American Literature Samuel R. Delany
by
Sean Matharoo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0198

Introduction

Samuel R. Delany is a profoundly influential and award-winning African-American gay author, critic, and teacher, whose many novels, short stories, memoirs, and essays are among the most important of the 20th and 21st centuries. His works have fundamentally altered the terrain of science fiction (SF) due in part to their formally consummate, theoretically sophisticated, materially grounded, and politically radical explorations of difference. These explorations reach an apogee in Dhalgren (1975), a bestselling countercultural classic. Delany is a Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) Grand Master. He is also one of SF’s best critics. The courageous humility and pragmatism with which he treats his subjects, when considered alongside the virtuosity with which he writes, gesture at a cosmologically scaled multiplicity, the understanding of which is dependent on biography, a point rendered clear in his exquisite autobiography The Motion of Light in Water (1988). Delany was born in Harlem, New York, on 1 April 1942. He was educated at the prestigious Dalton School and Bronx High School of Science. He spent summers at progressive youth camps. He also briefly attended the City College of New York. Delany has held professorships at University of Massachusetts Amherst, SUNY Buffalo, and Temple University. From 1961 to 1980, he and poet Marilyn Hacker had an open marriage; they have one child. He has been in an open relationship with Dennis Rickett since 1991. He was astoundingly prolific at a prodigal age. He translated Rimbaud’s Le bateau ivre (1871) when he was eighteen. For a time, he lived in a commune in New York, writing songs for the folk-rock band Heavenly Breakfast. He has worked on shrimp boats in Texas. He has written graphic novels and a couple of stories for the Wonder Woman comics. He has written an opera, and he has written and directed a film. He has published pornographic novels that engage thoughtfully with the HIV/AIDS crisis. In short, to borrow a concept he develops in Empire Star (1966), Delany might be described as “multiplex”: even an ephemeral biography such as this one casts light on his singular ability to sustain and synthesize presumably opposed differences into a greater unity.

Science Fiction

Included in this section are some of Delany’s most influential science fiction (SF) novels, novellas, and short stories, which together demonstrate his commitment to using the tools of defamiliarization, extrapolation, and speculation to problematize given language and build worlds that force a reappraisal of mundane reality. Often, such reappraisal carries an affectively galvanizing charge insofar as it is designed to better attune our senses to the denaturalization, recognition, and acceptance of difference so that we might bring into our social worlds a higher degree of sensitivity and understanding. Following the formal subversions of The Jewels of Aptor, Empire Star, and Nova, the focus on language and writing in Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection, the critical-but-celebratory engagement with difference in Delany 2003a, and the sheer pulp genius of Delany 2003b, the author published Dhalgren, which is essentially a studied refinement and explosive dilation of the aforementioned subjects. For this reason, Dhalgren is perhaps the best entry point into Delany’s SF universe. Triton is singular in its examination of utopia but nonetheless holds a key to unlocking Delany’s approach to contingency, while the unadorned intensity of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, the author’s last SF novel, hints at stylistic directions he has taken in his late work. From The Jewels of Aptor to Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, his Afrofuturist SF never loses sight of the violence of colonial modernity. It is groundbreaking in displacing golden age SF’s privileging of technological rationalism with an ethics of intersubjective responsibility. And, like new wave SF, the author’s SF books often embrace formal experimentation, philosophical existentialism, nonnormative sexuality, and social critique. Delany, an African-American gay man in a predominantly white, masculinist, and heteronormative field, also played a significant role in diversifying SF by writing characters as people of color, indigenous people, women, queer people, and disabled people.

  • Delany, Samuel R. The Jewels of Aptor. New York: Ace Books, 1962.

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    Delany’s first novel, which he published at the age of twenty. It presents an antiwar narrative set in a postapocalyptic future past. It is noteworthy for establishing the author’s career-long interests in musicality and in subverting mythology, the quest narrative, natural language, racial inequality, and heteronormative gender roles. Additionally, it forthrightly represents homoeroticism, disability, and the figure of the outcast poet.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Babel-17. New York: Ace Books, 1966a.

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    Ostensibly a space opera, this Nebula Award-winning novel is perhaps Delany’s most concentrated SF work about language. It pivots around polymath Rydra Wong, who is hired by a military organization to decipher the titular “Babel-17,” which is revealed to be a perception-altering language used by the enemy for sabotage. Unprecedented at the time of its publication for its affirmation of queer sex and polyamory.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Empire Star. New York: Ace Books, 1966b.

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    An antislavery novella couched in a coming-of-age narrative about terraforming, it introduces his ideas on “simplexity,” “complexity,” and “multiplexity.” The author adopts a circular narrative structure that is meant to emphasize the importance of achieving a multiplex orientation toward truth whereby one omnisciently takes multiple perspectives into account. Such play with structure hints at the wildly innovative formal experiments to come in subsequent works.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. The Einstein Intersection. New York: Ace Books, 1967.

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    This Nebula Award-winning novel presents a postapocalyptic and posthuman tale based on the Orpheus myth. It is remarkable for its self-consciously playful approach to relativism and incompleteness, which takes the form of intertextual citations that illustrate the problems met by language when distinguishing between the true and the false. Thus, it is perhaps Delany’s first book about writing. It is also a book about race, disability, and queerness.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Nova. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968.

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    Often noted as an important precursor to cyberpunk, this space opera is also a subverted grail quest narrative: its central narrative device, the explosion of the sun, distorts reality and syntax, yet promises a revolution without the sun. It is perhaps Delany’s most explicit attempt at elaborating a prose style that is also a phenomenological theory of the senses. Striking in its countercultural use of Tarot and its consideration of mixed-race identities.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Dhalgren. New York: Bantam Books, 1975.

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    Following six years without publishing much, Delany published this eight-hundred-page (post)modernist SF epic that pushes aesthetic form to its limits, maps racialized violence onto an ecological scale, and celebrates queer desire and kinship. Dhalgren brings together and amplifies most of the ideas the author explored in previous works by describing a postapocalyptic future of urban decay and the circuitous wanderings of its indigenous and white poet amnesiac protagonist Kid.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Triton. New York: Bantam Books, 1976.

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    A skeptical study of utopia, this novel is in dialogue with Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974) and informed by Michel Foucault’s theory of “heterotopia.” Such skepticism may be understood through the novel’s withering critique of its masculinist and heterosexist protagonist Bron Helstrom, who is ultimately unable to see that an openly queer world has moved, to an extent, beyond the sclerosis of masculinist and heterosexist relations.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.

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    Delany’s last overtly SF novel. It might be alternatively described as a work of speculative anthropology: a sprawling epic about a future universe locked in a dualistic conflict that Delany utilizes to examine the violent marginalization of difference. It is notable for its interweaving of SF and critical theory, an interweaving that effects a combinatory writing style. It is the first part of a diptych; the second part is unfinished.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. “Aye, and Gomorrah . . .” In “Aye, and Gomorrah” and Other Stories. By Samuel R. Delany, 91–101. New York: Vintage Books, 2003a.

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    A SF classic, this Nebula Award-winning short story was first published in Harlan Ellison’s infamously transgressive anthology Dangerous Visions (1967). It is noteworthy for its depiction of “spacers,” androgynous people who were neutered to avoid the harms of space travel, and “frelks,” people who objectify, exoticize, and fetishize spacers. Delany links such objectification, exoticization, and fetishization to the dehumanization of queer people and sex workers outside the text.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones.” In “Aye, and Gomorrah” and Other Stories. By Samuel R. Delany, 218–259. New York: Vintage Books, 2003b.

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    This Hugo Award- and Nebula Award-winning short story was originally published in New Worlds magazine in 1968, a British magazine notable for disseminating new wave SF. It is significant for its examination of criminality, impersonation, manipulation, and gay BDSM subculture, which is relayed through a precise prose style that performs its title.

