Sunday, February 24, 2008
Erik Davis on PKD
Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis, recently reposted "Technomancer," an article he wrote on PKD for the Village Voice in 1989 (when I was ditching class and smoking pot my senior year in high school, still tragically unaware of Philip K Dick's existence). In fact Vintage culled the now-ubikuitous blurb: "Dick was many authors: a poor man's Pynchon, an oracular postmodern, a rich prophet of the changing counterculture" from this very article.
What I'm struck by is the amount of insight and detail in Davis' write up. His column makes every single article in the recent spate of PKD coverage look a like pre-fab, cut and paste job containing only the most superficial of details. Davis shows what's possible when you let someone who knows Dick's irv and who cares about Dick's ideas write about his literary accomplishments.
"As far back as the ‘50s, Dick saw the dark, paranoid side of McLuhan’s global village. The animism that primitive humankind projected onto Nature was for him reborn in our technological environment, where ominous spiritual forces merged with the instruments of late capitalism. Dick’s machines are black jokes rather than believable imaginings..."
If Gopnik's article in The New Yorker had included even a single sentence with this kind of insight, this level of engagement with Philip K Dick and his ideas, perhaps we might have forgiven him for dragging PKD through the mud a bit. Philip K Dick was passionate about ideas, passionate about his writing, and desperate for readers willing to invest in his speculations and assume the mortality he depicted in his characters. Gopnik, et al, were satisfied with mere summary of Dick's life and work, but something more is needed if you really want to sell people on the worth of PKD's fiction; you need to plumb the depths a bit, come back from the novels with something to show for your effort if you expect others to make the journey.
"Dick was a narrative trickster, a master mindfucker. He pulled the whodunit inside out: Decoding small meaningful details doesn’t put the picture together so much as rip it apart. By twisting the page-turning groove of pulp into a Möbius strip, Dick attempted to undermine the political, social, technological, and psychic structures of “reality.” He wanted a pulp guerilla ontology that deconstructed everyone’s power trip—Nixon’s, IBM’s, God’s, the author’s."
It's clear to me that many of those pre-fab PKD articles used Davis' write up as a kind of template, a set of talking points they would address in their own articles, but for Davis, PKD isn't merely a notable personality, his books serve as a searchlight for Davis' own explorations of reality or the lack thereof. This crucial difference drives home the power of the Internet, where we can find passionate guides for all of our own searches, rather than the paid, staid, and marketed efforts of "professionals" who cover our obsessions with token interest, and who are, ultimately, mere spectators here.
Read the rest of Davis' article. I promise, you won't be disappointed. The really exciting news is that Erik Davis is currently hard at work on a book-length examination of Dick's life and fiction. Both Jonathan Lethem and I feel that Erik is uniquely positioned to write one of the most important books about PKD ever, and after you read the rest of the article I think you'll agree.