Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dhalgren on stage

I was astonished when I saw this review by Jo Walton of a stage play based on Samuel Delany's Dhalgren. I was dazzled by tbe very idea. I had that same feeling that I have while asleep in recurring dreams when I discover that there exist "lost episodes" original Star Trek. But evidently it's real, this on-stage reimagining of Delany's magnum opus, a play titled Bellona, Destroyer of Cities.

Dhalgren elicits a wide range of reactions. Writers that I admire almost as much as Delany, such as Ellison and Dick, said unflattering things about it, while others, like Sturgeon, heaped highest praise on it. It seems like a lot of people have started reading it and then given up on it. But I adore it. I don't know if I can say firmly that  it's the single greatest novel I have ever read, but it would certainly be in the top five. It's not just a stunning achievement of speculative fiction, it is a towering triumph of American literature penned by one of the most literate and subversive writers ever to write sf.

That book maintains a sort of garrison in my imagination and I am always waiting and looking for the next thing that will astonish and thrill as deeply as it did. It's a fairly fresh memory, since I read it for the first time in the fall of 2008 in several intense sessions, patience fraying when I had to break to go to work or to sleep, needing to get back to it ASAP. Frequently, when I am between books, I consider rereading it, but I refrain because I don't always need the reminder of how small and inept my own imagination and writing are in contrast. But when I made my attempt at NaNoWriMo last November, I used Dhalgren as a sort of cultural touchstone for my characters, and inserted as a plot detail a fictitious readers' discussion of the book on the Diane Rehm Show.

Now that there has been a play, I wonder if there could ever be a movie? It would probably suck, but it's still fun to imagine.

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Anonymous said...

I've tried to read Dhalgren two or three times. It's astounding in its scale and reach; each time I put it away I felt like I failed it and not the other way around. It took me four tries before I finished Moby Dick, and when I did it was one of the most powerful reading experiences I'd ever had. I suspect the same will happen when I finally finish Dhalgren. Delany practically invents his own language in it, a compressed style that is so influential and catching it can usurp another writer's work; there is a novel by Mark Gawron that rides Dhalgren's rhythms all the way through. I believe Delany wrote it in his early 30s. Yikes! Now a play based on the novel is a very interesting concept. Thanks for the post.


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