Fiction Starvation

In his literary manifesto, Reality Hunger, David Shields writes of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections:

I couldn’t read that book if my life depended on it. It might be a “good” novel or it might be a “bad” novel, but something has happened to my imagination, which can no longer yield to the earnest embrace of novelistic form.

In response, Steve Mitchelmore writes:

So he (rather than we) has lost something; something has happened to him. …

Entry 69, attributed to Saul Steinberg, is the dynamic beating the wrongheaded heart of [Shields’] manifesto:

There are two sorts of artist, one not being in the least superior to the other. One responds to the history of his art so far; the other responds to life itself.

[W]e know which [one] we’re meant to favour. Yet both respond only to distance. To ask what life is in itself is already to open an abyss. It’s not a question that troubles this book because it knows that life is what is “actually occurring in the world” independent of the viewer. To achieve all Shields’ favoured elements then one must discharge agency, which is strictly impossible for the artist; discharging is agency by stealth. So what Shields wants instead is for the artist to efface agency, risk nothing but being found out.

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