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Samuel R. Delany First of all: Dhalgren is the last name of a certain William: William Dhalgren. This William was not a character in the book. At least not a physical, real, legitimate character. It was one name in a list of names; and it was the name that attracted the attention of the main character, who had forgotten his name. So, Kidd (as he was dubbed on arrival to the city of Bellona) thought for a little bit, that maybe this name was his name. But he ended up remembering his name (first and middle only) in the end, and William was not it. To title a book the last name of an inactive, non-character is weird. It is the title! It is what the book is called! The name of the book . . . This oddity is exemplary; very characteristic of this super-strange book. I barely know where to start . . . How about with why I wanted to read this
particular book. The setting is postapocalyptic Bellona. The fictional city is said to be one of the great United States’ most populous. Until it fell apart. Nobody really knew how it started, but the city caught fire, and stayed afire throughout the entire book (a building here, a block there). The great majority of the populace left (some 15% or so remain). The social system broke down near entirely; electricity became scattered and undependable. And the rest of the United States just looked the other way. No media coverage, no attention at all was given to this devastated place. The city was free to do, essentially, whatever it liked. This is why I wanted to read Dhalgren. It is so similar to my novela-in-progress: Our New Centers. That is: a landscape/city ravaged by a catastrophic doomsday. How do people eat? Where do they live? What social reality fills the void? In Dhalgren they do whatever they damn well want. If you want to live in a particular building, move in. If someone is living there, kick them out, kill them if you wish. In the prologue, William Gibson writes to the effect: Dhalgren breaches certain agreements between the reader and the writer, certain expectations are blatantly ignored. When I read that, I didn’t really know what he meant.
Now I am beginning to. It is very difficult to explain. Part of it is ellipsis - the omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues. An amount of information is left out, turning the book into a curious riddle; from small exclusions in text prompting inference, to huge concepts regarding the very structural core of the story. This writing style is curious, artistic, fascinating, and at times addictive. Int his way, the book models real life, which isn’t so cut-and-dried, or black and white. Yes, the book is gray. Moving on. Dhalgren is blindingly radical. I concern myself to have a relatively open mind, to be relatively accepting of different opinions, actions, and sentiments. I believe myself to lead a unique life; unconventional, eccentric, offbeat. Dhalgren made me feel like an outdated, pickled prude. Like a senile, antiquated goody-goody. It forced me to redefine my ideas of morality, readjust my levels of comfortability and acceptance. Ironically (but not surprisingly) this book was written in the seventies. Sure, most of the outrageousness is due to the sexual content. Very, very disturbing. From under-age, to blades and blood. Homoeroticism, and consensual gang-bangs. One time it was
fantasies concerning a dead boy. Yes, intensely uncomfortable stuff. I didn’t even want to write that last one. I haven’t been able to tell anyone about that last one either. I explain the homo-erotics, even blades and blood stuff; but not that last one. The kid was freshly dead. He had fallen down an elevator shaft, pudding and jellied. Now why would Samuel Delany want to write about that? Because he appreciates it? Because he wants to push the ‘envelope?’ Is he trying to challenge contemporary ethics? Is he writing about it, because the fact is: there are people who do this sort of thing and they so rarely have a place in mainstream fiction? I do indeed wonder why. I also wondered, quite often, why I kept reading it. One reason I came up with is that when I start something I nearly ’need’ to finish it. Another is: if something exists, I will experience it -at least once. But I think the overarching reason is because of everything else in the book. The characters are so unusual; they feel real; very unlike characters of a book. They often are flawed, their motives are often obscured; their lives are curious. The main character -as I have mentioned- has forgotten his name; he is at this moment sane, the next a nutcase. His movements through the shattered cityscape are fluid and smooth; that is his navigation
