Science Fiction Studies

#45 = Volume 15, Part 2 = July 1988



Roger Bozzetto

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.

Scott Durham

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.

Daniel Fondanèche

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.

John Huntington

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.

Emmanuel Jouanne

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.

John Rieder

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.

George Slusser

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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