Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chris Lydon interview with David Shields

I am a regular listener to Chris's program and always find much pleasure and instruction in the wide array of subjects he deals with but there are those particular interviews that I listen to and re-listen to. The last such interview was with Chris Hedges some months ago, and now this one, marvelous. I had not heard of David Shields or any of his books prior to this and am very intrigued. The conversation roamed across many mostly unfamilar contemporary authors influential to Shields including Nicholson Baker, who still hasn't quite left my head since I read the Anthologist last summer. Shields made some insightful comments on The Anthologist finding the book's romance as well as the penultimate moment at the seminar to be unconvincing, which I agree with. Where both Shields and Baker seem to be in line is in the notion that there cannot be "epics" or masterpieces in this day. The argument is rooted in the way that popular cutlure and high art are inextricably bound. I wonder at this idea, because my notion of epic can accomodate all that Shields puts on the table. I think of Northrop Frye's definition of epic as "the crisis in a writer's life" where essentially he must make a full display of his abilities to create a heterocosm out of the self. I suppose what is more at issue is not whether there is still a sublime but whether it is limited to a particular form of art. Okay, okay, I know this is getting very jumbled and incomprehensible--am I talking about epic, the sublime, what? Perhaps it is that which cannot be named. Undoubtedly the aim of this method is to accomadate change as well as the unfathomable excess of information available. This brings to mind a recent comment I read from Cormac McCarthy that he made in an interview recently. He asked whether we would still value the individual Greek plays as much as we do if they were made as frequently as films are today. We may yet starve in our own excess.

That seems to be the problem, how to deal with this excess, this nation of excess. The collage method of writing I find very interesting. It is something I have already come across in Angus Fletcher's book "A New Theory for American Poetry." What I find difficult with Fletcher's book and the little I know of Shield's is the fluidity of this idea. All art in some sense is both collage just as all art is to some degree descriptive. Shields himself seems to be able to easily parse out his "new" kind of writer from the old kind, something I'm still having more difficulty with. None the less, I love manifestos and systems for art and this book, Reality Hunger, appears to be full of them. The great Romance writer John Crowly, in his Aegypt Quartet, spoke of the "taste" of meaning. Writers, like Spenser, create large unfinished systems that, he argues probably do not need to be finished anyways. The system contains the "taste" of meaning. I'm curious if Reality Hunger too satisfies this taste.

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