Samuel Delany

whovianerisa  asked:

Hello Mr gaiman. How old were you when you started writing stories ? I'm 14 and I try and try but they are all awful. I always give up in the middle and I can never finish what I wanted to write.

I know. I found a pile of papers of mine from my teen years and into my early twenties recently, and there were so many stories begun, so many first pages of novels never written. I’d start them, and then I’d give up because they weren’t as brilliant as Ursula K Le Guin, or Roger Zelazny, or Samuel R Delany, and anyway I wasn’t actually sure what happened next.

I was around 22 when I started finishing things. They weren’t actually very good, and they all sounded like other people, but the finishing was the important bit. I kept going. A dozen stories and a book, and then I sold one (it wasn’t very good, and I had to cut it from 8,000 words to 4,000 to sell it, but I sold it). I probably wrote another half-dozen stories over the next year, and sold three. But now they were starting to sound like me. 

Think of it this way: if you wanted to become a juggler, or a painter, you wouldn’t start jugggling, drop something and give up because you couldn’t juggle broken bottles like Penn Jillette, or start a few paintings then give up because the thing in your head was better than what your hands were getting onto the paper. You carry on. You learn. You drop things. You learn about form and shape and shade and colour and how to draw hands without the fingers looking like noodles. You finish things, learn from what you got right and what you got wrong, and then you do the next thing.

And one day you realise you got good. It takes as long as it takes. So keep writing. And all you need to do right now is try to finish things.

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.
—  Lanya, “Dhalgren”
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”

“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.“

”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

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. 

Originally posted by aplibrary

––an inappropriate brother-sister relationship.

Originally posted by saintspidey67re

––a dude who falls into lava and survives, later to emerge an evil cyborg in black robes.

Originally posted by the-blue-baron

––homoerotic subtext

Originally posted by sweethoneybee1995

––a character with a cyborg arm/hand.

Originally posted by netherworldcon

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!

Samuel Delany on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the limits to it, and the power of discourse

INTERVIEWER:  You were an adult and a published writer when you first came upon the word dyslexia and realized it described some of the difficulties you experienced with writing. Did having or not having a word for it make a great difference?

DELANY: To answer that in any detail, we would have to reanimate the whole discussion over the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the notion that the lack of the word in the language means it’s all but impossible to entertain the concept, while a detailed vocabulary, such as the Inuits’ fifty-plus words for fifty-plus different types of snow—powdered, crusty, hard, soft, blown-into-ridges, et ­cetera—enables you to perform intellectual feats of winter negotiations unthinkable to temperate-climate folks like you and me.

What’s wrong with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that it fails to take into account the whole economy of discourse, which is a linguistic level that accomplishes lots of the soft-edge conceptual contouring around ideas, whether we have available a one- or two-word name for it or only a set of informal many-word descriptions that are not completely fixed. Aphra Behn clearly describes the “numb fish” and its calamitous effects on other fish, animals, and human beings, so that we all recognize it as what we call the “electric eel” today. But she did it in the mid-seventeenth century, well before anyone had thought of electricity or Franklin had sent his kite up into the lightning storm. Thus falls the Sapir-Whorf.

Discourse is a pretty forceful process, perhaps the most forceful of the superstructural processes available. It’s what generates the values and suggestions around a concept, even if the concept has no name, or hasn’t the name it will eventually have. It determines the way a concept is used and the ways that are considered mistaken. The following may be a bit too glib, but I think it’s reasonable to say that if language is what allows us to think things, then discourse is what controls the way we think about things. And the second—discourse—has primacy.

For a couple of years in my early twenties, I was a die-hard believer in the Sapir-Whorf, though I had never encountered the term, or even read a description of it, which begins to hint at what’s wrong with it as a theory. I even wrote a novel that hinged on the concept—Babel-17.

Perhaps the largest problem the lack of a single term imposes is that it becomes difficult to individuate the idea. Where does it begin and where does it end in terms of what it refers to out in the real world? The more complex verbal support there is for a concept, the easier it is to critique.

If I’d had the term Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, it might have been easier for me to realize that it was just incorrect—in the same way that when, at twenty-­one, I first encountered the word dyslexia, I was able to realize I wasn’t the only one with these problems, that it was a condition rather than an ­individual and personal failure on my part, and the stories I’d read about writers such as Yeats, who didn’t learn to read until he was sixteen, or Flaubert, who was so backward in his reading and writing that he was known as l’idiot de la famille, now made much more sense. The realization of the flaws in the Sapir-Whorf, in that they caused me to begin considering the more complex linguistic mechanisms of discourse, you might say gave me my lifetime project.

The Bowie Counterparts

In the months after Bowie’s death, Kian S. Bergstrom put up a wonderful list on Facebook in which he paired every single Bowie album with a thematically appropriate film (first) and book (second). Having just rediscovered this list in my files (I cut-and-pasted it at the time & feared I’d lost it), I felt like it should be shared more widely. Hope he doesn’t mind.

Some connections are obvious; others, not so much, but often quite inspired. All of these films and novels are worth checking out, in any case. As canons go, this is a superb one. Off to the library and streaming services, Bowie fans.

