I've been thinking a lot about how this blog can best contribute to the serious study of PKD, which is very much the wild west of academia. I think we (ok, I) need to dig into more of the scholarly analysis of Dick's work, and try to find the articles and essays that can deepen our readings. There's a lot of academic kipple out there, and it just keeps on multiplying, driving out the none-kipple, making it harder to find the good stuff. Looking back, I have giant gaps in my masters thesis about Dick, simply because I didn't know about several important essays. Whether this is a testament to the obscurity of the secondary materials or my researching skills, I'm seeing a lot of these gaps in the new studies of PKD hitting the market.
What follows is an email interview I conducted with Italian PKD scholar Umberto Rossi who has assembled the most complete electronic bibliography of PKD-related material, VALBS, Vast Active Living Bibliographic System:
Q: When did you start VALBS?
A: Uhm... well... good question. Let me tell you that I started from two
existing bibliographies, one prepared by Andrew M. Butler, the other
by Salvatore Proietti... both notorious dickheads. I merged them and
put them on the web. I guess it was 1999 or 2000, something like
Q: What's there?
A: Everything they and I could find which deals with Philip K. Dick. It's
a secondary bibliography. You have monograph, collections, articles,
reviews, etc. And webpages, provided they belong to something like
an online journal/magazine.
Q: How do you locate new articles and essays for the bibliography?
A: Three sources, fundamentally: the MLA online bibliography for
articles, Amazon.com for books, and the emails of those who visit my
webpage and ask me "Hey, why isn't my book/article/essay in
Q: What are some of your favorite academic papers on Dick?
A: Disch's on Solar Lottery; Andy Butler on Lies, Inc.; Frasca on
Transmigration; Jameson's essay on History and Salvation; but
surely I'm forgetting some other short essay.
Q: Who are some of your favorite Dick scholars, or scholars of science
A: Those I have already mentioned. I might add Kim Stanley Robinson.
I'd also like to add two more Italians, Antonio Caronia and Domenico
Gallo, whose La macchina della paranoia (The Paranoia Machine) is
an excellent introduction--unfortunately published by a very small
press, and written in a language that not even Italian understand
properly any more...
Q: Who should use VALBS?
A: Students. I have read several PhD dissertations recently, and I am
amazed by the important books and articles they regularly omit in
their bibliographies. I suspect that those young scholars have been
tutored by university professors who weren't knowledgeable with
Dick, and couldn't support them the way they deserved to be...
Personally I do not believe in bibliographies on paper anymore. I'm
not one of those digital fundamentalists who believe that the web and
Kindle or some other toy will replace books. But I do believe that the
days of reference books are limited. Look at the success of the
Wikipedia. I have worked as a translator, and I can tell you that no
pro translator who hasn't been struck by Alzheimer uses printed
dictionaries today. They all use dictionaries on CD-ROMs. So what's
the use of a paper bibliography today? None. Unless it's the
bibliography of a monograph, that is, part of a larger book. But if
your purpose is collecting all the secondary texts on Dick, go digital.
Put it on the web!
Q: What role do you imagine VALBS playing in the Dickhead community?
A: Reference. It should be THE secondary bibliography. A way to know
what's available, what's been written, even in languages different
from English. A way to know who's studying Dick now and who's
studied him. I dare say it might turn in a sort of collective memory of
PKD scholarship, be it academic or independent.
My first project is going to be to read Frederic Jameson's book Archaeologies of the Future, which is very dense and, as they say in the Hawaiian Islands, 'hybolical,' meaning overly verbose in its prose, but Jameson is a respected critic outside of science fiction and his interest in Dick is incredibly important in terms of serious study. Plus, it's clear from the following quote that he's onto something:
"Dick's work transcends the opposition between the subjective and the objective, and thereby confronts the dilemma which in one way or another characterizes all modern literature of any consequence: the intolerable and yet unavoidable choice between a literature of the self and a language of some impersonal exteriority, between the subjectivism of private languages and case histories, or some nostalgia for the objective that leads outside the realm of individual or existential experience into some reassuringly stable place of common sense and statistics. Dick's force lies in the effort to retain possession and use of both apparently contradictory, mutually exclusive subjective and objective explanation systems all at once" (350).
That quote would have taken my master's thesis to the next level, but I didn't know Jameson had written on PKD, neither did my advisers.
Part of the problem with studying this stuff is that it can be really hard to find. I have a bunch of PKD-related files that I'd like to post somewhere so that I could link to them in various discussions. If a Dick-head knowledgeable about these things could chime in about potential file sharing sites I could use to make .pdfs and mp3s available that would be much appreciated.