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March 2017

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bear by san

Book #36, Dhalgren

Book # 36, Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren

This is one of those books that I can respect, but I cannot love. It does much, complexly--so much that it's a very difficult book for me to talk about in any sensible fashion. In part, because I'm not smart enough to understand it; in part, because I'm the wrong generation and I suspect the wrong gender for it; in part because there's so much going on here that it's difficult to manage the information.

Dhalgren is a vast, ponderous, difficult book (800 pages in this particular edition). It's nonlinear, grotesque, impressionistic. Not overly concerned with plot or narrative or arc or any of those artificial constructs that we lesser writers use to hold a book together. And I don't particularly like it much.

I'm impressed by it--impressed by its allegories; by its front-and-center discussion of race, sexuality, class, religion, and politics; by its unwillingness to pick sides; by its craftsmanship; by its layers. It's a book seen through the haze of its own smoke, without meaningful signposts. Much like the city of Bellona. I'm impressed by its unwillingness to explain itself, and the way it skips like a stone across the waters of its own creation.

And yet, my overwhelming sense upon finishing it is relief. Much like improv jazz I'm impressed by the virtuoso skill it takes to pull this off, but I am not somebody who can learn to dance to it.

Now I just have to decide if I'm going to read silme's copy of Grace Tiffany's Will, which I skimmed a bit yesterday. It looks to be beautifully written, but I'm not sure I can handle her Elizabethan characters pulling coins out of their pockets, and so on.

Comments

Not the wrong gender, unless I am, too. One of my favorite college papers was on Dhalgren.
Hee. It just strikes me, repeatedly, as such a *guy* book.
My wife's reading that one right now. I read it fifteen years ago, and recall having a similar reaction to the one you're having, but now, I can't remember anything about it.
Yeah; it's impressive as all hell. I mean, a seriously monolithic piece of work.
I know something about dyslexia. ;-)
Should have read this before I answered the previous.

I do have difficulty with spatial relations. But I'm intensely verbal and have the spelling gene, so am the opposite of dyslexic.

Maybe the spatial relations are a key to this book? It made sense to me in a very deep, visceral and nonverbal way.
There's something wonderful about a comment that asserts that the "skeleton key" to Dhalgren is "to know something about dyslexia," and then goes on to misspell Dhalgren three times.
I really, really love Dhalgren. I am not sure I could tell you what it is about, but it speaks to me on several levels and only a few of them are verbal. I would have a hard time sitting down and reading it straight through, but I don't have to, I go back to it whenever I feel the need to. It is at once erotic and repellent and real and beautiful, and when I was a teenager, it explained some things to me about the world and about myself. I loved the self-knowledge of the characters, even though I'd strongly doubt that some of the sorts of people portrayed in that book typically have that much self-knowledge.

I agree with whoever it was said it is interesting viewed from the perspective of what dyslexia is, although I have never thought about that before.

I never showed any symptoms of dyslexia as a child, probably because I learned to read at about the same time that I learned to speak and have no conscious memories of being preliterate; my dad says they found out I could read when I corrected the order they placed for me at Shoney's when I was about two and informed the waiter that I did not, in fact, want what they ordered for me, I wanted chocolate cake. But when I was twenty-five, after meeting someone who triggered a lot of what the people I knew then insisted were 'past-life memories' I lost the ability to read well for about a week (in graduate school! oh, the panic!) and ever after I've had some problems with miswriting or mistyping things (luckily, spellcheck tends to catch them) and with dyscalculia. I think myself that these incidents may have had as much to do with my falling on ice and hitting my head a few months before, but someday I'll probably make a novel out of what I 'remembered'.

I went through a phase in my early twenties after one re-read when I bought every book Delany had ever written at the time. I was, unfortunately, disappointed in a couple of them, which seemed like fairly straightforward space opera, but the Neveryon books, I also adore, and I mean to reread the space operas sometimes when I'm not Expecting Something, because I like John Barnes' space opera just as much as I like his One True books or his Million Open Doors books, but for different reasons.
You know, I didn't find it erotic at all. Sexual, yes, and bluntly, wonderfully honest, I will agree on the repellent and beautiful bits. Mostly, what struck me was the satire and the allegory and the very in-your-face view of the general difficulties of communal life, which jibe exactly with my parents' stories of their filthy hippie days.

And I wonder if maybe that's why I didn't click on it. Because it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. And I wanted it to, and I kept feeling like it was about to, and I felt cheated at the end.
That's a good enough description of the Dhalgren experience that I may have to print it out and stick it into my copy. It has been over a decade since I read it, but I'm not ready to get rid of it yet.

I liked the Neveryon books a lot better, but they are radically different.
I enjoyed Dhalgren, but not at all in the way I enjoy science fiction.
Oh, man.... I loved Dhalgren. Wild stuff in there. Try some of his other stuff,too-- Stars in my pockets like grains of sand and etc...
Surfing all over lj tonight, hi.

Although I read Dhalgren before Derrida (who also gets a bad rep...), I can never think of them apart. The parallel-text technique is a Derridean technique, words destroying one another.

Then it makes me think about Finnegan's Wake, and ending at the beginning of the first sentences as a technique to create wholism and break a text off as a little piece of circular logic.

Then, there's also a great deal of stuff about reader response theory, and other literary criticisms, pretty much whole cloth, and I wonder whether, if I were to study more, I would find that there is *no* original content in Dhalgren, and whether this might be part of the point as well-- but. I love Delany's criticism from the small amount of it I've read, and the fact that we get a deconstructionist text in science fiction canon; but Dhalgren itself, I think, is an experimental text that fails, essentially, because it fails to be revolutionary. It's a B-personality text, a follower.
It's probably difficult to live with such alergy. But it's better to meke something intead of simple suffer.