of the geography as well as his ascendency up the social ladder. Seamlessly he meets the right people, goes to the right place. From Bunny -the transexual go-go dancer, to Mr. Calkins -the city kingpin: operator of the only media source in the city, The Times newspaper, pioneer of the only bar (somehow managing to ’sell’ beer for free throughout the book), and founder of the temple, the city’s center of religion. All the kid gangbangers -called Scorpionswith their holographic projections: frogs, manticores, an amoeba-like thing, scorpions, dragons, and birds (I believe Mr. Calkins to be responsible for the equipment, though it went unsaid). Mr. and Mrs. Richards. Fascinating characters. He goes off to work everyday and she plays all domestic. ‘Work’ is a factory empty of people and equipment; it’s just him, taking a paper hither and thither until the day is done. They live in a perpetual lie, by choice. The deception keeps them sane. If they could be called sane. Her laugh is too overt -forced and feigned -disturbingly, sadly demented. Their lives are humiliatingly entertaining. George Harrison. A huge spade (the often-used term for a person of color) that had a scandalous sex-scapade with an tiny, white girl. Supposedly it was consensual, but who knows, except June, the girl, the daughter of
Mr. and Mrs. Richards. Somehow it seems this relationship is -to some degree- responsible for the crumbling of the city; but again, it isn’t said directly. Regardless, giant posters of a buck-naked George are all over the city. A church gives them out for free. I think that about does it. Following are short extractions of particular interest. Some quotes conclude with a short justification as to why I regard it. And following that is a list of vocabulary list; most are words I did not know, some are words I consider especially appealing. Aside from the obvious reason to keep a vocabulary list (to learn new words and better understand the written work) was to see if some of the words might not be made-up. Granted, some of the words I could not find in the dictionary may have been incorrectly recorded (often in candlelight, headlamp light, and other dubiousnesses). Yet most I consider to be invented.
QUOTES . . .
“The host winked at me through his sherry glass.” a typically jam packed sentence: there are at least two people; there is a social structure (that of host and guest); the mood of the host; a beverage.
Pope couplet: “When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw/ the line too labors and the words move slow.” it is very difficult to say this fast. one is forced to labor through it; I imagine this is some kind of onomatopoeia which probably has a name: the way it reads reflects the contextual situation “Anxiety lost outlines beneath glittering fatigue.” “Forks tick tin.” I like the way that sounds. “The bulletin board was a shale of notices and pamphlets.” “Swam up like a fish in a brown pool to meet the china rim.” “The sky had deepened to a color that could be called blue.” I am interested in color descriptions; this one describes the color in a particularly odd way; ‘could’ be called blue. “ . . . and not achieve even that.” another loaded statement. the depth of the short sentence says more than the words. “Black against four-fifths black.”
“Belligerently nice.” funny. “Loudly wind walked away.” I like the sound of this one too. “Where a nerve spasm in the shin crumbles a city of bone.” “Where am I -but wouldn’t think: going?” again: a thick sentence. poses the character as thoughtful and contemplative with so few words. “He told himself some other things too.” the other things were not clarified, leaving the reader to wonder. “The street looked so wide -but that was because there were no cars at either curb.” “Some looters lingered, till the owners followed their shadows into the night.” “Kid looked at the large, lined knuckles and thought of the cracks in the black earth.” these were the knuckles of George. a unique description of size, or bigness. “Outside, the evening was purple grey; smoke blunted the facades across the street.” “The city absorbed the sound, returned no echoes.”
He pictured great maps of darkness town down before more.” “The street lamp pulsed and died, pulsed and died. Black letters on a yellow field announced and announced and announced: Jackson Avenue.” I love the repetition. “This is not what I am thinking. This is merely (he thought) what thinking feels like.” “I, I’m afraid, must guard my honour more jealously.” by saying ‘I’m afraid,’ the character feels more human, more thoughtful. aside from supposedly needing to guard honour or what have you, the character expresses (cleverly) her opinion. “What a strange, marvelous, and marvelously inadequate object.” the object was a published book written by the main character. that an object can be at once strange, marvelous, and marvelously inadequate is surprising and startling. “I really want a drink very much.” really and very together make a statement unusually clear. but in a dazed way. any eloquence is lost due to practical need. “Kid decided: I’m being told, not asked, and said nothing.”
