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Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren (1975)

by Samuel R. Delany

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,760623,154 (3.81)141
  1. 20
    Lanark by Alasdair Gray (fugitive)
    fugitive: Surreal, bizarre, pretentious, weighty, confusing. Those are good things. I think.
  2. 10
    Little, Big by John Crowley (TheSpecialistsCat)
  3. 10
    Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (thesmellofbooks)
    thesmellofbooks: A very different dystopia written by a very different African-American science fiction writer. Yet the intensity and humanity of Parable of the Sower are present as well in this much older book.
  4. 00
    Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand (kraaivrouw)
  5. 00
    Moonwise by Greer Ilene Gilman (TheSpecialistsCat)
    TheSpecialistsCat: Another uncompromising and difficult but rewarding novel nominally in the SF&F genre. Also Joycian, though in a different sense than Dhalgren.
  6. 00
    Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (aaronius)
    aaronius: Another dystopian dream-city to get lost in with weird sex and fantastic writing.
  7. 00
    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (aaronius)
    aaronius: Similarly fragile boundaries between metaphor, reality, author and reader.
  8. 01
    Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (TomWaitsTables)

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» See also 141 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
I am limited, finite and fixed. I am in terror of the infinity before me, having come through the one behind bringing no knowledge I can take on.

What an odd, warped achievement. Delany provides us a reimagined Ellisonian treatise on Invisibility and Impermanence. He paints a city of possibility and then wipes his creation into a blotchy blur. This is Bellona. Delany also eviscerates the idea of the homo faber.

While the depicted poet lacks a shoe, it is hands which reign in Dhalgren. They are monstrous and knuckles, fists and fingers predominate. The novels succeeds is being both graphic and banal. The smoky streets deliberately blur as the questions of Art, Race and Sex are lost (or are left incomplete) in the urban caverns. It is deliberate and occasionally artful. There were a number of times when I hated this book. There were others where the poetry dances before me. Be wary prospective readers. Be wary. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |

Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany’s maddening combination of, to name just three, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, South American magical realism and an American poetic rendition of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. One of the strangest, most bizarre, weirdest novels ever to rise to cult classic status - a kind of x-rated fairy tale covered in soot. Yet there something epic, even mythic running through its nine hundred pages that makes this work truly compelling.

Delany penned five published novels prior to his twenty-third birthday and shortly thereafter was hospitalized having suffered a nervous breakdown. Lying in his mental health ward bed for days, his imagination molded and shaped vast charred sections of a hidden city. Reading Dhalgren, my sense is the novel’s post-apocalyptic Bellona was that city. And the author continued revisiting its smoldering precincts in the ensuing years as he wrote his massive work published in 1975 when age thirty-three.

Not a conventional storyline so much as a series of images and events swirling up from the author's inner vision, a novel spun from the fantasies and daydreams of youth as if expressing the repressed desires of legions of stoned college sophomores combined with the steamrolling fury of angry 1960s counterculture, all heaped up into a colossal explosion scorching prim, prissy middle class, consumerist America into oblivion. No wonder Delany's radical, eccentric novel amassed a cult following both then and now.

Our main character is Kid, age twenty-seven, and we follow his odyssey from the day of arrival roaming around burned out, isolated, cutoff, mostly deserted Bellona, a city located on a map at the epicenter of this futuristic, surreal America, far out and spaced out on the plains of a state that might be Kansas. Kid and author Samuel Delany share much in common: 1) mixed racial identity: Kid is half-white, half American Indian, 2) fluid, gender hopping sexuality - Kid has oodles of sex with both men and women, and 3) a past bout of mental illness resulting in hospitalization.

Kid is also a drifter who suffers from partial amnesia – he can’t recall his own or his parent’s name although he remembers his mother was an American Indian. All-in-all, irrespective of a reader’s racial background, sexual orientation, intellectual acumen or mental stability, nearly anyone can identify with Kid both to their heart’s content and heartache's content.

Similar to others gang members in Bellona, Kid wears an “orchid,” that is, seven curved blades, each about ten inches long held in place over hand and fingers by an adjustable metal wristband. Yet kid is a poet. The combination of hard and soft, violence and sensitivity is reminiscent of the sixties rock group Iron Butterfly - hard like iron, delicate like a butterfly. And the kid walks with one bare foot and a sandal on his other foot. Along with the widespread importation of yoga, meditation, chanting mantras and other Eastern practices, wearing sandals and going barefoot were very much part of sixties youth culture.

