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'