Hard to describe. This is one of Delany's literary 'pornographic novels', a semi-realistic fantasy with strong autobiographical elements, following the exploits of a young black gay academic as he investigates the unexplained knifing of a predecessor. During his quest, he finds his life is converging with that of the dead man, as he becomes involved in a series of increasingly intense and coprophiliac sexual encounters with New York street people, all against a background of growing awareness of HIV. A dark and shocking novel, yet shot through with an overwhelming sympathy for the human condition even in its most strange and disgusting manifestations.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A Narrative Hall of Mirrors26 Sept. 2002
- Published on Amazon.com
While many readers have focused on the sex, with which, yes, `The Mad Man' is rife, this is only one element in the novel among many. As a straight reader, I found myself engrossed in what is essentially a high-brow murder-mystery. Timothy Hasler, a brilliant Korean-American philosopher and linguist, has been knifed to death at the Pit, a seedy gay bar. Years later, John Marr, a Ph.D. candidate whose dissertation is based on Hasler's work, becomes obsessed with uncovering the circumstances surrounding Hasler's death. A gay man himself, Marr is outraged at "the self-righteous drivel" that one academician uses to excuse himself from completing a biography of Hasler---that is, he was horrified by Hasler's sexual tastes. In search of answers, Marr retraces Hasler's footsteps, even taking an apartment in the building where Hasler once lived. More and more, Marr turns up in quarters of the city generally avoided by the bourgeoisie. "In these doorways, bars, porn-magazine and peep-show shops, the movie theaters where sight itself is so dimmed, in such theatrical darkness true vision is ... largely absent. In one sense, all the encounters ... here take place on some dreary Audenesque plain where a thousand people mill, where no one knows anyone else, and there is nowhere to sit down. [...] Any exchange resembling real conversation takes place quietly and ceases when someone else walks by." Hyper-educated, for the most part middle class, Marr unexpectedly finds himself involved in a series of intimate encounters with the homeless men in his neighborhood. His sexual exploits gradually drift further and further from the mainstream until a passage in one of Hasler's journal's makes perfect sense both to him and to the reader. " ...To live within the tethers of desire is-again and again-to be shocked at how far they have come loose from reason ..." Delany, however, is not merely interested in sexual liberation, in adults pursuing their desires no matter how bizarre (so long as everyone consents and violence is not involved), he meticulously presents an assertion that, like an image in a hall of mirrors, repeat itself, evolving into analogy and gaining in magnitude as it does. Take for example, the so-called "Hasler grammars", described as "the realization that large-scale, messy, informal systems are necessary in order to develop, on top of them, precise, hard-edged, tractable systems ..." In other words, clear and observable order is built upon a foundation rather nebulously composed of what would be considered chaotic. Apply this linguistic construct to recent Manhattan history and it is, in a sense, a message to Rudy Giuliani that without the city's underworld and its denizens, the law and order---the Disneyland---he so wants New York to be, simply could not be; one exists only in relation to the other. From the rarefied and esoteric to the instinctive and purely carnal, from the grand analogy to the concrete detail minutely observed, `The Mad Man' is a dense weave that rivals Delany's most richly layered narratives. Recently re-released in an exceptionally handsome edition, I recommend it to any reader who wants an author to engage him, or her, in a multi-level game of chess.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
a love story about waste and academic investigation25 Aug. 1999
- Published on Amazon.com
The more I read of Delany, including his theoretical, non-fiction and autobiographical work, the more I recognise the incredibly skilful way in which he TRANSFORMS his experiences and desires into fiction. This book is a love story. Those who finish the book may agree with me; those who baulk at the sexual practices vividly (and, to non-enthusiasts, overwhelmingly) described may be baffled by this comment. Yet description of the central character's excitement in the gradual merging of his two interests (philosophical investigations and sexual investigations) is an extraordinary ride through emotion, thought and language. Times Square Red/Blue has hints of where some of the ideas came from. Bread and Wine probably more. This is Anti-Pornography - see The Scorpion Garden in Straits of Messina - a Queer affirmation and celebration. Read it for the superb writing as much as for the story, the politics, the sex.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
amazing trip down paths few will travel26 Feb. 1997
- Published on Amazon.com
While few will personally identify with the events in The Mad Man, it's a book which is thought-provoking and challenging in a very fundamental way. Delaney explores parts of the human psyche and sexual appetite which seem nearly impossible to understand, yet carries the willing reader to a point of insight and self-identification which seems surprising at the start. At times revolting, titillating, and bizarre, it's an always-fascinating walk down a path which few will travel in real life. At the same time, it's a mental "gedankexperiment" which will broaden the reader's idea of normal, and ultimately will change their worldview.
