Reflections on Samuel R. Delany’s Dark Reflections

A Delany novel whose hero isn't having any sex – now that's a new development.

Arnold Hawley is a gay black poet. Although sexual opportunities come his way, Hawley allows his desires to remain largely unconsummated. Portraying a mostly closeted and celibate life feels like one of the vaster imaginative leaps Delany has taken, vaster than than the creation of any number of fantastic realms or flying monsters.

The first part of Dark Reflections (2007) is set in Arnold Hawley's old age, the second part in his middle years, the third part in his youth. This device feels eminently justified. I will speculate that this is because the events of youth only make sense from the perspective of later life? (If then.) In any case, now that I've read Dark Reflections, Delany's seems to me the most natural way to structure a bildungsroman.

Part Two I found especially powerful -- it is the story, which Delany makes wholly believable, of a gay black man's brief marriage to an insane and suicidal white woman.

I will note parenthetically that The Motion of Light in Water (1988), which deals among other things with the history of Delany's marriage to the poet Marilyn Hacker, contains some of the best ever writing on the subject of marriage.

Delany does not specialize in Realism, but there aren't a lot of people out there who do it better.

Surely Hawley has to be a poet – the idea of a celibate poet feels somehow apposite? I doubt it would work as well if Delany had made Hawley a celibate science fiction writer... but I don't know why.

"The homeless man shifted. His face twitched.”

"Arnold opened his notebook and wrote four, five, six words...”

"Three barriers sever us, fellow: your language, your poverty, your insanity. Now and again, I've stepped to the far side of all three. Then Arnold realized: here was his poem. Aristotle had said that great art had to be about kings and generals and people of power. Well, it could also be about the homeless – even the twitch in the face of a homeless man, asleep on a bench in November.”

One of the joys of reading is getting to re-encounter a deeply likable sensibility – this entirely subjective quality is a huge part of what makes a book unputdownable. Delany is never less than joyfully illuminating. He continues to break new ground, and the rhythms of his prose are as urgent as ever.

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