Shira and Ari Evergreen's Reviews > Dhalgren

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
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's review
Oct 23, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: gender, scifi
Recommended for: those interested in sexual identity and race politics circa 1974
Read from October 15 to 23, 2010 , read count: 1

Dhalgren has an unusual structure and a high level of violence. I had a difficult time getting through it. Even so, I'm glad I hung in there - the book holds an important place in the sci fi canon and it's justified. It was a very unusual read, experimental and interesting. Delany does a lot of things that I haven't seen before.

As in Nabokov's Pale Fire, Dhalgren plays with the line between character and author. The mental state of the this unreliable narrator is in constant question, as are the laws of physics in the strange city the characters inhabit. This makes for a very disorienting but novel read. However, at 801 pages, at times I found it hard to follow the story and relate to the characters. All of the experimentalness with so little real story-moving payoff for pages and pages got a little boring.

Where the book isn't dull, it's explicitly sexual and/or violent. Delany's protagonists are forging a new way of life that includes exploration of racial and ethnic and class identities, the roles of men and women, human consciousness and sanity, gender roles and expression, ideas about death and violence, and (often queer or polyamorous) sex with many kinks. This makes for some extremely detailed and challenging scenes that include slurs and other sexist and racist language, lots of sweat and grime and body fluids, problematic age differences between sex partners, and racially-charged rape games of questionable consensuality. However, it also has moments of tenderness, deeper consciousness and awareness, and healing. As well as gay leather daddies and gogo dancers. Basically there is a lot of sex and a lot of it may be the dirtiest (I mean actual dirt and grime, as well as raunch) such material you have ever read. John Waters would love it; I'm sure he has a copy.

It's pretty clear that for its time (it was written in 1974) this was an incredibly well-intentioned and radical book. It doubtless opened up space for people to claim identities and relationships that at the time had little public support.

Also of interest is the foreward to this 1996 edition, in which William Gibson (!) points out the connection between the burning city in Dhalgren, and the ephemeral other space created by collective countercultural will and action in the 1960s. I won't say anything else on this count to avoid spoilers, but if you're interested in the changing social mores of the '60s, you will find this a very compelling read.
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message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Babcock "… and racially-charged rape games of questionable consensuality (made all the more problematic by the author's whiteness)."

Delany is black. Unless by "author" you are referring to the Kid?

Shira and Ari Evergreen Wow, THANK YOU. I like the book a lot more now, and I feel like an idiot that I didn't find that bit of information. Correcting my review!

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