Science Fiction Studies

# 11 = Volume 4, Part 1 = March 1977

Peter S. Alterman

The Surreal Translations of Samuel R. Delany

One of the longest critical struggles in science fiction has been the attempt to define and identify just what it is. Almost every writer has, at one time or another, tried to define science fiction. Most of these definitions rely upon science fiction's unique concern with the future, as predictive or utopian/dystopian. Some definitions rely upon the unique themes and motifs of science fiction, such as rockets, alien creatures, and wars between the galaxies. Others stress the "sense of wonder" generated by science fiction. Yet all these definitions are acknowledged as either too vague or too restrictive. Roger Zelazny has said that whenever he hears a reasonable definition for science fiction, he writes a science fiction story violating that definition.1               

Within the last few years, there have been additions to the anthology of science-fiction definitions which are not rooted in archetypes, themes, or emotional responses, but in the way language is used in science fiction. Whether or not they are universally applicable, these recent linguistic definitions do help shed light on one of the field's most enigmatic and controversial writers, Samuel R. Delany. A stylistic analysis of Delany's fiction does assist the reader in understanding the larger fictive concerns at work in his novels.                

An early argument for the significance of style as a determinant of genre was offered by Ursula K. Le Guin in her speech to the 1972 Science Fiction Writers' Workshop, published as From Elfland to Poughkeepsie.2 She argues that fantasy fiction is successful or unsuccessful directly as a result of the effectiveness of the writer's use of a particular style of prose, and that it is this use of style which identifies fantasy fiction and differentiates it from other forms of imaginative writing.               

Joanna Russ applies this attitude implicitly in "Toward an Aesthetic of Science Fiction," insofar as she recognizes that much of what science fiction deals with as didactic realism is treated as metaphor by the large traditional body of modern literature. In other words, science fiction, as Lem implies, actualizes literary metaphors.3               

Delany's latest published novel, Triton (1976), contains two appendices dealing with theoretical issues raised in passing within the fictional narrative of the novel. One of these contains a discussion of the linguistics of science fiction, in which Delany adds the weight of his voice to the argument:

Such sentences as "His world exploded," or "She turned on her left side," as they subsume the proper technological discourse (of economics and cosmology in one; of switching circuitry and prosthetic surgery in the other), leave the banality of the emotionally muzzy metaphor, abandon the triviality of insomniac tossings, and, through the labyrinth of technical possibility, become possible images of the impossible. They join the repertoire of sentences which may propel textus into text. [Appendix A:3]

The broader concern with the style of science fiction as a key element of the genre is implicit in others of Delany's published essays, notably "About Five Thousand One Hundred and Seventy-Five Words,"4 and in his recent interview in Algol.5 

Many of the elements of Delany's fiction are more clearly focused when seen in light of the peculiarities of his prose style, a style dramatically at variance with the popular prose of much science fiction, which Alexei Panshin has traced to the early writings of Robert Heinlein.6               

Delany's literary style is a combination of subtly derived linguistic techniques coupled with a disturbing liberation of certain structural elements. Within Delany's novels, time, logic, and point of view are cut loose from traditional literary positions, and function relativistically. Yet these free elements are rigidly controlled by the rules of a relativistic universe, thereby fulfilling Delany's comment above that technical possibility actualizes metaphor in science fiction.                

In Dhalgren (1975), after Kid has made his first run with the Scorpions against Emboriky's, he retreats to the Reverend Tayler's for a meal and meets Ernest Newboy. There he corrects the galleys for his collection of poems, Brass Orchids. Lanya meets him and they realize that for him one day has passed, but for the rest of Bellona, five days have passed (§4:4). The issue of the linearity of time in Delany's novels is clearly shown here. In Bellona, time is not a constant.                

In the relativistic universe, time is indeed not a constant, but is related to the velocity and frame of reference of the observer. This is dramatized in Dhalgren, and although it is a physical reality of the universe we all inhabit, we persist in viewing time as a universal and linear norm.                

