(image from Doug Barber's photographs of outlaw bikers here)
TE: One disturbing argument of the book is embodied in Hogg’s speech to Ray the bartender, about the difference between normal people and sexual outlaws, where he equates subs/doms, gays, etc—with “babyfuckers” and professional rapists like him. Hogg, as I read him, is supposed to be intelligent and, in his way, moral—he tells the guys to ease up occasionally and even muses they’d be justified in turning him in to the cops. So his failure to distinguish between those whose sexual tastes are merely unconventional and those who hurt others is all the more perplexing, especially since many of his arguments—that women should revolt, that the warmakers and downsizers are at least as evil as him—strike me as cogent.
SAMUEL R. DELANY: Do you know Terrence McNally’s first play, which he wrote when he was 25, Things That Go Bump in the Night? I saw it when it was first performed on Broadway, with Eileen Hackett, many years ago—and at least four years before Stonewall. It very much impressed me, and, I think, when all is said and done, Hogg, which I wrote, after all, only three or four years later, pretty much shares its overall theme.
Briefly, in a post-holocaust landscape, a family is managing to survive—a monstrous mother, her late adolescent son, and her somewhat younger daughter. Each day, before sundown, the brother and sister go out and lure someone back to spend the night with them; and each night, this person is both emotionally and physically destroyed. In the course of things, we learn that, one night when they did not have someone to destroy, they turned on one another and almost killed each other, so that this nocturnal ritual they now know is a matter of their own survival. Truly, they are an unsavory and monstrous lot. But, in a reversal that occurs perhaps twenty minutes before the last act’s end, once we have watched them drive their victim for the night to suicide, as they prepare for sunrise to get ready and go out to find another, the mother turns to harangue the audience directly: The substance of her dithyramb is that, while she and her brood destroy one person every twenty-four hours, by our lack of care and simple ignorance of the way in which the world works, we, the audience, destroy thousands on thousands of people unknowingly and have produced the carnage among which only such people as she and her murderous offspring can survive.
It was a pretty devastating argument, when I saw it. Hacket’s monologue is another sadist’s harangue, but it left a lot of people squirming.
This is not the primary “theme” of Hogg, but certainly it’s a secondary motif.
TE: I’m neither gay nor a minority nor female. But I’ve always felt like an outsider—a misfit. One reason why Hogg and The Mad Man are important to me is that they really presents things from the outsiders’ perspective—albeit a very particular outsider. Still, to me, the books are so great especially because they avoid that same boring, middle-class, average guy perspective. Almost all the big characters are marginalized by society—and now they have their own book. It reminds me of how excited I’d get when I was in grade-school and some peripheral Archie Comics character like Dilton or Moose would get their own comic book. They’ve even encouraged me to be more experimental in my private life. (The books, that is—not the Archie comics. Though I suppose Jughead might be an appropriate model for asexuality and eating-as-sublimated desire.) My point? Thanks for writing them.
SAMUEL R. DELANY: You’re most welcome.
TE: Mr. Jonas and Jimmy both meet deadly fates (as I guess all fates are eventually)—and I can’t help feeling that their deaths are morally instructive. Is commissioning abuse, in the case of Mr. Jonas, somehow worse than inflicting it? Or in the case of Jimmy, is rationalizing misogyny and violence somehow worse than merely practicing it? In one interview you describe Jimmy as “morally loathsome”—well, sure, but in comparison to Hogg and Denny et allia, who inflict a lot more pain than he does? More prosaically, why would Mr. Jonas be in the driver’s seat of his
SAMUEL R. DELANY: By and large, the commissioners of abuse have not yet been brought into the circle of compassion. (My elementary school-mate Arial Dorffman, in his most provocative play, Death and the Maiden, has made perhaps the most intelligent first steps in this direction.) Mr. Jonas drives his own limo because most of Mr. Jonas’s power is show. Not only does he drive his own limo, he also answers his own front door bell. As well, having to pay out relatively small amounts of money, given the services he wants to purchase, really bothers him. He wants the services themselves because it makes him look important. He’s a man—a racketeer—living way beyond his means, so that his death at someone’s else’s hands is almost inevitable. Yes, that it’s a motorcycle accident Hawk is responsible for is ironic. But it follows—at least I hope it does. Also, while it’s an ironic coincidence, it’s one that doesn’t register with anyone else except the narrator, for whom, finally, it’s just not that significant.
