Science Fiction Studies

# 5 = Volume 2, Part 1 = March 1975


Fredric Jameson

After Armageddon: Character Systems in Dr. Bloodmoney

Dick's voluminous work can be seen as falling into various distinct thematic groups or cycles: there is, for instance, the early Vanvogtian game-playing cycle, the Nazi cycle (e.g. The Man in the High Castle, The Unteleported Man), a relatively minor Jungian cycle (of which the best effort is undoubtedly Galactic Pot-Healer), and, of course, the late "metaphysical" cycle which includes his most striking novels, Ubik and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. In such a view, Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) can be assigned to a small but crucial middle group of eschatological novels, along with its less successful companion-piece, The Simulacra. In these two works, for the first time, there emerges that bewildering and kaleidoscopic plot structure we associate with Dick's mature production. At the same time, this cycle helps us to understand the origins and the function of this sudden and alarming proliferation of sub-plots, minor characters, and exuberantly episodic digressions, for both of these works dramatize the utopian purgation of a fallen and historically corrupted world by some final climactic overloading, some ultimate explosion beyond which the outlines of a new and simpler social order emerge. But in the two cases the "coding" of the evil, as well as its exorcism, is different: in The Simulacra, this is political and economic, and it is a big-corporation but also entertainment-industry-type power elite which invites purgation, while in Dr. Bloodmoney the historical crisis is expressed in terms of the familiar counterculture denunciation of an evil or perverted science (compare Vonnegut in Cat's Cradle), only too emblematically exposed by the invention of the atomic bomb.

In this particular book, indeed, for the first and last time in the Dick canon, we are given to witness an event which serves in one way or another as the precondition and the premise of other books but which already lies in the past by the time the latter begin: the atomic cataclysm, World War III, the holocaust from which all the peculiar Dick near-futures spring and in which they find their historical sustenance. Here alone are we able to see the bombs actually fall and the towers topple; indeed, an untypical flashback isolates the moment itself and draws our attention to it with hallucinatory intensity. So we would want to ask, at the outset, why such a vision of catastrophe, on which other SF writers have not shown the same reluctance to dwell, should be so infrequently represented by a writer not otherwise known for his squeamishness; or, to reverse the order of priorities, what in the construction of Dr. Bloodmoney enables it to present this vision.

In the context of Dick's world, for his aesthetic and the narrative line that is so unmistakably his own, the raw material of atomic destruction presents artistic problems unlike any other, problems of a delicate and strategic kind, that involve the very scaffolding of Dick's novelistic construction. Nowhere else, indeed, is the fundamental ambivalence of his imagination revealed so clearly, an ambivalence which is however the very source of his strength elsewhere and the formative mechanism of his invention. For the point about the atomic cataclysm in Dr. Bloodmoney is not merely that Bluthgeld takes it to be a projection of his own psychic powers, but that, as the book continues, we are ourselves less and less able to distinguish between what I am forced to call "real" explosions, and those that take place within the psyche. Every reader of Dick is familiar with this nightmarish uncertainty, this reality fluctuation, sometimes accounted for by drugs, sometimes by schizophrenia, and sometimes by new SF powers, in which the psychic world as it were goes outside, and reappears in the form of simulacra or of some photographically cunning reproduction of the external. In general, the effect of these passages, in which the narrative line comes unstuck from its referent and begins to enjoy the bewildering autonomy of a kind of temporal Moebius strip, is to efface the boundary between real and hallucinatory altogether, and to discredit the reader's otherwise inevitable question as to which of the events witnessed is to be considered "true."

