But I realized something. About art. And psychiatry. They’re both self-perpetuating systems. Like religion. All three of them promise you a sense of inner worth and meaning, and spend a lot of time telling you about the suffering you have to go through to achieve it. As soon as you get a problem in any one of them, the solution it gives is always to go deeper into the same system. They’re all in a rather uneasy truce with one another in what’s actually a mortal battle. Like all self-reinforcing systems. At best, each is trying to encompass the other two and define them as sub-groups. You know: religion and art are both forms of madness and madness is the realm of psychiatry. Or, art is the study and praise of man and man’s ideals, so therefore a religious experience becomes just a brutalized aesthetic response and psychiatry is just another tool for the artist to observe man and render his portraits more accurately. And the religious attitude I guess is that the other two are only useful as long as they promote the good life. At worst, they all try to destroy one another.
I know i don’t often talk about star wars, but I am actually a huge fan. One thing I never hear discussed is: the influence of sci-fi author Samuel Delany on the series. Well, I’ve heard folks talk about Empire Sun, a Delany novella about an orphan from a desert planet who ultimately leads a rebel defense against an evil empire. Lots of parallels there obviously. But I am shocked there isn’t more out there about the influence of another Delany book, Nova. In it you’ve got:
––a ragtag group of rebels on a junky ship traversing a galaxy to drive that ship into a (death)star.
––an inappropriate brother-sister relationship.
––a dude who falls into lava and survives, later to emerge an evil cyborg in black robes.
––a character with a cyborg arm/hand.
And this came out 10 years before Star Wars (IV a new hope). It’s a great book, draws a lot from Moby Dick, and it’s a lovely sort of gateway drug into Sam Delany’s writing. (My personal fav is a short story, “Aye, and Gomorrah.”) Anyway, Nova should be required reading for SW fans that is all!
”Without an image of tomorrow, one is trapped by blind history, economics, and politics beyond our control. One is tied up in a web, in a net, with no way to struggle free. Only by having clear and vital images of the many alternatives, good and bad, of where one can go, will we have any control over the way we may actually get there in a reality tomorrow will bring all too quickly.”
Samuel R. Delany on THE DISPOSSESSED and the possibility of anarchistic utopia
A problem Ursula [Le Guin] makes all but vanish by setting her “anarchistic utopia” in an extreme scarcity environment (and I’m sure it was what she wanted) is the problem of surveillance et punir. When the landscape is as harsh and ungiving as Anarres’ and your laws are set up in ecological accord with it, you don’t have to worry too much about individuals—or groups—deviating too far from these laws. Those who deviate, the landscape itself punishes—if not obliterates.
In scarcity societies, you just don’t have the same or—or frequency—of discipline problems as you do in an affluent society. In a scarcity society the landscape itself becomes your spy, your SS, and your jailer, all in one.
But if the Odonians had set up their “non-propertarian” utopia on Urras (and Le Guin says as much in the novel), you’d simply have too many individuals—and groups—saying: “Look, since there’s all this stuff, why can’t I own some of it?” And the expulsions and disciplinary actions would bloom all around—no matter how anarchistic they started out!
The “ambiguities” Le Guin wanted to examine in her ambiguous utopia are not, I believe, the internal contradictions of a foundering utopia. Rather, she wanted to explore the bilateral contractions highlighted between two very different societies, one harsh and spiritual, one rich and decadent, but each of which considers itself the best of all possible worlds.
—Samuel R. Delany, interviewed in 1986, “On Triton and other matters”
Our society is often described as patriarchal—a society ruled by aging fathers concerned first and foremost with passing on the patrimony. At the risk of being glib, however, I’d suggest that it might be more accurate to say that we have a filiarchal society—a society ruled almost entirely by sons—by very young men. Certainly boys—especially white heterosexual boys—are the most privileged creatures in the Western social hierarchy. They are forgiven almost everything in life—and are forgiven everything in art.
Samuel R. Delany, interviewed in 1986, “On Triton and other matters”
This park is alive with darknesses, textures of silence. Tak’s boot heels tattoo the way. I can envision a dotted line left after him. And someone might pick the night up by its edge, tear it along the perforations, crumple it, and toss it away.
“Science fiction doesn’t try to predict the future, but rather offers a significant distortion of the present…We sit around and look at what we see around us and we say how can the world be different” – Samuel R. Delany
The fact is, I don’t think SF can be really utopian. I mean utopia presupposes a pretty static, unchanging, and rather tyrannical world. You know: ‘I know the best way to live, and I’m going to tell you how to do it, and if you dare do anything else…’
Samuel R. Delany, interviewed in 1986, “On Triton and other matters”
“Black science fiction trailblazer Samuel Delaney, 63, remembers teaching Butler as a 23-year-old student at the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop. She was, he says, incredibly shy, a student who spoke only when she had something to say, but someone who obviously had great talent.
It was years later, however, after she had published "Kindred,” that he saw what she had become. “It was wonderful to see how she had bloomed and gained so much self-confidence and become a really extraordinary public speaker,” Delaney says. She also was a pathblazer in a genre where once you could count the black writers on one hand.“
I made a Black History Reading List over on NPR for folks interested in collected letters. I can’t recommend the Delany one enough, especially if you’re interested in the history of Black writers and science fiction.
if i were still in school right now i’d be writing thirty-page term papers on always sunny using samuel delany’s work on unspeakability and bersani’s arguments in is the rectum a grave to explore mac and dennis’s internalized homophobia and sexual trauma and i would be getting A’s just know that
In a very real way, one writes a story to find out what happens in it. Before it is written it sits in the mind like a piece of overheard gossip or a bit of intriguing tattle. The story process is like taking up such a piece of gossip, hunting down the people actually involved, questioning them, finding out what really occurred, and visiting pertinent locations. As with gossip, you can’t be too surprised if important things turn up that were left out of the first-heard version entirely; or if points initially made much of turn out to have been distorted, or simply not to have happened at all.
Delany, Samuel R. About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews. Wesleyan University Press.