Science Fiction Studies

#68 = Volume 23, Part 1 = March 1996


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

Literary Essays. Although SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES must continue to be devoted primarily to research articles, the editors feel that there should be a place in it for work of a less formal, more personal kind, for, that is, literary essays, essays in which the writer sums up the thoughts of a lifetime on science fiction, or some aspect of science fiction, instead of setting forth what he or she has learned through research into a special subject. We have decided, therefore, to solicit the submission of literary essays of four to five thousand words, for which, upon acceptance, we offer an honorarium of $500.00. While this offer is intended primarily for professional writers, it is open to all. For essays of less than 4000 words or more than 5000, we offer 10 cents a word. Submissions should be addressed to the managing editor.                

In an ideal world, such as Heinlein's social-credit utopia in Beyond This Horizon, intellectuals of a literary bent would live on the annual national dividend and write only for the satisfaction that comes from having created works of art or having made contributions to knowledge. In our less than ideal world, it is only scholars in academe who enjoy a similarly privileged life. SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES was established in 1973 to provide scholars devoted to science fiction an outlet for their work, and incidentally to provide avocational work for one scholar of sorts who enjoyed reading works of art and words of wisdom more than attempting to produce them. The journal has over the years managed pretty well to pay its own way, but it has never produced a monetary profit, so that while SFS now offers honoraria for literary essays as works of art, the publication in SFS of research articles as contributions to knowledge must continue to be its own reward.—RDM.

 

A Rejoinder to Elizabeth Hewitt. I appreciate Elizabeth Hewitt's characterization of Uncovering Lives in SFS #66 (July 1995) as a “how-to primer for would-be psychobiographers” (289), since that was indeed one of my several goals in writing the book. But she also seems to assume that I'm urging psychobiographers to achieve total hegemony over literary studies—not one of my goals at all, as I think a fair reading of the book will indicate.   

According to Hewitt, “what is essentially reductive about psychobiography is the implicit assumption that the impetus to write is always personal.” Always personal in part, I'd say instead. As a psychologist I pay most attention to that part; but as a writer I'm well aware of other reasons to write, and often note them at least in passing. Hewitt gives two specific examples where she says “Elms literally forecloses” other motives for writing (“aesthetic, philosophical, political, humanistic, or social motives” in her far from exhaustive list): discussions of works by L. Frank Baum and Vladimir Nabokov. In Baum's case, however, I make no attempt to foreclose all nonpsychological interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Rather, I point out that one currently popular economic/political/historical interpretation of the book “displays little knowledge either of L. Frank Baum's actual political position or of his major personal concerns” (144). Concerning Nabokov, I cite various sociopolitical interpretations of the story “Cloud, Castle, Lake,” then indicate agreement with the core of these interpretations: “The story clearly does involve matters of conflict between a sensitive individual and an insensitive social collective” (171). I then continue, “But many of the story's details... are only partly accounted for by such interpretations,” and offer a psychobiographical reading to account further for those details. Neither there nor elsewhere in the book do I seek to reduce everything to the psychological. Rather, I hope to help expand the literary scholar's (and the political scientist's, and the psychologist's) perspectives to include relevant psychobiographical evidence.   

Hewitt is herself misleadingly reductive in discussing other examples from my book. She suggests that I am engaging in “a fairly conventional pathologization” when I propose that writers of the fantastic “leave more room for the play of less-than-conscious forces” in their work than writers of realist fiction. Her specific example of pathologization is my discussion of Jack Williamson. “Significantly,” she says, “both Elms and Williamson's therapist argue that sf and fantasy allow authors to take leave of their `conscious ego.'” But reading Williamson's fiction as a symptom of schizophrenic pathology (his therapist's approach) is rather different from reading it partly as a means of coping with much less severe characterological problems, or as (in Darker Than You Think) an affirmation of Williamson's “essential identity as science-fiction writer—an identity that may appear deviant to ordinary society or to the mainstream literary establishment, but that has its own ancient heritage and may by some criteria be superior to the mainstream” (129). Am I pathologizing here? Williamson himself doesn't think so.   

