Read Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany Online


When this richly written novel first appeared in 1974, Samuel R. Delany began to sweep up what would eventually exceed a million readers with his tale of Bellona, a city at the center of the United States, shaken by a catastrophe that has unhinged the very structure of reality. Skies darkened by smoke from burning buildings, population reduced to youth gangs, drifters, proWhen this richly written novel first appeared in 1974, Samuel R. Delany began to sweep up what would eventually exceed a million readers with his tale of Bellona, a city at the center of the United States, shaken by a catastrophe that has unhinged the very structure of reality. Skies darkened by smoke from burning buildings, population reduced to youth gangs, drifters, prophets, and perverts, Bellona is a city where a young man known only as the Kid - poet, lover, and finally a leader of the volatile "scorpions" - tries to create a life for himself and those around him in a landscape where two moons can suddenly shine through the night clouds or a sun thousands of times larger than any ever seen before may rise - and set - in a day. Dhalgren is a novel that interrogates a range of inchoately American oppositions: black and white, male and female, gay and straight, sane and mad....

Title : Dhalgren
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780819562999
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 917 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Dhalgren Reviews

  • Glenn Russell
    2019-04-30 23:25

    FULL AND FINAL REVIEWDhalgren - Samuel R. Delany’s maddening combination of, to name just three, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, South American magical realism and an American poetic rendition of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. One of the strangest, most bizarre, weirdest novels ever to rise to cult classic status - a kind of x-rated fairy tale covered in soot. Yet there something epic, even mythic running through its nine hundred pages that makes this work truly compelling. Delany penned five published novels prior to his twenty-third birthday and shortly thereafter was hospitalized having suffered a nervous breakdown. Lying in his mental health ward bed for days, his imagination molded and shaped vast charred sections of a hidden city. Reading Dhalgren, my sense is the novel’s post-apocalyptic Bellona was that city. And the author continued revisiting its smoldering precincts in the ensuing years as he wrote his massive work published in 1975 when age thirty-three. Not a conventional storyline so much as a series of images and events swirling up from the author's inner vision, a novel spun from the fantasies and daydreams of youth as if expressing the repressed desires of legions of stoned college sophomores combined with the steamrolling fury of angry 1960s countercultural, all heaped up into a colossal explosion scorching prim, prissy middle class, consumerist America into oblivion. No wonder Delany's radical, eccentric novel amassed a cult following both then and now. Our main character is Kid, age twenty-seven, and we follow his odyssey from the day of arrival roaming around burned out, isolated, cutoff, mostly deserted Bellona, a city located on a map at very center of this futuristic, surreal America, far out and spaced out on the plains of a state that might be Kansas. Kid and author Samuel Delany share much in common: 1) mixed racial identity: Kid is half-white, half American Indian, 2) fluid, gender hopping sexuality - Kid has oodles of sex with both men and women, and 3) a past bout of mental illness resulting in hospitalization. Kid is also a drifter who suffers from partial amnesia – he can’t recall his own or his parent’s name although he remembers his mother was an American Indian. All-in-all, irrespective of a reader’s racial background, sexual orientation, intellectual acumen or mental stability, nearly anyone can identify with Kid both to their heart’s content and heartache's content. Similar to others gang members in Bellona, Kid wears an “orchid,” that is, seven curved blades, each about ten inches long held in place over hand and fingers by an adjustable metal wristband. Yet kid is a poet. The combination of hard and soft, violence and sensitivity is reminiscent of the sixties rock group Iron Butterfly - hard like iron, delicate like a butterfly. And the kid walks with one bare foot and a sandal on his other foot. Along with the widespread importation of yoga, meditation, chanting mantras and other Eastern practices, wearing sandals and going barefoot were very much part of sixties youth culture. Bellona is complete freedom – the ideas from Jerry Rubin’s Do IT! are taken to heart. Why not? This is a city without babies or toddlers or snot nosed kids, without spouses or parents or police, a city where nobody has to work for money since food can be stolen from abandoned houses and one can always sleep free in the park and have access to an unlimited supply of dope. Although somewhat forgivable since spawned from the imagination of author as young man, I myself found all the many sexual scenes both puerile and ungracious. Delany’s Bellona forms a fantasy world of perpetually healthy, sexually charged twentysomethings, where there is never any need for doctors, dentists or pharmacists, where women never have periods or get pregnant and sex is nothing more than the sheer pleasure and intensity of the act itself. Three of my favorite parts: discussions on the nature of poetry, art and literature with Ernest Newboy, aged poet and Bellona’s version of Obi-Wan Kenobi; the magical mystery tour aspect of the scorpions, those colorful, vivid, holographic images enveloping certain gang members; the postmodern twists in the long concluding chapter undercutting, questioning and challenging any sense of normality in our perceiving the world and reading Dhalgren, the very novel we hold in our hands. I agree with a number of other reviewers - there isn’t that much middle ground; this is one novel you will either love or hate. Philip K. Dick complained it was trash and threw it away. Perhaps he was thrown off by the foul language and explicit sex scenes. Yet I can see how for many readers disgruntled with all the nasty, tawdry, overly judgmental, superficial crap thrown in their faces, reading Dhalgren is always a satisfying, joyful hit. Lastly, my advice: don’t give up on the novel too soon as it does get better the further you read. And if you get bogged down, play some good old sixties music like Kenny Rogers singingJust Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was Inor Santana’s Soul Sacrifice or, as a last resort, the long version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Michelle Phillips has that unmistakable Dhalgren hippie look. If the young ladies were all as beautiful as Michelle and I was twenty-seven and single, I'd take my chances and make a beeline to Bellona.Samuel R. Delany in his New York City apartment in 1983“Life is a very terrible thing, mostly, with points of wonder and beauty. Most of what makes it terrible, though, is simply that there's so much of it, blaring in through the five senses." - Dhalgren

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    2019-05-10 02:13

    ”I have to keep mentioning this; timelessness because the phenomenon irritates the part of the mind over which time’s passage registers, so that instants, seconds, minutes are painfully real; but hours--much less days and weeks--are left-over noises from a dead tongue.”Something has happened in the city of Bellona. It has been cut off from the rest of the United States; most of the citizens have fled, and now you can only reach the city on foot across a dilapidated bridge. In Roman Mythology, Bellona is a war goddess, the Waster of Cities. Samuel R. Delany sprinkles all kinds of mythology throughout the book. A woman turns into a tree. Daphne, Orpheus, Charon, Jupiter, Juno and many more show up personified in the strange characters still populating this destroyed city.Myth and reality entwine as the unreliable narrator and the reader have to puzzle out what exactly has gone wrong. Our main character Kidd/Kid, reference to the goat which led me to think of Pan, looks 16 but is actually 27. He wears only one shoe, preferring to leave the other foot unshod. He doesn’t remember his name. He doesn’t remember where he is from. He doesn’t remember the name of his parents. He only remembers that his mother is Native American. ”I’ve lost a name. So? If the inhabitants of this city have one thing in common, it is that such accidents don’t interest them; that is neither lauded here as freedom nor wailed as injury; it is taken as a fact of landscape, not personality.”There are no laws left in the city, and certainly there is some violence, but considering the conditions, people are still able to coexist at a reasonable level of safety. There are hippies in the park, a gang calling themselves Scorpions, and in some cases families, who go through the motions of going to work that doesn’t exist and acting like all of this is just a temporary blip that will soon be righted. Kid meets a girl named Layna, who mesmerizes people when she plays the harmonica, another reference to Pan and his pipes. He forms a sexual relationship with her that is intense and unrestricted. He adds a 15 year old boy named Denny to their bed, as well. One thing about a post-apocalyptic situation is morality is generally the first thing to go, quickly followed by any other inconvenient laws that once existed. Even one of the Scorpions says something to Kid about Denny and another girl of 17 who Kid had copulated with. Kid brushes this off by saying the teenagers were willing. When Delany was married to the poet Margaret Hacker, they experimented with polyamory. Communes in the 1960s also experimented with the communal sexual sharing of partners, but it works better in theory than in practice. Eventually, someone becomes possessive or green eyed with jealousy, and the “natural order” of things is reestablished. Delany and Hacker lasted 14 years with a series of lovers of both sexes, which allowed them to explore sex in a kaleidoscope of variations.As Kid says at one point as he is washing up after a night of debauchery: ”Pleasure is an appalling business.” The suspension of rules in Bellona would appeal to Delany. There are nude posters all over the city of this Godlike black man named George Harrison. Rumors rumble through the community that he raped a 16 year old white girl. Even in this unconventional setting where the rules of man have been suspended, the thought of a black man raping a white girl is still seen by this haphazard community as appalling, revealing the underpinnings of racism that still manage to survive despite the circumstances. Kid finds a spiral bound notebook with some writing in it. He begins to add his own poetry to the notebook. He meets another poet who wants to publish his poetry in a book. A newspaper is still being printed with news of the community and the date on the paper swinging from a day in the past to the next day a date in the future reinforcing the idea...does it really matter what day it is? Strange things start happening: two moons appear in the sky, the sun boils and seems to explode, and Kid begins to lose time not hours at a time, but actually days. He doesn’t want to go crazy again.Again? Samuel R. Delany looking strangely like Orson Welles.I would read a hundred pages or so of this book and then set it aside to read other books. With 800 pages to conquer, I liked taking the time to process and then come back with fresh, wiser eyes. I agree with the assessment that this is magical realism and certainly an interesting look at an alternative society created under unusual circumstances. I think chaos is a natural reaction to a suspension of laws. Some of those younger or stronger will attempt to dominate the rest. Eventually laws must come back and be enforced for a semblance of peace to be maintained. This society, interesting enough, does not use money. There seems to be plenty of food and beer, so everything is free and everyone takes just what they need. This is a fantasy, after all, and Delany had other aspects that he wished to explore rather than the rampant violence that, in my mind, would have had to be contended with. A fascinating book and certainly deserving to be called a Masterpiece. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:

  • Ash
    2019-04-24 03:24

    Dhalgren is a terrible work of genius. By that, I mean that the mechanical writing of the text is brilliant and falls into the category of masterpiece. It is also a terribly dull read. The structure of the novel is amazing: the narrative loops, the integration of mythology, the accurate portrayal of psychosis, the dazzling postmodern language, etc. Absolutely stunning work.Of course, the characters are unbelievably boring, the story is filled with lots of meaningless babble with no action, no one seems to have any real motivation to do anything (and when they do it is silly and pointless), and much of the content is social commentary on late-60s/early-70s culture but without any real bite. And this goes on and on and on for over 700 pages. If you can overlook the absence of an engaging story and want to experience a completely unique literary structure, then give Dhalgren a read. If you want to actually enjoy reading a book, I suggest a pass.

  • Bradley
    2019-04-30 04:41

    I'm sure this has been said before, but this is a very difficult book to review. So much is happening and very little of it has a straight-line plot unless you tackle this in seven sections and treat it as a mystery rite each time in the full awareness that Delaney is messing with us heavily.In what way, you ask?Ignore the fact that this reads more like a heavily-invested tome of mythic allusions in the style of the greats of traditional fiction and focus instead on the topics that Delaney holds closest to his heart: Sex and Literary Criticism. :) Huh?Well, this is a porn book. No doubt about it. Every other page has Kid getting it on with women, men, women and men, and the variety of perversions never made any single act the same as before. Kid loves his sex. Polyamory? You betcha. This novel is considered to be one of the quintessential classics of the sixties, but don't let that fool you. Delaney doesn't just go for the raunch, he's also bypassing class issues by the magical realism setting and tackling race issues instead. This takes up a lot of the novel and he has a lot to say.The second big part of this novel, in my opinion, has everything to do with Art and Criticism. Kid is a poet, but beyond that, he lives a magical life like Peter Pan, always looking young and acting young and not giving a crap about anything other than his pleasure for the most part... however, this is tempered by his craft in his poetry and the way he appears to grow up when he sets aside his words. This is kinda scary, actually, since Delaney himself gave up writing even though he is so well-beloved in the field. He, as Kid, grew up and didn't care when "his poetry was burned", no matter how many people wanted to be outraged and demanded that he produce more. Ignore the long "reasons" for writing and the heavy lit-crit terms that Delaney has his main character use to meta his way through the creation process within this novel. Even Kid says that it'll dissolve in your stomach after you eat it. :)These are serious themes throughout, but let's not forget that this is SF and Fantasy in the biggest sense of the word. What's fantasy about it? Patchwork society, for one. There's always enough food, there's no law and order, big population pressure is out of the picture, and then there's a few unexplained weirdnesses usual with magical realism, too. The SF if mind-blowingly weird and it, too, is never explained. The sun is expanding and going red? What of the second moon? The unexplained time-effects? The disappearance of the biggest part of the population when they observed the initial event, leaving only those who missed it behind? Pretty fun stuff. We've even got ourselves an astronaut. :)And then, of course, it's a dystopia, but it's more an anarchic state that lets everyone toss the rules and do whatever they want rather than a focus on violence, which is kinda refreshing on that level for any kind of dystopia, however unrealistic.But is this novel unrealistic? No. Never in the writing. It's always down-to-earth and full of detail. It's easy to ignore the glaring plot holes or universe-holes or whatever is going on because someone is always getting off or trying to make sense of social issues. No one ever talks about what's happening in the big picture, or if they do, it's always, always incomplete.I think this novel is meant to be an experience rather than something to parse out. There's no grand design or plot to latch on to. It's all about the journey, and not always about the character journey, either, but rather an exploration of social mores when morals are thrown out the door, discovering what is left.It's very ambitious. So why don't I give it a 5 star? Because it also annoys me. I appreciate everything he's done in the novel, and yet it feels a bit too alien, a bit too disjointed. I couldn't get over the inconsistencies of the world or of human nature.

