12 April 2008

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel Delany

A phenomenal work of social theory, and a really fantastic example of writing that manages to be theoretically rigorous but still largely accessible - and interesting - to a broader audience. It's a fascinating examination of urban space, sexuality and class with a really compelling theorization of "contact" (as opposed to "networking"), and some lovely reminiscences of a bygone cultural era in NYC. Also a nice example of work that blends academia and advocacy. An incredible book.

While the above might make it sound dry or hyper-analytical, let me approach it from the other side and say that this is an awesome memoir that features a guy getting a lot of head in seedy movie theatres.

The book is composed of two parts; in the first half, which is a fairly colloquial, memoir-style piece, Delaney just writes about his experiences at porn theatres around Times Square. It's a world I know nothing about, and it's beautifully captured. Delany doesn't shy away from graphic descriptions of sex, nor does he conceal the less savory aspects of the scene. There are some lovely moments that capture a kind of lovely warmth and intimacy between strangers, such as in this bit:

"I'm gettin' off on her up there-" he pointed at the screen-"and you guys are all gettin' off on me...? That's funny, huh? That guy there-" His hand swung to point to the Asian- "he always comes the same time I do. Don't you? Come on, didn't you?" He looked back at me. "He always does that. Every time. I shoot - he shoots. Ain't that a trip?" Looking over, he laughed.

There's something so sweet and touching about it, it's great. 

The second part is a more academic, theoretical essay on urban development and class, but the tone remains lively and despite its theoretical language, it's eminently readable. It's an example of the best kind of social theory - not just terms mapped onto everyday content, but a genuine theorization of everyday life, of the sort that both expands one's knowledge of the world and broadens the theory it's working with. It's one of the few examples I've seen, for instance, of someone talking about Lacan and making him actually seem worthwhile (Zizek kind of does that, but it's more of the mapping A onto B type work). 

A wonderful book. Highly recommended.

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