On Memoir and Novelwriting
On the day before the start of this year's National Novel-Writing Month, which I plan to participate in (and succeed at, like I did 5 years ago), I've decided to finally get around to a blog entry I've been meaning to post for many months. What I want to do is list some of my favorite passages from David Shields' amazing book "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto." The book is a sort of inspirational artistic romp through the hybrid world of mixed fiction/nonfiction, narrative/memoir, original/remixed writing and other media. My "novel" I plan to write in November will be just this sort of hybrid, so I need to look through Shields' book again anyway. Here are a few choice quotes (which themselves may be quotes he's making, largely uncited, from others, and which I will largely leave uncited, with a few exceptions):
"I find I can listen to talk radio in a way that I can't abide the network news – the sound of human voices waking before they drown." (I like this largely for its ambiguity. Does he mean that talk radio is the voices waking before drowning, or does he mean the network news is?)
"It is out of the madness of God, in the Old Testament, that there emerges what we, now, would recognize as the "real'; his perceived insanity is its very precondition."
"The longing for narration rose up again, asserting the oldest claim on the reading heart: the tale."
"I'm interested in knowing the secrets that connect human beings. At the very deepest level, all our secrets are the same."
"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."
"As a work gets more autobiographical, more intimate, more confessional, more embarrassing, it breaks into fragments. Our lives aren't prepackaged along narrative lines and, therefore, by its very nature, reality-based art - underprocessed, underproduced - splinters and explodes."
"Truth, uncompromisingly told, will always have ragged edges."
"We all need to begin figure out how to tell a story for the cell phone. One thing I know: it's not the same as telling a story for a full-length DVD."
"Somewhere I had come up with the notion that one's personal life had nothing to do with fiction, wheras the truth, as everybody knows, is nearly the direct opposite. Moreover, contrary evidence was all around me, although I chose to ignore it, for in fact the fiction both published and unpublished that moved and pleased me then as now was precisely that which had been made luminous, undeniably authentic by having been found and taken up, always at a cost, from deeper, more shared levels of the life we all really live."
"There has always been something that bothered me a little bit about the invisible camera of classic cinema verite - an attempt at some pure form of objectivity that always seemed impossible and, at least in my attempts, dishonest, in some ways. In all of the hue and cry about objectivity and truth being captured at twenty-four frames per second, I've missed the idea of subjectivity." (this is Ross McElwee)
"When you read a great poem, you instantly notice that there's a deep truth in it, which passes into you and becomes part of your inner existence. In great moments of cinema, you're struck by a similar illumination. And that's what I'm after, in documentaries and feature films." (Herzog, of course)
Inherently, documentary is going to have an edge in getting at truth that fiction doesn't have, but of course if you're intelligent about it, you have to admit that there's no single truth, anyway." (McElwee again)
"I find it nearly impossible to read a contemporray novel that presents itself unself-consciously as a novel, since it's not clear to me how such a book could convey whath it feels like to be alive right now."
"Our culture is obsessed with real events because we experience hardly any."
"In our hunger for all things true, we make the facts irrelevant."
"It seems to be the ultimate destiny of every medium to be dragged down to the lowest common denominator, which is at once democratic, liberating, exhilarating, bland, deafening, and confusing. User made content is the new folk art."
"Realness is not reality, something that can be defined or identified. Reality is what is imposed on you; realness is what you impose back."
"We have a thirst for reality (other people's reality, edited) even as we suffer a surfeit of reality (our own - boring/painful).
"Forms serve the culture; when they die, they die for a good reason: they're no longer embodying what it's like to be alive."
"Everything I write, I believe instinctively, is to some extent collage. Meaning, ultimately, is a matter of adjacent data."
"I wanted my first novel to be a veritable infarct of narrative cloggers - the trick being to feel your way through each clog by blowing it up until its obstructiveness finally reveals not blank mass but unlooked-for seepage points of passage." (Nicholson Baker. huh?)
"All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment."
One passage I won't quote entirely compares a scarf to a web. One is linear, one is a network. Unless you see the spider weaving it you won't know where he started. "You have to decide for yourself how to read its patterning, but if you pluck it any point, the entire web will vibrate."
"The merit of style exists precisely in that it delivers the greatest number of ideas in the fewest number of words."
Another passage about adapting the novel "High Fidelity" to film. The director realized the book was just a way to make 12 "'crucial speeches" about "romance and art and music and list-making and the masculine drive for art and the masculine difficulty with intimacy.' This is the case for most novels: you have to read seven hundred pages to get the handful of insights that were the reason the book was written, and the apparatus of the novel is there as a huge, elaborate, overbuilt stage set."
"Only in nonfiction does the question of what happened and how people thought and felt remain open."
"We accept that its task (poetry's) is to find emotional truth within experience, so we aren't all worked up about the literal."
"Great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings."
"Authenticity comes from a single faithfulness: that to the ambiguity of experience."
"When we are not sure, we are alive"
"I bear in my hands the disguise by which I conceal my life. A web of m eaningless events, I dye it with the magic of my point of view."
"No artist tolerates reality."
"A work without some element of self-reflexivity feels to me falsely monumental. Without this gesture, this self-scrutiny, I don't see how anyone can even pretent to be thinking."
"What makes humans human is precisely that they do not know the future."
(as I type this, trying to type as fast as possible because I want to get on with the rest of my day, I am struck by what my mind does as I copy passages from the book. My fingers are slightly slower than my mind. My mind moves on, attempting to read ahead, and my fingers forget how to spell what I just read before. My mind goes back and doublechecks what it thinks my fingers typed, wondering if they got it wrong. Everything goes bad.)
"If we were not all interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it."
"I've never heard of a crime that I could not imagine committing myself."
"There are no facts, only art."
"What actually happened is only raw material; what the writer makes of what happened is all that matters."
A brilliant book, and paging through it, looking for highlighted or underlined sentences, I realize I should read the whole thing again, or at least large swaths of it. It makes me feel drunk with possibility.