Authors: Samuel R. Delany
Other Books by the Author
The Jewels of Aptor
The Fall of the Towers:
Out of the Dead City
The Towers of Toron
City of a Thousand Suns
The Ballad of Beta-2
The Einstein Intersection
Equinox (The Tides of Lust)
Trouble on Triton (Triton)
Distant Stars (stories)
Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand
Return to NevÃ¨rÃ¿on:
Tales of NevÃ¨rÃ¿on
Flight from NevÃ¨rÃ¿on
Return to NevÃ¨rÃ¿on (The Bridge of Lost Desire)
Driftglass/Starshards (collected stories)
They Fly at Ãiron
The Mad Man
Atlantis: Three Tales
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw
The American Shore
The Motion of Light in Water
The Straits of Messina
Samuel R. Delany
WITH AN INTRODUCTION
BY KEN JAMES
Wesleyan University Press
Published by University Press of New England, Hanover, NH 03755
Copyright Â© 1996 by Samuel R. Delany
Introduction copyright Â© 1996 by Ken James
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America 5 4 3 2 1
CIP data appear at the end of the book
“Wagner/Artaud” was first published by Ansatz Press (New York, 1988). Copyright Â© 1988 by Samuel R. Delany.
“Aversion/Perversion/Diversion” was first published in
Negotiating Lesbian and Gay Subjects
, ed. Monica Dorenkamp and Richard Henke (New York and London: Routledge, 1995).
“Shadows” was published in
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw
, by Samuel R. Delany (New York: Dragon Press, 1977). Copyright Â© 1977 by Samuel R. Delany.
Henry Finder and
Kwame Anthony Appiah
In a critical epoch that has privileged, for twenty years or more, difference, decantering, discontinuity, diversity, and pluralism over the elder gods of Unity, Totality, and Mastery, so much American nonfiction still finds itself attempting to appease those elder gods and their former conventions. Those of us who read regularly in criticism often find “books” whose “chapters” are, it's clear once we read two, three, or four of them, disconnected occasional essays. Often the “Introduction” that claims the remainder of the study will not attempt to negotiate its topic with systematic rigor actually introduces a collection of considerations simply of different topics. At the editorial level, forces (usually called “commercial”âthough sometimes even more mystified than that) militate to present collections and chrestomathies as concentrated studies.
The fiction writer is used to the same forces at work in the contouring of books: “Novels sell better than collections of short stories,” we are told. “It's a truism of almost any fictive practiceâmysteries, westerns, science fiction, or naturalistic fiction.”
Most of my life my own preferred field has been science fiction; and because that field fosters so many series stories sharing characters and backgrounds, publishers and editors for many years took such stories and put them in books they called “novels,” while renaming the individual stories “chapters”âlargely at the behest of those forces.
The one form thatâin science fiction, at any rateâtends to resist such handling is the long story (or novella). And in the range of literary criticism, it is the long essayâthe essay too lengthy to be delivered comfortably as a fifty-minute lectureâthat offers similar resistance to such totalizing conventions. What this tends to mean is that the collection of longer essaysâor, indeed, science fiction novellasâis treated as the
commercial of all works.
When publishers are brave enough to undertake such collections, readers, support them both!
I'm particularly grateful, then, to my editors, Terry Cochran and Suzanna Tamminen, and to my publisher, Wesleyan University Press and their editorial director, Eileen McWilliam, for accepting this book for what it is and for not suggesting I “wait till some of the pieces mature” (read: till I become tired of seeing them lie unpublished and eventually pad them out to book-length). Various readers have made wonderfully useful suggestions here and there during the composition process of these essays, including Don Eric Levine, Gordon Tapper, James Sallis, Ron Drummond, and all the editors just mentioned.
This book contains six moderately long essays with five distinct topics.
The first, “Wagner/Artaud: A Play of 19th and 20th Century Critical Fictions,” has been published as a separate monograph by feisty little Ansatz Press (New York, 1988), that wonderful creation of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and Tom Weber. Its topic is precisely its twain eponymous subjectsâand the relationship between them as dramaturges and esthetic theoreticians. Three paragraphs have been added or expanded since the '88 edition; the diligent literary detective should be able to spot at least two of them.
