Flight from Neveryon
October 8, 2019 8:51 AM - by Samuel R. Delany - Subscribe

(From the generic umbrella copy that autopopulates here for these books): The eleven stories, novellas, and novels in Return to Nevèrÿon's four volumes chronicle a long-ago land on civilization's brink, perhaps in Asia or Africa, or... Flight from Neverÿon was largely written in 1983 and 1984 and first published in 1985. The book consists of two shorter stories and one novel, “The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals”, Delany’s response to the AIDS crisis, and is notable as possibly the first published fictional work taking AIDS as its catalyst and subject.

I had thought that I had read this book previously but when it was published, 1985, I would have been very busy with young-man events which left little time for reading and over the subsequent few years would have been very busy with college-oriented assignments dominating my reading time, so I think this is not a reread for me after all.

As I create this post, I am just into “Plagues and Carnivals,” having enjoyed the scenes and techniques of the first two stories. “Plagues and Carnivals” begins with an abrupt shift in tone and technique, interpolating contemporary first person material in Delany’s own, direct, authorial voice with scenes and events set in Neverÿona. Delany writes of the coming of AIDS to the street hustler scene of New York and at the same time of a similar plague coming to Neverÿona.

The shift is abrupt and jarring and lends the work an intensity which to me is reminiscent of the white heat of some passages in Dhalgren, not least because of the experimental doubling of the narrative. I am looking forward to the rest of the piece.
posted by mwhybark (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
> "... possibly the first published fictional work taking AIDS as its catalyst and subject."

Not meaning any disrespect to Flight from Neverÿon, but wasn't Babycakes by Armistead Maupin published a year earlier?
posted by kyrademon at 10:33 AM on October 8, 2019

Dunno, I’m just quoting what I read on the internet:

“The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals” is considered the first (or at least first published by a mainstream press) fictive response to and representation of AIDS, and it is notable for its refusal to pretend to represent it at all. As a whole, Flight from Nevèrÿon is obsessed with excessive signification and displaceability of meaning (and power). The book opens with Gorgik strategically producing excessive signification by casting off what markers he can, going underground, and letting rumors about him proliferate, elevating his mystery and therefore his power.

I don’t know where the blogger develops this citation from, but when I read this, it was a familiar claim to me. Book jacket blurbery maybe? I’m not a person with any sort of deep exposure to queer lit, so anything I say is certainly not founded on a depth of knowledge.
posted by mwhybark at 5:36 PM on October 9, 2019

A jacket blurb appears to be the basis of the claim:

“This wholly original novel (the first novel about AIDS from a major American publisher) is presented along with two other stories about mummers, prostitutes, and street people in the fantastic land of Nevèrÿon and its capital, port Kolhari—an ancient city that becomes more and more modern with each story.”
posted by mwhybark at 5:43 PM on October 9, 2019

OK, I've been doing a bit of internet research, and as far as I can tell tell the jacket blurb is incorrect. From what I can find, the first mainstream press book about AIDS was Babycakes (March 1984), and the first small press book was Paul Reed's Facing It (1984, can't pin down the month). Although I suppose it's possible that some people don't "count" Babycakes as an AIDS novel, since it's not only about AIDS ... I'll get off the subject now, though, since this space should really be reserved for discussion of the book -- which is unquestionably one of the earliest books about AIDS.
posted by kyrademon at 1:23 AM on October 10, 2019

In 9.46 of “Plagues and Carnivals,” a character named Ted recounts a night out in New York to Delany’s authorial character Chip. Ted’s encountered an unexpected street festival and met a potential partner.

We pushed through the crowd—only, somehow, I must have lost him. Or he changed his mind. Or maybe he knew what I was talking about, and I didn’t. I remember I got free of the people, crossed the street, and looked back—and, Chip, you know? There wasn’t anybody on the bridge at all! No torches. No Carnival.

The final section of Dhalgren is the multiple-narrative thread “Anathemata: A Plague Journal” in which the Kid leaves the city as he came in, over the bridge, which has seemed to move from location to location with respect to Tak’s outpost over the course of the novel.

Here, in “Plagues and Carnivals”, Delany literally bridges the two narratives of “Plagues and Carnivals” and at the same time creates a further bridge back to Dhalgren, a prior use of both plague imagery and an unstable, perceptually-uncertain bridge.
posted by mwhybark at 1:07 AM on October 12, 2019

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