The uses of time in Delany's novels, here and more notably in Empire Star (1966), violate certain conventions of prose fiction. What seems to be a fantastic use of time is in fact a realistic use of time, because time is psychologically a function of the state of the observer and physically a function of the velocity of the observer. In more traditional fiction, the use of psychological time is well understood. But when Delany applies relativistic physical laws to time, the psychological metaphor of variable time becomes confusing, because the metaphor has been transformed into fact.                

Empire Star presents much the same kind of tortured time. Comet Jo, the first "hero" of the novel, travels through a universe which is bent back on itself in a cycloid motion. Everything has already happened. He meets the same people, including himself, at various times of their lives. On one level, this is a nice manipulation of technique, showing the development of the hero's awareness of historicity and his part in it. But then Delany turns the technique on its head by showing the reader that time is, indeed, twisted in the universe. The center of the galaxy, Empire Star, gathers in time and space through a warp, bends it, and returns it in different sequence. This further confuses the reader, who has been expecting a proper, linear end to the story. In fact, time and space are warped around gravity wells. And Empire Star is designed to be read as a sequence of perceptions of the same story, much in the manner of Browning's The Ring and the Book. The properties of physical space are here used to serve the aesthetic and formal needs of the novel.                

Time, then, in Delany's novels, is not simply linear. We cannot rely upon the linearity of experience as a baseline when approaching his novels. As Robert Scholes notes, fiction offers us not transcriptions of actuality but systematic models which are distinct from reality, though they may be related to it in various ways. Traditionally, realists have claimed a close and direct correspondence between their models and the world around them.7

He points out that the modern novelist's response is to accept the impossibility of recording the real, and to create a system based upon subjectivity. This position is interestingly much like Delany's position, for he not only accepts narrative subjectivity, but he applies to the subjective presence of, say, time, a physical concept which supports his unique use of time. In this manner, what Delany is doing by insisting upon a subjective or eccentric temporal mode is both satisfying the need of the modern novel to emphasize the impossibility of rendering the world outside, and at the same time presenting a close and scientifically acceptable vision of the world.                

In a like manner, Delany deals creatively with the question of point of view, which is another shifting element. In Empire Star, the narrator is ostensibly a crystallized and objective point. Yet throughout the novel, we learn more and more about the point of view (not as a character, but as a force in the novel). Jewel, the narrative device, eventually unfolds enough of the plot for us to understand that the ordering of the elements is left to us. There is no attempt made to explicate or order the sequence of actions for the reader. The first reading is from the point of view of Comet Jo, learning his way from youth to maturity to an understanding of the nature of his task in life. This position leads to a second reading, of the nature of the society of the Lll, and the story of their freedom and bondage, with Jo playing a minor role. Then a third sequential reading, from the point of view of the Jewel itself, is suggested.                

In each of these readings, more of the substance of the novel is revealed, and each uses a different point of view. Yet there is only one novel. The answer to this paradox is that at the end of the novel, the reader is challenged to read multi-levelly (multiplexially), with an eye on the growth of narrator, protagonist, and universe:

In this vast multiplex universe there are almost as many worlds called Rhys as there are places called Brooklyn Bridge. It's a beginning. It's an end. I leave to you the problem of ordering your perceptions and making the journey from one to the other. [§15]

Delany here is inviting us to share in the creation of the novel by shifting our perceived point of view.                

A second example of the fluidity of the narrator is in Dhalgren. Kid clearly is responsible for writing the journal, and therein perhaps the novel, but there are many Kids. There is Kidd, the confused immigrant, Kid the Poet, who also may be Ernest Newboy, Kid the Scorpion leader, and finally, the Michael Henry. Which Kid is the narrator of Dhalgren? They all are, for as Kid ventures farther and farther into the maze of Bellona, he changes. And as he changes, the novel he writes changes. In order to understand the nature of the narrator, one must then not attempt to discover a static character, but to apprehend both a personality and the way that personality changes. Perhaps this is a major confusing element of the novel, for we read the novel through Kid's eyes, but those eyes are not the same throughout the novel.                