  • M
    2019-04-23 03:23

    This book is a whole world, part of the constellation of works that help me navigate my intellectual life. It's about the 60s, but it's also about metafiction, about solitude, and about that strange feeling when the dull and the surreal merge (late, late at night. when life has gotten one step too strange. when one more trudge down the street puts you into a reverie where you feel utterly lost).In it, a nameless guy with a faulty memory (that's why he's nameless--though otherwise his recall is excellent, he forgets vast stretches of time and loses days, weeks, even years of his life) who gets called the Kid steps into a bizarre city where something has happened to bring its population down to 1,000 or so misfits who don't do much but gossip, the sky is covered in strange clouds and you never see the sun, two moons appear at night, and time sometimes runs differently for different people. He's searching for his name, and also something else, but his memory is so bad that he can't even remember that much. He finds a journal, snippets of which seem to tell his own story in advance, and starts to write his own story in the marginalia. He joins gangs, has lots and lots of unusual sex before and during his membership in a curious and sort of unsettling poly triad, becomes a poet but might just be plagiarizing the journal, and basically becomes the mythic center of everyone's life by sheer accident. Like Finnegans Wake, it has a sentence that wraps the end back into the beginning, and just like that book, there's a really strong reason to do so. As much as anything, though, it just has some gorgeous descriptions and an incredible mood, not to mention some musings on solitude, the mythologization of life, and the creation of art that are really cool.Not to be forgotten, and precisely the fulcrum where Delany was writing both in and out of the genre pigeonhole from every direction he could. Fantastic, and neither as sometimes clunky as his earlier work or didactic as his later work (not that I don't love both, in their own ways). This one, he's content to just let be, in all its 800 page glory.

  • Jeff
    2019-04-29 02:31

    DNF!!Seinfeld was a show about “nothing”.Dhalgren is a book about “forgetting”.Forgetting your name. Forgetting what you did five minutes ago. Forgetting basic hygiene.Forgetting where you put your shoe.Forgetting to lay off the hard drugs.Forgetting the sixties are over.Forgetting what tense you wrote in the previous sentence.Forgetting what makes for good dialogue. Or plotting. Or characterization.I’ve briefly read some of the other glowing reviews for this book and I can appreciate the enthusiasm and passion in which they’re written; however, this book and type of reading isn’t for me. I do appreciate a well-crafted literary adventure or statement, but when a book gets compared to Ulysses, the reader has certain perceptions and ideas going into it and all too often it’s to figure out what the writer’s intent is to begin with. This isn’t a journey I should have taken and I apologize to my fellow buddy readers – le Ginger and Stepheny for even suggesting it to them.I don’t forget why I read books and the number one reason I do is to be entertained and not to be bored to tears or dread picking the book up every day and that's "something".

  • Aubrey
    2019-05-17 01:13

    Whatever request for complicity, in whatever labyrinth of despair, it made of the listener, whatever demand for relief from situations which were by definition unrelievable, these requests, these demands could only be made of the very new to such labyrinths, such situations. And time, even as he munched flat bread, was erasing that status.Today, however, art is about the only thing that can redeem religion, and the clerics will never forgive us that.When the canon comes crumbling down, who will survive? When the Powers That Be put a socioeconomic premium on creativity outside academia and plethora and marketing galore, how much of the by rote will be blown away in favor of the scarred underbelly below, a matter that shits and sweats and finds craze a lesser evil than gentrification? The literati tolerate blood far better than green edged gums, rape better than pleasure, money better than empathy, as if the English molded to the proper genuflections of grammar and punctuation weren't gate-keeping enough. When the traumas start losing out to traumatized in the halls of evaluation, our small world will either grow large in realscaped fiction or become another Sodom and Gomorrah.You begin to suspect, as you gaze through this you-shaped hole of insight and fire, that though it is the most important thing you own—never deny that for an instant—it has not shielded you from anything terribly important.What I have fallen from, perfected by memory into something only possible, I do not want to falsify any more than that.How much of you is human and how much of it is distance? I look at the King Lear presentation I'm supposed to be making for tomorrow's class and the itch only recently solidified by Dhalgren's ending comes back with a vengeance. One instinct clamors that it is a foolish thing to seek aches and lusts and an understanding of foreign others in paper and ink, another blinks at those well-endowed with brain chemistry acclimatized to spatially close verbalization and carries along. I grow tired of hitting the right notes for all the wrong reasons, as if my writing was a skill solely developed for reading out to others rather than my ability to breath. The slides for summary of scene and quote of importance and discussion of choosing will still be made, but it is the classroom audience I wish to make wriggle and squirm, and that would not befit our "professional" environment.When what terrifies is neither noisy, nor moves quickly, and lasts hours, then we become very different.Anyone sensitive to language, living in this mess/miasma, must applaud it.My most desired dissertation would be a study of metaphysics through the social constructs of canonical literature, a purpose I forever am honing my already well-regarded writing despite the probable impossibility of achievement. However, I may already be achieving it in the myriad of reviews along so called "affirmative action" trends that made me recently pick up anthologies of Native American fiction and Vietnamese poetry and a short story collection of Iraqi make. A simpler phrasing of the drive is "boredom": bored of the English, bored of the rhythm of its ubiquitous squeakings and gaspings, bored of the fearful experimentation never born from social annihilation and always bred on white capitalistic supremacist jazz. I am a voyeur, and my taste does develop.Objectively? It depends on what you think of the way the rest of the world is living.In a society where they are on top, they cling like drowners to their active/passive, male/female, master/servant, self/other set-up not for pleasure, which would be reasonable, but because it allows them to commit or condone any lack of compassion among themselves, or with anyone else, and that (at least in this society, as they have set it up) is immoral, sick and evil; any madness is preferable to that. And madness is not preferable!We're so fucking terrified of female sexuality that we make rape fantasies the norm. A US white male could hoist a dead baby on a pike while shooting up an elementary school and we'd be wrapped around the scandal of a black person not catering to white fantasies on television instead. I find this work a piece of science fiction as I find Almanac of the Dead a work of political theory; neither are safe and neither pretend outside their pages is otherwise. Arguments in this are being hashed on Tumblr 40+ years after because if the mainstream did it, it would no longer be the mainstream. Paranoid fantasies are all very well, but that's what good writing is for if the cult masters in my Norton Anthology are anything to go by. In short, avoid works like this if you like, but a successful parasite is not the one that causes discomfort in the institutionalized eye. Parsing's a must with that prior, of course: anything beyond the pale of dead white males doesn't help much unless, perhaps, they happen to be on the menu.“Tarzan," I said, “ if my old lady wants to fuck a sheep with a dildo strapped to her nose, that is largely her concern, very secondarily mine, and not yours at all. She can fuck anything she wants—with the possible exception of you. That, I think, would turn my stomach. Yes, that, I think, I would not be able to take. I’m going to kill you.”I've never been very good at staying on-topic. As such, riddle me the face of the patriarchy, the insight of the condemned, and the vision of damnation, all in the mode of language we write. It's a new day, and those of us in power are slipping.

  • Stevelvis
    2019-05-13 03:30

    Dhalgren, by Samuel R Delany, has been my favorite book since I first read it in 1979. I have read it twice more since then and every time I've read it I got something different out of it. I've given the book away as gifts to several people but I don't think any of them appreciated it (oh well).I recommend that y'all go to Amazon and read some of the reviews of Dhalgren there. It is interesting to read the long positive reviews by the "smart" people and it's also a laugh to read the negative reviews by the people who just didn't get it or who were offended by its explicit sexuality. It seems that everyone there either gives it a 5-star rating or a 1-star rating with a note saying they'd give it no stars if possible.I have found Dhalgren to be many things, mostly it's a search for self-identity by the main character, both in wanting to know his real name (other characters call him Kid or The Kid), and in finding out who he is through love, power and fame. It is an exploration of societal values, contrasting hippies in the city park to roving street gangs, each with their own hierarchy or power structure. It's an exploration of "family" with Kid and his triangle relationship with two lovers, a gay teenager and a straight woman, contrasted with an apartment building family for whom Kid does some work. And it's also a review of art, religion, friendship, sex, violence, and organization in the midst of anarchy. If New Orleans had simply been entirely walled off and forgotten after hurricane Katrina, then this is perhaps what it may have become. Add to that image elements of a disjointed acid trip through 1960s San Francisco and voila, you have Dhalgren. It is a lesson in different writing styles, from the psychedelic writing that begins the book to the uber-realism in the middle and the anarchic scribbling in the margins at the end of the book and finally returning to the beginning in a literary moebius loop. And with almost 900 pages of small font in paperback, there are a lot of words.Dhalgren is my favorite book of all time and I'm planning on reading it at least one more time before I die.... but there are so many books and so little time. If you like Dhalgren, you should definitely read Triton, which I have also read three times. Delany's autobiographical books Heavenly Breakfast and especially The Motion of Light In Water will show you how the author has actually lived a lot of what he has written. If you like his psychedelic writing style you should read Equinox although it is better described as a very kinky book of psychedelic pornography. His Neveryon series is of the fantasy genre and therefore doesn't compare to his science fiction writing style, although those books do continue his explorations of sex, sexuality, and power in social relationships. My favorite book in the Neveryon series was The Bridge of Lost Desire which was released during the very early years of AIDS and was the first popular novel to address the issue in its storyline. There are a few books written by Delany that I just don't like, for example Mad Man, but I do recommend absolutely everything he wrote from the early 1960s to the mid 1980s.Fans of Delany should also read Sherri S Tepper, Octavia Butler, James Tiptree Jr (real name Alice Sheldon), Ursula K LeGuin, Melissa Scott, Nancy Kress....

