Vector #267


Certain topics ask for poetic treatment—love is one of them, and unrequited love in particular. Poetic writing is, through its intensity, writing that says more than it appears to say. Thus the love that dare not speak its name, in Lord Alfred Douglas’s words, lends itself to poetic treatment, in times when it focuses on an expressly forbidden topic. What we have here is, of course, essentially a literary structure: At its center is a guilty secret—and the guilt and the secrecy are both pivotal. The guilt and the secrecy creates a relationship between two persons, one who knows, and one who does not know. I suspect all writers, from time to time, can be drawn to that structure more or less strongly, whether the secret involves gay sex or not. But I suspect its hard to write a story using such a structure, possibly for its poetic potential, that is not going seem, to some readers, a coded gay tale—even to the surprise of the author; which I think may have been what happened here.

Samuel R. Delany

But the fact is, none of the writing I did about that time—or during that time—gives a direct portrait of my sexual life back then. To repeat, this was three, four years before Stonewall. Back then you didn’t write about things like that, except in code. You left clues that people could—sometimes—read, between the lines. But it was actually dangerous to write about them. You could get in real trouble. You could get your friends in trouble. So you didn’t do it—not in journals, not in letters, not in fiction. A few brave souls, like Ned Rorum or Paul Goodman, were exceptions—and later on, I tried to fill in a few incidents myself. But basically, that wasn’t me.

I tell you this, because it’s important to remember, when considering fiction—like “Aye, and Gomorrah”— just how wide a gap can fall between life and literature—and how social pressures control that gap, so that, in looking at, say, the two award-winning stories of mine that deal with matters gay from the second half of the ’sixties, you have to realize they are finally fairy tales in the way my anecdote about the African medical student cruising the park and his friends is not—even though the Science Fiction Writers of America, who handed out the awards, doubtless felt that they were congratulating me for bringing a new level of “mature realism” to the genre, simply because I was dealing directly with something they thought of as sordid and probably wouldn’t have recognized it at all if I had presented it in any other way. Possibly, at that time, I wouldn’t have recognized it either.

For much the same reasons Nabokov says that Madame Bovary— famed at its time of publication for its realism, it even helped found the school of realism—is finally as much a dark fairy tale as “Jack and the Beanstock” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

Samuel R. Delany

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