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 Topic: "Dhalgren" by Samuel R. Delany

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Joined: 31 Mar 2003
Posts: 6
Interests: art, literature, live theatre, cinema. Graphic artist by trade, also the video reviewer for Buffalo's free monthly gay newspaper. Also like to draw, paint and write. In 15 year relationship with my partner Andy
Physical Location: Buffalo, NY

Posted: 24 Nov 2003, 12:10 am    Post subject: "Dhalgren" by Samuel R. Delany Reply with quote

I just posted about "At Swim Two Boys" by Jamie O'Neill. Another great one, and this one has haunted me for over 20 years, is "Dhalgren" by Samuel R. Delany.

Delany is a brilliant writer. He was the trailblazing original African American gay science fiction writer. He is also known for his non-fiction like "Times Square Red, Times Square Blue." Delany likes to mix mythology and science fiction and also play with language - like James Joyce a bit too - and this one has several gay characters and some explicit sex too that jolted this closeted 19 year old who first read it back in 1977 and has returned to it again many times over the years.

"Dhalgren" is this LOOOONG novel about this city that has suffered some un-named catastrophe. The rest of the world seems untouched, yet here iin Bellona buildings burn without being consumed, two moons appear in the sky, most of the people have left and society is anarchy, there is a commune in the park and gangs called Scorpions who wear holograms of mythical beasts, and the dates on the daily newspaper are never correct... 1970 one day 1915 the next. Something is so "off" but you are clueless what.

A drifter with no memory of his name enters the ruined city. He becomes a poet (who is perhaps writing "Dhalgren,"as he finds a notebook that repeats the first page of the novel and he writes poems in the blank pages.) while drifting through the groups in the city and this anarchy is described in great detail. This drifter, who is dubbed The Kid, enters into a relationship with a woman named Lanya. And a third, a teenaged boy, forms a traid with them later. But when The Kid first enters town he meets this big leather bear named Tak Loufer who takes him home to the warehouse roof he lives on. Tak gives Kid his name. There is a description of a bit nipple that has haunted me for years. But in the first chapter of the book, The Kidd is with a woman he meets in the woods, they have sex and she leads him to this chain with mirrors, prisms and lens, and he wraps the chain around his body and when he sees the woman again the author suddenly injects the myth of Apollo and Daphne and she transforms into a tree.

Then Kid gets to Bellona and meets this big hairy leather guy and the sex is quite vivid. As is sex with Lanya. This is a very adult book, not one for the Star Wars generation. "Dhalgren" is a demanding book. I would call it the "Ulysses" of science fiction. Or maybe even the "Finnegans Wake" of science fiction as it begins and ends in the middle of a continuous sentence. I come back to this book over and over wanting some explanation of what happened to this city and have finally come to the conclusion, along with others I have met online, that there is no answer to the riddle and that Delany is making a sociological comment on the crumbling urban infrastructure in so many big cities. Ghettos, race relations. In "Dhalgren" we have black and white, male and female, gay and straight, sane and mad.Rich language, fully developed characters who are alive, and a 700 page book where nothing happens and everything happens.

It is a maddening book but one that has, as I said, haunted me my whole adult life. This book is not for everyone but those who are nuts enough to read James Joyce too might find this book a great and worthy challenge. Delany is an amazing writer and "Dhalgren" is an amazing book.
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