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Book Title: Dhalgren|
The author of the book: Samuel R. Delany
Date of issue: 1978
ISBN 13: 9780553117189
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 34.90 MB
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Reader ratings: 4.5
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Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany’s maddening combination of, to name just three, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, South American magical realism and an American poetic rendition of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. One of the strangest, most bizarre, weirdest novels ever to rise to cult classic status - a kind of x-rated fairy tale covered in soot. Yet there something epic, even mythic running through its nine hundred pages that makes this work truly compelling.
Delany penned five published novels prior to his twenty-third birthday and shortly thereafter was hospitalized having suffered a nervous breakdown. Lying in his mental health ward bed for days, his imagination molded and shaped vast charred sections of a hidden city. Reading Dhalgren, my sense is the novel’s post-apocalyptic Bellona was that city. And the author continued revisiting its smoldering precincts in the ensuing years as he wrote his massive work published in 1975 when age thirty-three.
Not a conventional storyline so much as a series of images and events swirling up from the author's inner vision, a novel spun from the fantasies and daydreams of youth as if expressing the repressed desires of legions of stoned college sophomores combined with the steamrolling fury of angry 1960s counterculture, all heaped up into a colossal explosion scorching prim, prissy middle class, consumerist America into oblivion. No wonder Delany's radical, eccentric novel amassed a cult following both then and now.
Our main character is Kid, age twenty-seven, and we follow his odyssey from the day of arrival roaming around burned out, isolated, cutoff, mostly deserted Bellona, a city located on a map at the epicenter of this futuristic, surreal America, far out and spaced out on the plains of a state that might be Kansas. Kid and author Samuel Delany share much in common: 1) mixed racial identity: Kid is half-white, half American Indian, 2) fluid, gender hopping sexuality - Kid has oodles of sex with both men and women, and 3) a past bout of mental illness resulting in hospitalization.
Kid is also a drifter who suffers from partial amnesia – he can’t recall his own or his parent’s name although he remembers his mother was an American Indian. All-in-all, irrespective of a reader’s racial background, sexual orientation, intellectual acumen or mental stability, nearly anyone can identify with Kid both to their heart’s content and heartache's content.
Similar to others gang members in Bellona, Kid wears an “orchid,” that is, seven curved blades, each about ten inches long held in place over hand and fingers by an adjustable metal wristband. Yet kid is a poet. The combination of hard and soft, violence and sensitivity is reminiscent of the sixties rock group Iron Butterfly - hard like iron, delicate like a butterfly. And the kid walks with one bare foot and a sandal on his other foot. Along with the widespread importation of yoga, meditation, chanting mantras and other Eastern practices, wearing sandals and going barefoot were very much part of sixties youth culture.
Bellona is complete freedom – the ideas from Jerry Rubin’s Do IT! are taken to heart. Why not? This is a city without babies or toddlers or snot nosed kids, without spouses or parents or police, a city where nobody has to work for money since food can be stolen from abandoned houses and one can always sleep free in the park and have access to an unlimited supply of dope. Although somewhat forgivable since spawned from the imagination of author as young man, I myself found all the many sexual scenes both puerile and ungracious. Delany’s Bellona forms a fantasy world of perpetually healthy, sexually charged twentysomethings, where there is never any need for doctors, dentists or pharmacists, where women never have periods or get pregnant and sex is nothing more than the sheer pleasure and intensity of the act itself.
Three of my favorite parts: 1) discussions on the nature of poetry, art and literature with Ernest Newboy, aged poet and Bellona’s version of Obi-Wan Kenobi; 2) the magical mystery tour aspect of the scorpions, those colorful, vivid, holographic images enveloping certain gang members; 3) the postmodern twists in the long concluding chapter undercutting, questioning and challenging any sense of normality in our perceiving the world and reading Dhalgren, the very novel we hold in our hands.
I agree with a number of other reviewers - there isn’t that much middle ground; this is one novel you will either love or hate. Philip K. Dick complained it was trash and threw it away. Perhaps he was thrown off by the foul language and explicit sex scenes. Yet I can see how for many readers disgruntled with all the nasty, tawdry, overly judgmental, superficial crap thrown in their faces, reading Dhalgren is always a satisfying, joyful hit. Lastly, my advice: don’t give up on the novel too soon as it does get better the further you read. And if you get bogged down, play some good old sixties music like Kenny Rogers singing Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In or Santana’s Soul Sacrifice or, as a last resort, the long version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
Michelle Phillips has that unmistakable Dhalgren hippie look. If the young ladies were all as beautiful as Michelle and I was twenty-seven and single, I'd take my chances and make a beeline to Bellona.
Samuel R. Delany in his New York City apartment in 1983
“Life is a very terrible thing, mostly, with points of wonder and beauty. Most of what makes it terrible, though, is simply that there's so much of it, blaring in through the five senses." - Dhalgren
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Read information about the authorSamuel Ray Delany, also known as "Chip," is an award-winning American science fiction author. He was born to a prominent black family on April 1, 1942, and raised in Harlem. His mother, Margaret Carey Boyd Delany, was a library clerk in the New York Public Library system. His father, Samuel Ray Delany, Senior, ran a successful Harlem undertaking establishment, Levy & Delany Funeral Home, on 7th Avenue, between 1938 and his death in 1960. The family lived in the top two floors of the three-story private house between five- and six-story Harlem apartment buildings. Delany's aunts were Sadie and Bessie Delany; Delany used some of their adventures as the basis for the adventures of his characters Elsie and Corry in the opening novella Atlantis: Model 1924 in his book of largely autobiographical stories Atlantis: Three Tales.
Delany attended the Dalton School and the Bronx High School of Science, during which he was selected to attend Camp Rising Sun, the Louis August Jonas Foundation's international summer scholarship program. Delany and poet Marilyn Hacker met in high school, and were married in 1961. Their marriage lasted nineteen years. They had a daughter, Iva Hacker-Delany (b. 1974), who spent a decade working in theater in New York City.
Delany was a published science fiction author by the age of 20. He published nine well-regarded science fiction novels between 1962 and 1968, as well as several prize-winning short stories (collected in Driftglass  and more recently in Aye, and Gomorrah, and other stories ). His eleventh and most popular novel, Dhalgren, was published in 1975. His main literary project through the late 1970s and 1980s was the Return to Nevèrÿon series, the overall title of the four volumes and also the title of the fourth and final book.
Delany has published several autobiographical/semi-autobiographical accounts of his life as a black, gay, and highly dyslexic writer, including his Hugo award winning autobiography, The Motion of Light in Water.
Since 1988, Delany has been a professor at several universities. This includes eleven years as a professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a year and a half as an English professor at the University at Buffalo. He then moved to the English Department of Temple University in 2001, where he has been teaching since. He has had several visiting guest professorships before and during these same years. He has also published several books of criticism, interviews, and essays. In one of his non-fiction books, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999), he draws on personal experience to examine the relationship between the effort to redevelop Times Square and the public sex lives of working-class men, gay and straight, in New York City.
In 2007, Delany was the subject of a documentary film, The Polymath, or, The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman. The film debuted on April 25 at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.
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