Shields and yarns: a review of “Reality Hunger”

Here I am reviewing David Shields “Reality Hunger” book of essays although I have not actually read the book. I spent five minutes sitting with it

at Books Inc at Town and Country in Palo Alto. Earlier today I heard David Shields being interviewed by Sedge Thomson for West Coast Live, for about twenty minutes. I did not buy the book at either of those two commercial opportunities owing to the fact that I have 75 books (mostly procurements, some like a “Rashomon” story collection by Akutagawa I grabbed impulsively from a display at the Palo Alto Main Library yesterday, on loan that is) stacked on top of the “new arrivals” bookshelf in my humble abode, plus another 20 or so on the floor nearby (that bookcase itself, on three shelves, probably has 150 new books, plus another 500 or so in the room, on two other cases, plus some in storage; not a huge collection, but considerable, owing to my quasi-nomadic nature: I am a renter, and I’ve de-accessed some of my books, over the years) . The Shields book is only $15.00, out on Vintage paper since February, so normally I would take the plunge. I am like a squirrel stocking nuts for the winter; or, I am rather nuts for books, magazines and news clippings, if that is the etymology.

I spoke to David Shields briefly after the show; I spoke to the subject of buying the book then and there but instead asked him to sign my program from the event. He actually wrote “My signature on a very short book.”

I asked him about his comments in support of the work of Christian Marclay, a recent work “The Clock.” He said he liked it better than the much-lauded “The King’s Speech”, for which, he said, for example, that Colin Firth “phoned in” his performance — this Shields, if not jaded, is tough to impress. It reminded me, enough to mention, of something I thought I had read reference to, which I believed to be a film by Douglas Gordon called “Deja vu” which I also think of, thanks to an article in 2006 Artforum by Michael Fried, as a re-pasting or re-mounting of the film noir chestnut “DOA” (1950, by Rudolph Mate, I had seen recently at Stanford Theater).

Actually although I could not find it skimming the back issue of Artforum, the search engines easily point me to what I really must have been thinking*, and more on point,  Gordon’s 24 hour version of “Psycho“. It seems to pre-date Marclay and influence his clock.

Shields book seems to be about the nature of truth and reality, about the little lies, biases and distortions inherent in everything. He also is saying something related about copyright and originality. (And I just stuck a dollar into a box to buy a USA Today that had a picture of Obama they credited as “influenced by a poster by Shepard Fairey” — referencing the land-mark or quite notable “fair use” case).

In our brief but promising conversation, I was more certain, and related such, that what I was thinking of was by the filmmaker in some circles perhaps better known for the 2006 film called “Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait,” which, I was also rather certain, enough to mention, features music by the rock band Mogwai. (It uses 17 syncronized cameras to tell the story of one UEFA soccer match, or at least the great French-Algerian player’s role in such; by Gordon and Philippe Parreno). Shields took note; he said he likes soccer. (But I also noted, later, that his credits include a book on Ichiro; even better).  I am meaning to follow up and send him the precise links.

“Reality Hunger” is a self-described manifesto consisting of 618 short treatises, loosely organized under 24 (i.e. A to Z) headings, that also feature sub-heads (not corresponding to the letter; not sure what they mean) such as “hip hop”. There is also, pages 210 thru 227,  if memory serves, an appendix that serves as source notes to the passages. But it also has instructions, which Sedge and David noted on air, that David would prefer if people in possession of the book (probably more book buyers than local librarians) cut out that section with a scissors.

I skimmed to find Werner Herzog’s name in appendix then backtracked to read a short treatise (maybe #199) about cinema verite and documentary. Herzog blurs the distinction between truth and fiction, it would seem. According to Shields. Or Herzog himself.

cinema verite doesn't blank fact and truth as if a distinction says shields

I found myself inspired during Shields talk with Thomson. Something about Kafka and the Jewish community. He seems to be on to something (as opposed to merely on something) about modernism, post-modernism et al. I was a bit upset with myself for having temporarilty miffed Mike Park with a recent mock-interview for another site but then felt better after hearing Shields describe his take of the new terrain caused by modernism, new media and the chaotic nature of things. Also, I noted that naturalist writer Amy Stewart said a similarly thing, when she came on after Shields, about how his comments had affected her.