Bellona is complete freedom – the ideas from Jerry Rubin’s Do IT! are taken to heart. Why not? This is a city without babies or toddlers or snot nosed kids, without spouses or parents or police, a city where nobody has to work for money since food can be stolen from abandoned houses and one can always sleep free in the park and have access to an unlimited supply of dope. Although somewhat forgivable since spawned from the imagination of author as young man, I myself found all the many sexual scenes both puerile and ungracious. Delany’s Bellona forms a fantasy world of perpetually healthy, sexually charged twentysomethings, where there is never any need for doctors, dentists or pharmacists, where women never have periods or get pregnant and sex is nothing more than the sheer pleasure and intensity of the act itself.

Three of my favorite parts: 1) discussions on the nature of poetry, art and literature with Ernest Newboy, aged poet and Bellona’s version of Obi-Wan Kenobi; 2) the magical mystery tour aspect of the scorpions, those colorful, vivid, holographic images enveloping certain gang members; 3) the postmodern twists in the long concluding chapter undercutting, questioning and challenging any sense of normality in our perceiving the world and reading Dhalgren, the very novel we hold in our hands.

I agree with a number of other reviewers - there isn’t that much middle ground; this is one novel you will either love or hate. Philip K. Dick complained it was trash and threw it away. Perhaps he was thrown off by the foul language and explicit sex scenes. Yet I can see how for many readers disgruntled with all the nasty, tawdry, overly judgmental, superficial crap thrown in their faces, reading Dhalgren is always a satisfying, joyful hit. Lastly, my advice: don’t give up on the novel too soon as it does get better the further you read. And if you get bogged down, play some good old sixties music like Kenny Rogers singing Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In or Santana’s Soul Sacrifice or, as a last resort, the long version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

Michelle Phillips has that unmistakable Dhalgren hippie look. If the young ladies were all as beautiful as Michelle and I was twenty-seven and single, I'd take my chances and make a beeline to Bellona.

Samuel R. Delany in his New York City apartment in 1983
“Life is a very terrible thing, mostly, with points of wonder and beauty. Most of what makes it terrible, though, is simply that there's so much of it, blaring in through the five senses." - Dhalgren ( )
5 vote Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
“Really? Samuel Delany has written "unreadable garbage"? Would you care to share with us the precise nature of the stories or novels which qualify as such, or have you not, as I strongly suspect, actually read any of his work? I presume this is the same Samuel Delany who has been a professor of English and writing at numerous American universities, who was named a GrandMaster of the field? The author of "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones", “Babel-17” and “Nova”? That Samuel Delany? Or is it instead the case, as I suspect, that you have allowed yourself to fall foul of the cliché that if it's SF, then by its very nature, some of his work must be bad?”

That’s, more or less, how I answered someone who commented on the novel’s review back then.

When I was in diapers (if i was even alive at all), SF was the province of those who could not get published elsewhere. Writers like Moorcock and Wolfe and Ursula K. Le Guin and Thomas M. Disch and Harlan Ellison and Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany and Philip K. Dick and James Tiptree Jr. all possessed cultural erudition, but their fierce talent and their determination to embrace the alien or the outsider pushed them into genre. The notion that they wrote swiftly out of some relentless ego-boosting is a foolish misunderstanding of the pulp markets of the time, which paid penuriously and often demanded a quick turnaround. That Moorcock wrote as marvelously as he did, often writing trilogies over the course of a week or two that didn't skimp on moral probing OR adventure, is a testament to how many of these marginalized writers triumphed. Fan culture is one thing, but it is a gross insult to suggest that most of the readers of these giants were pimply-faced teens or that they didn't read widely or possess brains. Blithe disregard for the comfort zone of the reader? What do you want? A hot chocolate and a warm bath? Literature, whether it be the classics or genre, exists to provide us with perspectives that are not our own, to get us confronting bold questions on how to live and what are effects and responsibilities to others may be. That some cannot cite specific qualities of the story-lines to uphold her claims, playing the "I quoted a random passage to uphold my tenuous thesis" parlor game in the nursery school, suggests very strongly that some readers should take her own childish notions of "spoiler alerts" and Pollyanna principles to an online forum populated by twee troglodytes.

Each is entitled to their opinion. Norman Mailer has turned out works of genius (“The Naked” and the “Out of the Dead City”, and “Executioner's Song”) as well as the occasional mind-numbingly portentous dross (“Harlot's Ghost” anyone? Narcolepsy in book form). The fact that Hogg's not SF is neither here nor there. Delany has indeed turned out what I consider to be unreadable garbage as long as I write about what makes it unreadable (not like the reader above), and as a reader anyone is fully entitled to say so... knowing full well but that there are lots of people (bless'em) who think that the sun shines out of Houllebecq's no doubt cruelly ravaged hind end; and that the “Kindly Ones” is considered a masterpiece by various high-minded critics, who consider that closing an interminable and ill-written Nazi exploitation saga with an epic, chapter-long sadomasochistic incest w*nkfest is the height of refinement. Actually, they may be right: out of pure tedium I skipped the last 15 pages or so of that episode, but, honestly, I don't think I was missing anything much. La Nausée it ain't. I'm not proposing to go back and check.

