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By Ryan

Note: This is the third in a series of columns inspired by the excellent Reality Hunger by David Shields.  You should read it.

1.

We live in a very truth-obsessed culture. Our religions, our politics, our personal lives are governed by truth. This is not all bad; truth helps us make sense of reality. What we most want to make sense of, however, is ourselves, and here truth fails us. How can we objectify the subjective experience of lived life? The curse of the memoirist.

2.

Every reader is always seduced by a good work of fiction. That is, by a lie. Huckleberry Finn did not happen, but if you’re reading it, you’re made to believe that it is happening. If you didn’t believe it, then it would be a lousy work of fiction. I’m trying to write about the way in which fiction takes place. I’m like a seducer, yet beneath all the acts of seduction there’s a kind of love going on, a kind of trust you’re trying to establish with the reader, saying “here’s who I am, here’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. And in fact I do truly love you, I’m not just tricking you, I’m letting you in on my game, letting you in on who I am, what I am, and why I am doing what I am doing.” All these lies are the surface of something. I have to lie to you and explain why I am lying to you, why I’m making these things up, in order to get you to know me and to know fiction, to know what art is about.

3.

Art is a lie that attempts to reveal the truth.

4.

True story is an oxymoron: a story is by its very nature a lie. So too “based on…” All of our stories are informed by the reality we know. Yet we apply this either/or dichotomy to stories. We love a good work of fiction but despise a distorted reality. All fiction is distorted reality.

5.

The roominess of the term “non-fiction.” An entire dresser labeled “non-socks.”

6.

James Frey was crucified for a handful of inaccuracies in no way essential to the character and spirit of his book. I’m disappointed not that Frey is a liar but that he isn’t a better one. He should have said, Everyone who writes about himself is a liar. I created person meaner, funnier, more filled with life than I could ever be.

7.

The assumption is that we should read a novel differently than we would a memoir, judge a painting differently than we would a photograph, and think about a fiction-film (terrible term) differently than we would a documentary. Why? McLuhan demonstrated long ago that the medium is the message, so let’s stop making these dichotomies more important than the art itself.

8.

Sadly, the best example here is reality television, which is a sort of lie set in the supposedly real world. We assume that everything that happens to Kim really happened because we think we saw it. Producers, editors, and executives shape every move, yet no one cries foul the way they might were she writing a book, starring in a documentary, etc. Television networks figured out long ago that we only care what’s real when the matters concerned can be deemed “intellectual” in nature.

9.

In The Squid and the Whale, Walt tries to pass off Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” as his own. His justification? He feels like he could have written it.

10.

Frey could have experienced everything in his memoir but, fortunately for him and then unfortunately for him, he didn’t.  But if he imagined these experiences and wrote about them in such a way that people were shocked to find out he was lying, well…isn’t that just as well?

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By Ryan

Note: This is the second in a series of columns inspired by the excellent Reality Hunger by David Shields.  You should read it.

1.

My first real, honest-to-goodness attempt at painting took the form of recreating the cover art from Pavement’s Wowee Zowee.  On a thirty-six-inch, square canvas, I painstakingly drew the image in pencil before painting with acrylics, which I still use despite their pedestrian reputation in the painting community.  It wasn’t until after I had completed the painting and, having stared at the album cover for hours, realized that I was painting a painting.  The now-familiar postmodern tradition: art about art.

2.

The cover art for Wowee Zowee is by Brooklyn artist Steve Keene.  Steve says, “I want buying my paintings to be like buying a CD: it’s cheap, it’s art and it changes your life, but the object has no status.  Musicians create something for the moment, something with no boundaries and that kind of expansiveness is what I want to come across in my work.”  To this end, much of Keene’s work is itself a reproduction of art, most notably album covers.

3.

Wowee Zowee looks a lot like Guru Guru’s Känguru.

4.

I met Keene at his workspace last winter, where I stole three pieces from him for seven dollars.  Keene recalled the Pavement piece and told me about Bryan Charles, a writer who did the 33 1/3 on Wowee Zowee. Seems Charles had contacted him about the iconic cover, and Keene had dug through his materials to find the source photo he had based it on.  He told me that it came from a magazine, but he can’t recall which one.  When I told him that I had painted his painting (of a photograph), he seemed indifferent, but nice.  Art about art is old news.

5.

