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March 09, 1993 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1993-03-09

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Page 8- The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, March 9, 1993

Ambitious Delany balks at critics

by Darcy Lockman
Science fiction author Samuel
Delany quotes the eighteenth century
Goethe in saying, "A man knows no
more at 50 than he knows at 20. He just
knows different things." At 50 himself,
Delany, who has written more than a
dozen science fiction novels ("We never
call it sci fi.") and critical essays, is in
just the position to affirm this.
Having published his first novel,
"The Jewels of Aptor," at the age of 20,
Delany looks back on it with fondness,
but is not quite sure as to how he's
changed as an author. "I like to think
I've become a more ambitious writer,
that today I'm tackling more compli-
cated material. I like to think I have a
clearer feel for what the novel, particu-
larly the science fiction novel, is and
can be, and that I can experiment in it
more readily and easily," he said.
None who know Delany's work
would even think about arguing with
thatstatement. Onhis less controversial

side, Delany, who himself grew up in
Harlem, is known for dealing with is-
sues of race relations and burned out
inner cities in his science fiction. He
sees the break down of oppressive sys-
tems as the only solution to the prob-
lems in these arenas.
"Bluntly, the problems will improve
when whites stop oppressing blacks.
(Whites) think if they're not running in
gangs through the night in bed sheets to
set up flaming crosses in someone's
yard, then they're not oppressing any-
one. But that's not how it works," he
said, "If you want to understand how
oppression works, as a white person,
just for a start pick five times during
your day, look around and notice the
number of brown and black faces and
the number of white faces around you.
Each time you do, and the number of
black faces is less than 20% total, say to
yourself the following: at this moment,
I am actively involved in oppressing
black people, because I am functioning

as a part of a complex social system
that excludes almost all but whites
from this particular social space. If
(these oppressive systems) are ever to
be dismantled peacefully, and no, I'm
not sure that they can be, white people
will have to understand how they work.
We already know."
Perhaps atypical for a science fic-
tion writer, Delany also deals with is-
sues of gender and homosexuality in
his novels. In 1984, Delany wrote "The
Tale of Plagues and Carnivals," a sci-
ence fiction book and the first novel in
the country about AIDS. Since that
time, he has been around the country
speaking on and writing articles about
the deadly disease. And here's where
the controversy comes in.
Not satisfied with the types of stud-
ies being done on the transmission of
AIDS, Delany's talks and articles cen-
ter around the work he thinks is needed.
"(Because of the lack of certain types
of studies) nocurrentinformation about
sexual transmission of AIDS to women
isn't fundamentally in the realm we
would have to call superstition. Now
superstitions often turn out to have a
basis in fact. But often they don't. And
until the studies are done and their
resultsmade widely known, the women
of the world must operate and organize
their sexual lives wholly around super-
stition. There is today nothing else," he
Furthermore, Delany, who is regu-
larly accused of social irresponsibility
for both his behavior (HI V-negative,
he has no qualms in stating "Between
1981 and the present I have had many
sexual encounters - oral, receptive,
unprotected - with between 50 and
several hundred men each year, the
vast majority of whom I didn't know
personally.") andhis writing about stud-
ies that report zero percent HIV con-
Toys (Music from the
Original Motion Picture
Various Artists
The list of contributing artists to
"Toys," the soundtrack, reads much like
the cast list of "Toys," the motion pic-
ture. However, where Robin Williams,
Joan Cusack and LL Cool J can't quite
pulloff the respectable attempt of writer
/ director / producer Barry Levinson,
the magic of the soundtrack nearly sal-
vages it.
The bulk of the pieces are written by
Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn, and are
enormously meritorious unto them-
selves. However, the primary memora-
bility of the music is a result of the
performers themselves.
"The Closing Of TheYar,"the film's
enchanting main theme, features Wendy
and Lisa. Enya contributes "Ebudae," a
rhythmic chant that, in her trademark
style, floats into a mesmerizing fairy
tale of sound. Other appearances in-
clude Thomas Dolby, Frankie Goes To
Hollywood, Seal and Grace Jones, to
name a few.
The bulk of the tracks are a fusion of
classical music with new age. The
reminiscenttonesofyouthful innocence
are encapsulated by the performances

