David Shields

We’re opening 2024 with our chat with David Shields: David is the internationally bestselling author of twenty-five books, including Reality Hunger (which, in 2020, Lit Hub named one of the most important books of the past decade), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN USA Award), Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity (PEN/Revson Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice). The Very Last Interview was published by New York Review Books in 2022.

The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, two NEA fellowships, and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, Shields—a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions—has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Salon, Slate, Tin House, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Believer, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Best American Essays. His work has been translated into two dozen languages.

The film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, which Shields co-wrote and co-stars in, was released in 2017 (available on Vudu). Shields wrote, produced, and directed Lynch: A History, a 2019 documentary about Marshawn Lynch’s use of silence, echo, and mimicry as key tools of resistance (streaming on Prime Video, Peacock, AMC, Sundance Now, Apple TV, Tubi, Kanopy, Google Play, and YouTube). 

In June 2023, I’ll Show You Mine, a feature film that Shields co-wrote and was produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, was released theatrically nation-wide and distributed digitally on Prime Video, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and Vimeo. A new film, How We Got Here, which Shields wrote and directed and which argues that Melville plus Nietzsche divided by the square root of (Allan) Bloom times Žižek (squared) equals Bannon, is streaming now on Tubi, OTT Studio, and Cineverse; the companion volume is forthcoming in January 2024.

The text of the passage that David reads out in this episode is as follows:

When a “colleague” asked if I have “any sort of tried-and-true compositional methodology when it comes to literary collage,” I found myself emailing back, in about five minutes, this curiously complete summary: “I’ll stumble into a metaphor that in my grandiosity I think explains the universe, at least for me, at least for the moment. Some large subject will represent for me a personal, cultural, and human ‘crisis’: something about which I’m confused, ambivalent, embarrassed, ashamed, excited. I’ll then ‘shoot a lot of film’—gather hundreds or even thousands of pages over years, sometimes over decades. Just stuff: stuff I’ve read, old stuff I wrote, new stuff I’m writing, emails from friends, research, etc., all of which puts ‘pressure’ on the ‘material’ (some supposedly enormous subject). I won’t really know what I want to say about it. I just know it’s tugging at me and I need to explore it and I’ve convinced myself I have something or other to add to the conversation. 

“At a certain point, I’ll no longer be surprised by shooting more film. It will all be telling me the same thing. So I’ll stop and read and reread and reread what I have. Often the page count goes down very quickly—from, say 3,000 pages to, say,1000, then 500, then 300, then 140. At 140, maybe it’s a book. No literary collage can be longer than 120 pages. (Joke.) (Sort of.)

“To mix metaphors: you’re getting rid of all the dross, all the easy things, all the obvious things. You keep only what scares you. Then you start pouring the paragraphs you like into different thematic silos, different rubrics. And you organize each of these rubrics so that each of these silos or rubrics or holding tanks has its own trajectory. Each one is in a way its own mini-essay. Then you arrange the silos either vertically or horizontally. I.e., as consecutive chapters going downward—as, say, Jean Toomer does in Cane (I think of that as vertical)—or you arrange it horizontally—across space—as, say, Amy Fusselman does in The Pharmacist’s Mate. Basically, it’s either AAAAA, BBBBB, CCCC, DDDDD or A/B/C/D/A/E/B/B/D/B/C/A/D. Easiest thing in the world (nothing is more difficult and more beautiful).”

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