Applied Delany

In recent weeks I’ve developed the habit of listening to NPR’s Car Talk on my commute. It amuses me to listen to a show about automobiles while riding public transit, in addition to the pleasure the show itself provides.

Enjoyment of the show derives in no small part from repetition, and variation of that repetition. It derives less from the solution of tricky troubleshooting problems (though I do enjoy that aspect personally and professionally) as from the insults that the brothers deploy against one another, and more explicitly ritual aspects of the show: the closing credits, which consist more of puns and in-jokes than names or roles; the weekly Puzzler; and even the iconic braying-donkey laughs that the brothers loose upon the radio laughing at their own jokes.

This week I realized that, in a sense, this made Car Talk a very adult pleasure. One of my favorite Samuel R Delany quotes comes from Tales of Neveryon, where he writes:

Childhood is that time in which we never question the fact that every adult act is not only an autonomous occurrence in the universe, but that it is also filled, packed, overflowing with meaning, whether that meaning works for ill or good, whether the ill or good is or is not comprehended.

Adulthood is that time in which we see that all human actions follow forms, whether well or badly, and it is the perseverance of the forms that is, whether for better or worse, their meaning.

Various cultures make the transition at various ages, which transition period lasts for varying lengths of time, one accomplishing it in a week with careful dances, ancient prayers, and isolate and specified rituals; another, letting it take its own course, offering no help for it, and allowing it to run on frequently for years. But at the center of the changeover there is a period – whether it be a moment’s vision or a year-long suspicion – where the maturing youth sees all adult behavior as merely formal and totally meaningless.

Truly, the meaning of Car Talk inheres within the perseverance of its forms.