Hewitt fairly paraphrases me as arguing “that we can read Asimov's stories differently after we understand the author's acrophobia and agoraphobia.” She then asks doubtfully whether a story such as “Nightfall” becomes “more interesting to us because we see how it documents Asimov's phobias.” No, not how it documents those phobias, but how it is shaped in certain ways by them. The impact of “Nightfall” derives mainly from its human characters' psychological reactions, not from its fanciful astronomy. The story tells us repeatedly that whenever all six suns of the planet Lagash set or go into eclipse simultaneously (every 2049 years), the darkness drives every Lagashian crazy with claustrophobic terror. Oddly enough, however, the story ends with the current crop of Lagashians going even crazier from suddenly seeing the stars of the limitless universe—a kind of agoraphobic terror, puzzlingly confounded with its opposite, the claustrophobia we have been led to expect. Asimov seems not to notice that there's any problem here, and indeed his depiction of agoraphobic terror makes for a powerful conclusion, imparting a sense of terrible wonder hardly matched by the Lagashians' worries about finding themselves in a great big cave. We surely can read many of Asimov's stories differently, and in certain ways more interestingly, when we understand the fears that shaped much of his own life.   

At the end of her review, Hewitt declares herself “quite content to let psychobiography remain in its marginal position.” Well, it may not be as trendy as the latest versions of critical theory, but attempts at psychobiographical interpretation continue to be visible in nearly every literary biography that crosses my desk. What I'd like to see, in science-fiction scholarship and elsewhere, is not just more but better psychobiography—not as a replacement for, but as a complement to, sound work based on other approaches.—Alan C. Elms, UC Davis.

 

In Response to Professor Elms. Professor Elms claims that I am unfair in my review of his Uncovered Lives, because, according to him, I maintain that he is “urging psychobiographers to achieve total hegemony over literary studies.” My critique of Uncovered Lives was based not on an understanding that Elms was arguing that psychobiography ought to be a hegemonic discourse, but on the fact that Elms argues that the personal is the primary motivation for writing. Elms is remarkably explicit on this subject, “For a writer with the normal range of psychological tics and quirks, the process of writing may be principally a means of self-expression.... Writing fiction is one of the more potentially visible...ways to express one's self-perceived identity to others” (107). Although in his reply, Elms suggests that he is making no claims for the privileging of psychobiography, I find this claim rather disingenuous insofar as his book does make explicit claims for the ways in which the personal is primary. Elms of course acknowledges that there are other motivations for writing (as I note in my original review), but ultimately his focus is on the personal: hence, his interest in psychobiography.                

In fact, although I disagree with his claims, ultimately, I found the book more interesting when I thought Elms was claiming that the psychological is “principally” central to writing. Indeed, if Elms's account of the motivation for writing in his reply to my review is more accurate than what I understood from his book, then I am even less sure than I was originally as to why this book is interesting. Elms tempers his claims so much in his reply (psychobiography is “a complement to...workbased on other approaches”) it is difficult to see what the stakes of his method are.                

Finally, Elms claims that I am “misleadingly reductive in discussing other examples” from his book. In particular, he claims that I do not see the distinction between Jack Williamson's therapist's assertion that Williamson's writing is a “symptom of schizophrenic pathology” and Elms's own depiction of Williamson's writing as a “means of coping.” Elms has missed the force of my argument: obviously, Williamson's therapist and Elms make different diagnoses (and of course Williamson prefers Elms's),but both psychologists assume the same structural relationship between fiction and psychology. For both, fiction is expressive of the subconscious. Ultimately, my dispute with psychobiography is a resistance to the claim that a critic can assume a transparent relationship between psychological identity and writing, and it is precisely this transparency that psychobiography, and Elms everywhere in Uncovered Lives, assumes. —Elizabeth Hewitt, Hamilton College.

 

Spacetime Geometries: Borges-[Poe]-Heinlein. In “Spacetime Geometries: Time Travel and the Modern Geometrical Narrative” (SFS 22:161-86), George Slusser and Danièle Chatelain contrast analyses of Heinlein's “By His Bootstraps”(1941) and Borges's “Death and the Compass” (1942; i.e., not “both published in 1941” [162]) as examples of the synchronous appearance of two similar literary forms—the time travel narrative and the modern geometrical narrative—“in unconnected venues—science fiction on [the] one hand, `experimental' modernist fiction on the other” (161). The venues may well have appeared to be unconnected by the 1940s but they share at least one common origin in the work of Edgar Allan Poe.   

Poe's interest in what might be termed “geometrical narrative,” which is related to his concern with doubles and mirror symmetry (the latter being overtly apparent in his cosmology Eureka), has been demonstrated in analyses of a number of his fictions (notably The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, “The Assignation,” and “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” which involves time travel by way of mesmerism and/or metempsychosis). Paul Valéry relates Poe to the geometrical narrative when he credits him with “teaching a very strict and deeply alluring doctrine, in which a kind of mathematics and a kind of mysticism become one . . .” (Paul Valéry, “Situation de Baudelaire,” 1924, trans. James R. Lawler, in Leonardo, Poe, Mallarmé [Princeton University Press, 1972], 207). More recently, John T. Irwin has thoroughly explicated the aspects here most relevant of the relationship between Poe and Borges in The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993). With an emphasis on mathematical and geometrical structures and thematic details, Irwin demonstrates that Borges's three detective tales—“The Garden of Forking Paths,” “Death and the Compass” (Slusser and Chatelain's example), and “Ibin-Hakkan al-Bokhari, Death in His Labyrinth"—were written as an act of doubling Poe's three tales of ratiocination: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” and “The Purloined Letter.”   

