“Bonny Delany”

by Ralph Dumain

Thanks for your review article "The Flight of Samuel R. Delany" by Jeff Riggenbach (May 20, 1988, p. 34-36). I completely agree that Delany's science-fiction status has hindered recognition by the snobbish and trivializing literary establishment. Delany may be the most philosophically profound novelist alive today. He has been on the intellectual cutting edge since his first novel The Jewels of Aptor in which even as a teenager he transcended the Teutonic Manichean feudalistic world view of J.R.R. Tolkein and his ilk. Contrary to Riggenbach, I find Dahlgren not his magnum opus but his least philosophically interesting work, although it is a magnificently detailed portrait of dead-end decadence.

Many of Delany's 1960s works concentrated on problems of identity, the limits of human nature, and the impact on these by advanced technological society, often with surprising plot twists challenging stereotyped racial and sexual roles. Delany's questioning of the limits of myth was nascent even in The Jewels of Aptor (e.g. the effect of worshipping a concrete God) but really took off in the underrated The Einstein Intersection where Delany uses the metaphor of the title to suggest that we have evolved beyond playing out our symbolic-mythical role models. In the 1970s Delany combined philosophical acuity with minutely refined descriptions of character and social institutions, culminating in Triton.

The Neveryon saga climaxes his work; its first two books are masterpieces, their richness almost beyond description. Tales of Neveryon delivers a death blow to the possibility of creating through mythmaking a final, stable, consistent picture of human identity. One of the characters finally feels that all the characters with their identities are reflections of each other; another is nauseated by this concept. Neveryona reveals the fundamental contours of social concepts and social/power structures, climaxing in an evanescent image of a lost city.

My only criticism of Delany is his adoption of the obscurantist ideology of deconstructionism, which has not spoiled his fiction but which could someday put a brake on his development. I also question part of his audience: the punkish cult of degeneracy adores anything that seems to justify its cynicism but its contempt for craft and consciousness will destroy Delany if he is not careful as it has destroyed the rest of science fiction and would destroy all art if it could.

©1988, 2000, 2002 Ralph Dumain

Page created 8 Feb 2000

(Note: My apologies to Mr. Delany for my consistent misspelling of his name, which I am now correcting wherever possible.—24 March 2002)

SOURCE: Dumain, Ralph. "Bonny Delany" [on science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany, written May 25, 1988, published in letters column], City Paper [Washington, DC], June 10, 1988, p. 3.

Note: I have always disliked the phenomenon termed deconstructionism, but I would have written my final paragraph differently now. Also, I have never considered Delany as associated with the punk aesthetic. I must have been thinking of some of his fans I had observed. After seeing this in the City Paper (of Washington, DC), Ethelbert Miller called me — my first contact with him— and offered me an interview on his radio show, which I would have taken up but was such a perfectionist I never got around to preparing for it and so let it fade away. —28 April 2023

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Rev. 24 March 2002
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