1) Admiral John A. Dahlgren was the Union navy’s head of ordnance during the civil war and inventor of the smoothbore Dahlgren Gun. His son, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren was at the heart of the notorious Dahlgren Affair of 1864, an apparent attempt to assassinate Jefferson Davis. Other Dahlgren’s have included a singer, a botanist and an athlete or two. The name is always spelled ‘ah’.
2) The word ‘Dhalgren’ occurs only four times in Delany’s novel. ‘William Dhalgren’ is in a list of names in Kid’s notebook. The list is quoted in full twice during the novel and a brief extract from it a third time. [EDIT: near the end of the book Kid recalls the name ‘William Dhalgren’ from the list immediately after his session with Madame Brown. Though later still it is strongly implied that William Dhalgren is the name of the reporter on the newspaper.] But the most significant use comes when Kid takes part in the gang bang and finds the word ‘Grendal’ running repeatedly through his mind. Grendal Grendal Grendal gradually deconstructs itself into Dhalgren. When I first read this I took this as evidence that Dhalgren was the Kid’s real name; now I don’t think this matters. More importantly I think we should reverse the deconstruction process, and take the title as pointing us towards Grendel. But whether this means the Kid is Beowulf or the monster I don’t know, I can read him either way.
3) We should not forget that Bellona comes out to meet the Kid. The novel opens with him having sex with a strange naked women he encounters in a wood; she leads him to a cave where he climbs a cliff face to claim the first of the chains with which he adorns himself. This whole encounter is redolent of myth, and of course sets the tone for the novel. Everyone else who wears the chains seems to have acquired them in the city itself, but they come to Kid a full day and one truck ride before he reaches the city. [EDIT: during his talk with Madame Brown the Kid suggests that this pre-Bellona experience was a dream, which of course further undermines our trust in anything that goes on in the novel.]
4) Where is Bellona? We know it is in the mid-West, we are told that right at the start. We know it is one of the six largest cities in the US, Captain Kamp tells us that late in the book. We know it has a waterfront, presumably on a river. But the river disappears from the geography of the city, except briefly when Kid is on the bridge as Newboy leaves.
5) The novel opens part way through a sentence. But this is a trick Delany uses repeatedly throughout the final section of the novel. What is more interesting is that none of these passages from the notebook end part way through a sentence, except for the very last. [EDIT: some passages towards the end of the notebook end structurally in mid-sentence, but we don’t feel as if we are losing any of the sense of the passage.]
6) The first part of the novel, told in the third person, is presumably some sort of external account of events. The final part of the novel, the passages from the notebook in first person, are clearly unmediated and direct experiences of the events. Yet the uncompleted last sentence of the notebook loops us back round to the first sentence of the novel. The novel thus becomes like an Escher drawing, feeding into itself: the novel contains the notebook that becomes the novel that contains the notebook.
First published at LiveJournal, 21 July 2009.