  • Algernon
    2019-05-20 05:27

    I struggled with this book, and I understand how polarizing such an experimental piece of literature can be. But somewhere along the trip something clicked right for me and I'm thinking now this is probably the best novel to come out of the flower-power movement. It captures the rejecton of consummer society, the free love craziness, the drug experiments, the confusion and the open doors of perception that seemed more important at the time than the bourgeoise conformism of an older genration.It also feels like an honest, courageous endeavour on the part of the writer. I think Delany immersed himself completely in the tale, not in the autobiographical sense, but in pouring out all his uncertainties and struggles and enthusiasms that made him choose a career as a poet. I feel this novel was written in blood, sweat and tears rather than ink of paper, and I am left with a recurring image of the main character (the Kid) compulsively picking up a notebook and a pen and trying to put down in words the crazy world he has been thrown in.Bellona - the city where every rule is broken, where every social convention no longer apply, where the laws of physics play hopscotch with the five senses and where people who have lost themselves seek refuge and an answer to the meaning of life. There are no answers here, but the questions one asks will maybe point to the way out. Or else he might remained trapped forever in this infinite loop of confusion: "What do you want to change in the world? What do you want to preserve? What is the thing you're searching for? What are you running away from?" and again: "Have you been here long? Where are you from? Mildred? Mildred what? Why did you come here? How long are you going to stay? Do you like Japanese food? Poetry?" He laughed. "Silence? Water? Someone saying your name?" the author has no mercy on the reader - he constantly throws curveballs, provocations and shocking twists in relationships. I never knew what would happen next, the rules of narrative progression are another thing that don't apply in Bellona. There are hours and days missing from the storyline, mixed timelines and pointless meetings. Trying to make sense of every metaphor and symbol in Bellona is I think a futile effort. Every reader will translate the words on the page according to his own personal experiences and baggage of social taboos.For example, the Kid always walks with one foot bare and one covered by sandal or boot. Why? It is never explained. I would guess it is his dual nature as part nature's boy feeling the need for continuous contact with the physical world, and part social animal - a product of his upbringing and of his education. But I'm probably wrong.He wears an optical chain made of prisms, mirrors and lenses. This one is easier to decode: the poet is the witness rather than the participant in the story. He will defract, reflect, magnify the life around him, purifying it in the cauldron of his suffering and distilling into new words the essence, the "truth" behind appearances. This is how the novel actually begins, with a quote about confusing the true with the real. For Delany, reality is in fact a poor instrument in revealing meaning. This is why Bellona is such an unpredictable and dangerous place - it's role is to shake the reader out of his comfort zone and force him to think over his positions on sex, racial hatred, politics, violence, art .. and much more. Nothing is worse in the author's opinion than to turn your back in fear and hide from life in the shell of middle class conformity. The scene where the Kid goes to work for the Richards family is in fact the point where I invested myself fully in the novel and in what the author is trying to do.Quite a few passages in the book are dedicated to literary theory and criticism, in various encounters with poets, critics and publishers. Delany, like in his other novels, seeks for a higher form of communication, one that transcends words and syntax structures and goes directly to emotions and experiences. He sees the poems as a "careful, crystalline catalyst" that will leave the reader changed and hopefully richer in understanding.To close my comments, I will quote from the excellent introduction given to Dhalgren by William Gibson: I distrust few things more deeply than acts of literary explication.Here is a book. Go inside.It's your turn now.Circular ruin.Hall of mirrors.Ring of flesh.The smoldering outskirts reconfiguring with each step you take.Bellona.Remember me to them.

  • Bill
    2019-05-14 01:33

    to wound the autumnal city ... I have come toDhalgren is theUnreal City Under the brown fog of a winter noon—TS ElliotThis is a difficult book to review, difficult to put one's thought's and feelings into words, the written word is perhaps insufficient to the task (a meme of this novel, I think). Following are some random thoughts.Overall I found it engaging, for reasons I cannot express; I was compelled to get back to reading, as compelled, perhaps as The Kid was to writing. I read Dhalgren from front to back, though one could open the book at random and just start reading without losing anything. It is like a large, deep, lake you can jump into anywhere and start swimming in any direction, enjoying the feelings and experience. It is a circle or rather a sphere; one eventually returns to where they started, which looks and feels different each time, but is essentially the same. Though the city of Bellona is set in a science fiction locus, it is not a science fiction novel. It is more like classical literature. I suspect those expecting to read a science fiction novel will hate it, throw it across their room, breaking their mirror. And, be less for their action. There are many Classical references, Hellenic and pre-Hellenic, hidden throughout the novel, which may or may not have anything to do with anything, but provide a framework for one's world-view, if recognized. It is either one of the great American novels are a gigantic joke. It makes me want to try, once again, to get through Joyce, Proust, Pynchon, Hofstadter … Perhaps enjoying this novel is a clue I have become experienced enough to enjoy their 'difficult' works. The Kid is an engaging character. I want to read him, know him, join his nest, love him, be him. I will likely read this again and perhaps read about the book. William Gibson (the Father of Cyberpunk SF) wrote a new forward to this edition (the author's favored edition), titled The Recombinant City. Read it! Several things stand out re-reading the Forward after experiencing Dhalgren. Most important to me are:I place Dhalgren in this history:No one under thirty-five today can remember the singularity that overtook America in the nineteen-sixties, and the generation that experienced it most directly seems largely to have opted for amnesia and denialReading Dhalgren is a cure for this disorder.and the oft-quoted line from Gibson:I believe its 'riddle' was never meant to be 'solved'.Its 'riddle' is meant to be experienced.

  • Ben
    2019-04-29 05:29

    It's tough to review a favorite book, especially when it's a book that almost completely changed the way you view literature. But I suppose it's worth a shot.Dhalgren is a glorious mess, but that's not to say that it lacks structure. In fact, I wrote my senior thesis in undergrad on the narrative structure of the novel, and upon close examination it's stunning just how carefully put together the whole thing is. Everyone knows that it's an imperfectly closed loop, but few really understand how Delany makes that loop work.Kid (the kid, Kidd, etc etc) is a brilliant character, though on the surface it's pretty easy for the casual reader to lose interest in his wanderings, vague philosophical thoughts, and random sexual interactions. The way Delany uses shifts in narrative perspective to indicate shifts in Kid's perceptions is stunning.Bellona is also an incredible accomplishment of imagination. In many ways, in the minutiae of the description, it's not that far off from any crumbling contemporary inner city (and indeed Delany was writing in large part about the social and economic deterioration he saw going on in NYC at the time he was writing), but the combined effect of all of Delany's prose is the creation of a completely different world enveloped within our own.This is obviously not traditional science fiction, though there are enough weird happenings and unconventional characters to keep open-minded SF fans interested. It's very long, very abstract/obtuse, and at times very dry. There are long stretches where you keep reading for the beauty of the language rather than interest in the storyline, but it all comes together in the end.In closing, I'd also like to note that Delany's memoir The Motion of Light in Water provides great insight into the inner workings of Dhalgren. After reading the two, it becomes clear that many of the Kid's experiences are direct mirrors of Delany's own. On top of that, it's a flat out great read.

  • Jonathan
    2019-05-08 06:14

    The Tunnel Gravity’s Rainbow/Mason & Dixon The Recognitions/JR The Public BurningTake Five Women and Men/Lookout Cartridge Miss Macintosh My DarlingTake it or leave it Dhalgren If the above list means anything to you, then so should the inclusion of this deeply impressive, deeply ambitious, deeply experimental text. It is big, transgressive, meta-fictional, and intelligent. It also loops round on itself like the Wake (and loops again internally or, at least, reaches back and forward with many-tentacled arms). It is important to remember this was published in 1974 and, as such, its politics should not be ignored. Though, it should be clarified that, if this list were to be put in order, Dhalgren would be at the bottom. But not by that significant a margin. It also contains long sections that are what one can only term "traditional" - though this is for a reason, and without these narrative races toward almost cliched heroics, the final section would not work as well as it does. It is a novel about an outsider artist, and Other-ed artist, finding his way. It is a novel about inner-city devastation. It is a novel about gender, race and sexuality and, therefore, about Power. It is a novel about fucking. It is a novel about "Truth". A novel about perception. It is a novel about madness, or the borders of madness. It is a novel full of greco-roman mythology - from Bellona herself, to Pan to Orpheus to countless others. It is a novel of drama and pulpy excitement. It is a novel of interesting philosophical insights, cringe=worthy philosophical platitudes, pseudo-insights, collections of words that present themselves as philosophy but are really not. It is a novel continually consuming itself and vomiting itself back out. It is a novel where the "author" is central and the "author" is absent. It is a novel without hand=holds, though there is some hand=holding. It is, a times, beautiful. It is, at times, dangerously close to boring (I am not sure at what stage, for example, the sex scenes stopped being there for "reasons" and became just exercises in futility. Though, again, that may well have been the point.) ************Q: Is it true that Dhalgren is based in part on your own experiences growing up in Harlem?SRD: Right. I think certainly one of the things that came to kind of dominate the book is that in the late '60s and early '70s, almost every major city in the country developed a kind of burned-out inner city. In New York, it was Harlem. It happened in Boston, it happened in Philadelphia, it happened in L.A., Cleveland, Cincinnati. These burned-out inner-city sections usually had been black and Hispanic ghettoes before. I used a lot of the images I had seen—I'd grown up in Harlem, I was born there—so that became the kind of fundamental image gallery for the novel. That's kind of how I put it together....'''...I'm trying to make a pattern, to erect a verbal experience that has many elements of repetition and pattern resonant from one part to another that I want my reader to go through, and then associate those patterns with any similar patterns in his or her life. And if, by making those associations, he or she can draw something useful out of it, fine. If they see something beautiful in the repetition of those patterns, fine. But that's what I'm about. I'm not about either entertaining or instructing. The entertaining and instructing are secondary fallout from the fundamental thing, which is basically to create an aesthetic object......."KLS: In the midst of all this, what is the place of the aesthetic? Do you have an aesthetic theory?SRD: Yes. It’s simple and not counter-intuitive at all, though at present it’s not a very popular one. My theory is simply that human beings have an aesthetic register. Like the registers of hunger and sex, the aesthetic register is fundamentally appetitive. It manifests itself as a desire to recognize patterns both spatial and temporal; its particular appetite ranges over spatial and temporal fields of continuity and contrast, of similarities and differences, of presences and absences—the field of texts, of fictions.Classical aesthetic theories assumed that an appetite for the beautiful and the good lay at the center of the aesthetic register: and while lots of translations can take place between classical theories and my theory, because mine does not center on beauty and goodness but on order, my theory is not a classical theory.But this theory that the aesthetic is a human register, as autonomous as hunger or sex, explains the vexing situation that Republicans and Democrats both can enjoy Mozart, that midwives and state executioners both can love Artemisia Gentileschi, and that the guard who turned on the gas at Buchenwald and the resistance worker who gave her life to smuggle Jews out of Germany both might have delighted in Dickens."SDR: "Dhalgren is in fairly pointed dialogue with all the depressed and burned-out areas of America’s great cities..... To see what Dhalgren is about, you only have to walk along a mile of your own town’s inner city. So Dhalgren‘s a bit more threatening–and accordingly receives less formal attention."********************I am going to quote at length a section from about halfway through, mainly because it is pretty key to one of the (many) themes at play. **************************"There's no reason why all art should appeal to all people. But every editor and entrepreneur, deep in his heart of hearts is sure it does, wants it to, wishes it would. In the bar, you asked about publication?" He looked up, brightly. "That's right," Kidd said with reserve and curiosity. He wished Newboy would go on, silently, to the poems. "Publishers, editors, gallery owners, orchestra managers! What incredible parameters for the creative world. But it is a purgatorially instructive one to walk around in with such a wound as ours. Still, I don't believe anybody ever enters it without having been given the magic Shield by someone." Newboy's eyes fell again, rose again, and caught Kidd's. "Would you like it?" "Huh? Yeah. What?" "On one side," intoned Newboy with twinkling gravity, "is inscribed: 'Be true to yourself that you may be true to your work.' On the other: 'Be true to your work that you may be true to yourself'." Once more Newboy's eyes dropped to the page; his voice continued, preoccupied: "It is a little frightening to peer around the edge of your own and see so many others discarded and glittering about in that spiky landscape. Not to mention all those naked people doing all those strange things on the tops of their various hills, or down in their several dells, some of them — Lord, how many? — beyond doubt out of their minds! At the same time—" he turned another page—"nothing is quite as humbling, after a very little while, as realizing how close one has already come to dropping it a dozen times oneself, having been distracted — heavens, no! — not by wealth — or fame, but by those endless structures of logic and necessity that go so tediously on before they reach the inevitable flaw that causes their joints to shatter and allow you passage. One picks one's way about through the glass and aluminum doors, the receptionists' smiles, the lunches with too much alcohol, the openings with more, the mobs of people desperately trying to define good taste in such loud voices one can hardly hear oneself giggle, while the shebang is lit by flashes and flares through the paint-stained window, glimmers under the police-locked door, or, if one is taking a rare walk outside that day, by a light suffusing the whole sky, complex as the northern aurora. At any rate, they make every object from axletrees to zarfs and finjons cast the most astonishing shadows." Mr Newboy glanced up again. "Perhaps you've followed some dozen such lights to their source?" He held the page between his fingers. "Admit it — since we are talking as equals — most of the time there simply wasn't anything there. Though to your journal—" he let the page fall back to what he'd been perusing before—"or in a letter to a friend you feel will take care to preserve it, you will also admit the whole experience was rather marvelous and filled you with inadmissible longings that you would be more than a little curious to see settle down and, after all, admits. Sometimes you simply found a plaque which read, 'Here Mozart met da Ponti,' or 'Rodin slept here.' Three or four times you discovered a strange group heatedly discussing something that happened on that very spot a very long time by, which, they assure you, you would have thoroughly enjoyed had you not arrived too late. If you can bear them, if you can listen, if you can learn why they are still there, you will have gained something quite valuable. 'For God's sakes, put down that thing in your hand and stay a while!' It's a terribly tempting invitation. So polite themselves, they are the only people who seem willing to make allowances for your natural barbarousness. And once or twice, if you were lucky, you found a quiet, elderly man who, when you mumbled something about dinner for him and his slightly dubious friend, astounded you by saying, 'Thank you very much; we'd be delighted.' Or an old woman watching the baseball game on her television, who, when you brought her flowers on her birthday, smiled through the chain on the door and explained, 'That's very sweet of you boys, but I just don't see anyone now, any more, ever.' Oh, that thing in your hand. You do still have it, don't you?" "Sir, maybe if—?" Newboy moved his hand, looked back down. "It starts out mirrored on both sides: initially reassuring, but ultimately distracting. It rather gets in the way. But as you go on, the silvering starts to wear. Now you can see more, and more, directly through. Really—" Newboy glanced up quickly, then returned his eyes to the page— "it's a lens. The transition period is almost always embarrassing, however. While you are still being dazzled with bits of your own reflection, you have begun to suspect that it might, after all, be one-way glass — with a better view afforded from out there! Still, once used to it, you find the view more interesting. With only a little practice, you get so you can read both legends at once, without having to stop what you're doing to turn the thing around. Oh, and how many, many times you came close to clashing into someone you thought buck-naked only to find his Shield had grown transparent as your own. You become chary of judging too quickly who still has, and who has discarded, his. And when some youngster, glitteringly protected, through malice or, worse, some incomprehensible vision of kindness, shouts up at the dreadfully stark crag on which you happen to be panting, or down into the fetid ravine from which you are manfully trying to clamber with only one arm free, “You’re naked, don’t you understand?” you may, momentarily, squint to make sure the double legend is still etched before you, but you are not liable to waste much energy setting him straight unless your own vision of kindness is as incomprehensible as his. There are more important things to do. As best you can, you go about doing them. But things still interrupt: now your eyes are deviled by a recurrent polychrome flash. You try to ignore it. But its frequency increases. From habit, you check the cut runes to make sure. But, frankly, during the moments of illumination, it is practically impossible for you to read them, much less decide whether they still contain sense. The thing you have been baring, not to mention staring through all this time has become an immense prism.” Newboy leaned back now, his eyes somewhere on the underside of the balcony. “Did I say the first transition was embarrassing? This one is monstrous. And it is the same fear: one-way glass….You begin to suspect, as you gaze through this you-shaped hole of insight and fire, that though it is the most important thing you own – never deny that for an instant – it has not shielded you from anything terribly important. The only consolation is that though one could have thrown it away at any time, morning or night, one didn’t. One chose to endure. Without any assurance of immortality, or even competence, one only knows one has not been cheated out of the consolation of carpenters, accountants, doctors, ditch-diggers, the ordinary people who must do useful things to be happy. Meander along, then, half blind and a little mad, wondering when you actually learned — was it before you began? — the terrifying fact that had you thrown it away, your wound would have been no more likely to heal: indeed, in an affluent society such as this, you might even have gone on making songs, poems, pictures, and getting paid. The only difference would have been — and you learned it listening to all those brutally unhappy people who did throw away theirs — and they do, after all, comprise the vast and terrifying majority — that without it, there plainly and starkly would have been nothing there; no, nothing at all.“