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Science Fiction Criticism and Edited Science Fiction

Included in this section are Delany’s nonfictional contributions to the field of science fiction (SF), where he is a highly regarded critic and editor for his intellectual rigor, vast knowledge, stimulating creativity, and humbling generosity. The collections of essays The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch—“Angouleme”, and Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction contain heady fusions of criticism, literary theory, historiography, and autobiography. Like his fiction, however, they dwell extensively with language to generate new cognitive models with which we might engage the world. Any of these texts would be a solid entry point into discussions still relevant to the field to this day. Delany and Hacker 1970 highlights Delany’s support of the inclusion of radical artistic practices within the field of SF.

  • Delany, Samuel R., and Marilyn Hacker, eds. QUARK/1. New York: Paperback Library, 1970.

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    Delany and his then-partner poet Marilyn Hacker edited QUARK/1 as part of a four-part anthology series (including QUARK/2, QUARK/3, and QUARK/4) emphasizing “speculative fiction” in the form of short stories and poems. Like New Worlds, they concentrated on the avant-garde and included illustrations. Fellow SF luminaries R. A. Lafferty, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Gregory Benford, and A. E. van Vogt published work in the first issue.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Elizabethtown, NY: Dragon, 1977.

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    The collection of critical essays that firmly established Delany’s position as an important critic within the field of SF studies. The essays are united by their rigorous focus on the nonrepresentational aspects of the language of SF, whose subjunctive capacity, for the author, allows for the production of new subjectivities. Contains the landmark “About 5,750 Words” and “To Read The Dispossessed.”

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  • Delany, Samuel R. The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch—“Angouleme.” Elizabethtown, NY: Dragon, 1978.

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    An intensively close reading of Thomas Disch’s short story “Angouleme” (1978). Inspired by Barthesian structuralism, Delany organizes his reading into 287 “lexias,” an organization that demonstrates the generativity and complexification that come with stricture and refinement. Might also be read as at once a performative disruption of structuralism and an anticipation of the more explicit poststructuralism to come in future works.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Elizabethtown, NY: Dragon, 1984.

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    A collection of critical essays that tends toward poststructuralist literary theory. Here, Delany expands on his previous ideas about the language of SF and argues for its constitutive capacity for building future worlds that make the present more tractable. See, in particular, “Some Presumptuous Approaches to Science Fiction.” Also contains essays on SF authors Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Joanna Russ, and Thomas Disch.

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Erotic Fiction

Although many of Delany’s works are saturated with transgressive sexualities in a sweep of registers, the controversial entries in this section are decidedly distinct. That is, like the modernist erotics of les poètes maudits and the surrealist excesses of Georges Bataille, the disturbing and beautiful Tides of Lust, The Mad Man, Hogg, Bread & Wine, and Phallos provocatively push the boundaries of what exactly can be written about desire and pleasure—while affirming desire and pleasure. True to form, Delany employs the aesthetics of another “paraliterary”—to borrow a term he has introduced—genre to offer biting, materially embodied social critique that impels a subjective commitment to difference.

  • Delany, Samuel R. Tides of Lust. New York: Lancer Books, 1973.

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    This pornographic novel tracing the activities of a black sea captain and his crew of misfits in a seaport town is controversial for its extreme sexual depictions. In the United Kingdom, two thousand copies of the Savoy House publication were seized by the British police and one of the publisher’s partners was imprisoned. Rhinoceros republished it in 1994 under its intended title Equinox.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. The Mad Man. New York: Masquerade Books, 1994.

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    Described by Delany as a “pornotopic fantasy,” this semi-autobiographical novel about New York is a thoughtful negotiation between black gay experience, homelessness, and the HIV/AIDS crisis. It is also a satire of the university featuring some science fiction (SF) elements that complicate its otherwise realist structuration.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Hogg. Tallahassee, FL: Black Ice Books, 1995.

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    Written just before the Stonewall Riots, Delany encountered much difficulty locating a publisher for this hallucinatory pornographic novel about sexual slavery. The author has called it a “pornotopia,” but it articulates its speculative erotics—where anything can become sexual—through a noir narrative about urban decay.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York. New York: Juno Books, 1999.

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    A black-and-white graphic novel that may be described as an autobiographical romance about Delany’s chance meeting and subsequent relationship with his formerly homeless partner Dennis Rickett. Its erotics, evoked through Mia Wolff’s meticulously detailed pen-and-ink illustrations, inquisitively lingers on the many shared beauties of mundane gay life. Peppered with intertextual references to the German Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderin.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Phallos. Whitmore Lake, MI: Bamberger Books, 2004.

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    This postmodernist novella is significant for paralleling the author’s trajectory within SF toward formal radicality and self-reflexive play. A cult favorite, it stages a sequence of metanarratives in the form of online discourse about the search for, commentary upon, and mythologization of a pornographic novel, thereby performing the writing, revising, and reading of it (and Delany’s own porn novels). It is also unique for its deep engagement with Lacanian psychoanalysis.

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Late Fiction

Included here are three late entries of fiction. Like Delany’s memoirs, Delany 1995 examines the problematic relationships among art, memory, trauma, and time. And, like Delany 1995, Delany 2007, and Delany 2012 evince a poignant subtraction and complexification: at once a melancholic slowing-down and a joyful turning-toward the contemplation of interrelationality in everyday experience. At the same time, many of the ideas explored in his science fiction (SF) works enjoy refrains in all three texts—if in more subdued registers.

  • Delany, Samuel R. Atlantis: Three Tales. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1995.

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    A modernist and realist work composed of three semi-autobiographical novellas about loss and discovery. Atlantis: Model 1924 is a formally experimental tale about the experience of moving from Raleigh to New York City, from periphery to center. Eric, Gwen, and D. H. Lawrence’s Esthetic of Unrectified Feeling is about aesthetics, education, and media. Citre et Trans takes place in Greece and considers the traumas of inhumanity. All emphasize the importance of phenomenology to art and the science fictional in their nonlinear examinations of time.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Dark Reflections. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2007.

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    This temporally nonlinear novel examines the trials of struggling and aging black gay poet Arnold Hawley—whose self-imposed isolation, uncompromising commitment to his craft, and sexual repression in the face of a compulsorily heterosexual world in which he is marked as different because he is black form a melancholic cautionary tale for aspiring writers.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. New York: Magnus Books, 2012.

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    Cuts across the multiplicity of ideas Delany had previously studied in numerous paraliterary genres while pushing further to achieve a synthesis with the romantic affirmation of life seen in the later Bread & Wine (1999). Though about the same couple in the same world, the first half is an erotic love story while the second half is a SF tale about aging together.

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Fictional Series and Other Media

The entries in this section are bracketed because they include Delany’s only proper series (Delany 2004; Delany 1979) and some of his experiments with nontext media (Delany 2009; Delany 1978). However, it might be said that the author’s corpus, spanning a multitude of genres and modes, is really one grand movement unto itself: one indeed finds that a vast constellation of interlocking ideas—outlaw poets, transgressive sexualities, racial ambiguity, and so on—enjoys continuous refrain throughout it. As with all of his work, the author brings to the following entries critical sophistication, political critique, and imaginative verve—in both form and content—while clearing space for their diversification.

  • Delany, Samuel R. Empire: A Visual Novel. New York: Byron Preiss Visual Publications, 1978.

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    Illustrated by Howard Chaykin (who illustrated Marvel’s early Star Wars comics), this underexplored space opera is one of America’s earliest graphic novels. Possibly inspired by the French SF magazine Métal Hurlant, it is noteworthy for being a so-called visual novel by offering a translation of Delany’s SF aesthetic into a visual medium (and vice versa). Should be of interest to Delany scholars working on the visual dimensions of the author’s language.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Tales of Nevèrÿon. New York: Bantam Books, 1979.

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    First part in the ambitious, postmodernist Return to Nevèrÿon sword-and-sorcery tetralogy, including Neveryóna: Or, The Tale of Signs and Cities: Some Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus, Part Four (1983), Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985), and The Bridge of Lost Desire (1987). Notable for its early engagement with the HIV/AIDS crisis, in addition to its explicit formalization of racialization and its deep engagement with critical theory.

