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Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics--A Collection of Written Interviews

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Samuel R. Delany, whose theoretically sophisticated science fiction and fantasy has won him a broad audience among academics and fans of postmodernist fiction, offers insights into and explorations of his own experience as writer, critic, theorist, and gay black man in his new collection of written interviews, a form he describes as a type of "guided essay." Gathered from Samuel R. Delany, whose theoretically sophisticated science fiction and fantasy has won him a broad audience among academics and fans of postmodernist fiction, offers insights into and explorations of his own experience as writer, critic, theorist, and gay black man in his new collection of written interviews, a form he describes as a type of "guided essay." Gathered from sources as diverse as Diacritics and Comics Journal, these interviews reveal the broad range of his thought and interests.


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Samuel R. Delany, whose theoretically sophisticated science fiction and fantasy has won him a broad audience among academics and fans of postmodernist fiction, offers insights into and explorations of his own experience as writer, critic, theorist, and gay black man in his new collection of written interviews, a form he describes as a type of "guided essay." Gathered from Samuel R. Delany, whose theoretically sophisticated science fiction and fantasy has won him a broad audience among academics and fans of postmodernist fiction, offers insights into and explorations of his own experience as writer, critic, theorist, and gay black man in his new collection of written interviews, a form he describes as a type of "guided essay." Gathered from sources as diverse as Diacritics and Comics Journal, these interviews reveal the broad range of his thought and interests.

30 review for Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics--A Collection of Written Interviews

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Writing is how I do my thinking. Thus, if you want to understand what I think, ask me to write—not to speak. Interesting ruminations on largely the possibility of interviews (philosophically speaking) and the porous definitions which ascribe genre distinctions to SF. Tedious at times, largely because of the overlap, partially because Delany doesn't suffer the hasty assessment. Delany on Derrida is never annoying but it does beg the question, why.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David M

    I'm of the opinion the poststructuralists didn't actually do a very convincing job killing off the subject. In polemics with his contemporaries, circa the late sixties, Paul Ricoeur can be found saying, C'mon, guys, don't you know Chomsky has superseded Saussure? Delany seems to hold a different view. He often speaks of 'French Theory' (as it's called) with the zeal of a convert. He seems to find in it a theory to legitimize his artistic practices as a science fiction writer. I'm a bit wary. Howe I'm of the opinion the poststructuralists didn't actually do a very convincing job killing off the subject. In polemics with his contemporaries, circa the late sixties, Paul Ricoeur can be found saying, C'mon, guys, don't you know Chomsky has superseded Saussure? Delany seems to hold a different view. He often speaks of 'French Theory' (as it's called) with the zeal of a convert. He seems to find in it a theory to legitimize his artistic practices as a science fiction writer. I'm a bit wary. However, I will say that the one of these interviews does make me want to read Levi-Strauss. Delany comes off as unfailingly articulate, interesting, and erudite throughout. Despite my philosophical quibbles, I plan to keep reading him.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Griffin Alexander

