Tuesday, August 14, 2007

PKD Gets the Royal Treatment in The New Yorker

There's a great article in the Aug 20 issue of The New Yorker on Philip K Dick by Adam Gopnik. I'm just reading it now and will comment on it at greater length once I've digested it. But go read it right now. It'll make your day!


Darius Kazemi said...

Wow, that really was a pretty damn good article.

FCBertrandJr said...

Hello Darius,

Okay, WHY was it a "pretty damn good article"??

What specifically about it makes it so good??

It seems to me he can't decide if he's doing a profile or a book review, and there's no reference to earlier PKD stuff in The New Yorker.

And there's the good ol' subjective value judgment accusation about PKD being "crazy." With no empirical, verifiable supporting evidence to support his accusation...

Alex said...

One line from VALIS would have made Gopnik's explanation of Dick and his work resonate higher and fuller:

"Sometimes it's an appropriate response to reality to go insane."

This sentence is at the heart of so much. When I recall it in troubled times, I remember I'm one of 6.5 billion glorified monkeys controlled by nature and the forces of society, which are totally fucked. And though I may be helpless in many ways, I'm never hopeless.

Dick wasn't crazy -- eating peanuts from his shit, trapped in his head -- but he sure as hell wasn't well.
A new word should be coined for what he and Poe and McKenna underwent. We need a consensus or something because the sanity debate is tired.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean Paul McKenna, alex?

Alex said...

I wish!

Duncan Lawson said...

Gopnick is a great critic. Here is my favorite point:

"One of the first things that everyone is inclined to say about Dick is...[that he] is only now beginning to get his due..he was famous, admired, and read. He wasn’t reviewed on the front page of the Times Book Review, but so what?"

I think being famous, admired and read is something we would all like to be. Hell, I'd like just to be read.

Anonymous said...

Good grief. Another bloody critic saying PKD's non-SF is 'unreadable'. Oh well, plus ca change.

Anyone else get the apt, Scanner Darkly-ish cartoon they stuck on the first page, btw?

FCBertrandJr said...

Okay, Duncan, let's assume that Mr. Gopnik is a "great critic," on a par with those from, say, within science fiction: Chip Delany, Brian W. Aldiss, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, and Stanislaw Lem.

And let's take your favorite point, culled from paragraphs 5 and 6 in his article "Blows Against The Empire," the title alone of which raises some intriguing questions: (What kind of blows? By whom? What empire?), and try to apply some modicum of critical thinking skills and asking hard questions to it, instead of giving unquestioning allegiance to it.

Better yet, let's initially compare/contrast it with something from 32 years ago in The New Yorker magazine, by Tony Hiss:

"His books, which are hilarious, are popular in France, because the French think they are about how grim everything is." (February 3, 1975)

I'm also assuming it's okay to use Mr. Gopnik's own admonitions on his own work, that is, "not modest in their claims," "nor are they especially precise," and, "a note of inconsistency inflects these claims."

Actually, the best piquant phrase is: "tang of hyperbolic defensiveness," which I hope someone will be willing to translate into English.

And, is really "everyone" inclined to say...etc.,etc.?? Everyone?

FCBertrandJr said...

As for Terence McKenna's take on Philip K. Dick, you should check out:


Anonymous said...

Sorry chaser, I couldn't get past the first few sentences of that 'I Understand Philip K Dick' piece ... I began to feel ill. Thanks for going to the trouble of finding it though. Terence McKenna, eh? A name to avoid for me, I think! :-)

umberto rossi said...

I reckon this article should bring to the indictment of the author. They have the wrong people in Guantanamo: ship Gopnik there!

Some more counts:

"“The Man in the High Castle” (1962), the book that made Dick famous, is in many ways the least typical, and least interesting, of his sixties novels."

Least typical? Least interesting? How comes it made Dick famous, then? Win a prize? How comes it was constantly reprinted even when other novels and stories were out of print? Were we in the academic environment, the phrase "unsupported statement" would be dropped here on Gopnik.

"Like Poe’s, Dick’s last big book was a work of cosmic explanation in which lightning bolts of brilliance flash over salty oceans of insanity. Poe’s explanation of everything was called “Eureka.” Dick’s was VALIS."

But Eureka is not fiction while VALIS is. I reckon Gopnik is talking of the Exegesis and didn't check the title.

Further counts in a next message...

umberto rossi said...

"Dick’s admirers can fight for days—and over hundreds of pages—about the meaning, the precise content, and the value of the “2-3-74” visions."

Do they? I don't know if I qualify as a Dick admirer. I wrote several academic articles on Dick, translated Stigmata into Italian, organized an international conference on Dick in Italy, contributed to the Italian PKD encyclopedia (La macchina della paranoia), but I never fought for days on the precise content & meaning of 2-3-74--neither met people who did. So who is Gopnik talking about?

"As the people around him testified, hallucinations and fantasies, wild paranoid delusions, and plot-spotting filled his mind. He really did go crazy, and it wasn’t the cute-crazy of the movies, with well-cast hallucinations and Jennifer Connelly to comfort you. It was true staring madness, hell on earth."

Well, does he have some documents to prove this? No he doesn't, because there are no documents about that. Read Sutin (which is more reliable than Carrère, also because Carrère's is a novel, not a bio). Dick spent a week or so in a drug rehabilitation centre, not in an asylum. How cames someone who was deep into "true staring madness, hell on earth" wasn't hospitalized? How comes he was able to write a novel whose quality even Gopnik has to acknowledge?

Dick's mental situation has been labelled as borderline schizophrenia, or borderline paranoia. Yet we know that he could feign the symptoms of any mental disease he liked, because he had read plenty of psychiatric literature. He was deeply interested in fakery and was a very good liar. When coping with such an individual, uttering such lapidary judgements is terribly dangerous... but what can you expect by someone who has clearly read only a few novels, yet feels he can assess Dick's whole oeuvre? (He obviously ignores A Scanner Darkly and Transmigration...)

FCBertrandJr said...

Bravo...BRAVO Umberto!!! This, your two most recent posts, are EXACTLY what we need to get pundits to stop and think at least twice about their cherished "ideas" about Philip K. Dick...

Anonymous said...

I agree, chaser - umberto's comments do indeed hit the nail on the head. Trouble is, in order to be saleable, you have to fit in a marketing 'box' - this is true for dead writers being written about by 'critics' as much as anyone else.

FWIW I preferred the 'Good In Hurting' article linked over at the PKD Bookshelf - it seemed to have some genuine enthusiasm, anyway.