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  • Delany, Samuel. R. The Fall of the Towers. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.

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    This space fantasy trilogy consists of Captives of the Flame (1963), The Towers of Toron (1964), and City of a Thousand Suns (1965), which may be read now in omnibus form. In this expansive allegory of the Vietnam War, Delany subverts the conservatism of military science fiction (SF) vis-à-vis an inventive amalgam of surrealistic prose, pulp-style pacing, and philosophical excursus.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Orchid. In The Polymath. DVD. Directed by Fred Barney Taylor. New York: MaestroMedia Productions, 2009.

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    Stylistically resonant with Dhalgren (1975), this understudied 1971 experimental 16-mm short hippie film adopts a surrealist dream logic in its editing and a discordant musical score to engage with race, class, and sex in New York. Should be of interest to Delany specialists working on the audiovisuality of his language. High-quality transfer may be found on the DVD release of Fred Barney Taylor’s excellent documentary about Delany, The Polymath (2009).

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Memoirs

The entries in this section consist in Delany’s powerful works in memoir, which question the notions of time and memory. His hauntingly beautiful autobiography The Motion of Light in Water is perhaps the best entry point into his memoir sequence. He brings a critical eye to everything he writes, thereby sidestepping the twinning threats of nostalgic utopianism and libertarian individualism that might have come when working in this literary genre. Furthermore, Delany consistently situates his writing about writing—on literary criticism (Delany 1989), interviews (Delany 1994), the essay (Delany 1996; Delany 1999a; Delany 1999b; Delany 2018), letters (Delany 2000), journals (Delany 2017), and so on—in broader social and political contexts of which it is a part. More specifically, he uses genre to document the ontological disfigurement that comes with colonial violence and its pernicious capacity for perpetuating further, insidious violence in a multitude of refracted discourses. That is, the subject in these works becomes a relational field formed in co-extensivity with the present of colonial violence—the author’s writing demands an acute consciousness of how racism, homophobia, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism function as oppressive and exclusionary structures of capitalism that make egalitarianism and justice untenable. Delany mobilizes the writing of the subject as the singularization of events that resonate with ideas he studies in his fiction, resulting in hermeneutic quests that project the self into the future and suspend the present, which at once becomes open to revision. In this way, the author’s writing stages an intervention in the present. About Writing (Delany 2005) is not only one of the author’s best works; it is also one the best means of understanding his philosophy of writing.

  • Delany, Samuel R. The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village 1957–65. New York: Arbor House, 1988.

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    This formally experimental autobiography is one of Delany’s most important contributions to American literature. Describing in exquisite detail a formative period in the author’s life, it is also a striking deconstruction of the genre of autobiography insofar as it problematizes the presumed stability of memory and time through writing. An important part of Delany’s polysemic corpus, in which fiction and biography are entangled.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. The Straits of Messina. Seattle: Serconia, 1989.

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    A collection of nine illuminating essays, some written under the female pseudonym “K. Leslie Steiner,” spanning literary criticism—on Dhalgren (1975), Triton (1976), Hogg (1995), and the Nevèrÿon series—and biography. For Delany scholars, “Ruins/Foundations, or The Fall of the Towers Twenty Years After” and “The Early Delany” should be of particular interest.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1994.

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    This collection of ten “silent” interviews from a variety of sources, including Science Fiction Studies, Diacritics, and Callaloo, cover a wide range of topics. Following and expanding the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida, Delany proposes that the written (contra spoken) interview might escape bourgeois metaphysics and preserve the mutual generosity of collaboration. Ultimately, then, these pieces together compose another paraliterary text that is an integral part of his oeuvre.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Longer Views. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1996.

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    A fascinating collection of five longer essays that fuse the impersonal and the personal, resulting in “longer views.” Contains the brilliant “Wagner/Artaud: A Play of 19th and 20th Century Fictions,” which unearths the modernist poetics that marks Delany’s writing. Also features essays that should be of interest to scholars of science fiction (SF), feminism, black studies, and queer studies.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1999a.

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    A collection of twenty-five essays organized into three parts: (i) “Some Queer Thoughts,” (ii) “The Politics of the Paraliterary,” and (iii) “Some Writing/Some Writers.” Valuable for bringing into sharp relief Delany’s interests in queer studies (and, in particular, the subject of AIDS) and the politics of writing in historically marginalized genres. Emphasizes the pedagogical value of problematizing the creative/academic writing divide.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York University Press, 1999b.

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    This landmark memoir/essay hybrid is both an elegy to the old Times Square in New York, where experimentation with queer kinships across class and racial lines could flourish in public, and an important rallying cry, in the context of the HIV/AIDS crisis, against capitalist gentrification, which has resulted in the erasure of queer spaces.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. 1984: Selected Letters. Rutherford, NJ: Voyant, 2000.

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    A collection of fifty-seven letters written in 1984. Scholars searching for more biographical insight into the author’s thinking and writing will find much to consider here, where Delany shares his dread of, speculation on, and overcoming of his fear of AIDS. Intriguingly, like his late fiction, Delany turns his attention here toward the mundanely contingent. Contains letters written to friends, his daughter, and fellow SF author Joanna Russ.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters and Five Interviews. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005.

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    One of Delany’s best books in which he adopts a systematic approach to pedagogy designed to give pragmatic and honest advice to particularly ambitious writers. The courageous distinction the author makes between “good” and “talented” writing is persuasive and should be of interest to fiction writers and to Delany specialists. Contains a helpful appendix of short entries on many technical aspects of writing, such as grammar, dialogue, apostrophe, surprise, and so on.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. In Search of Silence: The Journals of Samuel R. Delany. Vol. 1, 1957–1969 Edited by Kenneth R. James. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2017.

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    A monumental collection of private journal entries that are roughly contemporary with the period of time previously explored in The Motion of Light in Water (1988). Displays in a less refined and sometimes more telling fashion the details of Delany’s thinking and experiences; also anticipates themes central to Dhalgren (1975) and even the author’s later focus on the aesthetics of the quietly intimate. Edited by Delany scholar Kenneth R. James.

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  • Delany, Samuel R. The Atheist in the Attic: Plus “Racism and Science Fiction” and “Discourse in an Older Sense”: Outspoken Interview. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2018.

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    The first half is a fictionalized account of the 1672 meeting between Leibniz and Spinoza. It stages a discussion between their philosophies to explore issues of race and class. The second half is an essay about racism and SF. Taken together, this slim volume underlines how world-building in writing can activate subjectivities oriented toward the dismantling of the oppressive structures of colonial modernity.

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Secondary Books on Delany

Included here are books dedicated to Delany. They range from the observational (McEvoy 1984) to the magisterial (Tucker 2004). Curiously, there are not as many scholarly monographs on Delany as one might expect. Slusser 1977 and Barbour 1979 are two of the first to address the author: they both present sophisticated close readings of aesthetic form, which is fundamental to the understanding of his writing. Weedman 1982, without relying on an explicit organizational principle for cohesion, consists in some solid analyses of Delany’s fiction. Although not solely focused on Delany, Broderick 1995 persuasively argues that his work is exemplary of the genre of postmodern science fiction (SF). Sallis 1996 is a wide-ranging edited collection of essays revolving around the author—Ken James’s comparative reading of Delany’s fiction and English polymath George Spencer-Brown’s formal mathematics should be of interest. Tucker 2004 is probably the best introduction to the author’s corpus because of its sustained analysis of race, identity, and difference in Delany’s writing. Outside the monograph form, Peplow and Bravard 1980 offers annotated bibliographies (of the author’s early years) whose precision will ensure that they withstand the test of time, and Shawl and Campbell 2015 is a highly readable anthology comprised of some astoundingly good fiction, essays, and memoirs inspired by the author.

  • Barbour, Douglas. Worlds Out of Words: The SF Novels of Samuel R. Delany. Hayes, UK: Bran’s Head, 1979.

