Archive for totaldickhead

In Response to “Delusions of Grandeur”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 20, 2011 by theclockworm

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


The Benign Invasion

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2011 by theclockworm


Some of you may have noticed that I removed my earlier post about Gnosticism. This comes after a long week of some fairly unpleasant realizations and conversations. I’d like to be able to talk about some of my ideas, but I’m not sure what the proper forum for that is; I’m pretty sure this isn’t it.

That said, I think I’ve figured some things out in the past week. I started out feeling like no one had ideas even similar to mine; After some serendipitous stumbling around the internet, I discovered some evidence to the contrary over here.  I have yet to make my way through the entirety of Mr. Stratford’s online writing, but suffice it to say, on the major (non-theological) interpretations, a lot of his ideas are similar to mine. There’s a lot less of the religious focus, a lot more openness to the full variety of philosophical implications, and a lot less ass-holery in general than some other places I’ve been. But there’s still a big gap; there’s more than a fair share of the religious language that I’m not so thrilled about, and, indeed, a bit too much of  “gentle” focus on application (in a way that tends to lose the thread of the ideas).

Then today on Totaldickhead, I noticed the word “Techgnostic” used to describe someone (the person in question happened to be Erik Davis, who coined the term as far as I can tell). I hurriedly hunted down some information on this word. Now, obviously I don’t know what Mr. Davis’ book says just yet, nor do I know much about the popular use or understanding of the word. But, judging from this, I might have found something that, in certain iterations at least, begins to approximate my ideas: an evolving philosophy based on a fully non-religious, non-theistic interpretation of certain aspects of Gnostic cosmology.

In short, it’s a form of Panentheism, but without the theism. This post has a handy chart; just substitute “Total reality” for “God” and “Our Reality” for “Universe,” and you have the simplest possible outline of what I’m inclined to think. It’s not a dualistic rejection of the physical, but an emphasis on role, function, and literal interactive potential as the primary characteristic of an object. It is an ontology based on possible action, a cosmology based on access to information.

It’s neat that a scroll through that scholarly piece and the front page of Mr. Stratford’s blog will show mention of PKD. He is just everywhere (ubiquitous, if you will).

So, I’m going to set out to explore and articulate some of my ideas and understandings – just as soon as I figure out a venue and method that seem to fit.

On the one hand, the temptation to compare the representation of these super-celestial realms with the complexity of cyberspace is intellectually suspect because rational mathematics, network architectures and programming codes are so technically distinct from the mystical mathematics, celestial architectures and demonic codes of angel magic. But perhaps, from a qualitative perspective, complexity space is complexity space–any information system, when dense and rigorous enough, takes on a kind of self-organizational coherence which resonates with other systems of complexity.



In other news, I submitted my first story to Clarkesworld – and got my first rejection notice. I’m not too bummed though; I didn’t expect to get published on my first attempt. I turned around and sent it right back out to another market; I’m readying my second (perhaps more publishable) story for submission in the coming days, though a big move and lots of other crap may force me to hold off for a few more days.

The important thing is, I’ve begun the process. The wheels are turning now – I’m writing, editing, submitting, re-submitting. If I can use the momentum the process generates to keep myself going, well, then I’d be a perpetual motion man. Luckily for me, since no such thing exists,  life  provides some fuel as well.

In Defense of a “Crap Artist”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 7, 2011 by theclockworm

I’ve been struggling to find the right way to start writing about Philip K. Dick. I think this is a good point of departure; it sums up my feelings on what makes him important. My thoughts can come later.

I’m going to riff on a comment I left on David Gill’s inestimable TotalDickHead blog, which is where you should go if you want to read insightful stuff about the man and his work.

Gill talks a lot about what he calls the Philip K. Dick Article Machine, characterized mainly by a few repeated (and usually, to Dickheads, excruciatingly annoying and limited) motifs. In my approximation, these are the primary themes:

1. PKD was mentally ill
2. PKD was a drug addict
3. PKD was really into hallucinogenic drugs, in particular LSD
4. PKD was an untalented pulp-writer
5. PKD wrote crazy, paranoid stories that scarcely make sense.
6. Only his ideas are relevant – not his writing or his books

I’m sure I’m leaving some points out. But essentially, this is what almost all articles on Dick put forth, and it serves to reinforce his identity in popular culture.