what he was asked ended in a question mark, thereby indicating to the reader that it was a question; but the tone said otherwise. and instead of describing the tone, the action of the character communicates it. the question implied the information in a way that sounded like a statement. “Flames -or a dog- barked.” to think of flames barking . . . “I went out to sit on the steps and was working on playing in my a poem.” this one is great: the last chapter (150 or so pages) was an incomplete journal. Often words were crossed out and alternatives were provided. effectively, this allowed the reader to read two, sometimes three variations of one idea, that is written slightly different. it created an insight into the editing process. this sentence in particular though: not working on -playing in- and not my -a- poem. wonderful. “We must count ourselves lucky to have any document at all.” this was said about the unfinished journal, that is the last chapter. what is funny is that samuel delany, the author of dhalgren, had a character not finish a journal (which samuel delany -in reality- did not finish). “Who I wished looked something other than a chocolate cow.” again, giving information to the reader: that this girl looks like a chocolate cow; but additionally supplying
the reader with an opinion, and as is typical, slyly done. “The late afternoon got lost in the days momentum.” sounds familiar, as in every day familiar. “Inside the upended jug, wine splashed like a small, plum sea.” “They regard her as their personal catastrophe, an awesome delight.” ‘“No . . .?’ in a way that asked why I asked.” often tonality is described. because you can ask something in so many ways. I have heard that the majority of meaning is lifted from how, not what is said. “From the edge, looking down, I couldn’t see where any rubble had landed.” not, ‘it was really deep,’ or ’so many hundreds of feet,’ but ‘I couldn’t see where . . .’ it is so deep, the character couldn’t see the bottom. “When the problem is anything as complicated as one word spoken between two people, both suspecting they understand it . . .” one word. between two people. complicated. “She grabbed his arm and yanked, not pulled, yanked.”
verdigrised - (not found) verdigris - a bright bluishgreen encrustation or patina formed on copper or brass by atmospheric oxidation, consisting of basic copper carbonate logy - dull or heavy in motion or thought; sluggish annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand obtuse - annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand synopsizable - (not found) synopsis - a brief summary or general survey or something; an outline of the plot of a book, play, movie, or episode Therefore: synopsizable is a graspable, understandable, synopsis. vapid - offering nothing this is stimulating or challenging inane - silly; stupid affable - friendly, good-natured, or easy to talk to uvula - a fleshy extension at the back of the soft palate that hangs above the throat. banal - so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring effeminate - (of a man) having or showing characteristics regarded as typical of a woman;
unmanly awry - away from the appropriate, planned, or expected course corollary - a proposition that follows from (and is often appended to) one already proved; a direct or natural consequence or result tattle n. - gossip; idle talk laudatory - (of speech of writing) expressing praise and commendation incisive - (or a person or mental process) intelligently analytical and clear-thinking acumen - the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain penchant - a strong or habitual liking for something or tendency to do something convolved - roll or coil together, entwine appellation - a name or title; the action of giving a name to a person or thing worsted - a fine smooth yarn spun from combed longstaple wool cordovan - a kind of soft leather made originally from
goatskin and now from horsehide palatal rugae - (palatal - or or relating to the palate; rugae not found) jounce - jolt or bounce plosive - denoting a consonant that is produced by stopping airflow using the lips, teeth, or palate, followed by a sudden release or air belle - a beautiful girl or woman, especially the most beautiful at a particular event or in a particular group falsetto - a method of voice production used by male singers, especially tenors, to sing notes higher than their normal range sagesse - (not found, but assumed a derivative of sage) hove - past tense of heave - lift or haul with great effort austere - severe or strict in manner, attitude, or appearance; extremely plain, simple style; unadorned caul - the amniotic (innermost) membrane enclosing a fetus elision - the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking; the process of joining together or merging