  • Whitaker
    2019-04-24 02:18

    *Available from KOBOBOOKSI think this is a brilliant novel and I hated every moment I spent with it. I struggled to get through this. Part of that was due to my own neuroses: I now know that I find vivid descriptions of dirty, smelly people who haven’t bathed for days having sex very very offputting. Part of that was due to the fact that, as many reviewers have already noted, nothing really happens in the novel. Incidents occur but by and large the plot rambles all over the place. Delanyapparently:“conceived and executed Dhalgren as a literary Multistable perception—the observer (reader) may choose to shift his perception back and forth. … Delany has specifically stated that it is not a matter of settling or deciding which text is authoritative. It is more a matter of allowing the reader to experience perceptual shifts in the same way that a Necker cube can be viewed.”My own reading is that Bellona is like the inside of Schrodinger’s box where the cat is both alive and dead: Kidd, or the Kid, is both insane and not insane; Bellona is both burning in a cataclysm and not burning. This is what I find brilliant about the novel: that it succeeds in presenting such a situation. However, the “how” is for me substantially less interesting than the “why”. And the “why” is the reason the novel did not work for me. To me, it felt that Bellona was a means of presenting the 1970s counterculture in a setting where it would come across to us, the reader, as normal and the standard culture would come across as crazy. Place Kid and his gang in Chicago or New York and they would be marked out as the abnormals. But, in the setting and context of Bellona, it is Kid and his nest of scorpions with the free mingling of the genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations that seem normal compared to the Richards denying reality in their 19th storey apartment and Calkins endless partying on his estate. I imagine that for a reader in the 70s, the dislocation and disorientation of the novel’s text must have mirrored the effect of the counterculture in and on that decade. However, reading the novel in 2014, the whole thing feels dated. In the 21st century, the counterculture movement has been absorbed into the mainstream and commercialised. What can we possibly regard as weird or crazy about Kid and the gang when we have Big Brother and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on our television screens nightly? Even more problematic for me, however, was Delany’s depictions of homosexuals, blacks, and women. For all that his depictions must have been daring and radical for his time, they just screech “dated stereotype!” now. We have Bunny the screaming queen and Tak the gay leather fetishist; the blacks all speak ghetto English; the women take on nurturing roles, while the men are either technically or militarily minded. It’s all so passé, and painfully so. So, unlike the reader of the 70s, I am left discombobulated by what is now screeching dissonance between the form and the content. Three stars as a compromise between the one star rating I felt and the five star rating for Delany's ambition and chutzpah.

  • DoctorM
    2019-05-12 00:19

    I read a lot of Samuel R. Delany's sci-fi when I was young, and all the way up through "Einstein Intersection" (aka "A Fabulous, Formless Darkness") and "Nova", I loved his work. Yet...somewhere around "Triton" he went badly off the rails. The same kind of thing happened to Piers Anthony and Roger Zelazny, but it their cases it was simply the lure of quick, large paychecks for Bad Fantasy Novels. Delany...fell into another trap. He positioned himself as the face of Black Queer High-Lit Quasi-Political Speculative Fiction...and forgot how to write or tell a story. Call it the Pretentiousness Trap. "Dhalgren" is just...a mess. It goes nowhere, resolves nothing, and its characters are flat and dull. I've tried on three occasions to plow through this novel, and every time I do...I just throw up my hands after a couple of hundred pages. Not even reading critical essays before diving in has helped. "Dhalgren" is...a severe disappointment by an author who once gave a new, exciting face to sci-fi. Unreadable? Not...technically. But un-finishable? Very bloody much so.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-05-20 22:32

    I am limited, finite and fixed. I am in terror of the infinity before me, having come through the one behind bringing no knowledge I can take on.What an odd, warped achievement. Delany provides us a reimagined Ellisonian treatise on Invisibility and Impermanence. He paints a city of possibility and then wipes his creation into a blotchy blur. This is Bellona. Delany also eviscerates the idea of the homo faber. While the depicted poet lacks a shoe, it is hands which reign in Dhalgren. They are monstrous and knuckles, fists and fingers predominate. The novels succeeds is being both graphic and banal. The smoky streets deliberately blur as the questions of Art, Race and Sex are lost (or are left incomplete) in the urban caverns. It is deliberate and occasionally artful. There were a number of times when I hated this book. There were others where the poetry dances before me. Be wary prospective readers. Be wary.

  • Nate D
    2019-05-11 04:28

    Revision.This might turn out to be one of those reviews I write over and over.Perhaps such a novel -- equal parts fine-focused lens, social/personal mirror, and harshly distorting prism -- just demands this endless rethinking.So what is Dhalgren?It is a deft cultural analysis, part perfectly current, part more dated 60s/70s scrutiny that is nonetheless perceptive and interesting.It is a probing of time and perception laid out in dilating asymptotic fade contracting sudden into action. Or perhaps a mobius strip whose returning loop falls away infinitely. Or perhaps infinite loops gathered in a singularity.It is the story of a city that falls appart in unclear crisis, tears a hole straight through America, and becomes a dreamlike non-place: smoke-swept, flame-licked, partially abandoned and wholly forgotten, socially volatile and facilitative and instructive.It is a narrative labyrinth whose many questions and vaguely suggested answers, in the way of many such intricate dream-voyages, are less interesting and significant than the paths traced between them by the vivid raw conjuration of the words and action.Delany is full of (and unafriad to face) Big Ideas. He's also a fantastic and versatile prose stylist. He's also extremely readable. There are admittedly some less vital slumps, but the peaks are precipitously high (as in the near-perfect novella of a third act "House of the Ax"). And even those slump sections seem accounted for by Delany's designs -- I feel like the plot structure models physics equations, as the action approaches an asymptote at one point, then punches through a discontinuity into the infinite before flipping back around. All this evades me slightly still, it is too big to be fully glimpsed at once, a novel bursting with the force and potential of fiction. And as an aside: I often refer to The House of Leaves as "applied post-modernism", for its meshing of decades of formal and conceptual developments with brisk and frequently gripping genre toying (itself a hallmark of post-modernism, I suppose). But Delany's sprawling social treatise accomplished a similar feat 25 years early, complete with layered symbology and layered typographical/narrative mysteries. Echoes back: to Borges and probably a bunch of groundbreaking 60s new wave sci-fi I haven't read (suggest please).Echoes forward: to early Lethem (particularly Amnesia Moon), and usual canon-aware suspects Danielewski and (D.F.) Wallace.