Heinlein acknowledges his debt to Poe in linking “By His Bootstraps” to Poe's most famous tale of the double, “William Wilson.” The name of Heinlein's protagonist, Robert Wilson (like that of his time-travel doubles), presumably combines the first name of Robert Heinlein and the last name of William Wilson. Forking paths or diverging time lines provide one of the ways (cloning, matter duplicators, and computer genetic-code storage are others) whereby the doppelgänger tradition (to which Poe significantly contributed) has accommodated itself to sf. Of course, to the extent that “true” sf originated with Frankenstein (a matter of some contention), it was Mary Shelley and not Poe who first used the double theme in sf.—David Ketterer, Concordia University.

 

Porius Hailed as a Masterpiece. There is a long review of the unabridged edition of John Cowper Powys' Porius (Colgate UP, 1994) in the TLS for December 1, 1995, by Jerome McGann, who finds it unreadable but still a modernist masterpiece comparable to Finnegans Wake and The Making of Americans. I'm glad I read it in 1994, for, being unwarned, I found it a very good read indeed, and called it “perhaps our century's most profound treatment of the matter of Britain” (SFS 21:251-52, #63, July 1994). Since McGann finds it a “profound meditation on the twentieth century's abiding social sicknesses,” I will read it again and with greater care.—RDM.

 

A Rejoinder to Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. I found Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.'s “Review-Essay” of my book, which appeared in SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES #67 (November 1995, pp. 430-438), titled “Gregg Rickman and Others on Philip K. Dick,” objectionable for several reasons. Since neither the cover of the issue which contained the review nor the title of the review itself carries the title of the collection I edited, I will refer to it here: Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations, just to point out that many authors contributed to the book, and not simply Gregg Rickman, whose chapter, “`What Is This Sickness?': `Schizophrenia' and We Can Build You,” comprised 13 of the book's 235 total pages. Hereafter, however, I will adopt the corporate designation offered on the journal's cover, and call the book simply, “The Umland Collection.” Incidentally, the subject of “The Umland Collection” was the fiction of Philip K. Dick, not “Gregg Rickman on Philip K. Dick,” or “Gregg Rickman's Philip K. Dick,” which could be easily believed given the lopsided nature of the review, which was interested primarily in Rickman's contribution, and ignored or dismissed many of the “Others.” Since my book is referred to simply as “The Umland Collection,” I think it only fair and equitable that I refer to Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., “The Umland Collection”'s review-essayer, as “Jr.”   

I wish to voice here my objections to specific claims made in the review. First, the correct title of Karl Wessel's chapter is, “Worlds of Chance and Counterfeit: Dick, Lem, and the Preestablished Cacophony,” not the title the review cites on page 431, which contains two errors, which are illustrative of Jr.'s irresponsibility. I am delighted, of course, that he found Wessel's article a “fascinating piece” (431), even though it merited a brief two sentences of discussion. The fascination he shows makes me wonder whether, if Wessel would have pared things down to the bare minimum—a half page of equations —Jr. would have found the essay so fascinating that he would have omitted mentioning it altogether.   

Merritt Abrash's chapter, “`Man Everywhere in Chains': Dick, Rousseau, and The Penultimate Truth,” appeared originally in Foundation in 1987, not “ten years ago,” which, since the issue of SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES which contains the review is dated November 1995, would suggest 1985 as the original publication date. For the record, Abrash revised his essay for “The Umland Collection” (as is clearly noted) and addressed several of my reservations about the article. Thus, Jr.'s characterization of the essay as “thin and out of date when it first appeared more than ten years ago” (430) is misleading. Even if the revisions did not address Jr.'s objections, in fairness he should have acknowledged or perhaps addressed Abrash's revision of the article. Certainly he must know the essay well, given that he clearly remembered it as being “thin” on its appearance “ten years ago.”   

