Monday, February 7, 2011

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

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

Within the universe there exists fierce cold things, which I have given the name "machines" to. Their behavior frightens me, especially when it imitates human behavior so well that I get the uncomfortable sense that these things are trying to pass themselves off as humans but are not. I call them "androids," which is my own way of using that word. By "android" I do not mean a sincere attempt to create in the laboratory a human being... I mean a thing somehow generated to deceive us in a cruel way, to cause us to think it to be one of ourselves. Made in a laboratory--that aspect is not meaningful to me; the entire universe is one vast laboratory, and out of it come sly and cruel entities that smile as they reach out to shake hands. But their handshake is the grip of death, and their smile has the coldness of the grave.
page 211

"Man" or "human being" are terms that we must understand correctly and apply, but they apply not to origin or to any ontology but to a way of being in the world; if a mechanical construct halts in its customary operation to lend you assistance, then you will posit to it, gratefully, a humanity that no analysis of its transistors and relay systems can elucidate. A scientist, tracing the wiring circuits of that machine to locate its humanness, would be like our own earnest scientists who tried in vain to locate the soul in man, and, not being able to find a specific organ located at a specific spot, opted to decline to admit that we have souls. As soul is to man, man is to machine: It is the added dimension in terms of functional hierarchy. As one of us acts godlike (gives his cloak to a stranger), a machine acts human when it pauses in its programmed cycle to defer to it by reason of a decision.
page 212

My theme for years in my writing has been, "The devil has a metal face." Perhaps this should be amended now. What I glimpsed and then wrote about was in fact not a face; it was a mask over a face. And the true face is the reverse of the mask. Of course it would be. You do not place fierce, cold metal over fierce, cold metal. You place it over soft flesh, as the harmless moth adorns itself artfully to terrorize others with ocelli.
page 213

Probably everything in the universe serves a good end--I mean, serves the universe's goals. But intrinsic portions or subsystems can be takers of life. We must deal with them as such, without reference to their role in the total structure.
page 214

20 comments:

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Dude was a sorcerer. Thanks.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

God damn, I read the shit out of this book. Great bus read. I could, from time to time, literally (perhaps, not quite literally) see what he is thinking/speaking/writing about.

Hilariously, the misogynist comment and ensuing discussion from the previous thread leaves me completely unable to talk about Dick is this space (I want to offer a response, but I don't, so I'll say nothing further).

Anyway, nice to see you're enjoying the book enough to write about it.

Ethan said...

I read it because of you! I love Philip K. Dick but had never heard of this book until you quoted from it at your place.

Hilariously, the misogynist comment and ensuing discussion from the previous thread leaves me completely unable to talk about Dick is this space (I want to offer a response, but I don't, so I'll say nothing further).

This doesn't sound hilarious to me! Sounds sad. I mean, don't do anything you don't want to do, but if you've got something you want to say about Dick, by all means say it.

Ethan said...

Two by the ways.

1. By the way, I know what you mean about literally/not literally seeing what he was writing about. Feel the same way myself.

2. By the way, did you know that this year and next there's going to be big big editions of (either selections from or the entirety of) the Exegesis published? Exciting!

what the Tee Vee taught said...

1 & 2: nice; no, I didn't. It looks like much of it is unpublished journals and notes.

As for the no comment - comment. Ah, meh, blah. What I would have said would have been something like:

I don't think it is terribly "fair" to call a personal stranger such a name. Such labels, perhaps(?), exacerbate the terrible problems that cause so much harm and pain between supposed haters of the opposite sex. I probably would have made several more apologies on behalf of a man that I too do not know personally (him dying the year before I was born more of less guaranteed that).

I don't think I would have said anything interesting or insightful... more likely I would have insulted Rachel's perspective, which I certainly didn't want to do.

That line between wanting to say something constructive and not really having anything to say... I was, and still am, standing there — wishing I wasn't.

Thanks for drawing me in.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

Back to the book:

I love how the title literally (this time, definitely literally) performs the title.

It reminds me of Nicholson Baker's joyous essay Changes Of Mind from his book The Size of Thoughts.

Read much of Baker's nonfiction? If not... look forward to it.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Nick Baker kicks ass! The Mezzanine is great, The Fermata funny, Vox is even a little sexy which is unexpected from such an idea-bound processor like Baker. I have The Size of Thoughts but I haven't read that essay.