Bottom-line: Well, thousands of people managed to read it, getting it into the New York Times listings ahead of 'Gravity's Rainbow' (that year's other 'must read' big book) so it's clearly not literally 'unreadable'. The question is: “should one re-read it?” My answer: “No.”

SF = Speculative Fiction. ( )
  antao | Sep 5, 2018 |
uh...huh? ( )
  amuskopf | Jun 7, 2018 |
I found this book to be pretty awful. Simply boring. The ideas within could have made it incredible... but bottom line a book has to be interesting or somewhat gripping to make me want to continue reading. I'm seriously shocked at how utterly boring this book could be. Starting somewhere around page 450, I just started skimming. And then skimming became page skipping. What a waste of time. ( )
  weberam2 | Nov 24, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel R. Delanyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gibson, WilliamForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"You have confused the true and the real."

GEORGE STANLEY/In conversation
This book about many things
must be for many people.

Some of them are
Joseph Cox, Bill Brodecky, David Hartwell,
Liz Landry, Joseph Manfredini, Patrick Muir, 
John Herbert McDowell, Jean Sullivan, Janis Schmidt,
Charles Naylor, Ann O'Neil, Baird Searles,
Martin Last, Bob & Joan Thurston, Richard Vriali,
Susan Schweers, Judy Ratner, Oliver Shank

Thomas M. Disch, Judith Merril, Michael Perkins, Joanna Russ,Judith Johnson, & Marilyn Hacker
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to wound the autumnal city.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description

a protrait of a city called Bellona which has suffered a disaster so cataclysmic that the very fabric of the space-time continuum has been distorted ...
buildings burn endlessly but are not consumed,
Radio and television broadcasts cannot enter or leave the city.
the sky is sealed with thick haze.
When it clears, strange portents are seen: two moons, a grotesquely swollen sun ...
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375706682, Paperback)

What is Dhalgren? Dhalgren is one of the greatest novels of 20th-century American literature. Dhalgren is one of the all-time bestselling science fiction novels. Dhalgren may be read with equal validity as SF, magic realism, or metafiction. Dhalgren is controversial, challenging, and scandalous. Dhalgren is a brilliant novel about sex, gender, race, class, art, and identity.

A mysterious disaster has stricken the midwestern American city of Bellona, and its aftereffects are disturbing: a city block burns down and is intact a week later; clouds cover the sky for weeks, then part to reveal two moons; a week passes for one person when only a day passes for another. The catastrophe is confined to Bellona, and most of the inhabitants have fled. But others are drawn to the devastated city, among them the Kid, a white/American Indian man who can't remember his own name. The Kid is emblematic of those who live in the new Bellona, who are the young, the poor, the mad, the violent, the outcast--the marginalized.

Dhalgren is many things, but instantly accessible isn't one of them. While most of this big, ambitious, deeply detailed novel is beautifully pellucid, the opening pages will be difficult for some: the novel starts with the second half of an incomplete sentence, in the viewpoint of a man who doesn't know who he is. If you find the early pages rough going, push on; the story soon becomes clear and fascinating. But--fair warning--the central nature of the disaster, of its strange devastations and disruptions, remains a puzzle for many readers, sometimes after several readings.

Spoiler warning: If you want to figure out the secret of the novel as you read Dhalgren, then stop reading this review right now! If you want to know the secret before you start, this is what the novel is about: the experience of existence inside a novel. Time passes differently for different characters. A river changes location. Stairs change their number. The Kid looks in a mirror and sees not himself, but someone who looks an awful lot like Samuel R. Delany. Central images include mirrors, lenses, and prisms, devices that focus, reflect--and distort. The Kid fills a notebook with a journal that may be Dhalgren, and is uncertain if he has written much, or any, of it. The characters don't know they're in a novel, but they know something is wrong. Dhalgren explores the relationship between characters and author (or, perhaps, characters, "author," and author).

The final chapter can be even tougher going than the opening pages, with its viewpoint change and its stretches of braided narrative--and the novel ends with the beginning of an unfinished sentence. But the last chapter becomes clear as you persevere; and when you get to that unfinished closing line, turn to the first line of the novel to finish the sentence and close the narrative circle. --Cynthia Ward

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:37 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. Into this disaster zone comes a young man-poet, love, and adventurer known only as the Kid. -- Back cover.… (more)

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