View Full Version : Dhalgren (or any book) by Samuel Delany

10-17-2006, 09:41 PM
A friend of mine recommended this book and I'm trying very hard to get into it. I think I made some attempt in the remote past to read it as well, but I don't remember.

I do enjoy Delaney's writing, though it's always been something I had to work at. I love the way he strives with might and main to keep the words from getting in the way of the reader's direct apprehension of the situation and characters in his works. Words often obscure meaning to a great degree, so writers who interest me most are the ones who, like Delaney, try to keep the meaning and experience in the forefront as much as possible.

I've read different reviews of Dhalgren-- some of them obsequiously laudatory, others basically just flaming. (Those things happen.) I've wanted to just put it down a few times, but I keep going back because the book is saying something to me-- probably not exactly what was intended by the author, but it's like it's opening a sort of door in my head and I'm looking at all sorts of things that I had forgotten I knew about or had seen.

The book is making me remember stuff about the late sixties and early seventies that heavily flavored my own writing and thinking at the time-- unfortunately I can't describe these impressions in words, no matter how hard I try. Yes, some of it does seem dated and obsolete, perhaps, but the interesting thing to me is that I had completely LOST those images and sensations somewhere in the cluttered attic of my brain. I keep thinking: Did I read this book at some point? And truly: I cannot remember.

I remember stuff I wrote during that period of time (there's no way I can go back and actually read any of it, it was all destroyed by me in a fit of depression) and it seems that I must have read Dhalgren, or at least part of it. But, like the main character in the novel: I am completely without memory of the event. I mean-- I remember reading "Johnny Got His Gun" and "Dandelion Wine", "Mein Kampf" and "Lolita". Why can't I remember having read Dhalgren?

As happens over and over with the amnesiac main character of Dhalgren, I keep waiting for a charred notebook to pop out of nowhere, like it's been following me around-- I'll read the handwriting, and struggle to remember whether I wrote these things or not.
I'll note also that I've been working on an exercise similar to yoga meditation, which involves me temporarily forgetting who and where I am. This has been going on for the past few months. This is a very hard state of mind to achieve on purpose-- the first time it happened to me was some time ago, when I awoke in a different place than where I usually sleep after drinking quite a bit. I was not terribly hung over, just dizzy and disoriented, and for about an entire minute I could not remember who I was, and I didn't know WHERE I was. It's happened once or twice since, and lately I've been trying to see if I can induce that state deliberately (without drinking several gallons of wine and passing out on the floor next to the stereo, that is).

So this is another reason the novel Dhalgren is holding my interest right now.
At this point (I'm about halfway through the chapter "House of the Ax") I'm seeing Dhalgren as a rambling, long-winded, yet wholly fascinating discussion of writing in all its forms. Again, like a prism or mirror, the book seems to dovetail with my current projects, interests, and state of mind in a handy way.

(One bit of advice, however, for anyone who like Yours Truly likes to read while eating: Don't, I repead DON'T try to read Dhalgren while you are having a meal.)

Has anyone else read this book? What did you think of it?

10-20-2006, 05:52 AM
I have always thought that Dhalgren was one of the most brilliant pieces of science fiction writing I've ever read. His handling of simultaneous time streams is masterly. I have never quite understood why it is that I've never had any desire to go back and re-read it. Brilliant, but...

10-20-2006, 08:07 AM
Kid is dyslexic, and one of the particularly marked symptoms are the writing difficulties, and spatial orientation difficulties -- both in terms of physical space, and space on paper and things like adjusting lines of text, and difficulties with sequence (of events, of letters on a page) and time perception.

Plus he's stoned and mildly nuts much of the time.

aka eraser
10-20-2006, 06:12 PM
Dhalgren often left me shaking my head and open-mouthed with wonder. I read it in the mid-70s when I was in my early 20s. I too, have not read it since but interestingly, and coincidentally, I came across my copy yesterday while moving boxes around in the basement. I brought it upstairs and put it in my to-be-read pile.

I dunno whether I'll be able to get into it again or not. Medievalist's last sentence also applied to me in the late 60s-early 70s. Now it only half does. Ish.

10-21-2006, 01:11 AM
At first it seems he tried to imitate Finnegan's Wake but didn't succeed-- then when you read it more, you're not so sure....

10-21-2006, 01:37 AM
Started it on three or four occasions, never got past a few pages. Unnecessarily difficult read, in my view. Life is too short, and Dhalgren doesn't promise enough up front to make it worthwhile. I'll go read some Philip K. Dick or Stanislaw Lem.


10-29-2006, 03:16 AM
^^ "Life is too short" is something that people say a lot, but in fact it is not true. Life is long. Sometimes it's too long. I never thought I would live to be the age that I am-- but here I am. ("If I woulda known I was gonna live this long, I woulda taken better care of myself...")

Every time I have forced myself to read something when I didn't feel like it, I was always glad that I made the effort, for one reason or another. (That aphorism applies to other things as well, but we won't go into that here...)