I once pissed off a book group by choosing The Mezzanine for my turn. Nobody liked it.

Rachel said...

"I don't think it is terribly "fair" to call a personal stranger such a name"

...and I'm sure that this is something you never, ever do, especially with regards to your own personal important issues.

I don't deny that the man had some extremely brilliant and insightful things to say. Dude was a stone cold hater of women though, and I stand by that. I also don't see how politeness and tiptoeing around such things do anything but exacerbate the terrible problems you mention, by making it far easier to deny that a problem exists in the first place. I also don't worry too much about the feelings of oppressors when their conduct is called out for what it is. Particularly dead ones, for what should be obvious reasons. Nothing I say can hurt him now.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

Charles: I think Vox is very sexy — it's the unexpectedness that does it. Hell man, pick that book up, it's the first essay in the book, enjoy, enjoy. It's beautiful.

Rachel: I don't know, I call people I don't know bad names, but not for their art.

I'm not saying he isn't a misogynist, I don't claim to know. (I don't know that much about him). But to say he "hates women". period. Hell. I always find such definitive claims to be too simplistic, too reductive, and therefore not too useful. I mean, "hate"... what the hell does that mean? And to say someone hates all of something (especially when, as Ethan documented, he had some pretty good relationships with some of the women in his life)

So I'm not saying you're wrong, or anything like that. I'm just skeptical of the word's meaning and usage.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Best you can honestly say, Rachel, is that you knew PKD personally and he treated you like he hated you.

You can't know another's emotions, you can only try to divine them from the other's behavior.

Busting on PKD in retrospect for "hating women" is awfully broad-brush. There are plenty of reasons why humans behave as though they "hate" other creatures, but most of these reasons have to do with abuse during childhood, and the behavior arising out of the abuse is not a product of conscious thought.

Unless you knew PKD his whole life, including his childhood, you really can't conclude he "hated women." For example, it's entirely conceivable that his mother was wicked toward him, and that set the tone for how he felt about women generally, as a subconscious thing.

That doesn't make life easier for someone who deals with a survivor of childhood abuse, but it does more accurately examine the behavior of the supposed "woman-hater."

Aside from that, it all depends on what woman you ask. If you polled all my past girlfriends, you could find one or two who concluded that I "hate women" because of how I treated her, but then if you asked some other past GFs they'd say I "loved women."

I'm not gonna buy that notion of PKD being a misogynist. Sorry, Rachel.

Ethan said...

Argh.

I'm not sure why anyone thinks Rachel's saying she's peered deep into the heart of PKD and divined a secret misogyny.

She's saying that misogyny drips all over his writing. Which as far as I'm concerned isn't particularly arguable. I mean, the "Mad at a judge? Trick his daughter into pregnancy!" bit that started this whole conversation is a very mild example. In another essay in the same book, he seems to indicate that his primary concern with rape is that it be heterosexual. And, again, I haven't read the story Rachel keeps pointing to as being particularly heinous, but from what she says it sounds, well, heinous.

Dudes, which wtTVt, Charles, and I all are, have the privilege of not being personally battered by this stuff constantly, which makes it easier for us to overlook it and equivocate about it. All Rachel is doing (and what I am trying to do) is refusing to do that. As Rachel says (kind of), ignoring things like this only makes them worse.

wtTVt, I think I understand your objection, but at the same time I find it untenable. I mean, can you think of any other case where you would privilege the secret contents of a person's head over their actual manifest actions? Remember that we are talking about him as a writer, and as such it is his writings we are talking about as his actions.

Charles, saying that PKD was a pretty intense misogynist says nothing about the origins of that misogyny; I think most of us can take for granted that it didn't arise spontaneously out of some inexplicable malevolence of Dick's own creation but rather came largely from whatever his personal history living in this misogynist culture of ours happened to be--but that doesn't particularly matter any more than what he really really thought in his secret heart does. When we're reading his words, we're reading his words, and that's what we react to, and what we talk about.

His words, very frequently, display an intense hatred of women. The only way you can argue against that is, continuing with the examples I've already used, to argue that tricking women into pregnancy and being OK with raping them isn't woman-hating. Which, you know, you can do, but you won't be right.