Noted postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard developed the idea of simulacrum in four ways: a basic reflection of reality, a perversion of reality, a pretense of reality, and total simulacrum which represents no reality.  A photo, a painting, a painting of something that could exist, a painting of a photo that does not exist.  Copy of a copy.

6.

When Richard Prince photographed cigarette ads featuring cowboys and various scenes from the American West, he challenged the notion of what constitutes consideration as art and what is merely a copyright violation.  According to U.S. Copyright law, a person may use another’s creation (i.e. photograph) without permission if he or she transforms it in some meaningful way.  So when Prince got away with copying advertisements, he opened the door for Thomas Struth to photograph people viewing art in museum, and allowed Andreas Gursky to photograph a Van Gogh painting and sell it as his own work.

7.

By copying Struth’s museum photo and Gursky’s photo of a Van Gogh painting in his own work, artist (and friend) Alexander Bussey joins the conversation with photos that force the viewer to question whether he is just copying Crewdson, Gursky, Struth, or if he is genuinely creating his own art.

8.

Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills are portraits of the artist that loosely resemble films.  Some are based on real films, others are vague recreations of thing Sherman might have seen in foreign films or B-movies.

9.

Reality Hunger, by David Shields, is a call to arms for writers (and other artists) to work more like hip-hop artists: make it short, snappy, concise, and steal most of the good stuff from someone else.  Most (over half) of Reality Hunger is comprised of quotes and other written work by other writers.  Shields credits them only by force of his publisher, though he does instruct the reader to take a pair of scissors to the purposely-hard-to-read citations.

10.

If all we do is copy, won’t we run out of original work?  Ah, but hasn’t this already happened?

11.

Marcus Aurelius said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  This was in the 100’s.

12.

Variously attributed to both T.S. Elliot as “Good poets borrow, great poets steal,” and Picasso as “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” it is unlikely that either ever said those words, and the source of the original quote remains, a bit ironically, unknown.

By Ryan

Note: This is the first in a series of columns inspired by the excellent Reality Hunger by David Shields.  You should read it.

1.

Every writer strives for the perfect ending.

2.

The majority of the songs here end with the band repeating some variation of the chorus while the engineer pulls down the master knob on the soundboard.

3.

Skip to the end.

4.

A strange thing happened to me when malfunctioning Netflix DVDs cut short recent viewings of the films A Serious Man and A Single Man (yes, I saw Solitary Man, but the theatre projector soldiered on through the end credits): I had absolutely no desire to see the last five minutes of these films.  They felt complete to me; the titular characters had said their bit, and now it seemed that all that remained was to conclude the all-sacred plot.  This was an activity I was not interested in.

5.

YouTube and Wikipedia visits by my film-viewing companion confirm that both films end with a major event—two catastrophes meant to change the way one thinks about all that came before them.  This information changed nothing, but rather it confirmed what I had suspected all along: the plots of these films don’t matter.

6.

As Stephen Frears, the director of High Fidelity, worked to translate the best moments of the Nick Hornby novel on which the movie was based, he found to his surprise that the best moments were the voice-overs, especially the direct speeches of Rob Gordon (John Cusack) to the camera.  Frears said, “What we realized was that the novel was a machine to get to twelve crucial speeches in the book about romance and art and music and list-making and masculine distance and the masculine drive for art and the masculine difficulty with intimacy.”  This is the case for most novels: you have to read seven hundred pages to get the handful of insights that were the reason the book was written, and the apparatus of the novel is there as a huge, elaborate, overbuilt stage set.

7.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not arguing against story.  I like stories, and I think they are a great means of communication.  Just don’t confuse story with plot.

8.

Plots are for dead people.

9.

No one’s ever gonna watch an improv scene of two people arguing and say, “A ha—they saw his point of view!”  Don’t follow the plot.

10.

Why are films, novels, videogames, etc. so built around plot, then?  One does not remember the details of a great work—one remembers the emotion, the argument, the aura.  We partake in art to better understand ourselves and our world.  The specifics of good art are interchangeable; the message is not.  “How does Rothko make you feel?” not “What color is it?”

11.

A book report that starts “The Great Gatsby is about Nick Carraway…”

12.

I don’t care where it’s set; I care what it says.

13.

Hamlet would be a lot better if all the plot were excised, leaving the chain of little essays it really wants to be.  But while it’s true that Shakespeare’s plots can sometimes seem like armatures dragged in from the prop room, they are also there to service the need for human sensation.

14.

Nothing about plot is sensational.