About Delany Writing: An Anatomical Meditation (Samuel Delany) (Critical Essay) By Extrapolation

About Delany Writing: An Anatomical Meditation (Samuel Delany) (Critical Essay)

By Extrapolation

  • Release Date: 2006-03-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines

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The number of books and essays that offer instruction in the art of writing is vast. The number written by authors who have themselves produced work of genuine literary distinction is much smaller; and the number written by authors with a record of distinction comparable to that made by Samuel Delany--the author of more than 35 books, including, among much else, some of the finest science fiction and some of the finest literary and cultural criticism of our era--is miniscule. Even for this reason alone, Delany's most recent volume, About Writing (2005), would count as a literary event of more than routine interest. Of course, you might say that the criterion implied here is inappropriate. Teaching and doing are distinct skills, and success in one by no means guarantees success in the other. The great pitching coaches of the big leagues have not necessarily been great pitchers--and, surely, very few of the great animal trainers have been great animals. But this analogy is fundamentally flawed. A pitching coach has probably had some experience as a pitcher, and may well throw a few pitches in the course of his coaching duties. But throwing major-league-caliber fast balls and sliders across the plate is not his essential function--which he is likely to exercise as much or more by talking and gesturing than by actual pitching. A book about writing, by contrast, is nothing other than a performance of writing from beginning to end. My point here, however, is not simply that, in About Writing, Delany is constantly and necessarily practicing the same art that he is teaching. It is also that the volume is "about writing" in ways beyond and above what one normally expects from the how-to genre, though that is certainly the literary mode that About Writing most immediately and obviously exemplifies. About Writing is about writing in theoretically fundamental ways--as one might expect from Delany, the longtime reader and critical advocate of Jacques Derrida, the pre-eminent modern philosopher of writing--and, like so many of Delany's works, it has a strong autobiographical tendency, so that it frequently amounts to a fragmentary narrative of the importance of writing in Delany's own life. We might say that a good alternative title for About Writing would be "Anatomy of Writing."