[lit-ideas] Philip K. Dick

  • From: Andy Amago <aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 16 Dec 2004 09:48:02 -0500 (GMT-05:00)

From today's Writer's Almanac.  I wonder if Bush had the same problem with his 
encounters with God.  Alcohol is a drug.  In Bush's case, God let him down.  
Not picking on Bush, just interesting to see people in similar situations.  The 
ol brain in a vat gets in there too.  Santayana's comment about the lover seems 
a bit trite.  Lovers are generally "head over heels" and in other, by 
definition, non-reality based places.  Are absolute good and universal beauty 
not real then?  If they are real, where/what are they, and why do they not have 
the sticking power of evil?  

Putting off getting started,

It's the birthday of science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick, (books by this 
author) born in Chicago (1928). He was one of the first novelists to explore 
the idea of virtual reality, and his work has influenced a generation of 
science fiction writers and filmmakers.

He started writing science fiction in the 1950's, when publishers wanted 
made-to-order science fiction, full of formulaic plots about aliens and 
gadgets. Dick churned these novels out rapidly, sometimes finishing a whole 
novel in a single night. But he grew frustrated with conventional science 
fiction, and he began to write more ambitious novels, hoping they would win him 
a broader audience. He was jealous of writers such as Ray Bradbury and Ursula 
Le Guin, who were accepted by mainstream readers.

In the late 1950's, his marriage was falling apart, he was abusing alcohol and 
drugs, and then he began having visions. He thought he saw a face in the sky. 
He wrote, "It was a vast visage of evil with empty slots for eyes, metal and 
cruel, and worst of all, it was God." He wasn't sure if his visions were 
authentic or if they were symptoms of drug abuse or insanity. He was fascinated 
that he could no longer tell what was real and what wasn't. He started writing 
a series of increasingly strange novels about the nature of reality. His novel 
Time Out of Joint (1959) is about a man who believes he's living in 1950's 
America, when in fact he's living in an artificial replica of the 1950's, 
constructed as a kind of prison.

Dick's novels were highly regarded in science fiction circles and in Europe, 
but they didn't make any money, so Dick wound up on welfare in a seedy 
California neighborhood. He began to suffer from paranoid delusions, believing 
the FBI and the CIA were keeping tabs on him.

Someone broke into Dick's house and destroyed his papers. He found the incident 
strangely comforting, and wrote in his diary, "At least I'm not paranoid." But 
he also briefly considered himself a possible suspect. It was during his period 
that he wrote some of his most important novels, including Do Androids Dream of 
Electric Sheep? (1968) and A Scanner Darkly (1977).

After Dick finally got off drugs, his visions only grew stronger. Over the 
course of a few weeks, he believed God was speaking directly to him through 
flickering colors, voices coming from an unplugged radio, and a beam of light 
that conveyed knowledge directly to his brain. He spent the next eight years 
writing about the experience in his diary, as well as a novel called Valis 
(1981). He studied hundreds of TV advertisements and record albums, looking for 
evidence of the God who had spoken to him. But even though he thought it was 
the most important experience of his life, he also constantly wondered if it 
had been real, or just some weird drug flashback, or a stroke.

He wrote, "They ought to make it a binding clause that if you find God you get 
to keep him... Finding God (if indeed [I] did find God) became, ultimately, a 
bummer, a constantly diminishing supply of joy sinking lower and lower like the 
contents of a bag of [drugs]."

Since his death in 1982, many of his novels and short stories have been made 
into movies, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990) and Minority 
Report (2002). He's been called one of the most influential science fiction 
writers of the 20th century.

Philip K. Dick said, "Insanity is sometimes an appropriate response to reality."

It's the birthday of the philosopher and poet George Santayana, (books by this 
author) born in Madrid (1863). He was the man who coined the famous phrase, 
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Santayana's 
father was Spanish and his mother was Scottish. He spent almost his entire life 
in the United States, though he never wanted to become a citizen. For many 
years he taught philosophy at Harvard, and his students included T.S. Eliot, 
Gertrude Stein, Conrad Aiken, Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens.

Santayana wrote a great deal about art and the importance of creative thinking. 
He once said, "Cultivate imagination, love it, give it endless forms, but do 
not let it deceive you. Enjoy the world, travel over it and learn its ways, but 
do not let it hold you." As he grew older, he became tired of teaching and what 
he called the "thistles of trivial and narrow scholarship," so he left Harvard 
and spent the rest of his life writing. His books include many philosophical 
works, as well as collections of poetry. He also spent about 20 years working 
on a novel, The Last Puritan (1935), about a young man's struggles in Boston 
high society just before World War I.

He said, "The lover knows much more about absolute good and universal beauty 
than the logician or theologian, unless the latter, too, be lovers in disguise."

And, "There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval."

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