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    Published well before Delany scholarship had solidified into any discernable patterns, Barbour’s multiplex negotiation between semiotics, cultural theory, and SF theory resulted in this seminal analysis of the author’s early world-building literary techniques. Sensitive to Delany’s synesthetic prose style and formalist approach to narrative composition, it features technical readings of his early work (viz., up to Triton).

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  • Broderick, Damien. Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1995.

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    A study of postmodern SF that leans on Delany’s fiction and criticism throughout. For Broderick, the author’s aesthetic and textualist engagements with semiotics and Derridean deconstruction result in a new, object-oriented formal system appropriate to postmodern SF. Contains a close reading of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) as a récit.

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  • McEvoy, Seth. Samuel R. Delany. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984.

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    Following a biographical introduction noteworthy for emphasizing Delany’s dyslexia, this book contains observational essays organized around the themes of the author’s early fiction. McEvoy conversed with the author throughout the writing of this book, so there are some intriguing exchanges reproduced here.

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  • Peplow, Michael W., and Robert S. Bravard. Samuel R. Delany: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography, 1962–1979. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980.

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    Detailed and carefully organized annotated bibliographies of Delany’s writing between 1962 and 1979 and of secondary writing on the author. Peplow and Bravard corresponded with Delany to compose the solid biographical essay also contained here. More generally, in the early years, they did much to accurately preserve Delany’s legacy.

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  • Sallis, James, editor. Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.

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    A wide-ranging collection of essays on Delany’s writing. Includes illuminating chapters by Robert Elliot Fox on sexual politics in Triton (1976) and Tides of Lust (1973) and by Ken James on the author’s fiction and G. Spencer Brown’s classic work of formal mathematics Laws of Form (1969).

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  • Shawl, Nisi, and Bill Campbell, eds. Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany. Greenbelt, MD: Rosarium, 2015.

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    An anthology of thirty-three pieces of beautiful writing—appropriately including fiction, essays, and memoirs—inspired by, responding to, and celebrating Delany’s own writing. Importantly, it foregrounds throughout the author’s inclusive political commitments to minorities.

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  • Slusser, George Edgar. The Delany Intersection: Samuel R. Delany Considered as a Writer of Semi-Precious Worlds. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo, 1977.

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    The first scholarly monograph about Delany, this study of myth and psychological fiction in Delany’s early works is organized primarily around Nova (1968) and Triton (1976), the latter of whom is the latest book examined in it. Adopting a rigorous structuralist methodology, Slusser’s theorization of intersecting systems of logics as constitutive of the author’s fiction allows him to localize the poet Delany who sifts out “semi-precious worlds” from prose.

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  • Tucker, Jeffrey Allen. A Sense of Wonder: Samuel R. Delany, Race, Identity, and Difference. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.

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    A groundbreaking study of and an outstanding entry point into Delany’s writing. Giving attention to matters of race, identity, and difference, Tucker positions the author in African-American cultural traditions. Features chapters on Dhalgren (1975), the Return to Nevèrÿon series, The Motion of Light in Water (1988), Atlantis: Model 1924 (1995), and Delany’s AIDS activist (para)literature.

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  • Weedman, Jane Branham. Samuel R. Delany. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1982.

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    In this carefully researched book, Weedman explores some of Delany’s most important critical concepts; examines his major novels and short stories, concentrates on language, poetry, and multiculturalism; and offers bibliographies still helpful today. Weedman was among the first critics to claim that Delany’s writing ought to be considered in black literary contexts.

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African American Review Special Issue: Delany Lately

The 2015 special issue Delany Lately of African American Review, which is edited by Terry Rowden, assesses the author’s work in the context of African American and queer literary and cultural studies and provides researchers with a good sense of what the state of Delany scholarship is today. The ten excellent articles in this section are notable for their interdisciplinary approach that makes categorization difficult. Nevertheless, there are some important repetitions (with differences, of course) that unite individual essays with others. To wit, Burnett 2015, Griffiths 2015, Hirtle 2015, Hubbs 2015, Matsuuchi 2015, McCleese 2015, and Wachter-Grene 2015 bring queer literary and cultural studies and African-American literary and cultural studies to bear on Delany’s fiction, from the Nevèrÿon tetralogy to Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (2012). Foster 2015 examines the relationship between ethnicity and technology that defines Delany’s mid-career science fiction (SF) epic Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984). Stallings 2015 examines Delany’s problematization of epistemology in the earlier SF texts Empire Star (1966) and Babel-17 (1966). Bucher and Dickel 2015 locates the author’s class analysis in the context of his writings about homelessness in the later works Bread & Wine (1999) and The Mad Man (1994). Each of these articles is well-argued, well-defined, and informative.

  • Bucher, Michael, and Simon Dickel. “An Affinity for the Lumpen: Depictions of Homelessness in Delany’s Bread & Wine and The Mad Man.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 289–304.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addresses the later works Bread & Wine (1999) and The Mad Man (1994) while also emphasizing an understudied context within Delany’s corpus: the urban crisis of the Reagan administration. Drawing attention to the author’s extensive consideration of homelessness and his class analyses, Bucher and Dickel effectively tease out the sensitivity and generosity with which Delany treats his calls for social change.

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  • Burnett, Joshua Yu. “The Collar and the Sword: Queer Resistance in Samuel R. Delany’s Tales of Nevèrÿon.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 257–269.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0036Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A neatly-defined article that hones in on depictions of queer resistance in the first part of Delany’s sword-and-sorcery sequence. Burnett fills in some gaps in scholarship: he delineates Delany’s combined celebration and problematization of S/M through the Gornik (the Liberator) character and his disruption of patriarchy through the Raven character to provide the groundwork for defining a queer alliance formed in “The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers.”

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  • Foster, Thomas. “‘Innocent by Contamination’: Ethnicity and Technicity in Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 239–256.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article finds a novel theory of simulacra in the poststructuralist critique of identity in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984). Foster’s theorization of a reproductive (contra representational) “technicity”—the “technologically driven modes of social differentiation and belonging” (p. 243)—allows him to illuminate Delany’s powerful reassessment of ethnicity.

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  • Griffiths, Timothy M. “Queer.Black Politics, Queer.Black Communities: Touching the Utopian Frame in Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 305–317.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0026Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article useful to Delany specialists concentrating on utopia. Griffiths’s coherent close readings navigate the intersection between the antirelational and the intersectional to make sense of the revisionary utopia mapped by sexual action in the novel.

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  • Hirtle, Kala B. “Rhetorically (De)Constructing AIDS.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 319–332.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0029Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reflection on The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals from Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985) and “Street Talk/Straight Talk” from Shorter Views (1999). Gives attention to Delany’s paradoxical figuration of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which Hirtle argues offers us a way of deconstructing the violent and marginalizing rhetoric and discourses surrounding it.

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  • Hubbs, Jolene. “Writing against Normativity: Samuel R. Delany’s Textual Times Square.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 345–358.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0035Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contextualized according to social history and literary formalism, this exceptional interdisciplinary article presents a nuanced reading of the world-building of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999) that gives attention to the novel’s reorganization of queer sociality, gay politics, interclass contact, and gender roles. Has a comparative section that places Delany’s textual Times Square with the “terrestrial” (p. 345) Times Square, focusing on homosexual sailors.

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  • Matsuuchi, Ann. “‘Happily Ever After’: The Tragic Queer and Delany’s Comic Book Fairy Tale.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 271–287.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0039Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers the subtleties of Delany’s Bread & Wine (1999). Matsuuchi draws out its social critique and accentuates its profound affirmation of happiness in everyday gay life. Notably, it features several excellent readings of individual panels from the author’s graphic novel that concentrate on Wolff’s astonishing illustrations.

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  • McCleese, Nicole. “Queer Futures and the Anxiety of Anticipation: Literary Masochism in Delany.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 359–374.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0038Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article about Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) and Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (2012) that finds a link between its representations of BDSM and African-American slavery and that extracts the books’ shared anxieties about homosexual futures. Features concise readings of the temporalities of S/M.

