March 23, 2006

Samuel R. Delany is a novelist, critic, and Professor of English at Temple University. His books include Dhalgren (1975), The Mad Man (1994), Atlantis: Three Tales (1995), and his bestselling study Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999). For his fiction and nonfiction he has been recognized with Hugo and Nebula awards. He has also received the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to gay and lesbian literature. He lives in New York.


Introduction by Lance Olsen

1. Here are three facts that may or may not be authentic about Chip Delany. Either way, they unfold something important about him. One: his last name is one of the most misspelled in literature, with over sixty different versions of it appearing in reviews. Two: "Delany" is even misspelled on the title page of his short-story collection Driftglass. Three: the Library of Congress once incorrectly recorded his nationality as English. In other words, and pleasingly, Samuel R. Delany exists within our culture as a category of dyslexia, a certain social disruption, the trace of a kind of linguistic and epistemological freedom.

2. I first met Chip in person in September, 1995, when I invited him out from the east coast to the University of Idaho, where I was teaching at the time, to give a reading and lead a week-long fiction workshop as our Distinguished Visiting Writer. What struck me forcefully was that he possessed one of the kindest smiles buried inside one of the most impressive beards in our planetary system. One afternoon I timorously gave him a critical study I had written a short time earlier; the next afternoon he had finished it and was ready to discuss it in detail and at length. After his reading on Wednesday evening, we retired to a small bar at the front of a Mexican restaurant called Casa D’Oro on Main Street in Moscow, and within minutes discovered to our delight that we shared a favorite writer: the inimitable late outrider of modernist aesthetics, Guy Davenport, every one of whose shockingly gorgeous sentences and kaleidoscopic narratives serves to wake us in the midst of our dreaming.

3. But I first met the geography of Chip’s critifictional imagination years and years before. What I fell in love with from the beginning was its refusal to stay still. It’s like what Tak says about Bellona—that haunting Heisenbergian city in the middle of Middle America where bridges and streets shift location without warning, and double moons and gigantic red suns churn into the sky—in Dhalgren, Chip’s masterpiece. The reason Tak remains, he explains in what I take to be a Nietzschean turn with which Chip did and does identify, is because there one is "free. No laws: to break, or to follow. Do anything you want. Which does funny things to you. Very quickly, surprisingly quickly, you become … exactly who you are." That is, Chip’s writing rhymes, in an epistemological and ontological sense, with the Zone in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (which appeared a year earlier than and exists in my mind as a companion piece to Dhalgren), where "all fences are down, one road as good as another." It represents a narratological possibility space where everything can and should and will be thought about language, structure, sexuality, gender, genre, race, and class.

4. Here are three key quotations by Chip that have helped me contextualize his work. One: science fiction is "a tool to help you think." Two: "Well, I like teaching. Watching ignorance self-destruct is a joy." Three: "Marx still provides the basic transformation by which the rare, simple declarative statement in the nonstop din of this language of human-made, human-charged, and human-structured signs may be translated into its political, economic, and spiritual equivalent: who made it? how much were they paid? who profited, and by how much, by its sale? who profits most from its having been put specifically there—in that specific syntagmatic order with the world around it?"

5. When talking about Chip Delany, five notes, it turns out, are ninety-four too few. So please accept my apology, and please help me welcome multiple winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, recipient of the Pilgrim Award for outstanding scholarship in science fiction studies and the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime’s contribution to lesbian and gay literature, professor of English and creative writing at Temple University, author of more books of fiction and nonfiction than, collectively, we here can count—including, apparently, the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare—and one of the most significant, insightful, incisive, warm, generous, and transgressive polymaths you’ll ever have the joy to meet in this dimension: Chip Delany …

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