On Filiarchy

Let me state, by the bye, that though I’ve criticized it at great (even excessive) length, The Dispossessed is a rich and wondrous tale. It’s a boy’s book: a book to make boys begin to think and think seriously about a whole range of questions, from the structure of society to the workings of their own sexuality. Our society is often described as patriarchal— a society ruled by aging fathers concerned first and foremost with passing on the patrimony. At the risk of being glib, however, I’d suggest that it might be more accurate to say that we have a filiarchal society— a society ruled almost entirely by sons— by very young men. Certainly boys— especially white heterosexual boys— are the most privileged creatures in the Western social hierarchy. They are forgiven almost everything in life— and are forgiven everything in art. Indeed, if the society were a bit more patriarchal instead of being so overwhelmingly filiarchal, it might function just a bit more sanely. But since it doesn’t, there’s still a great deal to be said for a good boy’s book. And for a woman’s writing it. And nothing stops women and girls from reading boys’ books and learning from them. I mean The Dispossessed is a boy’s book the way Huckleberry Finn is a boy’s book; and, unlike Huckleberry Finn, the boy in The Dispossessed is held up to the man he will become again and again, chapter by chapter, beginning to end. (The real tragedy of Huckleberry is that the best he can hope to grow up into, personally and historically, is the sociopathic narrator of Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”)

—Samuel R. Delany, “The Second Science-Fiction Studies Interview: Of Trouble with Triton and Other Matters” (1986)

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