…fiction has never seemed less central to the culture’s sense of itself… David Shields
Shields has written a book that proposes a methodology/ideology/philosophy whereby the author is entirely surrendered to a lack of context and an absolute state of the confessional. This is interesting as it correlates to ideas about the current networked and digital on-line environment and arguments around copyright and intellectual property. Shields iterates: “Who owns the words?”. Not a far cry from Samuel Beckett and Michel Foucault musing on: “what matter who’s speaking?” The work suggests a lack of authorship being central to contemporary expression, and further that fiction is mundane and boring in an environment where everyman has a voice in the confessional. This argument and point of view is a direct line to the realisation of fragmented texts and fragmented expressions of reality. I would argue however that fragmentation and modern media has nothing to do with the supposed loss of fiction. On the other hand, fragmentation is a new form of fiction. A new imagined reality emerges out of the cut up and dispersed ocean of different expressions.
Personally I find the contention that fiction gives us no sense of self a little dry and clinical. It would seem that confession and reality based art is the aesthetic of the video up-load to the internet, but I would argue that that we add our own fictions to everything. A video of a leaf, rustling on a tree in the wind can mean so many different emotions and subtleties of human experience that reality-based becomes ecstatically-based art.
Documentary cinema was present at the very conception of the moving image and so its place in the history of film thought and philosophy is integral. It has always been asked of documentary; “to what extent is there truth or meaning in the documented image?” And every answer manages to build a persuasive and relevant discussion and outcome. This does not equate to a culture that has lost sense of identity through fiction. On the other hand, fiction being the place where ideals are dreamed up and heroes invented and destroyed, has evolved into a new playing field where there is a convergence with the precise recording of people and places. Werner Herzog’s Lessons In Darkness (1992) is as much a critical documentation of the 1st Iraq war as it is a commentary and thought about the origins of mans struggle with himself and the nature and trajectory of civilization. A fiction invented by Herzog.
The Sunday Book review makes a comparison of the current state of literature, art, broadcast TV and radio to a time of an idealistic state of fiction. Whilst the culture of literature may be undergoing some kind of crisis, it seems important to point out that it is unpractical to make such comparisons because since the advent and introduction of the internet into culture there is simply much more space for stuff. Yes there is a definite rise and tidal wave of reality based TV, but there is also the rise and tidal wave of HBO drama productions and DVD boxsets. Hands up how many people watch the entire series of The Sopranos via its weekly broadcast slot? I can confess that I went straight for the box-set and sat there for 3 or 4 episode long sessions. There is no shortage of work for A and B list Hollywood actors who now make their way to the booming industry of episodic American drama’s and comedies. So, I conclude that one new aesthetic hasn’t pushed aside another, but rather that the pool just got a whole lot bigger.