    (Axioms are not objects. They are sentences.) (pp. 32) ...and from here we are already within the web of Delany responding to written interview questions in writing, allowing for responses that simply would never happen within the happenstance of the spoken exchange. There are quotations, a long introduction on the written interview as practice, a great deal on how reading/genre/writing work, textual examinations, manipulations of the text itself, alternations of style to affect content, and (thi (Axioms are not objects. They are sentences.) (pp. 32) ...and from here we are already within the web of Delany responding to written interview questions in writing, allowing for responses that simply would never happen within the happenstance of the spoken exchange. There are quotations, a long introduction on the written interview as practice, a great deal on how reading/genre/writing work, textual examinations, manipulations of the text itself, alternations of style to affect content, and (this perhaps to be expected) great anecdotes. Delany's erudition is put on full display ranging in topics from Wagner/Baudelaire as the progenitors of what we know as modernism, to the true story of SF's publishing history and significant movements, to the debates of representation-in-fiction as it relates to the AIDS crisis and the BDSM scene. What seems to be crucial to all of his arguments is the idea of the marginal, and marginal space as the place where things really do happen. In his interview chiefly concerning Feminist SF's influence on the Cyberpunk movement (Some Real Mothers... :The SF Eye Interview), Delany writes of the conception of cyberspace as a "paraspace": We have to note that our paraspaces are not in a hierarchical relation—at least not in a simple and easy hierarchical relation—to the narrative's "real," or ordinary, space. What goes on in one subverts the other; what goes on in the other subverts the one. They change their weights all the time, throughout their stories. So calling it a subspace—with the prefix's strong suggestion of subordination—is wrong. A paraspace, or even an alternative space, with its much weaker—and more problematic—question of position and troubling supplementarity, is more to the point. [...] This alternative space is a place where we actually endure, observe, learn, and change—and sometimes die. With these paraspaces the plot is shaped, as it were, to them. And inside them, the language itself undergoes changes—the language the writer uses to describe what happens in it is always shifted, is always rotated, is always aspiring toward the lyric (pp. 168). I don't think it is taking too much liberty (indeed, Delany has an entire interview in Part II with his own fictional self [if you will remember from the 'introduction' to the Return to Nevèrÿon series that supposedly grounds it within the real of the archaeological Culhar' fragment], K. Leslie Steiner) to read this idea of the paraspace and what Delany in other places describes SF as the "paraliterary" as a tool toward understanding the textual function of genre within/between the bounds of SF and the literary (or mainstream culture and the marginal culture) as differentiated and atomically bound ideas—Delany notes that "'the mainstream'[...] is fine as long as you realize the paraliterary texts make an ocean" (pp. 32). It is this which is the most deeply affecting, sometimes unifying and sometimes troubling, thematic aspect of this arrangement of written interviews which seems to shout: READ ME AS A TEXT NOT SIMPLY AS A REALITY. In passing, Delany references William Gibson's slick shifting of literary affect as being bricolage (pp. 174). Though it could be construed as incidental to the casual reader, it seems beyond a doubt a point reference to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's introduction to her translation of Derrida's Of Grammatology, where she writes: "The reasons for bricolage is that there can be nothing else" (xix, TI, OG). I only write "beyond a doubt" because that very introduction of Spivak's is the epigraph for Delany's first book in the Nevèrÿon series, Tales of Nevèrÿon, and his chief commentary on close-reading, lit-crit, and deconstruction all use Nevèrÿon, if not as starting point, as a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else. It is here then that the text begins to creak and strain, and recombine brilliantly: Delany is using the narrative of the interview, "two fictive characters both of which are creations of hand and neither of which has necessarily ever sounded on the air" (pp. 286) to problematize collected interviews as a genre of text—to be the bricoleur utilizing all things as criticism (and criticism as all things) in the same manner he gives Gibson the credit of doing in SF. But ultimately, as Spivak reminds us, there can be no other way to face the problem of mystifying power in the texts of government, colonialism, and history: we must use everything—save that, we must use all that we are able. Now, it isn't all lit-crit deconstruction here. There are great anecdotes for those interested in Delany and his life, there is great historical information on SF and its historical changes, there is a great deal of humor and empathy and joy. This book is impressive in all aspects, not least for me in its approach to deconstruction as a central troubling of all texts however seemingly stable. If you like Delany in his later work (Nevèrÿon and on) you will love this, and you will find Delany as smart and insightful as he ever has been.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shane Eide

