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]