Archive for the ‘PKD’ Category

Random PKD Quote No.2

August 10, 2013

“Burroughs posits an information virus (or ‘virus’ [like]). (Not so, KW says.)

If that plasmic energy is alive, and it is (or it carries) information, then we have living information. Logos? Information plasma which enters through the optic nerve primarily — or auditorily. Signals that control our brains, open GABA blocked circuits. Like pressing keys on a typewriter.

Once having entered the person’s brain via the optic nerve it now modulates brain functioning so that the person subliminally transduces messages (including instructions) and hence is a ‘cell’ in the brain, responding to sentient override — lifted out of the blind forces of the Yin realm, his actions integrated with that of all others like him. It’s like a beehive, a colony entity, and is immortal, replenishing and shedding continually. Member-units (v. Schopenhauer on the fruit flies*).

*In The World as Will and Representation, vol.1, Schopenhauer uses beehives and ant-colonies as an example of the “will-without-knowledge” working in nature.”

From Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, eds., The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2011), 360, 907.

See also.

On Reading About Wilhelm Reich

October 23, 2010

It was a passage in Fury on Earth that struck me, where Myron Sharaf likens Reich’s approach to the traditions of “new journalism”, which I commonly associate with Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. Reich was, at this point in Sharaf’s biography, in the midst of a massive worker’s demonstration, brutally put down by the Vienna police on 15 July 1927. There was, I thought, more of Thompson in Reich’s situation than Wolfe. But perhaps opinions differ.

Reading biographies is this kind of surreal experience, at once removed from the subject by the author’s choices. This second-hand reading of Reich is troubling to me. For I feel, having read and shuffled through his own notes and papers, that I know him better than this. Of course, Sharaf knew the man personally, and provides a perspective that should be seriously considered.

In Sharaf we find a very completed Reich. A sort of linear, mechanistic plot through Reich’s life that often misses the real feel of a lived existence. But it’s perhaps for all biographies to seem, at a certain limit, undead.

This recalls for me a more unfiltered account of Reich’s death. For to know of his passing in 1957 in a cell in Lewisberg Penitentiary in Philadelphia is one thing, to have seen the old typed and stamped autopsy report in his prison record is another. Archives provide this kind of liminal space between the living person and his or her many dead biographies. We can recall accounts, as with efforts by recent academics in Canadian literature, of authors being brought back from the dead to publish again. Another short story collection by L.M. Montgomery?

Biographies are in this sense constantly being re-written, re-imagined. But the limbo from which the images are drawn is often archival. New biographical tangents are always a possibility when an untapped archive is present. Consider, as a random example, the new re-envisioning of Philip K. Dick we will witness next year with the publication of his exegesis.

Of course, I have high hopes for my biographical re-imagining of Reich. Faced with the complete, authoritative approach taken by Sharaf, this might seem unrealistic. But in and among Sharaf’s vast and weighty biography are holes. It essentially never comes to be whole.

Missed in Sharaf is a unifying vision, a sense that in all of Reich’s diverse forays into psychoanalysis, politics, biology, philosophy, physics, medicine, weather control and even ufology there was a common thrust. If you will pardon the pun.

And this is where it gets fascinating. For perhaps there is no unity in the individual. Maybe the sense of a cohesive self, often eluding even the self concerned, is not that real. The ideal Platonic form of an individual life is something we desperately want to believe is true, but rarely is. Arguably, this is what defines a good biography — those that subscribe to an individual’s sense of cohesiveness are limited, those that explore the multi-dimensional and often contradictory elements of a life are just, well, better.

With Reich one can break things down easily. His life transformations are acute. From insider, a star student of Freud and at the center of 1920s Viennese intellectual life, to peripheral figure, banished from communist and psychiatric organizations and left to his own devices conducting research on bions in the Scandinavian hinterland (well, Oslo). This 1930s period also marks the real beginning of Reich’s sense of “outsiderness”. It’s here he starts to experience criticism, much of it in the mainstream Norwegian media, and in turn slowly develops a sense of being persecuted.

The real transformation in Reich comes in 1939, when he flees Europe and comes to America, a Jewish intellectual emigre like so many others. But Reich is different here again, for instead of finding a space to interact with a dynamic intellectual community in New York, he slowly moves away from the city, and on his ranch in northern Maine — Organon — tries to reproduce his idyllic rural upbringing in Galicia.

In the end, there is very little that’s idyllic about Reich’s later years. The research center at Organon becomes a kind of pastoral prison (perhaps, oddly, preparing him for his final days in actual prison), isolating him physically from the American scientific and intellectual world in the same way his ideas did mentally.

