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Unheroic, super-intelligent gay fiction: Samuel R Delany’s "Dark Reflections"

14 Oct

delany You have to hand it to a writer who can so deflate his own self-importance that he has The Poet Arnold Hawley, black and over 65 and over-weight and the central character in this novel, lament that publishers foisted on him the “vomitous” title Dark Reflections for a slim volume of verse when he himself had called it Pretences. Unheroic but not an anti-hero, Hawley sees through so much of the pretension that is the New York literary world, and even turns his jaded yet innocent eye on the shifting political correctnesses of his times. He wonders when and exactly how Negro became “black” and then “Black”. He wonders about “gay liberation”.

In ’88, a year after he won the Alfred Proctor Prize in Poetry, three days beyond June’s Gay Pride Day, Arnold was walking through the West Village. Somehow, Arnold reflected, the closet had just… dissolved around him. Nearly twenty years before, in the summer of ’69, Arnold, yes, had read about the riots that had begun in his onetime stomping grounds, the Stonewall Inn. They occurred over on the other side of the Village, where no one Arnold actually knew lived. He had assumed they were as unimportant as any such city disturbance. But he kept finding more articles about them. Then more. His conviction was that this “Gay Liberation” business, which so clearly was just an imitation of “Women’s Liberation”, itself only a spin-off of civil rights, had to be a social aberration that would dissolve when people grew tired of it.

But it hadn’t.

Arnold was always vaguely bewildered as to why…

We should beware of taking the Prufrockian Arnold as the author’s voice, of course, even if the usual distinctions of fiction are quite often blurred in Dark Reflections.

We are reminded of the fact that in 1950 the great American poet Wallace Stevens said of African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks at a Pulitzer banquet: “Who let the coon in?”….

If such a novel as Dark Reflections had appeared in the Australian literary scene we would have heard of it over and over again as heralding a great step forward in Australian literature — or so I suspect. Certainly among those in the USA and elsewhere familiar with Samuel R Delany’s work, Dark Reflections attracted its share of attention, as it should. It is a marvellous novel. I was not familiar with Delany’s work, partly because much of it is in the fantasy/science fiction genre, which I rarely read.

I commend Dark Reflections to you.

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Posted by on October 14, 2008 in America, Best read of 2008, book reviews, Gay and Lesbian, gay issues, reading, Top read, USA, writers

 

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