September 4th, 2009

Heavenly Breakfast

As you know, professor, I tend to start the year by listing all the books I read, and then rapidly give up when it becomes apparent that listing books I didn't really think much of is a rather dispiriting and futile task.
However, a fine book that needs noting is 'Heavenly Breakfast' by Samual Delany.

This is an autobiographical work. Interestingly, it is much less well known than The Motion Of Light In Water, and was written before it, though the period in his life it discusses is later than it.
The Motion Of Light In Water covers the period from 1960 - 1965 and was published in 1988, whereas Heavenly Breakfast covers 1967 (the 'summer of love') but was published in 1979.
Essentially, Heavenly Breakfast covers a period when Delaney lived in a commune, a two room apartment, in New York with a large and varying number of people.
It is a more straight-forward narrative than TMOLIW, and it is much more coy about sex than it. It is amusing to read the author's blurb which makes Delany sound much more serious and straight (in both ways) than he is, describing him as being married to Marilyn Hacker and their having a daughter. This was, of course, true but presents a somewhat misleading picture :-)
The commune was formed around a band, the name Heavenly Breakfast being used for both. The commune broke up when the band broke up, the story in the book, which has a big [citation needed] for me, is that the electricity company in NY somehow asked all local recording studios for money up front which drove the majority out of business, thereby driving up the prices of recording time and thereby making studio bands non-viable. No doubt there is some history of music recording in NY or public utility regulation in NY which might shed some light on this.
Both books bring home to me the degree to which even the recent(ish) past is another world. Mostly, in the case of this work, the ability to have 20 people living in a 2 bedroom flat in NY.

Something that tangentially strikes me is that most pictures of Delany one sees are ones of him in later life with the long white beard. A search of Google Images confirms this, with the first image of a younger Delany being on about the 5th page - here is a link to a page containing the photo of the younger Delany which I present because I feel it somehow skews ones perception of people to only have images from when they are old and famous

Stafford Beer Again

Following on from my comment about most photos of Samuel Delany being ones of him with a long white beard, the same is largely true of Stafford Beer. I think one book I have has a picture of him looking rather young and geeky, and there is one I have seen a number of times of him with an immaculately trimmed short black beard and obviously expensive but understated three piece suit, every inch officer class. So officer class, in fact, that it is hard not to believe that his cybernetic democracy is not, on some level, a cybernetic democracy of officer class males. Certainly, I recall a quote that the aim of the Star Trek style controls on the chairs in the Cybersyn control room was to 'get the girl out of the room' i.e. no need for secretaries.

Anyway, here is a picture I haven't come across before

At the bottom of this page is what claims to be a picture of Beer showing how the controls on the chairs are used. This is the only picture of the control room I have seen apart from the one everyone uses. Though is it me or does the perspective on the picture seem rather weird. Is it some sort of composite of reality and drawing? By this point Beer's beard was longer and getting towards the mad guru look.