Monday, July 28, 2008

PKD-Article Machine Up and Running (Again)

That strange rattling, 'chug chug' sound you're hearing in the background is the old Philip K Dick article machine groaning to life again because PKD's second volume from the LoA comes out next week. Pre-order yours here. One of the first articles to emerge from the machine is's book review of the second volume from some guy I'm sure they pay named Mark Feeney.

Let's get this party started with a checklist I've developed for these:

Creepy oil painting making PKD look distressed?

Check, see above.

Does he say PKD was a crazy druggie?

"Bedeviled by drug abuse, mental illness, and the bill collector, he had good reason to think people might be out to get him."


Does he say PKD's writing isn't that good?

"Writing hardly comes any clunkier than this sentence from "Now Wait for Last Year": "But in all fairness, it had to be realized, Eric reflected, no one possessed the money and economic know-how to underwrite this admittedly uniquely expensive and beyond all others - imitations all - utterly impractical venture.""

Check (*with an example! Does Feeney get extra for that?).

Let me guess, the writing is 'uneven'....

"Wild unevenness is the price a reader pays for Dick's two great virtues: a blazing fecundity of imagination (the science part of science fiction didn't interest him that much, but the sheer fictiveness of it certainly did) and a quality of claustral despair that only Theodore Dreiser can match in American fiction."


I bet they talk about all the adaptations....

"The only canon Dick is a pillar of is Hollywood's. Among films adapted from his fiction are "Blade Runner," "Minority Report," "Total Recall," "Paycheck," and "A Scanner Darkly." There are another three movies in various stages of production."


Good to know PKD's not a canonical science fiction writer, or a part of the southern Californian counter-culture canon. Perhaps these other canons aren't on his Google map.

Here's the tough one, does it say anything nice?

"Yet make no mistake. Dick belongs in the Library of America as Melville and the rest do. True, he is often turgid - so are all of those four (and Dreiser, with two volumes of his own in the library, definitely makes five). More important, like Melville and Whitman, he's a true visionary, a writer who's enlarged our literature and continues to vex it."

Well aside from that the play was fine, said Mrs Lincoln.

How about a less-than-perfect literary comparison?

"The closest literary analogue for Dick may not be Dreiser or such masters of paranoia as Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo (even if a sentence like this one, from "Dr. Bloodmoney" - "It was war and death, yes, but it was error; it lacked intent" - could come straight out of "White Noise" or "Underworld"). It's George Orwell, though the similarity isn't so much in his own dystopian masterpiece, "Nineteen Eighty-Four," as in the three kitchen-sink novels he wrote during the 1930s, "A Clergyman's Daughter," "Keep the Aspidistra Flying," and "Coming Up for Air" (definitely a Dick-worthy title). There's the same sense of ceaseless desperation and perspiring spiritual fatigue - "the damp sweat of anxiety," as Dick writes in "Martian Time-Slip." Actually, in his novels there's hardly any other kind."

Actually, Orwell's Coming Up for Air, in retrospect, does have the same sort of suburban ennui as many of PKD's works.

Got anything nice to say Feeney?

"Yet make no mistake. Dick belongs in the Library of America as Melville and the rest do. True, he is often turgid - so are all of those four (and Dreiser, with two volumes of his own in the library, definitely makes five). More important, like Melville and Whitman, he's a true visionary, a writer who's enlarged our literature and continues to vex it."

Play us out Mr Feeney:

"Dick is, in fact, just the sort of author for whom the library should exist: one whose work can be hard to find, who is so variable in quality as to cry out for editorial selection, and who greatly benefits from such a body's imprimatur. That the library should publish, as it has, novels by Saul Bellow and Philip Roth - work that's long been in the canon and remains securely in print - makes no sense. Publishing these novels by Dick, though, is a real service to American literature."

Note to Feeney: there's a section in most book stores where they stock the science fiction. I think if you can find that section, you may even be able to locate a PKD book or two, though I hate to think you might accidentally pick up a 'turgid' one.

Perhaps this much snark is unwarranted, but I'm having a lousy week. There was a great segment on the Jim Lehrer news hour today about how the LA Times Sunday Book Review section is being discontinued because, among other things, so much passionate literary discussion is taking place on the web, mostly on blogs. They didn't mention this one by name, but you could tell they were really plugging Total Dick-Head implicitly. Sheer repetition will not make these 'facts' any more accurate or the insights any deeper.


Anonymous said...

If the LoA were publishing mainly because the author's works were out of print or hard to find, then they would include Dick's rare mainstream novels, not his most famous, and widely available novels.

Henri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was also wondering on what planet Feeney was living to say that PKD books are hard to find...

I just posted a link to yet another (9 page long) PKD article published in the Journal of Advancing Technology. Article by Richard Behrens of the Modern Word/ Scriptorium.

tuffy777 said...

A better literary comparison, and one with which Phil would agree, is that he was trying to be Hemingway and Faulkner at the same time.
~~ Tessa Dick

Robert Cook said...

Actually, all in all, I think the article is very fair and generally positive about Dick's work. Let's face it, though Dick could write fine prose when he worked at it--see MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE or A SCANNER DARKLY as examples--his writing can be clumsy and tin-eared. I don't think this is because Dick was only accidentally comptetent or that he was insensitive to good prose; I think this was simply a function of his speed writing, which early on was necessary for him make even the meager income he earned, and later may have become a bad habit.

Even Thomas Disch and others in the field who praise Dick as a great writer have faulted him on his, uh, writing.

And I think the painting of him is great...not creepy at all!

Mr. Hand said...

well put. every year or so I write up a grumpy riposte to the exact same formulaic, poorly informed, uncritical "review" summarizing the more lurid gossip that folks tend to interpret spectacularly, if inaccurately.

Anonymous said...

Can someone tell me what 'tin-eared' means, please?

Frederick Paul Kiesche III said...

IIRC, if you have a tin-ear you cannot hear subtle it music or things like humor/sarcasm.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Fred - I'd genuinely never come across that phrase before.

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