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The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village

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Born in New York City's black ghetto Harlem at the start of World War II, Samuel R. Delany married white poet Marilyn Hacker right out of high school. The interracial couple moved into the city's new bohemian quarter, the Lower East Side, in summer 1961. Through the decade's opening years, new art, new sexual practices, new music, and new political awareness burgeoned amon Born in New York City's black ghetto Harlem at the start of World War II, Samuel R. Delany married white poet Marilyn Hacker right out of high school. The interracial couple moved into the city's new bohemian quarter, the Lower East Side, in summer 1961. Through the decade's opening years, new art, new sexual practices, new music, and new political awareness burgeoned among the crowded streets and cheap railroad apartments. Beautifully, vividly, insightfully, Delany calls up this era of exploration and adventure as he details his development as a black gay writer in an open marriage, with tertiary walk-ons by Bob Dylan, Stokely Carmichael, W. H. Auden, and James Baldwin, and a panoply of brilliantly drawn secondary characters. Winner of the 1989 Hugo Award for Non-fiction Samuel R. Delany is the author of numerous science fiction books including Dhalgren, other fiction including The Mad Man, as well as the best-selling nonfiction study Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. He lives in New York City and teaches at Temple University. The Lambda Book Report chose Delany as one of the fifty most significant men and women of the past hundred years to change our concept of gayness, and he is a recipient of the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to lesbian and gay literature.


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Born in New York City's black ghetto Harlem at the start of World War II, Samuel R. Delany married white poet Marilyn Hacker right out of high school. The interracial couple moved into the city's new bohemian quarter, the Lower East Side, in summer 1961. Through the decade's opening years, new art, new sexual practices, new music, and new political awareness burgeoned amon Born in New York City's black ghetto Harlem at the start of World War II, Samuel R. Delany married white poet Marilyn Hacker right out of high school. The interracial couple moved into the city's new bohemian quarter, the Lower East Side, in summer 1961. Through the decade's opening years, new art, new sexual practices, new music, and new political awareness burgeoned among the crowded streets and cheap railroad apartments. Beautifully, vividly, insightfully, Delany calls up this era of exploration and adventure as he details his development as a black gay writer in an open marriage, with tertiary walk-ons by Bob Dylan, Stokely Carmichael, W. H. Auden, and James Baldwin, and a panoply of brilliantly drawn secondary characters. Winner of the 1989 Hugo Award for Non-fiction Samuel R. Delany is the author of numerous science fiction books including Dhalgren, other fiction including The Mad Man, as well as the best-selling nonfiction study Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. He lives in New York City and teaches at Temple University. The Lambda Book Report chose Delany as one of the fifty most significant men and women of the past hundred years to change our concept of gayness, and he is a recipient of the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to lesbian and gay literature.

30 review for The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village

  1. 4 out of 5

    Leo Robertson

    I loved this one! (Look @alternate covers: Delany used to be a total babe!) Apparently this is a staple text of gender studies classes or something which is interesting because it seems in direct contrast to the messages coming from that discipline these days. Delany, a guy who knew he was gay, married a woman whom he slept with like twice a week despite having no, uh, visceral attraction to women at all. He also says about one sexual encounter that it was the time he learned that there wasn't jus I loved this one! (Look @alternate covers: Delany used to be a total babe!) Apparently this is a staple text of gender studies classes or something which is interesting because it seems in direct contrast to the messages coming from that discipline these days. Delany, a guy who knew he was gay, married a woman whom he slept with like twice a week despite having no, uh, visceral attraction to women at all. He also says about one sexual encounter that it was the time he learned that there wasn't just good and bad sex but sex was also defined by how willingly those involved would perform it. Anyone else might call it a clear case of rape. What happened was, Delany spent time with this guy he was attracted to, but the guy grabbed his arm, until it hurt, and started nervously telling Delany that what was about to happen wouldn't hurt him. Delany says something like, I liked the guy, and I wanted to sleep with him that time (at least before the grab), so he didn't have to do it like that, and it wasn't enjoyable. That is, he seems to be as objective an observer of life even when it's happening to him, and doesn't seem to subscribe to any existing mode of thinking about situations until he has decided himself, from first principles, how he thinks about things, and that's what he presents us with. I wonder if that's the task of the writer. I'm not going to comment on what I think about rape and grey areas (obviously!) but it's clear why he takes this open approach to life. In once instance of group therapy, he finally tells them he's a homosexual in an almost apologetic and shameful voice, says he enjoys it and doesn't want to stop, but is "reassured" by the group that he can recover from this behaviour. So he goes home and thinks about it and realises he's using other people's language and opinions for something that doesn't feel wrong in his heart at all, something he personally can't understand as harmful. So he seems to endeavour to decide upon everything for himself. That kind of free thinking pays off in that instance, but seems sketchy in other scenarios. Like when he talks to "rapists for hire" (a REAL thing?! Not just some sick imagined thing in the novel Hogg?) and asks them curiously about their profession—instead of running for the hills! (Women hire them mostly, for revenge—men are apparently more likely to do the rape revenge themselves. UGH. I don't know if I needed to know that but I know I wouldn't have discovered it had Delany not sat and asked!) I'm only now realising how dangerous his world was, or at least seems to be, because he emerged unscathed and doesn't seem scared by many things that would scare me. A guy walks up to him in a park and says, "Do you know where I can get a blowjob? I'm dying for one!" And Delany's like, "I take pity on you good sir, but you're in luck! Let's find a quiet doorway." But what does a man that desperate for a blowjob do when he goes without one? I have a feeling it's something terrible. But we don't need to wonder in that case. Thanks to Delany? You see what strange avenues of thought this book takes you into? I think that makes it more relevant and more dangerous a text in today's stiflingly PC cultural climate. I wonder what Delany makes of it. Maybe he'll write about that. His treating of himself and life with such openness would make me uncomfortable to replicate, but essentially he explores life almost as if he himself is to design the moral ethical sexual/ identity code of his own existence. Which he is, and I think we're all supposed to do that, to design our own personal philosophy, though I'm much more reliant on the work done to bulk up age-old arguments. And I think a black guy who can "pass for white", living pre-Stonewall and in a more evident climate of racism, would be much more inclined to search more deeply than those who weren't considered counterculture–but we can all benefit from Delany's discoveries. And I still haven't said anything about his writing insights! He wrote a fuckton of stuff even before he got published so early, and even after. He's lost more good writing (including a novel more than 1000 pages long!) than I've even written. And he says that getting "in" with publishers etc is an illusion held only by young writers. He sends texts to people who have published him in the past and they're like nah. You always need to perpetually prove yourself. Now I see where it all comes from: his attitude to life, his ability to imagine other worlds and other ways in which society might work, his ability to treat those objectively. The way in his novels he artfully combines disciplines into newly imagined disciplines. I bet Dark Reflections is good and I want that big one Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders also.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Raul Bimenyimana

