The piece is not clear about the book being reviewed (Reality Hunger: A Manifesto), since in one place it's "a spirited polemic on behalf of non-fiction," but in another we hear that "literature should be appropriated, adapted, and remixed to create new meaning, like art and music." Is it a work of art? Is it non-fiction? I'm curious, but probably not enough to buy the thing.
Because what really interests me is the method. The author (David Shields) has taken 618 quotes from other people and arranged them into a book. He wanted to have them uncredited, but his publisher insisted there be 618 footnotes. Shields says, "I'm trying to recover the freedom that writers from Montaigne to Burroughs have enjoyed, but which we, as victims of a very litigious society, have sacrificed over the past 30 years."
I have a mental image that, in five years or so, Quentin Tarantino will have to footnote each frame of his movies, and Lady Gaga will have to footnote her videos (not only the Tarantino movie that each frame came from, but the movies Tarantino got his images from, and so forth).
If this is true, I'm in trouble. Looking back at the more recent cut-ups, I confess I have no idea where a lot of the raw material came from. Quite a bit of it from a major metropolitan newspaper that I guess I shouldn't identify by name.
And what about this? I have no idea where the first two paragraphs came from. The third paragraph is Vicki quoting a poem. What about that, when characters quote things? Will there have to be a footnote in Go saying where the "Isn't it ironic? Dontcha think?" exchange comes from?
Of course, we have SarahBeth's word later on that Vicki was never much of a reader, so is that Vicki quoting the poem, or the author? On the other hand, is SarahBeth actually a reliable source? (Okay, that one is easy: No.) What about the times that Jan Sleet quotes Sherlock Holmes or Gandalf?
Well, at least I don't have to footnote the Ode to Suzy. But will I have to give a credit to the programmer who wrote the Poetry Generator?
All of this seems a tiny bit constraining. I'm all for people not pretending that they wrote things they didn't, but we're all using materials that we didn't create ourselves, putting them in different orders to create new meanings. That's what writing is, after all.
Later: I did see an article in the New York Times which cleared up some questions. Reality Hunger: A Manifesto is a non-fiction book ("deeply nihilistic," apparently), written by a "onetime novelist."
I have skimmed the article, which I will probably read at some point, though I confess that some of the pop culture comments near the end led me to doubt the author's perceptiveness. Referring to Lady Gaga as "third-generation Madonna" is pretty obvious (though perhaps not to the NYT audience, many of whom may have no idea who she is), drawing general cultural lessons from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (an independent comic that spawned one unsuccessful movie) is unconvincing, and I question the judgment of anybody who considers the recent Star Trek movie an inspired reinvention of a classic (I would disagree with both "inspired" and "classic," actually, and even "reinvention" may be pushing it).
Also, of course, I enjoy the Resident Evil movies and can't wait for the new one.