David Shields gets very sad whenever he hears people talk about plot. In his opinion, everything is overwritten and it all should just kill itself. The last good book he read was probably a tweet on why every piece of traditional literature should crawl under a bridge and drown. Caleb Powell is still trying to write his “great American novel.” His blog is comprised of his musings as a “sexist stay-at-home father.” Years ago, David Shields was Caleb Powell’s student. Now, they are co-authors; their book, I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, aims to figure out what is wrong with everything.
For years, David Shields has devoted himself to the creation of a new form of writing built on the destruction of traditional storytelling. I Think You’re Totally Wrong fits in his paradigm, a continuation of this process. It is not a novel or a story. Even calling this book a “conversation” is misleading. For much of the 256-page spar session, two white guys argue about art and life, but at least both Powell and Shields are aware that they are two white guys arguing about art and life. They both seem embarrassed by their situation, but each is too consumed by the arguments not to continue arguing. In some ways, while reading, I wished both of them had just stopped talking and instead published a book composed entirely from the silence of two white men refusing to gratuitously bicker.
Of course, I’m a guilty party in perpetuating this dialogue: I am the white male consuming a book about two white males arguing about art and life. But see, the thing is, I Think You’re Totally Wrong is very difficult not to read. It feeds on the same desires that draw people to Twitter and have them scrolling through their feeds endlessly, seeking immediate, direct, and at times uncensored banter. In that way, the entire book feels authentic. There is very little disconnect. As soon as I began reading, I immediately felt like I was a fly on the wall in Caleb Powell’s and David Shields’ conversation, or even one of the people volleying ideas across the net. And in a recent interview with Shields, I threw some of those ideas across the table.
What percentage of your life feels honest?
David Shields: A pretty high percentage, I must say. That’s kind of important to me. If it’s not honest, I try to investigate its dishonesty.
Seven of your last eight books have been co-authored in some way. Do you feel less alone co-writing books?
Do you find it easier to co-write a book? Does it happen quicker?
I don’t know about that. I like the cross-hatching of it. I like the other person questioning everything I do. I like the feeling of another person tugging on the other end of the line, saying, Where’s your one-page riff? One always has homework; I like that.
James Franco is involved in the filming of two of your books. Have you guys talked about co-writing a book?
We filmed I Think You’re Totally Wrong. Then we filmed Black Planet. Next up with James Franco is The Thing About Life. I like process of collaboration with James, but I doubt we’d do a book together, though one never knows.
How would you describe the relationship between your latest book and your life?
It’s a sequel. Life kind of reconstructs literature.
Have you been satisfied with the reviews so far?
One early review said I don’t really care. I just want to understand myself.
What are you going to do next?
I’m not 100 percent sure. The tension between order and life is erotic.
What would you tell someone who doesn’t know how to live their life?
You are alive.
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