Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Lethem's 'Crazy Friend' Essay
Jonathan Lethem has written an essay detailing his 'imaginary friendship' with Philip K Dick for an Italian collection of his writings on PKD. Lethem is allowing his fans to read the essay in English through his Facebook page (just scroll down to the announcement NEW LETHEM ESSAY ON PHILIP K DICK). I've had some difficulty accessing the essay, and in my experience it's best to use a browser other than Firefox to access it.
Of course it's a great piece of writing that covers a lot of territory, including Lethem's own evolving literary stature, and his good old days working with the PKD Society Newsletter. Lethem eventually gets to the topic of Dick's mental state, and perhaps I'm flattering myself, but I think he's talking about me a bit:
"Dick's defenders - other than me, I mean - often bristle at hearing him called 'crazy' or at the rehearsals of his human frailties, his drugs and divorces, which tend to accompany the laurels the larger culture keeps draping on his tomb. I've never understood the problem. Apart from the dopey emptiness of the question - was Melville crazy? Was Malcolm Lowery? Kafka? - I suppose I'm residually inclined to hear the term as a shred of beatnik exultation, "That's crazy man!" I'm still looking for crazy wherever I can find it."
Sure, given Lethem's take on the word, 'crazy' doesn't sound so bad. But, mental illness is not a concept Lethem can control the meaning of. Lethem seems to love people who relate to the world idiosyncratically, who march to the beat of their own drum, and of course saying 'he's crazy' is just a another way of saying 'he's relating to the world in his own unique way.' But mental illness isn't mere idiosyncracy, it's a deep, debilitating disconnect from others, something that prevents the kinds of tender, weird moments shared between freaks that Lethem seems to relish in the essay.
So sure man, Dick was crazy! But his accomplishments as a writer are a testament to his sanity.
Update: apparently you can download the .pdf file here.