The year’s most accomplished, and most important, films about war, terrorism, and geopolitics aren’t Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. They’re two modestly budgeted films from Israel and the Palestinian Territories. And, unlike their American counterparts, they’re not drawing on true stories for blockbuster entertainment. No, they are the thing itself: blistering documentaries about life and death, violence and oppression, and the struggle to remain human in unbearable conditions. 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers are morality tales, as much of a warning for gung-ho Americans of the potential costs of their military adventures as they are stark indictments of the Israeli occupation and its effects on Palestinian life.
I reviewed David Shields’ How Literature Saved My Life for The Daily Beast:
David Shields is done with fiction, at least as you and I probably know it. After beginning his career as a novelist, the 56-year-old Shields, over the last decade and a half, has drifted toward loose, essayistic forms that tear down the walls between fact and fiction. (In fact, he claims that those walls never existed in the first place.) This “project”—a favored Shields word—crested in 2010 with Reality Hunger, a book-length collection of quotations and aphorisms cobbled together to argue that contemporary fiction should embrace hybrid genres, the instability of truth and memory, the essential falsity of the novel, appropriation, and so on.
Shields has been a worthwhile polemicist (Reality Hunger was subtitled A Manifesto) for the sometimes buttoned-up world of literary fiction. But what began as a matter of taste and then matriculated to an argument over aesthetics has now become ideology. In his latest book, How Literature Saved My Life, he recapitulates much of Reality Hunger’s argument while falling into a deep, mawkish solipsism, one that leaves him unable to recognize why anyone may have an interest in the vast range of fiction that centuries of literary culture have produced. More troubling is, he has become so convinced of his own beliefs that he seems to have little desire to convince others of them; they have instead ossified into dogma.