terça-feira, outubro 20, 1998

Pollyanna Principles: "Dhalgren" by Samuel L. Delany

(My own copy)

Really? Samuel Delany has written "unreadable garbage"? Would you care to share with us the precise nature of the stories or novels which qualify as such, or have you not, as I strongly suspect, actually read any of his work? I presume this is the same Samuel Delany who has been a professor of English and writing at numerous American universities, who was named a GrandMaster of the field? The author of "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones", “Babel-17” and “Nova”? That Samuel Delany? Or is it instead the case, as I suspect, that you have allowed yourself to fall foul of the cliché that if it's SF, then by its very nature, some of his work must be bad?

That’s, more or less, how I answered someone who commented on the novel’s review back then.

When I was in diapers (if i was even alive at all), SF was the province of those who could not get published elsewhere. Writers like Moorcock and Wolfe and Ursula K. Le Guin and Thomas M. Disch and Harlan Ellison and Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany and Philip K. Dick and James Tiptree Jr. all possessed cultural erudition, but their fierce talent and their determination to embrace the alien or the outsider pushed them into genre. The notion that they wrote swiftly out of some relentless ego-boosting is a foolish misunderstanding of the pulp markets of the time, which paid penuriously and often demanded a quick turnaround. That Moorcock wrote as marvelously as he did, often writing trilogies over the course of a week or two that didn't skimp on moral probing OR adventure, is a testament to how many of these marginalized writers triumphed. Fan culture is one thing, but it is a gross insult to suggest that most of the readers of these giants were pimply-faced teens or that they didn't read widely or possess brains. Blithe disregard for the comfort zone of the reader? What do you want? A hot chocolate and a warm bath? Literature, whether it be the classics or genre, exists to provide us with perspectives that are not our own, to get us confronting bold questions on how to live and what are effects and responsibilities to others may be. That some cannot cite specific qualities of the story-lines to uphold her claims, playing the "I quoted a random passage to uphold my tenuous thesis" parlor game in the nursery school, suggests very strongly that some readers should take her own childish notions of "spoiler alerts" and Pollyanna principles to an online forum populated by twee troglodytes.

Each is entitled to their opinion. Norman Mailer has turned out works of genius (The Naked and the “Out of the Dead City, and Executioner's Song) as well as the occasional mind-numbingly portentous dross (Harlot's Ghost anyone? Narcolepsy in book form). The fact that Hogg's not SF is neither here nor there. Delany has indeed turned out what I consider to be unreadable garbage as long as I write about what makes it unreadable (not like the reader above), and as a reader anyone is fully entitled to say so... knowing full well but that there are lots of people (bless'em) who think that the sun shines out of Houllebecq's no doubt cruelly ravaged hind end; and that the Kindly Ones is considered a masterpiece by various high-minded critics, who consider that closing an interminable and ill-written Nazi exploitation saga with an epic, chapter-long sadomasochistic incest w*nkfest is the height of refinement. Actually, they may be right: out of pure tedium I skipped the last 15 pages or so of that episode, but, honestly, I don't think I was missing anything much. La Nausée it ain't. I'm not proposing to go back and check. 

Bottom-line: Well, thousands of people managed to read it, getting it into the New York Times listings ahead of 'Gravity's Rainbow' (that year's other 'must read' big book) so it's clearly not literally 'unreadable'. The question is: “should one re-read it?” My answer: “No.”

SF = Speculative Fiction.