"All the writer's noise is finally an attempt to shape a silence in which something can go on."
June 15, 2006 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Samuel R. Delany has become known for his Silent Interviews, where he responds to questions in writing. But many other interviews are available online: The Onion AV Club; Nerve; Science Fiction Studies; SF Site; K. Leslie Steiner [Delany's pseudonym]; Science Fiction Weekly. Some are not-so-silent: Blackbird; Smithsonian. He also writes fiction. [More Inside]
posted by anotherpanacea (24 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
From the meta-interview:
"What's the purpose of an interview in the first place'?

If the interviewee is some sort of criminal and the idea is to spring the embarrassing and unsuspected question--"What was in that maroon attache case you were seen passing to the security guard outside the building the night of July 16th?"--so that you can report the stutter, the confusion, the embarrassment that signals guilt, complicity, and malfeasance, perhaps then the live interview has a place.

But if the interview is investigative in a deeper sense and the purpose is to find out what the interviewee actually thinks about matters, the written interview is more concise and efficient."
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:29 AM on June 15, 2006

I read Dhalgren when I was in the 9th grade. The endless sentences nevertheless filled with the true meat of his meaning gave me the impetus to start writing. I've never failed to stop writing, but long ago gave up on any chance of it being a financially viable way for me to make a living.

The visions and words of Dhalgren live with me still.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:44 AM on June 15, 2006

This guy is one of my faves. I highly recommend Dhalgren, and Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.

Thank you for the links another panacea.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:44 AM on June 15, 2006

I just started reading Delaney this year. Babel 17 and Nova so far. Great stuff. Thanks for the links!
posted by brundlefly at 10:03 AM on June 15, 2006

posted by Divine_Wino at 10:21 AM on June 15, 2006

I've actually never made it through Dhalgren but Nova, Einstein Intersection and Triton are all amazing novels. I really should tackle it one of these days.
posted by octothorpe at 11:06 AM on June 15, 2006

Delaney is one of the best extant writers, in my opinion. He can perhaps be a tad indulgent, and some of his interests and themes might be offputting to some, but this can be said of most anyone writing interesting fiction I think. Maybe as a nailbiter I just enjoy being the object of a fetish, I don't know...

I don't like Dhalgren anywhere near as much as I like Nova, Babel-17, and Stars in my Pockets Like Grains of Sand, but haven't read it for some time. He's one of the few working in Sci-Fi who I consider Great Writers, but also not trying to deny being Sci-Fi. I hate it when writers feel they need to do that.
posted by freebird at 11:26 AM on June 15, 2006

for those who've read dhalgren, about how many times did you read it before it started to become somewhat clear? i've only read it once so far, and i found myself thinking "what just happened?" when i finished. i'm still letting it sink in, and i'll probably give it another go in a few months.

i felt like jonathan lethem's "amnesia moon" was similar to dhalgren in some ways, though the allusions were far easier to spot and understand.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:28 AM on June 15, 2006

Chip Delany is an excellent writer and a good critic of culture. His SF certainly deserves to be widely read, but he's also the author of one of the best American autobiographies of the 20th centruy, The Motion of Light in Water, which goes in and out of print, but should be much more widely read than it is. Anyone who's a fan should definitely seek it out.
posted by OmieWise at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2006

thanotopsis said: I've never failed to stop writing...

posted by anotherpanacea at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2006

I read Dhalgren once through and after I had finished it went and read the beginning again. The book is a chore in some spots mostly near the end where it deconstructs the narrative. It is very heady. You have to have a good feel for the subcultures existing in the 60s and 70s to really see where it was coming from. Much of the subculture then was postapocalyptic.

I really enjoyed his short stories in Aye and Gomorrah. He has a fantastic range and really needs to be more widely appreciated.
posted by JJ86 at 1:21 PM on June 15, 2006

Should also mention The Ballad of Beta-2. Not as well known, and probably not on the level of Nova etc, but I thought it was one of the best treatments I've read of myth and emergent culture I've read in any genre or context. Some images from that story affected me profoundly as a young reader.

