Coach Delany

Delany’s meticulous (and corrective) exegesis of The Dispossessed came across like a demanding coach reviewing a film breakdown of a once-in-a-lifetime sports play. The outcome of the play was great and worthy of an eternal highlight reel, but Coach Delany reserves praise for the end, after detailing the sloppiness of its development. And all of this coming from a deep love of the player (Le Guin) and the game (SF).

Right out of the gate, Delany made his high expectations known, expectations specifically tied to science fiction as a genre. After reading Delany’s discussion of the first paragraph of The Dispossessed, I was left wondering: would most science fiction critics—published or otherwise—place this much weight on a single adjective like “uncut” (109)? I’ll take Delany at his word when he says that “[t]he weaving through various textual moments of the image ‘stone’. . .gives a fihe novelistic density,” but I am curious as to how such weaving makes for good science fiction (112)?

On another (soon-to-be-ralated) note, does the “problem of jealousy” sneak up on us, not through the “copulation triangle” of Shevek, Bedap and Takver but via Takver’s “uneasiness” about Shevek’s relationship to his work (120)? Before Takver’s “jealousy” is made known, we are presented with this intimate scene: “Gradually the sunlight entered, shifted across the papers on the table, across his hands on the papers, and filled the room with radiance. And he worked” (187). And while the gender-reversed parallel of Takver to Odo’s husband sharpens this note of jealousy, Le Guin’s description of the way Shevek and Odo relate to their work is much more interesting and, in my view, very much in the “spirit” science fiction: “The usage the creator spirit gives its vessels is rough, it wears them out, discards them, gets a new model” (188).

Do we think Le Guin’s use of images such as “vessel” and “model” work for science fiction? Do these images “call up something real and important about the ironies, cruelties, and frailties of the human machine?” (Delany 145). I hope so, because I want her to win a few more points.

2 thoughts on “Coach Delany”

  1. I’d like to bring up a few scales of evaluation in the readings for this week that might be useful for positioning Le Guin.

    One of Delany’s primary analytic frame is didactum and, I think, form: I’m interested in thinking more about the way in which Delany insists that form/representation is tied up with the offensiveness of what seems like the necessary didactic purposes of SF (and all fiction). j

    How would this line up with—how would Le Guin be positioned within—Ellison’s scale of entertainment and idea?

  2. The comparison of Delany to an over-involved coach is a helpful one—and one that I think serves to make clear what (at least some of) the stakes are for his argument: it’s personal. His prevailing point at the beginning of the chapter is that he wants readers to read through the lens of their own experience. I wonder if we can consider this critical framing in a way that makes Delany’s project less about unraveling the logical gaps and the “thin writing” of Le Guin’s novel, and more about his own, deeply personal and deeply contradictory, relationship to SF. What happens when we, as his experienced readers, turn Delany’s meticulous criticism back onto himself?

    Or, of course, maybe I’m trying to desperately reconcile Delany’s critical gaze with my own unbridled admiration of Le Guin.

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