Let’s be frank: some of the things on the list are true, at least conditionally, or at certain times in his life. Some of those things might have been true, but are difficult to prove and have many detractors, even within the pool of people who knew him well. Some are half-true in a way that is worse than a lie.

Certainly he did use and abuse amphetamines for many years. But some of his most relevant works were written during a time when he was ostensibly off drugs entirely. Whether or not he used psychedelic drugs at all (subject to much debate and not interesting in my opinion), it was infrequent at most, and certainly did not define his work or world-view.

Most people would agree that on some level he was mentally ill. That’s a broad term though, and without qualification, it doesn’t say much of anything. But that’s all beside the point. The real reason it’s offensive is that Dick’s “mental illness” isn’t called up for the sake of accurately describing his life, or in an attempt to gain insight into how he worked; it’s used to explain things away instead of shedding light on a complex individual. It’s injected to cordon off his work, to determine its limitations – the extreme boundaries of his ideas on one side and his “bad writing” on the other.

It’s a lot like how the drug-use thing is employed – as a way of reassuring the reader that these are the notions of an unclear mind, thoughts only a crazy person or a drug-addict could conjure up. It utterly devalues them. And it strips them of their true power: that they’re oftentimes frighteningly plausible.

This whole phenomenon is an extension of the sort of low-level prejudice we still hold against mental illness, and it rubs me the wrong way. A person can be brilliant and mentally ill, or just unstable; maybe they’re connected, maybe not. But the question isn’t whether they’re connected, or how, or in what ways. The question, when discussing literature, should only be whether there’s brilliance there, or talent, or value. Understanding a man’s work by attempting to understand him is very different from bounding him in by his perceived limitations. And, as Gill pointed out recently, there’s also the way these explanations lack empathy. All the facts about a person’s life won’t give you any insight if you can’t imagine how it felt to be him.

While all those things bother me, the item I take the most issue with is this totally ubiquitous “bad writer” moniker. Yes, sometimes he was a bad writer. But sometimes he was a beautiful writer, with a singular, fully realized voice. Take Valis, or Timothy Archer, or parts of Martian Time-Slip. Take Radio Free Albemuth or Flow My Tears or (for fuck’s sake), Confessions of a Crap Artist.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree that Dick was an “idea” writer. And yes, in the end, some of his less eloquent novels can seem to be, at most, vessels for those ideas – ideas stunning and challenging enough that, were he nothing more than the mind which conjured them into being, he would still be of immense value.

But that simply isn’t the case. That’s not where he ends. In fact, he “ends” with three novels (actually, four – Radio Free Albemuth is a central fourth book in the Valis “trilogy”) that are, with minor exceptions, masterpieces: of concept and of style, of the intellectual and of the personal, of idea and of voice. Valis, for all its mind-bending theological speculation, for all its enchanting introductions to esoteric Gnostic sects and three-eyed rock stars, is most important to me because of the way it treats its characters – namely, with a somber, sober, loving honesty, a capacity to question offset by an insistence on empathy.

For an idea writer, Dick could certainly write about people. And for all the flat characters in some earlier material, for all the diabolical women that taint some otherwise competent works, his hits, when it comes to grasping the human condition, overwhelm his misses, in mass if not in number.

I offer for the defense: The interplay between Phil Dick and Horselover Fat in Valis. The theological implications of a dead cat. Manfred Steiner’s inner hell. Angel Archer’s wandering sense of loss. Mourning the satellite in RFA. Jack Bohlen’s slow disappearance into himself. Jack Isidore in his entirety.

As for writing style, what began as a tin-can pulp writer’s voice, stumbling with varying degrees of efficacy through the run-walk-run pacing of amphetamine abuse, tripping over a clunky wordiness grown from a desire to be both academic and expedient, ended up, in these later books, worldly, eloquent, one-of-a-kind . Fans know this voice well: it’s a big baritone, rough around the edges, with a sort of salvific remorse; its sadness comes from having loved imperfectly.

So much of what makes Phil Dick special is that very arc of change: that he rose above his weaknesses to accomplish a few masterpieces and a handful of near-masterpieces. Leaving out the second half of this story is more than a small omission. It drastically de-contextualizes the man’s life and his work.

A redemption story is a tragedy until the last scene. To miss his successes is to misunderstand him completely.