Sunday, September 16, 2007

Anne Dick Responds To The New Yorker!

PKD's third wife, Anne Dick, sent me a response to Adam Gopnik's recent article "Blows Against The Empire" that she wrote to the editors at The New Yorker. They offered to print it in an abbreviated form but she refused. Here it is in its entirety:

Dear sirs:

I was married to Philip K Dick for five years in the late fifties and early sixties, a period when he wrote some of his best sci fi novels. They were not, as your frequent contributor says maliciously, “speed fueled”. How would he know anyway? I didn’t notice him observing what was going on in my house from the corner of a room. Philip was dedicated to his writing, loved doing it and wrote effortlessly. When I was married to him he was a kind, loving, modest man, helpful around the house, and wonderful with the children. My four daughters remember him fondly. He was a great listener, an entertaining talker, lovable and loving. A paragon of a husband–-for a good while.

After Philip’s death in 1982 I read all of his sci fi novels and stories three times in the order that they were written. I ‘ve also read most of his literary novels. At that time I wrote a memoir-biography, Search for Philip K Dick, Mellen Press, 1993, a book on which both Larry Sutin and Emmanuell Carrere based their books. Philip’s sci fi novels, among many other things, were a surrealist autobiography. In fact he referred to his writing as borderline surrealism. He put in the events of his daily life but as if they had occurred in a dream. He added black-humored social and political commentary, and, as Professor Warrick at the University of Michigan noted–over the years created as many characters as Shakespeare. A book of poetry could be assembled from selections from his prose although on the whole, narrative more than style was what he was involved with. But there was so much else in his writing and his prose was adequate to it.

As far as the movies based on his books go, most of his intellectual fans think that no one has “got it right” yet. Bladerunner came the closest. Obviously your contributor is NOT a fan. As I read his article I wondered how much Philip K Dick he had actually read.

You contributor says ” 1963 Philip was famous, admired and read.” he should have been happy. Happy earning $2000 a year, $1000 total for one Ace book, $750 if it was back to back with another writer on the other side? No,he didn’t think he had arrived yet. He definitely had thwarted ambitions–one was to earn a living. In those years sci fi was in a ghetto, looked down upon by “real writers” and other literate people. This was not a happy spot to be in either. Another thwarted ambition was to attain some respect from the literary establishment.

I don’t think he thought consciously about doing social satire or protest writing. He just wrote what was happening in his life, in his thoughts, in the world, and whatever he was thinking about or reading at the moment. He had a brilliant mind, a fantastic memory, and an inordinate ability to synthesize disparate events. He was a keen observer. When he used people who were friends and acquaintances as models he caught their speech so well that years later I can almost see these people when I occasionally read a passage.

I’m surprised that someone who purports to be a serious critic would use the word “crazy” so frequently. Yes, Philip had a vision near the end of his life and spent his remaining years trying to understand it. He wrote by hand during the night a two million words manuscript that no one has read in its entirety. Perhaps his ideas are a little odd here and there yet how one not respect the enormous effort he made. Some future reader will interpret it someday.

Philip started writing when he was a child. He wrote his first novel, Return to Lilliput, when he was thirteen. He wrote for the Berkeley Newspaper at this same age. He was a writer to the bone. He wrote me in later years that all he had in his life was his writing. To continually call him “crazy” and his writing, amphetemine-driven, is not fine criticism but actually scurrilous. It is not worthy of your otherwise fine publication to which Philip and I subscribed in the early 60's. He always hoped there would be a notice for one of his books in it and would go through every new issue looking for such. But in those days sci fi was in its pulp ghetto and a mention never would have appeared in the New Yorker. Now that finally an article about him has appeared in your pages after he has been well-recognized as a major literary figure all over the literate world, the United States being the last country to notice, I feel I need to write you and correct this disagreeable article. It has some interesting points in it but on a human level it almost has a tinge of vindictiveness. Could the author be jealous of Philip’s burning blazing writing life?

I’m surprised that I find myself in the position of defending Philip but I had to do it. This article was so unfair.

Anne R. Dick


MDK said...

Hello, Anne

It's so nice to be able to say HI to you and believe I may be returned a greeting from an Authentic human.

So, how are you? Thanks for setting those New Yorkers straight.

Say, why don't you check out my website soon, please? Don't make me beg, please.

Darryl Mason said...

Good on you Anne for setting the record straight.

It's bad enough that a publication like the New Yorker would refer to a writer of PKD's calibre as "crazy" is bad enough, but the PKD = Drugs has surely gone far enough.

The most drug-addled writer of the past four decades was probably Stephen King (heroin, prescription pills, booze, cocaine - all at the same time, for half of the 1970s and all of the 1980s, most of the 1990s), yet when was the last time you read "Stephen King's cocaine and heroin fueled novel..."

PKD's best batch of novels were written during his time with Anne (early 1960s), and about the extent of his drug use then was a nightly cocktail or two with his wife.

From what I can determine, the few years that PKD was doing a substantial amount of amphetamines, in the late 1960s, was not particularly productive at all. At least not compared the the volume of short stories and novels he produced in the 1950s and up to 1965.

The New Yorker is "crazy" for refusing to print Anne's letter in full. They should be honored to have such a great piece of writing, period, to print, especially since in only a few hundred words Anne managed to supply more facts and insights than all those many thousands of words in the New Yorker.

Bless you, Anne.

Brian said...

