Reality Imitating Art

I went to the dentist this morning. As I was lying prone in the chair in pain, I thought of Frank Norris’s novel McTeague, in which the title character is a dentist whose grip is so strong that he is able to extract teeth with his bare hands. Later in the visit, I received a lecture that I’ve been given before about how I should really be using an electronic toothbrush rather than a manual one, and I thought about how the hygienist probably thinks of me as a “difficult” patient for not heeding her advice. This thought reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine gets labelled “difficult” by her doctor. When she complains, she gets blacklisted by all of the doctors in the area. As I grumpily made my way home after the appointment, the first line of Shel Silverstein’s poem “Hurk” surfaced out of my childhood memories: “I’d rather play tennis than go to the dentist.”

This experience struck me because I realized that I wasn’t using any original thoughts to analyze it, but simply relied on art to do the analysis for me, to tell me how to feel. It is important to see how art relates to real life (whatever that means; as David Shields writes in Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, “reality… is the one word that is meaningless without quotation marks” [4]), but it becomes dangerous when we let art (or, more broadly, the simulated reality of pop culture) mediate all of our experiences for us.

Published by danielshankcruz

I grew up in New York City and lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Goshen, Indiana; DeKalb, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Utica, New York. My mother’s family is Swiss-German Mennonite (i.e., it’s an ethnicity, not necessarily a theological persuasion) and my father’s family is Puerto Rican. I have a Ph.D. in English and currently teach at Utica College. I have also taught at Northern Illinois University and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. My teaching and scholarship are motivated by a passion for social justice, which is why my research focuses on the literature of oppressed groups, especially LGBT persons and people of color. While I primarily read and write about fiction, I am also a devoted reader of poetry because, as William Carlos Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet [people] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Thinkers who influence me include Marina Abramovic, Kathy Acker, Di Brandt, Ana Castillo, Samuel R. Delany, Percival Everett, Essex Hemphill, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, and the New York School of poets. I am also fond of queer Mennonite writers such as Stephen Beachy, Jan Guenther Braun, Lynnette Dueck/D’anna, and Casey Plett. In my free time I’m either reading, writing the occasional poem, playing board games (especially Scrabble, backgammon, and chess), watching sports (Let’s Go, Mets!), or cooking (curries, stews, roasts…).

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