The metaphor of a person's changing as he grows is literalized and exaggerated. But Delany has also accepted an implicit requirement of that act—his novel changes as its narrator changes. In the absence of many traditional science fiction motifs, this one stylistic element—the concretizing of a metaphor—gives Dhalgren the unmistakable flavor of science fiction.               

A third area where Delany's fiction is unexpectedly fluid is in his use of logic. Linearity of cause and effect has been a given in our logical experience for millennia, even in the face of "mystery religions." Non-Aristotelian models of logic, such as sympathetic magic, associative psychology, and more, have all been common in literature in the twentieth century. And yet science fiction, for all its vaunted imagination, is only now becoming aware of the stylistic possibility of thinking and experiencing non-rationally. The concept of "stochasticity," popularized by Vonnegut and Silverberg in science fiction, teaches us alternative forms of experiencing reality.8               

Delany's non-linear, non-rational logic is predictably built upon a mathematical model: Gödel's Law. This is the core of The Einstein Intersection (1967), for it explains the mode of Lobey's experiences. Gödel's Law, as Delany applies it, is the thesis that

In any closed mathematical system — you may read "the real world with its immutable laws of logic" — there are an infinite number of true theorems — you may read "perceivable, measurable phenomena" — which, though contained in the original system, can not be deduced from it — read "proven with ordinary or extraordinary logic." Which is to say, there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio. There are an infinite number of true things in the world with no way of ascertaining their truth. Einstein defined the extent of the rational. Goedel stuck a pin into the irrational and fixed it to the wall of the universe so that it held still long enough for people to know it was there.9

The resultant universe is one in which traditional rational explication takes second place. It is a universe of experience and emotion. It is a world where the protagonist may not know what is going on, but will be able to act on the experience of something's happening.                

This is, in fact, what Lobey does. He reacts with no intellectual understanding of what he is doing. Furthermore the chapter epigraphs are all related to the chapters they present, sometimes by clear logical links, but more often by non-linear relationships, which exemplify the creative link between the artist's rational experience and his non-rational translation of that experience into his art. Taken together with the text of the novel, the epigraphs form an example of the novel's concept of the relationship between experience and art. Delany seems to be trying to manipulate the textures of experiences, not the meanings of those experiences, in order to elicit emotional responses from the reader and from his protagonist.

Fictive discourse aims at producing a range of reactions, a field of multiple responses, responses not as in a scatter-pattern of buckshot, but as interrelated and meshed and ordered as light waves in a spectrum. Critical discourse, though it may seek to produce the same fictive range of response, can refer to the responses produced by other fictions only as discrete entities, by and large; such reference distorts their essence, which is that they only exist as nodes in an ordered plurality.10

Delany is asserting that his fiction is designed to elicit a range of ordered responses from the reader, generated by sequences of key orders, images, or patterns. The rational and logical form of traditional prose, be it the mannered novel of the eighteenth century, or the critical essay, of which this piece is an example, attempts to create a pattern of purely logical, intellectual responses to a closely reasoned argument, what the novel would consider an "Einsteinian" response. The Einstein Intersection manipulates experiences to produce the desired sequence of emotional responses from Lobey and from the reader.                

The same sequence of choreographed patterns is called for in Dhalgren when, for example, the giant red sun rises over Bellona. There is no rational explanation presented for it. Nor is there any causal link with it in the text of the novel. Yet the wonder it creates is a response to the wonder Kid and the reader feel at the marvelous mating of Kid, Lanya, and Danny for the first time. There are, to be sure, resonances inherent in the sun (sun, son), a trine of older male, older female, and young male: Christ, the Trinity, Oedipus, even the Fobo-Muels-Rydra Wong tripling of Babel- 17 (1966). Yet the major effect of the giant sun cannot be apprehended by looking for logical connectives, although they are present. We must read it as a symbolic response to the experience of coming awake in a new world of wonder, of making love, and being loved, for the first time.                