Good poets borrow. Great poets steal. At least according to either or Elliot, Picasso or Shields.

He also gave an example of Shakespeare’s King Henry histories being comprised of some 6,000 lines of which some 4,000, he said, were lifted directly from Holinshead’s Chronicles. (It reminds me that, in 1983, I wrote a paper for James Shapiro‘s freshman seminar about Marlowe’s “Edward II”. Because Dartmouth had two different editions of this famous history book, about twenty years apart if memory serves(1577 and 1587), I noticed by comparing them discrepancies and something I termed “an obscure Latin riddle” that spoke to the subject of the King’s shall we say, pecularities, by digressing into Latin, from English, but then was omitted entirely in the next edition. Man, I digress. 28 years, even).

Speaking of Picasso, above, Terry and I snuck into the preview for Picasso at DeYoung and she had a two word review at least of the cocktail party: Botox (for the ladies, although she also noted four or five pairs of cool shoes); Bow-ties (for the men, although I also stopped a man and called attention to his Rodin “thinker” tie, the long kind, you know Windsor knot and all that, although I was slightly under-dressed with an open shirt, cotton slacks and the black Clyde Puma’s I had bought recently and meant to blog about from Aaron Biner’s store). Terry called me from work — I am actually at her computer — after I wrote the first draft of this to implore me to mention she is “bullish” on the show itself.

I played a mnemonic game and forced myself, while watching the end of the Giants win, to try to recall these 18 pieces, of the 150 in the show, all from Picasso Museum of Paris:

1. cat eating bird (easy, because I bought a $1 post card)

2. bust of woman (near painting of couples on a beach)

3. couples on a beach (near #2 above)

4. sculpture at end of show that is like bent cardboard but is actually sheet metal (two, actually).

5. Musician seated with guitar (at first I was looking for a matador).

6. Matador (later in show).

I was thinking of Death of The Toreador, 1933

7. Dora Maar (quite colorful, but is it the won I saw in a different catalog that has one green and one red eye; I bought the Chronicle today specifically for the preview, which has this image).

8. self-portrait that I thought at first might be Paul Robeson.

9. some couple (probably he and a wife but I thought of Diego and Frida).

10. Firing squad a al Guernica. (we had heard Sy Musakers account on NPR on the way in, although I thought he said there was a whole room of Guernica and Franco related material; I seemed to note, and I admit I was in kind of a hurry, to get to the party, that the Guernica room seemed split with a collection of animals — although clearly even I get that the Cat and Bird refers to Franco and a dove of peace).

11. pregnant woman sculpture hanging in pieces on a wall.

12. Large bronze of Picasso and either a goat or a sheep — and I wondered if I saw same or similar piece in a book Terry has about his dog.

13. drawing of man and sheep.

14. horse or cow heads, bronze.

15. wooden, African-inspired, carving of human figure

16. metal Calder-esque maquette of a monuent.

17. stage near end of six or seven anthropomorphic figures

18. etude or study or half-finished salmon and robin colored dancers? Ok, so I am no Peter Selz, but I did vow to return to the show to take a better look. It would be a goal of mine to see the show on successive visits such that I can someday recall, say, 40 of the 150 works. (I had a similar goal for the remounting of the Cantor second floor, Oliveira et al, to list some of the works from memory).

These two experiences, the Shields book briefly mentioning something attributed to Picasso and the Picasso show at De Young, going to the opening party, also make me want to read NY Times I clipped about Woody Allen movie (includes a Picasso character and maybe a copy of Picasso’s portrait of Gertrue Stein).

Shields and Yarnell were a comedy team from the seventies, of mime. Researching that point it seems that Lorene Yarnell had recently passed away, in July 2010, at age 66.

It was my first time seeing an event at the JCC in Palo Alto although I had toured the facility.

