ON PHILIP K. DICK
Dick in France: A Love Story
Abstract.--Critics usually contrast Dick's warm reception in
France with the lack of recognition he supposedly had in the Anglo-American world. This
statement, if generally true, must be qualified. On the one hand, his reception in the US
was comparable to that of an author like Ray Bradbury, say. And the evidence suggesting
that Dick's books were readily accepted for publication there by the same token indicates
that he was never at a loss for readers. On the other hand, his much-touted acclaim in
France was not totally unambiguous--did not entirely have to do with what he wrote. His
appeal also had to do with certain favorable socio-political and cultural circumstances:
his works began appearing in translation at the time of the events of May '68; their
ostensible portrait of America was welcomed in a period of anti-Americanism that came in
reaction to US involvement in Vietnam; his texts lent themselves to virtually all the
intellectual approaches fashionable in France in the late '60s and '70s; and into the
bargain, they were attractive to those involved in counter-cultural pursuits.
P.K. Dick: From the Death of the Subject to a Theology
of Late Capitalism
Abstract.--Dick's work takes up a major "event" of post-modern
culture: the "death of the subject." If this death is characterized by the
closing of the aesthetically-mediated distance which once separated the subject of desire
from the social object-world and by desire's correlative immediate investment in the
social, it entails in Dick's work not the abolition of negation, but its re-emergence in
an intensive experience immanent to the everyday itself. Dick attempts to think the
immanent negation lived by the dissolving subject of late-capitalist everyday life in
terms of a radically contestatory politics of experience associated with the emerging
counter-cultures of the '60s.
But as his work progresses, Dick must increasingly confront the following questions at
the level of form: What is the relation of the narrating authorial subject to the
dissolving subject whose intensive experience it narrates? Does the authorial subject
undergo the death for which it attempts to account? And if so, by what ruse does it
narrate its own death? These questions are not only formal, but political, for upon their
resolution depends the constitution of a counter-memory for the counter-cultural project
out of which Dick's work emerges. Dick's attempt, in A Scanner Darkly, to resolve
them within the formal limits of SF leads to a political impasse; in VALIS, he
attempts to resolve them by abandoning not only SF, but perhaps even literature as such,
in favor of what one might describe as a liberation-theology of late capitalism.
Dick, the Libertarian Prophet
Abstract.--Why did Dick come into such phenomenal prominence in France in the
'70s? Why was he perceived as offering not only a new form of SF, but a revolutionary
message in the socio-critical sense as well? My hypothesis is this: the renaissance of SF
in France in the 1970s, taking some of its momentum from the expansion of the publishing
industry, coincided with the rise of a generation of readers nurtured on the
"short-lived" fervor of May 1968; the nostalgia born of a failed revolution, of
a rendezvous with history that never took place, engendered a passion for Dick that (in a
sense) prolonged the dream of liberty. This made Dick, read as a critic of American
society during the "Golden '60s," appear as a libertarian prophet.
This vision, if anachronistic, is justified. The portrait of American society in Dick's
novels does coincide with many concerns of the May 1968 generation. He does criticize
certain fundamental American values--e.g., the respect for political institutions, for
religion, for male dominance. And these, together with other subversive aspects of his SF
(e.g., its temporal disarticulations) make for his appeal as a radical to those French
readers who in May of '68 had dreamed the libertarian dream.
Philip K. Dick: Authenticity and Insincerity
Abstract.--At the heart of Philip K. Dick's work is a mechanical narrative
device which allows him to evade cognitive rigor but which also liberates him to discuss
serious issues otherwise inaccessible. It is well known that Dick was influenced by A.E.
van Vogt's rules for interesting writing. Especially important is van Vogt's dictum that
every 800 words a new idea should be introduced. The illusion of conscious profundity in
such works as High Castle, Androids, and VALIS is to a large
extent generated by arbitrary narrative shifts. However, insofar as the search for the
"real" and "authentic" is central to Dick's philosophical program, the
mechanical narrative device is itself thematically important and expressive.
How "Dickian" is the New French Science Fiction?
Abstract.--Dick had a deep influence on French SF writers in the 1970s--e.g.,
on Michel Jeury and later on Dominique Douay. But what about the 1980s? What about the
writers who represent what is called the New French SF? We have here a group of
writers--Brussolo, Ligny, LeCigne, Volodine, Dunyach, and Barbéri [and Jouanne]--highly
divergent in their sources of inspiration and styles. They follow no single aesthetic
principle or model, and are united only in their diversity, and in their common desire to
locate their point of departure inside the forms and formulas of SF.