Rebecca A. Umland's chapter, “Unrequited Love in We Can Build You,” does not attempt, as Jr. avers, to “place him [Dick] in the Great Tradition of 20th century authors” (430). The literary-historical collocation “Great Tradition” is F.R. Leavis's, not Rebecca Umland's, nor does she allude to Leavis in her article. Hence, his objection to the article, “that merely to employ a certain literary model does not guarantee one's entrance to a canon,” is both misguided and irrelevant; Rebecca Umland was not advocating Philip Dick's admittance to canon heaven. Rather, she was trying to address a neglected aspect of Dick's writing—as indeed, all of the contributors were trying to do.   

My own chapter, as I was one of those “Others” who contributed to the book, titled “To Flee From Dionysus: Enthousiasmos From `Upon the Dull Earth' to VALIS,” merited one sentence with an inaccurate one word description, “Jungian” (431). Perhaps Jr. was misled by the article's closing note of indebtedness; at any rate, for the record, I am not a “Jungian,” nor is my essay properly called “Jungian,” but Jr. has fallen into the old trap that one has to be an axe murderer to write about axe murderers. Philip K. Dick was not a “Jungian,” though he read and thought seriously, and was occasionally influenced by, Jung's work. This is an achingly banal point, as those familiar with Dick's work know, but no one would call Philip Dick a “Jungian” knowing this. It's probably not easy to elicit any empathy for strange spiritual experiences of the kind I discuss in the essay from critics like Jr. who are totally unfamiliar with them, and are likely incapable of having them. To reiterate, my chapter is not a “Jungian” reading of Dick; indeed, I emphasized throughout that a “Jungian” reading failed to account for the complexity of Dick's thought.   

I enumerate all of the above points in order to show that Jr. continues to flounder about helplessly when it comes to matters of fact, as he does, for example, in inaccurately stating the title of Gregg Rickman's next book (which is, by the way, Variable Man). What's worse, he presumes to understand its content, though he knows virtually nothing about it. I must say I find his ability to talk about a book he hasn't read to be a quite remarkable talent. On the other hand, to his credit, he has done at least a bit of reading in one of Rickman's most plodding research sources (Alice Miller), though his conclusions are badly off the point, psychologically speaking. The kind of “hyperdisciplining” (435) Nietzsche received in his childhood, for example, formed a predictable pattern with consequences utterly unlike the bizarre and terrifying events that Rickman hypothesizes the young Philip suffered. Though he is trying, he evinces no grasp of the psychological effects of traumatic child abuse, even hesitating to admit the elemental reality of its existence. Despite's Dick's own statement to the contrary that he had been molested (to cite only one of the many pieces of evidence Rickman cites), Jr. still asserts that, “we cannot be certain that Rickman's claim holds water...” (437). Jr.'s remark, in the context of discussing Michael Feehan's chapter, “Chinese Finger-traps, or `A Perturbation of the Reality Field': Paradox as Conversion in Philip K. Dick's Fiction,” that Dick was, “a `connoisseur' of paradoxes...rather than a seeker after dialectical transcendence” (433), is extremely revealing, if not about Dick. This kind of unmanageable and unresolvable incongruity is precisely the mark of the traumatically dissociated psyche.   

Incidentally, contrary to Jr.'s observation that Dick failed to achieve “dialectical transcendence” (433), is Dick's vision. What Dick did not do was to find it. Why? One reason is because Dick fundamentally mistrusted states of apparent equilibrium, that is, ones in which all ontological contradictions seem to have been resolved. Thus Leo Bulero imagines that he has found his way out of Palmer Eldritch's hallucination and back to his comfortable office, only in order to have this belief rapidly come unravelled. Paranoia's nose sniffs suspiciously at such moments and reveals them for what they are: hollow. Dick wanted to have his cosmology and eat it, too, just like Hegel, but if nothing else what the Exegesis has revealed was the forlorn nature of that hope. Or, as another of Jr.'s “spectacularly neurotic authors” (434), Lewis Carroll, once said: “All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.” Shattered world, shattered mind.   

Yet the most troubling aspect of the review lies elsewhere. At one point Jr. makes the telling remark that, “it is not self-evident to me that I should feel deep empathy with the person of an artist. Some readers may seek out art for such emotional identification; some may seek it out precisely to escape it” (436). This comes on the heels of his mention (after a discussion of Neil Easterbrook's chapter, which is, as he observes, “excellent”) that, “there is a distinction between the human and the homo sapiens, which for Dick is the ethical difference between the caring subject and the narcissistic one” (432).   

Thus the android deconstructs himself.   

Why is a critic like Jr. interested in reading Philip K. Dick in the first place? His answer: “Dick allows his readers the freedom to flip him over like the electric toad in Do Androids Dream, to open the hatch, and to wonder about the mechanism” (436). Does Jr. have any idea that what he says here is a parody of what Pris does to the spider in Dick's novel? His unconsciousness is as startling as his cold-bloodedness.   