While this concern with patterns of response may seem to be a retreat into the philosophy of communication, it is central to Delany's style—a style which baffles many readers. Once again, Delany has taken a normally static element, logic, and wrenched it into a new, fluid role. At the same time, he has founded his actions in legitimate theoretical bases. In so doing, he has reconciled the ideological problem of the modern novelist, identified by Scholes—that of the limitations of realism—with a theory of science fiction as a stylistic construct reconciling the various forms of experience within a relativistic and formal universe.                

Each of the three areas broken free by Delany—time, point of view, and logic—is broken on the authority of some valid, or potentially valid, physical law or thesis. In turn, the freedom these elements lend to Delany's novels requires close attention from the reader, lest he become confused by looking for the traditional prose forms.                

Close attention is just what Delany gives to his fiction, most obviously to the very sentences out of which the novels grow. In the essay "Thickening the Plot," Delany sets about to define the creative process in concrete terms.11 In this essay, he stresses the photographic accuracy of his imaginings, the completeness with which he visualizes his subject, and describes how he forces visual precision into his language. He also notes that the very process of converting the vision into language changes the scene being described, so that the final product is a surreal translation, a partnership between the rich word and the richer vision, the translation of the vision affecting the vision itself. This methodology implies a rigid adherence to the concrete, the sensual, the "realistic" world on one hand, and to the mythic, metaphoric elements of language on the other. Here again Delany confronts the opposing moments of force, the photographic "real" and the untrustworthy "subjective."               

The practical effect of striving for the precise evocation of experience gives a unique flavor to that experience. Delany's novels display an intense sense of being in touch with the physical world. In fact, the effort of accurately rendering the physical drives Delany to confront the limits of perceived experience, the point at which language breaks down under the intensity of his gaze, and forces him toward a new use of language.                

For example, the presence of multiplicity and simultaneity in Delany's mental images of reality demands that he jam multiplicity into the essentially linear and sequential form of English prose.

What an odd ritual exchange to exhaust communication. (Is that terror?) What amazing and engaging rituals are we practicing now? (He stood on the road side, laughing.) What torque and tension in the mouth to laugh so in his windy, windy, windy...12

In this brief paragraph from Dhalgren, Delany is not merely creating a stylistic analogue for a "realistic" state of simultaneous laughing, thinking, and feeling, though certainly he does that, specifically with his use of parenthetical statements. He is tying together several levels of human consciousness: the emotional experiences of terror, wonder, laughter; the mental activity of questioning reality (Is this terror?) and society (What amazing rituals), and responding in an aesthetic way to the physical environment (note the images of exhaust, wind, laughter connected to the mechanical images of torque and tension). The prose attempts to capture the multiplicity of the real moment, not so much by applying a literary code, but by presenting a sense of the multiplicity of experience within the prose.                

The revision of a brief paragraph in the "Prologue" of The Captives of the Flame (1963, revised 1966) shows how his emphasis on detail adds depth to his prose:

[First version.] Jon Koshar shook his head, staggered forward, and went down on his knees in white sand. He blinked. He looked up. There were two shadows in front of him.

[Revised version.] Palms and knees scudded in something hot. Jon Koshar shook his head, looked up. Sand saddled away from him. His black hair fell over his eyes again; he shook it away and sat back on his heels.13

It would be instructive to compare the verbs used in these two paragraphs, "went down" opposed to "scudded," but not to the point. Clearly Delany writes and revises toward greater physical reality. But, as well, his verbs show a musical affinity for each other, in "scudded," "saddled," "shook," "sat." And the precision of vision is blended with an aesthetic which renders sibilance and a sense of insecurity to the experience, even in this early adventure novel.               

The handling of simultaneous material in a necessarily linear form is a good indication of the kind of word-by-word craftsmanship in Delany's prose. In resolving the problem of rendering a "fantastic" or science-fictional sequence realistically, he visualizes the subject matter completely, rather than retreating from it into vague cubist shapes or highly mannered prose. And remarkably, by striving to describe the seams of reality, he breaks through "reality" to describe the perceiving mind as much as the perceived experience. The parenthetical statement is a good example, for it is both a pause in the exposition and a gloss on the transcribed experience without. Together, reality, observer, and language form a collage of meaning. It is like his concretizing of metaphor. The vaguely like becomes the solid is. Precision is what these two techniques share.              

