Sunday, February 10, 2008

Back From Harvard

Above: Here I am at the main gate of Harvard University. Doesn't look particularly welcoming does it?

My long trip to the frozen tundra of the East Coast ended two weeks ago and I am happily back in the Bay Area. I had to hit ground running; the semester had already started and with all the syllabus copies to make, the diagnostic essays to grade, and frankly a nice restful night or three on the couch watching Celebrity Rehab with Dr Drew out of the way, I have returned to my post at The Total Dick-Head only to find myself absolutely buried beneath a backlog of PKD news and stuff that I will endeavor to post in the next few days.

For those of you who didn't hear, I was asked to speak at Vericon VIII, Harvard's annual science fiction convention. I was invited to speak on a panel with Anne Mini, who is the daughter of Kleo Apostolides (PKD's second wife) and Norman Mini (an old friend of PKD's from the Berkeley days). Anne is a Harvard alum who started a science fiction club while she was an undergrad (over strong opposition from the English department - you know typical, snobbish Lit professors turning their effete noses up at the Science Fiction "ghetto").

Anyway, together Anne and I tabled a panel on "The Multiple Myths of Philip K Dick." I spoke first for about an hour, using a power point presentation to outline the mixed reception PKD's Library of America release has received in the MSM. I also spoke of my own difficulties developing a cohesive sense of who Philip K Dick was. He showed such kindness at times and so much anger at others. It's hard for me to imagine all these contradictions and incongruities emanating from one person.

The audience wasn't huge, but was totally diverse, ranging from Harvard students, to alumni, to PKD fans of all ages. They all wanted to know about the "real Philip K Dick." I told them that I was still looking for him too, but that I appreciated the moral view of the universe PKD provided for me in his fiction. I hope to convert my power point presentation into a slide show and post it here in the coming days.

Here's a picture of me and Anne talking before the panel got started:

Anne spoke next and had a number of excellent points to make about PKD's biographies. She pointed out writers often have terribly dull lives. Well duh, they're locked in a room somewhere writing. As obvious as that seems, it had never occurred to me. Anne also pointed out that the biographical accounts of PKD's amphetamine abuse (remember he is rumored to have taken several hundred tabs a week at times) may be exaggerated. I'd love to get Dr Drew on the phone and ask him what kind of a physical toll that sort of consumption would have had on PKD. Something tells me it would be almost impossible even to make it to age 54 sustaining that kind of physical abuse.

We finished with some Q&A.

People wanted to know "why PKD? Why not Asimov, LeGuin, Heinlein?" My response was that none of those writers were sufficiently skeptical of technology, or more precisely, the danger technology poses when it serves to maintain an unjust (or fundamentally non-egalitarian) society.

Others wanted to know our favorite PKD reads. Mine are (as has been well documented on this site): Novels: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Time Out of Joint, VALIS, Puttering About in a Small Land, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Short stories (which I really need to read more of): "The Electric Ant", "Faith of Our Fathers", "The Days of Perky Pat", "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon." Anne's favorites included the short story "The Father Thing."

I had a blast, met some really cool folks at Harvard, got a great line on my resume, and discovered once again, that PKD fans are quite often the nicest, warmest, and gentlest of people and that when you get a bunch of Dick-heads in one room you're pretty much guaranteed a great discussion with some really deep ideas and some great laughs.

Anne tells me we are the first to talk about PKD at Harvard, something wonderful tells me we won't be the last.

Below: Here I am at my happiest, talking about PKD:


MDK said...

Glad to see that you made it back ok, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Glad you're back!

How about posting a comprehensive list of your favorite PKD novels? I'm interested how you feel about some of the other books not in this post.

Anonymous said...

Nice one, Dave, well done. I'd've loved to have gone to that! I would ask you about putting your speech up on TD-H, but as you say, you're a bit snowed under!