Thursday, July 17, 2008
Long Article About PKD in London Review of Books
The London Review of Books has a long article on PKD in their July 3 issue and now it's available online here. Is it the article we've all been waiting for, the one that corrects all the commonly-repeated inaccuracies from the other articles, the one that finally and ultimately gets PKD, the one that finally explains him so that everybody will love his work as much as we do?
Stephen Burt, the article's author, seems to be operating under the assumption that Emanuel Carrere's I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick is a legitimate biography (it's a good read but it's not a biography as biographers generally avoid inventing facts out of whole cloth). Stranger still, Burt doesn't even mention Sutin's biography. But he's read Kim Stanley Robinson's doctoral thesis on PKD (or paid someone to tell him what it was about) and I think he's read at least a couple of PKD's books, so he's perhaps got a cleaner lens than Gopnik.
Here's some excerpts from the interview (setting snark to 'minimum'):
"Dick said near the end of his life that he was ‘into power’: ‘Instead of society moulding me,’ he claimed, ‘I mould it.’"
When did he say this and why is he spelling mold with a 'u'? (Yes I know it's a British spelling and it's a British article, but Dick was, er, American - shouldn't the writer be honoring the quotee's spelling habits - or has British imperialism extended to changing spellings within quotation marks?) Does that sound like PKD to you? If anybody has a source for this quote please let me know. Perhaps the spelling is a clue to the source: maybe it's an audio recording transcribed by Burt or someone else on that side of the pond.
"His late belief in his own visionary importance puts into new, sad light the schlubby repairmen, newspaper-puzzle obsessives and helpless Organisation Men in Dick’s earlier works: these little people stuck in large systems, with their frustrated hopes and their cartoonish (mostly bad) sex lives, align Dick less with other SF writers than with other mordant Californian satirists, such as Nathanael West."
Now, really, I am not trying to be a dickhead, but how does the logic in this sentence work? How does Dick's own belief in his own "visionary importance" caste a sad light on the characters in his books (and what about PKD's skepticism about his authenticity as a 'visionary'?). I guess you can say his experiences caste his characters in a pink light, but, seriously, what's so sad about it?
Thank you for comparing PKD's work to Nathanael West's - it's perhaps the most apt literary comparison and one many other writers have failed to make.
"Dick should be placed close to psychoanalysis, too: not so much the kind Freud practised, but the kind that coated American popular culture in the years Dick started to write. His characters wonder whether they count as neurotic or psychotic, whether they are sufficiently masculine or feminine, whether they should see a specialist about their complexes. By far the most important psychiatric label in Dick’s work is ‘paranoid’: his protagonists wonder whether someone or something is manipulating all they see. Usually the answer is ‘yes’: Dick’s characters must detect ‘the enemy, with its infiltrating tactics, its systematic contamination of institutions . . . of the domestic life itself’. That enemy may be a phalanx of telepaths and precognitives employed in corporate espionage (Ubik); a squad of doppelgangers from alternative timelines (Now Wait for Last Year); drug-enforcement agents whose high-tech ‘scramble suits’ make them unrecognisable even to one another (A Scanner Darkly); or androids who pass for human (almost every book). Such plots draw at once on the Red Scare mentality – anyone might be a secret Communist, and any Communist a double agent – and on what Dick knew of clinical mental illness."
Well now I'm starting to like this guy, but I think it's just because he agrees with me. PKD is tirelessly analyzed in relation to Jung, but very few of us dare to see the themes and elements Dick tore from the pages of Freud's On Narcissism.
Play us out Burt:
"Depictions of drugs and depictions of fake or robotic people work well together in Dick’s books, since people whose moods depend on a single chemical (on what it does to them, or on how to get more of it) are as predictable, even robotic, as the rest of us might think we are not."
Read the rest and then tell us what you think in the comments section.