This review originally appeared in Rain Taxi Review of Books Vol. 7, No. 1, (Spring, 2002) and is used with the gracious permission of Rain Taxi and its author, David Cozy. Check out www.raintaxi.com/


Caught on Film
by David Cozy

Certain literary critics have tried to convince us that in assessing art all that matters is the work. The author is dead, or if not dead, at least irrelevant to our appreciation of the novel, the poem, the play. This way of reading, though it’s had its ups and downs, never quite fades away, perhaps because there is a certain bedrock truth underlying it: it really doesn’t matter whether an author has blue eyes or brown, is a graduate of Tokyo University or the Bronx High School of Science, has been employed as a policeman, a professor, or a publican. Even readers who understand this, however, are often willing to give up an evening with a good book in favor of an evening with a good writer, and those of us who reside outside the circuits these performing writers habitually travel will often settle for videotapes of these events. Fans of Samuel R. Delany will be delighted with Eric Solstein’s recent film of him reading in New York.

Since the most important aspect of a reading is the reader, it should be noted that Delany doesn’t really read his texts at all; rather, he acts them. He “do the characters,” as a great poet almost said, “in different voices”: a deepened roughened tone for an elderly homeless man, a soft North Carolina drawl for his father as a youngster, the exuberant breathlessness of a fellow who has just ejaculated in a porno theater and is impressed with what he’s produced. Hearing how Delany hears these characters will illuminate subsequent encounters with the works from which they are drawn.

Coupled with Delany’s skillful reading is Eric Solstein’s subtlety as a filmmaker. He always supports Delany, never attempting to upstage him with flashy moves. Those worried that sub-Star Wars special effects must necessarily be part of a film featuring a science fiction writer can rest easy. Solstein contents himself with shots of Delany from close up, from father off, from this angle and from that, and so transfixing are the words being spoken that this is all that is necessary.

The texts Delany reads on this video are not, in fact, science fiction at all. We get instead bits of his memoir The Motion of Light in Water, his Harlem novella Atlantis: Model 1924, his essay “Times Square Blue,” and his pornographic work The Mad Man. Although there’s no shame in being identified as a science fiction writer—and Delany certainly feels none—as the list above makes clear, it’s high time the world recognizes that his achievement burst the boundaries of science fiction (wherever one cares to place them) a long time ago.

Delany’s accomplished reading of work which can only be called brilliant, Solstein’s skillful presentation of that reading, and the short interviews with Delany which Solstein splices in at just the right spots make this video a must-see not only for Delany fans but also for those unfamiliar with the man and his work, those who want to find out what it—and he—is all about.


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