sexta-feira, dezembro 01, 2017

Beckettian SF: "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick


“The Man in the High Castle” is my second favourite PKD novel, after “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. I read both novels in the same year, back in the day, along with “Ubik”, “VALIS” and “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”, and most of PKD's short fiction. Without doubt the most mind-bending year of reading I've ever had, and the one that hooked me on SF more than any other. The thing I love about his stories more than anything else is their mastery of chaos and illogicality. Reality in a PKD story is held together by the desperate hopes of his characters, and it's always falling apart beneath their feet. Love it!

As for PKD's prose not keeping up with his ideas and co... I agree... and also agree it's often part of the fun. Although here, as noted, I found his writing mainly quite elegant.

I've been hunting around for speculation as to why PKD called Hawthorne Abendsen's book “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”. Dick says in the book that the title is a quote from The Bible, but if so it is not in a common translation. You can find some speculation elsewhere; being speculative about a Dick novel means we'll be wandering into some fairly strange territory... I've also asked the question on my own blog, so there may be enlightening comments there.

I suppose I've never really considered him as SF and therefore haven't really considered him as SF. I realise this is rather weak and tautological but it’s the fact of the matter. I suppose probably because I have quite restricted notion of what SF actually is. Perhaps I should try more. I make the further claim because it often seems to me to be too far away from how we experience the world. I find it often too far removed from reality to effect the way I perceive it. I've always been away of a porous boundary between what we take as truth and fiction and the most effective novels seem to me to find a way to weave the two together questioning both. I'm never sure that SF takes enough of the former to do that.

It is part of what SF often does to propose realities different from our own. And often proposing that our own reality is not even really reality. Metaphysics, including religions of every ilk, has routinely done the same thing over long millennia, and convincingly enough for religions to have dominated much of human history and metaphysics to have dominated, in full or in part, the thinking of many of the best minds in human history. Science fiction has only been at it for decades, but PKD managed to bring it to a level still unsurpassed by any other SF writer, perhaps any other writer at all. Although, in one way or another, many philosophers have questioned the phenomenal world and our lives in it, Descartes brought to the table the "I", the individual identity, and that "I" has more than held its own for going on 500 years, as a, perhaps THE, preoccupation in Western thought and feeling, very much including Literature.

Beckett has put his "I" character into strange wavering limbos where it manages to unwaveringly 'go on'; PKD's 'I' exists in equally strange bizarre worlds (that often somehow make too much sense), but they waver and shift in a constant struggle to adapt to relentless rifts and shifts in the world around them, and in all that they know. Paul Williams in his 1974 Rolling Stone interview with PKD says: "Dick's characters are all ultimately small (that is ordinary, believable) people made big by their stamina in the face of an uncertain world." This would almost apply to Beckett's characters too, but where 'uncertain world' in Dick's case doesn't mean the vicissitudes of an individual's life at the ultimate bottom of the lowest of the barrels, but a world whose very reality is an uncertainty that is bottomless, and whose uncertainty is very much in the individual identity's (the "I"'s) life as a problem and condition of life. This "I" too "goes on".

I wouldn't take away Beckett's Nobel in Literature and give it to PKD, and I don't in the least believe Beckett will not stand the test of time, but I do believe that PKD's work will keep on being evaluated upwards as Literature as the years roll on. My PKD’s re-read project shows how very alive and well his body of work is, which means people still read it and feel it is a relevant artistic vision. For me, artistic vision is the most important thing a writer can have. Dick's was a strange and evolving visionary critter, but it was powerful and still is. Dick brings it to life in his reader's minds. He's a great writer thereby. Beckett may have the Nobel and the literary criticism reputation but it's PKD who continues to have the social influence thanks to his peerless imagination and paranoia (which grows increasingly justifiable as time goes by).


Since I think of PKD in terms of Literature I tend to think about him more in the context of Kafka, Beckett, and Burroughs. I rarely try to put him into a science fiction genre series of writers, although some may have written better SF (as genre) than him. What makes him transcend, if you will, the sci fi genre is that 'science fiction' is now, and increasingly, defining our daily 'mainstream' lives as technological innovation, but mainstream Literature has not caught up with what is happening, and veers away from it, looking for the meanings of human experience elsewhere. It's a weird kind of disconnect between contemporary literature and modern life. But PKD's writing was and is thoroughly aware of the entanglement of brave new science-fictional realities with our age old humanity. Even his metaphysics involve supercomputer gods, temporal interpret rations, and the like. He does it better than anyone and that's why I don't flinch to think about him being in exalted literary company. And it's why I think that sooner or later readers and lit critics and academics are going to reconnect mainstream literature with mainstream daily life. Dick's fiction will be right there in the forefront.


SF = Speculative Fiction.

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