Thursday, October 20, 2011

People Are Not Excess

I finally got a copy of Fred Barney Taylor's 2007 documentary The Polymath; or, The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman, and watched it tonight. TLA Video had it on clearance, so I snapped it up, but it can be ordered directly from the filmmaker. It's an odd sort of documentary, consisting largely of Delany talking over solarized footage of water, rivers, train tracks, and the like; there are also Delany family home movies and clips of Delany receiving awards, traveling, and walking around New York City. Still, it's highly interesting and well worth seeing.

Towards the end, Delany reads from his book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, page 90:
The easy argument already in place to catch up these anecdotes is that social institutions such as the porn movies take up, then, a certain social excess -- are even, perhaps, socially beneficial to some small part of it (a margin outside the margin). But that is the same argument that allows them to be dismissed -- and physically smashed and flattened. They are relevant only to that margin. No one else cares.

Well, in a democracy, that is not an acceptable argument. People are not excess. It is the same argument that dismisses the needs of blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, women, gays, the homeless, the poor, the worker -- and all other margins that, taken together (people like you, people like me) are the country's overwhelming majority: those who, socioeconomically, are simply less powerful.
That sounded familiar! Noam Chomsky says almost exactly the same thing -- though I don't think he'd agree with Delany about the value of men having sex with each other in (mostly heterosexual) porn theaters. Much as I love Chomsky, he has his blind spots. But still, their coincidental agreement on the notion that the margins put together equal the country's overwhelming majority was too striking not to mention.