A Taste of Delany

Sunday, 27 June 2004

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]