Thursday, August 6, 2009

We Have a Winner


I have read a lot of bad PKD articles in my life. In the beginning, I built this blog around ripping these articles apart - so much so, that I kinda screamed myself hoarse, and eventually mellowed out. But (drum roll please) this is the worst! There's a longish article posted over on bookslut.com titled 'Speed Reading: The 44 Novels of Philip K Dick' which drags poor Phil through the muck and mire for a dozen or so paragraphs without ever discussing his writing.

This article made me mad.

Of course the article's author, Lorrette C Luzajic, would probably chalk my ire up to my apostolic devotion to PKD (she says PKD doesn't have fans, he has disciples), but there's more than just pathetic idolatry at work here. I'm not some starry-eyed seeker so intoxicated I can't see the prophet is flawed (though that sounds like a cool PKD story). What makes me mad about the article is that it fails to develop any sense of Philip K Dick as writer. Instead, Mrs Luzajic rehashes the same old 'PKD was mad as a hatter' article we've read a million times. I thought the Internet, especially sites like Bookslut.com were supposed to provide more depth and analysis, but not here.

Basically, Luzajic read Sutin's biography and Carrerre's meta-fictional I Am Alive and You Are Dead and decided she had PKD all figured out. Here's a sample of her myopic analysis:

"Phil sometimes explained freely that he needed speed to write books faster, because he had wives and children to support. Not a particularly rational man, it didn't occur to him that spending less on speed and other drugs would solve that problem. Or maybe it did, and the thought of life without pills was too frightening."

Dangling participles aside, this paragraph marks a new low. What amazes me (aside from the presumption to know what another person you've never met was thinking) is that anyone (let alone a professional) could possibly believe they could read a couple biographies about an author (doesn't look like she read any of his novels) and write anything cogent or interesting about the guy's life. Luzajik goes one step further, judging the guy based on motives she ascribes to him.

Later, the article really goes off the rails, as Luzajik continues with her sermon from the soap box:

"Phil was convinced that identities were also interchangeable, and that he received messages beamed into his skull from God. Sometimes he wasn't sure if he himself had been replaced, or if he was somewhere else. And while many of these metaphysical ideas fueled fascinating aspects in his stories, proving to be a playground of mind games of which he never grew tired, he was also plagued constantly with dark, terrible paranoia. He didn't know whom to trust. He was sure one wife was crazy, out to get him. He spent hours peering through a slit in the blinds, certain someone was lurking in the yard. He was terrified of the FBI, the KGB, Nazis, people following him. He was certain of elaborate conspiracies. He saw things that simply were not there."

As soon as Luzajic used the word 'convinced,' she revealed her own limited grasp of Dick's work. She need merely skim VALIS to see that Dick was very skeptical about all of his 'mystic experiences.' In fact, that internal duality between faith and skepticism is the central theme that emerges in his later writing. You've heard of a straw man argument; this is a straw author, so oversimplified, in fact, as to be an unwitting illustration of the critic's own ignorance. If Dick were simply mad, well, his writing would be a lot less interesting, and there'd be a lot more 'bleet snort clack vrrrmmph' gibberish, instead of his searing, heartfelt dedication to the goodness in man that fills his books

As soon as somebody can give me a satisfying definition of sanity, perhaps I will more fully buy into the notion of 'insanity.'

The article also misses several important points:

Luzajik writes, "It's peculiar how Phil dismissed his [drug] use as inconsequential."

This fails to mention the extensive work Dick did in the 70s and 80s crusading against drug abuse. Remember, he wrote long, passionate letters about the dangers of abuse during his time at X-Kalay. He even wrote an anti-drug novel, A Scanner Darkly, which chronicles the dangers of amphetime abuse.

Also, the article implies that Dick was a lifelong speed addict, failing to recognize that he quit speed in the 70s and wrote several of his best novels without its assistance.