In such moments, Dick's work transcends the opposition between the subjective and the objective, and thereby confronts the dilemma which in one way or another characterizes all modern literature of any consequence: the intolerable and yet unavoidable choice between a literature of the self and a language of some impersonal exteriority, between the subjectivism of private languages and case histories, or some nostalgia for the objective that leads outside the realm of individual or existential experience into some reassuringly stable place of common sense and statistics. Dick's force lies in the effort to retain possession and use of both apparently contradictory, mutually exclusive subjective and objective explanation systems all at once. The causal attribution, then, of the hallucinatory experiences to drugs, to schizophrenia or to the half-life, is not so much a concession to the demands of the older kind of reading for explanation as it is a refusal of that first, now archaic solution of symbolism and modernism—the sheer fantasy and dream narrative. To attribute his nightmares to drugs, schizophrenia or half-life is thus a way of affirming their reality and rescuing their intolerable experiences from being defused as an unthreatening surrealism; a way of preserving the resistence and the density of the subjective moment, of emphasizing the commitment of his work to this very alternation itself as its basic content. And this discontinuity is at one with our fragmented existence under capitalism; it dramatizes our simultaneous presence in the separate compartments of private and public worlds, our twin condemnation to both history and psychology in scandalous concurrence.

Now, however, it becomes apparent what is unique about the atomic blast as a literary event in such a world: for with it the question about the referent, about the truth value of the narrative, returns in force. It becomes impossible for Dick to do what he is able to do elsewhere: to prevent the reestablishment of the reality principle and the reconstitution of experience into the twin airtight domains of the objective and the subjective. For unlike the time warps and the time sags, the hallucinations and the four-dimensional mirages of the other books, atomic holocaust is a collective event about whose reality the reader cannot but decide. Dick's narrative ambiguity can accommodate individual experience, but runs greater risks in evoking the materials of world history, the flat yes or no of the mushroom cloud. And behind this difficulty, perhaps, lies the feeling that America itself and its institutions are so massively in place, so unshakeable, so unchangeable (save by total destruction), that the partial modification available in private life through drugs and analogous devices is here unconvincing and ineffectual. How, then, does Dr. Bloodmoney manage to assimilate something which apparently by definition lies outside the range of Dick's aesthetic possibilities?

THE OVERALL PLOT OF THE NOVEL is rather conventional: we follow several survivors of the blast in their various post-atomic adventures which all appear to reach some climax in the death of Bluthgeld, and which all have a kind of coda in the return to Berkeley as to a gradual reemergence of civilization. Yet it seems to me that the content of the individual adventures, and the detail of the novel, cannot really be understood until we become aware of the operative presence within it of a certain number of systems of which the surface events are now seen as so many combinations and articulations.

Chief among these, as is so often the case in non-realistic narratives, narratives not dependent on common sense presuppositions and habituated perceptions, is that formed by a whole constellation of peculiar characters.

The revelation—made in passing, without any great flourishes—that the initial point-of-view figure (Stuart) happens to be a Negro has the function of staging the appearance of the first really unusual figure—the thalidomide cul-de-jatte or phocomelus Hoppy Harrington—in the still fairly "realistic" and everyday perspective of social stigma: both work for a businessman who prides himself on providing jobs for people otherwise excluded from the normal white American society with which we are all familiar. It is only later on, after the bomb blast, that the real mutants begin to flourish; yet it seems to me that these opening pages have the function of slowly beginning to separate us from our ordinary characterology, and of deprogramming our typological reactions, preparing us for a narrative space in which new and unfamiliar systems of classifying characters can operate at full throttle, unimpeded by cultural and personal presuppositions on the part of the reader.

