This is the abstract is for a presentation that I will be giving at the upcoming “Navigating Normativity” Queer Studies Conference at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. I’m posting this version even though I’ve modified the talk a bit since this abstract was submitted. This is a work in progress that I will also be presenting at another conference soon, so I’ll be posting more about it later.
I’m kicking myself for having added yet another project into the middle of a busy and quite stressful month, but I have absolutely no arguments with reading, thinking through, and talking about this fascinating novel again.
“The Splendor and the Misery: Reading the Body in Samuel Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders.”
The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities, was the proposed title of a sequel to Samuel R. Delany’s popular 1984 science fiction novel Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, a sequel which thus far has never materialized. (The unpublished, perhaps non-existent, book is legendary among devoted Delany fans.) Inspired by the title of that mythic text, I’d like to explore “the splendor and misery of bodies” in Samuel R. Delany’s writing, particularly in his 804 page pornographic novel Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, published in 2012. Like other Delany novels, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is full of coarse talk about the body. Delany’s writings are often filled with anecdotes about his own sexual experiences with a variety of people whose bodies fall outside of heterosexual norms, and outside of certain normative gay beauty ideals (of youth, thinness, whiteness, symmetry, ability). The characters represented in his fiction span a broad range of races, nationalities, ages, sizes, genders and abilities. Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is full of provocative depictions of race and sexuality, and the characters in the novel often talk about and pursue their desires for racial difference, and use racial epithets as a part of sexual play. One way in which this novel diverges from his prior body of work is that it is not set in the city, but in the rural American South, among a small community in Georgia comprised of black gay men and their admirers known as The Dump, a community founded and organized by a black gay millionaire named Robert Kyle III. In this presentation I will explore the way that Delany writes about the philosophy of embodiment and the utopian/anti-utopian/dystopian/heterotopian ways of managing and regulating bodies that are depicted and interrogated in his work. Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is particularly inventive in Delany’s imagining of a community with formal institutions and services geared toward queer people with active sexual lives, and which provide employment and housing for blue collar gay workers.