Sunday, June 5, 2011
Some More Thoughts on Ubik
I've got one more week working on the e, so posting here will be minimal. I do, however, want to write a bit more about Ubik. I've been reading as much secondary source material about the novel as I can. I even read Rickels' chapter on Ubik, Three Stigmata, and Do Androids; though I could follow his interest in the three different types of 'merging' described in these books, the rest was incoherent. Sample:
"This disruption on the inside of the perfectly functioning establishment of Spiritualism is the flaw in the appointment the survivor tries to keep according to a schedule of one and a half lives" (344).
It's a bummer because one of Rickels' key interests is what happens to the dead in text and I would have thought he'd have something a little deeper to get into. But he does notice one thing: both Deckard and Joe Chip are 'testers'; Deckard detecting androids with his VK set-up and Joe Chip checking potential psychic operatives. I can't help but think of Ubik and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as being connected.
Next up was Darko Suvin's "Artifice as Refuge and World View: Philip K Dick's Foci." Suvin is a legend and his pronouncements about SF in the 1970s came from on high. Suvin says Ubik is deeply flawed and this seems to represent one whole school of thought on the novel: the 'incomprehensible' ending, when coupled with the plot holes/problems are insurmountable flaws. Guys like Suvin are willing to acknowledge there's much that's good about Ubik but, Suvin at least, concludes his appraisal thusly:
"The net result [of Ubik] seems to me to be one of great strengths balanced by equally great weaknesses in narrative responsibility reminiscent of the rabbits-from-the-hat carelessness associated with the rankest van Vogt if not "Doc" Smith..." (92).
Ouch. Also, that's not exactly accurate. I hope to have time to tell you why.
Next up is Peter Fitting's "Ubik: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF." This is another important essay, one which Dick had read. Remember PKD wrote to the FBI about Fitting and Jameson and the other dangerous Marxist literary critics. Not Dick's finest hour. Regardless, here's Fitting's claim:
"In this novel Dick has explored and transcended the science-fiction genre and the "representational novel" of which it is a part."
Here's his (cough, Marxist) take: "[Ubik's] "commercial messages" provide a restatement of Karl Marx's description of value, for Ubik is a universal equivalent (the embodiment of of exchange value), which can replace any other commodity: under capitalism everything has its price; while the presentation of Ubik through these ads stresses the obligation of capitalism to produce needs (use-values) in the consumer" (154).
Then, with quite an elaborate argument, Fitting attempts to convince readers that because Ubik fails to satisfy as a representational novel, it undermines capitalism. Or something. Fitting continues:
"There is no single, satisfactory interpretation of Ubik, my own included; and the reader's traditional goal -- the discovery of that interpretation -- is frustrated" (156).
I'm not sure I agree. Anyway, last, but certainly not least, I read Michael Bishop (of Philip K Dick is Dead, Alas) fame's "In Pursuit of Ubik." I wish Bishop had something more to say as his writing is absolutely brilliant. Using an extended metaphor of the pinned butterfly, Bishop argues that to analyze Ubik is to destroy it. Kinda like that line in Seinfeld about how a cartoon in the New Yorker was 'like gossamer' and "one doesn't dissect gossamer." But the article is very well written and praises PKD's efforts
"Whatever our attitude toward it, Ubik -- in ragged, beautiful gyrations confounding our ability to follow -- keeps flying. It invites our continued pursuit by its very elusiveness" (138).
None of these authors offers much in the way of insight about the wardrobes, the emergence of Ubik from ad culture, or the ubiquity of coin-operated appliances. I want to tackle those issues. But I will have to wait for another day.
I found all of the above essays in JD Olander and MH Greenberg's Writers of the 21st Century Series (pictured above).