David Bowie [1967]: THIS SPORTING LIFE [Lindsay Anderson, 1963] & THE BUTTERFLY KID [Chester Anderson, 1967]

David Bowie [1969]: CABARET [Bob Fosse, 1972] & WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE [Shirley Jackson, 1962]

The Man Who Sold the World [1970]: CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH [Nagima Oshima, 1960] & THE COLLECTED WORKS OF BILLY THE KID [Michael Ondaatje, 1970]

Hunky Dory [1971]: CHELSEA GIRLS [Andy Warhol, 1966] & DISPATCHES [Michael Herr, 1977]

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars [1972]: PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE [Brian De Palma, 1974] & AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED [Anne Carson, 1998]

Aladdin Sane [1973]: LIQUID SKY [Slava Tsukerman, 1982] & BURNING CHROME [William Gibson, 1986]

Pin Ups [1973]: F FOR FAKE [Orson Welles, 1974]  & THE CHAIN OF CHANCE [Stanislaw Lem, 1976]

Diamond Dogs [1974]: BRAZIL [Terry Gilliam, 1985] & 1984 [George Orwell, 1948] (Obvious choice, but in this case I want it anyway)

David Live [1974]: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [Tobe Hooper, 1974] & NELLY’S VERSION [Eva Figes, 1977]

Young Americans [1975]: REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE [Nicholas Ray, 1955] & FRANNY & ZOOEY [J. D. Salinger, 1961]

Station to Station [1976]: THE PASSENGER [Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975] & CHIMERA [John Barth, 1972]

Low [1977]: CRASH [David Cronenberg, 1996] (Obvious choice is THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, but that’s too on-the-nose) & A SCANNER DARKLY [P. K. Dick, 1977]

“Heroes” [1977]: IN A YEAR OF 13 MOONS [R. W. Fassbinder, 1978] & TRITON [Samuel R. Delany, 1976]

Stage [1978]: USED CARS [Robert Zemeckis, 1980] & THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING [Milan Kundera, 1979]

Lodger [1979]: BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW [Panos Cosmatos, 2010] & HOW GERMAN IS IT (WIE DEUTSCH IST ES) [Walter Abish, 1980]

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) [1980]: POSSESSION [Andrzej Żuławski, 1981] & WOLF STORY [William McCleery, 1947]

David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal
[1982]: DIE 3 GROSCHENOPER [G. W. Pabst, 1931] & THE HANDMAID’S TALE [Margaret Atwood, 1985]

Let’s Dance [1983]: SID AND NANCY [Alex Cox, 1986] & EDWIN MULLHOUSE: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF AN AMERICAN WRITER, 1943-1954, BY JEFFREY CARTWRIGHT [Steven Millhauser, 1972]

Ziggy Stardust: the Motion Picture [1983]: ONE MAN UP [Paolo Sorrentino, 2001]  & THE DOUBLE [Jose Saramago, 2002]

Tonight [1984]: INTO THE NIGHT [John Landis, 1985] &  CITY OF GLASS [Paul Auster, 1985]

Never Let Me Down [1987]: STREETS OF FIRE [Walter Hill, 1984] & LONG RED HAIR [Meags Fitzgerald, 2015]

Tin Machine [1989]: DONNIE DARKO [Richard Kelly, 2001] & AN AFGHANISTAN PICTURE SHOW: OR HOW I SAVED THE WORLD [William T. Vollmann, 1992/2013]

Tin Machine II
[1991]: HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD [Haruki Murakami, 1985] & KINDRED [Octavia Butler, 1979] *

Black Tie, White Noise
[1993]: MONSOON WEDDING {Mira Nair, 2001] & THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET [Salman Rushdie, 1999]

The Buddha of Suburbia [1993]: MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE [Stephen Frears, 1985] & BREATH, EYES, MEMORY [Edwidge Danticat, 1994]

1. Outside [1995]: LOST HIGHWAY [David Lynch, 1997] & THE CIPHER [Kathe Koja, 1991]

Earthling [1997]: AEON FLUX [Peter Chung, 1991-5] & CELESTIAL MATTERS [Richard Garfinkle, 1996]

Hours… [1999]: CROUPIER [Mike Hodges, 1998] & LOST GIRLS [Alan Moore & Melina Gebbe, 2006]

Toy [2000]: L’ENFER [Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1964/2009] & THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA [Vladimir Nabokov, 1977/2009]

Heathen [2002]: CURE [Kurosawa Kiyoshi, 1997] & THE BLAZING WORLD [Siri Hustvedt, 2014]

Reality [2003]: CACHÉ [Michael Haneke, 2005] & HERE [Richard McGuire, 2014]

The Next Day [2013]: ZERO DARK THIRTY [Kathryn Bigelow, 2012] & GERTRUDE OF STONY ISLAND AVENUE [James Purdy, 1996]

[2016]: THE NEON DEMON [Nicholas Winding Refn, 2016] & PATIENCE [Daniel Clowes, 2016]

* two books for TMII, for whatever reason. If you need a film, maybe Dead Again.