What sort of image or "model" might these writers derive from the "late
Dick," the Dick whose "divine trilogy" came onto the French scene at the
end of the '70s? What they find here is a radical fusion of fiction and non-fiction, texts
that operate on a level of "semi-reality." Dick is no longer describing
simulacra; he is constructing them. He cultivates confusion and perversion of boundaries
to the point of questioning the deepest structures of his own existence. He performs the
same subversion of forms as an Artaud or a Beckett, but at the heart of SF, and with
radically ambiguous effect.
The new French SF writers have chosen to follow that Dick's example, if not his manner,
and to work from inside the SF genre outwards. Recognizing that SF pushes the exploration
of limits (those of meaning and possibility) to the maximum, they have decided to go even
faster than SF, while still respecting its traditional boundaries and goals. The result,
by a process analogous to Dick's, is a literature of devastating irony and humor.
Eric S. Rabkin
Irrational Expectations; or, How Economics and the
Post-Industrial World Failed Philip K. Dick
Abstract.--Although Philip K. Dick speaks explicitly of economic theory at
only one point in his writings, he constantly demonstrates an understanding and chaffing
acceptance of the devaluation of individual items caused by their mass production. His
passion for the authentic continually causes him to reject replication even as he
recognizes that industrial replication provides the essential economic support for us all.
He accepts replicated objects, then, only because they support people. But he comes to
recognize that the very people who produce those objects in the rationalized workplace are
themselves rationalized, and in some sense devalued, by the replication of their actions
and their roles. Ultimately, since realities are human constructs to Dick, he must applaud
the use of drugs and any other devices that help create unique realities. But even Dick
himself sees that these realities can themselves be multiplied. His experimental novels
try to achieve their larger unities by coordinating diverse and ontologically
contradictory realities. But when this aesthetic attempt also fails to construct a
satisfactorily totalizing reality, Dick finally rejects the whole rational basis of our
post-industrial world, accepting "the irrational [as] the primordial structure of the
universe," an acceptance that translates into the mystic in his final writings and,
in all likelihood, into madness in his final years.
The Metafictive World of The Man in the High Castle:
Hermeneutics, Ethics, and Political Ideology
Abstract.---The primarily ethical commentary the I Ching gives
to the hexagram of "Inner Truth" does not support the referential interpretation
given to the hexagram by Juliana Frink in the concluding incident of Philip Dick's The
Man in the High Castle. In fact, the problem of interpretation in the closing
incident involves a complex thematic conflict between ethical and metaphysical modes of
interpretation in the rest of the novel. The structure of the novel's world can be
understood as a manifold of hermeneutic codes generated in contradiction to and critical
reflection upon a fundamental code of realist referentiality. The same kind of critical
reflection does not, however, take place upon the novel's ethical valuation of authentic
human relationships. It is this tension between ethics and metaphysics which governs the mise
en abīme presented to interpretation in the final incident. The relation between a
sense of the human and a sense of the real in High Castle is such that one's
cognition of reality cannot reliably guide ethics, and yet one's sense of the human
nonetheless inevitably produces an ethically determined interpretation of reality. The
concept of truth is thus impossible to establish, but also impossible not to produce.
History, Historicity, Story
Abstract.--Philip K. Dick's sense of the nature of the event is fundamentally
different from that assumed by most of the critical methods that habitually analyze his
work. The difference at stake is that between history and what I call
"historicity," which does not see individual actions engaging things so as to
fix them in some absolute time sequence, but rather actions disengaging things, renewing
them by moving them in contingent and uncharted directions. Historicity epitomizes an
American attitude, as contrasted with the historicist and monumentalist vision that
informs European thought, and the critical methods that derive from this matrix. To
understand what Dick is doing, we must replace him in his national context.
And we must do so if we are to understand how Dick is doing what he does, how he
narrates his stories. I argue that, in Dick's fiction, what determines our sense of
narrative time, and in a sense guarantees its existence, is not history but historicity.
And this creates different narrative structures. What occurs is a liberation of
story-time. Freed from its symbolic relationship to real time, from the traditional
relationship of story to history, the narrative event now has the capability of directly
engaging a broader, unpredetermined realm of space-time. This, the relation of story to
historicity, is Dick's narrative field, a field which, again, history-bound methods of
analysis may not fully see.
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