Utopia and Apocalypse in Samuel Delany's The Mad Man
In The Mad Man (1994), which is concerned, among many other things, with the sexual encounters of a young black male philosophy PhD candidate with black, white, and Latino homeless men, Samuel Delany explores the ambiguous relation between the erotics of urban life and postmodern capitalism. To an important extent, the novel suggests, certain modes of urban queer eroticism might be seen as utopian alternatives to dominant modes of late capitalist sociality. This tendency of the novel is, however, offset by its countervailing (though less emphatic) attention to the antisocial, anti-utopian elements within both sexual desire and the contemporary urban environment — elements that the novel collects together under the sign of apocalypse. Taken together, the novel’s deployment of utopian and apocalyptic elements provides a powerfully dialectical account of the intertwined operations of commodity culture and eroticism within the postmodern metropolitan context.