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Banality Inside Out

In response to:

What If? from the May 12, 2011 issue

To the Editors:

Pace Lorrie Moore’s mention of my book Reality Hunger in her review of three memoirs [“What If?,” NYR, May 12], Reality Hunger is neither an “anti-novel jihad” (Geoff Dyer’s jocular reference in his laudatory discussion of my book in the Guardian) nor a brief for the memoir. It is instead, as should be abundantly clear to anyone who has read the book, an argument for the poetic essay and the book-length essay—in particular, work that takes the banality of nonfiction (the literalness of “facts,” “truth,” “reality”), turns that banality inside out, and thereby makes nonfiction a staging area for the investigation of any claim of facts and truth, an extremely rich theater for investigating the most serious epistemological and existential questions: What’s “true”? What’s knowledge? What’s “fact”? What’s memory? What’s self? What’s other? I want a nonfiction that explores our shifting, unstable, multiform, evanescent experience in and of the world.

David Shields
Millman Distinguished
Writer-in-Residence
University of Washinton
Seattle, Washington

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