    www.emergenthermit.com Many writers have preferred the written interview to the face-to-face interview. If we’re to take Nabokov at his word when he says, ‘I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child,’ then one couldn’t blame him too much for preferring the former. William Gaddis seldom gave interviews and requested that they be written, and often, no longer than ten questions, which would eliminate such winning nuggets of curiosity as, ‘on which side of t www.emergenthermit.com Many writers have preferred the written interview to the face-to-face interview. If we’re to take Nabokov at his word when he says, ‘I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child,’ then one couldn’t blame him too much for preferring the former. William Gaddis seldom gave interviews and requested that they be written, and often, no longer than ten questions, which would eliminate such winning nuggets of curiosity as, ‘on which side of the paper do you write?’ or ‘how hard to you press your pen on the paper?’ Samuel R. Delany, the interviewee of this collection (save one where he does the interviewing), when asked why he prefers the written interview, concludes a lengthy response with the following: ‘I’m a writer. When I want to think with any seriousness about a topic, I write about it. Writing slows the thought process down to where one can follow them—and elaborate on them more efficiently. Writing is how I do my thinking. Thus, if you want to understand what I think, ask me to write—not to speak.’ Almost all of his responses are lengthy. He answers each question with great care and consideration. Given the nature of his answers, one can’t help but feel that this is an author who is far too interested in the questions he is being asked to give room to the kind of hemming and hawing one does in a live interview—which causes us to stop well before the suspicion that he’s just some recluse that doesn’t like to talk to people. Delany is best known as a Science Fiction writer—which he is very careful to identify with, as opposed to a writer of ‘speculative fiction.’ He goes great lengths in these interviews to articulate why he thinks that different genre distinctions more represent a way of reading rather than a way of writing. Very hermeneutic in nature, the collection takes interesting turns as simple questions turn into deep studies of such all-encompassing subjects as ‘the city,’ which is only explored in such depth in order to determine the origins of the Sword and Sorcery genre (of which much is discussed in relation to Delany’s Neveryon series). In a game of textual interplay and rigorous historical mapping, Delany concludes that the Sword and Sorcery genre is, ultimately, about the transition from a barter economy to a currency economy. Undermining academic definitions of Science Fiction, Delany likewise concludes that the whole genre of Science Fiction is ultimately founded on the transition from a currency economy to a credit-based economy. His answers are so careful and all encompassing that we start to believe all the lucid connections he has put much thought into, even if they only represent his interpretation at the end of the day—as is the case with his theory that most of the imagery in Sword and Sorcery and epic fantasy stems more from Richard Wagner’s opera than it does from anything else. Calling Delany ‘well read’ would be a bit of an understatement. As he talks about Science Fiction and its place in history, it’s then necessary for him to get onto the subject of literature as a whole. He remains adamant about the fact that Science Fiction is a form of ‘paraliterature’ that has operated outside of ‘literature,’ both commenting on it—often completely unaware—and overlapping with it. While many of Delany’s contemporaries—like Michael Moorcock and Thomas M. Disch among others—were very much concerned with that very overlap between ‘literature’ and Science Fiction, Delany remains interested more in teasing the different genres apart in order to trace them to their roots. He is a thinker who is interested precisely in difference and how objects relate to one another and at roughly what points they integrate and separate. According to Delany, all hard definitions concerning genre come about through ‘over-determination.’ This is the same when one tries to define ‘literature’ just as it is with Science Fiction and all ‘paraliterature.’ When curiosity is raised as to why he is so adamant about calling what he writes Science Fiction, he responds: ‘I’ve never proclaimed my work SF, proudly or humbly. I assume most of my published fiction is SF—and I assume most of my readers feel it is too. But that’s like a poet assuming she writes poems, or a playwright assuming he writes plays.’ He gives very interesting reasons why fantasy that occurs within ‘literature’ isn’t enough to put it on the Fantasy shelf—Kafka being one example. When we read The Metamorphosis, something extraordinary happens. Gregory Somsa wakes up and has turned into a giant insect. Delany takes into account that one can determine what kind of writing this is by other writings—whether they are that of people who have studied Kafka or whether they are the other writings of Kafka himself—just as one can determine what kind of writing it is by the work it sits next to on the shelf, the kind of publishing house it comes from and the kinds of printing it has gone through. One comes away from this discourse thinking that ‘genre’ as a subject is a lot woollier than the academic world gives it credit for, and if one wants to say anything about it, one must look at it in many different contexts. The voracious reader’s mouth will surely water as Delany gives the interviewer reading tips on where to start reading Derrida if one’s not sure, along with many other texts and how they both relate to and inform the reading experience of one another. The ambitious reader will perhaps feel a hint of recognition as Delany describes how reading Levi-Strauss’s ‘Sunset’ at a slowed-down pace helped stretch his brain into a place where it would then be prepared for a second reading of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization. Some interesting thoughts occur around the AIDS epidemic as Delany talks about incomplete (even backward) studies and statistics on the subject. Discussions of race, class, and sexuality abound as well, and this inevitably all ties back to all things literary. He even delves into why ‘difficult discourse’ is more useful when approaching certain subjects. This is highly recommended not only for Delany’s fans, or people curious about the subject of genre, but for anyone who cares very much about language, literature and history. It’s also a good example of how to articulate and place very difficult thoughts one might have into cogent interpretations. www.emergenthermit.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brett

    Sometimes brilliant and thought-provoking, often feels masturbatory. The essay on comics is complete and utter trash.

  6. 5 out of 5

    James

    Re-read. Going to plow through all Delany's nonfiction again (slowly). The ways he thinks about criticism, and genre, and language, and culture, and sexuality are all very important to me and sometimes it's good to go back to the source. (He's more-or-less impossible to summarize, though. Go read some for yourself.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anya

    This is an amazing collection of interviews that unfortunately got rather too far into writing, being a writer, and all that is connected. I was interested to read about Chip Delany, but mostly found myself skimming through the interviews on topics I wasn't personally interested in. I'd recommend it to a lot of people, although it is far removed from his sci-fi writing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paolo

    Fantastic compendium of interviews by the great Samuel R. Delany. His mindblowing, sadly out-of-print collabo with Howard Chaykin is chronicled in great detail here, with a few pics of the panel art, itself alone worth the price of admission.

  9. 4 out of 5

    elissa

    back on the shelf. for now.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emanuil

    За многократно препрочитане.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ken White

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chris Beckett

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ronald Clarke

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alana

  19. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  20. 4 out of 5

    John Walsh

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  22. 4 out of 5

    Charleshall

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kit

  24. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  25. 5 out of 5

    Camille

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  27. 4 out of 5

    The Real Fred Bloggs

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Grout

  30. 5 out of 5

    John Madera

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