Sunday, February 6, 2011

Philip K. Dick, "The Android and the Human" in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick (Lawrence Sutin, ed.), several excerpts

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

Speaking in science fiction terms, I now foresee an anarchistic, totalitarian state ahead. Ten years from now a TV street reporter will ask some kid who is president of the United States, and the kid will admit that he doesn't know. "But the president can have you executed," the reporter will protest. "Or beaten or thrown into prison or all your rights taken away, all your property--everything." And the boy will reply, "Yeah, so could my father up to last month when he had his fatal coronary. He used to say the same thing." End of interview. And when the reporter goes to gather up his equipment he will find that one of his color 3-D stereo microphone-vidlens systems is missing; the kid has swiped it from him while the reporter was babbling on.

If, at it seems we are, [sic] in the process of becoming a totalitarian society in which the state apparatus is all-powerful, the ethics most important for the survival of the true, human individual would be: Cheat, lie, evade, fake it, be elsewhere, forge documents, build improved electronic gadgets in your garage that'll outwit the gadgets used by the authorities. If the television screen is going to watch you, rewire it late at night when you're permitted to turn it off--rewire it in such a way that the police flunky monitoring the transmission from your living room mirrors back his house. When you sign a confession under duress, forge the name of one of the political spies who's infiltrated your model-airplane club. Pay your fines in counterfeit money or rubber checks or stolen credit cards. Give a false address. Arrive at the courthouse in a stolen car. Tell the judge that if he sentences you, you will substitute aspirin tablets for his daughter's birth control pills. Or put His Honor on a mailing list for pornographic magazines. Or, if all else fails, threaten him with your using his telephone-credit-card number to make unnecessary long-distance calls to cities on another planet. It will not be necessary to blow up the courthouse anymore. Simply find some way to defame the judge--you saw him driving home one night on the wrong side of the road with his headlights off and a fifth of Seagram's VO propped up against his steering wheel. And his bumper sticker that night read: Grant Full Rights to Us Homosexuals. He has, of course, torn off the sticker by now, but both you and ten of your friends witnessed it. And they are all at pay phones right now, ready to phone the news to the local papers. And, if he is so foolish as to sentence you, at least ask him to give back the little tape recorder you inadvertently left in his bedroom. Since the off-switch on it is broken, it has probably recorded its entire ten-day reel of tape by now. Results should be interesting. And if he tries to destroy the tape, you will have him arrested for vandalism, which in the totalitarian state of tomorrow will be the supreme crime. What is your life worth in his eyes compared with a $3 reel of Mylar tape? The tape is probably government property, like everything else, so to destroy it would be a crime against the state. The first step in a calculated, sinister insurrection.
pages 194-5

Sudden surprises, by the way--and this thought may be in itself a sudden surprise to you--are a sort of antidote to the paranoid . . . or, to be accurate about it, to live in such a way as to encounter sudden surprises quite often or even now and then as an indication that you are not paranoid, because to the paranoid, nothing is a surprise; everything happens exactly as he expected, and sometimes even more so. It all fits into his system. For us, though, there can be no system; maybe all systems--that is, any theoretical, verbal, symbolic, semantic, etc., formulation that attempts to act as an all-encompassing, all-explaining hypothesis of what the universe is about--are manifestations of paranoia. We should be content with the mysterious, the meaningless, the contradictory, the hostile, and most of all the unexplainably warm and giving--total so-called inanimate environment, in other words very much like a person, like the behavior of one intricate, subtle, half-veiled, deep, perplexing, and much-to-be-loved human being to another. To be feared a little, too, sometimes. And perpetually misunderstood. About which we can neither know nor be sure; and we must only trust and make guesses toward.
page 208

[N]o android would think to do what a bright-eyed little girl I know did, something a little bizarre, certainly ethically questionable in several ways, at least in any traditional sense, but to me fully human in that it shows, to me, a spirit of merry defiance, of spirited, although not spiritual, bravery and uniqueness:

One day while driving along in her car she found herself following a truck carrying cases of Coca-Cola bottles, case after case, stacks of them. And when the truck parked, she parked behind it and loaded the back of her own car with cases, as many cases, of bottles of Coca-Cola as she could get in. So, for weeks afterward, she and her friends had all the Coca-Cola they could drink, free--and then, when the bottles were empty, she carried them to the store and turned them in for the deposit refund.

To that, I say this: God bless her. May she live forever. And the Coca-Cola company and the phone company and all the rest of it, with their passive infrared scanners and sniperscopes and suchlike--may they be gone long ago. Metal and stone and wire and thread never did live. But she and her friends--they, our human future, are our little song.
pages 209-10


Ethan said...

Please note in the first quote that "anarchistic, totalitarian state" is not a contradiction arising from ignorance, as similar phrases often are.

Also, I'm not sure why the judge's daughter has to get involved, but otherwise I love the ideas.

George Jones said...

Just wanted to let you know that I really dig these quotes you put up. Thanks.

Ethan said...

Glad you like them! I'm sure there's more to come from this book.

Rachel said...

The judge's daughter has to be involved because Phillip K. Dick, whatever his (numerous, I'll grant you!) good points, was one sick misogynist. Read "The Pre-Persons" and some of his other short stories. Horrifying, Jared Lee Rathner levels of venom against women.

Ethan said...

Rachel, I admit that my "I don't know why..." was a lie. I've encountered relatively light touches of Dick's misogyny (funny pair of words, there) in several of the novels I've read by him, and I remember you mentioned "The Pre-Persons" (which I haven't read) here before, and in reading The Shifting Realities I've come across much, much more direct examples of that misogyny. (At one point, the editor mentions that one essay's "rape-related humor has aged very badly," which I guess is one way to put it...)

Certainly would never try to excuse it. It's vile, vile vile. But as you say, he has numerous good points (and I'd go way farther than that), so to a certain extent I'm willing to daintily overlook it.

And in another way, I find it to be a bizarrely fascinating aspect of his writing, like, say, Lovecraft's racism. Both writers, in their very different ways, obsess over those aspects of the inhuman that terrify them, never seeming to realize that there are also very human things that terrify them almost as much.

And, in Dick's case, he can then turn around and praise Le Guin as one of the most important writers ever to live, and the girl who stole the Coca-Cola as "our human future." It's, as I said, bizarre and fascinating.

Also makes me wonder what awful aspects of myself I'm overlooking.

Ethan said...

(By the way, when I said "much much more direct examples" I meant more direct than the examples I personally have come across, not the ones you mentioned in those stories, which I still haven't read.)

Rachel said...

Very true - I remember reading Lovecraft and being smacked in the face by his...creative choice of cat name in "The Rats in the Walls." Good stuff and very thought provoking. I forgot that I'd mentioned "The Pre-Persons" before on here - unfortunately I simply can't read Dick's name (adolescent giggle) anywhere any more without instantly thinking about it, and feeling my skin crawl. Oh well.

Ethan said...

Hah, yeah, I was thinking of that cat, too. Often do. The edition of At the Mountains of Madness that I read included a fascinating introduction by China Mieville, where he says that what we love about Lovecraft (assuming we love him, which I do) can't be separated from his racism, that it in fact springs directly from that racism, and so we can't ignore it, no matter how much we'd like to. If you're interested, it's well worth reading.

There's a chance the same thing applies to Dick's dickery, but I'm not sure.

You saying you can't see his name without thinking of it makes me pissed off at him. He had so much valuable to say, but he swaddled it in filth that repels people who could have been a receptive audience, and fails to repel some who are perhaps better repelled. Wadda jerk.

I'm sure you know, but I wasn't trying to chastise you for mentioning something you've mentioned before. Hell, if I didn't do that, I'd have to stop writing entirely. And, sorry to say, I ain't gonna do that.

Rachel said...

Makes sense - fear of the unknown/alien other was the major theme of his writing and it's easy to see how that relates to racism. I'll try to find that intro.

Laura said...

Phew, so glad I'm not the only one with this reaction to The Pre-People. And yes it is sad that my reaction to Dick is now coloured by this.

I read my first Dick short story collection a few weeks ago, and first I was loving it, then curious about the lack of interesting female characters, then irritated that they were not just un-interesting but often negative characters, and then finished off with the Pre-People that made me so angry with him because my enjoyment of his fantastic ideas was spoiled!

Ethan, I think you should read it so you know what Rachel's been talking about.

Ethan said...

Laura, I'm gonna get around to it, I promise--maybe once I'm done with the more directed burst of Dick-reading I'm towards the end of now. Been reading the late-in-life Gnostic trilogy/series of books, so far gotten through VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. After that I've got the posthumous Radio Free Albemuth and then I'll probably be checking out The Owl in Daylight--what Dick intended to be the last book in the VALIS trilogy, but never even started writing if I understand correctly--but his last wife, Tessa Dick, wrote her own version, and I'll be very interested to see what that's like.

Actually, I've been very interested in the role of women in these books--in VALIS the primary women characters are essentially obstacles for the men to get over, while in The Divine Invasion the main women are, essentially, the Mother of God and a different incarnation of Jesus (it's of course an open question whether this is actually better). And then in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, the usual Dick stand-in narrator is actually a woman, while the other primary woman character, who is difficult to get a fix on but who is generally presented as at least understandable, if not always sympathetic, is the head of a feminist action group. He pulls off a woman narrator to a questionable level of success, but that it is even questionable rather than just straight-up bad is pretty shocking considering his earlier representations of women. I kind of wonder if it was a kind of deathbed attempt at an apology--if so, it's probably too little too late, but regardless it's kind of fascinating.

By the way, you don't happen to recall offhand the name of the collection you read The Pre-Persons (or People?) in, do you? Eh, never mind, I'm sure I can find it without too much difficulty.