But why should I even bother trying to explain this? I kinda get the feeling that this Luzajik person is too far gone to even see the problems with her article. I think it's interesting to note that this isn't one of those cookie-cutter PKD-is-in-the-LOA article we've seen so often, because those articles are built around a kind of natural tension: the pull between his pulpish origins and his current status as a canonical writer for the 21st century. Luzajik will only go so far as to say:

"But Dick was perfectly lucid much of the time; he was so intrigued by the moments of madness that he would dissect them, prying apart the very nature of our minds, or reality, or spirits. And this is the magic stuff of his books, this intrepid travelogue between universes."

This imagines a binary oppostion: sane/insane. As I've said before much of Dick's writing sought to undercut this simplistic dichotomy, and the genius of Dick is not this imagined dialog between what we normals see and what the fragile and dysfunctional artistic genius sees, but rather to point out how often we have our reference points backwards, how nuts our supposedly sane world is.

As Dick says, "Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane."

Alternate Post Title: 'Jane you ignorant book slut'

26 comments:

Mr. Hand said...

I find it amazing that authors like this one refuse to take the facts about PKD's drug use into account, especially the social context. PKD didn't know what we know 50 years later when he took perscription drugs.

Another thing this article demonstrates is a profound lack of appreciation for PKD's irony. When he said all that weird stuff it was not because he bought it hook line and sinker, but because as a philosophical guy he was trained to find things like that difficult to believe. The interesting thing is what motivated him to philosophize to such pathological, but rational, extremes.

Phule said...

I like the way that an article titled "The 44 novels of Philip K. Dick" only mentions two of them and discusses none of them. I think a better title would have been "Speed Reviewing: The Two Biographies I Read". It also looks like she skimmed the Sutin biography after page 74. Or got bored summarising it after that point.

Pantomime Horse said...

"I’m thorough, reliable, and accurate." -- Lorrette C Luzajic

You are utterly refuted and should delete "We Have a Winner" immediately or pay Lorrette C Luzajic to rewrite it for you. Writing for others is within the scope of her profession and you don't need to take her word for it as she has fan mail you can read (writing for others is within the scope of her profession). Don't be a tightwad, buy the help you need.

fascinatingpeople said...

Hello Friends,
Wow, I had no idea my 'overview' would be so offensive- especially as I'm a fan of this intriguing writer and philosopher. Certainly a couple thousand word essay doesn't demand a lifelong scholarly inquiry, but if there are any fallacies outright I'm happy to eat crow and correct them. My Fascinating Writers series offers a brief synopsis of my experience of a writer, not a thorough biography by any stretch. The series goes more into that then into the work, specifically, serving as an introduction to pique the curiousity of those who haven't yet delved into an author's world.

But as someone who has personally witnessed two of my nearest beloved lose their minds and die on speed, I can tell you that the kind of madness it induces is not even hinted at in those 'not even once' commercials. It is far worse, and yes, it continues long after use ends, should the user be so lucky to live.


And yes, writing for others IS my profession- not sure what the problem is with that. I do indeed have a small fan base for which I'm grateful but I'm just one small voice on the net, not a literary giantess. Not sure how my admiration and curiousity for a giant like Dick got lost here, frankly, but that's cool. I can only imagine what wars I've incited over my Hemingway or Dr. Suess pieces!

Anyways, again, if any of my facts are off, I'd appreciate a heads up, no shame in correcting errors. Thanks for the interesting read, guys!

blessings,
Lorette

ct-scan said...

She sounds like a complete moron, and someone who obviously can only form opinions by reading those of others.

Reading PDK changes your opinions on many things, his books often contain messages deep under the surface, and it's these subtle gems that keep simpletons (like Luzajic) from understanding deep writers. She would need to have everything spelled out in black and white. I think one of the reason I love PDK so much is that I 'get it'.

I too think the insanity argument is such a cop-out. It's used on too many artists, by people who are very dull...and certainly can't 'get it'.

robin said...

I have written my own dissection as Not Reading Philip K. Dick. The standards for literary crit are certainly slipping every day! Perhaps the next review of Dick could be entirely in emoticons?

robin said...

"especially as I'm a fan of this intriguing writer and philosopher"

Oh dear, it's worse than I thought.

majorhoople said...

