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  • Cartographies of Desire:Mapping Queer Space in the Fiction of Samuel Delany and Darieck Scott
  • GerShun Avilez (bio)

Applying his knowledge of urban planning to the field of cultural theory, Haitian-American architect-artist Jean-Ulrick Désert invokes the concept of "queer space" in order to describe the complicated (yet valuable) nature of actual gay and lesbian communities and neighborhoods; these locations, he contends, simultaneously engage and transgress the social, architectural, and juridical meanings attributed to the areas that they occupy by means of the subversive bodies that collectively inhabit and pass through them. He goes on to characterize this concept in these terms: "queer space is in large part the function of wishful thinking or desires that become solidified: a seduction of the reading space where queerness, at a few brief points and for some fleeting moments, dominates the (heterocentric) norm, the dominant social narrative of the landscape" (21, emphasis added).1 The term "queer space" is most often employed as a way to discuss and analyze the precarious positioning of gay, lesbian, and transgender social spaces and the politics of gentrification in regard to these locations.2 However, I believe that Désert's formulation reveals the potential of the lens of "queer space" to exceed its strictly geographical or architectural valence and provide a framework for theoretical and formal analysis within literary studies.

In this paper, I use this theorizing of residential and social districts such as Greenwich Village in New York City, the Castro in San Francisco, or Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, as a conceptual framework to analyze the engagement and redefinition of public space in Samuel Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) and Darieck Scott's Traitor to the Race (1995). In other words, I use an idea developed by geographers and social commentators to elucidate thematic and formal choices made by novelists. My argument is not that the actual physical spaces function as the literary texts do, but rather that the framework used to describe and document these districts also has value for the analysis of art. I contend that these novels provide effective cartographies of desire that generate "queer space" within the generic parameters of the novel. In addition to exploring the affective dimensions and implications of the enacted queer spaces within the novels, my analysis will demonstrate (or map) how the impulses toward and attention to the "place-making practices" that characterize queer space get reinterpreted and transmogrified into innovative aesthetic methodologies.3 [End Page 126]

Erotic World Making

The vastness of outer space is the setting and the subject of science fiction writer Samuel Delany's masterpiece Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. As Madhu Dubey explains, Delany writes a novel that is about information and the dissemination and perception of information. That which connects the six thousand or so worlds referenced in the novel is a complex, intergalactic system of information sharing called the Web. Even planets that are not "online" or "plugged" into the Web become identified by their exclusion, so that this exclusion includes them within the purview of the vast matrix of knowledge that is the Web thereby demonstrating an unlimited jurisdiction.4 Ostensibly, there is no outside of this invisible framework. Accordingly, through the "web" motif, Delany offers a spatialization of information—information that is all-encompassing, inundating, and ultimately repressive.5

The control and regulation of information is the Web's most salient activity throughout the narrative, and this control extends to the realm of intimacy. The central plot of the narrative is driven by the need for protagonist Marq Dyeth to be united with his "perfect erotic object," another person with whom (reportedly) he is sexually compatible "out to about seven decimal places" in one direction and "out to about nine decimals" in the other (Delaney, Stars 166). Curiously, Marq and his erotic object Rat Korga do not meet because they had been looking for each other or for their "soul mates"; instead, the Web's officials—appropriately called "spiders"—determine that they should meet.6 Japril, a spider, tells Marq: "What's important—to you, to Rat, and to the Web—is that you...


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