DHALGREN AND LYOTARD: Oedipus Rex, Moebius Strips

I have been live-blogging my reading of Samuel Delany’s SF novel DHALGREN, which some regard as obscure and “impenetrable”, although I am not finding it so. DHALGREN is a meta-fictional SF text, that, following Laruelle, one could call a “philo-fiction”. Perhaps the best philosophical comparison would be with Jean-François Lyotard’s LIBIDINAL ECONOMY. Both books were published in 1974.

In his book, Lyotard begins by treating the body (any body, including the text as body) as a Moebius strip of singularities and of intensive passages. LIBIDINAL ECONOMY is in many ways a response to Deleuze and Guattari’s ANTI-OEDIPUS (1972),  both its prolongation (repetition) and re-vision (difference). ANTI-OEDIPUS is not against Oedipus but against the structuralist interpretation of the Oedipus story as repressing desire’s multiplicities. DHALGREN, like LIBIDINAL ECONOMY and ANTI-OEDIPUS, is a poststructuralist pluralist summum of 60s experimentation, and it was conceived by Delany as having the form of a Moebius strip.

I spoke to Lyotard in 1980 about a problem with the pluralism of intensities expressed in LIBIDINAL ECONOMY. I argued that it seemed to lead either to a relativism and eclecticism where everything is equal and so anything is possible, or to a nihilistic paralysis where everything is equal so nothing is possible, and that a third way was needed.

Lyotard acknowledged the problem, and said that the third possibility would be to limp along (boiter). I think this was an allusion to a re-imagined Oedipus the name means “swollen foot”) as a way out of the ideology of the Oedipus complex. The insistence in DHALGREN on the protagonist’s having one shod and one unshod foot is an allusion to Oedipus. Limping between summa and amnesia, between structure and formlessness, between repetition and difference, between circle and rhizome.

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