Wednesday, December 19, 2007

PKD's Agent David G Hartwell Responds to the Accusations of PKD's 'Nutiness'

David G Hartwell, PKD's literary agent during the last ten years of his life, wrote a short column for The New York Review of Science Fiction entitled, "Writers As Romantic Anti-heroes" in which he laments the treatment PKD received in Brent Staple's New York Times editorial "Philip K Dick: A Sage of the Future Whose Time Has Finally Come."

Above: Hartwell's column (click to enlarge, reproduced with author's permission)

Interesting to note Hartwell wrote this column before Adam Gopnik's controversial article, "Blows to the Empire" appeared in August 2007 issue of The New Yorker, but after Charles McGrath's longer piece in the NYT, "Prince of Pulp, Legit at Last" in which he writes, "But Mr. Dick, who popped as many as 1,000 amphetamine pills a week, was also more than a little paranoid. ."

Staples' column, ironically, was the least concerned with issues of Dick's sanity. The only dig Staples gets in is this: "The prediction [that PKD would one day be a highly respected author] seemed almost delusional in the 1960s, when Dick was popping pills around the clock and churning out novels in a science fiction ghetto from which he seemed destined never to escape."

Regardless, we have in Mr Hartwell a primary source who developed a professional relationship with PKD which lasted over a decade, and who claims that the recent spate of claims that PKD was 'mental' (as 'diagnosed' by Warren Ellis here) are, if not downright deceptive, at least embellished. Like Anne Dick's letter to the New Yorker, Hartwell reminds us that theories about Dick's mental health are often rooted in a desire to marginalize or (ironically) to deify the author, and even worse, often completely miss the incredible contributions PKD made to Literature in general and science fiction in particular.

In other words, let's not forget PKD wrote 55 novels, and that many of the people who knew him best offer contrary accounts of his later years. While many readers wish to read PKD as Horselover Fats in VALIS, we must never forget the novel's narrator Philip K Dick's healthy skepticism about Fats' sanity.

The more I study PKD's life, and the more I talk to his friends and family, the more I become convinced that we can never know what PKD's mindset really was, but we must remember that he was a charming, brilliant, and driven man with a work ethic that would put just about all of us to shame. Besides that, could anyone with truly severe mental problems write with the kind of insight, brilliance, and emotion that PKD consistently poured into his novels? Personally, I don't think so.


Anonymous said...

I never believed Phil was crazy. Maybe crazy like a fox! As I wrote PINK BEAM: A Philip K. Dick Companion, I found myself coming to the conclusion that he knew what he was doing when he wrote VALIS. The novel was a response to a lifetime of frustration trying to become a 'mainstream' writer. His struggle with literary categories and ghettoisation resulted in this masterpiece that transcended the whole argument.
Now I'll go read Hartwell's column...

Anonymous said...

i remember people saying Shakespeare did not write all this amazing play because he had a very dull life. in my opinion, this proves that Shakespeare was really creative guy.

for PKD, he did some nice philosophy that we like to ignore and leave to insane ones. well he was one interesting guy. i wish i would meet him. maybe in afterlife :)

frankh said...

Hartwell was Dick's editor, not his agent.