Sunday, May 6, 2007

PKD Article in Today's New York Times

As the Library of America release of four PKD novels from the 1960s looms on the horizon, another spate of Dick-has-finally-made-it articles are hitting the circuit. Charles McGrath writes an article for today's New York Times titled "A Prince of Pulp, Legit at Last." The article includes all of the standard facts (quantity of drugs ingested - check, number of ex-wives - check, comment on Dick's weak prose - check, Hollywood has made a lot of movies out of his books - check) without adding much of anything. McGrath writes:

"...it’s hard to know what Mr. Dick, who died in 1982 at the age of 53, would have made of the fact that this month he has arrived at the pinnacle of literary respectability."

Perhaps Dick would be amazed that the pinnacle of literary respectability in someone's eyes is a hard cover edition issued by a particular publisher. Imagine, it's not a aerosol spray that fights entropy, it's a fancy book binding that magically elevates the status of the author, making him - once and for all - a legitimate genius.

McGrath continues:

"Mr. Dick was relatively uninterested in the futuristic, predictive side of science fiction and embraced the genre simply because it gave him liberty to turn his imagination loose. Except for the odd hovercar or rocket ship, there aren’t many gizmos in his fiction, and many of his details are satiric, like the household appliances in “Ubik” that demand to be fed with coins all the time, or put-ons, like the bizarre clownwear that is apparently standard office garb in the same book (which is set in 1992, by the way; so much for Dick the prophet): “natty birch-bark pantaloons, hemp-rope belt, peekaboo see-through top, and train engineer’s tall hat.”"

Duly noted: Dick eschewed gizmos in his science fiction but he loved to have crazy gadgets, outfits, hover cars and rocket ships... Oh and Dick's SF never successfully predicted the future and the fact that "Ubik" was set in 1992 proves he never will.

What I hate the most in these articles on the Library of America release is the idea that Dick's canonization is newsworthy because he was always considered a hack writer writing juvenile, escapist literature by the very same people who have now decided he is worthy of canonization...

7 comments:

Henri said...

In a 1978 review of Confessions of a Crap artist in the french magazine "Magazine Litteraire" (
http://fr.pkdickbooks.com/Mainstream/Confessions_Critique.html), Yves Fremiont wrote:

"....Philip K. Dick, one of the most powerful american writer of his time..."

Welcome to the world of Philip K. Dick, New York Times....

...

MDK said...

McGrath: "Critics have often compared Mr. Dick to Borges, Kafka, Calvino. To come up with an American analogue you have to think of someone like Emerson, but nobody would ever dream of looking to him for movie ideas. Emerson was all brain, no pulp."

Ouch, that kinda hurts.

palmer_eldritch said...

These articles are pretty soulless, aren't they? Almost as if there's a 'Philip K Dick article' button somewhere that someone at the New York Times or whatever pushes when required...

Duncan Lawson said...

I'm a little surprised at the vitriol displayed over the article. Although I have read a couple of Dick's books, I'm not a hardcore fan, and the article to me seems well written. I agree that the angle of Dick getting literary props is a stale subject, being that he's been getting respect since the eighties. But McGrath comes across as a fan.

True, he has to hit the usual bibliographic points, but in an article aimed at the general populace, I think, you need to include them. Dick had a pretty interesting life what with the speed and women and the paranoid hallucinations. It makes for an interesting article. Any author is going to have his dirty laundry aired: Hemingway's suicide, Faulkner's prodigious drinking, Eliot's racist views, Ginsberg's homosexuality. Why should Dick be any different?

I think the pulp comment at the end is a compliment. Pulp is fun. All brain and no pulp is a bore. Have you read Emerson? Snooze.

To me, the most important point the article brings up is that the new collection might be "an attempt to turn a deeply subversive writer into another canonical brand name."

So was Dick a subversive writer? Is he still a subversive writer? And does making him canonical, respectable make him less so. Personally, I don't know of any truly subversive literature, and it can be argued that respectable writers can be far out of mainstream, but it is an interesting point nonetheless.

Ragle Gumm said...

McGrath is NOT fan. In fact I think I can safely say he doesn't know Dick. He doesn't bother to interview anyone (I guess I can forgive him for not quoting me, or even interviewing me for that matter, but to not even get a quote from Jonathan Lethem, the volume's editor... well let's just say I am going to interview Lethem before my review goes up.

This is the same soulless article that appears anytime a Dick adaptation or new edition hits the market. It's put together using a press kit...

There's nothing wrong with the biographical information; it's the ridiculous claims: Dick's prose is only really elevated in 'The Man in the High Castle'; Dick wasn't interested in the trappings of science fiction etc etc...

McGrath's hack is showing: he's writing about stuff he doesn't really know that well and without bothering to really read much PKD he's left winging it. Perhaps this article will bring a few readers PKD's way but imagine if the writer knew the subject and was actually passionate about PKD...

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