    Well this was a wonderful introduction to a writer. Some days have passed since I finished reading this and I think now is the perfect time to write some words on the book. First, such a beautiful title, I know it might be unimportant to some, but I appreciated the name of this book especially the first part, the second part peaked my interest as well I'll admit. Samuel R Delany is considered one of the best science fiction writers, has been published and writing since the 1950s so that's seven d Well this was a wonderful introduction to a writer. Some days have passed since I finished reading this and I think now is the perfect time to write some words on the book. First, such a beautiful title, I know it might be unimportant to some, but I appreciated the name of this book especially the first part, the second part peaked my interest as well I'll admit. Samuel R Delany is considered one of the best science fiction writers, has been published and writing since the 1950s so that's seven decades, a quite impressive feat and of course has won lots of awards and acclaim for his work. Introducing yourself to a writer via a memoir can be a risk I think, what happens if I hate the person or find them annoying and never read the books? It can also be cautionary and good if the person turns out to be a self-professed bigot/racist/sexist/transphobe/homophobe. This book however, was a great meeting point. From New York city, Delany narrates of the city and his childhood. An intelligent, dyslexic (a condition that what wasn't commonly known then and the writer would only find out later in his adulthood), gifted and sociable child. Delany recounts his inventive worlds and people and the wonders of a rich imagination, his relations with his family and friends, school and later youth and Black and queer life in the fifties and early sixties. One of the things I've learnt from this book is that very very few things are really new, and true to its promise in the title there's quite a number of passages filled with sex. So a warning for those that do not like reading explicitly sexual material. It's always fascinating to me when I read books set in western countries prior Stonewall and during a time when there were few to none legal frameworks to protect queer individuals in these countries against violence and abuse driven by intolerance and hatred. I recognize the familiarity in the risk, uncertainty, vulnerability and exposure and it was incredible reading Delany tell of this world that existed prior to the great sweeping revolutionary change that was Stonewall and the setbacks they would encounter later. That isn't to say no violence or abuse exists today, but it was great reading that place and time very well written and described, as well as the way such a state shapes not only queer people but a society in general. "Whether male, female, working or middle class, the first direct sense of political power comes from apprehension of massed bodies. That I'd felt it and was frightened by it means that others had felt it too. The myth said we, as isolated perverts, were only beings of desire, manifestations of the subject (yes, gone awry, turned from it's true object, but for all that, even more purely subjective)" This book definitely informed, and put in words half formed thoughts in a voice that was intimate, almost fraternal, not condescending or attempting to be instructive that gave the reading experience a feeling of communion. Of course Delany also writes of his writing and the process and I was awed by his talent and the work he put, and this book covers a whole range of subjects and cannot be condensed, but what a wonderful gift it was.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David M

    Clearly Grindr's got nothing on the New York docks circa 1961... A bohemian memoir, not exactly what I was expecting. It's a fairly long book but our hero's not even in his mid twenties by the end. I thought Delany was a father, that he and his wife had a child when they were still very young, but if so it's not mentioned in these pages. His whole relationship with his his wife is a bit mysterious. Possibly he's being discreet to respect her privacy? It sounds like they had a great partnership as Clearly Grindr's got nothing on the New York docks circa 1961... A bohemian memoir, not exactly what I was expecting. It's a fairly long book but our hero's not even in his mid twenties by the end. I thought Delany was a father, that he and his wife had a child when they were still very young, but if so it's not mentioned in these pages. His whole relationship with his his wife is a bit mysterious. Possibly he's being discreet to respect her privacy? It sounds like they had a great partnership as two young writers taking on the world, yet here and there Delany hints they were in fact desperately unhappy. The old man writing the book calls himself gay but then portrays a young man who regularly derives pleasure from having sex with a woman. For Delany, then, desire must be primary. Desire, not behavior or even pleasure, is what determines sexuality (& it's interesting to note, for all Delany's brandishing of French theory, this is exactly the view Foucault wrote against). Desire is invisible, just as it's impossible to ever really know that we see the same color when we say 'red'; Delany's able to draw strange connections between his dyslexia and his sexuality. He has to come to terms with both during his stay in a psych ward as a young man. This is the first environment in which he speaks publicly of his homosexuality. Using borrowed language, he describes it as a disease which he's trying to overcome. After confessing this, however, he realizes that it doesn't sound right. The medicalized jargon doesn't fit what he knows from experience, so he has to forge a new language. Interestingly, something like the inverse is true of his dyslexia. It comes a as a great relief to realize he does have an objective disorder in the way he perceives certain things.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Samuel

