Black Queer Future: Reading Samuel Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders

This paper is an exploration of Samuel R. Delany’s 2012 pornographic novel Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. Like other Delany novels, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (TVNS) is full of coarse talk about the body. Delany’s fiction and essays are often filled with anecdotes about his own sexual experiences with a variety of people whose bodies fall outside of heterosexual norms, and outside of certain normative gay beauty ideals (of youth, thinness, whiteness, symmetry, ability).  The characters represented in his fiction span a broad range of races, nationalities, ages, sizes, genders and abilities. Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is full of provocative depictions of race and sexuality, and the characters in the novel often talk about and pursue their desires for racial difference, and use racial epithets as a part of sexual play. One way in which this novel diverges from Delany’s prior body of work is that it is not set in the city, but in the rural American South, among a small community in Georgia comprised of black gay men and their admirers known as The Dump, a community founded and organized by a black gay millionaire.  In this presentation I will explore the way that Delany writes about the philosophy of embodiment and his imagining of a future community with formal institutions and services geared toward queer people with active sexual lives, as well as employment and housing for blue collar gay workers.  Specific to this conference topic of “After Marriage,” Delany’s novel depicts a future where gay marriage is normative and accepted, even in rural Georgia, but it focuses on an unmarried couple, and includes other forms of kinship, family and partnership. TVNS is bold in its imagination of a community that nurtures the lives of queer people of color. What kind of institutions and policies would create queer livability in the American South?  And how might that reorganization take place, not necessarily as some post-revolutionary utopia, but emerging within the same material conditions and within the same histories that already exist? To explore this concept I draw on the work of literary critic Keguro Macharia who in a series of critical essays on Delany’s Spiders wrote about the notion of “Black Gay Livability,” and I borrow that concept to think about the vision of the future in Delany’s novel.   


Part of panel Reimagining Queer Collectivities and Kinship Outside Marriage
October 2, 2016, 09:00–10:45