things, especially abstract ideas crenellated - provide (a wall of a building) with battlements apocopate - (not found) assumed derivative of apocope - the loss of a sound or sounds at the end of a word, e.g., in the derivation of curio from curiosity incorrigible - (of a person or their tendencies) not able to be corrected, improved, or reformed; could be wrong, but I thought the word was spelled: incorrible, thereby reforming the very word coda - the concluding passage of a piece or movement, typically forming an addition to the basic structure filigree - ornamental work of fine typically gold or silver) wire formed into delicate tracery intimating - imply or hint ganglial - (not found) assumed correlative of ganglia a structure containing a number of nerve cell bodies, typically linked by synapses, and often forming a swelling on a nerve fiber; a well-defined mass of gray matter within the central nervous system monogram - a motif of two or more letters, typically a person’s initials, usually interwoven or otherwise combined in a decorative design, used as a logo to
identify a personal possession hirsute - hairy timbre - the character or quality of musical sound or voice distinct from its pitch and intensity demonstrably - clearly and undeniably noncommittally - (of a person or a person’s behavior or manner) not expressing or revealing commitment to a definite opinion or course of action lapped - overtake dither - be indecisive propitious - giving or indicating a good chance of success; favorable lucency - glowing with or giving off light brocade - a rich fabric, usually silk, woven with a raised pattern, typically with gold or silver thread shebang - a matter, operation, or set of circumstances; a rough hut or shelter axletree - (not found) zarf - (not found)
finion - (not found) admiss - (not found) assumed derivative of admissible - acceptable or valid, especially as evidence in a court of law; having the right to be admitted to a place chary - cautious or wary about the amount one gives or reveals newels - the central supporting pillar of a spiral or winding staircase runneled - (not found) assumed derivative of runnel - a narrow channel in the ground for liquid to flow through; as in the ground was runneled to allow water flow grave v. - engrave on a surface; poetic: fix (something) indelibly in the mind taffeta - a fine lustrous silk or similar synthetic fabric with a crisp texture jocularly - fond of or characterized by joking; humorous or playful op-art - a form of abstract art that gives the illusion of movement with precise use of pattern and color, or in which conflicting patterns emerge and overlap (WOW; what a summation of the book) recalcitrant - having an obstinately uncooperative
attitude toward authority or discipline sadism - the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others; deliberate cruelty doffed - remove (an item of clothing) behoove - it is a duty or responsibility for someone to do something; it is incumbent on ineffably - too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words; not to be uttered sickled - (not found); less derived form sickle rilled - (not found); assumed derivative of rill - a small stream dun - of a dull grayish-brown color; poetic: dark, dusky swive-sticky - (not surprised) swive - have sexual intercourse with sunder - split apart glib - (of words of the person speaking them) fluent and voluble but insincere and shallow antepenultimate - last but two words in a series; third last
colophon - a publisher’s emblem or imprint, especially one on the title page or spine of a book clomping - walk with a heavy tread iniquity - immoral or grossly unfair behavior epaulet - an ornamental shoulder piece on an item of clothing, typically on the coat or jacket of a military uniform ken - one’s range or knowledge or sight; know: recognize; identify catenary - a curve formed by a wire, rope, or chain hanging freely from two points that are on the same horizontal level goalless - (not found) neat conjugation meaning to have no goals bawl - shout of call out noisily and unrestrainedly; a loud, unrestrained shout execrate - feel or express great loathing for detestable - deserving intense dislike aping - imitate; mimic dull - lacking interest of excitement
mezzanine - a low story between two others in a building, typically between the ground and first floors; indistinguishable - identical; unintelligible frivative - (not found) decalcomania - the process of transferring designs from prepared paper to glass or porcelain waggle - move or cause to move with short quick movements from side to side or up and down cavalcade - a formal procession of people walking, on horseback, or riding in vehicles tepid - only slightly warm; lukewarm plosh - (not found) galleys - a printer’s proof in the form of long singlecolumn strips, not in sheets or pages saprophytic - adjective of: saprophyte - a plant, fungus, or microorganism that lives on dead or decaying organic matter tertiarily - (not found) acrimonious - angry and bitter; typically of speech or a debate
vulgarize - make less refined villon - (not found) inchoate - just begun and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary garrulous - excessively talkative, especially on trivial matters annealing - heat (metal or glass) and allow it to cool slowly, in order to remove internal stresses and toughen it agon - (not found) conflagration - an extensive fire that destroys a great deal of land or property systolic - adjective of: systole - the phase of the heartbeat when the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood from the chambers into the arteries diastolic - adjective of: diastole- the phase of the heartbeat when the heart muscle relaxes and allows the chambers to fill with blood paucity - the presence of something only small or insufficient quantities of amounts; scarcity macadam - broken stone of even size used in successively compacted layers for surfacing roads and