versions among men who restrict their
sexual activity to oral sex, is unsatisfied
with the information disseminated to
the public about AIDS.
He said, "What is repeatedly claimed
in (educational texts aboutAIDS) is that
"sex" is what transmits the AIDS virus.
Now if the gay male community has
learned anything over the last baker's
dozen years, it's that, in terms of AIDS,
"sex" doesn't exist. What exists are
specific, bodily sexual acts, some of
which transmit the virus and some of
which don't. But it is foggy, general-
ized, unspecific concepts like "sex" that
are the very locus of the problem, and
are precisely what educational efforts
must fight against.".
Delany, while not one to back down
in the face of social criticism, does
submit to reading the critical interpreta-
tions of his work. He said, "I'm curious
to see what people are saying aboutme.
Almost all those books (written on my
work) impute ideas to me personally
that I don't hold, never have held, and
would quietly laugh at anyone silly
enough to believe. You'll find critics,
often who've never met me and cer-
tainly who've neveraskedme, claiming
that I don't think of myself as a black
writer or that I don't think scientific
truth is important in science fiction. But
then, probably what writers are for is for
people to project themselves into the
writer's work to see what the combina-
tion ofcritic and textproduce. Butsome-
times, when critics call that combina-
tion 'Samuel R. Delany' well yes, I
Huh, who would have thought that
Samuel Delany would balk so easily?
Both his literary and social critics would
definitely be surprised.
SAMUEL DELANY will readfrom his
work today at Rackham at 4:00.
Admission is free.

Bret Lott
Pocket Books
by Marc Olender
"Jewel," Bret Lott's fourth novel, is
the story of a southern woman deter-
mined to raise her Down's Syndrome
child in mid-20th century Mississippi.
Her struggle puts her at odds with her
family, her husband, and God.
Jewel, a character based on Lott's
real-life grandmother, is a survivor. "I'd
taken care of myself most all my days,"
she reflects, remembering the death of
her parents. They die when she is eleven,
and Jewel is sent to live with her grand-
mother, Missy Cook.
Cook tries to force Jewel to become
a "woman of taste," forcing the first test
of wills in the novel. Jewel breaks free
of her grandmother, marries her hus-
band, Leston, and settles down into a
calm domestic life in Purvis, Missis-
Their life is shattered upon the birth
of Jewel's sixth child, Brenda Kay, who
is severely retarded. Jewel is determined
to provide her child with the care she
needs. The family, already poor, strains
to provide Brenda Kay with medicine,
and their finances fall apart.
The stress mountswhen Jewel reads
that Los Angeles has a school suited to
Brenda Kay's needs. She sees Califor-
nia as the ultimate destination for their
family. A struggle emerges with Leston,
whose roots are in Mississippi. He sees
amove as a loss of control of his family
and wife.
Leston gives in to Jewel's will, and
the family moves to California. Ihey
find a land completely foreign to them,
and struggle to get "their foot in the
door." Jewel finds help for Brenda Kay
at The Exceptional Children's Founda-
tion. She decides theirs is the perfect
Leston forces his family to move
back to Mississippi, which he sees as a
place to retire to. Jewel's focus is only

on Brenda Kay and Leston's is on re-
claiming the stable life he once knew.
The Tamily caught in-between is left
behind, and Jewel and Leston spar for
the last time.
The problem with the novel is not
the story. Jewel's story makes for a
dramatic narrative. Her sacrifice of fam-
ily for her afflicted child is wonderfully
presented. Her children marry and di-
vorce with Jewel hardly aware of what's
going on. A tragic accident occurs with
Brenda Kay, and Jewel lashes out at a
loyal friend, pushing her out of her life.
The problem occurs when Lott tries
to cover Jewel's eighty years by folding
flashback over flashback. Add to this
lengthy sentences and 358 pages, and
you get what critics term "an epic." The
epic scope here is not one of breadth, but
the battle Jewel fights for her daughter.
Her ultimate failure and success are
supposed to eclipse the big drama of
their small-town lives.
The novel does not reach these aspi-
rations. Lott whittled the 600-page
manuscript down to fit this book, and
lost a sense of rhythm along the way.
Some pages drag, others rush past. One
chapter is even reduced to a list of
events that have transpired. Lott cannot
spare room to spread them out.
Lott does a decent job thinking
Jewel's thoughts. The problem comes
with Jewel's tongue, which should be a
feisty Southern drawl. Lott's first-per-
son narrative is well-guided in what she
thinks, but her voice comes out drag-
ging its heels. Descriptions are spread
out and slow the actions they build up
to. The flowery language ruins some of
the more tender scenes of the novel.
Lott is an excellent writer, but he is
more at home with the shorter, more
direct language of the North. "The Man
who Owned Vermont," his first novel,
succeeded on the honesty and openness
of the characters. "Jewel" suffers for
Southern politeness, something which,
although very real, does not belong in a
novel which is long enough without it.