A first hint that these various characters do not exist as mere isolated curiosities, as unrelated monsters of various kinds, is provided by the fate of the "first man on Mars," immobilized in eternal orbit by the outbreak of the war and circling Earth henceforth as a kind of celestial vaguely leftist disk jockey whose task it is to provide a communications relay between the stricken areas over which he passes, and otherwise to play hours of taped music and read aloud the few available surviving texts—Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, for instance—which remain of the cultural patrimony at the dawn of these new dark ages. Dangerfield is, of course, a more or less ordinary human being, yet aspects of his situation slowly—and improbably—begin to impose an analogy with Hoppy's. Consider, for instance, Stuart's reflexion on the latter character: "Now, of course, one say many phoces, and almost all of them on their 'mobiles', exactly as Hoppy had been, placed dead center each in his own little universe, like an armless, legless god" (§8). This image might also characterize Dangerfield's sacred isolation as he circles the earth; but a childhood memory of Hoppy's reinforces the parallel: "'One time a ram butted me and flew through the air. Like a ball.'... They all laughed, now, himself and Fergesson and the two repairmen; they imagined how it looked, Hoppy Harrington, seven years old, with no arms and legs, only a torso and a head, rolling over the ground, howling with fright and pain—but it was funny; he knew it" (§2). This power of Hoppy's to project bodies into the air like soccer balls later becomes lethal (the death of Bluthgeld), but it suggests a kinesthetic affinity for Dangerfield's fate as well—the live being housed in a cylindrical unit soaring through empty space. And when it is remembered that this plot-line reaches its climax in Hoppy's attempt to substitute himself, through his own voice and powers of mimicry, for the ailing Dangerfield, the analogy between the two positions becomes unmistakable.

Yet they are not exactly symmetrical. Subsequent events, and the introduction of newer and even stranger characters, seem to make the point that Hoppy is, if anything, insufficiently like Dangerfield. At this stage, indeed, in the increasing post-atomic prosperity of the West Marin collective, it is as though Hoppy, with his complicated prostheses and his remarkable skills in repair and invention, has become far too active a figure to maintain the analogy with the imprisoned disk jockey. The episode-producing mechanism of the novel then produces a new being, a more monstrous and more adequate replica in the form of the homunculus Bill, carried around inside his sister's body and emitting messages to her and to others on the outside, but as decisively insulated from the world as Dangerfield himself.

Indeed, it may be suggested that the entire action of the novel is organized around this sudden shift in relationships, this sudden rotation of the axis of the book's characterological system on the introduction of the new being. We may describe it as a problem of substitutions: Hoppy's error is to believe that he is Dangerfield's opposite number, and, as such, destined in some way to replace him. In fact, however, his mission in the plot is quite different, for he is called upon to eliminate the ominous Bluthgeld, who has not yet figured in our account and whose anomaly (schizophrenic paranoia) would not seem to be a physical disability of the type exemplified by Hoppy or Bill, or, by metaphoric extension, by Dangerfield himself.

But before trying to integrate Bluthgeld into our scheme, let us first rapidly enumerate the other freaks or anomalous beings that people this extravagant work. We have omitted, for one thing, the realm of the dead themselves, to which Bill has special access—"trillions and trillions of them and they're all different.... Down in the ground" (§10). Here then, already the half-life world of Ubik is beginning to take shape; yet as entities the dead are quite distinct from either Bill or Dangerfield in that—equally isolated—they have no mode of action or influence on the outside world, and cannot even, as do the former, emit messages to it: "After a point the dead people down below weren't very interesting because they never did anything, they just waited around. Some of them, like Mr. Blaine, thought all the time about killing and others just mooned like vegetables" (§12).

Finally, among the extreme varieties of mutant fauna in the post-atomic landscape, we must not forget to mention the so-called "brilliant animals," creatures with speech and organizational ability, like Bluthgeld's talking dog or the touching subjects of the following anecdotes: "'Listen, my friend,' the veteran said, 'I got a pet rat lives under the pilings with me? He's smart; he can play the flute. I'm not putting you under an illusion, it's true. I made a little wooden flute and he plays it through his nose.'... 'Let me tell you about a rat I once saw that did a heroic deed,' the veteran began, but Stuart cut him off" (§8). These gifted animals, indeed, provide Stuart with his livelihood, the sale of Hardy's Homeostatic Vermin Traps, mechanical contrivances scarcely less intelligent than the prey they are designed to hunt down, and which may therefore lay some equal claim to being yet another variety of new creature.

