I’m not actively invested in the web as a place where I forge anything. (All puns intended.) It’s more that I just know and think that it is entirely the air we breathe—you know it, I know it, even John McCain knows it—and so I dip my toe into it constantly and relatively briefly to feel what it is that has completely taken over our consciousness.
Since the word “shoddy” struck me as especially harsh here, I looked it up. According to the Free Dictionary, shoddy means: 1. Made of or containing inferior material. 2. a. Of poor quality or craft. b. Rundown; shabby. 3. Dishonest or reprehensible: shoddy business practices. 4. Conspicuously and cheaply imitative. I understand now, with a healthy dash of the vertigo Shields hoped to provoke in me, why Elie was irked. It irks me to read Lewis-Kraus’s excerpt, which I’m afraid epitomizes the term shoddy. Not only does Lewis-Kraus screw up the attribution, assigning it not to Shields but to Elie, he disparages what he says is Elie’s work, and then to top it off, carries on with statements that Lewis-Kraus might believe — this business about self-consciousness and knowing we could be doing something else — that don’t follow from anything that Shields or Elie or Percy wrote.
So let’s agree this is shoddy work. So is it Lewis-Kraus’s fault or maybe his publisher’s? Unlike in Shields’s manifesto, Lewis-Kraus includes no citations at all, with page numbers or not. If he had included citations, perhaps a thoughtful editor would have traced the misquote back to that artsy prankster Shields and this mess would have been averted. But no citations; this is art.
J. Greg Phelan, on “The Shoddy Afterlife of a Reality Hunger Appropriation.”
I find it hard to understand why the technologically sophisticated is necessarily more visceral. The viscera are visceral, the old primitive gut: this pain, this pleasure, now. At the same time, I share Shields’s weariness with novels that, however elegant and intelligent, appear merely to be going through the motions, to be aimed above all at creating the package that will lead to prominence on the world stage, or at least commercial success (the two are almost the same thing).
If there is a problem with the novel, and I’m agreed with Shields that there is, it is not because it doesn’t participate in modern technology, can’t talk about it or isn’t involved with it; I can download in seconds on my Kindle a novel made up entirely of emails or text messages. Perhaps the problem is rather a slow weakening of our sense of being inside a society with related and competing visions of the world to which we make our own urgent narrative contributions; this being replaced by the author who takes courses to learn how to create a product with universal appeal, something that can float in the world mix, rather than feed into the immediate experience of people in his own culture.
Tim Park both agrees and argues with David Shields in “Writing Adrift in the World.”