Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sutin Interviews Himself

I have found Lawrence Sutin's biography of PKD, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K Dick, to be an indispensable resource. On Willis (Bill) Howard's website, (which also includes some info on PJ Harvey who is awesome) there is a cool interview with Sutin. It seems like Sutin is responding to the kinds of questions he got asked while working on the biography (Was Philip K Dick crazy? Was he? WAS HE?). Sutin's nuanced view of Dick's life and work is reflected in his responses.

So was PKD crazy?:

"This was the second most frequent question I was asked during my labors. (The most frequent was "Who is Philip K. Dick?") A good number of the people who asked it (including two psychiatrists of my acquaintance) were smiling in a faintly nasty way, waiting for me to give them the inside poop on just how crazy he was. It was as if they were yearning to hear me say "Yes!" so that they could safely dismiss the strange novels and stories that had somehow, despite themselves, gotten stuck in their heads.

To these people I wanted to say (but never did): "The word 'crazy' could be applied with precisely the same justice to Philip K. Dick as the word 'mediocre' could be applied to yourself."

Was Phil crazy? Some people who knew him think that, at times, he behaved as if he was. Others who knew him deny the label vehemently and even attempt to prove that it just can't be so (though we cannot prove ourselves sane or insane, much less anyone else). Psychiatrists and therapists who dealt with Phil over the course of his life reached no consensus on the issue. Phil himself sometimes feared that he was crazy, but as Anne Dick has shrewdly observed, Phil could be hypochondriacal about his mental state. At other times, he would vehemently defend his own sanity and resent the doubts that showed themselves in others. Then too, he often speculated in the Exegesis that in 2-3-74 he'd been granted (from Who? What?) a release, as if by grace, from the phobias and "psychosis" that had previously plagued him.

My own view is that the question of Phil's being crazy or not is a goddamn waste of time. Phil surely did live a strange and intense life. There were periods during which - due to lingering childhood traumas, amphetamine abuse, situational anguish, and the sheer lingering imperfection of the human condition, to name just a few potential contributing factors - he caused intense pain to himself and others. But Phil was also a dedicated professional who made a living writing books that he believed in, books that will endure. He loved a good many people - friends, wives, lovers - and was loved in return. If you slap a label of "crazy" on all this, what do you get in return? Certainly not a richer understanding of Phil's writings, or of his life, or of your own. The same holds true for the label of "temporal lobe epilepsy," which does not bear the same stigma as "schizophrenia" (though there is no good reason why there should be a difference in stigmatization between these two involuntary illnesses), but is equally futile - and ultimately unverifiable - as an encompassing explanation of Phil's life and work.

Either the books speak to you, or they don't. If they do, you had best pay attention to what they are saying - and put aside the reductive diagnostic labels (which so often change from decade to decade, according to zeitgeist fashions). The same holds true for the life, at least as I wrote it."

Read the rest of the interview here.

Damn straight, and don't forget Sutin also edited the Shifting Realities book of Dick's philosophical writing. We are in his debt.

A Dick-Head's up: I have begun reading 3 Stigmata and intend to write a post on the squib which introduces the novel tonight and hopefully Chapter One Monday or Tuesday.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps a few comments on "The Days Of Perky Pat" would make a nice follow-up when you're done with 3 Stigmata.

FCBertrandJr said...

I couldn't agree with you more about the importance of Lawrence Sutin to promoting the work of Philip K. Dick.
Not only has he written the definitive PKD biography, but edited The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, and, In Pursuit of Valis: Selections From The Exegesis. And I can't help but wonder why he wasn't chosen to edit the Library Of American PKD volume that came out recently.

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