Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Joanna Russ - RIP
Unless you follow the world of feminist science fiction academia closely, you may not have already heard that author and critic Joanna Russ passed away last week after suffering a series of strokes (sound familiar?). Her relevance to the life and work of PKD is limited (at least here in this post) to her absolute hatred of Dick's anti-abortion story "The Pre-Persons." Dick writes in the story's notes:
"In this ... I incurred the absolute hate of Joanna Russ who wrote me the nastiest letter I've ever received; at one point she said she usually offered to beat up people (she didn't use the word 'people') who expressed opinions such as this. I admit that this story amounts to special pleading, and I'm sorry to offend those who disagree with me about abortion on demand. I also got some unsigned hate mail, some of it not from individuals but from organizations promoting abortion on demand. Well, I have always managed to offend people by what I write. Drugs, communism, and now an anti-abortion stand; I really know how to get myself in hot water. Sorry, people. But for the pre-persons' sake I am not sorry. I stand where I stand: "Hier steh Ich; Ich kann nicht anders," ["Here I stand, I can do no other"] as Martin Luther is supposed to have said."
Recently a commenter asked if we've ever discussed "The Pre-Persons" here. Nope. But the story, PKD's response to the Roe v Wade verdict, certainly caused some controversy. I don't have time to get too in depth about this right now as I'm finishing the semester buried under a mountain of papers. But I will say that Dick's pro-life attitude in his fiction is perhaps as consistent a theme as his oft-repeated interest in "what is real" and "what is human."
One of the more interesting references to abortion is in The Crack in Space. Protag Tito Cravelli's ex-wife is an abortion consultant (or something - this aspect of the plot is missing from all the online novel summaries) and she is pretty cold-hearted.
I think it's a pretty safe bet that PKD's reverence for the unborn comes from his grief and guilt relating to the death of his twin-sister, Jane. But, as I was saying earlier, the emphasis in his fiction on the sacredness of all life makes this aspect of his belief system pretty fitting - even if it's not the most progressive or politically correct view to hold nowadays. Additionally, I've always felt that Anne Dick's abortion (which she is remarkably honest about in her memoir) proved to be a turning point in their marriage. This fits with The Crack in Space which was written in 1964 in the middle of their difficult separation.
It was, in part, criticism of Dick's treatment of women in his fiction from women like Russ and Ursula LeGuin that prompted Dick to write in a letter to his agent Russ Galen, "My depiction of females has been inadequate and even somewhat vicious." (June 29, 1981).
In fact, it is this realization that may have spurred PKD to create the wonderful character of Angel Archer in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. I think this helps show that Dick was, even in his later years, empathetic, and open to criticism, but more importantly, that he was willing to try to change aspects of his worldview as well as his writing. While you might disagree with Dick's opinion, you gotta admire the hell out of willingness to evolve.