Friday, November 17, 2017

Conversations with Philip K. Dick

Conversations with Philip K. Dick is in many ways a sequel to Tessa B. Dick’s 2010 memoir Philip K. Dick: Remembering Firebright, but it is also a different kind of book. Both books offer readers and scholars important insights into PKD’s intriguing philosophical concepts and details about the process and aims of his art. But while the first volume presents a mostly positive sketch of a driven author suffering economic and health issues resulting from his strenuous work, this second volume is more candid and shows PKD’s darker side, with descriptions and explanations of his domestic idiosyncrasies, which on occasion could be manipulative, distasteful and cruel. This character sketch is mere preface, however, to an exploration of PKD’s personal career, which in some ways is as dark and sinister as some of his novels.  Dick (Tessa—TBD) outlines a number of incidents, encounters and intrigues—and some of them with far-reaching political implications. This material, accurately and succinctly described, includes PKD’s contact with the Berkley progressive scene, in which Dick was a deeply-albeit-curiously-positioned figure, encounters with academics whose political interests go beyond the philosophical implications of literary criticism, PKD’s kidnapping in Vancouver (which TBD leaves largely unexplored), the November 17, 1971 ransacking of his house, his contacts with the FBI, his curious business dealings with Polish author Stanislaw Lem and Austrian critic and literary agent  Franz Rottensteiner, PKD’s paranormal experiences, which TBD confirms, but also his more “dramatic” experiences that, in characteristic fashion, PKD is able to immerse himself into enthusiastically while at the same time recognizing the health issues (high blood pressure, “micro-strokes”, over-work) that become the basis for rational explanations of his metaphysical insights; for example, the “pink light” episode and the sprawling theological dualism that he explores in the over-emphasized “Exegesis”, which I take to be more of a commonplace book or diary than a valid statement of PKD’s metaphysical beliefs. (Elsewhere, I will write on PKD’s theology, which I believe is firmly Episcopalian and orthodox—though expressed idiosyncratically).  I should add here, too, that TBD provides descriptions of her husband’s creative process, with explanations of his exploration of a cosmogony that rivals his Gnostic and dualist speculations (which were evidently fostered by his relationship with Bishop James Pike, and who was very much a more challenging influence than any encounters with rectangles of pink light).  Also, TBD describes PKD’s plans for sequels to the novels The Man in the High Castle and The Penultimate Truth.

PKD was a meticulous explorer of his own life, examining—indeed cannibalizing—his odd, esoteric, original, and even “absurd” experiences for both the material of his art and bases for analyses of the spiritual and intellectual malaise that marked his times, and which in particular marked the “counter-culture” that he so deeply identified with, but also so firmly and brilliantly rejected. I hope TBD will follow this volume with another that will drill more deeply into the political intrigues toward which Dick had found himself drawn.  Such a volume could serve as an important backdrop for reading what I take (in terms of historical, cultural and political documentation) to be two of Dick’s most important novels: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and the semi-autobiographical novelization of his close relationship with Bishop James Pike, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.  In the meantime, as these novels are discovered, and as TBD prepares that hoped-for third volume, Conversations with Philip K. Dick will serve as an important basis for new study and new insights into the thinking of a significant philosopher—and quite possibly the most ingenious American novelist of the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Please click HERE to view the Amazon description.

No comments: