Ash of Stars: One half of a dialogue on Samuel  R. Delany

By Ralph Dumain

In re: Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany, edited by James Sallis. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

Contents:

Introduction / James Sallis  ix
The Languages of Science Fiction: Samuel  R. Delany’s Babel-17 / Carl Malmgren 3
To See What Condition Our Condition Is In: Trial by Language in Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand / Mary Kay Bray 17
Debased and Lascivious? Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand / by Russell Blackford 26
The Politics of Desire in Delany’s Triton and Tides of Lust / Robert Elliot Fox 43
On Dhalgren / Jean Mark Gawron 62
“This You-Shaped Hole of Insight and Fire”: Meditations on Delany’s Dhalgren / Robert Elliot Fox 97
Necessary Constraints: Samuel R. Delany on Science Fiction / David N. Samuelson 109
Nevèrÿon Deconstructed : Samuel  R. Delany’s Tales of Nevèrÿon and the “Modular Calculus” / Kathleen L. Spencer 127
“Delany's Dirt” / Ray Davis 162
Subverted Equations: G. Spencer Brown’s Laws of Form and Samuel  R. Delany’s Analytics of Attention / Ken James 189
Selected Bibliography 215
Contributors 218
Index 221

Sun Oct 16, 2011 5:05 am  |

… It’s been some years since I read anything by or about Delany. Maybe the attempts to decipher K. Leslie Steiner will pique my interest.

Mon Oct 17, 2011 8:18 am  |

I haven't read Delany himself in many years, but reading the first few essays in this book has blown my mind. There are certain aspects of contemporary academic writing and ideology in the book, and the framing of academic concerns, that irritate me as always, but the observations of some of these authors give me something new to think about as well as to pinpoint my particular reactions to Delany, to reception of Delany, to subcultures, etc.

I don't believe in the union of the criminal and the artist, by the way. That kind of thinking has got to go.

Mon Oct 17, 2011 4:01 pm  |

. . .  I don't think that criminals stand in opposition to society at all. But rather than argue the obvious, when I think of this my first thoughts go to Richard Wright, who wondered about the potential of outsiderness in NATIVE SON (1940) and THE OUTSIDER (1953), both with gruesome implicit conclusions. Real criminality is not remotely oppositional. But there's the question of the potentials of the outsider perspective, explored by Wright in all his work from at least 1940 on. Delany, like Wright, is a highly civilzed man, though not a product of the dire circumstances of the latter, so that, whatever he has experienced in the Unlicensed Zone, he wouldn't do well with real criminals. He's probably been around thugs, as I have, and hopefully he'd be smart enough to see them as the enemy.

But there's something else I vaguely recall from BABEL-17, as much as I can remember from three and a half decades ago. Was not the criminality of one of the main characters due to his inarticulateness, his inability to conceptualize his experience? This factor changes the entire perspective.

Mon Oct 17, 2011 4:41 pm  |

Don't recall the Adorno quote, though there are untold riches in MINIMA MORALIA. Once again on Richard Wright's THE OUTSIDER: another view of criminality is offered, for the main character, who is a "thought criminal" as well as a murderer (though more by force of circumstance than real ill will), argues with the detective on his trail (though the detective doesn't know it yet), who is also an outsider and thus also a "criminal", that outsiderness, is, in the definitional structure of society, criminality. This perspectival criminality allows one to understand, and up to a point even identify with, actual criminality, but only in certain respects. There is also the ever-present threat of chaos. But the outsider perspective allows one to analyze, and hence structure, chaos. This could be considered quite Delanyesque.

Tue Oct 18, 2011 1:24 pm  |

In one of the two essays on STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND, "Debased and Lascivious?" by Russell Blackford. Blackford addresses not only the question of moral assumptions but also the question of disgust. This clarifies for me the brilliance of what Delany has accomplished and where I part company. Literature is not real life, so one can't assume the author endorses what he writes about, but life is not neutral, it demands judgment and boundaries, and so I think we've reached the limit of what can be contemplated.

On a more general note, I think that for thoughtful people who grew up before the Reagan era, we are living in a retrospective age, investigating and highlighting all the (different) assumptions of the past. I am more likely to read something of that than something futuristic, since (1) I don't think there is any future, (2) the distance between the future and the assumptions of hi tech media culture today is so minuscule that imagination has lost its function.

Thu Oct 20, 2011 6:47 am  |

Duly noted that not all legally designable as "criminals" are the same, or that those who aren't, should be.

The farther I read in this book, the better I see the contours of what I knew, forgot, or missed in Delany. And regret that I haven't kept up. But also, I think of the transition between eras and generations. Delany was born in 1942, grew up in the '40s & '50s, and emerged into the world of the '60s and '70s. I can't even remember what of his I've read if anything since the mid-'80s, which is when the cultural-political sea change inaugurated by the Reagan era congealed in its fully perceptible form.

But what about the world inherited by people born since then, who began where the previous generation or two left off? What is to be said now that wasn't said before?

I've only one essay left to read, on G. Spencer Brown’s Laws of Form, which is probably what initially annoyed me when I glanced at it first picking up the book. We shall see. So far I like all the essays but one, "Delany's Dirt" by Ray Davis, which is about Delany's outré porno novels climaxing with The Mad Man. Davis is quite articulate in stating his position, but I'm not buying it. Also reminded of something I dislike about the lit crit crowd. People love to live dangerously from a safe distance, hence their tolerance. But actually, the only liberal, tolerant person is the one for whom nothing is personally at stake.

That was 1995, a year before the anthology was published, which means I'm a decade and a half out of date even with respect to this anthology. Yet, by then I had already given up on American culture. My priorities are quite different from what Mr. Davis deemed important. We shall see how things pan out should I find the time to catch up on what I've missed.

Thu Oct 20, 2011 7:52 am  |

Well, I read the last essay, and thus finished the book. I was intrigued by the contrast between Dhalgren and Ulysses, but I couldn't make heads or tails of Brown's Laws of Form or why it should matter.

In the footnotes I note that someone wrote a dissertation on Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany, which reminds me of the inherent gullibility of the lit crit crowd; in this instance, to even group the former two with Delany, who are not remotely in the same league with Delany. But wait, they're black, so of course they belong together—what was I thinking? I've met all three, BTW, though I never had the chance to converse at length with any of them. I have a considerable disdain for the first two, a discussion which belongs elsewhere. I got the chance to compliment Delany at a few readings in a few cities, but that's about it. I think the last time I saw him was with Octavia Butler at the Museum of American History in DC. Afterwards, while signing books—there was a long line I wasn't standing in—he smiled to me across the room, which probably means nothing at all.

I now remember the several books I have but haven't read, not to mention the books I haven't acquired and the films, documentaries, interviews, etc. I haven't seen, heard, or read. Oh well, even if I never find the time to catch up, I'm glad I read this book, which may have well been superseded by subsequent critical anthologies. I am reminded of what I originally perceived in these works, and patterns I apparently failed to discern.


"Bonny Delany" by Ralph Dumain

Simplex, Complex, Multiplex according to Samuel R. Delany

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources:
A Selective Work in Progress

Richard Wright Study Guide

Black Studies, Music, America vs Europe—Study Guide


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