As Americans struggled to grasp what was unfolding in New Orleans, the word “unimaginable” recurred frequently—even though the catastrophe had been imagined, and envisioned, many times. Thirty years ago, science fiction writer Samuel Delany wrote, in high detail, about the unfolding of racially-charged violence, rape, and looting in “Bellona,” a major American city struck by an unspecified catastrophe and ignored by the National Guard.
Delany’s Dhalgren focuses on a group of people who choose to remain in Bellona despite—and partly, because of—its dystopian qualities (including lack of water and sanitation). This surreal work of science fiction seemed especially apt last week, as fires raged and stories of racism, rape, looting, and murder proliferated…
As I recall, Bellona is explicitly situated in the Southeast in the novel, although the context provided by Delany’s autobiography makes it clear that he was actually writing a dream-version of his hometown, New York City, in which only those persons who interact with his main character remain in the city – the athorila invention here was to remove the teeming masses of city life and leave only the personal incidents, allowing his character the freedom of the anonymous drift the metropolis permits.
UPDATE: B. has also posted a roundup of NOLA-X bloggers.