sturgeonslawyer (sturgeonslawyer) wrote,

Read: In Search of Silence, by Samuel R. Delany (2017-5)

A new book by Delany is always cause for celebration chez moi, and this is no exception. For the past week and a half it has been my only leisure reading; that it has taken me that long to read a six hundred page book is a measure both of its density/richness and of how little leisure reading time I have lately.

What this book is:

Beginning near the end of December 1957 - dating is a little complex -, the young Samuel Ray "Chip" Delany, Jr. began carrying around a spiral notebook and jotting in it his thoughts, observations, poetry, sexual fantasies, notes for stories, and many other things. He continued this practice for many years; for all I know, he still does it today.

_In Search of Silence_, then, is a selection of material from the first dozen years (roughly) of these notebooks.

What this book is not:

Cohesive and proairetic. Entries start and stop abruptly, sometimes to be continued later in the same notebook (or another), and, other than the general sense of watching a young mind develop, there is no sense of narrativity running through them. Some entries are simply opaque or mysterious, quite likely even to Delany at this distance of time. Others are, well, almost banal, as perhaps one might expect from a teenaged genius.

It is also not an introduction either to Delany's work, or to Delany the human being. I do not claim to "know" Samuel R. Delany, except in the most casual possible sense*, and _Silence_ has not changed that. I have, now, some insights into who he _was_, fifty years ago, but even if I were to take a timetrip to New York in (say) 1968 and arrange to meet that young man, he would be a stranger to me - quite properly.

That said, reading it offers a great deal of insight into the _processes_ of the young Delany (and processes are key to personhood, or anything else, but that's another matter entirely). It also offers a selection of the quotidianness of life in that long-gone time, as it was lived and experienced by a very specific human being.

The editor, Kenneth R. James (more on this in a bit), suggests that this volume might be profitably read with/against Delany's _The Motion of Light in Water_, an autobiographical sketch covering much of the same period (though _Motion_ both begins and ends a bit earlier than _Silence_). This is a pungent suggestion. In particular _Silence_ appends a great deal to the sense _Motion_ gives of Delany's relationship with his co-student and, after a while, wife, the poet Marilyn Hacker.

The insights to Delany's writerly process are both surface and profound. On the surface level, it is fascinating to know that his first published novel, _The Jewels of Aptor_, was intended to be a lengthy dream-sequence in his massive non-genre novel _Voyage, Orestes_. Another massive project, _Prism, Mirror, Lens_ came at one level to nothing; at another, it provided seed material to _Dhalgren_ (including its [in]famous first line) and _Trouble on Triton_, though _this_ volume ends before either of those novels is properly conceived.

Kenneth R. James makes it clear that this is by no means all the material contained in these particular spiral notebooks. Rather, he has made a selection, among other things mostly excluding drafts of published, and even to a large extent unpublished, stories and novels. I respect this choice: while it would be fascinating to see how (say) _Babel-17_ developed in drafts, such material would be better saved for individual studies of the development of the individual novels. (Though not, one hopes, to the extent that Christopher Tolkien has made a cottage industry of his father's minutiae. While those books are fascinating glimpses into JRRT's creative processes, there are times when I think he, a very private man, would feel violated by the publication of some of them.) Certainly Delany's major works are deserving of such treatment, though perhaps, if only out of mercy, not while he is still alive and creating new texts.

What James does include is generous, even lavish.

There will, assuming the funding occurs**, be a second volume, _Autumnal City_, and it will (I do hope) continue from there.

* I met Delany once, in 1978, and made a damnfool of myself; in recent years I have been connected to him on Facebook. That, coupled with careful reading of his fiction and non-fiction, is the extent of my "knowing" Delany.

** James has an Indiegogo to procure said funding, with some interesting rewards...H'mmm....
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