I’ve just finished reading David Gill’s thesis on PKD, available here. I wanted to share some reflections and responses; they’re pretty “out of joint (it’s OK to hit me),” so my apologies. They also only cover the first chapter for the most; I thought the rest was great and said most of what I would have wanted to say anyhow. I join the chorus of others in praising this thesis as one of the few readable, enlightening, and astute works of in PKD studies.
As we all know, nothing in PKD is as simple as any single explanation. So let it be understood that my additions, expansions, etc. are not meant to refute Gill’s positions, all of which I agree with at least to a point, but simply to throw some additional aspects into the pot.
Two brief notes that didn’t fit anywhere below:
- I’d be interested in a further exploration of Dick’s use of literalization; it’s something I see as one of his more skillful and important contributions, and worthy of more study.
- I like the fact that Gill is clear that the Dick he speaks of is the “meta-persona that has been culturally constructed by other writers.” Clear and important distinction.
“Dick’s brilliance in working with paranoia in Time Out of Joint lies in his ability to complicate the Freudian concept of paranoia by constructing a narrative that can be interpreted as the protagonist’s rise from delusion, while at the same time, can be seen as chronicling a descent into a deeper, more delusional psychosis.”
I think this connects to something I felt about VALIS the first time I read it: that by positing at every point that the revelation or comprehension may be its opposite, or of opposite value, Dick gives credence to even the most fantastic of ideas. By saying, “And then I was closer to the truth – or father from it,” he safeguards against the skeptical reader’s natural reaction to the statement “And then I was closer to the truth,” which would be to retort “- or farther from it.” But because he gives so much attention to both sides, truly exploring the implications of his rightness or wrongness, we can’t see it as simply a way to beg off questions and criticisms. The human and intellectual quality of Dick’s doubts is what makes his so powerful a writer.
Do you think the doubt Dick sews in TOOJ is simply literary, or is it also reflective of a worldview or a way of judging character? It strikes me that some of the approach is almost a mockery of unbalanced skepticism; when Gumm says “I know it’s my psychosis…but I still don’t want to get caught,” I feel like there’s something darkly humorous there. Dick was a skeptic, but he understood that to be one side of the coin of total intellectual maturity, with openness to the possible – however unlikely – as the other side. This also connects to the mention of Dicks derision of Gumm; I posit that what he was deriding may have been Gumm’s inability to accept the obvious.
Cantor is quoted “The paranoid individual’s special and often cunning ability to see into the heart of matters, put a finger on the basics, and then decide what exactly the right move should be are all parameters of that elusive gift that we call being brilliant.”
I suspect that Dick felt that the path to brilliance, or truth, or Gnosis, was inexorably tied to the path of disillusionment and paranoia, because reality total really IS that bad. Under all the paranoia and narcissism, being the most important person in the world isn’t good for Gumm; the world he’s the center of is hellish.
Which leads to the rundown of the process of doubt Dick leads Gumm and the reader through: Gumm may not be psychotic, but rather neurotic: his grandiosity may be real, and his fantasies of normalcy and stasis a reaction to that fact. The “babyland” idea comes up a lot in Dick’s irv, and to me represents neurosis amazingly well, especially as these “safe” settings almost always prove otherwise. The truth might be bad, but at least you don’t have a surprise to look forward to. Of course these are both rooted in narcissism, at least theoretically; but again, isn’t that splitting hairs a bit? Any view of reality that is seriously flawed will tend to point an outside observer to the sense of self. I don’t know that it proves that one’s impression of self-importance is always the cause of these failures to perceive reality.
Cantor is quoted “…grandiosity and persecution are opposite sides of the same coin, as illustrated by the related and generally inseparable beliefs, ‘I am important enough to be singled out for persecution’ and ‘I am singled out for persecution because I am important enough’”
Certainly this is one way to see things, just as one can approach Phil’s mystical experiences from this perspective. But I think it’s important to remember that Dick was working out his experiences, worldview, etc. in his writing. While the above statement is often applicable in an analytical setting, it excludes a very important third option: that the subject simply becomes aware of his persecution or undue attention. Much of Dick’s writing seems to me to deal with this meta-question: “ I have seen something, I know it to be true. Now what?” Let’s create a third possibility to go with Cantor’s two: “I am being persecuted. I am being singled out. Therefore, someone is persecuting me or singling me out. I do not need to believe I am important; they have done that for me.”