I think an interesting area of research would be the effects of prescription (and non-prescription)methamphetamine use on the thought and prose style of post-World War 2 American novelists. Reducing Philip K. Dick's vision to being a result of methamphetamine abuse or psychosis (which is what I came away with) just doesn't make it. It winds up sounding like "Hey, I'm in over my head here". And I don't believe it is mentioned that his books are often hilarious. Other than that, this article doesn't merit much of a fuss, for me.......

tuffy777 said...

I love the alternate title!

I was so incensed at the Book Slut article that I had to simmer down for several days before commenting here.

First, the Sutin biography is far from accurate on many points.

Second, the vicious rumor about Phil taking thousands of tabs of street meth scarcely deserves comment, as anybody with an ounce of sense would know that he would have died of a heart attack within minutes the first time he tried it. Besides, what doctor would have prescribed meth in those amounts? He did not buy it off the street.

Third, Phil never was "convinced" of anything. His life and career represent a search for truth, and he never found a truth that satisfied him.

~~ Tessa B. Dick
~~~

giospurs said...

Whether or not her facts about his drug use are accurate is almost irrelevant. The thing that is most aggravating is just the way that PKD is defined by drugs/psychosis, without mentioning any of his books. Although many of his novels are vivid visions, without contextual knowledge, I don't think anyone would be harping on about "this man must have been insane" after reading PKD, especially pre-70s.

ct-scan said...

Tessa, thanks for responding to this one. Hopefully Lorette reads your response.

fascinatingpeople said...

If we're going to quibble over the problem word "convinced" I would cheerfully change it to "occasionally convinced" or "sometimes thought." I know some of you have special capabilities to "get it" that I don't, but you're so wrapped up in "it" that you can't see we're on the same team. It would serve you well to read other deep writers, even if it is a struggle to grasp what the concepts are- you know, McCarthy, Murakami, Marquez, Allende, Dostoevsky, Hesse, Eliot. You'll discover then that the truly enlightened don't announce just how much more they understand over everyone else- they don't like to embarrass themselves.


With all due respect to Mrs. Tessa Dick, nowhere did I say in my story that Phil was buying thousands of tabs of street methamphetamine. I referenced Sutin's claim that Phil used thousands of tablets of prescription amphetamines, through revolving doctors, and when those ran out used what he found on the street. This was clearly referencing the writer Sutin, not my own observations. Of course Mrs. Dick would be most privy to the truth, so I stand corrected if Sutin's biography was not factual. Phil said himself he used amphetamines, but how many precisely we can't know.

Sutin's assertion has so far been the only reported potential factual error in my story, so I'm still wondering what affords me the privilege of Total Dick Head. It's just my style to use flippant imagery like 'mad as a hatter' and I meant zero disrespect to Phil, or to any of you. I mention his prolific brilliance, unusual insights, fascinating ways of thinking, and lament that he was not able to stay longer. I call him a prophet and refer to the considerable impact he's had on literature.My Fascinating People column frequently features artists, writers, musicians who are eccentric, or "crazy," or different or use drugs. You can't write about the blues, for example, without mentioning whiskey and heroin. I have never believed madness or eccentricity stand in the way of genius if it's present, but rather, enhance it.

I won't comment further on how amusing I find this 'scandal.' My admiration for Philip K. Dick as an imaginative literary giant is clear to anyone who can read or write.

robin said...

Unfortunately, Tessa, first-hand and personal accounts are unlikely to sway the Fascinating Writer, as her comment to my article shows. After all, we are all "SF slash sci-fi nerds" and beneath contempt.

Mr. Hand said...

a few responses to the author of the bookslut piece:

"Wow, I had no idea my 'overview' would be so offensive-"
Perhaps you should read this as a sign of your immaturity rather than imagining that all PKD fans and commenters are crazy--including a published authority on PKD and his widow. The fact that you are making poorly written and argued comments here and elsewhere on the matter speaks to your unprofessionalism, not any wrongdoing on the part of the PKD cult. Of course it is offensive that you imply that PKD "readers" do not have a serious interest in his work but can be pejoratively viewed as cult-like followers. A number of the people involved in this discussion are working on graduate degrees in literature and religious studies. PKD has been the subject of serious critical study for decades. Of course we feel insulted when you imply that our work ought to be ridiculed.

"especially as I'm a fan of this intriguing writer and philosopher."
What kind of a fan could write this article? You have not demonstrated any interest in his work and make many dismissive, belittling statements both about PKD and his fans.

"Certainly a couple thousand word essay doesn't demand a lifelong scholarly inquiry"

This is not the complaint. Nobody has said that the problem is you didn't put a lifetime of scholarly inquiry into the article. The problem is that you haven't made any direct reference to the works of PKD and clearly have very little actual experience with them.

You act as though you have some right to righteous indignation about the speed issue, yet in your article and comments you demonstrate little concern for presenting an accurate view of PKD's speed use or the effect that it had on him. You do not base your view of PKD's speed use on any reliable authority. We are not offended because you "dared" to bring up his speed use, we are offended because you brought it up in a slanderous, sensational, insulting, and misleading way that does a clear injustice to the man and his literary importance. Treating the serious issue of speed use in such an unprofessional manner is what gets our goats. We are not being "defensive" or wounded that anyone would attack our hero. Not everyone who reads PKD wants to make excuses for his behavior. It does not take a slavish fan to point out that you misunderstand the social context of the decision PKD made to take speed (that was prescribed to him by his doctor) and that you are judging him unfairly as a result.

tuffy777 said...

Oh, I see. Anybody who disagrees with the slut is an uneducated baboon.

I guess that my master's degree in literature counts for nothing.