Jonathan Lethem at the Cooper Union in NYC!

Jonathan Lethem: Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s
Lecture and book signing
Thursday, September 27, 6:30 pm
The Great Hall
7 East 7th Street at Third Avenue

Jonathan Lethem: Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s

Acclaimed writer Jonathan Lethem is the editor of a selection of novels written by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick from the 1960s. Dick left behind more than 160 short stories and novels when he died in 1982. Many of his tales have become successful films, such as Blade Runner and Minority Report. Lethem bundled four of Dick's novels into one book to give a new generation the opportunity to discover Dick's futuristic visions.

Jonathan Lethem is the author of seven novels, including Gun, with Occasional Music; The Fortress of Solitude and You Don't Love Me Yet. Motherless Brooklyn, his fifth, won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Anonymous said...

Well, what an excellent letter. Thank you Anne for writing it and David for posting it here.

It's not difficult to see why they were less than happy about printing it in full!

Anonymous said...

An excellently written, informative letter from someone speaking from observation. Hello and thank you Anne, if you happpen to read this.
We (PKD fans)need more such information of this sort.

I was particularly pleased to see the "amphetamime fueled" subject addressed as there seems a lack of evidence Phil was using any large amount of amphetamine at this time and it's a subject that bugs me. No biographies or such at hand right now but my impression is that he was taking amphetamines on prescription for some reason(s) for many years around the late 50s to late 60s but not in doses that interfered with his sleep, eating, thinking or other aspects of his daily life and well being. I've read biographies, articles and so on which mention his prescription amphetamine use, often refering to large quantities, though the only specific quantity I recall being mentioned anywhere was 5 mg. and didn't specify frequency of doses. (I just looked that up in Rickman's bio.)

Phil does seem to have made statements that fueled the idea he was taking amphetamine in this period at least partly to help him write prolificly. Earlier statements perhaps intended to suggest financial need and/or a hip drug image and later statements to support an anti-drug misuse position.

It seems most likely to me from what I know that he may well have taken excessive amounts of probably unprescribed speed around 1970-71 but that was a barren writing period and apparently a pretty messed up period in his life. Inspired a great novel though.

My train of thought has come uncoupled and I'll move on from drug related subjects except to note I have a relatively favorable attitude towards psychactive drug use and no desire to understate or exaggerate whatever Phil's drug use was or whatever influence it had on his writing. I would like accuracy in statements concerning this though.

I'd also like to learn more about the mundane aspects of Phil's life. I've become very aware of home maintenance and "yard" work lately, for example. Phil must have had to deal with such matters during his life in some manner but I don't know much about that or his attitude towards these things. I don't know what foods he liked, don't know much about the music he listened to, what he read for pleasure, what TV he watched or radio he listened to, what movies he liked, how he got along with his children and step-children both while he was living with them and afterwards. Tons of stuff.

I could babble on but it's late, I'm overdue for dinner and want to eat, kick back a little and sleep so readers of the Comments part of this blog are spared. Rejoyce!

Anonymous said...

It's great to read Anne's letter. He was no certainly no common 'speed freak,' but I am very curious about PKD's use of amphetamines to write, not that this in any way diminishes his status as a writer. I recall he did say that "A Scanner Darkly" was the first novel written without amphetamines.

Anonymous said...

PKD should've been mentioned in this article, considering all the push-button articles that get written about him and his work...

Anonymous said...

First off, when Dick started taking amphetamines, they were not illicit drugs at all, but something you obtained by prescription from a doctor. Secondly, Dick was a pretty fair amateur psychopharmacologist and knew just what to do, how to offset side effects, what other drugs to take etc that he retained his health better and longer than most people who use speed do (though he eventually did have problems, as is well know).

I had the privilege of meeting Tim Powers a few years ago, and he remembers Dick, in the last years of his life, as unfailingly kind and considerate to those around him, not a crazy person at all.

When I first read the New Yorker article, I didn't like it, and I am very glad that Anne has put them well in their place. Shame on them for not publishing her letter.


Anonymous said...

amen, anne! it's about time someone takes on lazy critics and sets the record straight. "crazy", "amphetamine-fueled" about "ahead of his time" and "among the best authors of the twentieth century"? lets see one of those jerks write something half-as-brilliant as "ubik" or "three stigmata."

Anonymous said...

Potboiler articles about PKD have become the norm, sad as that is for fans and (apparently) those who knew him in person.

Even without Anne's excellent letter, it should be obvious to anyone who reads the novels from that period (late 50s, early 60s) - even the less-inspired ones - that the author was careful and methodical in producing them. And the very strong novels from that period - The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip - defy any attempt to characterize their author as crazy, regardless of his obvious interest in the instability of phenomena.

Anyone who has known a 'speed freak' and read even one of these novels will recognize that Phil simply could not have been one in his productive years. Those novels are not about people with the problems of habitual meth users, neither are they written as if by a habitual meth user.

I'm very grateful to Anne and to all who knew PKD for sharing their real memories of him. These articles that pop up due to Dick's trendiness at this time are just pathetic nonsense. It's unfortunate, but maybe not surprising, that PKD's obvious and (in my opinion) huge talent, in combination with the fact that he was not writing 'normal' stuff, make it easy to characterize him as crazy.

There has been enough focus on apocryphal stories of drug use. I hope that future work on PKD will include more real biographical information as another commenter has suggested, and more studies of where his work really stands in terms of preceding literature and thought.

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