    This is one of a couple books - the other being The Collected Non-Fiction of Joan Didion - that I keep next to my bed and read over and over again. It is, simply, Delany's memoirs of being a young, black, gay science fiction writer in New York City in the 1960s. He was married to a white woman, the poet Marilyn Hacker, and this book chronicles their time together and so much more: New York's seedy gay (pre-Stonewall) underbelly; Delany's family history; an awkward phone conversation with James B This is one of a couple books - the other being The Collected Non-Fiction of Joan Didion - that I keep next to my bed and read over and over again. It is, simply, Delany's memoirs of being a young, black, gay science fiction writer in New York City in the 1960s. He was married to a white woman, the poet Marilyn Hacker, and this book chronicles their time together and so much more: New York's seedy gay (pre-Stonewall) underbelly; Delany's family history; an awkward phone conversation with James Baldwin and a weird run-in with Bob Dylan; an ecstatic first visit to a gay bath house; books published; time spent in a mental hospital; Delany and Hacker's prolonged relationship with a guy named Bob; and so forth, for like four hundred pages. Delany is a rigorously honest writer, a compulsive over-analyzer (in the best way possible), and frankly, a beneficiary of just being in the right places in the right times - or maybe just good at making it seem that way in retrospect. I can't recommend this book enough; in fact I can't read it enough.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Possibly my favorite memoir, this book has really amplified my yearning for more big city literary and artistic community and experience. More than that, I appreciated how Delany isolated various strands of his life only to twine them together again, constructing clear narrative paths through time then showing how they are each messy and inseparable from one another, and how difficult it is to locate causality and correspondence in memory. Also get this: in the early 60s Delany paid $58 rent for Possibly my favorite memoir, this book has really amplified my yearning for more big city literary and artistic community and experience. More than that, I appreciated how Delany isolated various strands of his life only to twine them together again, constructing clear narrative paths through time then showing how they are each messy and inseparable from one another, and how difficult it is to locate causality and correspondence in memory. Also get this: in the early 60s Delany paid $58 rent for a 4-room apartment in the East Village that he shared with Marilyn Hacker (if I am remembering correctly; already returned this to the library) and got paid $250 for his first published piece, 500 words on the folk singing scene in NY for Seventeen Magazine. I'm not suggesting anything was easier then, than now, but good grief, how the economic situation has changed for writers. Anyway this book is outstanding.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Now a biography or a memoir that contained only the first sentence would be incorrect. But the one that omitted it, or did not at least suggest its relation to the second on several informal levels, would be incomplete. Basking in lies will sicken you until you die, one explicit/conscious way or an implicit/subconscious another. It's not something I believed when I first started looking out for a copy of this work way back on November 16, 2011, two years before I dropped out of college in lie Now a biography or a memoir that contained only the first sentence would be incorrect. But the one that omitted it, or did not at least suggest its relation to the second on several informal levels, would be incomplete. Basking in lies will sicken you until you die, one explicit/conscious way or an implicit/subconscious another. It's not something I believed when I first started looking out for a copy of this work way back on November 16, 2011, two years before I dropped out of college in lieu of jumping off a bridge and four years before I started determinedly settling on the label of "queer" for myself. I doubt I could prove it to anyone who hasn't felt the pitch and yaw that I have when comparing what makes top billing for the New York Times to a documentary titled Gather, recently released by Netflix (without options beyond 'Language: English' and 'Subtitles: None', exploitive tripe that it is), which talks about devastating, 90% effective genocide in the same five minutes as it shows concrete evidence of seizing food sovereignty from colonial overlords from 1976 till now. Or how about the fact that this copy I'm reviewing was put forward by Masquerade Books in its first unexpurgated edition five years after original publication, but good luck finding anything about the Richard Kasak, "one of America's leading publishers of erotica" back in '96, who gave his name to this first edition in the sanctioned halls of Wikipedia or Amazon. [C]oming across me reading [Gide's The Immoralist] behind a book at my desk back in my freshman English class, Mr. Kotter had begun to thunder, "And what is it that's so important that you're reading it here...O—" and, on recognizing the title and the Noble Prize-winning author, returned to his normal conversational tone—"well, that probably is more important than anything I'm saying right now. You go on." That breed of dire separation between the word and the reality is something that Delany lived as much as a gay, straight passing, Black, white passing, writer, dyslexic, centered, marginalized figure can from his birth during those much mythologized days of 1942 until his living among us today. This is not the work that tells even a fraction of that tale, but what it achieves is so valuable in these days where the Gold Star Gays will tell you to your face that there is no other livelihood beyond the dynamic of the Boot that Stamps and the Face which is Stamped Upon that I'm rather surprised that you can find copies of this work for a mere $8-$16 on the Internet, depending which corporate overlord you've equivocated your heart out for. Still, that doesn't mean that the thought moguls of today care, beyond perhaps bring out this work for a virtual burning for throwing around the N-word and choosing what fights a young, rather bewildered, rather hyperaware of his own vulnerability writer is willing to pick in the morally castigated world around him. In short, this is a work that tells the truth as much as Steinbeck's Travels With Charley lies through its teeth, albeit contemplatively, subjectively, and humanely. These are the days after World War II and before AIDS in various small corners of the world spanning from the Lower East Side of NYC to the fishing trawls of Texas, and if you aren't alright with having your comfortable little categorizations of what was then and what is now split wide open, you'd best stop reading this review and continue on your way. Those two slim black ladies, one, Dr. Bessie, a dentist [...]; one, Sadie, a home economics teacher [...] who, together, forty-five years before, at the re-release of Birth of a Nation, when the pickets and protests outside seemed to be accomplishing little, bought tickets on line (they were light enough to be mistaken for white), went into the theater, to run down the aisle, leap onto the stage, tear down the screen, and start a riot. Many years later, both would take up the serious study of yoga. As civil rights are "won," so to are vital realities sanitized into vapid meaningless and sold back to us as so much bloodless "representation" and vacuous "progress." That's why you get a "progress" today that would still flinch at Delany's tales of orgies without transmission of deadly STDs, sex work without serial killers, hitchhiking without rape, polyamory without inevitable implosion into the "nuclear norm", simply because the status quo has not yet dictated that such a world can exist for those who desire to not be legally hunted for sport. On the other hand, it wouldn't be enough for some who would sniff and sneer at Delany's ability to pass as any number of state sanctioned entities, or his starting socioeconomic status, or the confluence that can as easily raise an intrepid creator to dizzying stardom as it can cast them down to die, coughing up blood on the street, at the tender age of twenty-two. So, too "dangerous" for one side, too "safe" for another, and all that hard won testimony, that extremely brave experimentation with the means of living and the modes of writing, that deep dive into the divide between what was fit to be fictionalized and what is lost with every death of those who couldn't make it in the kyriarchical hellscape of the last eighty years, all that it's fit for is to be imbibed by some nobody like me and processed accordingly. Not the quickest way to make a living as a mogul these days, but it certainly makes for a phenomenal breath of fresh air. Leslie Fielder was shortly to announce that the proper subject for the novel was "mature heterosexual relationships'; and we were too young to realize the phrase itself might just be—in our culture—a contradiction in terms. But the idea that the author of The Jewels of Aptor and Captives of the Flame once, as a singer, had his name in substantially larger letters above Bob Dylan's—even for five minutes—has always made me smile. This is my fourth read of Delany's, and may very well be the linchpin, the balance beam, the crossroads between my past reads of his and my future. You see, I had my acceptances with Tales of Nevèrÿon, my (rightful) issues with Babel-17, but it is with Dhalgren that I dove in first and dove in best, and if someone hasn't written at least one paper or two on the intersections between that beloved behemoth and the memorial inscriptions contained here, that'd be a mighty shame, to say the least. For, after finishing this, I'm comfortable in declaring that the power Delany draws in his fiction comes as much from his blood as his wet dreams, and his willingness to confront his expectations, his satisfactions, and, perhaps most importantly, his disappointments when the stakes are not that low but also not too high has likely done more for many a troubled queer creator than a solid hundred hours of state sanctioned therapy could ever achieve. What other boons, then, lie in the rest of his bibliography, nonfictional or otherwise? A decision based almost entirely on selfishness, to be sure, but be honest: is any sort of story pertaining to queer Black creativity in the "land of the free, home of the brave," even if penned this very moment in our every so lauded 21st century, ever going to be an easy read? I don't fault the hard won hopes of anarchic hedonists and queer anti-kyrarichists, but I imagine I'll always have to pay a form of price when it comes to reading Delany, and like they always say: easy come, easy go. On TV, on all channels available, the analyst went on [...] but what had happened was that someone, sensing what the reaction to the speech would be, had decided that the American people should not see the General Assembly audience go wild with support for Cuba [during a special UN session in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis], and so had made a decision, givena direction; and the Cuban ambassador's speech had been truncated before its end, and the analyst had been purposely brought in to obliterate both the ending to the speech and the overwhelming reaction to it among the delegates from the rest of the world [...I]t remains one of the most direct and terrifying manipulations of the media I have ever seen. What does the typical representative of the white cishet status quo have to gain from reading something like this. Little to nothing beyond a brief gag, an antic spoof, a weirdly well researched diversity claim that is remembered about as long as it takes for a tag to stop trending on Twitter. It's a text that straddles the thin line between known and unknown, as attested by how well you can look up the pre-approbated names Delany was in contact with in the late 50s and early 60s and how little you'll find about everyone else: Richard Kasak being one, that Cuban ambassador during that special UN session during the Cuban Missile Crisis being another (even Delany didn't take down a name as he did with the much titled US and Russian personages, which makes me wonder how deep the whitewashing goes on an individual as well as a public level). All I can say for myself is, it's been a year-and-a-half since I added a work to my absolute favorites, and much as I am tempted to keep this falling-apart testimony to unknown publishers and disinherited speakers to myself, I also recognize the worth of letting it go free and be haphazardly discovered, much as I stumbled across it in the sci-fi section of a book sale that was puritan enough to not have a queer (otherwise known as sex/gender) section but not to the point of noticing the word 'sex' on the front cover and discarding it wholesale. I suspect this is the work I was subconsciously looking for when I got on my queer kick and have so far done three times as much reading in that vein this year as I did during the entirety of 2020, and yet, I'm still not satisfied. Perhaps when I come across a narrative far more in tune with the insanity side of things, although Delany's stint in an institution after a mental breakdown was, to put it slant, welcoming, couched as it was in his customary warmly sympathetic treatment of his fellow humans and his excruciatingly honest self-reflexivity. So, until then, at least I have that. It was so easy to tell your story and not mention you were homosexual. It was so simple to write about yourself and just not to say you were black. You could put together a whole book full of anecdotes about yourself without ever revealing you were dyslexic. [...] Those silences, those boundaries, were the gaps between the columns. Yet even to conceive of them, to articulate them, to tell the story of their creation, constitution, or persistence, even to yourself—wasn't that to begin to displace them? To speak, to write—wasn't that to break the boundary of the self and let your hearer, your reader become the boundary instead of you [...], but a boundary so much easier to cross now because she or he had been written to, spoken to? What would it be like, I wondered, to talk or write freely of such a situation, not to those who'd never conceived before what such a situation might be, but rather to talk or write to someone—like him, or even a thousand strangers—who already knew? Read this if you want to live; that's all there is to say.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Originally reviewed here. Why I Read It: Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature course. This is a difficult book to review; it's a very heavy novel, both in page number and in content and it introduced so many concepts to me that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. I should also preface this review by stating that I've never read any of Delany's SF before. I never even KNEW about it him until I had to read this book. If you're not familiar with him, he's a black, gay man ma Originally reviewed here. Why I Read It: Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature course. This is a difficult book to review; it's a very heavy novel, both in page number and in content and it introduced so many concepts to me that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. I should also preface this review by stating that I've never read any of Delany's SF before. I never even KNEW about it him until I had to read this book. If you're not familiar with him, he's a black, gay man man who started publishing science fiction novels in the 60s. He's highly regarded as one of the best PoC genre writers of our time (and he was Octavia E. Butler's teacher at some point!) One thing that people should be aware of before jumping into this is that it's VERY theory laden. There are a lot of anecdotes chronicling important moments in Delany's life, but he's concerned with a much bigger picture when he looks at these events. The theory, unsurprisingly, is what I had such a hard time grappling with, but not in an exhausting way -- rather, it was kind of exhilarating and we had plenty to talk about in class. I also loved how Delany is hyper-aware that he's writing a memoir. His first chapter, or preface if you want, talks solely about his experience with realizing he was telling people the wrong year when his father died. He knows the right year is fact, but the year he kept thinking was what FELT real to him. All of this is to say that we never be WHOLLY sure of what we're recalling, no matter how real or factual it may feel. It was a good preface for a memoir, seeing as people are oftentimes suspicious/cynical of them in the first place. It's clear that Delany is a very good writer. The book shows a lot of technical skill in his writing, whether it be him talking about critical theory, or telling some story or other. It's also very clear that he's a really smart guy, and he knows it, but he never rubs it in your face. The writing style itself almost all reads matter-of-factly which was jarring in some cases, especially when he's talking about his sexual exploits (more on that in a bit), but it worked. And even though he writes in this style, he still writes very earnestly as well; he obviously recognizes his faults and he doesn't always paint himself in a very flattering light. There's lot in this book that might put people off. Delany is writing of pre-AIDS crisis in New York City, so Delany has A LOT of sex with A LOT of people. He also describes the everyday life he experiences in his open-marriage with poet Marilyn Hacker. This relationship was what my class had the hardest time grasping. Despite being gay, Delany and Hacker have a very active and loving sexual relationship. No one in the class really knew what to do with that (including myself.) People were even MORE thrown off when Bob was introduced, a man who comes into their life and they start a polygamous relationship together. By this point, I had just come to accept Delany and Hacker's relationship, so that when I came to this, it didn't feel that shocking. Actually, I found the whole thing very touching; it was obvious that they really did all love each other, and when circumstances made it so that they couldn't be together anymore, I was just as sad as they were. Final Verdict: I feel like I'm not doing this book justice, because it really is something else. Overall, while it's a fairly long book, and very heavy in many regards, it's also a very rewarding read. Delany is a very good writer and this memoir has made me really want to check out his science fiction work. Some people might be put off by the explicit content and the alternative lifestyles (which I don't think is, or should be, offensive, but alas, I know a lot of people who would), but if you're at all interested in reading a memoir that has theory sewn into its tapestry and deals with LGBTQ issues, I highly recommend it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Oriana