I will now suggest that all of these beings, taken together, organize themselves into systematic permutations of a fairly limited complex of ideas or characteristics which turns around the notion of organism and organs, of mechanical contrivances, and (in the case of the phocomelus) of prostheses. But the results of these combinations are a good deal more complicated than a simple opposition between the organic and the mechanical, and A.J. Greimas's semantic rectangle1 allows us to map the various possibilities inherent in the system as follows:

The four self-generating terms of the graph represent the simplest atomic units of the characterological system of Dr. Bloodmoney. yet it will be noted that, with the possible exception of S itself (or in other words, of all the normal human characters in the book), all are in another sense merely part of the background of the work, providing a kind of strange new living environment for the action in it, and marking out the life coordinates of this post-atomic universe, fixing the limits within which the plot will unfold, without themselves really participating in it. In particular, it will have become clear that none of the really aberrant characters described above can be accommodated neatly within any given one of the four basic terms.

Yet the generative capacity of the semantic rectangle is not exhausted with these four primary elements. On the contrary, its specific mode of conceptual production is to construct a host of complex entities out of the various new combinations logically obtainable between the simple terms. These new and more complicated, synthetic concepts correspond to the various sides of the semantic rectangle, so that the complex term designates an idea or a phenomenon able to unite in itself both terms of the initial opposition S and -S, while the neutral term accordingly governs the negatives of both, a synthesis of the bottom terms - and . The respective combinations of the left-hand and right-hand sides of the rectangle are technically known as the positive and negative deictic axes. A little experimentation now shows that these four combinations correspond exactly to the four principal anomalous characters or actors of the book.

The complex term, for instance, a being which would unite a normal human body (S) with a machine or mechanical prostheses (-S), can only be Dangerfield himself, as he circles the Earth forever united to his satellite. The negative deixis which emerges from the union of a prosthesis with a crippled being (, lacking organs) is of course Hoppy Harrington, the phocomelus. The neutral presents perhaps greater problems, insofar as it involves the enigmatic fourth position, -, itself the negation of a negation and thus apparently devoid of any positive content. Yet if we read this particular term, which is neither an organism not a machine, as something on the order of a spiritual prosthesis, a kind of supplement to either organic or mechanical existence which is qualitatively different from either, then we sense the presence of that familiar realm in Dick's works in which, under the stimulus of drugs or schizophrenic disorder, vision, second sight, precognition, hallucination, are all possible. If this reading is accepted, then the neutral term would be understood as a combination between just such a spiritual prosthesis or supplementary power and a being lacking organs; and it becomes clear that what is thus designated can only be the homunculus Bill, with his access to the realm of the dead and his absence from the world of physical existence.

Our scheme has the added advantage of allowing us now to integrate Bluthgeld himself into a more generalized system of anomalous characters. As long as our basic traits or characteristics were limited to the opposition of organic to mechanical, the system seemed to bear no particular relevance to the figure of Bluthgeld. With the idea of spiritual powers, his position with relation to the other characters is now more easily defined, and it would seem appropriate to assign him the as yet unfilled function of the so-called positive deixis, or in other words, the synthesis of S (ordinary human) and - (spiritual prosthesis). Now his privileged relationship to Hoppy Harrington also becomes comprehensible: to the phocomelus alone will fall the power to destroy Bluthgeld, because Hoppy is the latter's reverse or mirror-image. (Indeed, their relationship is still more complicated than this; for in appearance Hoppy is Bluthgeld's creature, and the other characters believe him to be the genetic result of the notorious 1972 fall-out catastrophe for which the scientist was responsible. In reality, however, he is a thalidomide birth from an earlier period—1964—and owes nothing to the latter, whom he is thus free to annihilate.)

We may now articulate this new system of combinations as follows:

 

Not only does this scheme permit us to account for the construction of the main characters of Dr. Bloodmoney and to understand their relationship to each other, it provides us with material for grasping their symbol-value as well, and thus eventually for an interpretation of the bizarre events which the novel recounts. The systematic arrangement here proposed, for instance, suggests that the four characters are distinguished by distinct functions or realms of activity and competency. If for example we take knowledge as a theme, and interrogate the various positions accordingly, we find that each corresponds to a different and specific type of cognitive power: Hoppy thus possesses knowledge about the future as well as a practical kinaesthetic knowledge and control of inorganic matter; Bill the homunculus possesses (verbal) knowledge about the dead and kinaesthetic knowledge/control of organic matter. Meanwhile, the final long-distance psychoanalysis of the ailing Dangerfield suggests that the particular type of knowledge associated with him is (verbal or theoretical) knowledge of the past, and he is, of course, the guardian of an almost annihilated Earthly culture. As for Bluthgeld, his province is surely Knowledge in general, the theoretical secrets of inorganic matter (and kinaesthetic control of it), i.e. of the universe itself.

