Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Power of Myth

Wired Magazine ran the charticle pictured above in their Oct 2006 issue, illustrating quite dramatically the dangers of a larger-than-life persona. The magazine, in its infinite wisdom, believes that the scheduled PKD bio-pics are cooler than the PKD adaptations already out, and both are cooler than PKD's books. Imagine thinking Joseph Fiennes' performance in Shakespeare in Love was more "wired" than William Shakespeare's contributions to literature!

Dick was a hell of a storyteller (and a renowned bullshit artist) and used these talents brilliantly to create likable characters that his readers rooted for, but Dick also used these skills to construct a narrative for himself (at least in part) and ultimately this may come back to bite him in the ass.

Dick's legendary persona capitalizes on two distinct cultural trends:
1) The belief that crazy people have access to insights and experiences that are unavailable to the sane (who must repress desires and steer clear of troubling analysis of their unconscious minds) and that this insight creates superior art.
2) The allure of narcissism. Dick's paranoia (about the safe being blown up, about 2-3-74, about VALIS, about the Xerox missive, and countless other events) always placed him in a position of great power and significance. This kind of self-importance, Freud argues, is alluring because it demonstrates the kind of unbridled self-interest which most people have to repress in order to be socialized. We find attractive in others that which we, regrettably, must repress.

Of course Dick's fiction has played a large part in his cultural ascendancy, but, as this charticle shows, his literary legacy is in danger of being subsumed by the mythical persona that has grown up around him. Would the Library of America be releasing four of Dick's novels next month if he didn't have a reputation as a visionary nut-job?

There's something about PKD that makes him easy to identify with. I have received lots of email from his fans telling me how much he means to them, how much he's added to their life, how he feels like a friend to them... The same is true for me. I want Dick to be successful, to receive the recognition he wanted so badly; I want Hollywood to make good movies out of Dick's books and I want lots of people to realize what a great writer he was. But ultimately it's Dick's stories that warrant the attention not his biography.

In a strange way, because of his unexpected brilliance and the sensation on the part of his readers of having found a Stradivarius at a yard sale, Dick’s fiction transforms casual readers into devout followers, but if we're not careful we may dilute PKD's contributions to literature if we ignore his work and instead begin "reading" his biography as his best novel.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree - given the quality of cinema work based on PKD's work so far, a 'biopic' doesn't inspire much hope.

Reading Sutin's biography made me feel that I'd just read about something way weirder than any of PKD's books. I remember feeling quite emotionally drained at the end of it. How did he survive for as long as he did? (PKD, not Sutin!)

But, we're living in an age when Hollywood rushes to fictionalise history as soon as it occurs, so...

Anonymous said...

This is only meaningful if you intellectually invest in the value of Wired's hot or not column. Hot or not columns are stupid and arbitrary and Wired magazine is a useless compendium of high-tech advertisements. To dismiss a valuable contribution to human culture as 'expired' speaks more of a personal desperation to stay trendy by 'making opinion' on the part of the column writer rather than a true reflection of reality.

Personally I think 'biopics' are bizarre, why watch a movie about Philip K Dick that inevitably provides a trite and flashy single-point perspective of the man when he was a real person who wrote 50+ novels you can read along with five volumes of short stories and at least one volume of philosophical essays. Biopic - His life reduced to dumb entertainment when his reality was that he was an innovative artist who produced interesting artwork which can't be duplicated by a biopic, only referenced. Experiencing a biopic will NEVER come close to matching the value of experiencing the featured artist's work. That just wouldn't make sense. So to say that the biopic is 'hot' and the originating works that will only be referenced in the biopic is 'not' is pretty stupid -

Cal Godot said...

WIRED: Total Dick-Head


EXPIRED: Philip K. Dick (R.I.P.)

Anonymous said...

I suspect those columns in Wired are there mostly to annoy people :)

Next month, they'll tag a some documentary about the making of the biopic of PKD as "wired," and then biopic itself will be "tired," and so on. It's all about equating "meta" with "cool."

The stories themselves will then be, I suppose, "vampired" or "umpired" or "backfired."

Mostly, that column just makes me ired!