Sunday, June 20, 2010
Starting Galactic Pot-Healer
So, here we go. Let's keep our discussion of GPH here in the comments section, since I've learned that many of my readers avoid Facebook like the plague.
What I'd like to do is start by talking about the dystopian future where (when?) the book begins. Reader PAK writes in the comments section: "The description of a managerial-society on Terra, especially the apparent merging of the US and USSR into one bleak, super-bureaucratic edifice, is especially reminiscent of Erich Fromm's description of mass-neurosis in The Sane Society." I will ask Anne Dick if PKD talked about this book, or Fromm in general. The Sane Society came out in 1955 so it may very well have influenced Dick's future world.
Erik Davis, in an email to me, writes that he especially loves the beginning of GPH because "it's so...now: people working in shitty cubicles, trying to connect to one another by playing networked games..."
Now I've thought a lot about The Game and I'd like to write a bit about it. The Game suggests, like much else in PKD's irv, that he thought of language as living, dynamic, and capable of changing the world outside itself. Think of the T.E.N.C.H. in Maze of Death. But The Game is slightly different. It exploits an aspect of language (the fact that we have more than one word to denote something) to create recreation, a way to pass the time. Insofar as the The Game is unproductive, it is actually counterproductive, as it distracts citizens from the degraded state of the society around them; it's an opiate of the masses. I was especially struck by the example 'water sheep,' which, it turns out, is a transliteration of 'hydraulic ram.' By translating the individual words in the sentence, players of the game are able to eliminate the meaning of the sentence, thereby destroying the phrase's cohesiveness. The object of the game is then to translate the words back by apprehending the original meaning of the sentence. In other words, you begin by imagining cohesiveness and then trying to attain it in the sentence. Do we play a game like this in our society? Yep. When you talk to Conservative Uncle and he says something about 'Global Climate Change' and you think to yourself 'oh, Global Warming!' When you go to buy a used car and they insist on calling it 'Pre-Owned.' This use of language is as mundane, circular, and unsatisfying as the rest of the society. I need some more time to suss out exactly what it is I'm trying to get at here - maybe in the comments section.
The opening of GPH reads very much like the beginning of any hero's adventure (Joseph Campbell anyone? PKD knew his work well): the protagonist struggles with a mundane and unsatisfying existence - think Luke Skywalker under uncle Owen's thumb. The Glimmung seems to be offering exactly what Fernwright is looking for. Isn't that usually a bad thing in literature?
I love the little touches, especially the simulated panoramic view projected on the wall of Fernwright's home, the broken component in the closet that tricks your brain into thinking the view is real.
What say you?