But as we enrich the thematic content of the four positions, it seems possible to characterize them in a more general way, one which may ultimately allow us to see them in terms of some basic overriding thematic opposition. So to each position or combination would seem to correspond a particular type of professional activity as well: Dangerfield is thus, as we already noted, a kind of celestial DJ, one version among many of the characteristic Dick entertainment-celebrity, whose most recent incarnation is the Jason of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. Opposed to this valorization of the word, Hoppy takes his place as an embodiment of the other characteristic form of creative activity in Dick's world, namely the practical handyman or artisan-inventor. The other two figures do not at first glance appear to fit very neatly into this scheme of things; Bluthgeld is of course the prototypical mad scientist, but more directly, during the course of the book's action, the psychotic and visionary; while Bill—judging from the endless conversations carried on with him by his sister Edie, much to the dismay of her elders—would seem best described as an imaginary playmate.

Still, even these approximations suggest some larger thematic oppositions: there is a sense in which both Hoppy and Bluthgeld have as their privileged object the world of things, which they divide up between them along the traditional and familiar axis of contemplative and active attitudes. Bluthgeld, whether as a scientist or a madman, sees into the structure of the world in a contemplative fashion; and this suggests that his great sin was to have passed, whether voluntarily or inadvertently, from the realm of contemplation to that of action (the fall-out from the tests of 1972, World War III itself). As for Hoppy, his knowledge of the future is, like his mechanical skill, simply part of the equipment necessary for survival; but his increasing psychic powers suggest an abuse of his particular position not unlike that of Bluthgeld's, and fraught with similar dangers.

Insofar as he forms a structural pendant to Dangerfield, I am tempted to describe the homunculus Bill in terms of the well-known axis that information theory provides between sender and receiver. Bill sends messages also, to be sure, but in relationship to the realm of the dead his principal function is surely that of receiving them, that of the absent listener to imaginary conversations, that open slot which is the function of the interlocutor in all discourse, even that of absolute solitude. There thus is articulated around the character of Bill the whole communicational syntax of interpersonal relationships, so that at this point the vertical axis which includes the positions of both Bill and Dangerfield seems by its linguistic emphasis quite sharply distinguished from the other axis which governs the world of objects:

 

The verbal axis which includes the positions of Bill and Dangerfield is now seen to be primarily a linguistic one, and sharply distinguished from the horizontal axis which includes the positions of Bluthgeld and Hoppy and which is concerned with physics. Furthermore, the vertical Bill-Dangerfield axis is one of the use of knowledge for community well-being (prefigured in the "just" killing for the community's sake), whereas the horizontal Bluthgeld-Hoppy axis is one of the perversion of knowledge or its manipulation (even literally in the case of Hoppy's "handling" at a distance), which threatens to destroy the human community. The organic or communicational Bill-Dangerfield axis bringing together the past and the present, the living and the dead, is thus the locus and bearer of life-enhancing activities in the novel, whereas the inorganic or physical Bluthgeld-Hoppy axis is the locus of individualistic madness which would, if unchecked, certainly enslave and most probably destroy human life on Earth. Clearly, Dick's solution of the fundamental politico-existential problems facing humanity is here slanted toward art and language rather than toward an explicit scientific diagnosis which would meet the political problem head on. Nonetheless, Dick seems to realize that the verbal, linguistic or communicational field cannot by itself provide a solution. The playful character of Bill rises therefore, by his at least approximate synthesis of verbal and kinaesthetic powers, of communications and active physical intervention, to the status of final mediator, arbiter and one could almost say saviour in the microcosm of Dr. Bloodmoney.

