Food Writing

Reality Hunger was released in February of 2010. I think it’s important to date these kinds of things because in this post-modern culture it’s very easy to forget that there was a time before certain objects, certain phenomena.

Reality Hunger is arranged into numbered sections, most, if not all, are not the words of its author, David Shields.

‘6

I need say nothing, only exhibit.’

For a still forming Creative Writing student at the University Of Gloucestershire, Reality Hunger was important. It was taught almost immediately as part of a transgressive class by Dr Martin Randall. We were encouraged to buy a copy and read it. Many of us came away confused as to what the appropriate reaction should be.

We would talk about it in the pub or the SU, between lectures or walking home from a party. Sometimes it would come up if we stumbled across each other’s paths in town.

’69

There are two sorts of artist, one not being in the least bit superior to the other. One responds to the history of art so far; the other responds to life itself.’

Our gradual consensus centred around Shields’ idea of ‘brickolage’; of forming text or narrative through others’ work. Sampling with a keyboard and words instead of a set of decks and some old soul records.

Myself and a fellow student formed a writing performance group called The Jolly Autocratic Committee and wrote a twelve-minute long performance piece constructed out of found language. I’ll share it with you at some point in the future.

‘204

As a preamble to their performances, traditional storytellers in Majorca would say, “It was and it was not so”.’

At the front of things, however, my writing almost totally dried up for six months. Reality Hunger hit me hard enough to shatter what I thought I should be doing as a writer. I had to rebuild.

It is probably the most important book I own. It was devastating and inspiring. It still is.

‘315

While we tend to conceive the operations of the mind as unified and transparent, they’re actually chaotic and opaque. There’s no invisible boss in the brain, no central meaner , no unitary self in command of our activities and utterances. There’s no internal spectator of a Cartesian theater in our heads to applaud the march of consciousness across its stage’

If you have your own Reality Hunger story to tell, let me know in the comments.

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Core Memories

In a sentence this long you don’t necessarily remember the details of what you’ve been told but you certainly feel them.

‘Until I was 16 or 17, I had heard practically nothing about the history that preceded 1945. Only when we were 17 were we confronted with a documentary film of the opening of the Belsen camp.’

I’ve read quite a bit about the life and work of W.G. Sebald in the last couple of days, but it seems to me that the above quote taken from a Guardian interview conducted in September of 2001 is right at the centre of his work.

Austerlitz, Sebald’s last book, seems to mumble at you from the dark corner of a rural pub or bed and breakfast. Indeed, the main narrator gains all of his story told through a series of meetings with the book’s main storyteller, Austerlitz.

Austerlitz tells the story of how he discovered that he had not been born and raised in the hills of Wales but had a whole other life he had forgotton, had rediscovered through his love of architecture. I sometimes wonder whether Austerlitz is an imagined character that the narrator has created in order to deal with the revalations of his past

Always, though, we are put in the place of the young Sebald, discovering a past revealed.

It’s no surprise that the first time I read this book it was copy from lecturer, friend, and sometime mentor Dr Martin Randall that it was full of pencilled notes about labyrinths and mazes. The book is somehow a maze that continues to reveal right up until the book’s core, an eleven-page sentence. Here we learn how a rumoured holiday destination became a ghetto, how it later became a death camp, and how each step from rumour to journey, to hell-reality seemed as easy as stepping from one room to the next.

I’ve always said that this sentence is a remarkable achievement for its grammatical accuracy. Now, having read it over and over again for a few days I’m not so sure. What I am totally sure of, though, is that as a device for disorienting and pushing the reader outside and beyond the words on the page it is close to perfect.

In a sentence this long you don’t necessarily remember the details of what you’ve been told but you certainly feel them.