Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 15.1 (Samuel R. Delany)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Delany, Samuel R.

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books about 5 years ago. I think I mentioned before that Jonathan Skinner taught a course on science fiction that had a great reading list, including this book, which gave me a reason to start reading some science fiction, which I had never really done before then.

A year or so after "Chip" Delany visited during my first year in town, he came to teach at SUNY Buffalo. I took a five week mini-course with him. I can't remember what it was called, but it I think there were two books on the reading list. Flaubert's Sentimental Education and Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. We read the former in the first week and wrote a paper, then read the latter and wrote another paper, then read the former a second time and wrote a longer, final paper on same.

There was quite a bit of tension between teacher and students in the class because of a dispute about the content (and in one case, the format -- not the form -- but literally, the formatting, i.e., where we put the our names on the sheets!) of our papers. Being that were studying in Buffalo, and most of us were, to varying degrees, theory heads, we wrote almost all of our papers for other courses using the usual theoretical suspects as our guides. Given how much theory Delany had used in his novels, we assumed that would be the order of the day in his class. Not so. A self-admitted "old fuddy-duddy," he became quite incensed at our dependence on theory and demanded that we do "close readings" of the works at hand. His claim, and he may have been right, was that we had become afraid of engaging directly with the work and were using theory as a crutch.

The other major tension came b/c of his style of teaching. We were all used to being treated as equals, i.e., as practicing, serious--if yet unpublished--writers, by the likes of Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe and Robert Creeley. Chip seemed more at home in an undergraduate atmosphere in which the students were apprentices and he their gentle guide. This unfortunate circumstance, as I recall, made it difficult to bridge the already wide communication gap that grew up between us. And we never did bridge it, sad to say. It felt very tense all the way to the last class, and I don't think any of us ever took his classes again and then, after two short years, off he went to Philadelphia.

from Chapter 1

"Hey, Mouse! Play us something," one of the mechanics called from the bar.

"Didn't get signed on no ship yet?" chided the other. "Your spinal socket'll rust up. Come on, give us a number."

The Mouse stopped running his finger around the rim of his glass. Wanting to say "no" he began a "yes." Then he frowned.

The mechanics frowned too:

He was an old man.

He was a strong man.

As the Mouse pulled his hand to the edge of the table, the derelict lurched forward. Hip banged the counter. Long toes struck a chair leg: the chair danced on the flags.

Old. Strong. The third thing the Mouse saw: Blind.

He swayed before the Mouse's table. His hand swung up; yellow nails hit the Mouse's cheek. (Spider's feet?) "You, boy . . ."

The Mouse stared at the pearls behind rough, blinking lids.

"You, boy. Do you know what it was like?"

Must be blind, the Mouse thought. Moves like blind. Head sits forward so on his neck. And his eyes—

The codger flapped out his hand, caught a chair, and yanked it to him. It rasped as he fell on the seat. "Do you know what it looked like, felt like, smelt like—do you?"

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