,belany, a better author than AIDS expert, reads today.

Zoe Olefsky, Midwest Representative of
will answer your questions on:


Wednesday, March 10
11:00 - 5:00
Hillel, 1429 Hill St.

For individual appointments or more information
call: Hillel, 769-0500
or Zoe Olefsky, (312) 236-6395

by the International Children's Choir
and St. Paul's School Choir. The result
is a truly celestial embodiment of won-
-Kim Yaged
The Story
Grace in Gravity
Elektra/Green Linnet Records
The Simon and Garfunkel of the
nineties are here. Jonatha Brooke and
Jennifer Kimball handle their subject
matter with all the dignity that their
album title implies, with vocal harmo-
nies reminiscient of Kate Bush and
Sinead O' Connor. They easily shift
gears between light-heartedjibes at their
dogs ("Dog Dreams," inspired by a Far
Side cartoon) and more serious topics
("Just One Word," a song about sexual
abuse). This eclecticism is one of their
strongest points. Yet they never allow
their messages, heavy or light, to inter-
fere with the music itself.
Grace in Gravity is one of the best
debut albums I've ever heard. "Dog
Dreams" has some of the funniest pop
lyrics ("We're gonnafind us some great
smelling bitches / See if they meant
what they said from the end of the
leash"). And the a cappella "Over
Oceans" had me hypnotized for over a
week with its siren-like chorus. Like



Simon and Garfunkel, The Story con-
struct their music around Jonatha's gui-
tar playing and singing and Jennifer's
vocals. They also weave intricate, some-
times dissonant harmonies that are more
complex than anything on both the pop
and folk scenes.
The Story have both the beauty and
the talent to be the crossover sensation
that folk artists have been watiting for.
With the right publicity and maybe a
snazzy video (a la Tori Amos), The
Story could hit the big time in a big way.
-David Pa va
Barbecue Bob
Chocolate to the Bone
Yazoo Records
Born two years after the turn of the
century in the two-creek town of Wal-
nut Grove, Nowheresville Georgia,
Robert Hicks whittled a wholly unique,
raucously percussive approach to the
blues. Following his brother/12-string
teacher to the nearest fledging metropo-
lis, Bobhonedhis skill inAtlanta, where
his finger-lickin' employment in a
chicken shack provided the inspiration
for his well- known pseudonym "Bar-
Barbecue's coy bottleneck guitar
slides, driving rhythmic syncopation,
and growling yet fluid vocals spawned
a stomping dance music (imagine an
acoustic "Rump Shaker"). But if that
were all that distinguished Barbecue, he
would be worthy of only passing noto-
riety. The sauce of Bob's style is his
uncommon variety, made moreremark-
able by his affinity for a single key.
This collection uncovers Barbecue
Bob's inspired 12-string strumming by
tracking the disparate directions of his
pieces. Although he embraces the com-

mon blues themes of ribaldry and la-
ment, Barbecue incorporates religious
tunes into his repertoire, recounts the
devastation of the 1927 Mississippi
flood, laces his narratives with sarcasm,
and bursts into fits of laughter. As if that
weren't enough to fill this CD, Choco-
late to the Bone also features trio frolics
by Bob andhisfellow Georgians, Curley
Weaver and Buddy Moss. Also, Bob's
naughtying of the nursery rhyme "The
Spider and the Fly" foreshadows mas-
ter pianist Fats Waller's similarly in-
spired 1939 mess-around with the
Grimm Brothers' tale.
Because of its seeming political pas-
sivity and lack of empowering themes,
the blues has been cast in the shadow of
rap's heated critiques of racism. Yet in
the song "Chocolate to the Bone," Bob
steps forward to voice his own criticism
of social mores by responding to Lillian
Ginn's pop hit "Brownskin Blues."
Barbecue's verse, "So glad I'm brown-
skinned/ Chocolate to the bone" asserts
his strong will during a time when light-
complexioned Black people were con-
sidered the standard of African-Ameri-
can beauty.
But the end of the 1920's crushed
Hicks' will, with the double travesty of
his mother's and wife's deaths. Finding
his only consolation in bottle bottoms,
Bob's health failed him in 1931, due to
a booze-fed flu. Bob's brother and fel-
low bluesman Charlie never recovered
from the shock of his death. Just as Bob
followed Charlie to Atlanta, Charlie
followed his brother by drowning his
despair in alcohol and finally dying in
prison. Unfortunately, Bob never had a
chance to bring his slapping bass lines
andpunctuatedriffs into the second half
of this century.
-Chris Wyrod


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