I couldn't get into the writing of the book. It's very dry and kind of impersonal, even though the writer supposedly knew Tesla very well. It also neeI couldn't get into the writing of the book. It's very dry and kind of impersonal, even though the writer supposedly knew Tesla very well. It also needs illustrations, for all the technical descriptions of Tesla's inventions for those not mechanically minded....more
It is safe to say that the world still makes sense, in that this book did, in fact, end in the middle of a sentence, whThird time's a charm, right?
It is safe to say that the world still makes sense, in that this book did, in fact, end in the middle of a sentence, which turned into the first sentence, which really only answers one question, I guess.
I totally had stuff I wanted to talk about on the subject of this book, but I need a moment to, um, wow. That ending. Yeah, that happened. Okay.
So. This book.
Two things helped me to make it all the way through Dhalgren.
1. I had already read part of it, so I knew (up to a point) what I was getting into again. 2. The epigraph that I'm not sure if I noticed the first two attempts: "You have confused the true and the real."--George Stanley/In conversation. 3. SHEER DETERMINATION.
Okay. Three things.
The most important of these (okay, sheer determination played a big part, but I rather enjoyed the read this time around, particularly on those hour subway rides that I indulge in often [and by "indulge" I mean "am required to do if I want to go anywhere that is not Ridgewood, Queens"]) really is point 2, which taken with point 1 gave me a better lens with which to understand, process, enjoy, and on the whole simply read this book. "You have confused the true with the real." What is truth? What is reality? Where do they overlap? Where do they intersect? Where do they have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and for all we know are walking down entirely different streets from the other, and not even parallel streets, we're talking like a Massachusetts winding road or perhaps that odd moment in Brooklyn where Borinquen becomes Grand becomes Metropolitan while at the same time continuing to be individual streets unto themselves . . . and somewhere along there truth has taken, let's say Grand, and reality continues onto Metropolitan. This distinction between the two is an important question, not just in the book but in everyday life, because we take reality to be truth, "what you see is what you get" and discount anything that doesn't fit in that frame, whereas in Dhalgren there is no context, there is no "reality," so that sense of having reality pulled out from underneath you really allows you, as the reader, to perceive the difference and try to get at the real "truth" of the matter. Take, for example, the red eyes: the reality is Kid sees the red eyes; they frighten him. For no reason that he can find, people's eyes mysteriously turn red. The truth is, not that people's eyes are turning red, but that they are putting red glass lenses in in their eyes. Why? We don't know. We may never know. (I mean, I sure don't know, but if someone does know or have some idea if it's an allusion to something, please, I would love to be enlightened; hearing a theory is just as good.) But there's that change, that difference between reality and the truth behind the reality: it's still frightening, but for a different reason (perhaps it's not the Perceiver who is crazy, but the external world).
Essentially, the book is a palimpsest. That is to say that Bellona is a palimpsest: street signs are rearranged right in front of our eyes, our characters turn one way even though they used to go another way to get where they were going, places appear and disappear. The truth behind the reality: it was there, and now it's gone, but we are still aware of it, however vaguely. And in this way, city and book become the ever-shifting labyrinth (okay, the typeset pretty much keeps the written, physical novel from changing when we put it on the shelf [and I can attest to that, having read part of it three times], but don't tell me you're going to pick it up later and not see something you didn't see the first time around [I can also attest to that]).
If I were reading this book for an English class in college (or, hell, even high school), I would have made note of all the times where that distinction comes into play, and I would use that as the subject of my thesis paper. But I read this for fun. And also for the sense of accomplishment of having (finally) read the whole damn thing. And it's been a long time since I've done any sort of in-depth literary analysis that hasn't been "plot, character, story" breakdowns for script reviews (theatre, of course). So let us just say, for the sake of keeping this review from rivaling the length of Dhalgren, that I found the true/reality distinction to be one of the greater themes of the book, and it helped me as I made my way through the book. And now, to continue.