    From the deputy editor of The Believer: Delany refers to a system he had for writing in a notebook where on one side, he’d write fiction. When he wanted to journal, he’d flip over the notebook and write from the back. Eventually the two sides met in the middle, and the system broke down. He’d write fiction into the journal and vice-versa. This destruction of categories is all over his autobiography. The neat labels of Delany’s identity (“a black man”; “a gay man”; “a writer”) open and expand. Rul From the deputy editor of The Believer: Delany refers to a system he had for writing in a notebook where on one side, he’d write fiction. When he wanted to journal, he’d flip over the notebook and write from the back. Eventually the two sides met in the middle, and the system broke down. He’d write fiction into the journal and vice-versa. This destruction of categories is all over his autobiography. The neat labels of Delany’s identity (“a black man”; “a gay man”; “a writer”) open and expand. Rules break down and time moves on. Facts often aren’t the case. In other words: life happens. “When I shook Auden’s hand,” Delany writes, “I noticed he was a nail-biter and fell in love with him a little bit.” And as a reader, processing life alongside Delany, it’s hard not to fall in love with the way he sees the world: its surface cracked, bitten, everything a little broken.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Macartney

    More like an act of wizardry, magically conjuring up the past, than just a mere memoir. But not just conjuring the past, for Delany writes on a multitude of levels, exploring both time and space with ease. He may be the smartest writer I've ever read, yet even at his most complex and philosophical, he renders complicated ideas simply. The brilliance and beauty of this book--and Delany's life in a way--arise out of a kismet collision: the joy and boldness and naivety of youth; the possibility and More like an act of wizardry, magically conjuring up the past, than just a mere memoir. But not just conjuring the past, for Delany writes on a multitude of levels, exploring both time and space with ease. He may be the smartest writer I've ever read, yet even at his most complex and philosophical, he renders complicated ideas simply. The brilliance and beauty of this book--and Delany's life in a way--arise out of a kismet collision: the joy and boldness and naivety of youth; the possibility and shine and liberation of 1960s Manhattan; the codes and blurred lines and furtiveness of repressed, non-identity-based homosexuality; and the hindsight and wisdom and nostalgia of the author as autobiographer. Simply perfection.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Allan

    This was a book that I bought after enjoying the first part of Delany's 'Times Square Red, Times Square Blue'. Funnily enough, I hated the second half of that book, and this title had a little of both feelings as well. Delany has certainly lived an interesting life - having published 5 novels by the time he was 22, a black gay man living in an open mixed race marriage, there are certainly plenty of anecdotes of life in 1960s NYC to interest the reader, and he recounts these in a similar frank man This was a book that I bought after enjoying the first part of Delany's 'Times Square Red, Times Square Blue'. Funnily enough, I hated the second half of that book, and this title had a little of both feelings as well. Delany has certainly lived an interesting life - having published 5 novels by the time he was 22, a black gay man living in an open mixed race marriage, there are certainly plenty of anecdotes of life in 1960s NYC to interest the reader, and he recounts these in a similar frank manner to the Times Square book. At the same time, the writing at times becomes a little navel gazing - weighing in at nearly 600 pages, one might suggest that some of the book could have been edited out. Definitely an interesting read, but be prepared to do a bit of wading to get to the gold.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    You can't really review (let alone rate) someone's life. Delany is a much-lauded author whose fiction I've always bounced off. This account of his life (primarily from 18 to early 20s) also functions as a discussion of memory, and of the choices made in narrative and the re-telling of true stories, the variations of which occur because of different speakers, different choices, and imperfect recollection. You can't really review (let alone rate) someone's life. Delany is a much-lauded author whose fiction I've always bounced off. This account of his life (primarily from 18 to early 20s) also functions as a discussion of memory, and of the choices made in narrative and the re-telling of true stories, the variations of which occur because of different speakers, different choices, and imperfect recollection.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Darren

