I'm really enjoying Umberto Rossi's new book of PKD criticism. Having finished the introduction, I'm now almost through the opening chapter on The Cosmic Puppets and The Game Players of Titan. The book is well written, readable, insightful, and compelling - four adjectives seldom used to describe academic writing.
It was great to read a serious investigation of The Cosmic Puppets as this early novel of Dick's often gets short shrift. Umberto runs through the Jungian, Marxist, and religious readings of the book, developing an absolutely brilliant connection to It's A Wonderful Life and displaying for us the literary pyrotechnics Dick shoehorned into one of his earliest novels.
My reading of Umberto's plan in the book was overly simple. Rather than positing that ontological uncertainty is a product solely of Dick's tendency to dance back and forth between object and subjective value systems, Rossi catalogs the various sources of ontological uncertainty: schizophrenia, amnesia, implanted memories et al.
I'm noticing that these academic books often sell literary criticism as and end in and of itself. This is, of course, an illusion as the article or book of criticism usually results in remuneration of the critic or a similar rise in stature. So there is a hidden end toward which the critic is working. But seriously, these books on criticism skip over entirely the point of criticism, which, when you think about it, is kind of amazing. In this regard, Alain DeBotton's How Proust Can Change Your Life stands heads and shoulders above other books which purport to explore an author's oeuvre.
Do you want to know why I think PKD's work is important? Because I think his writing has the power to help us be better people undertaking difficult task of living in the 21st century. The payoff for reading Dick's books isn't some dorm-room 'aha-moment' of grokking exactly how bizarre the world is when you're stoned. Although that's what initially drew me to his work. The payoff is the realization that reality is subjective and plastic, and that changing your reality is as easy as changing your mindset. This is how most of Dick's characters ultimately make their peace with the world. Once you can learn to see a problem as a blessing, or at least a challenge, you've got it made in the shade. Well, at least it's made my life easier.
The fact that you can see the cosmic forces battling outside Millgate in The Cosmic Puppets as Freud's Eros and Thanatos or Zoroastrianism's dueling Ahriman and Ormazd is far less important than the subtler way the protagonist Ted Barton revitalizes his own life by returning Millgate to the interconnected community he remembers, from than the Pottersville-like malevolence of the town's more sinister incarnation.
I'm not slamming Umberto's book, just coming to realize what I see as missing from criticism in general.