WITH THE CHARACTEROLOGICAL SYSTEMS of the book thus revealed, we may now perhaps attempt a reading of its action as a whole. Briefly, it may be suggested that the book is organized around two narrative lines, one following Bluthgeld himself and the people who knew him, the other involving Hoppy Harrington and his respective acquaintances. The privileged narrator or "point of view" for the first plot is Bonnie, that of the second Stuart McConchie. Hence the arrival of Stuart in the West Marin County commune where Bonnie lives and where Bluthgeld is in hiding serves to trigger off the explosive interaction between the two plot lines, the lethal encounter between Hoppy and Bluthgeld, and the final dénouement.

The end or object of the action's development is evidently the neutralization of the dangerous and sinister Bluthgeld and his removal from the human scene in general; the complexity of the intrigue results from the difficulty of accomplishing this. For Bluthgeld is after all seen as the cause, in person, of World War III; yet this personalized and Manichaean view of history involves us in some curious conceptual antinomies which the narrative may be seen as a symbolic attempt to work through. It would seem appropriate, then, here to follow the example of Lévi-Strauss2 in his analysis of myth as a narrative construction of symbolic mediations or syntheses whose purpose is the resolution, in story form, of a contradiction which the culture in question is unable to solve in reality. In the present context, this contradiction may be formulated as follows: How can you get rid of the cause of something as devastating as atomic war, when—in order to function as its cause in the first place—that ultimate causal determinant must be all-powerful and thus by definition impossible to get rid of? To put it in terms of the plot, the only way that an isolated individual like Bluthgeld can be imagined to be the "cause" of World War III is by endowing him with a power so immense that it is thereafter impossible to imagine any other power capable of matching him. If you like, the contradiction is more one inherent in liberal thought than in reality: if world politics is seen, not as the expression of class and national politico-economical dynamics which have an inner logic of their own, but rather as the result of the decisions of free conscious agents, some of whom are good (us) and some of whom are evil (the enemy, whoever he happens to be), then it is clear that the problem of the evil adversary's sources of power will return again and again with a kind of agonizing and incomprehensible persistence. Like any good American "leftist," of course, Dick sees the enemy as the American power elite and in particular its nuclear physicists; yet that point of view, as attractive as it may be, remains a prisoner of the same basic contradictions as the liberal ideology it imagines itself to be opposing.

In the novel itself, the solution lies in the development of a counterforce, an adversary powerful enough to neutralize Bluthgeld's magic and thus to destroy him. This is Hoppy Harrington's role, and the phocomelus grows in power as the book continues—objectively because the needs of the new post-atomic community encourage the growth and diversification of his special talents, and subjectively insofar as his self-confidence keeps pace with the immense range of new contrivances and weapons he has been able to evolve (some of them psychic). Along with this new self-confidence, however, his resentment has intensified as well. By the time of the confrontation with Bluthgeld, Hoppy is himself a dangerously paranoid figure, potentially as harmful to the community as the man he is now able to destroy. Thus a kind of interminable regression is at work here, in which any adversary powerful enough to blast the evil at its source becomes then sufficiently dangerous to call forth a nemesis in his own right, and so forth (see Dick's early novel Vulcan's Hammer). The basic contradiction, in other words, has not been solved at all, but merely displaced onto the mechanism devised to remove it, where it continues to function without any prospect of resolution.