paths, and typically bound with tar or bitumen; a stretch of road with such a surface tenebrous - dark; shadowy or obscure cornice - an ornamental molding around the wall of a room just below the ceiling; an overhanging mass of hardened snow at the edge of a mountain precipice pongee - a soft and typically unbleached type of Chinese plain-woven fabric, originally made from threads of raw silk and now also other fibers such as cotton, which are usually mercerized (mercerize - treat [cotton fabric or thread] under tension with caustic alkali to increase its strength and give it a shiny, silky appearance crenellation - the battlements of a castle or other building kapok - a fine, fibrous cotton-like substance that grows around the seeds of the ceiba tree, used as stuffing for cushions, soft toys, etc. deliquesce - become liquid, typically during decomposition lability - noun-form of: labile - liable to change; easily altered blebs - a small blister on the skin; a small bubble in glass or in a fluid
pip - a small shape or symbol koth - (not found) interlocutor - a person who takes part in a dialogue or conversation maudlin - self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness tarpaulin - heavy-duty waterproof cloth, originally of tarred canvas; a sailor’s tarred or oilskin hat interrogative - having or conveying the force of a question raddle - (not found) raconteur - a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way obliteration - destroy utterly; wipe out catastrophe - an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster pleroma - the totality or fullness of the Godhead that dwells in Christ; the spiritual universe as the abode of God and of the totality of the divine powers and emanations
monads - a single unit; the number one dithyramb - a wild choral hymn of ancient Greece, especially one dedicated to Dionysus; a passionate or inflated speech, poem, or other writing lope - run or move with a long bounding stride jangled - make or cause to make a ringing metallic sound, typically a discordant one inflationary - or, characterized by, or tending to cause monetary inflation solipsism - the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist wheedling - employ endearments or flattery to persuade someone to do something or give one something; to coax or persuade someone to do something cognomen - an extra personal name given to an ancient Roman citizen, functioning rather like a nickname and typically passed down from father to son; a name; a nickname facile - (especially of a theory or argument) appearing neat and comprehensive only by ignoring the true complexities of an issue (typing this one my side-brain was remembering conversations I have had about this book; the response found was often facile); superficial
or simplistic appellation - a name or title; the action of giving a name to a person or thing contrapuntal - in counterpoint gilt - covered thinly with gold leaf or gold paint coleus - a tropical Southeast Asian plant of the mint family that has brightly colored variegated leaves and is popular as a houseplant stickum - a sticky or adhesive substance; gum or paste quorum - the minimum number of members of an assembly or society that must be present at any of its meetings to make the proceedings of that meeting valid referent - the thing that a word or phrase denotes or stands for (the thing being referenced) dubious - hesitating or doubting; not be relied upon; suspect; or questionable value cobbet - (not found) eveninged - (not found) creative verb-form of evening happening ululation - howl or wail as an expression of strong
emotion, typically grief bandy - (of a person’s legs) curved so as to be wide apart at the knees; bowlegged staunch to dictum - (staunch - loyal and committed in attitude; watertight. dictum - a formal pronouncement from an authoritative source; a short statement that expresses a general truth or principle) ersatz - (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else; not real or genuine mussy - make untidy or messy; a state of disorder italicized v. - (connotation not found) a physical thing was italicized, emphasized kelly - (not found) ephemeris - a table or data file giving the calculated positions of a celestial object at regular intervals throughout a period; a book or set of such tables or files mawkishness - sentimental in a feeble or sickly way; having a faint sickly flavor Grand Guignol - a dramatic entertainment of a sensational or horrific nature, originally a sequence of short pieces as performed at the Grand Guignol
theater in Paris tidewise (not found) smithereening (not found) smithereens - small pieces therefore smithereening is the active verb of small pieces alkahest - the hypothetical universal solvent sought by alchemists catalysis - the acceleration of a chemical reaction by a catalyst complicitous - (not found) assumed correlative to complicit - involved with others in an illegal activity or wrongdoing penumbra - the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object; any area of partial shade interstices - an intervening space, especially a very small one trammeling - a restriction or impediment; I thought to trammel was to stomp upon apocryphal - (of a story or statement) of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true; unauthenticated