Delany's theoretical concern with the uses of prose appears frequently in his fiction, almost as if the work was a test-bed for linguistic theory. He considers the totality of the story, plot, character, language, etc. to be a textus, or web of meaning, within which the text proper resides. The manner in which textus translates into text he alludes to with the term metonymy, the concept of language as connotative rather than denotative.

Naming is always a metonymic process. Sometimes it is the pure metonymy of associating an abstract group of letters (or numbers) with a person (or thing), so that it can be recalled (or listed in a metonymic order with other entity names). Frequently, however, it is a more complicated metonymy: old words are drawn from the cultural lexicon to name the new entity (or to rename an old one), as well as to render it (whether old or new) part of the present culture. The relations between entities so named are woven together in patterns far more complicated than any alphabetic or numeric listing can suggest: and the encounter between objects-that-are-words (e.g., the name "science fiction," a critical text on science fiction, a science-fiction text) and processes-made-manifest-by-words (another science-fiction text, another critical text, another name) is as complex as the constantly dissolving interface between culture and language itself.14

It is therefore not unusual to find images of myths, meanings, and memories, as well as convoluted symbolism in Delany's fiction. His concept of language and literature implies this rich depth of layering.                

That Mouse's syrinx in Nova is called an "ax" certainly is an example of the way in which meanings cluster around images. "Ax" is a slang term for the musician's guitar, as well as signifying the chopping weapon. So "ax" refers in depth to the two functions of the device Mouse carries, as a musical instrument and weapon. It also refers to the labrys, the mark of the two-headed ax, symbolic of the dual worlds of life and death in Minoan culture, most well known through the labyrinth of the minotaur. It also refers to the dual nature of the moon, life and death, the return to the womb, and fear of darkness.15 Also, it is a "'symbol' for writing/script/text/ texture, and usually 'writing' related to architecture."16 These ranged allusions of "ax" are specifically connected to Lorq's quest through the battles he has with the Reds in the modern labyrinth of earth and with his Orphic search for Ruby Red in an exploding star. They serve equally well for the "sax" Lobey carries in The Einstein Intersection.                

Clearly, the word "ax" is supplied in Nova consciously. That each major group of metonymic meanings has an analogue in the surface of the story is proof enough of that. What Delany does with this technique is to make the reader feel the weight of meaning and symbol around the text, i.e., invoke a textus for the story. This enriches the story, and charges the linear tale with alternative meanings possibilities, and significance. It is another way of transcending the limitations of realism, of working in the subjective mind of the reader.                

In other places, Delany's insistence on the perception of language as a burdened element is more baldly stated, or worked into the tale:

That's just being a poet, she explained, the oblique connection momentarily cutting the flood through. Poet in Greek means maker or builder.
                There's one! There's a pattern now. Ahhhh!—so bright, bright!
                Just that simple semantic connection? She was astounded. But the Greeks were poets three thousand years ago and you are a poet now. You snatch words together over such distance and their wakes blind me. Your thoughts are all fire, over shapes I cannot catch. They sound like music too deep, that shakes me.
                That's because you were never shaken before, But I'm flattered.
                You are so big inside me I will break. I see the pattern named The Criminal and artistic consciousness meeting in the same head with one language between them...
Yes, I had started to think something like—
                Flanking it, shapes called Baudelaire — Ahhh! — and Villon.17

This brief excerpt clearly defines Delany's sense of language here as associative. Not only is his heroine a poet with a sense of the history of language, but her words are used in a scholarly way, with mental footnotes to Baudelaire and Villon and critical themes like "The Criminal and Artistic Consciousness." (Such a theme was actually advanced by Professor Douglas Barbour in a 1975 paper.)18 The language of the poet's mind charges Butcher with artistic implications. It also signals the blending of Rydra and Butcher into a criminal/artist whole which explains her change from victim to controller of Babel-17. 