The elegance of Dick's solution to this apparently insoluble dilemma makes of his novel a kind of textbook illustration of that mechanism which Structuralism has taken as its privileged object of study and which has seemed to underscore a basic parallelism between the workings of kinship systems and those of language, between the rules governing gift-giving in primitive societies and those at work in the market system, between the mechanisms of political and historical development and those of plot. This is the phenomenon of exchange, and nowhere is the flash between contrary poles quite so dramatic as in the moment in Dr. Bloodmoney when the circle is squared and the mind of the homunculus substituted for that of the malevolent Hoppy, on the point of taking over the world: " 'I'm the same; I'm Bill Keller,' the phocomelus said. 'Not Hoppy Harrington.' With his right manual extensor he pointed. 'There's Hoppy. That's him from now on.'—In the corner lay a shriveled dough-like object several inches long; its mouth gaped in congealed emptiness. It had a human-like quality to it, and Stockstill went over to pick it up" (§16). What makes the exchange possible is the peculiar status of the homunculus's body, both in and outside the world; Bill was attached to something real, a foetal body which died rapidly on exposure to the atmosphere; but in another sense, he was the only one of the four characters to be without a body and thus able to switch places without the development of an elaborate counterforce which might then—as in the infinite regression described above—become a threat in its own right. Hoppy fights Bluthgeld, in other words, on the latter's own terms, while Bill's replacement of Hoppy amounts to a shift from that system to a new one; and this is made possible by Hoppy's own violation of his particular system and powers. For he meant to replace Dangerfield by mimicry, that is, by the use of a verbal and linguistic skill quite different from the kinaesthetic one with which he had beaten Bluthgeld. But at this point, then, he is vulnerable to the superior use of the same purely verbal power by Bill, who intimidates and demoralizes him by his own use of the voices of the dead, and then finishes him off by wholesale personality transference—combining verbal and kinaesthetic power.

The basic shift in question we are now able to understand as a substitution of one axis for another, of that of Dangerfield and the homunculus for that of Bluthgeld and Hoppy, of that of language for that of existence—either practical or contemplative—in the world of objects. The latter axis—the horizontal one, in our schematic representation above—is of course marked negatively, both of its extremes being evil or malevolent in terms of the narrative. It does not, however, follow that the other axis is in contrast completely positive: in fact, in most of the novel both Bill and Dangerfield are immobilized or paralyzed. Even at the end, both remain under a depressing restriction in mobility and human potentialities in general, which serves to deprive the resolution of the book of tones that might otherwise be complacent or unacceptably aestheticizing.

For it seems clear that the basic event envisaged by Dr. Bloodmoney is the substitution of the realm of language for the realm of things, the replacement of the older compromised world of empirical activity, capitalist everyday work and scientific knowledge, by that newer one of communication and of messages of all kinds with which we are only too familiar in this consumer and service era. In reality, this shift seems to me to contain many negative and doubtful elements, and to welcome too unqualifiedly developments which are not necessarily an unmixed blessing. It is of course the very distinctness of these two axes—itself predicated on the "fact" of atomic war—that allows the exchange in Dr. Bloodmoney to take place in so striking and exemplary a fashion. But even in this novel, there is a hint of fusing concern about language and concern about objects in Bill, so that the exchange solution is only a provisional one, and relatively unstable. We would want at this point to return from this novel to Dick's other works in order to determine whether the priority of language over objects is there maintained. It would seem, for instance, that in some of the other works (Galactic Pot-Healer, for example, or most recently Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said), handicrafts, and particularly pot-making, are understood as a different kind of synthesis between art and work, developing more explicitly the trend in the present book.

Our analysis is in any case not complete until we return from this as it were super-human level of the narrative—the interactions between the various synthetic or complex terms of the characterological system—to the more pedestrian reality of the ordinary human characters like Bonnie or Stuart, who constitute, as we have suggested earlier, merely one simple term among others in the original system. Now it can be confidently asserted, it seems to me, that what held for the other simple terms (machines, the dead, the animals) holds true for the human population of Dr. Bloodmoney as well, namely that they provide the background and furnish the spectators and onlookers for a drama largely transcending them in significance. Thus the novel betrays a formal kinship with earlier works of Dick, such as the deservedly forgotten Cosmic Puppets, in which ordinary humans are the playthings of cosmic forces of some mythological type: the difference being that here those forces are not theological or Jungian in content but correspond to the very realities of modern history itself (scientific technique on the one hand and the communicational network on the other).