TE: As an author who’s received no shortage of critical lauding I’d be curious to know where you think Hogg stands in your ouvere. I’m sure it’s hard for you to make these judgments, but do you see the book as important as some people do? (One site listed it and Dhalgren as among the 100 most important books of the century.)
SAMUEL R. DELANY: I suspect that you’ve seen more criticism of Hogg than I have. I’ve read less than half a dozen reviews—probably only four, or even three.
I simply don’t put any energy to speak of trying to work through such questions. That’s for someone else’s critical enterprise, someone who feels it’s worth the time and thought. That someone might feel that way is complimentary. But it’s not a question I’m inclined to take up on my own.
TE: Denny’s spree: why is it important that it take place off-stage? Are you, as one analyst suggested, drawing a line between rape and murder? And is the spree—which only begins once he finally fells his erection—a metaphor for suppressed desire? This seems like an apropos interpretation of events to me—especially as you say the book would have been impossible following Stonewall. Almost like you were saying, “if society insists on stifling us, that energy will come out in ways much less constructive than a little reckless sex.”
SAMUEL R. DELANY: I certainly don’t have any problem with the reading you’ve just proposed. I’ve discussed some of this in two essays, one called “The Scorpion Garden” and another called “The Scorpion Garden Revisited” (the second as by K. Leslie Steiner. You’ll find both collected in a book of my essays called The Straits of Messina, Sarconia Press, 1987.) I’d hoped Denny’s off-stage murder spree would function like the fourth act of a Shakespearean tragedy. During those famous Elizabethan fourth acts, the major characters are off stage, resting up for the final 5th-Act sword fight. It’s both structural and ironic. It’s there to worry you—“Why, when the whole thing is suddenly distanced like this, do I find it so funny? What is the endless sentimentality and sensationalism of the media through which it comes to the reader (and the narrator) doing to my perception of it all?”
You’ve just spent almost a hundred pages with Denny. You know, yes, he’s a nut case. But what you’re learning about is the kind of nut case you thought he was up till now. And, of course, what does this all make of the last thirty-odd pages of the novel, when Hogg is trying to rescue Denny—both from the police and from Denny’s own self-inflicted insanity? Is what Hogg does logical? Why does it seem so, if it’s not? Can you buy the implicit explanation for his behavior, at least in terms of the novel? Or is this just an implied ratiocination of the narrator’s that’s mostly a function of his own immaturity? We are back at those distortions of presentation we began with, I’m afraid.
One of the most important of those distortions is simply that the book is pornography. Its action takes place in Pornotopia—that is, the land where any situation can become rampantly sexual under the least increase in the pressure of attention. Like its sister lands, Comedia and Tragedia, this means it can only be but so realistic.
One of the most unrealistic things about the literary precinct of realism is that it is situatated so far from the other three. Though I am happy to label the books with the despised term, finally they are works of the borderlands.
Hogg is another of my stories that takes place in the city of Enoch.
But these are all textual questions—and put us in contact with the discursive formulations that, I suspect, allow the novel to signify.
TE: Finally, does it bother you that The Mad Man and Hogg always get discussed together? To me, aside from an omnivorous attitude toward sex (though John Marr in The Mad Man obviously has some taboos that Hogg’s narrator doesn’t) and some particular fetishes, the books couldn’t be more different. If I flip to any page in Hogg, I’ll probably see some scene that’ll haunt me for the next few days. If I crack open The Mad Man at random, I’ll encounter a character or a situation that’ll make me smile and maybe even laugh. John is such a great character to take us through the sexual underbelly—he’s likable and, aside from his brilliance, a pretty regular guy. But maybe you see the commonality that I don’t?
SAMUEL R. DELANY: I think the affect of the two books is very different, though certainly both focus on the sexual. They were written thirty years apart—and in two hugely different eras, pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall. Does the discussion bother me? Well, once a book is finished and out in the world, I aspire to keep them in that part of my mind where bother is, as it were, not a bother—if you can follow what I mean.
March 26, 2004