Is David Shields Jewish?

Yes, according to NYU's Bullpen, David Shields is, "a secular Jew who defines himself by his Jewish-ness." He was born in Los Angeles in 1956 and now lives in Seattle with his wife and daughter.

We know (or should we say it appears ) that David Shields was at Brown in 1976 when we were finishing our PhD there.

Of course he may not be Jewish at all. In his current work, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, Shields makes it clear that he takes pride in how he blurs the lines between fact and fiction.

He also makes clear that he demolishes the distinction between his words and the words of others. The 200 pages of his anthology-essay mostly present the observations of other writers arranged according to Shields' 26 alphabetical chapters of varying length with cryptic sub-titles.

The problem is that in all his work of citation, Shields does not tell us who said what. The ancient Talmud would inform us in its anthological compositions that, "Rabbi X says" and an average modern essayist would provide footnotes to grant attribution. To be fair, there are some crippled notes in the back, which Shields explains are only there because lawyers for the publisher insisted on it. He'd rather the whole mess of citations go without assignment to its authors.

We are supposed to say either in praising him that Shields is daring or provocative, or in damning him that he has lost his senses and subverts literary propriety. Most books (post Unibomber) called "a manifesto" invite the latter appraisal.

If we copy his book and put our name on it, and start to sell it as our own or give it away, Shields would not rejoice, that we assure you. Subversive as subset of attention-getter is not the same as subversive as subset of social-disruptive.

You can enjoy the book in any event because Shields has assembled a Midrashic-Talmudic compilation of contemporary aphorisms on a wide variety of topics of varying length, depth and acumen. He clearly had fun "writing" this book.And about 30% of the material has some point to it.

So yes, Shields is a Jew, and to some degree he has written in style a rabbinic treatise. On occasion he slips in Jewish references, e.g. on page 50, "Verboten thematic: secular Jews, laureates of the real, tend to be better at analyzing reality than re-creating it..." followed by the dropping of the names of 14 names of Jews exemplifying the cryptic claim without telling us further what it means. We guess we must await the commentaries to come along and decode the meanings of each such undeveloped and incoherent passage in this assemblage.

We were hoping for some edification of a particular theme that was promised in a way in some blurb or other -- of why a person would steal another person's writing, put their name on it and publish it as their own. Nope. The author takes an "audacious stance" on hot issues. But not that one.

Bottom line. This book proves that audacity may generate some pleasant heat without much actual illumination.

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