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American Literature 74.2 (2002) 437-439
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Hugo and Nebula award–winning sci fi novelist and literary critic Samuel R. Delany collects twenty-five essays, previously published between 1987 and 1998, in this massive volume. Most Delany fans will recognize in this mix of creative and academic writing (and, often, creatively academic writing) on science fiction studies, literary canon formation, censorship, sexuality, and paraliterary genres such as comics, sci fi, and porn the (perennial) reappearance of Delany's favorite topic-fetish, given new tenderness, attention, and copious room to grow. The delightful chubbiness of this volume, alone, is an expensive miracle in an academic book market where, increasingly, the (sometimes contractually) limited page counts of academic books published by beleaguered, struggling academic presses is, itself, a political issue.
Delany opens the collection with meditations "On Creativity and Academic Writing" in which he asserts that his own discomfort in teaching creative writing courses stems from his conviction that the concept of "creativity" has "no ontological status" and is "reducible . . . to its constitutive elements" (viii). Aside from the "habit" of writing in such courses, Delany's students learn more about how creativity is "contoured, fueled, and even constituted" by reading the novels, poems, and short stories of other writers. Academic writing, for Delany, is not a "purified rhetoric" set apart from the creative enterprise, and he instructs students of creative writing to read, as well, literary criticism by Ian Watt, Barbara Johnson, Stephen Greenblatt, Shoshana Felman, [End Page 437] Jane Gallop, and others: "For both creative writing and academic writing, I believe that if the reading takes place, the writing given any chance at all will take care of itself" (xi).
Part 1, "Some Queer Thoughts," includes, among others, an essay on the rhetoric of sex and desire and an extended section on deconstruction, structuralism, poststructuralism, and semiotics specifically "for SF readers." In "The Rhetoric of Sex/The Discourse of Desire," Delany writes: "Desire is a very scary and uneasy notion. Its mark is absence. Accordingly, a positivistic culture frequently finds itself at a loss to explore it or elaborate its workings" (15). This collection includes many of Delany's rich suppositions about the long-term effects of this "loss," as well as a number of his own "explorations" into the workings of desire, as if to pull against the weight of the problem he names. For instance, in the 1990 essay (reprinted in this collection) "Street Talk/Straight Talk" on safe-sex rhetoric during the middle and late 1980s, Delany writes:
"High risk behavior" and "low risk behavior" define a discursive substratum where all sexual behavior becomes more or less dangerous, and all is subject to endless displacement and slippage along that discursive slope, now nearer to, now further from, death; in "repeated sexual encounters," a kind of inflation of pleasure brings one somehow more and more mysteriously close to infection and annihilation. (55)
Although Delany makes no mention of Cindy Patton's early work on the AIDS epidemic, a fact that makes his own critical distance in 1990 feel dated (and not just retrospectively so), his contribution to analyzing the ways in which safe-sex discourse was socially constructed to be pleasure-phobic (particularly gay pleasure-phobic) is worth rereading here. Likewise, in the reprinted essay "Coming/Out" from 1996, Delany does not make reference to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet (1990), despite the fact that her work precedes his and many of his readers would have her tour de force already in mind. Delany's neglect to mention the work of these two scholars creates some strange and yawning gaps, and this is worth noting about a writer who has just, pages earlier, exhorted other writers to read critical writing and who seems, throughout, to pride himself on the mix of "creative" and "academic" writing in this volume.
Part 2 includes an...