The hypocrisy in all of this, though, is that Jr. would like to cloak himself in the garb of social responsibility. Thus he complains that “The Umland Collection” contains “no focused feminist criticism [as opposed, evidently, to unfocused feminist criticism?], no queer theory, no post-cyberpunk literary history...” (430). All of this faddish tripe is an expression of an Infantile Narcissism: the demand that every sentence in every chapter of every book be a reflection of the critic's own hypertrophic egoism. Moreover, what's good is what's trendy. (No doubt this explains Jr.'s use of “dated” and “out of date” when dismissing two of the articles.) What's conspicuously absent in the above incantation of theories is what, precisely, Jr. thinks these theories might offer as a way of reading Dick's fiction.   

The plain truth is that we are on terra incognita with the work of Philip K. Dick, and we have no choice but to think for ourselves without depending on (un)critically accepted theories which at best can churn out predictable conclusions; his fiction could no more refute the theories than cookie dough “refute” the cookie cutter. Implicitly, Jr. recognizes this when discussing the value of Rickman's article, yet nonetheless retreats and cites Carl Freedman's review of To the High Castle: “In a brief review of To the High Castle in SFS #53, Carl Freedman criticizes Rickman for undertaking psychobiography without the expertise of a professional like Erik Erickson” (434). I find this remark extremely ironic, given that Jr. doesn't level the same charge at Carl Freedman in his chapter, “Towards a Theory of Paranoia: The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick,” given Freedman's own uncritical use of the theories of Jacques Lacan. Granted, Freedman wasn't attempting to write psychobiography; on the other hand, Lacan's theories are irrelevant to sociology. Thus, Jr. has a critical double-standard: some critics can be uncritical, and others have to be experts.   

Those “experts” cited in Freedman's article are now in the process of receiving a debunking, beginning with Freud himself, whose pseudo-scientific empire has been reduced to rubble in just-published books by Frederick Crews and Richard Webster. Close adherence to any such theory, or the over-valuation of the expertise of its practitioners—whether Erickson's, Lacan's, Freud's, Jung's or anyone else's—is precisely the danger in this case. Thus, rather than rebuke “The Umland Collection” for its omission of the latest critical rage, it ought to be praised for its contributors' adversarial posture with regard to an established critical understanding of Philip K. Dick's fiction.—Samuel J. Umland, University of Nebraska at Kearney.

 

Jr. and the Android Hunters. Well! You can't say Samuel J. Umland doesn't go to bat for his contributors. One can't help but be impressed by his passionate rhetoric, sarcastic humor, and determined sleight-of-hand. But I'm also impressed at his ability—canny and hysterical at the same time—to distort just about everything I said and didn't say in my review of his edition, Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations. Umland has more misquotations and willful misrepresentations on one of his pages than I could muster in several. What's more, Umland has outed me: he has revealed to the world that I am an android, just another of Buster Friendly's moles in the halls of academe. Wittily reducing me to ridiculous upstart—I'm to be known as “Jr.” to the Android Hunters—Umland escapes the sanctions against ad hominem arguments, which of course do not apply to androids. Among other failings, Umland establishes I am “likely incapable of having” strange spiritual experiences like Dick's, I “flounder about helplessly when it comes to matters of fact,” my “unconsciousness is as startling as [my] cold-bloodedness.” A skilled rhetorician, Umland also constructs richly ambiguous sentences that—if one could determine their subjects—might imply that I have a “traumatically disoriented psyche,” that I suffer from “Infantile Narcissism” and “hypertrophic egoism,” and hesitate “to admit even the elemental reality of [child sexual abuse].” The punchline: in my review “the android deconstructs himself.”               

Like all androids, I am a retiring sort. I avoid academic fights. Most readers understand that reviews are not the final words on books, and that most reviewers who care about their subject will view books mainly in terms of their interests. Most disagreements are about interpretations, and defending interpretations too passionately really can become a kind of narcissism. But Umland the Android Hunter has sparked my circuits. Gird up thy loins, human, you have gone too far!               

Let us begin by granting that Umland has his points. He is right to complain that the title of the review is unfair to the contributors of the Umland collection and makes Gregg Rickman appear to be both the star of the edition and the target of the review. Jr. originally conceived the article as a double review of the Umland collection and the first volume of Rickman's bio. The title that was published was a makeshift working title that remained even after we decided Rickman's book, published in 1989, was considered ineligible for a review. (I will explain below why I felt the need to discuss Rickman's work at such length.) It is hard, even so, to understand why Umland is so peeved at his book being called “the Umland collection;” since its title is so close to that another recently published collection, On Philip K. Dick: 40 Articles from Science-Fiction Studies, one natural way to distinguish them is by the name of the editor. If that labeling is as reductive as shrinking me to “Jr.,” then I really should be upgraded. Jr. just doesn't get it.                

