Delany's Dirt

by Ray Davis

(Published in Ash of Stars, ed. James Sallis, University Press of Mississippi)
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VI. Postscript: What You Mean, "We"?

"'What I look for in a friend is someone who's different from me. The more different the person is, the more I'll learn from him. The more he'll come up with surprising takes on ideas and things and situations.'"
-- The Mad Man, p. 239
One would almost think that they [straight white males] felt empowered to take anything the society produced, no matter how marginal, and utilize it for their own ends -- dare we say "exploit it"? -- certainly to take advantage of it as long as it's around. And could this possibly be an effect of discourse? Perhaps it might even be one we on the margins might reasonably appropriate to our profit... or perhaps some of us already have.
-- Samuel R. Delany, "The Rhetoric of Sex, The Discourse of Desire"
An explicit motivation for this essay has been to draw attention to marginalized work.

Less pleasantly, and equally truthfully, one could say that this essay attempts to teach, by example, how to profitably distort areas of discourse which were not originally constructed for my (or perhaps your) benefit.

Let's look at the assumptions of the statement above: "to draw attention" -- whose attention? The attention of a gay man who's into grime and golden showers? If so, I've done a piss-poor job.

The work is "marginalized" by whose standards? The standards of underground gay porn? The standards of science fiction? The standards of the New York Times bestseller list? For that matter, the standards of the housing projects down the street?

And what is "the reader" to make of the insistence throughout these pages that books which are clearly intended to be sexually stimulating can profitably be read without sexual stimuation? Well, clearly that would depend on just who "the reader" is. For that matter, my inattention to (for example) The Mad Man's speculations on AIDS transmission is unlikely to be typical of "the reader."

As a reader -- as my particular type of class-crossing hetero white man, reading -- I think highly of these books and often talk about them, in pretty much the same terms I've used here. I do so from a peculiarly privileged position, and that position is no more detached or trustworthy than it is when I take advantage of the other pleasures available to my particular type.

Neither, naturally, am I inclined to give any of these pleasures up.

I hope the one other reader who can be particularized -- that is, you (mon semblable, mon frere, as I might write if you were a particular type of hetero white man) -- will not be put off by this intrusion of the tediously taxonomical. Because if any one formula can explain how Delany's porn fits (and doesn't fit) into academe's and the press's particular systems of the world, why it's confiscated at borders and why you may not be allowed to read it at all, it's this: that in their painstaking and pleasureful assumption of centrality, the books resist easy appropriation.

Nevertheless, I recommend the attempt -- which could be called, more pleasantly, and equally truthfully, communication.



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Copyright 1996 Ray Davis