    The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village is the story of a young writer's coming of age. The memoir is a beautifully-crafted narrative that moves back and forth in time like a tesseract... "queer temporality" in action before that jargon was coined in academia to describe it. It chronicles Delany's childhood, growing up over a funeral parlor in Harlem, his adolescence, during which he was a gifted student at Bronx Science, his early 20s, when he lived in The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village is the story of a young writer's coming of age. The memoir is a beautifully-crafted narrative that moves back and forth in time like a tesseract... "queer temporality" in action before that jargon was coined in academia to describe it. It chronicles Delany's childhood, growing up over a funeral parlor in Harlem, his adolescence, during which he was a gifted student at Bronx Science, his early 20s, when he lived in the East Village with poet (then his wife) Marilyn Hacker, and his early struggles and successes publishing science fiction novels at Ace Books. Interspersed with vivid poetic descriptions of NYC in the late 50s and early 60s, the memoir includes numerous titillating anecdotes about Delany's queer sexual awakening, poignant erotic descriptions of the men with rough workman's hands and bitten-down fingernails who touched him, as well as whimsical tales of his interactions with literary and musical icons including W.H. Auden and Bob Dylan (Delany's name once appeared above Dylan's on a makeshift Village cafe marquee for five minutes before one of his folk gigs in the early 60s), all set in the Bohemia that once was downtown Manhattan. Outrageously fun to read is his account of his experience watching a "Happening in Six Parts," an experimental performance art piece whose structure he then borrows as a paradigm for his own storytelling (seemingly random, yet actually, perfectly organized.) Also particularly moving are his descriptions of the creations of two early experimental literary works (the 1000+ page Voyage, Orestes! and a full-length opera on which he collaborated with Lorenzo Fuller) that were both lost in the flotsam and jetsam of an ever-changing NYC (the novel was buried under rubble of a torn-down building in whose basement the manuscript had rested while he was out of town.) Though his father once strangled his childhood imaginary friend Octopus hoping to facilitate a more rapid maturation, Delany's artistic impulses could not be stifled. The last 200 pages of the novel focuses mainly on Delany and Marilyn Hacker's long-lasting triad-relationship with Bob, a sexy homeless wanderer Delany invited to their East Village walk-up for dinner one night. The pleasurable and relatively emotionally-fulfilling domestic interlude comes to an end when Bob's wife from Florida moves to New York and into their building. Delany subsequently agrees to accompany Bob on a hitchhiking trip to Texas (they end up traveling separately to expedite rides), where the two aspire to work on fishing boats on the Gulf Coast. These passages of the memoir are reminiscent of both Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, as they feature many descriptions of the late night racist underbelly of the mid-century rural U.S., knee-high wading through muddy rainstorms, episodes of roadside exhausted collapse, and exhilarating blow-by-blow accounts of midnight conversations with strangers both benevolently Good Samaritanish and menacingly seedy. The memoir chronicles not only the writer's personal development, but also, the growing political queer/black/feminist consciousness(es) that blossomed in the late 1960s/early 1970s in a way that brilliantly and generously avoids the alienation and isolationism that can result from strict adherence to dogmatic identity politics. (Much of this is accomplished through the inclusion of subtle details about the shifting power dynamics and various modes of nurturing that occurred within the loving and intimate relationship between Delany and Hacker, as well as numerous wisely-chosen passages of Hacker's arresting poetry, some never before published.) Most notably, it also usefully and candidly investigates both bisexuality and "interracial" relationships in a way that refreshingly shatters stereotypical binary conceptions of sexuality, race, and gender identities. Not that it matters, but I do highly recommend this book!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sessily

    A black man. A gay man. A writer. Towards the end of the book, as he is reflecting on himself to better understand the anxiety he is experiencing, Delany lists these three characteristics of himself. "In my exhaustion, what I'd been experiencing was the comfort of--for those few moments--shrugging off the social pressure from being black, from being gay, indeed, from being a citizen who made art." In brief numbered chunks, rather than chapters, he throws out insightful observations of what it was l A black man. A gay man. A writer. Towards the end of the book, as he is reflecting on himself to better understand the anxiety he is experiencing, Delany lists these three characteristics of himself. "In my exhaustion, what I'd been experiencing was the comfort of--for those few moments--shrugging off the social pressure from being black, from being gay, indeed, from being a citizen who made art." In brief numbered chunks, rather than chapters, he throws out insightful observations of what it was like being black, being gay, and being a writer in the late fifties and early sixties. The observations are often intensely personal and reflective, as well as politically and socially critical. "Whether male or female, working or middle class, the first direct sense of political power comes from the apprehension of massed bodies." The only flaw, keeping this to 4 stars rather than 5, is that his thoughts occasionally seem incomplete, the sign of an intellect moving too quickly for words to keep up.