The sex. This is why I stopped reading, at least the second time around, if not the first. Now, a little backstory is necessary for this: my dad told me about this book when I was in, um, at least early high school if not actually in late middle school. We'll say high school for sure, because at that point I was starting to get into form-pushing literature, anti-linear plots and all that sort of postmodernist jive. And he was describing this book, and how there's a part where the narrative is written in canon, where bits and pieces overlap and you, as the reader, have to figure out how precisely to read it. So of course me, being me, went out and bought the book, only to discover that the "canon" part doesn't happen until the final part. And the first thing that happens is, of course, the sex scene with the woman who turns into a tree. There's enough at this point (the starting in the middle of the sentence, the mysterious cut on this woman's leg, the fact that she turns into a tree ["holy crap she turns into a tree?! sweet!" was more or less my thought process the first time through] to keep me going a little longer, but eventually I just lose focus the first time around and stop. The second time through I made it past the orgy scene to the odd sun moment and stopped at the end of that chapter (I remember very clearly, I was waiting at the dentist's office; I was probably 20, couldn't tell you for sure). Because, let's be real here: my dad told me about this book, and at a fairly young age too, and we all are probably aware of the age-old adage of children being creeped out by the thought of their parents having sex, not to mention having a book recommended to them that isn't just full of normal sex scenes, but crazy Dhalgren sex scenes. I don't think I need go into details; if you've read the book, you understand.
And sure, fine, I "get" it: this book is about pushing the boundaries, and it is so much a part of the times it was written in (along with the racism and the sexism that also runs rampant in the text like the stone lions), but do we really need all the details? Do we need to know every time they ball? I feel it's safe to say that the sex is there for the sake of being there, but I found it detracting a good portion of the time from some of the other things that were happening (such as, well, the theme of truth vs. reality).
To a certain point that is a part of this book that I will never really get. Gibson, in his introduction (where he very beautifully admitted that he doesn't understand the book, nor will he ever, and I couldn't tell you how happy I was to read those words), says that Bellona resembles a city that existed in this time, some unspoken city, and when you were in it you knew you were in it but there wasn't any information about the city to outsiders. And I understand what he is trying to say, but only by extension, and only through metaphor, because I am too young and I was born too late to have experienced that "city," and there really isn't anything of the sort today (the answer is not hipsters). So is Dhalgren dated? I wouldn't say so, not necessarily. Some of it, content-wise, yes (the ideas of sexuality, racism, and sexism it presents still have poignancy today, but are not as shocking as they would have been then), but there's enough else in it to keep it from being a product of strictly its times that speaks for that time and that time alone.
Other than the sex, the thing that does sort of bother me about this book is an odd hair-splitting matter, and it is that this book is classified as science fiction. The self-referential moment where Tak describes the "new science fiction" to Kid (a moment which I wish I remembered what page it happened on, it's somewhere in there), where the protagonist is thrown into the unknown situation and has to make the best of the givens, or however exactly it was described, I don't remember, is the book to a T. It could, in fact, be most literature. The hero's journey, whether or not there is a journey, but it is some sort of the same basic principle. This doesn't necessarily have to be straight science fiction (again, I wish I remember where that moment was, it would make this easier). Because, really, this is a matter of semantics. Semantically, this book would be called "urban fantasy." Because crazy fantastical things happen (woman turns into a tree; nothing else really like that happens, ever, but a woman turns into a tree; maybe it was a dream), and it has a urban setting. Science fiction is fiction based on science: physics, engineering, chemistry, biology, technological advances, whatever. Semantics. Really. It's silly, I know, but sometimes . . . yeah.
This review has gotten most of what I wanted to say about the book, not necessarily in whatever order I intended, but I think I hit most of what I was thinking. I will, however, leave off with my favorite quotes:
"You've got some nerve thinking you were ever any crazier than anybody else."
"Babes, I am so bored here that I don't think, since I've come, I've ever been more than three minutes away from some really astonishing act of violence."
"What I write [. . .] doesn't seem to be . . . true. I mean I can model so little of what it's about. Life is a very terrible thing, mostly, with points of wonder and beauty. Most of what makes it terrible, though, is simply that there's so much of it, blaring in through the five senses. In my loft, alone, in the middle of the night, it comes blaring in. So I work at culling enough from it to construct moments of order."...more