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October 2017

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Reading Samuel R. Delany

I just started reading "Silent Interviews", a collection of interviews Samuel Delany has given over the years.

If I ever tried speaking the way Delany writes I would have a lot more people looking at me blankly and saying "Wow, you are really smart." (Because they have no idea what I'm talking about and have given up trying to understand me.)
i.e.
"Feminists and feminist sympathizers read alert to precisely the sort of gendered skewing on which the nostalgia of our epigraph is grounded, ready to point out the split, gently here, powerfully there, in the classical world, in the unified subject, and the assumption of transparent language on which any such self-satisfied vision of "man" (and the boy that fathers him, in our filiarchal society) must be grounded, always prepared for by (and constituted of) the shock that "you" are not "she" and (thus) "he" is not "you." (That split is not very far from the strange double marking that separates our two orders of interrogation--each signed with the question mark earlier.)" Silent Inteviews, p2

On the other hand I find him wonderfully informative:
"Frank Lentricia characterizes a radical as one who wants society to grow out of our education, while a conservative is someone who wants education to model itself on the society that exists--so that reading is (and what is education without it?) profoundly implicated in the very polarities of our politics." Silent Inteviews, p2

For me, reading Delany is like riding a roller-coaster of layered meaning. I always come away breathless with the excitement of revelation, which I can't seem to explain to anyone else.

For instance: Alex has a bad habit of trying to talk to me when I'm on the computer. When I'm sitting quietly, staring at the computer screen, he assumes that is a good time to talk to me. J had the same problem. For a long time when J lived here he would say "Morning" to me if he saw me sitting at the computer as he stumbled from his room to the bathroom in the morning.

Unfortunately even the effort to exchange a simple greeting massively disrupts my concentration and totally derails my train of thought in a way that is difficult for me to recover from. When I'm reading, or more importantly writing I can not afford any interruption.

There is a passage in Delany's novel "Tales of Neveryon" that I feel perfectly explains the problem. But when I went to read it to Alex I realized that it only seems perfect to me. It is probably impenetrable to anyone else.
Here let me show you:
"Had her slave, indeed, spent his past five years as, say, a free, clever, and curious apprentice to a well-off potter down in the port, he might have harbored some image of a totally leisured and totally capricious aristocracy, for which there were certainly enough emblems around him now, but which emblems, had he proceeded on them, as certainly would have gotten him into trouble. Gorgik, however, had passed so much of his life at drudgeries he know would, foreman or no, probably kill him in another decade and certainly in two, he was too dazzled by his own, unexpected freedom from such drudgeries to question how others drudged. To pass the Vizerine's open door and see Myrgot at her desk, head bent over a map, a pair of compasses in one hand and a straight edge in the other (which to that clever, curious, and ambitious apprentice would have signed work), and then to pass the same door later and see her standing beside her desk, looking vacantly toward some cloud passing by the high beveled window (which, to that same apprentice would have signed a leisure that could reasonably be intruded upon, thus making her order never to intrude appear, for a lover at any rate, patently unreasonable), were states he simply did not distinguish: their textures were both so rich, so complex, and so unusual to him that he read no structure of meaning in either, much less did he read the meaning of those structures somehow as opposition. In obeying the Vizerine's restriction, and not intruding on either situation, his reasons were closer to something aesthetic than practical. Gorgik was acting on that disposition for which the apprentice would have despised him as the slave he was: he knew his place. Yet that apprentice's valuation would have been coarse, for the truth is that in such a society, Gorgik--no more than a potter's boy--had no place . . . if we use "to have" other than in that mythical (and mystifying) sense in which both a slave has a master and good people have certain rights, but rather in the sense of possession that implies some way (either through power of convention) of enforcing that possession, if not to the necessary extent, at least to a visible one. Had Gorgik suddenly developed a disposition to intrude, from some rage grown either in whim or reason, he would have intruded on either situation--a disposition that his aristocratic supper companions would have found more sympathetic than the apprentice's presumptions, assumptions, and distinction all to no use. Our potter's boy would no doubt have gotten himself turned out of the castle, thrown into one of the High Court's lower dungeons, or killed--for these were brutal and barbaric times, and the Vizerine was frequently known to be both violent and vicious. Had Gorgik intruded, yes, the aristocrats would have been in far greater sympathy with him--as they had him turned out, thrown in a dungeon, or killed. No doubt this means the distinction is of little use. But we are trying to map the borders of the disposition that was, indeed, the case. Gorgik, who had survived on the water-front and survived in the mines, survived at the High Court of Eagles. To do it, he had to learn a great deal." Tales of Neveryon pp19-20


Can you believe a book with a passage like that is marketed as "Sword and Sorcery Fantasy"? No one who likes "Dragon Lance" books would enjoy this.
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Comments

That...is as elaborate as any work by Dickens and yet very, very simple.

No. That passage cannot be read out loud. The subject must read it for themselves, otherwise the meaning is lost.

Delany

Hmm... it would not occur to me to compare Delany to Dickens.
Maybe it is has been to long since I have read Dickens.
On the other hand I do love that antique style.

Have your read John Crowley?

Yes, you are right, Delany writes for readers not listeners.

Re: Delany

I was thinking of David Copperfield when I read that passage. The use of metaphor to describe what is NOT happening.

No, I haven't read any Crowley. What do you recommend?

Re: John Crowley

The first Crowley book I ever read was "Little, Big" and it is still my favorite.

What I recommend usually depends on what kind of stories the person I'm recommending to enjoys.

"Little, Big" is a long novel in Victorian style about fairies, and a family that gets a bit too involved with them. It contains elements about the real historical practice of magic that appear in other of his works. Also, it takes place in New York. :-)

He has an LJ crowleycrow.