Hungry for The Real

Like most artists, I swing back and forth along the creative pendulum from absolute conviction to abject insecurity about my work. At the low end I wonder: how the hell am I supposed to write something in 2011 that actually matters? (And by matters, I mean ‘makes relevant observations of interest to other currently living humans,’ not the existential variety.) Then of course there’s all my beginner-novelist bullshit about writing an Important Book that Says Something.

(So that you don’t get the impression that I’m a raging narcissist, I’m aware that very, very few people are paying any attention to what I’m doing here. But such is the nature of the creative process. It’s a lot of internal highs and lows, all taking place within a generally indifferent world.)

There’s one book I’ve been referring to, though, as a kind-of guide for writing in this here post-millenial, post-post-modern context. It’s called Reality Hunger: A Manifesto and was written by a feisty Brit named David Shields. (A super-smart friend of mine, Kirby Ferguson, recommended it when I first told him about my novel-in-progress.)

To simplify its thesis for easy, blog-size biteability, Reality Hunger argues for new forms of art that more accurately reflect life as we experience it today. And it asserts that the reason people have turned away in large numbers from traditional forms – the novel, the scripted t.v. show, even the movie – is because those forms no longer adequately make sense of the world we live in. Or as Shields says, “The Bachelor tells us more about the state of unions than any romantic comedy could dream of telling us.”

Here’s the book on why only a sick soul like Snooki would want to take up fiction nowadays:

The American writer has his hands full, trying to understand and then describe and then make credible much of the American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.

And since I’m already having a wallow, I’d like to add a specific problem faced by those of us who set our plots in the near future. Namely, that time’s acceleration renders what you’ve projected yesterday moot before you even get to revisit your Most Recent Documents. In the words of literary hot-shot Gary Shteyngart,

This is the problem, you know, when writing a novel. There’s no present anymore; we live in the future all the time.

Anyway enough bitching, more moaning. If I’m being honest this zone is actually where I find the finest of intellectual turn-ons: in feeling out forms to capture fragments from our own labile, tremulous reality. So please, come back tomorrow for the first ecstatic release of my efforts onto the Internet. Exerpt #1 drops at 1pm EST! And bring friends – the more, the merrier.

In sex. Writing is like sex. Just in case you missed the metaphor.


  • does creating a dancing monster avatar to shill sugar water count as new form of art that “more accurately reflects life as we experience it today”? hmmm, i think what you’re doing might be more valuable. can’t wait to read excerpt #1. i hope there’s a dancing monster!

  • Kirstin Butler wrote:

    If I recall correctly, it was a dancing soda monster that stood down the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Show that sugar water some respect.

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