  • Simon Fay
    2019-04-23 00:36

    Dhalgren, a book with a reputation that precedes it...kind of. More on that in a moment.The book is more of an experience than a story. For me, it was a memorable and mixed affair I'm happy to have had but also happy to move on from. For others it's one they'll return to again and again trying to understand exactly what it was they read. In a way this echoes what the protagonist of the book goes through. If you do intend to read it I would try to go into it knowing as little about it as possible. All I'll tell you is if you want to give it a shot you should be patient and enjoy looking for gems in the banal. If that sounds good to you then stop reading here - there'll be spoilers abound.If you've already read it and are left with a question mark over your head and need some reassurance that you're not a complete idiot, please keep reading.For those of you who haven't read it and prefer reading reviews to books here's the low down on the plot:A man without a name arrives in an American city, Bellona, aflame and in ruins, it has suffered an unknown disaster. The man does not remember his name. People mostly refer to him as the kid (he thinks he's 27 but he looks like a teenager). The remaining residents of the city are making lives for themselves in whatever way they see fit. Kid finds a place among them in the ever changing landscape of the city, time and reality itself.Onwards to my thoughts.The so-called reputation it has:When I finished reading the book I went straight to Google searching for an analysis of it (don't cringe purists, it's the age we live in). What I mostly found were defences of it. People claiming that the book is notorious for explicit sex and violence, that it's completely incomprehensible and has no narrative and that none of these things are very true. Well, they're right, none of those things are true. The sex is painted so matter-of-factly it barely comes across as explicit and the violence was written before Robocop was made. The thing of it is I didn't find any coherent articles claiming that the book was any of these things, so I don't know who these people are defending it from. The main prejudice the book suffers from is that it's boring, which to be fair, from a commercial point of view, is a reasonable assessment.It's the kind of book you can spend two years writing a thesis on. I however am not writing a thesis. I am writing reviews on the internet nobody will read. I approached the book realising there was lots of stuff going over my head but took satisfaction from what I did get out of it. First let's highlight what went over my head: (1.) I discovered that there was a lot of Greek/Roman mythology symbolism in it. Well, aside from Kevin Sorbo's Hercules TV show my interest and knowledge on that subject is extremely limited. But hey, I found a quote from the author saying that stuff doesn't matter anyway. To paraphrase Samuel Delany, "It's just something I put in there for shits and giggles." If understanding that one character is the god who brings people across the river of dead is something that gives you a buzz then you'll get a little more out of this book than I did. Maybe you'll even give it an extra star in your review. Is it fair to say that the book is weaker because I'm ignorant of one of it's tropes? No it is not. That's why I'm not saying that. I'm just saying without some prior knowledge of ancient mythology you'll enjoy this book a little less than somebody who isn't so uneducated.(As an aside, I would love a book that plays with 20th century mythology in the same way this book and Uylsses do with Roman/Greek mythology. Where is my post modernist novel constructed around the rise and fall of Britney Spears? Please let me know if something like this exists.)(2.) The author is in the book. In one scene the kid looks at himself in a mirror and sees a fat old man with a big beard staring back at him. Why didn't I get that? Well for one I had no idea what Samuel Delany looks like. Secondly, the chapters are long and drift a lot so my attention span tended to have peeks and lows. I was definitely at a low when this was happening. Much later in the book there's a passage in Kid's notebook (Dhalgren?) describing what horror a fictional character would experience if they looked in the mirror and saw their author staring back at them. It was a really nice passage. I enjoyed it for what it was at the time. I just wish I connected it to the earlier scene without having to look it up. Either way I thought it was pretty awesome.(3.) Kid distorts the word Dhalgren into Grendal. Again, I'm not too familiar with ancient mythology/poetry. I am however familiar with Grendel from Beowolf thanks to an episode of Star Trek Voyager. In that episode Grendel was an alien living on the holodeck and it was eating virtual reality Vikings. What I learned after reading this book was that in the literary world Grendel is open to interpretation. In the context of Dhalgren, Grendal could be Kid's mental illness, destroying him piece by piece? Don't ask me.(4.) Bellona is on fire. Kid becomes a folk hero to the residents. Early in the book he mentions that he was once in a mental institute that caught fire and he led some of the patients out of the hospital, becoming a hero of sorts. At the end of Dhalgren Kid leads his gang out of the city only for the book to start again. I'd forgotten about Kid's hospital story at the start so I didn't make the connection. Admittedly I feel stupid on that one, it's not exactly hidden.If we're making the Hollywood version of this then of course Kid never left the hospital and all of Bellona is a delusion. I think that's a pretty boring explanation for such a layered book, indeed, resting on one explanation for everything in Dhalgren destroys it's beauty. The Bellona/Hospital tale is not the only story that repeats itself. Lets segway from that into the section on things I did understand:(1.) There is no single explanation for the events in the book. Here's a pet peeve of mine; every other analysis of the book online say's something along the lines of there being 'multiple entrances into the story.' At first I thought this was just a vague statement about the different ways the book can be interpreted. Where did this catchphrase come from? William Gibson says it in the foreword but for some reason I think it might have come from Samuel Delany himself. From the outset I knew the narrative would be somewhat disjointed. The first line in the book is the second half of a sentence. My first thought, without knowing anything, was that the start of the sentence would be at the end of the book. Big deal, right? The notebook kid finds and makes his own is already written in. Some of the passages in the notebook are about things that are happening as he reads them. Only the right pages are written in and kid writes in the left. He is ambidextrous.In other words, it was obvious early on that this book was going to fold in on itself. The joy of it came from finding the creases.At one point Kid is handed a book of M. C. Escher drawings. So it's not just a circle. The whole narrative is an 'optical illusion' of sorts. I got that. Go me. However, afterwards I read that there are literally other entrance points marked in the narrative with sentences broken up by ' - to...'If I were writing my thesis I would happily go through the 800 pages searching for these other entrances (and exits). As it is, I'd appreciate if somebody could tell me what pages they're on. I can't find any analysis' that do. When I do pick up the book again I would enjoy it a lot to take a different route through the story.(2.) It's about society and people and racial tension and the 20th century and stuff. There's black people getting shot down by white people and little white girls having rough sex with big black men and Kid is having sex with boys and girls and girls and boys at the same time. The whole world is burning down and what is the Richards family doing? Pretending it's not happening!I think the easiest chapter to like is The House of Ax. The whole section is about a household operating on the mothers sense of rules and civilisation. The city is in pieces but she's still planning dinner parties. She wants to move apartment but before they do they have to send a letter to the non-existent building manager. It does a wonderful job of showing the everyday life of the middle class as being a series of absurd rituals designed to create a false sense of security in a chaotic world. I said that it's the easiest chapter to like. There are some people who would dislike it for this reason. I am not one of them.(3.) The scratch on numerous women's legs. I caught this one fairly late in my reading. The kid meets a couple of women who have the same scratch on their leg. He never realises it's the same scratch (so far as I know) but any time it happens reality and time become distorted. What to take from this?On exiting the city Kid and his gang meet a girl whom he had sex with once. She's entering the city. They have a dialogue which mirrors the one Kid had at the start of the novel and the last sentence leads into the first sentence of the book. I get the feeling that if time is being skewed then they are exchanging roles with each retelling? I could be way off the mark there. In any case, when I realised that the scratch on the leg was repeating and causing Kid/reality to have some kind of breakdown I had a pretty strong reaction to it. I mean I didn't jump out of my chair, but I said 'Oooh' out loud. I'm not a very dramatic person so that's a big deal for me, okay? Okay.Wrapping it up:There is much, much, much more to the book than what I've mentioned here. I just took some of the more dramatic stuff. It delves into poetry, sex, life, perspective, violence. There is a lot to discover, I am just not the man to find it all and type it up for you. Maybe you'd like to give it a go for yourself?I originally gave the book 3 stars. Since sitting down to write this review I've upped it to 4.Why?The kid has a copy of Dhalgren - his notebook. What makes it Dhalgren is his active participation with it, adding his notes and experiences to it. The notes already in it, and the poems he writes, are reactions to the same city. My copy of Dhalgren doesn't have empty pages for notes. I have to put mine in this review. The book is an interactive experience and I don't think you're enjoying it fully unless you sit down to think and write about it. You can spend years doing this or you can just do it till you're bored. Either way, I don't think you can cap off the experience that this book offers until you've done so.Now that I have I feel like it has merited itself 4 stars. Why not 5? Because it was still fucking boring at times.*edit*I've upped it's score to 5 stars. This book grows in memory like a seed in dirt. I know I was bored in parts at the time but its paid back in spades over time.

  • Sentimental Surrealist
    2019-04-27 04:22

    Let us now, so as to avoid the dreaded trap of "well let's not think too hard about what we read, let's just read fun books and have fun with them," confront the issue of sci-fi. The issue of sci-fi, to my vision, looks a little like this. Sci-fi fans claim that it's an unfairly marginalized genre, especially when compared to more serious literature. Indeed, works by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kurt Vonnegut, and others (ignore the overwhelming dudeliness of these names at your own peril, because this becomes important in a moment) have either been so thought-provoking or so aesthetically innovative as to stand alongside more canonized works. Things get muddy when you consider that many of these authors are not only white men, but white men whose agenda is explicitly sexist and homophobic and, in many cases, implicitly racist. Good old Heinlein, whose work is often excused on the grounds of being "fun" even though there's this brilliant Michael Moorcock essay floating around, for all interested parties to read, that makes a convincing case that his (i.e. Heinlein's) work is a wet dream for the fascists in the audience. But I just don't like Heinlein. Also guilty is Herbert, whose work is entertaining and imaginative but not exactly worthy of great literature, Stephenson, who'd be pretty cool if he'd just never open his mouth about how political correctness ruins everything, and Dick, who I'm still fascinated with despite his blatant misogyny and barely competent prose. I suppose it sort of helps, a little bit, that PKD's only sexist and kinda-homophobic and not really racist, but let's not get too ahead of ourselves here.Into this mess steps Dhalgren, which strikes me as a solution to the dilemma - a sci-fi novel of ideas that not only acknowledges but celebrates neglected perspectives! And here I was losing my faith in all sci-fi authors, exceptions for Le Guin and Gibson and some of the less virulent PKD and Stephenson moments, but this Delaney guy? Him I can get behind, and not just what he stands for, although what he stands for is miraculous, because there I was thinking that sci-fi had gotten off on the wrong foot from the moment Lovecraft decided to merge sexism and racism with his gross-ass monsters-raping-white-women fantasies ("but it's cool! I mean, it's not every day that you get to see a TENTACLE MONSTER..." the apologist in question was at this point defenestrated. The management is sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused). Of course, Dhalgren was not written by a white man, or a straight white man, but a gay black man, and maybe it'll take some time before such a progressive sci-fi novel comes from the good ship straight white dudes, but in the meantime, let's appreciate Dhalgren and the Left Hand of Darkness, and let's toss the Good Ship a bone because Gibson really is just that good.This is all worth mentioning not just because it's always worth mentioning, but because race and gender and sexual orientation are at the heart of Dhalgren, every bit as much as the mysterious city is. Racial tension brims across the city, while the lines of sexuality are erased. To get this right out of the way, the mysterious city is an amazing thing, portentous and chaotic and teeming and shadowy, full of mysteries that Delaney never attempts to resolve, because he doesn't have to resolve them. It strikes me as almost a minor point to say that it doesn't matter why Bellona has become what it is; what matters is that it is that way, and now protagonist Kid, must react to it. He must make sense of the chaos in front of him, what he has wandered into. The Kid's journey through this city, with its shifting landmarks and its ever-burning buildings, its ominous skylines and the never-explained violence within its homes, takes him through this astonishing cavalcade of identities. He joins a hippie commune, throws himself into the hard-workin' American dream, lives as a bohemian, leads up a gang, and pushes the boundaries his sexuality. Yet, as revealed by the novel's brilliant last segment, he comes no closer to answers, and in fact only opens up new questions. As the snake that is this novel winds on, his already fractured mental state grows worse and worse, until it splinters into shards that never quite form wholes, close as they may come. What strikes me about this guy, too, is how indifferent everyone seems to the weirdness. Oh, don't get me wrong, they're concerned when it directly affects them, whether it's in terms of the climactic and super-relevant race riot that caps the book off or the descending sun that almost scorches the city, but look. There's this extended and harrowing chapter, the longest in the book I think, set in an apartment. There's obvious, horrific violence in one room, and the Kid works for a family, the Richards, who live in another. But the screams mean nothing to the Richards; they're only there to annoy. And I mean, to wind it back to my intro, isn't that so much like sci-fi's own warped ideology? Push the oppressed under the rug with another cheap Heinlein joke about how much women gossip? Fuck Heinlein. Fuck this "dean of science fiction" shit. Delaney all the way. So Delaney's characters and formal experimentation are wonderful, but what of his prose? His prose is a wonder to behold. The man has a way of zeroing in on just the right word from a particular sentence, and from there expanding out, building his sentences on complex echoes of sounds and phonemes: "a prism nipped my wrist," he says at one point, and if you're a prose-hound like I am, I hope you understand why I love that phrase so much, why the sheer craft of it just bowls me over. Even the sex scenes are well-written, and you KNOW how often that turns out (i.e. never, unless we're talking about Don DeLillo's deliberately awkward sex). It's not just that he can spin an engaging and endlessly complex narrative - character after character can serve as the Kid's double - but that he can write better sentences than Heinlein or Herbert. Maybe that's why Dhalgren never found a home in the sci-fi community - the guy takes the great big snow globe o' paternalistic conventions, shakes it up, and has a blast with what's left over.

