In Search of Silence: The Journals of Samuel R. Delany, Volume I, 1957-1969; edited by Kenneth R. James.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to read this. But I was always going to read it. Delany is one of my favorite Science Fiction writers and here are his earliest journals. I write a journal myself, so how could I resist.
They’re more writing notebooks than journals. James has tried to put them in a loose chronological order (with Delany’s help) but the subject matter jumps around: some personal thoughts, story fragments, lists, comments, porno, poems, letters, etc.
I quickly realized this was all but unreadable. But then I discovered a different way to approach the book. I found I often like to read something before bed that shuts my brain down. A book like this (and a couple others) fit the bill. I created a new folder on my Kindle called Backburner. I would trot this book out whenever I needed to wind down. The writing in these journals is all short and non-lineal. I could read as much or as little as I wanted. It was perfect. There were enough jewels to make it worthwhile even if it took over a year to read.
This book is for hardcore fans only. Delany has written his memoirs, this is a look a kid finding his voice and all the doubts and anxieties that go with it.
D/B [for the Jewels]
Amazon Book Preview of “In Search of Silence”
Excerpts From My Kindle
Of course, there was a lot more to him than that, it’s just that none of it is coming to me right now. At some point you lose sight of your actual parents; you just see a basketful of history and unresolved issues.
Childhood feels so permanent, like it’s the entire world, and then one day it’s over and you’re shoveling wet dirt onto your father’s coffin, stunned at the impermanence of everything.
Delany’s irregular spelling, stemming from his dyslexia, has been corrected here without comment. In another critical context, the faithful reproduction of all editorial cross-outs, punctuation errors, unintentional repetitions, and spelling mistakes would undoubtedly constitute useful information. In the current context, I feel that such exhaustive reproduction would constitute noise.
Delany has said that “history begins only when we do not know what happened-when there is disagreement over what happened.” This dialogical view of history has been central to Delany’s project at least since Dhalgren, and some of my editorial decisions are intended to call attention to this sort of dialogue.
That analytical frame of mind is hell. I write creatively as though I were writing a math textbook, and damn it, it comes out just as good.
Once, when I was old enough to ponder these things and young enough to think there might be credible answers, I whispered to Dad during Rosh Hashanah services, “Do you believe in God?” “Not really,” he said. “No.” “Then why do we come here?” He sucked thoughtfully on his Tums tablet and put his arm around me, draping me under his musty woolen prayer shawl, and then shrugged. “I’ve been wrong before,” he said.
Location 2582–2586 [This is how I feel about God.]
For me a poem was only just a stone with which to whet the scalpel of my tongue for prose. Something I discovered early: the art that takes itself too seriously dies easily. That art that takes itself not seriously enough will not be art: A mirror that reflects imperfectly is what an artist often strives to do; And yet the imperfection is the jewel which when controlled makes genius out of fault. But it is imperfection, none the less, which is the irony of its creation.
patient as stones
I rebel against keeping a diary because I feel that if I started, I would do nothing else. But writing out reality in the past has always been therapeutic for me.
Location 5671–5672 [This is me now.]
Samuel Delany’s passing thoughts & poetic effusions of an x-writer, present human, with an objective knowledge of all past accomplishments, verbal, plastic, musical. —Aug. 15 or thereabouts, 1964.
Location 5773–5775 [This book in a nutshell.]
Four years ago, I left school with the distinct image of myself writing. I wrote. Other people have probably left school to write and found themselves not writing: but I wrote. I had publishing and critical success with science-fiction. My major effort, however, brooks no gross acceptance. But for 4 years I was in a world where actions condemned me to my way of life and free choice was a real thing, alone in the important world. Through writing I learned an amazing number of things about action, freedom, commitment—majorly that they exist. At last I decided [to] return to school, discovered my reputation had preceded me, and was smack in the center of the college “Literary Life.” It was like a buoyant bath in warm cereal. They see me as the man returned from outside, and so I wield a certain respect. They haven’t quite yet realized that my return, in a way, was a method of coming to terms with outside defeat.