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  • Stallings, L. H. “‘Think Galactic. Or Your World Is Lost’: The Boundaries of Science and Art and Samuel Delany’s New Poetics.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 225–238.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Exploring the relationships between science and art in Empire Star (1966) and Babel-17 (1966), this article defends literature’s power to motivate creativity and artistic expression. Stallings’s deciphering of Delany’s poetics amounts to a rethinking of how one does epistemology.

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  • Wachter-Grene, Kirin. “‘On the Unspeakable’: Delany, Desire, and the Tactic of Transgression.” African American Review 48.3 (2015): 333–343.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2015.0032Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reading the aesthetic transgression of Delany’s Hogg (1995) alongside American countercultural movements of the 1960s, this article suggests that the author’s study of desire challenges the containment of racist and heterosexist power structures.

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Secondary Articles

To provide readers with a good sense of where the state of scholarship is today, this section includes publications from 1977 to 2018 that demonstrate the approaches that have been brought to bear on Delany’s writing. In terms of subject matter, this section is divided into four subsections that represent some important patterns of research: Race, Gender and Sexuality, Utopia, and Aesthetic Form and Language. However, as the entries contained within each subsection make clear, confronting the challenges posed by Delany means undermining totalization without recourse to idealization. Appropriately, then, the articles here are open to the possibilities of the dialectic in their interdisciplinarity. With regard to future scholarship, some areas to investigate are the intersections between race, gender, sexuality, utopia, aesthetic form, language, class, ecology, poetics, audiovisuality, and ethics in Delany’s writing. There are few comparative genealogies that have been elaborated at length; one might, for instance, think about how the author’s writing may be situated in a genealogy tracing back to the German Romantics. Very little has yet been written about Delany’s nontext science fiction (SF), such as Orchid (1971) and Empire (1978). Much more could be written about Nova (1968) and Dhalgren (1975). Finally, studying the dystopian Hegelianism of Dark Reflections (2007) could prove to be generative when thinking about Delany’s oeuvre.

Race

Delany’s commitment to the multiplicity of being qua difference demonstrates the importance of understanding how race violently conditions modernity. The nine strong entries in this subsection, published between 1984 and 2016, predominantly pivot on issues of race. However, they intersect with other issues and cut across numerous texts in his oeuvre, thereby calling on interdisciplinary approaches to supplement their arguments. In chronological order, Govan 1984 emphasizes blackness, biography, and utopia across Delany’s texts. Rutledge 2000 reflects on the relationship between the Black Power and Black Arts movements and the SF novel Babel-17 (1966). Lavender 2007 considers racialization and textual environment by referring to Babel-17, as well but also offers readings of SF novels by Reed and Whitehead. Washington 2008 concentrates on Afro-technology and musicality in The Einstein Intersection (1967) and Dumas. Jerng 2011 emphasizes racialization, perception, and cognition in Dhalgren (1975). Keizer 2012 pinpoints Delany’s critique of the racism and homophobia of psychoanalysis in the Nevèrÿon sequence. Nyong’o 2012, like Lavender, assesses race and the environment, but in the semi-autobiographical Heavenly Breakfast (1979). Snorton 2014 contemplates the link between black studies and Triton (1976). Ravela 2016 studies racialization and homelessness in the porn novel The Mad Man (1994).

  • Govan, Sandra Y. “The Insistent Presence of Black Folk in the Novels of Samuel R. Delany.” Black American Literature Forum 18.2 (1984): 43–48.

    DOI: 10.2307/2904124Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article makes clear the importance of blackness to Delany’s fiction by considering the black and mixed-race characters of his novels and the important role biography plays in them. Govan additionally draws out the simultaneous utopianism and criticism that mark the author’s oeuvre and singularizes him as a SF author committed to the dismantling of whiteness.

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  • Jerng, Mark Chia-Yon. “A World of Difference: Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren and the Protocols of Racial Reading.” American Literature 83.2 (2011): 251–278.

    DOI: 10.1215/00029831-1266054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An indispensable article that first reappraises the conventional protocols of racial reading in SF before reading Delany’s Dhalgren (1975) alongside theories of perception and cognition. Jerng makes the original argument that, by foregrounding racial markers, Delany’s world-building forces readers to reorganize subject/object relationality without recourse to phenomenological projection, thereby sparking a perpetual reevaluation of the world outside the text.

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  • Keizer, Arlene R. “‘Obsidian Mine’: The Psychic Aftermath of Slavery.” American Literary History 24.4 (2012): 686–701.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajs049Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A helpful study of the Nevèrÿon cycle that excavates Delany’s critique of psychoanalysis. Keizer convincingly explains that the author’s critique is to be found in the narrative arc of the black gay character Gorgik, whose recovery from the psychic traumas of slavery reveals the racism and homophobia of psychoanalysis.

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  • Lavender III, Isiah. “Ethnoscapes: Environment and Language in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, and Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17.” Science Fiction Studies 34.2 (2007): 187–200.

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    Informed by Afrofuturism, this pivotal article by Lavender systematically theorizes “ethnoscapes” as racialized environments modeled by SF texts. Sensitively reading works by Reed, Whitehead, and Delany, he provides three types of ethnoscapes—fabulist, counterfactual, and linguistic—that together demonstrate a generative reading strategy that foregrounds racial elements in SF texts (qua fictional environments) and calls for the reorganization of the world outside them.

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  • Nyong’o, Tavia. “Back to the Garden: Queer Ecology in Samuel Delany’s Heavenly Breakfast.” American Literary History 24.4 (2012): 747–767.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajs054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important intervention in Delany scholarship that, together with Ensor’s ecology of cruising, Foltz’s excremental ethics, and Lavender’s ethnoscapes, points at a discipline with which the field might more attentively engage: ecocriticism. Nyong’o’s exceptional article examines race in the overlooked Heavenly Breakfast (1979)—a semi-autobiographical portrait of the author’s time living in a commune in New York—in the context of a “queer ecology,” in turn calling for the problematization and diversification of ecological approaches to literature.

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  • Ravela, Christian. “‘Turning Out’ Possessive Individualism: Freedom and Belonging in Samuel R. Delany’s The Mad Man.” Modern Fiction Studies 62.1 (2016): 92–114.

    DOI: 10.1353/mfs.2016.0017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article problematizes the ideology of possessive individualism that undergirds the classical Bildungsroman by reading Delany’s The Mad Man (1994) as a reverse Bildungsroman through its focus on racialized homeless people. Ravela’s helpful reading paves the way for more research on the understudied resonances shared between Delany and the German Idealists and Romantics.

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  • Rutledge, Gregory E. “Science Fiction and the Black Power/Arts Movements: The Transpositional Cosmology of Samuel R. Delany Jr.” Extrapolation 41.2 (2000): 127–142.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2000.41.2.127Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this article, Rutledge reads SF in the context of the Black Power and Black Arts movements of the 1960s. More specifically, by elaborating on the anti-racism of Delany’s Babel-17 (1966), he derives a heuristic he calls “transpositional cosmology” that addresses (i) the dimensions of futurist fiction resonant with Black experience and (ii) the relationships between the novel, the Black community, and the new Black aesthetic.

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  • Snorton, C. Riley. “An Ambiguous Heterotopia.” Black Scholar 44.2 (2014): 29–36.

    DOI: 10.1080/00064246.2014.11413685Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A short, exploratory article that is at once a thoughtful re-reading of Triton (1976)—with emphasis on (a reconsideration of) Bron, difference, and heterotopia—and a powerful appraisal of the institutionalization of difference and its impact on contemporary black studies. Snorton’s idiosyncratic organization performatively disrupts the university’s violent elisions of minorities.

