Monday, April 20, 2015

The Einstein Intersection

The Einstein IntersectionThe Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would be a liar if I said I could map out the plot to this novel in any kind of linear fashion. One read through is definitely not enough. So, is it even permissible to give the book my highest rating when I cannot, admittedly, lay the plot out in a plain diagram for you?

Oh, heck yes!

This book will play tricks with your mind, no doubt. But if you enjoy strange dreams that hold their own internal logic - unexplainable in the waking world, but somehow making perfect sense to your sleeping self - you might just love this novella. When I finished it, I felt like I had just woken up from a very deep, sad, meaningful dream, still slightly intoxicated and a bit confused.

I even struggle to clearly outline who or what the main antagonist, Kid Death, is. I seriously considered the following options as I read . . .

1. Alternate personality of Lobey, the main character
2. Computer generated "being" enabled by ancient humans
3. Supernatural being
4. Result of bad head wound to Lobey

. . . and concluded that none of them were correct, though each of them could have been.

And this seems to be at the heart of what Delany has written here: A Godelian "possibility space" that cannot be deciphered from within, but must be understood on an intuitive, subconscious level by the reader, who is completely outside of the character's possibility space. The reader is, in essence, the "Einstein Intersection," encompassing the possible limits of what the characters, plot, and setting fundamentally are because she or he is beyond the limits of the internal understanding of those in the book. Though this can be the case for just about any book, Delany is particularly deft at getting the reader "into" the book and world, through the use of bread crumbs strung along to pull the reader "out" of their own metafictional reality, convincing the reader that she or he can understand the book's world on its own terms. Again, though, the reader, being a real human being, is, in reality, above all that and is capable of objectifying the text as a piece of fiction. This doesn't mean that the reader will or can fully understand what is "going on," because that would imply that the reader fully encompasses what is in Samuel R. Delany's head. Rather, reading the novel is a lot like having a conversation with a native speaker of a foreign language that one is in the early stages of learning: The reader "understands" some of the vocabulary and the easier stretches of grammar, without knowing the nuances of the language and, most importantly, without knowing what the speaker is feeling or thinking in any meaningful way.

But this does not mean that there aren't connections being made. Some aspects of the conversation are carried from one person to the other by way of the subconscious absorption via context, others by the intuitive reading of body language; communication that is not formally spoken or, in the case of reading Delany's novel, the evocation of feelings and thoughts, some rather complex, that arise from the author's prose. In other words, I can't get into Delany's head, but I can have some notion of what he's getting at, regardless of whether I fully understand the entirety at once or not.

What, then, do I think Delany is getting at with The Einstein Intersection? I think he's getting at the tenderness of human longing and the co-mingled loneliness and pride in being "different". I think he's sharing, on a very visceral level, how lonely one often feels when one is not "in the norm" but acknowledging that walking alone can be, in some small way, a victory march over "normalcy". Lobey, the main character is, if nothing else, vulnerable and, to some extent, innocent. But he is also powerful, able to plunge through death and hell for the sake of (misplaced? spurned?) love.

That's a story worth struggling to understand.

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