  14. 5 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    A unique and fascinating book, from what I can remember. Gay memoirs at this time did not involve young, married, black, science fiction writers. Also, racy, frank, and candid! Now that I've starting thinking about this book, I want to re-read it. However, not that easy a book to find. A unique and fascinating book, from what I can remember. Gay memoirs at this time did not involve young, married, black, science fiction writers. Also, racy, frank, and candid! Now that I've starting thinking about this book, I want to re-read it. However, not that easy a book to find.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    A beautiful memoir, and a great guide to Dhalgren.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Delany is a terrific writer. One rarely reads about growing up black and middle class in Manhattan and Delany writes about such a fascinating life and era.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    The fascinating story of one of our finest SF writers, although, of course, his work is not just SF. Warning, though, some of it is quite graphic. I found it very interesting reading, though

  18. 5 out of 5

    Edward Rathke

    It's possible this is Delany's true masterpiece. It achieves, so effortlessly, what his most ambitious novels struggle to reach. And yet, it also ends so arbitrarily and abruptly that it left me deeply unsatisfied. Possibly it's because I could have read 2,000 pages of this without thinking too much about it. The sliding nature of it, how it sweeps in and through different characters and situations with such ease, and then seesaws through sexual escapades, the frustrations of writing, the frustr It's possible this is Delany's true masterpiece. It achieves, so effortlessly, what his most ambitious novels struggle to reach. And yet, it also ends so arbitrarily and abruptly that it left me deeply unsatisfied. Possibly it's because I could have read 2,000 pages of this without thinking too much about it. The sliding nature of it, how it sweeps in and through different characters and situations with such ease, and then seesaws through sexual escapades, the frustrations of writing, the frustrations of his marriage, the incomprehensibility of a sudden derangement that collapsed upon him, and then we're back to him sitting in rooms talking about art and literature with sometimes incredibly famous people, like Auden or Baldwin or Bob Dylan. The structure of the book is sort of a meandering jig through his consciously constructed memory, sliding back and forth across decades in a moment to make a grander point about his own life or life in general or art more broadly. But the book, structureless as it seems, is a masterpiece of moments. It's probably most important for its frank handling and description of sex. But this is also one of the strangest parts of the book. As much as Delany is, admittedly, driven by desire to the point that his entire life seems to hinge on his insatiable sexual appetite, Delany always keeps the sex and even the relationships strangely clinical and distant. Even when he invites us into moments of beauty and friendship and love, the sex itself often feels mechanical and distant from him, and definitely distant from the reader. Something that's so clearly important to him, that means so much to him, that holds so much passion and personal significance happens to come out so hollow feeling. Like he can't transmit to the reader what he felt. It's something I'm realizing has always been true of Delany. At least for me. As much as he writes about sex, he never writes about it with much passion. Whereas he'll write achingly about the bitten down, grimy fingernails of a man he desires. Which is maybe an important aspect of Delany: desire holds more significance than satiation. It's something he writes about early on in this memoir, and I'm only now, in writing this review, coming to realize what he was so clearly stating. Desire, for Delany, matters more. But, yeah, this is great. I've read a lot of Delany's fiction but I think his nonfiction may be where his greatest strength lies.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I’m a big fan of Samuel Delany’s science fiction. (I grapple with the fact that it feels a bit presumptuous to say that having read “only” four of his novels, but concede that’s an absurd side effect of the prolific size of his body of work.) Even so, I never expected that this memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, would unfold over 570 pages to become one of the absolute favorite memoirs I’ve ever read in my life. Published in 1988, Delany pri I’m a big fan of Samuel Delany’s science fiction. (I grapple with the fact that it feels a bit presumptuous to say that having read “only” four of his novels, but concede that’s an absurd side effect of the prolific size of his body of work.) Even so, I never expected that this memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, would unfold over 570 pages to become one of the absolute favorite memoirs I’ve ever read in my life. Published in 1988, Delany primarily recounts his young adulthood in the 1960’s during the writing and publication of his first half dozen or so novels, describing his life as a gay Black man in an open marriage with a white woman, the poet Marilyn Hacker. Reading this book just truly made my brain happy. Delany’s life (especially his extensive sex life!) is so different from mine, and all that would be a fascinating enough read in its own right, but what makes this book shine are his thoughtful reflections throughout. As after I finished Delany’s chunky novel Dhalgren, I feel like I’ve been on a journey with this book. (I also feel like I understand Dhalgren somewhat better than I did before! Or at least notice resemblance in some details.) 570 pages may be a tiny sliver compared with the full recounting of twenty-something years of a life, and yet I suspect I know this period of Delany’s life better than twenty years in the lives of almost any of my friends. It’s rare and precious to be granted such an intimate look into the life of another, and my great hope in this review is to capture how much this one meant to me. Delany writes striking observations about memory, relationships, queerness, and his writing. As a fan of his books I was nerdy and excited learning every tidbit possible about his process creating and selling his early novels. But more than that, I resonated with and deeply appreciated his writing on sexuality, and I just love the way he thinks and the analytical, self-reflective lens he applied to sharing this absolutely stunning memoir. Cw for suicidal ideation and suicide mentions, rape, racism and homophobia/heterosexism, use of slurs

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    "I hope ... to sketch, as honestly and as effectively as I can, something I can recognize as my own, aware as I do so that even as I work after honesty and accuracy, memory will make this only one possible fiction among the myriad--many in open conflict--anyone might write of any of us, as convinced as any other that what he or she wrote was the truth." [15-16] Incredible. Samuel R. Delany's The Motion of Light in Water is both a self-reflexive account of one young author's early forays into scie "I hope ... to sketch, as honestly and as effectively as I can, something I can recognize as my own, aware as I do so that even as I work after honesty and accuracy, memory will make this only one possible fiction among the myriad--many in open conflict--anyone might write of any of us, as convinced as any other that what he or she wrote was the truth." [15-16] Incredible. Samuel R. Delany's The Motion of Light in Water is both a self-reflexive account of one young author's early forays into science fiction writing and an exploration of gay working class life + the artistic milieus of early 1960s New York City. I'd had this book on my 'to read' list for a long time, having enjoyed some of Delaney's fiction; attending an online interview with him recently moved it straight to the top of that list. Delaney is a fantastic SF writer, and a fantastic memoirist too -- here, in short numbered fragments, he offers glimpses, many intensely personal and detailed, into his experiences; the result is definitely not always easy to read, but it is an important account particularly of pre-Stonewall queer life and culture. Content warnings: graphic sexual content throughout, racial slurs, racism, sexism, sexual harassment, homophobia, internalized homophobia, rape, sexual assault, war (references to Vietnam War)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sirbooksage