Umland takes some time to complain about Jr.'s apparently dismissive treatment of three of the essays in his book, noting that his “irresponsibility” is illustrated by his two errors in citing Karl Wessel's article. The errors in question are typos, and they are certainly regrettable, since they destroy Wessel's witty pun. Whether the typos are proofs of major irresponsibility or not, others must decide.                

Umland's defense of Merrit Abrash's piece does not speak to Jr.'s criticism of it, only his error in dating the original article and noting that it was revised. Would the statement that the revision had done nothing to improve the essay have helped Umland's argument? In defending Rebecca J. Umland's piece, S. Umland catches Jr. trying to put words into R. Umland's mouth: S. Umland quotes Jr. as saying that R. Umland tries to “place [Dick] in the Great Tradition of 20th century authors.” She did not claim, S. Umland writes, that Dick should be placed in the Leavisean Great Tradition; Leavis isn't even mentioned in her article. However, Jr.'s actual sentence is: R. Umland “places [Dick] in the Great Tradition of 20th century American authors who did the same [i.e., used the literary model of courtly love]: Hemingway, Fitzgerland, Steinbeck, Robinson”[]. He did not cite Leavis, or invoke him either, since Leavis's Great Tradition is of the English novel, and it does not include any of the authors Jr. listed. One would have to be a pedant indeed not to see that the great tradition in question is viewed with irony. And though S. Umland may think that it was “misguided and irrelevant” of Jr. to say that R. Umland was placing Dick in an American modernist canon, Jr.'s android faculties were probably misled by sentences by R. Umland such as: “I hope to recontextualize Dick by placing him in a shared tradition—the nostalgia for and use of an idealized past—with other significant twentieth-century American writers such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and E.A. Robinson” (128). What does S. Umland think is intended when a critic associates Dick only with canonical American modernists (with whom he has been rarely linked in the past)? Humans can be so obtuse.                

S. Umland is also outraged that Jr. erroneously labelled his article “Jungian” whereas he emphatically states “I am not a `Jungian,' nor is my essay properly called `Jungian.'” I guess Jr. fell “into the old trap” of misreading sentences like the following by S. Umland: “...I have come to the conclusion that Dick cannot be understood fully except by approaching him through the great historiographers and hermeneuticists of esoteric religion and the occult: Hans Jonas, Mircea Eliade, Gershom Scholem, and, above all, Carl Jung. I have drawn only on the latter's thought for this chapter....” Androids can be so obtuse.                

S. Umland is concerned that Jr. gave his essay, Karl Wessel's, and Anthony Wolk's short-shrift. Jr. is actually sorry about this, because Wessel's and Wolk's were among the best in the volume. In earlier drafts, I had hoped to discuss them at length. But no review of an essay collection can do justice to all the essays, and it turned out that the Umland collection contained a group of essays that fit together and spoke to one of Jr.'s passionate interests in Dick's writing: his ambivalence. It is striking that Umland hardly even mentions the pages in Jr.'s review devoted to admiring discussion of the essays by Feehan, Palmer and Easterbrook.                

The decisive sin of Jr.'s review apparently was to dedicate so much space to a critical discussion of the ideas of Gregg Rickman's ongoing Dick biography and their presence in Rickman's article on We Can Build You in the Umland collection. The problems associated with Rickman's interpretation of Dick's work as an effect of childhood sexual abuse will not be settled soon or easily. Umland evidently is among the true-believers of the child-abuse theory, judging from the passionate paroxysm that Jr.'s skepticism arouses in him. He claims that Jr. “presumes to understand [the content of Rickman's forthcoming second volume of his biography of Dick], though he virtually knows nothing about it.” He must say that he finds Jr.'s “ability to talk about a book he hasn't read to be quite a remarkable talent.” This is a disappointment for Jr., since he tried to make it clear that his views are based on the first volume and the article in the Umland collection, and he is waiting to see what the second volume will bring. Jr. quotes himself (androids love to refer to themselves in the third-person): “My comments so far have been based on the first volume of Rickman's projected two-volume biography. It is exciting to wait, to see whether the second volume...will develop the psychoanalytic thesis.” In this sentence, as in most others, Jr. was scrupulous to refer only to Rickman's published work, because Csicsery-Ronay had not been scrupulous enough in his first discussion of Rickman, in the introduction to OnPKD. At the same time, the Android Hunters cannot have it both ways: on the one hand complaining that Jr. is prejudging an argument-in-progress, and on the other claiming that the argument has already presented “convincing” evidence. If the evidence is already supposed to be convincing, then it can addressed on its own terms.                

