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Monday, May 21, 2012

Philip K. Dick

There's a post at the NYT's philosophy blog about science fiction writer PK Dick - Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Philosopher, Part 1 by Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York.

I got interested in Dick as a teen and have read many of his books. Back then he was kind of a sci fi cult figure but now he's mainstream .... so many of his books have been made into popular movies: Blade Runner from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Total Recall from We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Scanners from Second Variety, Minority Report from The Minority Report, Paycheck from Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly from A Scanner Darkly, Next from The Golden Man, The Adjustment Bureau from Adjustment Team ... and a remake of Total Recall is coming out with Colon Farrell. I even saw mention of Dick on Lost, where a season 4 episode has Ben reading VALIS :)

But anyway, here's a bit of the article ....

[...] Dick’s life has long passed into legend, peppered with florid tales of madness and intoxication. There are some who consider such legend something of a diversion from the character of Dick’s literary brilliance. Jonathan Lethem writes — rightly in my view — “Dick wasn’t a legend and he wasn’t mad. He lived among us and was a genius.” Yet Dick’s life continues to obtrude massively into any assessment of his work.

Everything turns here on an event that “Dickheads” refer to with the shorthand “the golden fish.” On Feb. 20, 1974, Dick was hit with the force of an extraordinary revelation after a visit to the dentist for an impacted wisdom tooth for which he had received a dose of sodium pentothal. A young woman delivered a bottle of Darvon tablets to his apartment in Fullerton, Calif. She was wearing a necklace with the pendant of a golden fish, an ancient Christian symbol that had been adopted by the Jesus counterculture movement of the late 1960s.

The fish pendant, on Dick’s account, began to emit a golden ray of light, and Dick suddenly experienced what he called, with a nod to Plato, anamnesis: the recollection or total recall of the entire sum of knowledge. Dick claimed to have access to what philosophers call the faculty of “intellectual intuition”: the direct perception by the mind of a metaphysical reality behind screens of appearance. Many philosophers since Kant have insisted that such intellectual intuition is available only to human beings in the guise of fraudulent obscurantism, usually as religious or mystical experience, like Emmanuel Swedenborg’s visions of the angelic multitude. This is what Kant called, in a lovely German word, “die Schwärmerei,” a kind of swarming enthusiasm, where the self is literally en-thused with the God, o theos. Brusquely sweeping aside the careful limitations and strictures that Kant placed on the different domains of pure and practical reason, the phenomenal and the noumenal, Dick claimed direct intuition of the ultimate nature of what he called “true reality.” Yet the golden fish episode was just the beginning ......

I wonder how all the Dick books I've read have molded me (aside from teaching me the word kipple). The book of his I remember best is the one made into Blade Runner - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - and I think that's because animals were featured strongly in the story. You can see only bits of the animal theme in the movie: the artificial owl, the empathy test used to detect replicants that asks why you aren't rescuing a tortoise, but in the book most animals are extinct and people aspire to own artificial animals but many can't afford them. The relationship between people and animals, the feeling of empathy that people can nourish from being around animals, is what distinguishes humans from replicants in the story.


Anonymous Richard said...

Thanks Crystal! I used to be a huge PKD fan. My favorite was UBIK, I keep waiting for the movie. Just downloaded Exegesis. Should be fun.

10:24 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard,

The wikipedia page for UBK says it was almost made into a movie once - Dick wrote a screenplay - but it fell through. Maybe someday. I haven't read any of his books for a long time - maybe it's time to revisit them :)

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Its been at least a decade since I've read any of his stuff, hope my thinking hasn't become too brittle to enjoy it.

1:03 PM  

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