October 3rd, 2006
|07:36 am - thwarted by mystery|
I just finished reading Philip K. Dick's novel VALIS.
I've been working my way through his oeuvre, just because I've wanted to fill in the holes, especially items upon which movies I've seen have been based. I've always liked his work, and I usually like what other people do with his ideas - I like to compare the movies with their inspiration even when they barely resemble each other.
I've been using the Seattle Public Library, which means that the items which motivated me originally are the ones I get to wait for longest, being those in which other people are also interested (A Scanner Darkly, for example). In the interim I've also read Confessions of a Crap Artist and a number of short stories in a couple of collections, including Paycheck.
I was introduced to Dick by way of the movie Bladerunner sending me out to read Do Anderoids Dream of Electric Sheep. The Man in the High Castle was on the syllabus for a class I took my freshman year of college (Science Fiction as Literature - no bias there), and it struck me quite strongly. I'd read short stories in various anthologies during my youthful devouring of the Kitsap Regional Library's SF section, too - but I'm notoriously bad at remembering names and so I couldn't tell you what or where exactly.
I've always been drawn to what I thought of as his theme of "what constitutes human" but after a few more doses I have to expand that to the theme of "what is real" and the idea of parallel/overlapping planes of existence/reality/whatever. Which is slightly less interesting to the anthropologist in me, but fascinating to the part of me interested in the mental gymnastics of belief.
VALIS had some things that struck me because of my personal situation - the relation of mental illness to belief in reality or religion, for example. But what really got me was the novel's proposition that Nixon was impeached/deposed by the intervention of mysterious forces of good operating behind the scenes, complete with prophetic anticipation and warnings. Complete also with the sense of relief that it's over, the good guys won, and now we can live happily ever after.
Casting Nixon as the antichrist (literally) seems so... pathetic compared with what the administration is getting away with currently that I almost burst out laughing when I got to that part of the book. It only makes sense because I was alive then, and I remember (if vaguely, since it was 1974) listening to Nixon's resignation speech on the radio. Not what he said, just that my parents had us listen because it was a historic event. But I do remember the feeling of the times, that wrongdoing had been thwarted and that the ideals of justice had been upheld - very stirring, to an 8-year-old.
That's really the problem with the linear nature of the religions of the book. Some kind of final, climactic struggle after which everyone lives happily ever after. Except that isn't how life (or history) works. There's always a next problem, a next battle, a next something, until you (or your society) die(s). It's cyclical, and as far as I can tell thinking "whew, glad THAT's over" simply means you get blind-sided by the next trouble.
Nixon was WWI and Bush is WWII. I wish the mysterious intervention from beyond this plane of reality would hurry up and get to thwarting, if it's going to...
I've always preferred "Radio Free Albemuth" in terms of a novel that involves Valis. I think it's much more ambiguous and ends on a darker note and one that is less obvilously time-stamped.
RFA most *especially* since the 11th of September's recent notoriety, seems very topical - or that one making a film with this as a script could be on point. Sort of, what lengths will the people in power go to in order to maintain the order they see as correct. How pointless is a person's voice in the face of something as powerful as a governing force with an eye on opression to a particular point of view.
There is a definite slant toward the "what is real" angle in this book and that era of his work.
My general, roundabout, more or less, take on PKD is that 'what is real' becomes entertwined with a questioning of humanity or what is specifically human... and what one will "do" to another or what one will "experience" in order to preserve the chosen, "reliable/comfortable/desired/insert word here based upon protag." reality.
These are definitely the more drug era (or addled as I've heard some say) writings.
I'm not much of a critic or reviewer, so forgive the license I'm taking please :)