~~~

Robert Cook said...

"I have never believed madness or eccentricity stand in the way of genius if it's present, but rather, enhance it."

That's pure sentimentality, and bourgeois as well. This is the underlying bias of virtually all depictions of artists in the mass media, and your self-congratulatory assertion in granting that "madness or eccentricity" might "enhance" "genius" is as middle-brow and commonplace a view as your boast is self-serving.

You might very well see yourself as a fan of PKD and your article as being celebratory of him, but if you can't understand why an umpteenth reiteration of the more sensational aspects of Dick's life--as opposed to a discussion of his work--would draw criticism from his readers, you probably can't perceive why Dick is worth reading or remembering in the first place, or your own obtuseness in the second place.

Republibot 3.0 said...

Having been called on the carpet recently for similar infractions myself, I do feel the need to point out that even the best-intended of PKD's "Disciples," like me *can* misinterpret information, and exaggerate the man's drug useage and occaisonally questionable sanity.

That said, most people who I personally know that like the man's writing, and look in to his life come away with a profound respect for the man and his awsome talent, and if they harp on his vastly exaggerated mental problems or drug use it's not as an attempt to denegrate the guy. It's more a case of "Of course no one can equal his genius because he was wired differently than us" or what have you, not an attempt to tear the guy down, or reduce him to some gutter-trash level.

So misunderstandings of his problems and multiple interpretations of what they mean abound, some good, some neutral, some bad. My point being that someone can easily make a mistake.

But this, boy, this just strikes me as a hatchet job. Someone attempting to built up their rebel cred by throwing stones at venerated, undeniably talented, fringy-types.

tuffy777 said...

Thanx, most of you, for your thoughtful comments.

Phil did not gain inspiration from drug-induced visions. He gained inspiration from his God-given talent for seeing the world in a different light.

He sought medications to relieve his tortured soul. He survived a childhood that might have sent any of us to a mental institution or an early grave. As an adult he suffered deep depression, in addition to the many physical problems to which premature babies are prone -- especially premature babies born at home, rather than in a hospital, 80 plus years ago.

The Book Slut article strikes me as the author's attempt to elevate herself by putting Phil down.