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  • Washington, Salim. “The Avenging Angel of Creation/Destruction: Black Music and the Afro-Technological in the Science Fiction of Henry Dumas and Samuel R. Delany.” Journal of the Society for American Music 2.2 (2008): 235–253.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1752196308080085Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This inventive study of Dumas and Delany emphasizes music as Afro-technology. With regards to Delany, Washington reads the machete/flute from The Einstein Intersection (1967) as an instrument of redemption (contra the destruction of Dumas’s “afro horn”) for marginalized people. Remarkable for foregrounding musicality.

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Gender and Sexuality

The following ten insightful entries, published between 2004 and 2018, hinge principally on issues of gender and sexuality. Taking seriously Delany’s emancipatory approach to the writing of desire, they consistently reach for generative relations and summon multiple disciplines when navigating their explorations of these issues. They also engage with a variety of the author’s texts. Chronologically, Rogan 2004 provides readings of Triton (1976) and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) in terms of male homosexuality and feminism. Johnston 2007 is a comparative reading of Nevèrÿon and Times Square Red/Times Square Blue (1999) in terms of sexuality and autobiography. Battis 2009 is an analysis of the sword-and-sorcery Nevèrÿon saga from a Marxist and queer studies perspective. Avilez 2011 is an examination of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand and Darieck Scott’s Traitor to the Race (1995) in relation to queer geography and social commentary. Reid-Pharr 2011 reads Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand to link the struggles of gay men and lesbians with enslaved Africans. Harkins 2012 reflects on gender, sexuality, and neoliberalism in “Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967). Long 2013 is a medical humanities take on Delany’s fiction that addresses AIDS discourse and rhetoric. Ellis 2017 is a Kristevian reading of the late work Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (2012). Ensor 2017 reads the memoir-essay Times Square Red/Times Square Blue in the radical context of a queer environmentalism. Bradway 2018 is a rendering of the porn novel The Mad Man (1994) that calls on a combination of queer theory, affect theory, and hermeneutics.

  • Avilez, GerShun. “Cartographies of Desire: Mapping Queer Space in the Fiction of Samuel Delany and Darieck Scott.” Callaloo 31.1 (2011): 126–142.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.2011.0017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this interdisciplinary article, Avilez reads Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) and Darieck Scott’s Traitor to the Race (1995) in relation to Jean-Ulrick Désert’s idea of queer spaces, which “simultaneously engage and transgress the social, architectural, and juridical meanings attributed to the areas that they occupy” (p. 126), to demonstrate that literary texts might be approached vis-à-vis the work of geographers and social commentators.

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  • Battis, Jes. “Delany’s Queer Markets: Nevèrÿon and the Texture of Capital.” Science Fiction Studies 36.3 (2009): 478–489.

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    A Marxist reading of Nevèrÿon that is attentive to Delany’s engagement with racial and sexual oppression. By way of detailed readings, Battis successfully locates the bridge between queerness and capital in Delany’s momentous cycle, paving the way for future considerations of this bridge in other texts by the author.

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  • Bradway, Tyler. “Bad Reading: The Affective Relations of Queer Experimental Literature after AIDS.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 24.2–3 (2018): 189–212.

    DOI: 10.1215/10642684-4324777Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article dwells on Delany’s porn novel The Mad Man (1994) and its commitment to the hermeneutics of the AIDS crisis. In doing so, Bradway theorizes the queer hermeneutics of “bad reading” as the affective destabilization of heteronormative embodied reading practices.

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  • Ellis, Cameron. “Chōra/Chōros: Samuel R. Delany and the Masculine Semiotic in Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (2012).” Journal of Gender Studies 26.4 (2017): 446–461.

    DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2015.1116982Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A theoretically charged article that reads Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (2012) in the context of Julia Kristeva’s semiotic chōra to make intelligible the novel’s evocation of the masculine form chōros, which Ellis loops into discussions of contemporary gender theory, literary theory, and political theory.

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  • Ensor, Sarah. “Queer Fallout: Samuel R. Delany and the Ecology of Cruising.” Environmental Humanities 9.1 (2017): 149–166.

    DOI: 10.1215/22011919-3829172Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This interdisciplinary article contends that the impersonality of cruising and cross-class contact in Samuel R. Delany’s Times Square Red/Times Square Blue (1999), when considered with the work of Leo Bersani, generates a queer environmentalism whose activist impulse renders an ethics of care appropriate to ecological crisis.

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  • Harkins, Gillian. “Aye, and Neoliberalism.” Journal of Homosexuality 59.7 (2012): 1073–1080.

    DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2012.699859Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Derives a queer critique of neoliberalism from a reading of Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967). Harkins first makes the useful argument that neoliberalism has frozen the dialectic in its totalization of sociality. By examining the author’s classic short story, she is able to unpack the ramifications of such a freezing and then suggest that the short story’s reflections on gender and sexuality can be used to critique neoliberalism today.

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  • Johnston, Georgia. “Discourses of Autobiographical Desires: Samuel Delany’s Nevèrÿon Series.” Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 30.1 (2007): 48–60.

    DOI: 10.1353/bio.2007.0022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Holds the genres of SF and autobiography in tension with one another to explore how sexuality is either accepted or rejected in them. Importantly, Johnston reads the alternative sexualities that are brought to the fore in the Nevèrÿon series and Times Square Red/Times Square Blue (1999) to destabilize moralistic epistemology.

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  • Long, Thomas. “Tales of Plagues and Carnivals: Samuel R. Delany, AIDS, and the Grammar of Dissent.” Journal of Medical Humanities 34.2 (2013): 213–226.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10912-013-9209-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An insightful take on Delany’s AIDS fiction from the perspective of the medical humanities. Long demonstrates that Delany’s dissents call for a transformation in AIDS discourse directed at the elimination of clinical reluctance so that more research can be done into how LGBTQ people are discriminated against in medical science and practice.

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  • Reid-Pharr, Robert F. “Clean: Death and Desire in Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.” American Literature 83.2 (2011): 389–411.

    DOI: 10.1215/00029831-1266099Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Links the struggles of gay men and lesbians with enslaved Africans by close reading Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984). Reid-Pharr’s theorization of “deadened subjectivity” within the novel is a helpful vector through which it becomes possible to unpack the author’s catalyzing resistance to the oppression of minorities that demands “cleanliness” in being.

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  • Rogan, Alcena Madeline Davis. “Alien Sex Acts in Feminist Science Fiction: Heuristic Models for Thinking a Feminist Future of Desire.” PMLA 119.3 (2004): 442–456.

    DOI: 10.1632/003081204X20226Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discerning and well-argued article that reads representations of alien sex from Monique Wittig’s Les Guérillères (1969), Samuel Delany’s Triton (1976) and Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand (1984), and Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve (1977) and models a feminist, posthumanist heuristic. Rogan argues that Delany privileges both male homosexuality and feminist consciousness.

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Utopia

The following nine entries published between 1980 and 2017 converge on the concept of utopia, but they traverse other subjects and utilize the resources of other fields to more effectively unpack the corollaries introduced by their lines of demonstration. One of the first essays to encounter the problem of utopia in Delany’s fiction is Moylan 1980, which was published in Extrapolation, an influential SF journal. Moylan’s theorization of the critical utopia via Triton (1976) would go on to impact the field of utopian studies and its search for new maps of and models for utopia. Before that, however, Fekete 1979 ambivalently critiqued Delany’s novel (along with Le Guin’s The Dispossessed [1974]) for presenting a closed, entropic system whose structure reinforces rationalism. More recently, there has been a renewed attention given to matters of utopia in the author’s oeuvre, but more attention has been given both to other texts and to the seriousness with which he treats the violence of colonial modernity. Chan 2001 returns to Triton and the question of heterotopia it raises but emphasizes its semiotic confrontation with social difference. Tabone 2013 returns to Moylan’s notion of critical utopia but considers Delany’s early novella “We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line” (1968) and emphasizes the importance of race and racism to it. Queer theory’s Muñozian utopian strain has been influenced by Delany’s fiction, as evidenced by Colmon 2017 and Haslam 2017, whose excavations of this connection shed new light on the author’s utopianism. Though not explicitly about utopia, Foltz 2008 and Zepke 2017 are among the first to linger on Delany’s (vitalist) ethics, which have become quite pronounced in his post-SF works. Finally, Mitchell 2017 is one of the few articles to draw attention to the negation (and not the negation of negation) driving the author’s fiction.