“Reading at Work, and Other Activities Frowned on by AuthorityâA Reading of Donna Haraway's âManifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s'”âhas, in pieces, provided me with various lectures since it was first written in 1985. It tries to give an account of that exciting and influential essay and at the same time tries to examine what the giving of such an account entails and, yes, means. At its center it contains a brief overview of the cyborg as a science fiction image in film, as well as a discussion of metaphor that seems to me necessarily anterior to any discussion of how
metaphor, such as the “cyborg,” can work in the radical directions Haraway's manifesto proposes for it.
On the evening of November 1, 1991, “Aversion/Perversion/Diversion” was delivered as the Keynote Lecture at the Fifth Annual Lesbian and Gay Conference on Gay Studies, held that year at Rutgers University. It takes an anecdotal tour through some marginal tracks of contemporary (and, at that, largely queer) sexuality, even as its topic is the concept of discourse and its necessity for any sophisticated historical understanding.
This is also the topic of “Shadow and Ash”âan intellectual chrestomathy whose fragmentary method
finally its content. For me it is the most important essay hereâand the one that needs the least prefatory matter.
“Atlantis Rose . . .” is a study of the poetry of Hart Crane, with an emphasis on Crane's wonderfully rich poetic series,
I hope this essay can be enjoyed without Crane's text to hand, I would urge readers to procure a copy of that wonderfully rich poem, andâin factâto read
through at least once just before beginning the essay, to pause now and again to reread various sections of it on their first trip through my essay, and to read Crane's poem once more on finishing my notes here. (Poet James Tate suggests at least one of those readings be out loud.) Though I understand most of usâeven most professional criticsâdon't have time for such elaborate undertakings, that's still the
reading my study presupposes.
As an appendix I have included another long essay that first appeared in two installments in
6 (London, May 1974) and the double issue
7/8 (London, November 1975), though it was first drafted in 1973 while I lived in England. (I revised it heavily in '74 for the
publication; then again in '78 and again in '79.) I can't believe anyone, in considering the hard-edged language games around which so much Anglo-American philosophy is constituted, would not find the margins of their thought occasionally troubled by the illusory quality of those edges that recontextualization is constantly and playfully suggesting. Such games are predicated on the idea that certain words have their meanings because certain other meanings are rigorously excluded from ever occupying the same semantic space, e.g., whatever “blue” means, it can never mean “red.” But recontextualization always presents, at least as a sort of limit case, possibilities of the following order: “Whenever I hold up the placard with the word âblue' on it, I want you to hold up the placard in front of you colored redârather than the one colored green, blue, yellow, or purple.” If we assent to such a request, thenâin such a context, however rarely it might arise in lifeâthe word “blue” there “means” the color red. One might point out that, in such a context, the word “means” does not mean precisely what it usually meansâto which one can only nod agreement: that's true. Still, that meaning of “means” is a recognizable meaning, controlled by the context. But this and many other observations make the hard-edged boundaries of meaning that control the speculations of natural language philosophers and speech act theorists so problematic.
The work of continental philosophers like Derrida has not explained away such problems. But it has demonstrated why such problems are not some marginal impediment to a more mathematically solid model of language but are rather inescapable and fundamental to what language is and how it functions, i.e., that a word is
out of a specific context limiting its meaning, even when it is isolated by a line of white paper above and below it, or when it is beside its definition on the dictionary page, or when it is cited as a general instance of
meaning in a philosophy paper (i.e., that the absolute and unlimited Word-with-its-meaningâthe transcendental Logosâis an illusion).
“Shadows,” then, represents what I hope some readers will find an interesting piece of transitional thinking between the two traditions. And it prefigures much of the later work. If “Shadow and Ash” is the most important essay here, then “Shadows” is
lengthy, chrestomathic preface.
The excuse for such a collection is not to provide “a good read” butâindeedâto provide several, some sequential, others simultaneous. For reading is a many-layered processâlike writing. The different forms, such as the long essay
the short, all have their separate excellences and pleasures. I hope this collection presents a rich field in which to look forâif not to findâthem.
21 October 1993
BY KEN JAMES
There is here a problem of framing, of bordering and delimitation, whose analysis must be very finely detailed if it wishes to ascertain the effects of fiction.
The term “extended essay,” in its very articulation, seems to presuppose a norm which is somehow being supplemented, exceeded, transgressed. Certainly the long pieces in the remarkable collection to follow do not fit the form of the essay we have been led (by whom? by what? for what purpose?) to expect; nor does the experience of reading them
like the experience of reading a traditional essay. To better understand what these pieces are up to, then, we might want to consider the form against which they position themselves.