This is the crux. For Reich himself understood (or at least thought he understood) the connections and links between all his apparently divergent and bizarre theories. I’m more sure of this than anything. How else could he have continued to pursue them at the risk of not just collegial censor, but actual investigation on the part of a US government agency, the FDA? In Sharaf, there’s an attempt to keep a cohesive narrative going about Reich’s work and ideas, but it falls apart — it relies on chronology, structured around key events and turning points that, interestingly, are more responses to Reich than changes in his own approach.

It’s absurd to expect someone to understand the inner working of another mind. But similarities in character can help. In this respect, Sharaf is a poor biographer of Reich. Though they were in close contact for years, and Sharaf explores that personal relationship at the outset of the book, it’s clear he doesn’t have a modicum of Reich’s intense personal conviction and strength of character. This is the true Reich — not a fanatic, but a seriously self-deluded visionary. And yet what visionary isn’t self-deluded? How can you keep committed to a set of ideas and theories for so long in the face of stark outside criticism without being crazed and compulsive about them to begin with?

The title of Sharaf’s biography (Fury on Earth) reminds us that he understood, to a point, what deep unseen forces drove Reich. And he certainly provides, through material garnered from primary sources and extensive interviews, as complete a perspective on Reich as we currently have. But, for some reason, at least from my personal point of view, this still seems unsatisfactory.

Why? Well, there are ideas in Reich, I think, that can inform the deepest and most profound critiques of our current world. And, sadly, nothing in the supposed transformations of the last 50 years has changed this much. Many of those who followed, in their own particular way, in Reich’s footsteps, are still fringe. Even more tragically, those elements of Reich’s thought that have entered the mainstream of medicine and psychotherapy generally don’t acknowledge his influence. Reich’s cosmology, if you can call it that, is fundamentally antithetical to the world we live in. And in this respect, continuing to try to tease out new meaning from his fascinating life path is valuable.

Reich felt, along with Nietzsche, that “all the regulations of mankind are turned to the end that the intense sensation of life is lost in continual distraction.” It’s easy enough to argue this process has only been amplified in the ensuing years…

Like Wittgenstein, Reich felt we reach a point where the elements of life are no longer describable in words. In a world where everybody is clamoring for attention and trying to get a word in edgewise, this deep understanding is more valuable by the minute. There’s no better reason to continue to try and understand Reich’s life and work.

Myron R. Sharaf, Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich (New York: St. Martin’s, 1983).

Ridley Scott Going Back to PKD

October 8, 2010

According to The Guardian (and re-blogged by io9), Ridley Scott will be putting together a BBC miniseries based of Philip K. Dick’s alternate history sci-fi novel about a triumphant Reich and axis, The Man in the High Castle. Scott’s direction was combined with a story taken from the PKD oeuvre (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”) in the classic Blade Runner. Will be interesting to see the results here…

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

April 29, 2010

Snazzy title. As this NYT blog, Arts Beat, reports, there are plans afoot to release a two volume edition of PKD’s theological ramblings (one is entitled to use the somewhat derogatory “ramblings” when the extant work extends to more than 8000 pages…).

I must say, fascinated as I am to peruse these magical writings, it all seems a bit macabre. And believe me, I know macabre…

Anyway, aside from reservations about parading around a dead man’s thoughts and ramblings never meant to be published in the public sphere, I expect there will be some magisterial moments in all this straight plain crazy.

Interestingly, the outline of this larger exegetic experiment is to be found in PKD’s novel VALIS, telling the tale of Horselover Fat, a sci-fi writer who has a religious experience and goes insane, all at once. VALIS winds in many directions, but can ultimately be described as a Gnostic science fiction novel. And brilliant.

This makes mention of any new PKD material noteworthy.

Johnathan Lethem, one of the exegesis editors (can you edit an exegesis?), says: “It’s absolutely stultifying, it’s brilliant, it’s repetitive, it’s contradictory. It just might contain the secret of the universe.”

Sounds like a page turner…

N.B. Apologies that April has been PKD month; judging from the stats, this in not a “big topic” around here. Maybe it’s time I tagged better…

PKD in France (1977)

April 23, 2010

A trio of videos comprising an interview with Philip K. Dick in 1977 at a sci-fi convention in France on the contrasting perceptions of science fiction in the US and France, the reception of his work on the continent and the political ramifications of all this in Light of the mid-70s “political culture” of the US.

Interesting stuff. There is something otherworldly about the videos; they are badly recorded and there’s lots of noise and information entropy — it’s almost as if Dick is a simulacrum of himself. A Dickian theme to say the least. All very Baudrillard and “not-real”. But as Dick would doubtlessly ask himself a thousand times a day: “What is real?”

