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About Samuel R. Delany's "To Read the Dispossessed" DELANY
from _The Jewell-Hinged Jaw_.
Delany spends thousands of words discussing the first
paragraph of the novel. He complains about "hints of
smugness and condescension" and "echoes of ponderousness and
pontification". He goes as far as to suggest a re-write:
Le Guin: Delany:
There was a wall. It did There was a wall of roughly
not look important. It mortared, uncut rocks. An
was built of uncut rocks adult could look over it; a
roughly mortared. An adult child could climb it. Where
could look right over it; the road ran through, it had
even a child could climb it. no gate. But for seven
Where it crossed the roadway, generations it had been the
instead of having a gate it most important thing in the
degenerated into mere geometry, world.
an idea of a boundary. But
the idea was real. It was
important. For seven
generations there had been
nothing more important in the
world than that wall.
Delany comments: "For the rest, it is the 1975
equivalent of Van Vogtian babble. [...]"
He then goes on to discuss various things in
the book that disagree with his own experience.
This is a brief summary of some of them:
Shevek finds the Urrasti's soft beds erotic and their
smoothly curved furniture feminine. Delany points
out that a man used to sleeping on a hard mat finds a
soft bed uncomfortable, and that softness and curves
isn't likely to be an Annaresti male's idea of "feminine".
Further, he argues that Shevek has had no opportunity
to learn to interpret Vea's cock-teasing behavior as
erotic. He suggests it would just be confusing and
seem "erratic" instead.
Delany also mentions that because of alchohol's well
known efffects on men, Shevek's drunken premature
ejaculation isn't believable.
Le Guin shows Annaresti young boys as having a
natural antipathy to young women. Delany argues that
this kind of thing is entirely a social construct,
nothing natural about it.
The "eureka" scene (where Shevek completes his great
theory) seems weak. Le Guin tries to describe
Shevek's reasoning, but all that comes through sounds
tautological and unscientific. Delany argues that
she would have been better off skipping any attempted
My own reaction to reading the Dispossessed
was boredom. I thought Shevek's character
was thinner than cardboard, more like
newsprint -- a blurry clipping of Einstein.
Reading far more carefully than I, Delany finds
(a) clumsy, ponderous writing and (b) too much
"literature", i.e. places where the fiction is
based on other fiction and doesn't jibe with
Delany specifically avoids
extending this to a political level He seems to feel that
approaching the work
Benford and Platt, that way distracts you
though they take a from actually reading
more political what's there.
approach (and most
Delany), come to
something like a
Le Guin's view of
human nature is out
of touch with
It would be interesting to try to
bridge the gap between Delany and
Benford/Platt, to try to chart the
points of agreement and
disagreement and see if there's
some synthesis or the two. But
when you really come down to it,
I'm just not into Le Guin enough to But, but... could be that
want to hassle with it. the synthesis would have
little to do with Le Guin
and might be worth while for
Le Guin strikes me as someone with little feel
for the way the world works, and her attempts a
presenting a flawed utopia just don't ring true
to me. I don't much agree with her vision of
utopia, nor about what flaws in it would be likely.
A few (contradictory?) Delany quotes:
... the main subject ... the ... That point is merely the
philosophy of Odo ... manages to specifically science-fictional
put itself beyond discussion. To version of the advice the poet
disapprove either of the philosophy Charles Olson once gave a
as an ethical construct, or the way fiction-writing class at Black
the ethical construct has been used Mountain College: "Without
to contour the aesthetic construct necessarily imitating the real, we
of the novel, is simply to declare must keep our fictions _up to_ the
oneself out of sympathy with the real." No matter how science
book. A critic who is seriously fictional our entertainments ...
uncomfortable with either of these they must approach the same order
aspects had best look for another of structural complexity as our own
work to discuss. conscious perceptions of the real.
--- Section 6, p 251 --- Section 6, p 255
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