~~ Tessa
~~~

Ragle Gumm said...

Fascinatingpeople,

My advice is this: when you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.

When you suggested we try reading some 'other deep writers,' well, that implied that we hadn't. Do you think that was a good way to address criticism of your work?

We're not mad that you talked about PKD's drug use. We're mad that you wrote a column designed to inform people about Philip K Dick that favored sensationalistic moralizing over something deeper. And in the end, at least to those of us who've spent a long time studying Dick's life and work, you seemed to miss the point. Now I guess it's fair to say that we're snobs in that we feel like there is something specific to be gotten out of Dick's work, but that notion has some rather expansive overtones.

I freely admit part of my ire was caused by the sheer abrasion over time of the endless stream of these kinds of articles, articles that appeared in The New Yorker, Newsweek, Time Magazine, and others.

But yours was a flippant, judgmental diatribe. Can't you see how a sentence like, "Not a particularly rational man, it didn't occur to him that spending less on speed and other drugs would solve that problem" would tick Dick's fans off? If not, I suggest you read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to see what Dick has to say about the power of empathy.

Now having said all that, let us - gentle readers - move on from this ugliness, and instead elevate our dialog to topics more worthy of our attention.

palmer_eldritch said...

Well, what a kerfuffle. I have to say that, these days, I only take notice when an article on PKD isn't a load of old cobbled-together bullshit. Reckon 'Bookslut' could do with a bit of abstinence.

Luc Valentine said...

"Phil was convinced that identities were also interchangeable, and that he received messages beamed into his skull from God. Sometimes he wasn't sure if he himself had been replaced, or if he was somewhere else." --L.C.Luzajik

Yeah, but, hey, who hasn't? ;-)

Gabriel Mckee said...

"It's just my style to use flippant imagery like 'mad as a hatter'"

And that's an aspect of your style you should seriously reconsider.

Jerry said...

This person writes in a column called "Book Slut"?

And is taken seriously enough to cause such a stir?

How funny. Or, perhaps sad. Methinks you've fallen victim to literary trolling.

PKD doesn't need to be defended. Does anyone think "Book Slut" is going to sway potential PKD fans? There will always be people who don't get Dick's writing, but by publishing and financial success alone, we can judge Phil as a success. If fans are so rabid they become disciples, then, well... that's something to criticize?

Sounds like Book Slut has a good case of sour grapes to me.

Variations On A Theme said...

I've just begun to study PKD in a graduate research class. I was looking for an author who'd had mystical experiences which affected his/her writing, and as my husband has a whole shelf of PKD books, I figured I'd look into Dick.

It has been both fascinating and frustrating to try to sort truth from fiction about this incredibly interesting man.

Those of you who are true Dick afficionados can see the "shallowness" (for lack of a better term...I've had a few glasses of orange juice and champagne this evening) of the Bookslut article, but for readers like me, if it were the first article I'd read about PKD, I'd have taken it seriously (due to my own shallowness) and it would have formed the totality of my opinion on PKD.

The more research I do on PKD, the more I realize how little I know. Most helpful to me have been Tessa Dick's recommendations as to what she considers reliable sources of information about Dick. (She mentioned this Total Dick-Head blog and The Penultimate Truth DVD, and of course I read her biography of Dick, Remembering Firebright, in which her sensitive and lovely voice brought me closer to Dick than anything else I'd read.)

Anyway, as a former journalist, I've found myself feeling sympathy for the bookslut, who obviously wrote the article without conducting enough research - as is often required of journalists with inflexible deadlines.

Journalsim and scholarly literature are completely different animals. Journalists would be wise to humbly accept this fact and not attempt to write on scholary subjects as experts.

Yet, I feel I've done the same thing as a graduate student. I just completed a rather lenghty paper on Dick (after literally hundreds of hours of research), and I feel like a complete fake. What do I know about this man? How much closer would I be to understanding Dick or his writing if I'd studied him for the past 20 years?

And in true Dickian fashion, I also wonder how can any of us can even begin to unravel the mysteries of ourselves and our own experiences?

(The effects of the champagne/orange juice are beginning to fade just enough to make me realize I probably sound like an idiot, and that - as a student of literature - I should probably pay more attention to Dick's work than his personal life.)

tuffy777 said...

Variations, you're making me blush!

Did I think to mention Gregg Rickman's work?

He published several volumes about Phil (I think there were 8 at last count), based upon extensive interviews with Phil and with others who knew him.

~~ Tessa
~~~

Variations On A Theme said...

Tuffy, oh yes, you did mention Rickman's books! I don't attend the university that had them in its collection, so I couldn't check them out. That library only had one of the books anyway. I look forward to reading them sometime, though. Thanks again!