  • Chan, Edward K. “(Vulgar) Identity Politics in Outer Space: Delany’s Triton and the Heterotopian Narrative.” Journal of Narrative Theory 31.2 (2001): 180–213.

    DOI: 10.1353/jnt.2011.0082Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Revisits Foucault’s concept of heterotopia in relationship to Triton (1976). Chan focuses on typology and surfaces, while emphasizing the fundamental difference between heterotopia and utopia, to subtract from it the singularity that is its play with the signs of social difference. Demonstrates effectively that Triton is both heterotopian and utopian.

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  • Colmon, Clayton D. “Queer Afrofuturism: Utopia, Sexuality, and Desire in Samuel Delany’s ‘Aye, and Gomorrah.’” Utopian Studies 28.2 (2017): 327–346.

    DOI: 10.5325/utopianstudies.28.2.0327Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bringing queer sexuality and desire in dialogue with Afrofuturism, this reading of “Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967) concentrates on the racialization of the Native American narrator and the commodification of posthuman bodies described in it. Colmon suggests that Delany’s short story’s complex relational field maps a queer utopia useful to the disruption of heteronormative spaces.

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  • Fekete, John. “The Dispossessed and Triton: Act and System in Utopian Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 6.2 (1979): 134–135.

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    In this article, Fekete presents a dialectical reading of Delany’s Triton (1976) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974). Critically, his synthesis indicates that both model closed systems and, therefore, reiterate the entropy of rationalist models—a moral rationalism in the case of Le Guin and a structural rationalism in the case of Delany.

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  • Foltz, Mary Catherine. “The Excremental Ethics of Samuel R. Delany.” Substance: A Review of Theory & Literary Criticism 37.2 (2008): 41–55.

    DOI: 10.3368/sub.37.2.41Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A well-argued exploration of an overlooked aspect of Delany’s fiction: scatology. Foltz’s ecocritical reading of The Mad Man (1994) is used to generate an “excremental ethics” helpful when charting out subjectivities that might combat the destruction of waterways that comes with capitalist waste management practices. Concentrates on excess in the novel across a variety of registers: homelessness, disease, dying, death, bodily excrement, and philosophy.

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  • Haslam, Jason. “Samuel R. Delany, Lou Reed, and Utopia’s Queer End.” Utopian Studies 28.2 (2017): 247–267.

    DOI: 10.5325/utopianstudies.28.2.0247Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Locates a point of synthesis between Jose Esteban Muñoz’s queer optimism and Lee Edelman’s queer pessimism in Delany’s queer aesthetic spaces, which are read alongside the music of Lou Reed. Haslam suggests that Delany’s challenging synthesis—at once optimistic and pessimistic—offers a new approach to utopia.

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  • Mitchell, Jonathan. “The Empty Child: Dystopian Innocence and Samuel Delany’s Hogg.” European Journal of American Studies 11.3 (2017): 1–16.

    DOI: 10.4000/ejas.11775Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the dystopianism of Delany’s Hogg (1995). Mitchell argues that the novel’s protracted articulation of sexual abjection, patriarchal abuse and exploitation, and its deracination of the figures of the innocent child and the white heteronormative nuclear family together model a dystopia that serves to critique the devastating ideology of American exceptionalism.

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  • Moylan, Thomas. “Beyond Negation: The Critical Utopias of Ursula K. Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany.” Extrapolation 21.3 (1980): 236–253.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.1980.21.3.236Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A pioneering article helpful to the study of Delany. Following Ernst Bloch, Moylan demonstrates that the “critical utopias” of Delany’s Triton (1976) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974) incarnate a critical practice of negation (Hegel) that destabilizes their own rationalities but that also aims for the pragmatic, material reorganization of society.

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  • Tabone, Mark A. “Beyond Triton: Samuel R. Delany’s Critical Utopianism and the Colliding Worlds in ‘We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line.’” Utopian Studies 24.2 (2013): 184–215.

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    Studies Delany’s early novella “We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line” (1968) in the context of the critical utopia (Moylan), contending that it critiques and sets its gaze on a horizon outside of the culture/counterculture binary of the 1960s. Throughout, Tabone underscores the importance of race and racism in the novella.

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  • Zepke, Stephen. “Peace and Love (and Fuck) as the Foundation of the World; Spinoza’s Ethics in Samuel Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders.” Value Inquiry Book Series 298 (2017): 106–129.

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    Demystifies Delany’s use of Spinoza Ethics (1677) in Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (2012), which Zepke demonstrates affirms affect (Natura naturata). By revolving around this Spinozist dimension of the novel, he is able to move across the multiplicity of ideas presented in it while nonetheless emphasizing desire as a modal expression of an imminent ontology (Natura naturans).

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Aesthetic Form and Language

The following eight entries published between 1977 and 2012 are united by the emphasis they place on the functions of aesthetic form and language in Delany’s fiction. Indeed, the author’s architectonic experimentation with aesthetic form and language has resulted in works that systematically document their own constitution. Their gnomic impersonality may be apprehended as a radical self-referentiality that refuses humanism and seeks an alternative in itself. Delany and the authors of these entries, however, recognize the violence of erasing the political context at the expense of the aesthetic object, and vice versa. Consequently, they allow their objects of study to be conditioned from the outside while sustaining focus on aesthetic form and language. In chronological fashion, Alterman 1977 relates Delany’s prose style to surrealism, shedding light on an as-yet-underexplored genealogical line. Ebert 1980 studies the ways that technology inheres in Delany’s language and what this means for postmodern thought. Renault 1983 is a structuralist inspection of the porn novel The Tides of Lust (1973) that is oriented toward a synthesis between form and politics. Bray 1996 sorts out a social project from the narrative organization and language of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984). Kelso 1997 formalizes myth by analyzing the narrative praxis of the Nevèrÿon series alongside postmodern theory. Comer 2005 reads Dhalgren (1975), describing how it may inform subjectivity formation. Freedman 2006 examines the collection of essays About Writing (2005) in the context of anatomy. Scott 2012 defers Phallos (2004) and Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985) to contemplate namelessness “itself.”

  • Alterman, Peter S. “The Surreal Translations of Samuel R. Delany.” Science Fiction Studies 4.1 (1977): 25–34.

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    This early article links experience and art by offering a sophisticated analysis of the prose stylistics of Dhalgren (1975), Empire Star (1966), The Einstein Intersection (1967), Nova (1968), and Babel-17 (1966). By successfully, if implicitly, describing the connective tissue between Delany’s unique take on SF and surrealism, Alterman opens up an underexplored genealogy that should be of interest to scholars of both literary modes.

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  • Bray, Mary Kay. “To See What Condition Our Condition Is in: Trial by Language in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains. . .” Review of Contemporary Fiction 16.3 (1996): 153–160.

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    Clearly stresses the relationship between reader and text in Delany’s fiction, which aims for a “consciousness-raising” guided toward the release of desire and the embrace of difference. Namely, Bray intriguing demonstration is organized around a close reading of the narrative organization and language of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984).

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  • Comer, Todd A. “Playing at Birth: Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren.” Journal of Narrative Theory 35.2 (2005): 172–195.

    DOI: 10.1353/jnt.2006.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A detailed analysis of Dhalgren that links the aesthetic forms and language of the novel to an ethical critique of power structures that serve to obliterate ontological difference. By emphasizing the metaphor of wounding, Comer uncovers the novel’s mournful and mythologizing approach to subjectivity formation, which results in a vulnerability to relationality located in the margins (Jacques Derrida).

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  • Ebert, Teresa L. “The Convergence of Postmodern Innovative Fiction and Science Fiction: An Encounter with Samuel R. Delany’s Technotopia.” Poetics Today 1.4 (1980): 91–104.