Random PKD Quote No.1 (In a Series)

December 18, 2009

This is the most deliriously bent passage of fiction I’ve read in the last week. Note that during that time I was also reading this.

“And, even as the objects in her office settled massively against her, they became, on another level, remote; they receded in a meaningful, terrifying fashion. They were losing, she realized, their animation, their — so to speak — working souls. The animae which inhabited them were departing as her powers of psychological projection deteriorated. The objects had lost their heritage of the familiar; by degrees they became cold, remote, and — hostile. Into the vacuum left by the decline in her relatedness to them the things around her achieved their original isolation from the taming forces which normally emanated from the human mind; they became raw, abrupt, with jagged edges capable of cutting, gashing, inflicting fatal wounds. She dare not stir. Death, in potentiality, lay in every object; even the hand-wrought brass ash tray on her desk had become irregular, and in its lack of symmetry it obtained projecting planes, shot out surfaces which, like spines, could tear her open if she was stupid enough to come near.”

From Philip K. Dick, Now Wait For Last Year (New York: Daw Books, 1981 [1966]), 69.

The Cyberpunk Movement: A Brief History

December 1, 2006

While “high” art is often understood, particularly in the 20th century, in terms of movements, so-called “genre” fiction, supposedly driven by overt market imperatives, is seen as highly individualistic. “High” and “low” art here are broad parodies of the polarity of collectivist and libertarian behavior.

Early manifestations of sci-fi, its putatively “golden age”, closely match the latter characterization. Individual styles and individualist rhetoric are visible in equal quantities.

Cyberpunk, however, expresses a more self-conscious, self-reflexive approach to the sci-fi genre, embracing an ontological imperative that goes well beyond spinning a good yarn into the realm of probing social criticism. It was a mission shared by a distinct group of sci-fi writers who responded to classical aspects of the genre, and more closely resembles the movement objectives seen in high art. While this ambition to distort social realities in order to question them is visible in all sci-fi, it was a more clear and unified phenomena in cyberpunk.

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986), edited by Bruce Sterling, brings together classic stories of the c-punks. Many are the works challenging the old positivist golden age approach to science. Nowhere is this more apparent than in William Gibson’s “The Gernsback Continuum,” a movement manifesto and parody of the ivory tower conception of a utopian technocratic society. The cyberpunks clearly recognized that there was no utopia associated with science and technology. No matter the problems it might solve, it always created new ones…

Another story in Mirrorshades, Tom Maddox’s “Snake-Eyes,” is a critique of the dehumanizing potential of technology and a challenge to the physicalist, mechanist and reductionist view of mind. The list of pieces that take up similar themes in cyberpunk is a long one.

Demonstrating a radical sympathy for the hacker archetype in his famous non-fiction work The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, Sterling, the Texas-born libertarian light within the movement, reminds us that ideology aside, an essential and tacit resistance to the status-quo was also part of what the cyberpunks were all about.

And yet, despite this ambition, their cautionary visions have become our realities. I often feel reading Gibson’s Neuromancer and other early works of the movement in the mid-80s was like a prep school for the world I live in now. Today’s headlines in the Middle East seem like the proper unfolding of the future described in, say, George Alec Effinger’s novel, When Gravity Fails.

The origins of cyberpunk lie in the cloudy, murky backwaters of the Cold War world: the deep, dark satire of William S. Burroughs; the paranoid, pink-light-of-God-tinged delusions of Philip K. Dick; the detailed madness of Thomas Pynchon; and even the bizarre post-Orwellian collages of John Brunner all contribute to the inspirational mélange.

The newest wave of the movement is best summarized in the inspired energy and unending creativity of Neal Stephenson. His work is both richly original and a deep homage to his inspirations – here one thinks of the parallels between Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow – and yet he has moved into a realm, particularly with his recent, admittedly highly laudable series of historical novels, that transcends his grittier c-punk roots.

In truth, the cyberpunk movement was really a moment in time, reflective of the last painful transformative phase towards a global, homogenized, hive-mind mass-media megalopolis subtly concealed behind the sad and hackneyed rhetoric of unbridled individuality. For those who like dates, let’s say the decade between 1984 and 1993. In an ironic twist, cyberpunk was one of the last collective attempts at an anarchic, libertarian critique of the emerging techno-hell we all will eventually come to inhabit. It was perhaps the last gasp of doubt, of insistent cynicism, of cleverly camouflaged Luddism; the last real meaningful collective contribution fiction (or even art, “high” or otherwise) had to critically recording the triumphal and unending march of techno-science and its mediated analogues.

Their distopic imaginary vistas are our reality.


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