Besides Shields, I got autographs (I like the ritual of asking, post-event) of Thomson, Cassie Gay (box office stalwart), Stewart, author Thor Hansen (who drew a feather) and producer Kathi Kamen Goldmark who I had met years earlier when she was a driver or escort for authors and also says she still plays in a rock band mostly covers (she steals material from songwriters rather than bothering to write her own material, which I mean to talk to her about, to suggest they try to write their own stuff) called The Rock Bottom Remainders. I asked if she has played the music festival SXSW and she said no only book festivals.

Sedge Thomsom and director Ron Childress during broadcast of WCL from Palo Alto

I also liked the music guest Go Van Gogh featuring husband and wife (or I am surmising) Jesse Walkershaw on bass and Connie Walkershaw on reeds — she did a solo with tenor and soprano saxes ala Rahsaan Roland Kirk — for a minute I was thinking more like Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi

I said hello and spoke briefly with my grammar school and high school classmate Sylvia Brownrigg (although we deduced that we only were classmates 5th, 6th, 11th and 12th grades).

*I keep thinking “David Brooks” for “David Shields”; Brooks was on Charlie Rose the other night talking about neuroscience and our unconscious.

edit to add, July 29: I’ve been to the Picasso show now three times and can recall about 100 pieces now…Not that mere recall is the same as appreciation or getting it, but it’s a start…also, I was pleased to hear that the painter Altoon Sultan read this post, although she thought it odd that I haven’t read the book (Shields) beyond that one page…she is right. I will return to Books Inc and read another page!!!  Also, I thought of this essay, indirectly, when I met Palo Alto Film Festival’s Alexandra Ippolite, who, like myself, was speaking out about The Varsity Theatre initiative. I was trying to describe “24-hour ‘Psycho'”.

edit to add, Aug. 11, 2011: in a stylistic and philosophical nod to David Shields, I quote unattributed  from Langston Hughes (who I do mention in my first graph) at the end of my preview of SFMT’s “2012” and I come see his muddy bosom in the golden sunset, for Palo Alto Patch. I think of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama and all forms of storytelling as existing on a rather wide continuum, at one end fantasy (J.R.R. Tolkien and the like) and at the other end are an extremely literal-minded register of life, such as a guy in Eastern Washington, named, as fate would have it, Shields, who until his recent death had kept the longest or longest-running diary, endless accounts of everything he did all day.  An awful lot.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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7 Responses to Shields and yarns: a review of “Reality Hunger”

  1. Terry Davis says:

    Hi Mark, I thought the least you could do was to show a visual of your favorite Picasso work in the show, after all you did buy a postcard of it! Just don’t show the image to Frida who will find it repulsive!
    (editor’s note: the links did not go through….)

  2. Pingback: The Last Picture Waltz: tragedy or comedy? (Josephine Baker says its alright!) | Plastic Alto with Mark Weiss

  3. markweiss86 says:

    I’ve been back to read from David Shields “Reality Hunger”, at Books Inc, two more times. When they eventually sell it, I will have to buy it elsewhere.

  4. markweiss86 says:

    broke down and actually bought the David Shields “Reality Hunger” probably the same copy from the same shelf at Books Inc in Palo Alto. It was next to what I was intending to purchase, and did, a book about Shakespeare by my former Dartmouth professor James Shapiro. For good measure I also bought two books by former The Dartmouth colleagues of mine, a book on Eisenhower by Jim Newton and one about triathlon by Jaques Steinberg, who incidentally are also both James Reston’s assistant at the New York Times.

  5. Mark Weiss says:

    for what its worth i ended up going back to the picasso show twice more and eventually produced a list of 100 of the works I could identify roughly, if not by exact title.

  6. markweiss86 says:

    Vikram Chandra, whose 1,000-page novel, “Sacred Games,” will be published next January, said he saw sees no point in resisting technology. “I think circling-the-wagons and defending- the-fortress metaphors are a little misplaced,” he said. “The barbarians at the gate are usually willing to negotiate a little, and the guys in the fort usually end up yelling that ‘we are the only good things in the world, and you guys don’t understand it,’ at which point the barbarians shrug, knock down your walls with their amazingly powerful weapons and put a parking lot over your sacred grounds.” “If they are in a really good mood,” he added, “they put up a pyramid of skulls.

  7. Pingback: Kathi Kamen transition | Plastic Alto with Mark Weiss

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