A Taste of Delany

There are… two con­cepts of the artist. The one gives all to his work, in a very real way; if he does not pro­duce vol­umes, at least he goes through many, many drafts. He neglects his life, and his life tot­ters and sways and often plum­mets into chaos. It is pre­sump­tu­ous of us to judge him unhap­py: or, when he is obvi­ous­ly unhap­py, to judge the source of it.

Be thank­ful for him, he lends art all its romance, its ener­gy, and cre­ates that absolute­ly nec­es­sary appeal to the ado­les­cent mind with­out which adult mat­u­ra­tion is impos­si­ble. If he is a writer, he hurls his words into the pools of our thought. Grant­ed the accu­ra­cy of the splash­es, the waves are tremen­dous and glit­ter and flash in the light of our con­scious­ness. You Amer­i­cans — not to men­tion the Aus­tralians — are extra­or­di­nar­i­ly fond of him. But there is anoth­er con­cept, a more Euro­pean con­cept — one of the few con­cepts Europe shares with the Ori­ent… the artist who gives his all to life, to liv­ing with­in some sort of per­fect­ed ide­al. Some­time in his past, he has dis­cov­ered he is … let us say, a poet: that cer­tain sit­u­a­tions — usu­al­ly too com­pli­cat­ed for him to under­stand whol­ly, as they pro­pi­tious­ly jux­ta­pose con­scious will with uncon­scious pas­sion — they some­thing-between-cause-and-allow a poem. He ded­i­cates him­self to liv­ing, accord­ing to his con­cepts, the civ­i­lized life in which poet­ry exists because it is a part of civ­i­liza­tion. He risks as much as his cousin. He gen­er­al­ly pro­duces few­er works, with greater inter­vals between them, and con­stant­ly must con­tend with the pos­si­bil­i­ty that he will nev­er write again if his life should so dic­tate — a good deal of his civ­i­lized ener­gies must go toward resign­ing him­self to the insignif­i­cance of his art, into the sup­pres­sion of that the­atri­cal side of his per­son­al­i­ty of which ambi­tion is only a small part. He stands much clos­er to the pool. He does not hurl. He drops. Accu­ra­cy is again all-impor­tant: there are some peo­ple who can hit bull’s eye from a quar­ter of a mile while oth­ers can­not touch the tar­get at ten feet. Giv­en it, the pat­terns and rip­ples this sort of artist pro­duces can be far more intri­cate, if they lack the ini­tial appear­ance of force. He is much more a vic­tim of the civ­i­liza­tion in which he lives: his great­est works come from the peri­ods art his­to­ri­ans gross­ly call ‘con­ducive to aes­thet­ic pro­duc­tion.’ I say he stands very close to the pools; indeed, he spends most of his time sim­ply gaz­ing into them. Myself, I rather aspire to be this sec­ond type of artist.”

Dhal­gren Samuel R. Delany [pp. 391–392, 16th print­ing: 1982, paper­back]