Friday, November 12, 2004

Delany and Genres

For those who don't know, Samuel R Delany is a writer with a rich and odd history. His career started in the 60's as a fantasy and SF writer, as part of that whole crop that raised the bar as far as pure writing within the genre. Some of his works like Tales From Neveryon are collected in postmodern anthologies, and Dhalgren is a fabulous dystopian novel. He's african-american and openly gay, and often works those as threads into a lot of his work. He's also written comic books, a good deal of experimental fiction, as well as some gay porn (his words there, not mine).

But back to the interview in Black Clock. The interviewer Steve Erickson, also head editor for Black Clock, kept directing the questions towards issues of work that transcends the genre they work inside. In other words, "_" book is so damn scary good you can't call it SF (or mystery or horror or porn or whatever) anymore, you have to call it literature.

Delany disagreed, over and over again.

He first said this on page 76:

Genre distinctions are fundamentally power boundaries. When a literary writer strikes out to bring back rhetorical figures from the marginal, low, or folk arts for use in his or her literary work, everybody says, "Wow! Isn't that great!" When a marginal...writer appropriates literary rhetoric, however, and carries it back across the border to his or her side of the boundary, to hear most people talk about it in the literary precincts, you'd think a native had broken through the fence into the farmyard and swiped a chicken...Those exclusionary forces rigorously shaped the space in which the rhetorical richness, invention and genius of SF was forced to flower.... A writer talking seriously about his or her own breakthroughs is a guarantee of arrogance, pomposity and aesthetic clownishness.

He was then asked about his own work, specifically his early fantasy novels.

"These are un-tradional sword-and-sorcery tales, though they're sword-and-sorcery nevertheless. They don't transcend the genre. They do something within it that's a bit unusual. That's all." page 84

Not sure where I'm going with any of this, I just found it interesting. Despite his notoriety as a superior writer, Delany has no problem being attached to specific genres, be it SF or porn. So I can't help but think about writers who started out as a "genre" writer, but deny their connection to it. Jonathan Carroll, who I blogged about once before, seems to have this attitude a lot.

I've finished the full issue of Black Clock now, and am pulling a review together that will be up in the next day or two.



LadyLitBlitzin said...

Wow, thanks for the post, and the heads up about Delany. That's really cool. And it's definitely an interesting idea to knock about in one's head: genre vs. literary. I think most of us writers have definitely run across problems finding markets that are based on that very principle. Someone reading it and saying, "Well what IS it? It doesn't fit." When really, the question should be whether it's good or not.

I talk about Gibson way too much, but I think a lot of people who shy away from him because of the offhand "sci fi" or "cyberpunk" label. But I think his is one of the most amazing styles, with amazing use of language, that I have ever read.

Hebdomeros said...

Yeah, I agree about Gibson. I love Bruce Sterling for his ideas, but he doesn't have the flair with language that Gibson does. I've been meaning to re-read Neuromancer for sometime now. Has one of the great openings for a sf book ever.

LadyLitBlitzin said...

Yep, the beginning of Neuromancer is exactly IT. God. I just remember being blown away -- sort of amazed and envious at the same time. I have been meaning to reread it as well. Some of his other stuff left me a little colder, though I totally loved "Pattern Recognition" recently and still mean to add it to my library.