The image of the text as a web of meaning itself is present in the body of Delany's fiction, especially in Babel-17, which in this light can be read as an animated recitation on the nature of the relationship between language and meaning:

She rose slowly, and the web caught her around the chest. Some sort of infirmary. She looked down at the—not "webbing", but rather a three particle vowel differential, each particle of which defined one stress of the three-way tie, so that the weakest points in the mesh were identified when the total sound of the differential reached its lowest point. By breaking the threads at these points, she realized, the whole web would unravel. Had she failed at it, and not named it in this new language, it would have been more than secure enough to hold her. The transition from "memorized" to "known" had taken place while she had been— [§3:1]

In this example, Rydra Wong has just learned how to think in the highly artificial language of Babel-17, which forces her to think, perceive, and react in an extremely precise and rapid way. The web is an image of the effects of language on the mind, and of the mind as shaper of reality. This scene becomes symbolic of the interrelationship of mind, language, and reality, a web like the triple-stressed web Rydra lies in, analyzes, and breaks.                

The experience of the work of art transcends the language used to construct it, because of, not in spite of, the nature of Delany's use of words. The technique Delany uses is to move beyond the literal, not by a retreat from concrete reality, but by approaching the literal closely, so closely that the mind of the narrator/artist shows through. Delany's prose style is an amalgam of elements: the precise visual rendering of images coupled with a conscious use of metonymy to create a language of experience.                

Complementing Delany's theoretical concern with the function of his prose is an equally obvious concern with structural issues, such as the definition of the novel in Nova, the relationship between theoretical criticism and creative writing in Dhalgren, and, of course, the question of point of view in Empire Star, mentioned earlier. Whereas Delany's idea of language is accretive and inclusive, his idea of literary forms is much more rigid and formal.

"To make my book, I must have an awareness of my time's conception of history,"...
                "History? Thirty-five hundred years ago Herodotus and Thucydides invented it. They defined it as the study of whatever had happened during their own lives. And for the next thousand years it was nothing else. Fifteen hundred years after the Greeks, in Constantinople, Anna Comnena, in her legalistic brilliance (and in essentially the same language as Herodotus) wrote history as the study of those events of man's actions that have been documented. I doubt if this charming Byzantine believed things only happened when they were written about. But incidents unchronicled were simply not considered the province of history in Byzantium. The whole concept had transformed. In another thousand years we had reached that century which began with the first global conflict and ended with the first conflict between globes brewing. Somehow the theory had arisen that history was a series of cyclic rises and falls as one civilization overtook another. Events that did not fit on the cycle were defined as historically unimportant. It's difficult for us today to appreciate the differences between Spengler and Toynbee, though from all accounts their approaches were considered polar in their day. To us they seem merely to be quibbling over when or where a given cycle began. Now that another thousand years has passed, we must wrestle with De Eiling and Broblin, 34-Alvin and the Crespburg Survey. Simply because they are contemporary, I know they must inhabit the same historic view." [Nova §4]

This longish quotation is a good example of the kind of structural, architectonic analysis which Delany weaves throughout Nova. Each didactic monologue is referred to as a note from Katin, the incipient novelist, to himself. He writes innumerable notes on the nature of the novel, its elements, and its relation to society and the individual. It becomes clear that the novel Nova is the novel which Katin writes after his experience on the Roc. Therefore, the theoretical issues raised are important to the novel.                

In the above quotation, for example, we can note an interesting concern: Katin is theorizing on history and also on the relationship of time to the work of art. As note-taker, Katin is the scholarly critic whose goal is the comprehension of the work of art in structural and aesthetic terms.                