In any case it is impossible to tell from Umland's letter what Jr. claims to know about Rickman's unpublished second volume. That Rickman's chapter on WCBY appears to be a part of the forthcoming second volume? That Rickman will probably find the same DID-generated pattern in Maze of Death as he found in Clans of the Alphane Moon and Eye in the Sky? That Rickman will most likely not offer new evidence for the child-abuse theory, since none of the protagonists of the alleged drama were alive even when the first volume was published? That Rickman's essay in the Umland collection is more reductive than his readings in THC, and hence may indicate that the second volume will be more reductive? These surmises may all prove to be wrong when the book finally appears, but they are certainly not implausible. Since the Android Hunters are so protective of the second volume, Jr. and I both urge Rickman to publish it as soon as possible so that honest and direct debate can begin. (It would also help prevent more of Jr.'s egregious “helpless floundering regarding matters of fact,” the cardinal example of which Umland cites as Jr.'s inaccurate rendition of the title of Gregg Rickman's next book as Firebright rather than Variable Man. Jr.'s floundering was the regrettable consequence of believing the author himself when he writes in To the High Castle that “the follow-up volume, Firebright Philip K. Dick: A Life 1962-1982, covers the epic drama of Phil's last years” (vii). The same title is also listed as forthcoming in a list of Rickman's works opposite THC's table of contents.)

Jr.'s most “troubling” sin in Umland's eyes is that he does not see why readers should necessarily empathize with the person of the author. Responding to a passage he found inexplicably sentimental—the “Who weeps for Philip?” paragraph of To The High Castle (61)—Jr. wrote “it is not self-evident to me why a reader should feel deep empathy with the person of an artist.” Umland is convinced that this lack of empathy on Jr.'s part shows that he has sinister motives in studying Dick. In a moment of “startling” android unconsciousness, Jr. revealed his true interest in Dick when he wrote “Dick allows his readers the freedom to flip him over like the electric toad in Do Android Dream, to open the hatch, and to wonder about the mechanism.” “Does Jr. have any idea,” Umland asks, “that what he says here is a parody of what Pris does to the spider in Dick's novel?” That must be a hit, since Jr. does not have any idea how it is a parody of that scene. After all, Pris and her android buddies snip the legs off the spider. Jr. intended it to be an allusion to Iran's, Rick Deckard's non-android wife's discovery that the toad Rick found in the desert is electric. Does that make Iran an android? Does interest in the fact that Dick was an artist with an uncommon imagination, inventing fascinating techniques, writing in an original, troubling and disturbingly uneven way, and eliciting complex readerly responses make a critic an android? Is this a new set of questions for the Voigt-Kampff test? “You are reading Rickman's biography of Philip Dick. What do you do? a) shudder with outrage; b) expect more proof; c) cold-bloodedly ask how the cause creates the art; d) rail at the skeptics.” Who tests the testers, human?                

Umland does not quote Jr.'s whole sentence, or even hint that Jr.'s skepticism may have other causes than android indifference to the suffering of authors. I don't think Umland, viewing the world through the scarlet-hued lenses of apoplexy, even recognizes that Jr.'s reservations are not about the “elemental reality of the existence” of the sexual abuse of children (whatever “elemental reality” means here), but about the reading of Philip Dick's work as an allegory of the psychology of child abuse, especially on what Jr. interprets to be thin evidence. This matter is, as Jr. understands it, a matter of difference of interpretations. Rickman's theory is interesting and involving. His biography promises to be the most thorough account of Dick's life when it is published. His first volume is cited by several of the writers in the Umland collection, and I do not doubt that it will be the subject of discussion for many years in Dick scholarship. That is why Jr. felt it important to treat it at length in his review. And given that Rickman has presented his view at length in his book, it seems logical that reviewers should be able to offer their criticisms without being demonized.                

Jr. thought it was clear in his review that his interest in Dick is in his very problematic art, and in what Jr. called his ambivalence, a self-contradicting, riven perspective that appears on every level of his work, from ideas about the gods of creation to the diction of sentences. It was this interest that spurred Jr. to discuss at length, and with approval, three of the essays in Umland: by Feehan, Easterbrook, and Palmer. Nowhere does Umland mention that, from this perspective at least, the review was a positive one. The apparent imbalance in discussing Rickman's ideas came from Jr.'s view that of Umland's contributors, Rickman has the most claim to attention by non-academic readers of Dick.                

