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David Shields, a professor of English at the University of Washington,
sums up his book in imagining his readers response, on page 133.
Okay, okay, okay, we get it: you stutter and so,
irredeemably self-conscious, youre devoted to yourself as a subject, also as a
symbolic subject, even as some sort of featured player in a collage movie. Dont you finally want to get outside
I want to get past myself, of course I do, but the only way I
know how to do this is to ride along on my own nerve endings; the only way is
Enough About You is a slight work; it reads like a
collection of self-indulgent columns from a college newspaper, except that
Shields has five previous books, and refers to them fairly often. On the back are blurbs full of high praise from
Wayne Koestenbaum, Vivian Gornick, Charles Baxter, and David Gates, and I think
the worse of them for such bad judgment.
Shields writes how he identifies with college baseball coach Bobby
Knight, because for both of them, what animates us inevitably ails us (p.
172). He admires author Renata Adlers
novel Speedboat, Hilton Alss The Women, W. G. Sebalds The
Emigrants, V.S. Naipauls A Way in the World, and all the novels of
J.D. Salinger. He is an ardent admirer
of the actor Bill Murray, and devotes a whole chapter to extolling Murrays
virtues. Shields ricochets from one
topic to another, and theres also some general point he wants to make in the
work as a whole. The problem, of
course, is that readers have no prior reason to care about Shields opinions,
and Shields gives readers little reason to care.
pretension of the book, signaled it its subtitle, is that this is an
exploration at the boundaries of autobiography. This could be a fascinating enterprise, since the genre of
autobiography and especially the more specialized genre of the memoir deserve
scrutiny, and theres much to be written on the role of self-narration in
modern life and the nature of self-revelation.
Yet Shields seems to have nothing interesting to say about these issues. The book has a slightly post-modern feel to
it, in its reluctance to conform to the standard formats of autobiography or
essay, and some might defend him by suggesting that he is inventing a different
format, inspired by the many works he admires and mentions. Shields prefaces the book with a quotation
from William Gass, I know of nothing more difficult than knowing who you are,
and having the courage to share the reasons for the catastrophe of your
character with the world. When it
comes down to it, though, Shields discusses his life as a writer, in his
relationship with his father and his partner Rachel, his identity as a Jew, and
the importance of his stuttering to his development, and he says nothing to
give his reader any reason to think theres anything particularly difficult in
telling his story. Theres no truth
that a standard format could not capture, and a standard format would have
relieved the reader of having to put up with much of Shields
self-indulgence. Without its
tantalizing nod to fragmentation, so much prized in literary theory, it might
become all too apparent that readers have no reason to be interested in Shields
at all, and would be best off ignoring his book altogether.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research
is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in
exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is
keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health
professionals, and the general public.
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