Reading Content in Trouble on Triton: Occupy Consumerism

I’m continuing my dark ecology reading of Trouble on Triton by investigating other readings of the novel. One of Delany’s noted literary interests is exploration of sex in literature. An essay by Robert Elliot Fox compares the speculative sexuality in two of Sam Delany’s novels: Trouble on Triton and Tides of Lust. Fox’s reading of the novels deals with representation of political and sexual matters in each. I will consider the part of his essay focused on that novel specifically, as an example of a reading primarily concerned with content.

Fox describes Bron, the main character of Trouble on Triton, as a deeply flawed anti-hero unable or unwilling to enjoy the freedom offered by the utopian societies that acknowledge a range of desires and cater to most, if not all. This vision of society as an aggregation without a mainstream appeals to Fox, who interprets Bron as an elitist because he refuses to accept himself as a type based on his desires. (p. 44)

According to Fox, Bron’s problems stem from emotional weakness, lack of style, and his misapplication of language. The satellite societies offer freedom in the form of endless choice, but it is a more concrete and demanding freedom ?. Bron reacts like a hurt child when the world refuses to conform to his demands or expectations ?, and he then stigmatizes whomever disappointed him without really listening to them. The imbalance comes from insufficient dialogue, and Fox compares Bron’s inadequate style to an African musician who loses aesthetic command through imbalance and a lack of coolness in his performance ?. (p45-46) Fox’s critique of Bron is similar to the Spike’s in chapter 6–Bron’s is an aesthetic failure.

Insight into the cause of Bron’s personal failings is provided by Ashima Slade in Appendix B:

Our society in the Satellites extends to its Earth and Mars emigrants, at the same time it extends instruction on how to conform, the materials with which to destroy themselves, both psychologically and physically-all under the same label: Freedom…In a net of tiny worlds like ours, that professes an ideal of the primacy of the subjective reality of all its citizens, this is an appalling political crime. ? (p. 303)

Ashima Slade has suffered in much the same way as Bron. Part of the doubling in the novel–a medial element that undermines the distinction between foreground and background–are echoes of similarity between Bron and Ashima Slade. Both characters are interested in metalogics, both had sex change operations, and both have a metal plate just above their eye. (p. 300) Slade, though, is not deprecated in Fox’s reading because Slade, through his intellectual and creative endeavor (the modular calculus), is able to bridge the instruction/destruction dynamic via construction ?. (p.46) Bron is not an intellectual like Slade, nor is he an artist like the Spike; his attempt to entertain the Spike on Earth fails (resulting in her scathing aesthetic critique in chapter 6). Bron can’t find solace in the creative act and so is stuck with himself.

Fox’s main points concern Delany’s representation of desire, and he concludes that Trouble on Triton‘s main character is sadly unprepared to deal with the implications of a more concrete and demanding freedom. ? (p.45) The freedom of the satellites entails one knows what he or she wants, consistently and persistently. Consumption is egalitarian in this possible future but also compulsive. What separates Bron from the political landscape of the novel is that he doesn’t know what he wants. His hamartia is a refusal to occupy a consumerist position. As I will develop in later blogs, this subject position is central to both Trouble on Triton and Ecology Without Nature.

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