"A Sort of Double Writing": They Fly at Çiron's Generic Identities
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"A Sort of Double Writing":
They Fly at Çiron's Generic Identities

Samuel R. Delany is not only an award-winning author of science fiction (SF) and standard fiction; he is also, arguably, SF's foremost scholarly analyst, demonstrating a facility with critical theory in both his fiction and his expository essays. The significance of Delany's creative and critical writings to discussions about identity categories—of race, gender, and sexuality, for example—has been well-documented; however, Delany's writing also has important implications for genre theory. This essay identifies nominalism as a philosophical context of relevance to both of these topics as well as to Delany's writing in general and to They Fly at Çiron in particular. Çiron is an underappreciated and understudied text that deserves more attention for how it illustrates its author's sophisticated critical insights regarding genre, including its movement among the categories of "science fiction," "fantasy," and "literature." Those same categories, which Delany's critical comments differentiate as well as interrogate, are useful in making legible the revisions he made to this twice-published story. Both Çiron and Delany's complex attitudes toward genre and identity, therefore, can be characterized as a sort of double writing.

1. Who Needs Genre?

One source for the term "double writing" is Stuart Hall's introduction to Questions of Cultural Identity (1996)—titled, with [End Page 723] purposeful irony, "Who Needs 'Identity'?"—in which Hall lists several theoretical critiques of identity: "the critique of the self-sustaining subject at the centre of post-Cartesian western metaphysics," "psychoanalytically influenced feminism and cultural criticism," postmodern performativity, and "the anti-essentialist critique of ethnic, racial, and national conceptions of cultural identity." "What, then," Hall asks, "is the need for a further debate about 'identity'? Who needs it?" (1). He answers by noting that although these analyses have critiqued identity, they have not replaced it with something better. Borrowing from Jacques Derrida, Hall states that concepts like identity are now "under erasure": "This indicates that they are no longer serviceable—'good to think with'—in their originary and unreconstructed form. But since they have not been superseded dialectically, and there are no other, entirely different concepts with which to replace them, there is nothing to do but to continue to think with them—albeit now in their detotalized or deconstructed forms. . . . The line which cancels them, paradoxically, permits them to go on being read" (1). Hall notes that Derrida called this approach "a sort of double writing" (1).

"Double writing" is also an appropriate figure for Samuel R. Delany's critique of identity, which is part of the author's ongoing intellectual project.1 For example, he asserts that the categories we call identities have no existence except in language: "I think identity . . . it's a provisional notion. Like race, it doesn't exist. The problem with identity is simply that there isn't any such thing. . . . I mean it has no ontological status" ("Interview" n.p.). However, this claim does not, and need not, prevent Delany from identifying himself according to his race, as African American. It would not be accurate to characterize this black gay writer's position on racial and sexual identity as merely contradictory, as he explains in an interview featured on the bonus disc accompanying the documentary film The Polymath, or, The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman (2007): "I see myself involved in an enterprise in which that (i.e. race and sexuality) is supposed to matter less, or at least matter in a different way from the way that it all-too-often does. But at the same time, it's something I'm proud of. It's something I think is a good thing. It has made me who I am, and it's something I want to celebrate."

The doubled character of Delany's comments on race and sexuality is also present in his attitude toward genre, specifically the identity of "science fiction writer" into which he is interpellated. "People think of me as a genre writer," Delany acknowledges, but he goes on to assert the generic diversity of his corpus, describing his writerly identity as...