Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Amazon fucking HATES my Dhalgren review.

Why? Beats me. But first, they published it in such a way that it wasn't visible from my profile page, nor was it visible from the book's own page, unless you specifically clicked on "four-star review" and went to the second page. So I deleted it and resubmitted it in the hopes that this would be rectified. And now they don't want it at all, apparently. It makes no sense, but it kinda pisses me off. Anyway, here it is for your delectation.

When I first read Dhalgren, at the tender age of nineteen, I was blown away. I wasn't a particularly ambitious reader at the time, but, due to the SF label (applied due to Delany's prior record, even though it's not really science fiction), I was lured in by this massive, intellectually challenging tome, and I was absolutely taken with it. Never having come face-to-face with such an intellect, my critical faculties weren't really fully in gear. Coming back to the novel nine years later--hopefully at least a BIT less callow!--I think I am better able to understand and appreciate what Delany does well while at the same time remaining keenly aware of his failings.

The basic premise is irresistible, and it's more or less borne out by the book iteslf. The portrait of a society come loose from its moorings (one that has, essentially, lost its historical context) and the people who live therein is very finely-drawn. From the Richards family's hysterical efforts to retain a no-longer-operative order, to the Scorpions' somewhat aimless quasi-gang anomie, to Roger Calkins' attempts at experimenting with social order by setting up his own little fiefdom, to the defiantly utopian menage à trois at the center of the novel, very few stones are left unturned in this regard. I think it bears comparisons to Pynchon's recent Against the Day, which depicts a similar kind of societal breakdown, albeit without the city metaphor.

Furthermore, Delany is really smart in terms of race, sexuality, and gender, and the ways in which such concepts become warped and distorted when the society propping them up is abruptly no longer in a position to do any such thing. The gangbang scene in the last section is more profound than a gangbang scene has any right to be.

ALL THAT SAID: this is far from a perfect novel, and most of that has to do with the central character, the nameless Kid, who just isn't a very compelling or likable guy. One gets the strong impression that he represents a kind of adolescent wish fulfillment ("poet, lover, and adventurer"), especially as regards his prodigious sexual exploits. Many of the secondary characters--eg, Tak, Bunny, Nightmare--are interesting and sympathetic, but they are not the focus of the novel. Kid is, and this gets old after a while. I can't tell you how cathartic I found the section in which fellow poet Frank absolutely tears his poetry apart. And I don't think that such catharsis was Delany's intention.

Furthermore, the aforementioned sex is so omnipresent that it becomes exhausting. Kid's stamina is well beyond that of any human to ever have walked the earth; this may go along with the utopian aspect of the novel, but it also kinda had the effect of making me want to never have sex again, which I can't imagine was the point. His primary partners, Lanya and Denny, are less annoying than he himself is, but they aren't all that interesting either, and I found that one of the novel's central ideas--that a free'n'easy relationship like this can rise above, transcend, and in some way redeem all the chaos around it--was undermined by my general indifference.

Delany is a great writer. There's no denying that much. I think "to wound the autumnal city" surely deserves to go down with "a screaming comes across the sky" as one of the all-time great opening lines. But I don't know, at this point in his career, that he was necessarily capable of adequately controlling that gift. There are numerous passages that, while technically impressive, amount to what it might be fair, given the novel's preoccupations, to describe as verbal masturbation. I won't lie to you: it gets old after a certain point, especially in the somewhat gimmicky (if often effective) last section.

But I don't want to get too down on the novel. If it seems like I am, that's probably just because it's easier to criticize than to praise. There is no denying that it stays with you; in places it is luminous, Delany's indulgences aside--and how many really ambitious novels are devoid of self-indulgence? It's no Gravity's Rainbow (which may however be an unfair comparison); still, I think it deserves to go down as one of the better products of seventies postmodern counterculture.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Well, "one of the better products of seventies postmodern counterculture" sure sounds like faint praise. I know you didn't mean it that way, but still, it's like saying "one of the top 800 albums of 2007."

I'm surprised Amazon didn't like it. Keep trying to resubmit it -- I have had similar problems before, which were eventually rectified through blind perseverance. Also, maybe they will like it more if you replace "masturbation" with "onanism."

SK

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Although, wait. Have you reviewed the novel before? They have a moronic policy where, if you review something you reviewed before, they keep the old date. Hence why you might have been relegated to the second page. Sadly, there's no way around that, unless you can find a different edition of the book with a different set of reviews.

SK

6:14 PM  
Blogger GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

You're right--that does look kind of silly. Who died and made me an expert on seventies counterculture, anyway? I think that may have been an unconscious effort to denigrate the book--sure, I LIKE it, but something about it sort of annoys me nonetheless. I do not know!

I actually had had a previous review up, from WAY back in the day. It kind of sucked, so I deleted it for the new one.

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Ah, that may be why. They posted your review, but it still has the same date as the old one, so it doesn't show up in your "recent additions" list. That happened to me once -- I deleted and rewrote an old review, but the new version was still dated 2002. I complained to them, but they said they couldn't do anything about it.

Well, submit it anyway, in case somebody wants to flip through all the reviews. Better someone has a chance to read it than no one, eh?

- SK

8:30 PM  
Blogger GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

...also, if they're okay with "gangbang," you wouldn't think "masturbation" would be a problem. But who knows how their minds work?

8:54 PM  

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