  • Jenia Sukhan
    2019-05-05 02:21

    The greatest literary litmus test of the 20th century, Dhalgren is not simply "not for everyone" (read: pretentious) - it is a work of poor, lazy, and ultimately insulting craftsmanship. Story, structure, characters, clarity be damned, the prose at least was supposed to be spectacular. One-of-a-kind. If nothing else did it for me in this alleged "love it or hate it" novel, the language, at least, should have left me in awe. What I found inside was a heinous and uninspired repetition of images, ideas, and words. Hence, perhaps, the "hypnotizing" effect alluded to by William Gibson's bafflingly complimentary introduction. So I started counting.On the first six pages alone, the word "wind" appears eight times. "Breeze" also makes two appearances. That's ten times in the first six pages that Delany falls back on the wind to somehow add imagery to his scene. Delany's wind whines, it carries words' meanings (not just the words themselves!), and sometimes it is simply there ("But the wind, wind..."). Despite all of this activity, the wind is never FELT, it never has presence - the naked protagonist's flesh does not become covered with goosebumps, branches do not sway, creating some hypnotic, tranquil echo. It is simply THERE, and every building repetition does not increase its power, but merely reminds us that it's THERE. I hadn't forgotten. The words "leaves" or "leafy" appear ELEVEN times. In six pages! Eleven times! "Foliage" comes up once, and "brush" twice. "Rock" appears 10 times. "Pebbles" thrice more. "Stone" twice. For a grand total of 15! Not counting all the boulders in the mountain-climbing section, as that would be unfair.Warmth or heat, especially of the sort typically found between a woman's legs... the same one that gets G.R.R. Martin into so much trouble over "mythifying the female" but somehow raises Delany's work to the status of a SF masterpiece, is mentioned SEVEN TIMES in those six pages. "Shadow" or "shadows" also appear 6 times. It's a common enough occurance that I won't count synonyms (of which there were 2) against him. But the reuse of such a specific word is lazy. "Moon" and "shoulders" come up 5 times each. "Breath" and "wrists", 4. Thighs, knees, and blinking, 3. And my personal favorite - HAIR. On the first six pages, Delany manages to say "hair" NINE SEPARATE TIMES, and reference it once more on top of that. Delany crosses the very, very thick line between lazy writing and fetishism with this memorable passage: "He shook his head against her hair, damp, cool, licked it." It's not the characters' weird sexual practices that take me out of the novel, it's Delany's. Dear Samuel R. Delany - to the rest of us, hair is just hair, and mentioning it over and over and over again without actually saying anything of substance doesn't do anything for us. I can't help but think of the unfortunately-intimate 50 Shades of Grey, a comparison for which I'm sure I would be torn apart by mainstream artistes who've finally found a SF novel so weird, it must be good!William Gibson is capable of genuinely beautiful prose, which is why I find his endorsement of Dhalgren's style so puzzling. This is a deeply amateurish effort, which only hints at the fact that Delany is probably capable of decent, maybe even great, writing. But here he falls back on stock images and then obfuscates them, such that there can be no telling whether what he is saying is true or not. The words, like the wind, are simply there. "Her breath smelled like noon and lemons..." What exactly does it mean for breath to smell like noon, and how is that different from breath that smells like early afternoon, or mid-afternoon? (Presumably breath that smells like morning is morning-breath? Haha...) What substance, what worth am I supposed to glean out of that word, and why is it there? Or is the language only there to be evocative, a canvas for my own imagination? If so, I'm afraid my imagination can do a lot better than this sorry collection of re-recycled tropes.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2019-05-07 06:16

    First attempt: Will write longer review later. "Sometimes when I don’t understand - or even when I do, I just wanna fuckin’ cry, you know?" (pg. 615)***Second attempt: Let's see if I can make heads or tails about my thoughts on this book. First you should go read articles on i09 and Tor (Jo Walton) about why you should read this book. The i09 article quotes Jeff VanderMeer who says that reading it is a lot of work, and sometimes we don't like to work. He also says Dhalgren "signaled a marshaling of great ambition, emotion, intellligence, and technical ability," and it remains a high-water mark, towering over "the lore of the field." Emotion. Intelligence. Work. I agree with that.Jo Walton on calls it "impenetrable" but goes on to say that it "deliberately doesn't make sense." She also talks about this concept of civilization being taken away. Impenetrable. Not sensical. No civilization. I agree with that, for the most part. Being the avid reader of post-apocalyptic books that I am, I have to admit that half the time I marked passages in this book, I was treating them like clues. I was going to find out what had happened! Once I understood what had happened that made Bellona, the mythical city where everything in this book takes place, I would then understand the book. It was a good thought but the author doesn't ever actually tell you what happened. The characters all have guesses, but they seem to also be experiencing the city differently at different times. “I live in one city. Maybe you live in another. In mine, time… leaks; sloshes backwards and forwards, turns up and shows what’s on its … underside. Things shift. Yeah, maybe you could explain. In your city. In your city, you’re sane and I’m crazy. But in mine, you’re the one who’s nuts. Because you keep telling me things are happening that don’t fit with what I see! Maybe that’s the only city I can live in.”I had made a note of something in the first few pages of the novel, something where people in Bellona are talking about how technology doesn't work in the city, which would make it a very "dull catastrophe" to the nation as a whole. The city remains apart for reasons that aren't explained, and this works for some people, the people who stay. Most cope fairly easily with a lack of civilization - there are no jobs, money isn't required, and there aren't any social mores. One character even bemoans “I don’t even have the consolation of public disapproval.” There is a lot of sex. A lot. Some of it with questionable levels of consent, which I know was probably typical in 1970s science fiction but uncomfortable to me as a reader. I had crazy explicit dreams in the weeks I was reading this book (not in a good way.) And that is another important component to the book, I think, and that is the effect on the reader. If you feel unsettled and confused and lost and this is a bad thing, then you are probably the same people who wouldn't have stayed in Bellona. You must need your gum or your cigarettes or your routine. Maybe you need your tv shows or your sunrises. Because even the sun isn't as it should be. Neither is the moon. There are a few people living in Bellona who are trying to live the old ways, and they are clearly insane within that society.In between the strangeness, in between the sex and violence, in between the risky behavior with seemingly no consequences (apart from one memorable death), is some really gorgeous writing. There is also commentary on art and poetry and society and race. I can see why it contineus to make waves. I'm not sure I would read it all again. ETA: I read this with a marvelous group of people called the Misfit Readers. I can't remember who chose it, it may have been my fault.

  • Ben Babcock
    2019-05-14 00:39

    I tend to read books one at a time in quick succession. I have to, for the same reason I am so assiduous in writing reviews: I have a poor memory for these types of details. However, every so often I'll have a "project" book that takes me weeks or months to read, in parallel with my other books. I tend to do this with lengthy anthologies; I've been doing it with the Iliad. In retrospect, Dhalgren would have made a good project book. It's lengthy and difficult to read, and if I had invested the time to read it more gradually, my opinion would probably be very different.Nobody prepared me for Dhalgren.I began it with few preconceptions. The back cover copy of my very old Bantam paperback edition is extremely cryptic and unhelpful (and, in fact, not all that accurate). So I had this idea that it was about some kind of post-apocalyptic city, and that was it. A couple of visits to the book's Wikipedia article later, I finally understood the situation into which I had gotten myself. According to the article, "Critical reaction to Dhalgren has ranged from high praise (both inside and outside the science fiction community) to extreme dislike (mostly within the community)." That last parenthetical is accompanied by the dreaded "citation needed" note, so I don't know how reliable it is. From my experience with Dhalgren, however, I would understand if it is true. The conventions that would identify it as science fiction are covert, obscured—yet I cannot imagine any other label that better describes this book.I am indebted to Dhalgren, because it is one of those books that challenge me as a reader. By challenge, I do not just refer to the effort required to read and comprehend the story itself. I mean that Dhalgren challenges how I approach reading and literature and my biases toward form and genre. This is a polarizing book that has earned high praise from some renowned authors, such as William Gibson, and nothing but vitriol from others, like Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick. It is simultaneously considered a sublime, transcendent work of literature and a piece of trash that is impossible to enjoy or take seriously. And so it calls into question the verity and integrity of the entire novel form. Why is a black square painted by me worthless while one painted by Kazimir Malevich is worth millions? What makes art good, and what makes some crap crap and other crap "transcendent"?Sometimes I worry I come off as a bit of a book snob. I read Umberto Eco, and worse, I write lengthy, gushing reviews about his books. I trash talk Dan Brown (but who doesn't?) and Stephenie Meyer. But really, I'm not that far gone: I might write reviews, but not for literary criticism journals; and so far, I have felt no desire to read anything by Thomas Mann. There is hope for me yet!If I were a book snob, I would probably have to write some sort of encomium for Dhalgren that reiterates the views of those like Gibson. Fortunately I can dodge that bullet and confess that I didn't enjoy Dhalgren. I'm still glad I read it, because I am a better person for it, and it is worth reading. The actual act of reading it, however, was onerous. I pushed through it, because I wanted to finish it and because Delany has earned enough respect from me as an author to deserve some faith from me as a reader. And there are parts of this book that are jaw-droppingly awesome. There are moments when everything the narrator is saying just clicks into place and makes perfect sense. It is as if the clouds in the perpetually-overcast city of Bellona have parted to display not one but two moons: there are brief glimpses of lucidity amid this happy madness.Unfortunately, most of the book is just confusing. I'm aware that this is the point and the purpose, and better people than me have read and will read this book and find more meaning than I dare to dredge from its pages. Alas, I like my prose concise and easy to comprehend. I am a fan of sublimity from simplicity, though I'm aware that it's possible to obtain through other methods. Mostly though, I just had a difficult time following the thread of a scene, let alone the entirety of the story.The best thing about Dhalgren, in my opinion, is its meta-commentary about the nature of writing and literature. The main character, the Kid, finds a notebook that contains the text of this novel. And then later it turns out he writes it, or wrote it. But for most of the story, he uses the blank pages to scribble poems, which then get published by Bellona's newspaper editor. So Kid becomes a bit of an overnight celebrity, and everyone is reading his poetry for lack of any better reading material in the city. But Kid isn't sure he's done anything worth reading, isn't sure if he's an artist at all or just a hack. He receives mentoring from an established poet who is just visiting Bellona, and everyone around him provides advice as well. I suppose it's possible to consider the characters sort of Jungian archetypes of the Kid's subconscious. It is an explanation that makes as much sense as any other that tries to undermine the fundamental incoherence of Delany's narrative.The depiction of race, gender, and sexuality in Dhalgren is also worth at least one person's undergraduate thesis. A great deal of this book is given over to explicit sex. Bellona is, in a twisted and ironic way, a post-scarcity society: no one needs money, because no one is really in a position to sell goods or services. With so much of the city abandoned, empty houses and stores have items for the taking, and one can move anywhere one wants. Moreover, thanks to the timey-wimey wibbley-wobbliness of the city, a store that one ransacks one day might be full and untouched two days later, just as a building that burnt to the ground last night might be restored, unscathed, the next morning. This post-scarcity economy juxtaposed with an environment that radiates unspeakable social poverty has the predictable effect on the inhabitants of the city: everyone is in a kind of dream world, in a holding pattern. Nothing and no one change, because if they did, it would mean admitting that their world is broken.In this post-scarcity society, however, there is still one valuable commodity: sex. There are few enough people in Bellona, but there is an endless variety of relationships, from monogamous marriages (the Richards) to polyamory (Kid, Lanya, and Denny) to a weird kind of cat-and-mouse game (George Harrison and June Richards). And regardless of who's doing it, there is lots of sex, all the time. Literally, I doubt more than ten pages will go by without someone talking about or engaging in intercourse. Because beneath the fragile veneer of civilization, it's clear that the conventional norms have broken down, and a new system of mores has arisen in their place. Delany has created a brand new society between these pages. It's post-apocalyptic, although the apocalypse was a localized phenomenon and tourists are still welcome. This accomplishment alone, however, is probably enough to make Dhalgren a good, if not great, work of science fiction.While still on the subject of sex and sexuality in Dhalgren, I would be remiss not to discuss Delany's depiction of homosexuality and bisexuality in characters like Tak and the Kid himself. I'm aware, intellectually, that this book is in many ways a reaction to the cultural movements of the 1960s. But I wasn't alive then, and I won't pretend that I understand any of that subtext. I'm not sure how the book's open portrayal of explicit homosexuality was taken in the 1970s. However, even in the second decade of the twenty-first century, in a country that is progressive enough to have legalized same-sex marriage, the scenes from Dhalgren are still the sort of thing more common in a very specific subset of erotica than in mainstream literature or even in science fiction. We're getting better at representing homosexual relationships in our media, but we've still a long way to go. So I have to give Delany kudos for his casual-yet-integral depictions of homosexuality and bisexuality in Dhalgren. There is no way this book would be the same without it: not only do these depictions augment Delany's exploration of what it means to deviate from social norms, but they are essential aspects of some of the most important characters, such as the Kid. His ruminations on his identity, which includes his sexuality and the degree to which he is attracted to men or to women, are a crucial part of Dhalgren. In fact, one might say that the entire book is about Kid's attempts to piece himself together, to recall his name and retrieve the parts of his identity that have eluded him. His time in Bellona, which is filled with a series of successive events that don't necessarily have a connecting plot driving them, is a vehicle for that exploration of self.I think that is true for everything in this book. I didn't like all of it, but there is nothing I would change. I cannot envision how to alter this book yet retain the effect it has on the reader. Dhalgren is "great" in the sense that it is challenging, thought-provoking, and memorable. It is defiant, because it does not conform to our conventional expectations of literature and of the novel form. For that reason, I think it's a little prickly: I cannot warm up to it as much as I can to, say, Dune. Yet I most emphatically dispute that it is trash of any kind. Dhalgren is an authentic and honest effort by Delany, and now I finally know what all the fuss is about.It's a little bit mindblowing. And very, very weird. Ultimately, it's a valuable reminder of a fact that's true for a lot of science fiction: a book doesn't have to be good to be great; and you don't have to like great fiction to appreciate its genius.

