Sunday, March 27, 2011
Weekly Round Up
That chug-chugging sound you have been hearing in the distance is the gentle whine of The Philip K Dick Article Machine 2.0 churning out a couple of, dare I say, interesting articles about PKD.
There was this story in the Guardian about how we're all living in a Philip K Dick future, examining both Sucker Punch and Source Code as Dickian flicks. I'm quite excited to see Source Code as I thought Moon was one of the better Dickian films of late. While this story shows that the Philip K Dick Article Machine is still learning, it's got a ways to go. Favorite line:
"The first great Phil Dick movie was, of course, Blade Runner, in which enslaved androids seem human, and some "humans" don't know that they themselves are androids."
At least they threw in the 'of course' - I mean it was THE FIRST adaptation.
The article I liked even better was from Cracked.com, provacatively titled "5 Ways Philip K Dick's Insanity Changed The World of Movies." The reason I like this article is that instead of trying to convince a bunch of stuffed shirts reading literati zines (New Yorker et al) that they should lower themselves to read this pulp writer whose prose isn't very good, Cracked can suggest to their target demographic, dormroom stoner bros, that Philip K Dick's writing will blow their minds.
Instead of crap like this from Gopnik's New Yorker hit-piece from way back:
"The trouble is that, much as one would like to place Dick above or alongside Pynchon and Vonnegut—or, for that matter, Chesterton or Tolkien—as a poet of the fantastic parable he was a pretty bad writer."
"You don't have to be crazy to write mind-bending science fiction, but it apparently helps. Many of Dick's stories revolve around questions about the nature of reality, schizophrenia, paranoia, drug use, religion and hallucinogenic imagery. Whether any of these are related to the fact that all his pre 1970 stories were written while high on amphetamines we'll leave for you to decide, but they totally were. The man would mix offworld colonies, cold war politics, Tibetan theology, corny advertising jingles, psionic powers, sentient jellies and small scale domestic drama. Not just in the same book -- all those elements could easily appear in the same paragraph."
Now, as for the article's charges of Dick's 'schizophrenia' I'd simply like to quote Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia who brilliantly proclaimed: "Interior Decorating is a rock hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs." I can't believe I just quoted Scalia approvingly. Let's move on.
Actually, if you're interested, and I did this once, take out your copy of Sutin's PKD biography, Divine Invasions, look up 'schizophrenia' in the index and then skim each page listed. It's interesting to see the contexts in which the term crops up again and again in Dick's life. But, to get back to Scalia's point for just a sec, the term 'schizophrenia' is a fairly loose one (any of several psychotic disorders characterized by distortions of reality and disturbances of thought and language and withdrawal from social contact), akin, I learned recently, to 'meltdown' - a term that has no quanitative basis; there is no lab test, no failing score on the inkblot tests, that confirm a diagnosis of schizophrenia (though Dick loved to write about exactly such tests, not to mention his uncanny ability to intentionally mimic symptoms of various disorders to the delight and dismay of his friends and family). But whatever. Point being, it's a complicated subject and we should take Dick's clinical diagnosis from the writers of Cracked with a grain of salt.
But also we should read this letter that Dick wrote to the FBI, advising them of the Marxist tendencies of several notable critics. The fact that several of these critics were rather open with their Marxist readings of SF makes Dick look more naive than crazy in my mind. I mean it's sort of silly to suggest that Marxist literary theorists may be undermining the capitalist system with the way they read books, but then again, Dick grew up during a time when any open allegiance to communism was serious business, of the same order as treason. Update: Going back and reading the letter again PKD seems more concerned with Lem's influence over the these critics. I wish I had time to go through the volume of 1974 letters and try to find more context for this. If I remember correctly, there were several weird and wild letters from the same period.
What's the point of discussing his sanity? There's no point in trying to diagnose him. But there is merit in discussing the boundaries of 'sanity.' We should examine the distinction we make between sanity and 'insanity.' PKD's books and novels examine this theme over and over again. The jarring aspect of this letter is the coldness of the tone with which he wields some pretty serious accusations. But there's no way anyone would read Dick's fiction if it read with the same clinical detachment. We certainly wouldn't be talking about his influence a quarter century after his death if there wasn't some kind of sustaining warmth emanating from the pages of his fiction. I guess this post is turning into an attempt to develop the dialog beyond whether or not he was crazy, perhaps towards the goal of understanding PKD's appeal, the nature of his insight, the source of his prescience. And I think we should study PKD's life to try to understand the suffering he experienced. That's the uncool thing about the Cracked article. There's no empathy towards PKD's suffering. It's all just grist for the mill.
The Philip K Dick Article Machine is still a long way from passing the Voight Kampff.
It's only now, in hindsight, that I see I've just opened a great big can of worms. Don't go too crazy in the comments section (see what I did there?).