Mainstream fiction today is onanistic and defeatist. SF is the literature that posits man is changing. Mainstream is the literature that posits he cannot change. Science fiction is the only heroic fiction left today; it’s the only fiction today that admits there is a solution to its problems. Mainstream fiction is like looking in a mirror; SF is like looking through a door. SF has liberated the content of fiction the way Proust and Joyce liberated language.
Location 6943–6948 [Why I love Science Fiction.]
Then they sent me my sales report which said 85,000 copies. And I was very young. The Jewels of Aptor, my first book, was created from 14 nights of nightmares and my determination to have fun with them. But there was this piece of paper saying that 85,000 people were listening. I had no illusions that this was particularly high sales for a paperback novel. But it was a sobering figure. I decided if that many people were listening, I had an obligation to say something. This piece extends and explains the Towers series.
The best writing lays foundations from which the reader may erect a grander frame of consciousness. Such construction is the greatest of all entertainments. And so would I wish to entertain.
Location 7674–7675 [Delany might have been the first author to do this to me.]
I used to think I could envision eternity, and this was one of the glories of the human mind; till I realized what I was envisioning were only the limits of my own consciousness.
These two essays focused on the three science fiction writers of Delany’s generation with whom he has claimed the most affinity: Thomas M. Disch, Roger Zelazny, and Joanna Russ.
Location 8459–8460 [I’ve never read these authors. Maybe I should]
I have always enjoyed the way new notebooks become old. The process has usually gotten markedly underway before ten pages are actually covered with text.
Location 8518–8519 [I have found this to be very true and always look forward to a new Journal. 2019 was no exception.]
Most words in most people’s writing are noise words, sounds that in speech are stuck in to give the comparatively slow ear time to catch up to the meaning, underline information that really could be deduced from what is already there.
At this time Delany was beginning to notice his attraction to men whose skin was cratered from acne scarring (Delany, interview with James, March 27, 2016).
Location 11951–11952 [This cracks me up. As a gay man, Delany definitely has a type. It appears in every book he’s ever written. How long did it take Delany to notice? I’ve often thought it would be fun/funny to write a satire of a Delany story.]
Les faux-monnayeurs: As the reader will infer from the outline material in the notebooks from this period, the content and structure of André Gide’s 1925 novel influenced Voyage, Orestes. Traces of this influence appear to have carried over to “Prism, Mirror, Lens”, and from there to “Dhalgren”.
Location 12324–12328 [The journey to my favorite Delany book.]
Delany treats different subject matter on the verso and recto faces of the notebook pages, and sometimes between upper and lower halves of pages; hence the rapid cross-cutting between small sections of text.
Location 12423–12424 [Funny as I had just started doing this (again) in my 2019 Composition Notebook.]
Muels Aranlyde, an anagram for Samuel R. Delany, is a character in both Empire Star and Babel–17. Delany conceived the two novels as potentially being publishable together as an “Ace Doubles” paperback. (An “Ace Doubles” book contained two novels and had two “front” covers; upon finishing the first novel the reader flipped the book over and began the second. The Vintage reprint of Babel–17 and Empire Star replicates this format.) In Empire Star Muels Aranlyde is a writer who has his consciousness uploaded into a computer and becomes the character Lump (one of Hacker’s nicknames for Delany). In Babel–17 Aranlyde is a friend of Rydra Wong and the author of a novel titled Empire Star-which implies that Empire Star is an artifact from the universe of Babel–17.
Location 12515–12523 [Also see Location 9765.]
“Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 35, August 1968, 61–62. Online
- I read this book from Friday, October 27, 2017 – Tuesday, January 8, 2019
- Bookmark at Location 9765. A letter to John about Babel 17 and Empire Star.
- Bookmark on Location 11770. The start of Notes [I read them all.]