  • John
    2019-04-23 06:34

    Scorpions, come out and plaaaay!I don't recall much about The Warriors (saw it a long time ago and was probably drinking at the time) but that screenshot could easily be a scene from Dhalgren: The matching vests! The hairstyles! The unbridled homoeroticism!Dhalgren doesn't have much plot to speak of; most of the action is character-based. The protagonist does a lot of urban exploration whilst getting into the occasional gang fight and/or sex orgy. The lack of overarching plot is the only reason I'm withholding the fifth star, but it's by no means a dealbreaker; for the first 3/4 of the novel the character development was quite good enough to keep me turning the pages. The last 1/4 got a bit more challenging as the novel's structure starts to wig out into a stew of meta/PoMo craziness.As the Warriors reference implies, this novel is deeply rooted in 60s/70s counterculture. I recommend getting into the groove by watching Easy Rider or Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or something of the sort.

  • aPriL does feral sometimes
    2019-05-04 03:25

    ''Dhalgren' is pure top-drawer, high-end Great Books Literature, but it also is an annoying Post-Modernism takedown of EVERYTHING regarding humanity and our creative and architectural conceits (in ALL definitions of the words!). So, the novel is horrendously fricking looooonnnnngggg because the author, Samuel Delany, takes us readers on a slow-moving, if vivid, literary and mythological magical mystery tour of ALL of the decaying fruits of civilization when generative forces go missing. A disaster which goes vaguely described has occurred, some of which involved lightening, explosions and fires, and this disaster has driven out the upper and middle-classes of the city of Bellona, leaving behind the addicted, incompetent and mentally ill. The folks left behind are racially diverse and mostly peaceful, if somewhat uneasy with each other. Violence is uncomfortably near the surface.The fictional story of 'Dhalgren' is secondary to the literary flashbangs, so, gentle reader, few of the characters will move or engage you, even if the damn book ends up haunting your dreams, strengthening its hold on your imagination and stray musings as the months pass. It is one of those reads you finish initially thinking of how much time was wasted reading it, only to be unable to stop yourself from returning to its characters and scenes again and again in your mind. This story is full of imagery equivalent to songs that are earworms. Also, there is something mesmerizing about Delaney's droning, if intelligent, art criticisms and the repetitive non-generative (including pornographic pages and pages of graphic sex - however, spoiler, the fucking is nothing but empty calorie breakfast cereal, so to speak) or non-productive activities of the characters. The fictional middle-American city of Bellona and its inhabitants have all become Skid Road or inner-city ghetto habitués.'Dhalgren' has fallen off the radar of most readers due to its lack of chattering class popularity. I think it is considered too old-fashioned by other readers as well because of its 1970's science-fiction style, so be warned that I feel quite free from the usual conventional boundaries in revealing too much of what I think the author's endgame was in this review. I think most readers abandon the novel halfway and move on, so I feel I can say whatever without spoiling it too much in the typical manner. The book is like the famous novels Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow - a highly respected book but on everyone's secret list of DNF. Perhaps by writing of my guesses as to what the book was about, It might entice readers to finish it! The moral of the book's 900 pages though, I think, is that despite how we seduce, celebrate and congratulate ourselves on human perception, perspicacity and our ever gravid inventiveness, and no matter how much we fertilize ourselves to grow to ever greater heights, what we truly have now, as a society at the top of our game, is a sparkling shiny-thing civilization which is acting on us imaginatively like a tubal or chemical sterilization of the ovaries. Or perhaps we now have something similar to the beautiful glossy, but completely dead and rotting leaves of Autumn, the downside slope of mental fertility. We have been stripped of inventive propagation, of any new artistic growth by an over-achieving civilization. The life-giving yellow light of our intellect and productivity has become a massive red giant, sterilizing the earth. We are the god Apollo (god of poetry, music, art, fortunetelling, sun, light and knowledge), who chased the nymph Daphne with love-rape in his heart, causing her to ask the Greek gods to be changed from a vital active force of forward movement into a rooted insensate tree, losing the capability of viviparity. Am I exploding too much with metaphors myself? Perhaps. After fidgeting through chapter after chapter of the circular journal of events by this aggravatingly plodding plot, thick with mythological concepts and mirror puzzles and circular history (doomed to repeat), my self-imposed repressing mental passivity required to read it has become unchained! Ok, maybe just unhinged.If you have either educated yourself in literary criticism and in literature writing conventions or have some sort of literature or English degree, I think 'Dhalgren''will be comprehensible to you as a story with a sly underlying conversation going on with the reader that is full of literary symbols representing unvoiced but well-known literary ideas. However, unless you enjoy tackling experimental and challenging literary reads, and have a good education in ancient mythology, and do not mind 1960's-1970's baby-boomer boundary-busting of everything sexually holy and sacred, do not read this novel.'Dhalgren' is a book of ideas which often lights the brain up like a Scorpion gangbanger's light shield (a hologram projecting device invented by the author) because its concepts and language can be startlingly amazing despite many many many seemingly endless trudges through pages and pages of wordy art-critic exposition or through long and plodding chapters of the repetitive and dull meaningless activities of homeless street people and aimlessly unproductive violent gangs (heavy with symbolic representation of the Human Condition).One way, gentle reader, I can think to test your resolve in tackling difficult reads, is to present you with one of the puzzles the author used: Dhalgren = Grendel. Does that mean anything to you? If so, carry on!Quoted from Wikipedia about the epic poem of Beowulf which mentions the monster Grendel:"The poem deals with legends, was composed for entertainment, and does not separate between fictional elements and real historic events, such as the raid by King Hygelac into Frisia.""Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts. The poem also begins in medias res or simply, "in the middle of things", which is a characteristic of the epics of antiquity. Although the poem begins with Beowulf's arrival, Grendel's attacks have been an ongoing event. An elaborate history of characters and their lineages is spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and deeds of valour. The warriors form a kind of brotherhood linked by loyalty to their lord." myths, particularly Jason and the Argonauts, came to my mind as I read this stupifying and stupendous book! Why am I talking about the Jason myth of the Ancient Greeks? Jason lost a sandal, gentle reader, thus fulfilling a prophecy about what he would do (or did before in Buddhist circularity of time?!? hehe. Or a re-read, which is what I think 'Dhalgren' requires.)The no-name narrator (another sneaky reference to a famous Greek hero Odysseus of 'The Odyssey' - a poem which is about another wandering Greek hero - known as Ulysses in Roman myths, king of Ithaca, and his 10-year journey home after the war with Troy) of 'Dhalgren', called 'Kid' (as in ageless myth?) by the few remaining besieged residents, garbage people and drifters still inhabiting the abandoned rotting city of Bellona, walks through the entire book wearing only one shoe. Kid can't remember his name, and he appears to be occasionally delusional, plus his memory is full of gaps and discontinuities of time, but he is a literary aficionado and a charismatic leader. However, although he adores poetry (isn't poetry terribly personal and self-referential, an attempt to mirror one's own soul), and he is well-read, he also is so mixed up he cannot separate out if he is being original in his literary pursuits or if he is accidentally plagiarizing another author, even maybe himself!To be quick about it, the Ancient Greek Jason was a hero and the leader of the Argonauts, who journeyed from Greece in a quest seeking the original one-of-a-kind Golden Fleece, a task he was ordered to perform by his uncle, King Pelias.The story goes like this: Jason's uncle, King Pelias, who had stolen Jason's right to the throne, had thanked all of the gods except Hera. When Jason comes of age he sets out to claim his rightful throne. Hera, goddess wife of Zeus, wanted revenge against King Pelias, so she pondered whether she could use Jason to take down the civilized laws, government and power of Pelias. Hera concocted a test for Jason before deciding to help him in his quest for the return of his birthright. In his hero's journey to his uncle's court, he came to a river. An old weak woman asked Jason if he could carry her across the river. Would Jason choose to be the heroic helper of the less powerful, or would he selfishly push on to complete his quest for power? Ah ha! Jason picked up the old woman, placing her on his back. But Jason struggled under the woman's weight because unbenown to Jason, the old woman was Hera in disguise.So, Jason lost a sandal carrying Hera across the river. King Pelias had been told by an oracle "to beware a stranger who wears a single sandal." Prophecy and fate fulfilled!(When Jason arrived in Iolcus, he tries to instantly reclaim the throne. Pelias instead sends Jason on the quest for the Golden Fleece to prove his worthiness to the people. By the way, one of his adventures was finding an island where only women lived, similar to the women's quarters in Bellona!)Quoted from"Many years later, Pelias was holding games in honor of Poseidon, when Jason arrived in Iolcus and lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros ("wintry Anauros"), while helping an old woman to cross (the Goddess Hera in disguise). She blessed him for she knew, as goddesses do, what Pelias had planned. When Jason entered Iolcus (modern-day city of Volos), he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Jason, knowing that he was the rightful king, told Pelias that and Pelias said, "To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece." Jason happily accepted the quest..."About those chains many of the inhabitants of Bellona wear, in which the wearer can see himself reflected back in the many prisms woven into the chains:Revelation 20:1-2 New International Version (NIV)20 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.Jude 6 New International Version (NIV)6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.I am guessing about these mythological associations, by the way. If I am not mistaken, the novel is overrun with metafictional references, but I am already going long. Perhaps you can comment on ones you think you found, gentle reader.

  • Tom Mathews
    2019-05-14 01:15

    Dhalgren is one of those books where I was left wondering if it was a 'literary marvel and a groundbreaking work of American magical realism' or a literary version of the emperor’s new clothes. Based on hundreds of glowing reviews and its placement high on most must-read sci-fi lists, there are many who believe this is a classic. One reader in my discussion group said “It's enough to me that odd and interesting events happen, characters have interesting conversations/insights, and there are occasional hot sex scenes.”I’m not so sure. Weighing in at over 800 pages, much of what happens takes place in Bellona, a city devastated by some unknown calamity and follows the wanderings, adventures, discussions and passionate encounters of a homeless young man who cannot remember his name and assumes the moniker Kidd, or Kid depending where you are in the book. While Bellona and the people Kidd encounters are interesting, the book is essentially plotless with Delaney teasing readers frequently with inexplicable events and possibly profound insights that flutter just outside of the reader’s understanding. Written in the mid-1970s , Dhalgren shares the aimlessness and lack of purpose that permeated that decade between the sexual revolution and the AIDS epidemic, when physical passion replaced the passion engendered by a sense of purpose. The conversations about such still-debated topics as race, gender and sexuality may have been groundbreaking and original when written but now seem to be shallow and selfish. Maybe the most profound thing Delaney says is his statement on page 685 that “balling a couple of dozen people in one night is merely a prerequisite for understanding anything worth knowing.” William Gibson was known to say that Dhalgren is a riddle never meant to be solved. Maybe it is, like Russia, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Or maybe, like several of the denizens of Bellona, the Emperor has no clothes. Who’s to say?