ripsawed - (verb form of ripsaw - a coarse saw for cutting wood along the grain) virgules - slash variora - (not found) variorum - having notes by various editors or commentators bray out - (bray - the loud, harsh cry of a donkey or mule; make a loud, harsh cry or sound) fabulist - a person who composes or relates fables; a liar, especially a person who invents elaborate, dishonest stories lucanae - (not found) lacuna - an unfilled space of interval adieu - goodbye temper v. - serve as a neutralizing or counterbalancing force to something; improve the hardness and elasticity of by reheating them cooling it pedantic - of or like a pedant - a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules with displaying academic learning gall - bold, impudent behavior foal v. - to giver birth to a foal (the subject however, was human)
cullable - (not found) cull - select from a large quantity; obtain from a variety of sources; reduce the population by selective slaughter; select, choose, pick, take, obtain, glean attelets - (not found) politesse - formal politeness or etiquette sputum - a mixture of saliva and mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract, typically as a result of infection or other disease and often examined microscopically to aid medical diagnosis ellipsis - the omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues (very appropriate word to describe the writing style of Dhalgren) diminutive - extremely or unusually small fetid - smelling extremely unpleasant lability - liable to change; easily altered sententious - given to moralizing in a pompous or affected manner exandrous - (not found) exogenous - or, or relating to, developing from
external factors onomai - anomie? - lack of the usual or ethical standards in an individual or group saran tube - (not found) saran - trademark from polyvinyl chloride, especially as plastic wrap accoutrements - additional items of dress or equipment, or other items carried or worn by a person or used for a particular activity; a soldier’s outfit other than weapons and garments runnel - a narrow channel in the ground for liquid to flow through luvastrine - (not found) languorous - the state or feeling, often pleasant, of tiredness or inertia complines - a service or evening prayers forming part of the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, traditionally said (or chanted) before retiring for the night vespers - a service of evening prayer in the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church lorikeet - a small bird of the lory family, found chiefly in New Guinea. borzoi - a large Russian wolfhound of a breed with a
narrow head and silky, often white, coat slough - a swamp eupeustic (not found) journalese - a hackneyed (lacking significance through having been overused; unoriginal) style of writing supposedly characteristic of newspapers and magazines blaring - sound loudly or harshly after all - in spite of any indications or expectations to be contrary affectation - behavior, speech, or writing that is artificial and designed to impress; a studied display of real or pretending feeling dulpicitous - deceitful fraught - filled with or destined to result in (something undesirable) correlative - having a mutual relationship; corresponding genitive - relating to or denoting a case of nouns and pronouns (and words in grammatical agreement with them) indicating possession or close association
phatic - denoting or relating to language used for general purposes or social interaction, rather than to convey information or ask questions, such as: hello, how are you? simulatable - (not found; assumed to be possible to simulate) fenestrated - provided with a window or windows civet - a slender nocturnal carnivorous mammal with a barred and spotted coat and well-developed anal scent glands, native to Africa and Asia (I do wonder how much contextual emphasis was intended to the ‘anal’ in the anal scent glands) noumenal - a thing as it is in itself, as distinct from a thing as it is knowable by the senses through phenomenal attributes stanchions - an upright bar, post, or frame forming a support or barrier labile - liable to change; easily altered ell (an ell long) - a former measure of length (equivalent to six hand breadths) used mainly for textiles, locally variable but typically about 45 inches abysms - a literary or poetic term for abyss catenaries - a curve formed by a wire, rope, or chain
hanging freely from two points that are on the same horizontal level peripity - (not found) entelechy - the realization of potential vichyssoise - a soup made with potatoes, leeks, and cream typically served chilled logy - dull and heavy in motion or though; sluggish dregged - (not found; assumed relation to dregs - the remnants of a liquid left in a container, together with any sediment or ground
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