As far as the ordinary human characters of the book are concerned, then, the drama enacted not so much above as among them amounts to a purification of society and its reestablishment, to the rebirth of some new and utopian Berkeley on the ruins of the old one in whose streets ominous Bluthgelds might have from time to time been glimpsed (and surely the choice of the site of that dress rehearsal of May 1968 which was the Free Speech Berkeley of 1963—two years before the publication of Dick's novel—is no accident and has historical implications that largely transcend whatever autobiographical motives may also be involved). To say that the social form to which Dick's work corresponds is the small town would convey something anachronistic in the present social context; or at any rate, we should add that it is to be understood as the university town which never knew the provincialism nor the claustrophobia of the classical Main Streets of the American Middle West. Nor is Dick's pastoral a purely agricultural one, like that achieved in a kind of desperate exhilaration by the survivors of John Wyndham's various universal cataclysms. As different from him, or from the small-town pastoral in the best works of Ray Bradbury and Clifford Simak, it is an artisanal world against the scarcity of which the various commodities once more recover their true taste and reassert a use-value to which the jaded sensibilities of the affluent society, brainwashed by advertising, had become insensitive: so now there is something precious about the individual cigarette, made of real tobacco, and the glass of real pre-war Scotch, while even the language of Somerset Maugham becomes something we have to treasure. The vision of freshening our own stale and fallen universe, of a utopian revitalization of the tired goods and services all around us, their projection into some genuinely Jeffersonian commonwealth beyond the bomb, is the ultimate recompense for all those complicated struggles and interchanges we have been describing; and they go far towards compensating for what we would otherwise have to see as an ideological imbalance in Dick's work in general, a status defense on the part of the artist and an idealistic overemphasis on language and art in the place of political action. The typically American and "liberal" hostility to politics is outweighed, it seems to me, by just such glimpses into a reestablished collectivity, glimpses which, at the heart of all Dick's obligatory happy endings, mark him as an anti-Vonnegut, as the unseasonable spokesman for a historical consciousness distinct from and superior to that limited dystopian and apocalyptic vision so fashionable in Western SF today.

NOTES

1This forbidding apparatus is based on the idea that concepts do not exist in isolation but are defined in opposition to each other, in relatively organized clusters; and on the further refinement that there is a basic distinction between the opposite, or contrary, of a contradictory, . Thus if S is the Good, then -S is Evil, while is that somewhat different category of things "not good" in general. The determination of the negative of -S is more complicated, as we show in the text; and as is also demonstrated further on, there is the further possibility of more complicated terms which unite these simple ones in various ways. See for further discussion of this schema, A.J. Greimas, "The Interaction of Semiotic Constraints," Yale French Studies, #41, 1968; and also my Prison-House of Language (Princeton 1972), pp. 162-68.

#See "The Structural Study of Myth," in Structural Anthropology (Anchor 1967), pp. 202-28.

 

ABSTRACT

Dick’s voluminous work can be seen as falling into various distinct thematic groups or cycles: there is, for instance, the early Van Vogtian game-playing cycle, the Nazi cycle (e.g., The Man in the High Castle, The Unteleported Man), a relatively minor Jungian cycle (of which the best effort is Galactic Pot-Healer), and finally the "metaphysical" cycle which includes his most striking novels to date, Ubik and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. In such a view, Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) can be assigned to a small but crucial middle group of eschatological novels, along with its less successful companion-piece, The Simulacra. In these two works, for the first time, there emerges that bewildering and kaleidoscopic plot structure we associate with Dick’s mature productions. At the same time, this cycle helps us to understand the origins and function of this sudden and alarming proliferation of sub-plots, minor characters, and exuberantly episodic digressions, for both of these works dramatize the utopian purgation of a fallen and historically corrupted world by some final climactic overloading, some ultimate explosion beyond which the outlines of a new and simpler social order emerge. But in the two cases, the "coding" of the evil, as well as its exorcism, is different: in The Simulacra, this is political and economic, and it is a big-corporation, entertainment-industry-type power elite which invites purgation. In Dr. Bloodmoney, the historical crisis is expressed in terms of the familiar counterculture denunciation of an evil or perverted science (compare Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle), only too emblematically exposed by the invention of the atom bomb.


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