The best image of the work of art as an organized experience in Nova is not a didactic one, however. It is the image of Katin and Lorq Von Ray, both blinded by a nova. Katin, the artist, masters the new experience because as an artist he rearranges it. In this case he watches the nova after the Roc leaves its chaotic core. Lorq looks into the heart of chaos, the heart of the exploding nova. He is blinded, his senses scrambled, but Katin recovers. Katin is able to transmit the experience of the nova, not by deferring the chaos, but by rendering the afterimage. In just this way, the novel implies, art organizes experience, and the artist is able to render the chaos of experience by transforming it, or organizing it through a web of intellectual and aesthetic techniques.                

Another image of the interdependence of art and structure occurs in Dhalgren. Kid's notebook, which is his book of poems, his diary, and the novel itself, are written on the back pages of what we are told is a large body of theoretical criticism.

In the middle of the third line without taking pen off paper, he swept back to cross it all out. Then, carefully, he recopied two words on the next line. The second was "I" Very carefully now, word followed word. He crossed out two more lines, from which he salvaged "you," "spinner," and "pave," dropping them into a new sentence that bore no denotative resemblance to the one from which they came.
                Between lines, while he punched his pen point, his eye strayed to the writing beside this:
                It is our despair at the textual inadequacies of language that drives us to heighten the structural ones toward... [§2:3]

Ernest Newboy, who may be a late avatar of the mythological Kid the Poet, notes the relationship between the critical/analytic pages and the poetry. And although Kid denies that the criticism is his, it obviously is meant to be related to his poems, since it dovetails so well with the poetry, various sections of the "novel" Dhalgren, and many of Kid's experiences.                

Furthermore, the seventh chapter of Dhalgren, "The Anathēmata: a plague journal," is essentially the raw experience from which the novel Dhalgren is supposedly drawn—scheduled, sequenced, intellectualized, and presented. It is in this section that the distinction between the chaos of experience and the order of art is most clearly evidenced. Many of the events organized sequentially in the earlier section of Dhalgren are present in this chapter.19 They are out of sequence, disjoint, unrelated to any prior intellectual or aesthetic framework. It is presented as the unembroidered chaos of random notes about living in Bellona, unformed and even written over with notes which are apparently unconnected to the body of the page. There is no underlying code or metaphor, such as "stream of consciousness." There is only the artful experience without art—chaos without order.               

A less complex example of the dialogue between order and chaos is in The Einstein Intersection. Lobey never quite knows what to do, and yet he always acts when action is required. The force which organizes the chaos of Lobey's experience is the mathematical construct of Gödel, and not the artifice of myth or archetype. There are too many myths and archetypes crossing and bumping into each other for any mythic pattern to be truly reliable for predicting events. Without Spider's definition of the universe along the lines implied by Gödel's Law, The Einstein Intersection is a chaotic sequence of experiences. With the Law in mind, Lobey's quest is a movement to become, in which the crucial structuring image is not a rational sequence of intelligible causes and effects, but a development of the mind learning to experience itself and the reality around it—to be different.                

Lobey constantly asks what things mean, what he should do, and Spider explains that he is asking the wrong kind of question. He, must exist in a world of experience without reasons. Lobey himself, through his music, symbolizes order. His battle with Kid Death is the battle between order and chaos:

"This is why he is chasing you—or making you chase him. He needs order. He needs patterning, relation, the knowledge that comes when six notes predict a seventh, when three notes beat against one another and define a mode, a melody defines a scale. Music is the pure language of temporal and co-temporal relation. He knows nothing of this, Lobey. Kid Death can control, but he cannot create, which is why he needs Green-eye. He can control, but he cannot order. And that is why he needs you."20

Lobey "kills" Kid Death with Spider's help—Spider, the symbol of betrayal for gold, lust, worldly things. But chaos is not killed, only subsumed. "Like the Kid; I can bring back the ones I've killed myself."21 The Einstein Intersection, among its other patterns, attempts symbolically to explain the relationship of control (mastery of the creative elements), creation (the energy or vision), and order. Order, defined not as logical causation but as predictable relationship, gives final shape to control, which begins with creation, but moves beyond it. It is a gloss on the writer's craft.                

