News, Analysis, and Philip K Dick-Related Info Kipple Chronicled by a PKD Scholar
He seems to fall right into the "Sturgeon trap", doesn't he? Goes on about big ideas but how the writing is crap, and then lays down a list of speculative writers as example. While I am sure he would argue otherwise, it becomes a another "If only science fiction could be real literature," lark that gets so often repeated. He even then brings out a few non-SF titles as "brethren in bad prose", but by then it feels like he is trying to toss out a few dodges...
Shorter comments: but.. but... he was on drugs!
That's a stupid argument to use TDH. I'm not a musical genius, unlike Paul McCartney, but it doesn't mean I can't say Wings were a little bit rubbish. That's what criticism is.McManus has a point. I wouldn't say Dick was a bad writer though, he was just (because of necessity maybe) too prolific for the good of his writing. I was reading his short story, Recall Mechanism, yesterday and was thinking about this very subject. The story has a great premise (a man is suffering from psychological problems as a result of, not repressed memories from his past, but subconscious precognitive visions of his future) but the writing isn't great. There was a phrase (like 'fixedly peering') that was actually hard to read - "the lights blinked friendlily". As much as I love Dick, I do sometimes quietly wonder what some of his books would be like with a more eloquent style. There are passages from A Scanner Darkly that are just perfect, but what if Virginia Woolf had rewritten Martian Time-Slip...
Btw, I love this comment from one of the Guardian commenters: "One can sense the brilliance in the very imperfection of the writing, the urgency to get the ideas out. Several years ago I was driving a visitor from Long Island down some winding scenic roads in Fairfield County Connecticut. "This is a very nice area" , he said, " but they need to straighten out these roads a bit and level out these lots."
PKD may have made a few eighth grade prose style mistakes (when I taught the golden man to high school seniors I pointed out all the inappropriate adverbs), but he more than makes up for it with quality of ideas. I don't think anybody can seriously argue that he wasn't a genius. it's debatable whether he's the greatest sf writer of the second half of the 20th century (certainly he's the most influential), but I don't have a problem defending that claim.
thing about the allegedly "bad prose" is once you get used to it and see the patterns you realize it's not as bad, arbitrary, or poorly commanded as this guy thinks. One must remember that PKD is getting into the perspective of people whose minds are bent and reality even crookeder. the prose style often reflects the haste with which he composed, which I can't complain about (none would have wished his complete works shorter, or his paychecks smaller).point is, there is much in the so-called bad stuff that I find immensely entertaining, and worthy of serious study. it's a quality of his prose that should be celebrated and contextualized, not poo-pooed in flowery, undergraduate-level hack criticism.
PKD's prose style certainly never gets in the way of transporting me into the story or empathising with the characters so I don't think it's efficiency can be criticised. You just have to accept that most of the time the writing is simply a medium for getting his ideas across, and not something that was meant to be admired of in itself. Although there were times when PKD could construct a sentence as delicately as anyone else.
And then there are those times when the prose transcends all criticism of "appropriateness" or "quality", and goes completely beyond what most writers could manage. There are many of these passages in The Man in the High Castle, to give as example the most recent novel I have re-read.
Baseball great Mickey Mantle, who drank and partied hard, once said "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." I'm sure if PKD had known he was going to be in Library of America and the subject of graduate theses, he would have attended a bit more to his prose style. Not that he wasn't capable of transcendent, flowing prose - just not all the time. A good editor would have helped and some more judicious re-writing. But truth be told, we don't read PKD primarily for his prose style - while Faulkner by contrast, can be read solely for this literary mastery. But on occasion, Faulkner could rip out a pretty good plot. And on occasion, PKD writes beautiful graceful passages - particularly in his later works like Radio Free Albemuth and VALIS.PKD wrote for most of his career in a poorly paid, easily dismissed genre. He didn't have editors to help him whip his stories into shape (or sometimes out of shape) like contemporary Raymond Carver. So it's true that Dick SOMETIMES wrote bad prose, but certainly not all the time, like most of the SF writers of his day. Thus in novels that are brilliant and fascinating for so many other reasons, I regard his great passages of prose as gems to be discovered and appreciated in a rock quarry - and don't waste energy complaining that it's not a diamond mine of deathless stylistic mastery.
Wow. What a douche bag.
Post a Comment