Fictive Hunger

No posts in a while, mostly because my Internet Service Provider was not fulfilling the function you’d take for granted in its name.

Not that this has stopped the litblogging world, which is all up in arms about a work entitled Reality Hunger – a work which seems (from what I’ve read) to consist entirely of quotes from other books.

Mitchelmore, with his usual insight and profundity, right at the beginning of his review seems to question the very physical nature of the work, wondering: “but in what way is it a book?” – I don’t know. At a guess: it consists of a series of pages stuck together with glue and bound at one side with some printed text on the pages. (Am I right?). Though, knowing Mitchelmore never says anything without acuity, it did leave me wondering if it came packaged as an aeroplane or a potted plant.

But it’s Mark Thwaite who – as so often – provides the most fascinating commentary, falling as so often in the simplest of post-modernist contradictions. (Oh, he’s been reading some Continental philosophy!). He claims, of Reality Hunger:

One of the very many obtuse things about David Shields’ obtuse “manifesto” Reality Hunger — an obtuse book which contains many wonderful quotes about literature and life and which could have been simply a very fine commonplace book — is its obtuse and strident assertion that the line between the real and the fictive was in any way ever absolute and that the commingling of these two supposedly separate realms will save literature from redundancy.

This last point is further elucidated:

Shields […] seems to think that reality is a given rather than a perpetually socially constructed fiction which we half-wittingly recreate each and every day of our lives.

OK, let’s ride with that idea.

The next paragraph runs:

If the recent banking crisis showed us anything it was that the make-believe is at the heart of what we tell ourselves is real — and that fiction becomes fact when we have faith enough, or fear, in the (empty) lies that keep us in our places…

At which point, we might want to say: hey, wait a minute! Just now you said that “reality is … a perpetually socially constructed fiction”; so what’s this you’re meaning now when you’re talking about a point where “fiction becomes fact”; – you’ve just established that there isn’t any fact; that everything’s fiction.

He goes on:

Those who rule our world kill to maintain the presence of this absence every single day. Every day thousands starve or go cold, kids are bombarded in Iraq whilst neoliberal bloggers cheer, countless bore themselves stupid in offices — all so that bankers in Saville Row suits are maintained and preserved, and maintain the fiction that thinking beyond a system predicated on their maintainance and preservation is an impossibility.

Which makes us wonder why the author uses “fiction” here in a highly pejorative sense, and implies that the beliefs stated are somehow wrong, when – as has already been established – “reality” (any view of reality, whether someone else’s evil one or whether your “correct” one) “is … a perpetually socially constructed fiction”. On what possible basis can you claim that one fiction is preferable to anyone? – Certainly not by assessing it in relation to any facts, since there are no facts to relate it to. – You talk about “every day thousands starve or go cold, kids are bombarded in Iraq whilst neoliberal bloggers cheer”? – but there are no “thousands” starving or going cold and there are no “kids” being bombarded in Iraq, nor “neoliberal bloggers” cheering it on – this is all a socially constructed fiction, like the “bankers in Savil[l]e Row suits” and the people not thinking beyond their “mainta[i]nence and preservation”.

But, of course, what this really suggest to me, is that the writer doesn’t really believe that “reality is a … perpetually socially constructed fiction” at all, since he so quickly slips out of the notion when it doesn’t suit him. [ed. His common-sense takes over, eh?]

Here’s the Wall-Street investor Philip A. Fisher explaining why we bailed out the banks (he’s writing in 1958):

Prior to 1932 there would have been serious question from the responsible leadership of either party [this is the US we’re talking about here] as to whether there was any moral justification or even political wisdom in deliberately running a huge deficit in order to buttress ailing segments of business. Fighting unemployment by methods far more costly than the opening of bread lines and soup kitchens would not have been given serious consideration, regardless of which party might have been in office.

Since 1932 all that is reversed. … The responsible… leadership has said again and again that if business should really turn down they would not hesitate to lower taxes or make whatever other deficit-producing moves were necessary to restore prosperity and eliminate unemployment. This is a far cry from the doctines that prevailed prior to the big depression.

He then goes on to mention other significant factors: the increasing importance of income tax for central government revenue; the immense extension of benefits (notably unemployment benefits) – which would also encourage government to bail out the banks (i.e. so that the economy wouldn’t collapse, unemployment increase massively, and a much much larger deficit be created by a fall in GDP combined with an enormous increase in benefit payments).

What’s the main difference between 1929 and 2009? – In 1929, they didn’t bail out the banks, the US economy collapsed, the world economy collapsed and we entered into a wholesale slaughter of one another the scale of which had never been seen before.

2 thoughts on “Fictive Hunger

  1. [Caveat lector: qualified defense of post-modernity ahead]

    The locus aequalis-classicus for po-mo perspectivism is Nietzsche’s There are no facts, only interpretations. (from ‘notebooks’; there are many similar phrasings in the books he actually published).

    The most frustratingly – even infuriatingly – slippery argument for a strongly nihilistic relativism might be that of Rorty, who seems to say that, because there are innumerable perspectives of, say, an object (no perspective of which is ‘objective’), therefore: one must conclude that there is no object, and no “fact” to know.

    But that’s not what Nietzsche’s sentence means! One’s subjectivity rules out one from subjectively grasping an objective truth or fact – but why should that mean that there aren’t “truths” or “facts”?! One never touches them, except, possibly, in the realm of methodological rigor, but that a “fact” doesn’t exist is precisely also what one’s perspective can’t comprehend. “Fact” – or objective “truth” – is beyond the capacity of commitment-oriented perspective – that is, of a necessarily prejudgement-oriented interpretation – ‘to demonstrate’ – but not excluding the “fact” that there are facts.

    I think Nietzsche is deliberately coining a performative self-contradiction in order ironically to lever the conversation about what can be known away from dogmatism – like the dogmatism of the statement “There are no etc.”.

    Your Thwaite, who “so quickly slips out of the notion when it doesn’t suit him”, seems to me – from what I’ve seen in pieces on the internet – to be of the Rortyan persuasion – that is, unresponsive to the possibility that a paradox might point to something both logically and common-sensically more reasonable than nobody knows anything.

    The tack that Thwaite doesn’t take (that I’ve read) is that you could agree that, for each perspective of it, “reality” is a socially constructed truth, and still not be logically compelled to think that social construction is a denial of objective reality; the point would be, rather, that whatever “reality” is, for some particular perspective, it’s never grasped objectively or as pure “fact” – which perspective says and can say nothing successfully absolute about even the existence of an objective reality or a fact.

    Maybe you think that’s just the Kool-Aid talking . . .

  2. That’s a pretty optimistic comparison between 1929 and 2009 – it’s still only 2010! Lots of time for world economic collapse, unprecedented wholesale slaughter, a US World Cup conquest, et cetera ad flammas glaciemque.

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