  • Elizabeth
    2019-05-10 22:41

    No. No no no. What? No. Get a second shoe. Take a shower. Stop sleeping with everyone. Simultaneously.

  • Wanda
    2019-04-22 22:27

    Probably 2.5 stars....There is a lot going on in this novel—lots of references to mythology, I think there are deliberate parallels to Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and a lot of exploration of what it means to be an artist and to live an artistic life.Our unnamed protagonist begins the adventure when he encounters (and has sex with) a woman who turns into a tree, a dryad. It is she who ensures that he receives the chains that will mark him as special in the place where he is going. He is then picked up by a truck driver, who reminded me of the ferryman Charon who delivered souls to Hades in the Greek underworld. The truck driver stops, without a word, and the main character knows that he must get out and enter the city of Bellona, which has gone through some unnamed calamity and has become a literal Underworld. On his way in, he meets a group of women who are leaving and receives from them an orchid—not the flower, but a bladed weapon worn on the wrist. Between the chains and the orchid, he is marked as a person of consequence in this new, violent world that he is entering. Most of the people of Bellona go by nicknames or aliases and the protagonist soon receives his—Kid/Kidd/the Kid. Delaney emphasizes that he is in his 30s, but looks like he is 16 or 17 and this appearance of youth is noted in his name. He soon becomes de facto leader of a group of Scorpions, a gang by any other measure. Kid is King Arthur to a dirty, scrofulous bunch of knights of the Round Table, or maybe Hrothgar to a shaggy, stinky bunch of Danes. But this is ironic, as they seem to suffer most from boredom—having nothing of any consequence to actually do. Violence is just a way to alleviate the tedium. (They refer to their house as a nest, perhaps a nod to Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.)The cover proclaims Dhalgren to be “The major novel of love and terror at the end of time.” I didn’t see it that way—rather there was a lot of sex and neurosis. It takes the sexual banner that Heinlein began championing in his fiction and extends it to the gay and bisexual communities. Kid’s triad with Denny (male) and Lanya (female) is central to the last half of the book—perhaps if King Arthur had crawled into bed with Lancelot and Gwenivere that myth could have had a happier ending? The sex scenes are very much like reading a porno magazine—catering only to the male gaze and often involving coercion or, at the very least, questionable consent.Like Stephen Daedelus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Kid seems to be a stand-in for Delaney himself in Dhalgren. Wikipedia helpfully let me know that Delaney was ambidextrous and a bisexual who eventually identified himself as gay—characteristics of Kid. But the major issue that Delaney explores through Kid is the nature of the life of an author. Kid writes (or does he copy? It’s never made explicit) poetry and enjoys notoriety in Bellona society for this quirk. When his book of poetry is published, he titles it Brass Orchids (is this a play on the etymological meaning of orchid, which is testicle in Latin?), which one must have to survive the publishing world and/or Bellona. There is an especially interesting scene when, during the launch party for Kid’s book, another poet critiques his work harshly—not a safe course of action when Kid has his orchid and a loyal gang of Scorpions along with him. Lanya convinces him that the other guy is just jealous and that Kid should let go of the criticism rather than beating him senseless. Criticism is a part of being published, she tells him, and something that authors must learn to live with.I am not a fan of modernist literature—I admit to preferring full sentences and more traditionally structured narrative. There is much more going on in this novel—I’ve only scratched the surface of all the complexities—and I could definitely appreciate Delaney’s talent at folding so many things into this almost-900 page novel. I’m sure that with study, I could write a dissertation on it. However, I didn’t enjoy the reading experience enough to re-read the book. I can appreciate why it is considered a ground-breaking work of science fiction while acknowledging that it will never be a favourite book of mine.

  • El
    2019-05-18 02:36

    I finished this book this morning, and I just haven't managed to find the words to write a proper review. I still can't quite decide between 3, 4, or 5 stars. I started re-reading the first few pages when I finished, and just now read some more of the book - this time at random places in the text.I don't know what I expected when I started this, but purposely didn't get excited since the whole science fiction genre and I are so hit-or-miss most of the time. I also heard this is like the science fiction version of James Joyce, and considering how I felt reading Ulysses, I thought I'd be a hateful wench during the reading of Dhalgren.If nothing else, this book has almost convinced me to try reading Ulysses again. Maybe I really was too hard on Ulysses when I read it. Maybe... or maybe I'd rather just watch paint dry.But really I think Delaney had a clearer vision than Joyce, and expressed himself much more eloquently and - well - interestingly. I'm not going to sit here and wax philosophical about what the book meant, and I'm not going to turn my nose up at others who didn't like the book and accuse them of "not understanding it". No one understands it, not really. William Gibson says so in the introduction to my edition. I like to think I had moments where I thought I understood what was happening, or the direction in which it was going, but it never quite gelled in the right way. Not saying it gelled in the wrong way either. It just... was. One of my GR friends likened it to LOST meets Burning Man, and that's about right (and I'd like to suggest throwing in a little David Lynch as well). As I'm re-watching all of LOST with my brother, and having just spent the afternoon doing that just with him today, that's the most accurate comment yet. And it's not even accurate. Make sense? Of course not.This isn't the review I wanted to write, not that it even really qualifies as a review. I have a feeling I'll be re-reading this one. Now that I know the story I can look for other things. I probably won't be doing this anytime soon, but the fact that I want to is unusual for me. So that means something. And maybe then I'll erase this entire box and write a real review. One that includes the stuff I really dig about it, the themes, the fact that it was written in 1975 and is filled with issues of the time - sex & gender, race, religion, philosophy, homosexuality & heterosexuality, feminism, mysticism... so many -isms in this book. It's chock-full of -isms.I wouldn't recommend this book. I probably won't recommend this book. (Except to my brother, and I'm curious what my boyfriend would think, but really, that's it.) It's not a book for everyone, and I wouldn't even know what kind of person it would good for anyway. I think it was good for me because I enjoyed loved reading it. I wanted to know what happened, to the best of my ability. To me that's the sign of a good book - I hated my job the most during the week I spent reading this, not because my job sucks (ummm...) but because I wanted to read this. This book is the reason that I am a reader. When I think about what makes Reading exciting to me, it's because of books like this. The books that I live, breathe, eat, and sleep. My brother might wind up hating it and we'll probably never speak again because he might hate me for recommending this to him. But that's okay. This was my experience. I loved it. There. I said it.So, okay. I guess that answers my question. 5 stars.

  • Leo Robertson
    2019-05-24 04:41

    Re-read made me subtract a star.Some books are so into themselves that they defy reading. (This is a bad thing.)Unbelievably repetitive to such an extent that it can't be excused away with that all-grace-saver, "That's the point."I have five pages in this that I really enjoyed: one of them is pg 285. I can't remember the others.I didn't read this all the way through this time. I did the first time, but it didn't do that much good because I don't remember any of it.Delany is hit-and-miss: why this is one of his most popular books, I've no idea, but I also have no way to fairly assess this book given that it captures a mood that no longer exists...Read something else.

  • Ruediger Landmann
    2019-05-09 06:42

    When a book includes a passage like:Upstairs a woman was laughing, and the laughter grew, ghter grew, laughter: “Stop it! Stop it will you?” in Mr Richards’ harsh voice. “Just stop it.” op it, ghter grew ew.and you have no immediate way of knowing whether it’s an OCR error when the ebook was put together, a typesetting error when the original printed book was put together, or whether it was meant to say that, you know you’re dealing with no ordinary text.[1]Dhalgren is a long, cryptic, and weirdly hypnotic book. Thoroughly surrealist, it weaves highly naturalistic descriptions into a narrative that makes no real sense; where elements of the story contradict each other; and where, by the end of the book, barriers between fiction and metafiction deteriorate completely. Much speculative fiction discards the laws of our own universe and sets up its own internal logic to drive the story. Dhalgren starts like this, and then discards even its own logic. Things just are, like the way you know and accept impossible things in a dream.For what it’s worth (and it’s really not much), Dhalgren is the story of a man who has forgotten his own name who journeys to a city named Bellona, situated in the centre of the United States. The novel deals with his explorations of the city and his interactions with the people who inhabit its wasted, decaying landscape. But really, this is beside the point. This really is a novel that creates a set of experiences for the reader to live through, and I think its length is essential to that immersive experience. Dhalgren is a dream, and not a pleasant one; full of dark and confronting images. Reading this long book forces you to live the dissolution that its central character experiences. Throughout the book are hints that the experience being related is possibly drug-induced, or the product of a psychosis, or both, but nothing is ever established for certain. Such was Dhalgren’s hold over me that at times, as I was reading, I was left with a palpable sense of dread and disorientation. To me, this is what the novel is about; not about the events or characters depicted. The unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions that the text elicited in me, the lack of a coherent story, Delaney’s prodigious vocabulary (I’ve never used the dictionary function of my Kindle so much!), and the sheer length of the work made this a very difficult book to read. However, I am awed by the demented genius of its construction and am very, very glad to have made the trip. I hope I will have time to read Dhalgren again one day, but it’s exhausting, so that day won’t be any time soon.Recommended to people who like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Beatles’ “Revolution Number 9”. [1] Yeah, it was meant to say that.

  • Dan
    2019-05-09 02:13

    I read this book because my home boy Buer from high school recommended it. And then my old roomie Jimbo gave me his copy of this book at his wedding. The conversation went like this:Me: "I'll get this back to you when I'm done reading it."Jim: "That won't be necessary. I never want to see this book again."Quite ominous... The copy of the book I read had a forward by William Gibson. He is one of my favorite authors, and he cited this book as one of his favorites. So now, this book has a Buer and Gibson endorsement. It is widely regarded as an excellent literary work of science fiction. I'm thinking "Ok, this is worth giving a shot."This book is about a fictional city Bellona, somewhere in middle America. Some disaster has occurred there and most of the population has fled. Addicts, the mentally ill, the poor, street gangs, and the bohemians are all that remain of the population. The disaster is described but never explained. This is a key part of the story. The disaster isn't as important as how the disaster affects the people in the city. The city is described as shrouded in mist and smoke. There are no seasonal changes. Occasionally strange astronomical phenomenon appear over the city. The city of Bellona has many strange happenings which are never explained, and are alluded to as either magical, or a rip in the space-time continuum.The main character of the book is "The Kid." An anonymous wanderer with a history of mental illness. The story is told in third person limited point of view, centered on the Kid. Except for the last part of the book, which is a fictional incomplete transcript of The Kid's Journal. Because the main character is mentally ill, the reader never really knows what is real and what is hallucination. This contributes to the confusion over what occurs in the city. This book is described as "a riddle that was never meant to be solved." And the author as much as says so in the book. The book raises many questions, but only answers most of the small questions that are raised.There is lots of graphical descriptions of disturbing sexual activity in this book.The writing is different. At times there is little to no grammatical structure, and at other times, the prose is beautiful and well crafted. This tactical use of language definitely helps convey the general confusion of the city to the reader.Futhermore, the general style of writing in the book lends to the confusing nature of the descriptions of the story. The narrative style changes. An article that the kid is reading in the book may blend seamlessly into another paragraph. In the portion of the book that is the transcript of a journal, the sections begin and end en media res. Seriously, they begin and end in the middle of sentences, this is to lend air to the impression that this is an incomplete transcript of a possibly damaged notebook that The Kid carries around through out the story.The whole linguistic structure of this book is carefully crafted to convey the confusing nature of the city and to force the reader to concentrate very hard and become engrossed in the book. It is an interesting literary technique but it is very difficult to read.Gibson claims that this book is an allegory for the social upheaval that occurred in the US during the 60s. He claims that the city of Bellona is a metaphor for the counter culture. I agree with this.All in all this is an excellent example of what I call "impressionist" literature. The story isn't as important as how the work makes you feel. Gibson coopted this very well into his own work (but also manages to have his stories remain coherent.) Or a Wes Anderson film.I think that this book is very interesting in the context of the Hurricane Katrina Disaster. Much of the social chaos that the author describes in this book seems quite a bit like the chaos that existed in NOLA after the hurricane.This book was long and difficult to read. It was slow reading, and it was engrossing. I'm glad I read it. But I'm not sure I would recommend this undertaking to another person.I'm glad I'm done with this book. I feel like I have escaped from the city myself.