    This is an exceptional and thought provoking memoir, written by Samuel R. Delany of early days as an author living in the East Village. Told in a series of vignettes, he writes of what his life was life then, what New York was like then. Most interestingly, for me, is how he returns back to main recounting in this book to dive "into the margins" as he puts it, if I recall properly, to tell of side events that were happening at the same time as many of the main narratives he reveals. This makes th This is an exceptional and thought provoking memoir, written by Samuel R. Delany of early days as an author living in the East Village. Told in a series of vignettes, he writes of what his life was life then, what New York was like then. Most interestingly, for me, is how he returns back to main recounting in this book to dive "into the margins" as he puts it, if I recall properly, to tell of side events that were happening at the same time as many of the main narratives he reveals. This makes this a fascinating, non-linear, richly layered peak back into his life, and how memory and the writing of memory interact and clash, and coalesce.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stian

    One of the only books anyone ever needs to read. The only book I wish I could read. If you're so inclined – reading's bad for you. One of the only books anyone ever needs to read. The only book I wish I could read. If you're so inclined – reading's bad for you.

  23. 5 out of 5

    talah

    devoured this in a day. closest i’ve come to sobbing in months (thanks testosterone)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I think Delany’s admitting to the fallacy of memory (both in the mini introduction and sprinkled throughout the rest of the pages) is what makes his memoir as fascinating as it is unreliable. He admits that the order of events occasionally get lost in time’s shuffle and certainly that the order matters to the context of the emotions. He even admits that the way he recalls things may not actually be the way events transpired. Strangely, this did not have the effect of me deciding that what I was I think Delany’s admitting to the fallacy of memory (both in the mini introduction and sprinkled throughout the rest of the pages) is what makes his memoir as fascinating as it is unreliable. He admits that the order of events occasionally get lost in time’s shuffle and certainly that the order matters to the context of the emotions. He even admits that the way he recalls things may not actually be the way events transpired. Strangely, this did not have the effect of me deciding that what I was reading was fiction; instead, the stories seemed more trustworthy for having his admission. I often felt as if I were going through a box of snapshots and listening to Delany tell stories about each and then filing them not-quite in order. A really well-written and carefully crafted memoir of language, there’s no calling upon the reader for sympathy or absolution; this isn't so much confessional as matter of fact. Being black, a science fiction writer, and gay in the 50s and 60s is the root of what Delany contemplates in this memoir, and it's all fascinating.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dmitry

    Early on in this picaresque erotic memoir, Delaney complains that his (and everyone's life) consists of two separate columns--public and private, intellectual and sexual, literary and non-verbal--whose texts can never intersect. Then he blithely proceeds to describe everything from getting an erection when three years old holding the hand of a corpse in his father's mortuary, to publishing a first novel at age twenty, to having Auden and Isherwood over for tea one afternoon in the same beautiful Early on in this picaresque erotic memoir, Delaney complains that his (and everyone's life) consists of two separate columns--public and private, intellectual and sexual, literary and non-verbal--whose texts can never intersect. Then he blithely proceeds to describe everything from getting an erection when three years old holding the hand of a corpse in his father's mortuary, to publishing a first novel at age twenty, to having Auden and Isherwood over for tea one afternoon in the same beautifully precise, eloquent, addictive language. In this book, the two separate columns tangle, tango, and have a child in your brain. Plus--you can't go wrong with the East Village in the 60's.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    Simply my favorite work of gay autobiography. Delany's experience may be unique as a gay, African-American writer of science-fiction in the 1960s. I mean, to be regularly published. Or not. What do I know? Only that this memoir is endlessly fascinating for: its depiction of life in NYC, what is was like to be from a black middle-class family, to be part of a long-term interracial marriage, to meet everyone, to have great gay sex in the dark corners of the city. This is one of those books I devou Simply my favorite work of gay autobiography. Delany's experience may be unique as a gay, African-American writer of science-fiction in the 1960s. I mean, to be regularly published. Or not. What do I know? Only that this memoir is endlessly fascinating for: its depiction of life in NYC, what is was like to be from a black middle-class family, to be part of a long-term interracial marriage, to meet everyone, to have great gay sex in the dark corners of the city. This is one of those books I devoured.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Iain Gardener

    the best biography I have ever read! Delany focuses on a brief period in his life; living in the est village in the mid-1960s, but how powerfully he evokes the mise en scene. Until I read this book I hadn't heard of Delany, but this book has made me ant to read his sci-fi wroks and as soon as I have the money to buy them I look forward to a pleasurable read the best biography I have ever read! Delany focuses on a brief period in his life; living in the est village in the mid-1960s, but how powerfully he evokes the mise en scene. Until I read this book I hadn't heard of Delany, but this book has made me ant to read his sci-fi wroks and as soon as I have the money to buy them I look forward to a pleasurable read

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    Delany recounts, in prose both conversational but incisive, his formative childhood and early adult years. The book details with frank openness his early sexual and literary adventures, those which were short-lived and those which were more long-lasting. Perhaps most interesting was to read Delany reading Delany, that is- his reflections on the writing of his early novels.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Caty

    Watch as Delaney leads the creative communal life I'd die for, & writes really well about it. Watch as Delaney leads the creative communal life I'd die for, & writes really well about it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Aki

    one of the most interesting autobiographies I have ever read. Delaney is poetic and has a unique structure and thoughtfulness to his writing

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