Delany is a master.27 Feb. 2015
- Published on Amazon.com
I have been a Delany fan since I first read Dhalgren (that was my introduction). I still need to return to Dhalgren every so often. I went and read as many of Delany's sci-fi novels as I could find. Then a few years ago while looking through a used book bin, I found The Mad Man; since it was authoried by Delany, I bought it without knowing anything about it. My cats immediately swarmed the book (I really hate to think what they smell). Yes, much of the sexual encounters are fairly graphic and not something I am into, Delany is such a damn good writer you have to keep reading. He gives you insight into a world most of us would never know about (not that we want to) yet all of his people, when you scrap off the dirt and grime, are just people. I have the book somewhere, had to put it "in a safe place" where the cats couldn't get to it but now I don't know where that place is, have to tear up my apartment to look for it. I probably won't re-read it, just a bit more then I need to know about some of the NYC gay preferences, but I have friends who might find it fascinating and enlightening.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Beauty and The Beast25 Feb. 2009
J. F. Scharlau
- Published on Amazon.com
Some of the most breathtakingly beautiful prose I have ever read.
Some of the vilest subject matter I have ever encountered.
I have never before read work written by an author with a greater degree of self-loathing, loneliness, obsession, impotence and alienation, all expressed with little conscience, or self-consciousness, and so strangely lacking in sadness or regret. And I mean that to seem ambiguous as I don't know who demonstrates a greater capacity for the above, the characters or the author? Mr. Delany's characters often seem oblivious to anything but their own current needs.
That said, seldom have I read any string of precisely chosen and arranged words which have as much beauty, grace, intelligence and power as revealed by this same work. Many of his passages are truly brilliant and striking in their ability to inspire awe.
And how do I, as a reader, fit into the matrix? I could fling it away as something decayed and disgusting, but I don't. I become a willing, if reluctant, accomplice in the process.
I have to wonder if the author is, partly, just shoving this type of work into the face of his reader as a demonstration of what he is capable of doing with subject matter that most of the reading audience would never touch with a ten foot pole. It's hard to fathom.
Personally, I find myself repulsed and withheld all at once. I'm repulsed by these characters and their actions. I am deeply disturbed by their motives. I can find little common ground upon which I can even relate to them. I understand that these characters are supposed to be human beings and yet they are not human beings that I recognize. And still I cannot abandon a book as undeniably powerful as "The Mad Man". This I can only credit, I suppose, to Mr. Delany's talent. His mastery of the written word simply astounds me. He somehow allows me to participate in his creation against my better judgment, almost against my will. We walk a razor sharp line with this book and I have the scars to prove it. He succeeds here where I think he fails with "Hogg".
I used to wonder why Mr. Delany would use (waste?) his considerable talent on subject matter such as that interlaced within this book and, especially so, in "Hogg". I don't wonder any longer. Honestly, I don't really care. He is the creator of his worlds. It's our choice to explore or not.
What's this book about? It's a murder mystery. Who is murdered? A soul. Why? To be resurrected.
Is this book worth reading? Yes. Whether or not it is readable is a matter for the reader to decide.
This is how I can best describe my experience reading this book: Take a truly brilliantly and beautifully written and constructed book and then splatter it liberally with human excrement. Enjoy your read.
Find some latex gloves and at least make the attempt. Wear a bunny-suit if you must. Perhaps even Mr. Delany would advise that you clean up well after.