I do not understand, finally, what Umland is so exercised about. His misquotations, insults, willful distortions of Jr.'s ideas seem inspired more by some axe to grind than the view he stated in his book's introduction: “I hope that this edition will suggest the future course of Dick studies in the spirit of frank intellectual debate” (5). At the end of his retort he explodes into a rhapsodic tirade against the “faddish tripe,” “infantile Narcissism,” and “hypertrophic egoism” of currently fashionable cultural theories. The occasion is Jr.'s “hypocrisy” in cloaking his android views in “the garb of social responsibility,” “rebuking” the Umland collection for omitting the “latest critical rage.” Where is the rebuke, exactly? In Jr.'s third sentence: “The critical positions are not new—there is, for example, no focused feminist criticism, no queer theory, no post-cyberpunk literary history—so the book reads as if it were filling the niches earlier critics had left empty.” (Jr. goes on write: “Those niches needed filling.”) Umland takes this as a rebuke, but I cannot recall a single sentence in which Jr. made the claim that those schools are better than older ones. It is, however, part of a reviewer's responsibility to inform his audience (which, in the case of SFS, can be expected to be involved in developments in academic literary theory) what theoretical positions they can expect from a book that is subtitled Contemporary Critical Interpretations. Umland in his introduction claims “no other collection has attempted systematically to represent the diversity of recent critical debate about the nature of Dick's fiction and its relevance to contemporary culture” (5). That the “faddish tripe” of feminist, queer-, and post-cyberpunk theory does not figure in Umland's conception of “contemporary” criticism needs mentioning to active literary critics.            

Finally, there is the weird paroxysm at the end of Umland's letter, where he rails against Freud (implying that Jr. is pro-Freud because he did not criticize Freedman's use of Lacan—go figure) and praises Freud's debunkers, singling out Frederick Crews and Richard Webster. It is a mystery to me why Umland would even mention Crews in his letter, since Crews is the most vehement critic of the current that sees child sexual abuse as a global phenomenon. Indeed, Crews debunks Freud precisley because he allegedly provided the basis for the culture of the flimsy proofs and ex post constructions of experiences of CSA. Neither Jr. nor I have ever offered a Crewsian global critique of the reconstruction of CSA-memories, only a specific critique of the heavy-handed assurance with which Rickman's theory is presented. Perhaps if Jr. had invoked Crews, Umland might not have noticed.                

So what does Umland ultimately have against Jr.? That he is a faddish, hypocritical obscurantist? That he has an axe to grind against Rickman, and this draws his attention away from Umland's other contributors? That he secretly despises Dick and sneakily sabotages all attempts to elicit sympathy for him as a victimized human being? I won't follow Umland's example of putting words in his opponents' mouths. The texts—the Umland collection, the Rickman biography (vol. 1), and my reviews—are all on the table. Let the readers decide. But perhaps Umland should think about that old Freudian defense-mechanism, projection, before he begins demonizing his opponents again.—ICR.

 

Paper Calls. SFS goes to press in mid-January, mid-May, and mid-September. Copies are mailed to subscribers in mid-February, mid-June, and mid-October, and so should reach those subscribers on or about March 1, July 1, and November 1. Paper calls often reach us too late to do anyone any good.
                The 1996 Eaton Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy, to be held in Riverside, California, April 12-14, will address the topic “The World, the Flesh, and the Doctor: Disease and Medicine in Science Fiction and Fantasy.” Papers or proposals should be sent to George Slusser, Tomas Rivera Library, University of California, Riverside CA 92521 no later than March 10, 1996. For more information, write to the above address or call 909-787-3233.
                A Greenwood Press Anthology. For an anthology in the Greenwood Press series Studies in Science Fiction and Fantasy, Peering Into Darkness: Race and Color in Fantastic Literature, articles are sought on any aspect of race and color coding in fantastic literature, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, and children's fantasy. Please send proposals (500 words) by March 15 to Elizabeth Leonard, Department of English, Kent State University, P.O. Box 5190, Kent OH 44242-0001. E-mail: eleonard@phoenix.kent.edu.
                The 1996 SFRA Conference will be held at UW-Eau Claire, June 20-23. For registration, write to SFRA 1996, College of Arts and Sciences Outreach, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004, or phone 715-836-2031, or e-mail sneenl@uwec.edu [or maybe that's “sneen1”]. To submit a paper, write, phone, or e-mail Michael M. Levy, Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, WI 54751. Home phone: 715-834-6533. E-mail: levym@uwstout.edu..


moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)Back to Home