Many of Delany's novels, then, are characterized by a conscious discussion of the formal nature and function of literature and the relationship between experience and art. In every case, art is able to organize experience, bringing pattern and order to chaos. This issue manifests itself in Delany's use of language: the order of realism rests uneasily on the chaotic subjectivism of the perceiving narrator. These two stylistic elements identify a central concern of his fiction: his prose attempts to render the texture of the chaotic universe by actualizing literary metaphors with scientific theory, and the larger construct of his prose attempts to organize that chaos into intelligible, translatable forms.                

For Delany, the process of artistic creation is an attempt to derive order from the chaos of experience. More precisely, it is an attempt to reconcile the contrary demands of the subjective perspective of the artist, who must admit to experiencing life from a biased point of view—the structural requirements of formal literary patterns, which can wrench meaning and order from randomness, and the restrictions inherent in language as a medium of transmitting vision. In Delany's prose, neither the subjective nor the objective—neither the chaos of the individual mind's perceiving, nor the artifice of literary device, is given primacy. Just as metaphor is solidified by fact, experience is ordered by the effect of art upon the raw material of the mind, which is able to translate the chaotic elements of life accurately into words. Delany's later novels, especially, are arenas in which life and language confront one another and come together to form a dialectic of literature. Delany's science fiction includes and capitalizes on the tension between scientific theory and linguistic potential.


                1. Conversation with Zelazny, Albuquerque, August 1975.
                2. Published as a chapbook by the Pendragon Press of Portland, Oregon.
                3. Joanna Russ, "Towards an Aesthetic of Science Fiction," SFS 2(1975):112; Stanislaw Lem, "On the Structural Analysis of Science Fiction," SFS 1(1973):26.
                4. Extrapolation 10 (1969):52-66; rpt in SF: The Other Side of Realism, ed. Thomas D. Clareson (US 1971), pp 130-46.
                5. Darrell Schweitzer, "Algol Interview: Samuel R. Delany," Algol 13(Summer 1976):16-22.
6. Heinlein in Dimension (US 1968 x+198), pp 13-15.
7. Structural Fabulation (US 1975 xi+111), p 6.
                8. Silverberg defines stochasticity at the beginning of his novel, The Stochastic Man (US 1975): "Whatever happens happens by chance. The concepts of cause and effect are fallacies. There are only seeming causes leading to apparent effects. Since nothing truly follows from anything else, we swim each day through seas of chaos, and nothing is predictable, not even the events of the very next instant."
                9. Ace Books pb. no date, 155p, p 128; The Einstein Intersection does not have numbered chapters.
                10. From the ms. of Delany's unpublished essay, "Of Sex, Objects, Signs, Systems, Sales, Science Fiction, and Other Things."
                11. In Those Who Can: A Science Fiction Reader, ed. Robin Scott Wilson (NAL pb 1974), pp 70-77.
                12. Dhalgren §1:2. This and other passages were pointed out by K. Leslie Steiner in an unpublished essay, "Some Remarks Toward a Reading of Dhalgren."
                13. Captives of the Flame was first published as an Ace Books pb in 1963, my source for the first quotation (p 5). The revised version was published 1966 as an Ace Books pb under the same title; then was issued in 1968 in UK as a Sphere Books pb as Out of the Dead City; and now has been incorporated under the second title in The Fall of the Towers (Ace Books pb nd 413p), my source for the second quotation (p 13).
               14. Triton, Appendix A:3.
                15. Especially in Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology (US 1959, 1969).
               16. Letter from Delany to the author, 30 Oct 1976.
               17. Delany, Babel-17 §4:2.
                18. Douglas Barbour, "Multiplex Misdemeanors: The Figures of the Artist and the Criminal in the Science Fiction Novels of Samuel R. Delany," in Khatru #2 (1975), ed. Jeffrey D. Smith, 1339 Weldon Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21221.
                19. Pointed out by Steiner (see Note 12 above).
                20. The Einstein Intersection (see Note 9 above), p 133.
               21. Ibid., p 154.

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