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The Culture Of Nova, By Samuel Delany

1082 words - 4 pages

From the start Nova works hard to convince readers the society presented to us has no culture. Set in 32nd century Nova’s message The characters explicably tell us there is no culture but they show us evidence to the contrary. Culture is inevitable. I would like to focus on three supporting arguments; that Nova is a culture of appropriation, that work itself can create culture, and that cultural capital persists even when the applicable societies think otherwise. These layers blend together to create the unique culture presented in the novel.
Nova has clearly appropriated elements from 20th century Earth culture and Vegan culture. Cultural appropriation is when a culture adopts elements of another culture. Cultural appropriation is different from cultural exchange in that exchange is a mutual and unforced process. There can be no mutual exchange in Nova as the cultures they pull from are long dead. The novel refers repeatedly to a historic “Vega Republic," which flourished several centuries prior to the novel’s beginning. At some point in the past the Republic staged an uprising. During those years the Vegans created a new style in furniture, fabrics, and architecture. The uprising was suppressed but the styles created by the Republic persist on. The intellectual upper class views these remnants as a novelty. The 20th century is the dominant contributing timeframe. Throughout readers are dazzled by excess of the upper class that echoes American culture before the stock market crash of 1929. Prince Red throws a party reminiscent of Gatsby’s party in The Great Gatsby. Prince even goes as far as to have incandescent light bulbs run on an ancient generator. The word “airy” is used throughout, “…beautiful party. Perfectly airy…” (Delany 76), the word seems to mean “excellent,” “smashing,” or something similarly positive. In a colloquial English dictionary published in 1905, the word is defined as “Light, brisk, or pleasant” (Farmer 7). Other examples include the tarot deck, references to the “Grail quest,” large collections of 20th century art in museums, and the continuing existence of the board game Monopoly.
Late in the novel Katin says in a response to Mouse, “They’re all just looking for our social traditions in the wrong place. There are cultural traditions that have matured over the centuries, yet culminate now in something vital and solely of today” (Delany 220). The appropriation of other cultures in Nova does not mean that 32nd century society is devoid of its own culture or of culture at all. It’s a multi-sourced culture that has had centuries to refine and grow off of these past cultural traits. Mouse himself is the best small scale example of this combined culture the novel offers, “You’ve collected the ornamentations a dozen societies have left us over the ages and made them inchoately yours. You’re the product of those tensions…” (Delany 220). Mouse was born a gypsy but through his travels he has sourced bits of...

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