Some images from his work intermixing space opera and casual sex in public bathrooms affected me as an older reader but perhaps we don't need to go into that, eh?
posted by freebird at 2:11 PM on June 15, 2006

If you ever get the chance to hear him give a lecture, go listen. Ask him about the guy who crawled through his window at the writers' conference... Or Hell, just let him talk.
posted by crataegus at 2:43 PM on June 15, 2006

The only book of Delany's I've read was The Mad Man. It was one of the most disturbing books I've ever read, and also one of the most arousing; I've never gotten so turned on by things that are, by any measure, utterly disgusting. I admired him for being able to pull that off, so to speak.
posted by digaman at 3:21 PM on June 15, 2006

I'm surprised no one has mentioned his Return to Neveryon series. According to his interviews, it's a sustained reflection on the transition from barter to currency, just as science fiction depends on the transition from currency to credit. Plus, it includes a bunch of great and accessible short stories, as well as the first novel every written on AIDS.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:28 PM on June 15, 2006

From the Sci-Fi Studies link: ("The Semiology of Silence")

"In imaginary Nevèrÿon, slavery is an economic reality (fast fading into a historical memory) but also a persistent fantasy. The historic imaginative space, plus the paraliterary object priority S&S shares here and there with SF (which allows it to be read for what it is), lets me play with notions about how things in the world, including the socially contoured organization of people's psyches, may be functioning in such correspondences. It's a speculative endeavor; and, however interesting or stimulating (or, indeed, crushingly trivial) people find the suggestions that grow out of it, it's still play.

But that's different from what I assume would be the corresponding literary endeavor: to sketch a psyche, a character, a mind caught up with such a fantasy (say, slavery), with the world shown only as the necessary frame to hold the canvas to shape. To me, right now, that just wouldn't be very interesting."
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:33 PM on June 15, 2006

His ex-wife, Marilyn Hacker, is an amazing and influential poet — one of the most technically adept since Auden. She's written movingly of her lesbian relationships; Chip's also gay, and they had a daughter together. Theirs must have been a fascinating partnership, crossing all sorts of boundaries.

And he looks like an Old Testament prophet, which is pretty cool.

The Einstein Intersection is one of my favorite books ever. Green-eyed Kid Death, The Dove, amazing stuff. You feel like you're reading what The Tale of Gilgamesh must have been like before it wandered across epochs.
posted by Haruspex at 4:35 PM on June 15, 2006

Wait, no. It was Green-Eye and Kid Death. Got my myths mixed.
posted by Haruspex at 4:47 PM on June 15, 2006

Having read three of his novels, I'm not ashamed to say Delaney makes me feel stupid and bored at the same time. He' brilliant, no doubt, but just on the sentence level he crafts some real clunkers. The ideas are almost always interesting however. Maybe I just read the wrong ones, but friends told me Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand would change my mind about him. It didn't.

(I like Marilyn Hacker too. Haven't followed her work lately.)
posted by bardic at 4:58 PM on June 15, 2006

My first edition of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is my most prized possession. I have to get him to sign it someday.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:30 PM on June 15, 2006

I wish he had written the sequal to Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand. I love babel-17 and Nova. Babel-17 is one of my top twenty SF reads of all time.
posted by Grod at 5:59 PM on June 15, 2006

'He also writes fiction'??! That's a bit like saying 'Stamp collector Joe DiMaggio also played baseball'!

I've got a book of his essays, Longer Views I think it's called - he's a powerful memoirist and entertaining, if at times far too mannered, essayist. His erotic memoirs are, as digaman said, disgusting and arousing all at once. I bought Dhalgren recently but haven't gotten up the gumption to make a go of it. The first three pages were nice though. :)

Thanks for the links.
posted by waxbanks at 6:55 PM on June 15, 2006

...on the sentence level he crafts some real clunkers.

I know what you mean, and at times, like in Dhalgren, it's been difficult to bear his semi-precious prose. Yet it's entirely deliberate. The man can craft any sort of sentence you like, tersely clean or Byzantine, but his predilections run towards the Victorian. Again from "The Semiology of Silence:"

"I begin, a sentence lover. I'm forever delighted, then delighted all over, at the things sentences can trip and trick you into saying, into seeing. I'm astonished—just plain tickled!—at the sharp turns and tiny tremors they can whip your thoughts across. I'm entranced by their lollop and flow, their prickles and points. Poetry is made of words, Mallarmé told us a hundred years back. But I write prose. And prose is made of sentences."
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:47 PM on June 15, 2006

I love Delany, and have read Dhalgren countless times. I second Omie's suggestion of the autobio; it's like a magic key to Dhalgren.

Once a few years ago (pre-intarweb) I excitedly attended a Delany speaking engagement near my then-home and found myself seated next to a heavily-bearded, leather-vested man who I silently fingered as a member of the 'bear' subset of gay america.

I paid him no further mind, in that I lived in a gay neighborhood and was aware of Delany's sexual identity, it made sense that others who shared interests would also attend.

I chattered excitedly to my friends, some of whom were as familiar as I and some who had come on the strength of our excitement.

You'll have to imagine my chagrin and amusement when the bearded gentleman rose following the host's introduction of Delany, and excusing himself to pass by us, made his way to the lectern to read and comment on his work and our culture for a couple of amazing hours.
posted by mwhybark at 9:21 PM on June 15, 2006

« Older The sinking of the Oriskany   |   There's gold in them thar hills Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments