Book Review for October 2020 (Heavenly Breakfast by Samuel R Delany)
Alright, so this month I only really finished one book, which was Samuel Delany's 'The Heavenly Breakfast'. I mean to also finish dhalgren this month, and I was close, but no rebar. cigar. of course. To make up for that, not that I'm intending to finish books in some sort of quota format, I'm prolly gonna throw in some other shit, maybe sprinkle in a few movies. We'll see what I feel like.
The Heavenly Breakfast- Samuel R. Delany
The name of this book is sort of funny, and it's even funnier when you realize it was the name of a band, but here we are. It was a really quick read, I think I finished it in two or three sittings because the vignettes were fairly short and easily digestible, and of course the language was pretty conversational. I went into this book on a whim wondering if I would find some connections to dhalgren in experiences or thinking or whatever. I will say I don't often look into interviews that are not available in video form for x, y, z reason so I'm sure there's an interview or at least analysis somewhere of the connections between them but I haven't found it.
This book is based around the author's experiences of living in a 'commune'. I put that in half-quotes (single-quotes? idk) bc what was described just sounded like regular life living as a young person who doesn't make a lot of money and lives with their friends, but It's not necessarily to doubt the use of the word or its application to these experiences. Anyway.
The book had a lightness at first that was very soothing to read, very... that type of manga...
(takes an hour detour to finally find out I meant 'Iyashikei')
"This book is dedicated
to anyone who ever
no matter how sane or crazy
whether it worked or not
to give themselves
a better life."
Opening up with that already tugs at your heart strings. But then he splashes a Heidegger quote from Being and Time. "We are ourselves the entities to be analyzed". And these two patches run through the whole book. It feels definitely like many accounts of happenings through the eye of someone who is trying to... learn by watching and experiencing and doing, writing down accounts of that, and thus trying to teach by retelling. It feels analytical, it does, but not in any hard science or 'hard thought' (lol?) kind of way. It's sincere and familiar, casual, but still serious. Might take itself too seriously sometimes but always ends up catching even those sentiments and making fun. I think He just writes like that though--trying to be as self-aware as he can.
Things in here had definite historical value, of course. When they speak about how much they had to pay for groceries or rent, It's a jaw drop. Rent. $75 a month in New York City.
There are several snippets of dialogue or thought that I definitely recognized from being in dhalgren, which was like a pat on the back considering i was most interested in reading this book since I imagine it would have some keys to the dhalgren treasure chest (still in the middle of the last chapter... But it's fine).
There was this part, on pg 14: "But I've discovered something, just since I've been here. It's very difficult to be alone in a room with only two or three other people. In a room with fifteen or twenty though, it's easy..." [goes on to explain why]
Either main character in dhalgren or Denny (I'm leaning towards Denny) has said this, talking about where the scorpions live all together and how there's plenty of them so it's actually not so bad and more private than someone might assume.
On a handful of occasions, in talking about the same commune if I'm remembering right, he mentions the details of what people are wearing. "He wore a pair of khaki pants torn off short and sandals that had as much brass--buckles, chain, and ornamental plate--as leather." on pg 39. In particular theres lots of mention of brass and leather, which is exactly the sorts of notable materials worn by the scorpions in dhalgren.
There's a monastery they visit, thanks to some friends in another commune, one of whom has a brother holding some position there (Brother Francis) which I can imagine got fantasy-ized into the church in dhalgren inadvertently or not. But that could be a reach.
At some point while they spent time at this monastery and did a little camping on the grounds for their day trip, there was a scene where one of the women Samuel Delany seems to have around a lot in this book (I like to believe this woman, Lee, has a lot of whatever went into making Lanya in dhalgren) is playing the flute in the forest. The scene brought up imagery of the beginning of dhalgren, and also from when Lanya and 'Kid' were living in the park together.
Towards the end, there's one last commune Delany visits, where a bunch of dudes look all hard and are described to be this almost exact image of a scorpion in dhalgren. Studded dog collars, shirtless dudes, and especially their speech-- Very Scorpion. I imagine dhalgren came from his explicitly piqued interest in this commune he only walked through and never visited again--his curiosity surrounding what sort of life these rugged dudes must live, especially as it pertains to being/staying a commune. On pg 111: "Of all the communes I've encountered, that's the one I'd like to write the novel about" (And thus, dhalgren. lol.)
So that's that as far as parallels and perpendiculars go. But even past that, there was the feeling that Delany wanted to say some things about humanity, exchanges, power, cooperation, assumptions--This is an essay, after all. But it's not an essay where things are as spelled out as they could be, or that necessarily is arguing for one thing or another. But it's all there in the stories and conversations. Something I like a lot about his writing is that he does seem to want to continuously shatter assumptions. Maybe he's building up some archetype and suddenly flips it on its head. He does it sometimes tenderly, sometimes angrily as when he was defending the teenage junkie girl. Why are you expecting her to be dead or in jail? But then to combat that--Why are you expecting her story ends happily ever after with a 'change-of-heart' that turns into a desire to get a degree? Why are you expecting anything? Why, fundamentally, is her story one of despair that needs changing to be resolved? He writes this on pg 91 after an annoying conversation with one of his agent's writers about the girl:
"Our culture sees anyone at an economic, social, or psychological vortex as a figure of despair. Despair informs all social dealings with them. It is impossible to show this despair is a part of society's own perspective--unless you can convince people not as society but as individuals to come much, much closer; society wastes so much ability to reason, so much ability to laugh. Before laughter and reason, despair vanishes."
It was a really fun, fast, smooth book to read. It makes some points. I believe this essay is a defense against what people expect from ""fringe living"", ""fringe people"", ""fringe whatever"". It's a challenge, and argument, a loving collection of memories that apparently leaves out much of the actual physical love-making that probably get injected into dhalgren instead. Maybe it's like... the cute wholesome counterpart to dhalgren--all the things that didn't make it into the book. Or maybe, all the things the book took for an 800 page walk. Yeah.
It's good! Thanks for staying with me through this unedited ramble of a review that's actually more like a book report at this point!