Saturday, August 21, 2010
Interview with Laurence Rickels
I've made no secret of the difficulty I've had with Laurence Rickels's new book on PKD I Think I Am Philip K Dick. In fact, at the festival we had quite a bit of fun using the book as a Sortes source, you know, randomly pointing to a line and reading it out loud for everyone's amusement (This also works with Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret). For example, let us ask a question: are we doomed on this planet? Randomly opening a page and pointing to a line in Rickels yields this answer:
"Or in other words, those found along the closing lines of Goethe's Faust, the eternal or internal feminine. as a principle of mourning, drives us on" (61).
But, to be honest, there are some amazing insights in Rickels's book, if you can muster the courage and stamina to find them. I'm still working on it. Luckily, Dr Rickels seems like a pretty nice guy and has responded to my interview questions below. But before I get to that, Rickels suggested I read this article about machines and mourning which helps to introduce his basic ideas. I found it very useful. Of particular interest is this line: "every point of contact between a body and its media extension marks the site of some secret burial." Neat.
Now without further ado, here is my interview with Dr Rickels:
Q: Tell us about your work on Philip K Dick?
Rickels: In my "Introjection," p.7, on the line that introduces "half-life," [the line reads: "Joe Chip is the name of the protagonist of Ubik, the novel in which Dick gives the longest heir extensions to lifetime at the breaking point when self and other lose and rescue each other through the interminable infrastructure 'half-life" [sic] of finitude, which Dick called "half-life"] the word appears not only at the end of the line, where it belongs, but also at the start of the same line, which is a typo, the kind that can apparently still show up after the most rigorous proof reading and not because it was overlooked. How in a digital medium does a line of print fold back upon itself leaving a mark of the double, the vestigial imprint of the end? I have no idea, but it’s a good example of a haunting effect, one that doesn’t even depend on any sort of material afterlife. Sometimes a typo can serve to introduce the liminal thought of a master writer like P. K. Dick.
As a Californian Anti-Body I have struggled for years to find and affirm intelligent life. In the B-world of mass or teen psychology (for which “California” is the global model and conceptual placeholder). Dick began to find his lost kingdom, as his science fiction demonstrates, via his diagnosis or misdiagnosis as schizophrenic, which he turned into a project of study that would render the limit concept of psychosis, which tends to signify untreatability, even inconceivability, habitable for thought. In his science fiction Dick posits psychosis as the ultimate outer space that must be colonized for the survival of the species. To this end he immersed himself in the literature on schizophrenia and related psychotic states, which in my book I sought to reconstruct according to my sense, given his interests and motivation, of Dick’s points of contact with these materials.
In a novel, of course, the presentation of intellectual property is staggered through the various drop scenes that Dick also renders to great effect. But Dick was uniquely able to transfer the deep end of the philosophical and psychoanalytic traditions intact into the habitat of accessibility itself, B culture, in other words without explaining it away, dumbing it down. In The Simulacra Bes differ from the Ges only in occupying the position that allows for the possibility of altering, via occult and technical media, the boundary between life and death. B culture occupies the missing place of our death cult. To this place Dick brings a good deal more than fantasy and wish fulfillment. He summons the highest caliber of thought available to us, in theory, as our own tradition and applies all of the above to the ultimate B question: Where do the dead go, where are they kept? To this end Dick returned again and again to the age-old questions What is human and What is reality, which he realigned within his science fiction to make room for some possible answers to the question, Where do the dead go.
The future order of the world in which this question can be raised and answered belongs to schizophrenia, which possesses, as I try to extract from the literature, following Dick’s lead, a certain inherent capacity for stabilization. This ability to encapsulate the break with the world and inhabit a new world of restored relations with reality, but with the reality of loss, rests on a profound connection with a departed loved one incorporated or encrypted by and within the survivor who doesn’t let go. At his own mythic or psychotic origin, Dick dedicated his survival, dead or alive, to his twin sister Jane. The high point and signature of these deliberations was his understanding and application of alternate history or reality as the alternate present tense of encryptment of loved ones.
This present that the alternate schemes restore is otherwise repressed together with the recent past, the time of loss and remembrance. Thus reality testing, the function of the ego that allows us to approach reality experimentally, marking only that as true which is also tried, and only that as present which is accounted for, is one of the ties to the normal-to-neurotic world severed in the psychotic break. What goes with this tested reality is its restricted use of the present in the service of disposal of the recent past. When Freud made the evacuation of reality testing one of the hallmarks of psychosis he also placed successful mourning as left behind at this border. In the course of stabilization of psychosis reality testing, like mourning, is remetabolized as the testing of the reality of loss. But the psychotic state isn’t ever elsewhere. All the features of the break are at play when we lose a loved one, a break we attempt to contain through mourning or, as I prefer to address it outside the opposition to melancholia, unmourning. What’s real in our lives is that there is a place in our psychic reality for absence or loss.
The new world that opens up over and again in Dick’s science fictions never leaves California, speaks Global American, but refers to its cultural traditions in the dead language, German. But it was at some earlier point in the twentieth century that “Germany” and “California” became the two coasts of our ongoing traumatic history. The conditions of Dick’s thought experiment, rereading through the literature on schizophrenia those philosophical traditions that attended the invention of psychoanalysis, committed him to a largely German-language canon. But psycho-historically, Dick’s alternate presents work against a forgetting or denial of a specific recent past that in the 1950s, the era in which he began writing science fiction, was the era of National Socialism. National Socialism is also the most radical expression or consequence of the refusal to live with the reality of loss.
Q: Which novels did you find the most interesting? Which would you choose to teach if you were to teach a class focusing on PKD's work?
Rickels: I find Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik the most satisfying formally. However, if Martian Time-Slip, The Simulacra, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch didn’t make the list, it’s because there’s an excess of reflection in each that breaches its formal conditions, but which might also make these novels in particular the most interesting. The Valis trilogy staggers this excess and foregoes the excellence of individual works for the legibility the three works in their divergent modes together provide as the legend to Dick’s ultimate mapping of the new world order of schizophrenia. He even manages to include his mainstream fiction via The Transmigration of Timothy Archer but here as the plain text of modern Spiritualism, which Dick brilliantly raises to the power of our philosophical and psychoanalytic traditions. I found something of great interest in every one of Dick’s fictional works. Although in his nonfictional writing Dick allows for an unambivalent identification with Christianity, in the science-fictional work every belief and thought system, Christianity included, is steeped in finitude, rendered ruinous, and allegorized under the overriding frame of the psychotic break and its consolidation. To follow such a vast experiment one needs to read all of Dick’s fiction, but I have chosen the works above as exemplary enough for teaching Philip K. Dick.