Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Kipple, gubbish, Substance D

At the LRB, Stephen Burt on Philip K. Dick:
Both political and psychoanalytic paranoia, for Dick, induce ontological vertigo. If you accept the Official Version, you will never know what’s really going on; once you step outside it, you will never know either, since nothing can falsify the hypothesis that everything is fake. Jason Taverner in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974), a famous actor stuck in an alternative universe where he is unemployed and unknown, asks a young woman whether he is ‘a hallucination of yours’; she responds: ‘Maybe . . . you’re a product of my delusional mind.’ The worst thing that can happen to Dick’s characters – and it happens to them over and over again – is to discover that they inhabit the mind of someone else, someone who ‘can kick over the scenery, manifest himself, push things in any direction he chooses. Even be any of us.’ They may also live in a fragile afterlife, having died without realising it, or in the Potemkin world of a demiurge, its pasteboard walls easy to see as crumbling fakes.

Dick’s novels, reread, invite us to pick one page and draw a thick line across it, separating the novel into before and after the protagonist learns (or believes he has learned) what’s really going on: often we realise, far into the after portion, that we may never know. ‘You have bumped the door of life open with your big, dense head,’ Taverner says to himself, ‘and now it can’t be closed.’ Dick wrote in 1980 that his early realist novels failed because ‘they required the reader to accept my premise that each of us lives in a unique world.’ This notion of incommensurable public and private experience (one of them is a delusion, but which one?) has parallels not only in the drug culture whose ‘freaked-out paranoid space’ he anticipated, not only in the highbrow sources he used (Jung, the pre-Socratics, the Gnostics), but also in the diaries of his mother, who decided, when her sister died, that ‘each person has another world in him and that no one really belongs to the world as it is.’

1 comment:

  1. One of Phil's friends had an autistic child, and Phil was attempting to figure out what was going on in the autistic boy's mind. In fact, his theory of autism, as explained in Martian Time-Slip, is being taken very seriously by psychologists today.