    DOI: 10.2307/1771888Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A call for the pluralization of methodologies used when reading SF. Ebert contends that “metascience fiction” (p. 92) like Delany’s Dhalgren (1975) and Triton (1976) ought to be differentiated from SF and taken seriously on its own terms for its reflexive championing of the imaginative faculties of postmodern thought. She draws attention to the author’s aesthetic formalization of such reflexivity by examining the role that technology plays in Delany’s fiction.

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  • Freedman, Carl. “About Delany Writing: An Anatomical Meditation.” Extrapolation 47.1 (2006): 16–29.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2006.47.1.4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines About Writing (2005) in the context of the literary genre of anatomy (Northrop Frye). Freedman allows his reading to at once intersect with numerous other texts by Delany and exhume the author’s engagement with Lacanian structuralism and Derridean deconstruction. Highlights the formalism that marks Delany’s work, which emphasizes the impersonality of writing.

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  • Kelso, Sylvia. “‘Across Never’: Postmodern Theory and Narrative Praxis in Samuel R. Delany’s Nevèrÿon Cycle.” Science Fiction Studies 24.2 (1997): 289–301.

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    In this well-defined and well-argued article, Kelso contends that Delany’s Nevèrÿon series, rather than merely critiquing and deconstructing myth, engineers a new form of myth. She convincingly shows how the Foucauldian “limit-experiences” traced by the series’ focus on S/M, when approached with the tools of deferral provided by Jacques Derrida, can be recast as the formalization of an impersonal limit-experience outside the bounds of humanist thought.

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  • Renault, Gregory. “Speculative Porn: Aesthetic Form in Samuel R. Delany’s The Tides of Lust.” Extrapolation 24.2 (1983): 116–129.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.1983.24.2.116Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Establishes a link between aesthetic form and politics in Delany’s fiction. Renault examines the erotic satire The Tides of Lust (1973) alongside the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, chaos, and the Faust theme and argues that the author renders a “speculative porn” whose aesthetic form can “provide a road to sanity via the self-conscious fashioning of meaningful illusion” (p. 125). Gestures at the Hegelianism of the author’s project.

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  • Scott, Darieck. “Delany’s Divinities.” American Literary History 24.4 (2012): 702–722.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajs045Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Scott’s reflection on the nameless gods in Phallos (2004) and The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals from Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985) focalizes around a study of namelessness “itself.” In dialogue with Lacan and Heraclitus, Scott successfully locates the antimystical mysticism of Delany’s texts by highlighting his formalization of Hölderin’s dialectical poem Patmos and upholding his insistence on Derridean différance.

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Secondary Book Chapters

The ten book chapters included in this section contextualize Delany in broader fields of inquiry. So, although all of these entries might not contain close readings of his fiction, they all do offer researchers generative starting points for thinking about his fiction in relation to their work. Chronologically, Fox 1987 demonstrates Delany’s significance to black postmodernist fiction. Tate 1992 is a polemic that questions the author’s writing of black culture and sociality. Jackson 1995 establishes the author’s importance to studies of gay male sexuality in narrative art. Posnock 1998 finds the significance of Delany to studies of the black intellectual. Dubey 2003 illustrates the author’s importance to research on the relationship between literature and urban modernity. Moten 2003 draws out the poetics of improvisation with which Delany considers totality. Shaviro 2003 brings the author’s approach to universality to bear on network society. Davidson 2008 delineates the value of thinking through Delany’s combined engagement with capitalism and sexual desire, utopia and postmodernity. Muñoz 2009 locates the queer futurity of his thinking. Scott 2010 denotes Delany’s relevance to research on masochism.

  • Davidson, Guy. “Sexuality and the Statistical Imagery in Samuel R. Delany’s Trouble on Triton.” In Queer Universes: Sexualities in Science Fiction. Edited by Wendy Gay Pearson, Veronica Hollinger, and Joan Gordon, 101–120. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2008.

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    Davidson’s chapter in this collection on representations of sexualities and genders in science fiction (SF) is constituted in a close reading of Triton (1976) that effectively links capitalism and sexual desire while highlighting Delany’s problematization of utopia and postmodernity.

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  • Dubey, Madhu. “Reading as Mediation: Urbanity in the Age of Information.” In Signs and Cities: Black Literary Postmodernism. By Madhu Dubey, 186–233. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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    This book about the ambivalence with which African-American postmodern novelists treat urban modernity and print culture contains a chapter on Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984). Dubey argues that the novel not only illustrates how new information technologies reshape urban form and, ultimately, reshape epistemology, but also how Delany gives us new forms of sociality to meet urban modernity.

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  • Fox, Robert Elliot. “Samuel R. Delany: Astro Black.” In Conscientious Sorcerers: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany. By Robert Elliot Fox, 93–125. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1987.

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    Fox presents a critique of the cosmopolitan humanism of postmodernity and has a trailblazing essay on Delany’s fiction that situates it in a broader examination of black aesthetics. Has readings of The Tides of Lust (1973), the author’s ideas about “modular calculus,” and Stars in My Pocket Like Grands of Sand (1984).

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  • Jackson, Earl, Jr. “Imagining It Otherwise: Alternative Sexualities in the Fictions of Samuel R. Delany.” In Strategies of Deviance: Studies in Gay Male Representation. By Earl Jackson Jr., 93–125. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

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    Jackson’s book about gay male representation in a variety of narrative texts contains a chapter arguing that Delany’s SF writing of alternative sexualities formalizes subjectivity from the hegemony of heteronormativity. Jackson argues that this alternative subjectivity, because of its constitution, can subvert heteronormativity.

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  • Moten, Fred. “Round the Five Spot.” In In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. By Fred Moten, 149–169. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

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    Moten links the improvisational rendition of male homoeroticism and the homoerotic body in Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water (1988) to the function of speculative fiction as a “mark of the totality of the discursive, the total range of the possible, the implicit deconstruction of any singularist and set-theoretic conceptions of the total” (p. 157).

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  • Muñoz, Jose Esteban. “The Future Is in the Present: Sexual Avant-Gardes and the Performance of Utopia.” In Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. By Jose Esteban Muñoz, 49–64. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

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    Muñoz’s utopian call for an aesthetically indexed and relational queer futurity has a reading of public sex from Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water (1988). Muñoz describes it as a “utopian break . . . a deviation from the text’s dominant mode of narration . . . [that reveals] the existence of a queerer world” (p. 52).

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  • Posnock, Ross. “Cosmopolitan Collage: Samuel Delany and Adrienne Kennedy.” In Color and Culture: Black Writers and the Making of the Modern Intellectual. By Ross Posnock, 260–294. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

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    Posnock’s literary-historical study of the black intellectual has a comparative chapter in which he argues that Delany’s autobiographical works, when considered alongside the work of playwright Adrienne Kennedy, grapple with color, culture, and class in a cosmopolitan, collagist mode that articulates a perpetually revisable model of subjectivity.

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  • Scott, Darieck. “Porn and the N-Word: Lust, Samuel Delany’s The Mad Man, and a Derangement of Body and Sense(s).” In Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination. In Darieck Scott, 204–255. New York: New York University Press, 2010.

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    This study of black male identity that disinters power at the intersections between blackness and abjection features a chapter that closely examines The Mad Man (1994). Scott mobilizes Delany’s porn book to provocatively theorize a masochistic, relational form of desire as a transcendental condition of possibility for subjectivization.

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  • Shaviro, Steven. “All Politics Is Local.” In Connected, or What It Means to Live in the Network Society. By Steven Shaviro, 236–238. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

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    This media studies book about network society contains a reading of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984), which Shaviro suggests tackles the problem of global concepts vis-à-vis its engagement with particulars. Subsequent lexias unpack the ramifications.

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  • Tate, Greg. “Ghetto in the Sky: Samuel Delany’s Black Whole.” In Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America. 159–167. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

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    Provocative essay in which Afrofuturist theorist Tate suggests that, in Delany’s fiction, people are black, but not culturally and socially black. Calls for a response from Delany researchers working on how his fiction navigates the problems of universalization.

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