Monday, April 28, 2008
I'll just admit it. I read VALIS again. The reason I hesitate to mention it is that I feel slightly guilty for not writing up some big post about my experience. It was at least my fifth time reading the novel, but it had been awhile and, in all honesty, the last time I read it I wasn't that into it. This time through the novel just completely blew me away and I ended up reading it in about four marathon sittings. Of course now I've got a book full of post-its I need to further research, but I just want to say the book was a real blast. Laugh out loud funny, and then at times, PKD took my breath away with casual phrasings that seemed within them to contain the totality of ways the world is fundamentally fucked up, distilling them down to a truly terrifyingly clear and potent poison (which in a uniquely Dickian way is also, of course, the antidote).
Like I said I didn't want to have to write some big thing about it, because I'm way too busy for long posts these days (in fact it's taken me almost three weeks just to write this one), however, a recent posting over at the excellent Gnostic info site, The Palm Tree Garden, motivated me to respond.
The article, How Many Worlds Do We Exist in Simultaneously "The Owl in Daylight" and the Life of Philip K Dick, (which can currently be found on the main page over at The Palm Tree Garden) covers (and uncovers) some recent news about the estate sanctioned bio-pic, (as well as that Pill Bullman one), and author Luke Valentine makes some interesting points about the kind of infinite regress Philip K Dick's life is becoming (I'm imagining in another fifteen years we'll see a space opera about bringing PKD's consciousness back to life so that future critics can hear his take on all these documentaries, adaptations, lawsuits, reviews, as well as his thoughts on the continuing presence of the Black Iron Prison).
"Which of the two films will capture Philip K. Dick? Dick is hard to pin down by anyone, whether moviemaker, literary critic, or avid reader. The lit crits sometimes accuse Dick of a cardinal sin in the fictional world, that of using the forbidden deux ex machina technique in the wormholes of his narrative action. Again, they miss the point. Dick's deux ex machina is a merciless mechanistic universe that eats up and spits out humans back into the worlds in which they find themselves trapped. Rather, the technique he most effectively employed is the mise en abyme, an infinite iteration, as though Dick and his protagonists are mirrors forever reflecting each other, each new iteration contained within itself smaller and smaller until Dick turns to another protagonist and the process repeats ad infinitum."
Valentine even plays backseat screenwriter and gives us this scene for the biopics:
"EXT. - FIRST CENTURY ROME - A CROWDED ROMAN MARKETPLACE - DAY. Philip K. Dick, attired as a poor Roman artisan, is frantically running from a pair of Roman soldiers. They almost apprehend him, but he pushes over a basket of fish and gets away. The Roman soldiers slip on the fish, and one of them falls in the street."
That's actually pretty good. I love the detail about the soldiers slipping on the fish. Perhaps they could speed the film up so that this scene was like one of those weird chase scenes on the Benny Hill Show. Sorry, I'm not trying to make fun of the scene, but there's something weird about imagining this. Aren't movies the ultimate Black Iron Prison, nothing but captivating illusion? PKD's mystical experiences are fascinating, and we can all imagine them in our own way but what will happen when a screenwriter and director's notion of these events is projected on a screen? Seeing a film is, in many ways, to submit to the tyranny of the director's vision.
Valentine then delves into the legal battle being fought over who owns the rights to The Owl in Daylight:
"Electric Shepherd received a letter from OverLook Press in which OverLook asserts some rights to "The Owl in Daylight", or to Gwen Lee's notes from her interviews with Dick based on their publication of "What If Our World Is Their Heaven?" Whether OverLook has any claim to movie rights is the sort of question that causes Hollywood producers and their lawyers to generate radioactive Blackberry waves, given that the story was Dick's and Lee was essentially taking notes."
Now, Valentine doesn't provide a source for any of this, so take it with a grain of salt, but it is interesting, and it becomes even more so after Valentine tackles the issue of inspiration:
"Dick's quest for identity is far more than clever artistic trickery begging for deconstruction. It belongs to a realm that transcends time and space, and though Dick found himself working with one of the great themes of his or any other day, pulling from his writer's toolbox point-of-view and perspectival techniques of the postmodern period, he was coming from and going to other directions entirely. His inspiration was more than literary. His was divine."
Well based on this it would certainly seem like OverLook is suing the wrong people, but this paragraph demands further analysis. What is inspiration? Where is it located? Was PKD inspired to write VALIS by his mystical experiences? Well it certainly seems that way, but if this inspiration was so complete why did Dick have to write Radio Free Albemuth first, only to have it rejected by his publisher?
If someone is inspired by something does the inspiration generate something wholly new in the inspired, or does the artist, once inspired, use his own faculties to create? While Valentine seems determined to conceive of VALIS as divinely inspired, I'm left wondering about Thomas Edison's famous quote: Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.