Sunday, April 15, 2007
The Power of Myth
Wired Magazine ran the charticle pictured above in their Oct 2006 issue, illustrating quite dramatically the dangers of a larger-than-life persona. The magazine, in its infinite wisdom, believes that the scheduled PKD bio-pics are cooler than the PKD adaptations already out, and both are cooler than PKD's books. Imagine thinking Joseph Fiennes' performance in Shakespeare in Love was more "wired" than William Shakespeare's contributions to literature!
Dick was a hell of a storyteller (and a renowned bullshit artist) and used these talents brilliantly to create likable characters that his readers rooted for, but Dick also used these skills to construct a narrative for himself (at least in part) and ultimately this may come back to bite him in the ass.
Dick's legendary persona capitalizes on two distinct cultural trends:
1) The belief that crazy people have access to insights and experiences that are unavailable to the sane (who must repress desires and steer clear of troubling analysis of their unconscious minds) and that this insight creates superior art.
2) The allure of narcissism. Dick's paranoia (about the safe being blown up, about 2-3-74, about VALIS, about the Xerox missive, and countless other events) always placed him in a position of great power and significance. This kind of self-importance, Freud argues, is alluring because it demonstrates the kind of unbridled self-interest which most people have to repress in order to be socialized. We find attractive in others that which we, regrettably, must repress.
Of course Dick's fiction has played a large part in his cultural ascendancy, but, as this charticle shows, his literary legacy is in danger of being subsumed by the mythical persona that has grown up around him. Would the Library of America be releasing four of Dick's novels next month if he didn't have a reputation as a visionary nut-job?
There's something about PKD that makes him easy to identify with. I have received lots of email from his fans telling me how much he means to them, how much he's added to their life, how he feels like a friend to them... The same is true for me. I want Dick to be successful, to receive the recognition he wanted so badly; I want Hollywood to make good movies out of Dick's books and I want lots of people to realize what a great writer he was. But ultimately it's Dick's stories that warrant the attention not his biography.
In a strange way, because of his unexpected brilliance and the sensation on the part of his readers of having found a Stradivarius at a yard sale, Dick’s fiction transforms casual readers into devout followers, but if we're not careful we may dilute PKD's contributions to literature if we ignore his work and instead begin "reading" his biography as his best novel.