None of this is said to invalidate PKD's work, and none of it is to say that there isn't any complexity in his attitude towards women specifically. I mean, hell, I just posted 1500 words of his out of admiration, and Rachel keeps saying over and over that there's a lot to like about him. He's also, as Charles and wtTVt both point out, a complicated human being, and part of appreciating that complication and humanity is appreciating the fact that, very very often, his writings drip with misogyny.

***

The only Nicholson Baker I've read is Human Smoke, which is so brilliant that I can't even deal with it. Other things good, fiction and non?

Rachel said...

Thanks Ethan. I will add only that this is the exact same sort of mush-mouthed apologia for "our side" that the same people would instantly notice and ruthlessly condemn (rightly, natch) were it directed at, say, a Democrat.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

The trope of "I don't know 'cuz I'm not a woman" is nonsense, IMO. Every human male who isn't the Star QB in HS knows what it's like to be denigrated, genderwise, by those whom you may seek to attract or at least turn into a pleasant acquaintance. The dismissive comments of classmate girls regarding how one measures up against The School Stud, and how one isn't measuring up and therefore should buzz off and stop entertaning fantasies of The Girl Beyond Your Reach, that sort of thing.

When a writer writes and includes something horrendous in the story, that doesn't automatically mean he approves of the horror and would do the same himself.

Best you can say is, the writer imagines such scenes and how they play out with the characters so imagined.

Including a scene of a woman being raped isn't the same as saying, "fuck yeah, let's rape 'em all!"

Sheesh.

Ethan said...

The trope of "I don't know 'cuz I'm not a woman" is nonsense, IMO

Good thing no one ever said that then!

As for the rest of what you said, no shit, but it doesn't apply. When you include tampering with someone's birth control in an ecstatic list of suggested behaviors, it's very different from having someone do that in a story.

Rachel said...

I should add that originally upon reading The Prepersons, I was utterly convinced it was a joke, never intended to be taken seriously. No one could be that nuts. And then I read the MULTITUDES OF LETTERS sent and received by Mr. Dick about the story that were included in the preface to my book of his collected short stories, and was sadly forced to admit that he was indeed in earnest.

"The trope of "I don't know 'cuz I'm not a woman" is nonsense, IMO"

Aaaaand, this is why I usually never comment on the internet without using a male pseudonym. It's really stunning how fast men leap to condescend and belittle anything that appears to have a vag.

"The dismissive comments of classmate girls regarding how one measures up against The School Stud, and how one isn't measuring up and therefore should buzz off and stop entertaning fantasies of The Girl Beyond Your Reach, that sort of thing."

Boo. Fucking. Hoo.

Rachel said...

Ok, I can't let it slide with just that. I... can't even fucking believe that you're saying you understand sexism because you didn't get to fuck your favorite cheerleader in High School. That is just....Jesus Christ. Goddamn. I'm going to have to drink my newly increased hatred of humankind away after that one. And I'm not sure there's alcohol strong enough.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

I'll try to keep this short, largely because I hope we can step back from what now seems to be a gettin-nastier-as-we-go discussion.

I began in response to this, from Rachel:

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.

I disagreed. I felt this was a direct conflation of art and artist, and I tried to say so. But, I also recognized where Rachel was coming from, that's why — if you're willing to go back and look — I tried to explain why I was hesitant to say anything — fearing my words would betray my sentiment.

Ethan, you — a few comments ago — suggested I should remember we were only talking about PKD's art... that's fundamentally what I didn't think we were doing.

Now, if you want to speak to his art and art only, you can make such an argument. I still don't love it, find it too reductive, and ultimately a poor conclusion — quite similar to Charles' sentiment from his 11:47 comment.

I think we're all blue-ribbon folk, interested in treating each other well, enjoying the life we have, etc etc. So I wish you all a nice evening, "talk" to you soon.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

And Ethan:

For as brilliant as Human Smoke is... he hasn't even lifted his pen yet.

You've just seen how well he "sees" the world. Wait until he writes about it.

Ethan said...

I think I'm getting a better sense of your argument now--though I still am not sure what harm, per se, it does to point out how vicious some of Dick's writing on women can be; rather, I still say it is good to point it out, to make it clear that we see this.

On Baker: wow.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

sure, I don't see that harm either.