2.05.2004

Book Review: Samuel Delany’s Shorter Views

This book were real good. I liked it lots. Buy it. It had good stuff to say:

"For the sixties and seventies, SF was the privileged just-sub-literary genre. I think we may be entering a period where that position may soon be filled by pornography."

"[I]t would be warming to see such a debate informed by an awareness of critical debates in which any critical discourse is embedded today [i.e. contemporary literary theory]."

"Centered around Moorcock's New Worlds, the British New Wave of the 1960s was largely anti-theory, which, in retrospect, seems only a continuation of the generally anti-intellectual current that has run through the history of science fiction."

"We might even say that a recurrent 'theme' of the poststructuralist wave of these dialogues is that all such urges are distorting, biasing, untrustworthy, ideologically loaded, and finally blinding, so that they must be approached with continuous oppositional vigilance."

"As an interim strategic inversion, then, I would like to propose that 'New Worlds,' 'The Alien,' 'Technology,' 'Time,' 'Space,' and 'Utopia/Dystopia' are not science fiction's themes [crossed-out] at all and can here and now be abandoned to the archaeology of our criticism. And as a longer-term strategy, I propose that what is deeply needed in our field is people to read science fiction carefully, sychonically with the historical and social occurrences (both inside and outside the SF field) around its composition, who are willing to discuss with precision, creativity, and critical inventiveness what they have read. What we do not need any more of is people who merely glance at SF and say the first thing that comes to mind--usually something that comes most pointedly from somewhere (anywhere!) else, rather than from the texts read [Delany gave a course and had non-SF-reading students list off the top of their heads the SF themes [crossed-out] and they named the above]."

“My presentation [at the 1968 MLA Christmas meeting] was... a paper that would eventually be titled ‘About 5,750 Words.’ After I’d read it, immediately the pleasantly portly, affable-looking [Darko] Suvin... threw up his hand for a question...: ‘I very much enjoyed your presentation, but...’ here he paused significantly, ‘I think I disagree with everything you said.’ Laughter rolled through the room, then stilled. For a moment, I was disconcerted.... Suvin went to make a tiny point referring to the last sentence or two of my paper, that, really, contained no disagreement at all with anything....

“Ten years later... [a]fter Suvin was introduced, I found myself listening to a jejune explanation.... Later, in the science fiction session, when a young woman finished giving her presentation... and she asked for questions, Darko’s hand was the first to go up...: ‘I rather enjoyed your presentation. But...’ and here he paused meaningfully: ‘I think I disagree with everything you said.’ Laughter bloomed throughout the room. The young woman looked momentarily flustered--then smiled. Darko went on to make a minuscule point, which only pertained, if it pertained at all, to her paper’s last sentence or two. And I understood, then... he hadn’t bothered to follow the presentation at all... without any intellectual weight whatsoever.”

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