“‘When I wrote the book there was a background of events in literary criticism in general, tending to reject the idea that criticism had to be thematic and revolve around analysis of the plots, and characters. By the late 60s and early 70s there was a whole trend in criticism that was moving towards treating the texts themselves as language. JHJ was really my attempt to discuss SF texts as language, and bring SF criticism up to date. I probably should have made that really clear at the time, but I wanted to appear much more fresh and innovative than I really was.’ (laughter)” – Samuel R. Delany
“The door deliquesced.
Cool against my thigh, chest, and face, mist from the sill-trough blew back as I lifted my foot over the — “Hey, don’t step in that!” I pushed up at Rat’s shoulder —
His big foot came down with the heel a centimeter beyond the trough rim. he staggered around to face me, not looking surprised.
“You’re supposed to step over. You yell at little kids for getting their feet wet in the door trough.” I laughed. “Look…” as I stepped over.
The blue liquid, behind us now, began to foam; the foam rose, climbing at the jambs faster than in the middle; and darkening, and shutting out light as the door’s semicrystals effloresced.”
- Samuel R. Delany, from Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand
I discovered The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction in 2009 at Readercon. While I had long admired (no, adored, felt dizzily annihilated by, was dazzled and delighted and upset and puzzled and overthrown and reinvigorated by) Samuel R. Delany’s fiction (since reading Nova in 1981), I had never read any of his non-fiction. I had only the year before returned to the world of fantastika after a long exile in unrelated academia, and was hungry not just for stories, but for ways to look at the literary field after a dozen years away from it. Strolling through the Dealer’s Room I came to the Wesleyan University Press table, and was startled to find Mr. Delany sitting there, with a few copies of his just re-issued book at his elbow.
I am terribly shy in person, so it took a great effort to approach him, but he was affable and signed a copy of the book for me (I later brought my old copy of Nova, the 1975 Bantam reissue, which I had kept since high school, for him to sign). I made off with my purchase hoping to read some of it immediately, but was, as usual, seduced by the allure of readings and panels and kaffeeklatsches that put all thoughts of reading, paradoxically, out of my head. When I finally did read it that fall, it was a revelation, and a wistful engagement, of ideas about how SF on the page works as we read it, and how our very notions of reading affect our reception of the words. Two years later, sitting at this year’s Readercon panel about the book, I felt, in a rather artificially narrativized way I suppose, that I had come to a new phase of a journey with Delany’s work, and this book in particular.