David Shields’s Real Problem

AdornosmallJustin Evans at The Point:

Shields’s recent books have elated critics and reviewers. “The ideas he raises are so important, his interests are so compelling,” wrote Bookforum’s Jan Attenberg, “that I raved about this book the whole time I was reading it and have regularly quoted it to friends in the weeks since.” Other commentators have praised Shields, in less personal terms, for “challeng[ing] our most basic literary assumptions” (Andrew Albanese), and for offering the most “effective description (and example) of the aesthetic concerns of the internet age” (Edward King). Shields “succinctly addresses matters that have been in the air … waiting for someone to link them together,” wrote Luc Sante, in a New York Times review that compared the book to theSurrealist Manifesto.

The project certainly sounds exciting. Shields focuses on the problems of loneliness and ennuithat have worried many recent readers and writers, and he proposes a radical overhaul of literary form to address them. Meanwhile, he brings together dozens of men and women, from the ancient world to the present, who have thought and written about similar problems. Because his work is so broad and ambitious, it’s easy to complain that Shields misuses some of his sources. But he is not doing academic research, and part of the charm of his project is the way he makes such a wide range of figures speak directly to contemporary concerns.

Still, as I read Reality Hunger and How Literature Saved My Life, I began to wonder if they really delivered in the way Shields said they did.

more here.