“In his deliberately provocative — and deeply nihilistic — new book, ‘Reality Hunger,‘ the onetime novelist David Shields asserts that fiction ‘has never seemed less central to the culture’s sense of itself.’ He says he’s ‘bored by out-and-out fabrication, by myself and others; bored by invented plots and invented characters’ and much more interested in confession and ‘reality-based art.’ His own book can be taken as Exhibit A in what he calls ‘recombinant’ or appropriation art.
“Mr. Shields’s book consists of 618 fragments, including hundreds of quotations taken from other writers like Philip Roth, Joan Didion and Saul Bellow — quotations that Mr. Shields, 53, has taken out of context and in some cases, he says, ‘also revised, at least a little — for the sake of compression, consistency or whim.’ He only acknowledges the source of these quotations in an appendix, which he says his publishers’ lawyers insisted he add.
“‘Who owns the words?’ Mr. Shields asks in a passage that is itself an unacknowledged reworking of remarks by the cyberpunk author William Gibson. ‘Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do — all of us — though not all of us know it yet. Reality cannot be copyrighted.’”