review is doing isn't something that hasn't been done for a very long time , which is writing about writing and pondering the efficacy of the written account of getting beyond the phenomenal world and apprehending that reality perceivable only by whatever god of convenience is ruling a reader's psychic worrying. 

The self-reflective aspect , the writing about writing, the lyric hermeneutics is old stuff by this point, starting , I suspect, with Tristam Shanty and coursing thorugh the decades through Robbe Grillett, William Burroughs, Roland Barthes, Tom Robbins , Kurt Vonnegut, Derrida, Ron Silliman, Kathy Acker, many, many others. Shields really is only doubling down, to use a deadening cliche, on what others have already fretted over or had fun with. Jamming all the varied activities of late modernist writing into one volume does not create an innovation, it makes a mess, an untidy mess.

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