In Response to ‘Expansive Reality…’

So I began reading Josh Lind’s thesis on PKD quite some time ago, and have happily returned to finish the task. I rank Josh’s paper amongst the more enjoyable and edifying PKD studies, and recommend it highly. I apologize for the lack of structure, but really, who wants to read a formal review of a formal thesis? My feedback mostly focuses on the main thesis and the chapter on Martian Time Slip, largely due to space, time (mine, not in the absolute sense), and the fact that I haven’t read Three Stigmata.

EDIT: In light of how crappy it was of me to turn the productive discussion of Dick and Postmodernism into a seeming “sports competition,” I have redacted much of the paragraph that used to be here. Instead, let me just say this: Lind’s thesis helps tackle the question of Dick in terms of Postmodernism and Humanism, delineating the way in which his context and approach were PoMo and his conclusions largely Humanist. In one brief statement, Lind sums up the synthesis of these two approaches beautifully: “ The implications of these techniques will lead to the positive aspects of humanism — such as connectivity, empathy, and karma — that survive problematized reality.”

There it is, folks. It’s a conservation-of-value situation. Dick, ever rigorous in his critiques, puts everything through the gauntlet, and what survives are the things of highest value. Dick did have more concrete ideas, he did have certainties – they were, however, limited to those things which could stand up to scrutiny. Reality fails where humanity sometimes sneaks in a win. There’s another good summation in the closing: “Dick insists that there are human consequences involved in indeterminacy.”

Lind takes us through various critical responses, and seems to resolve with Lem’s balanced understanding – one which doesn’t throw away the tenuous and tentative spiritual introspections of the later works for the dynamic mythologizing and social commentary of earlier material. It’s refreshing to see this balance reinforced in the present; I think it’s the appropriate response to a complex man with a complex body of work.

One connection which seemed to be plain but which was not articulated is the way the former Dick gave way to the latter. Dick believes, according to Lind, that “reality is constructed through social processes. Clearly, however, he does not trust the way it has been defined.” However, the movement of this uncertainty – portrayed several places as it relates to ontology and cultural reference – toward the deeper, more fundamental uncertainty about self, is only implied. I suppose that’s better fit for another work, but I would like to see someone further trace the drastic shift in his writing from this sort of metaphorical, notional fictionalizing to the very human, humane, and personal approach of his latter novels. I’ve always loved the Dick who wrote Valis; it’s only more recently that the Dick who wrote the ‘puzzle-box’ stories of the fifties has gained my understanding.

I really like that Lind gives so much attention to Martian Time-Slip. This was the first Dick book I loved, the one that led me to my present state of obsession. I’ve re-read it many times, and though it has some flaws, it has far more of value than is usually recognized. If most of Dickhead-dom can look past the obvious failings of Ubik to see the underlying value, I think MTS should be an easy fix.

Lind pursues the implications of socioeconomics astutely in this chapter, without a corrupting stance in any particular camp. He also gives us a truly perfect statement: “Waiting in the check-out line is the one great ceremony of consumer society, a ritual in which one’s faith in the consumerist system is most severely tested, where the desire for the fetishized product triumphs over the androidization of standing in line.”

Though I like and agree with the metaphorical reading of Jack’s perception that his boss is a machine, I’d also like to see someone tackle these negative revelations and in terms of an early dualist orientation toward reality, predicting the eventual strains of Gnosticism in which he found some rooting (though later, he seemed to move past the radical dualism of Gnosticism’s more immature iterations). Occurring before much of Dick’s important spiritual experiences and realizations, there are, as he himself admits, strains of this position that stretch through his oldest works. It strikes me that much of the “pessimism” in pre-Pink Beam works is essentially a negative/dualist shade of cosmological insight, having not yet become mediated by study and personal integration.

“…crucial to Martian is the idea that time is something that one can shut out or disregard in the face of social alienation only if one can face indeterminacy of a completely subjective existence.”

Another connection that was all laid out but not assembled was the way this conclusion related back to the ways in which Dick was and was not a Postmodernist and a Humanist. I’m also curious about how this might play into Dick’s own sense of literal unreality; it could act as a precursor to the self-doubt he expresses so eloquently when grappling with the cosmological issues of Valis.

I realize that most of my feedback here is just riffing on an idea, riding it over to the areas of study most important to me personally. This is just the way my brain works. However, the fact that Lind didn’t do these things is proof of the strength of his thesis. I commend him for a well-constructed piece that actually manages to confer insight. Well done. And anyone who’d like to look at some of the PoMo discussion without spending the dough for Umberto’s book (I wish I had it!), this is a great place to start.


One Response to “In Response to ‘Expansive Reality…’”

  1. Thanks for the comments. I’m glad you found them useful — and I’m glad you like “Martian Time-Slip” — it’s such a marvelous novel. Cheers.

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