November 23, 2009

Philip K Dick was not Philip K Dick, But Really He Was.

And now a long-delayed post on Philip K. Dick. What can I say--teaching 3rd graders about musical scales, and feeling always watched, somehow got in the way of writing, though I will say that it put me in the right mood for 'ol Phil.

Let me start by talking about the difficulties I've had writing this. Probably the biggest thing blocking me from writing intelligently about his work is that the subject of most Philip K Dick novels is a character named Phil Dick. I need to work hard to avoid thinking that I know anything about the biography of this fellow, because all I know is cobbled together from Radio Free Albemuth, Valis, the Clans of the Alphane Moon, and actually everything the guy ever wrote. For instance, I keep on thinking Mr. Dick was imprisoned by Richard Nixon and sent to internment camps along with most of the other intellectuals of the era.

Did that happen?


So what can I say about writing that's theoretically biographical, but about whose biography you don't know anything except the fiction?

Well, it's a double-fake, we think we've discovered something about him (aha!) but then realize that the secret we've discovered is in fact a deception. Behind the curtain, we think there's a wizard, but really it's just someone wanting you to think there's a wizard. So I can bring it into the idea of the "double-fake" that pops up again and again in his writing.

In the same way that the solution found in Minority Report (the precogs are all screwy!) turns out to be a fake meant to be found (nope, the military just wants you to think the precogs are screwy), Scanner Darkly uses the identity loss to cover the fact that it's intentional (sent to infiltrate the pharmaceutical company), it's all over the place in his writing. Things not just aren't what they seem, they aren't even what they don't appear to be.

Were I a better continental philosopher, I'd write about Lacan, or at least about the Purloined Letter to discuss it. Not being this, I'll suggest that you, yes you, dear reader, take a look at that.

So why did he do this? Who knows. Let's just talk about it in comparison to his contemporaries. Phil Dick's career spanned roughly the early 50s-the early 80s, and most of his "double fakery" was written during the first part of his career, from the early 50s through late 60s. The time and forums in which he wrote were full of the great earnest period of sci fi. 30s camp had retreated into the works of Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and all the others in love with the idea of the future. Phil Dick at this time, with his notion of the future not only as not better, but not dramatically different from the present, is something radical.

But, as we know from the double fake, it is not as it appears to be beneath the surface. Not only does he ask to look below the facade, he looks at those who question the facade.

More to be said. Always more to be said. But in this case, go read the books/stories. They're short.

No comments: