quinta-feira, junho 16, 1994

Access Denied Prototype: “Valis” by Philip K. Dick

(My own copy)


Is Phil Dick talking about regressing back to former time periods, or the much more radical notion of previous structures existing in the sub-strata of reality and emanating forward, like the notion of ancient Rome, a proto-fascist state, The Black Iron Prison of VALIS, falling forward through history. I think for Phil Dick - sensing these things - was no mere matter of psychological themes. And in the exploration of these realities one thing is clear - the date doesn't matter. A smug talking refrigerator door is about everyday oppression. It is humorous but it represents the shadow. Have you heard the automated checkout robot at Woolworths? "Unexpected item in the bagging area." Combining elements of stern accusation and exasperation. So he had it right, now everyday objects talk to us, and form part of an oppressive regime who's intent is to shackle the soul.

The text is the text is the text, and readers must make of it what they will. But I can tell you this: back when he was writing, I and a bunch of others were reading, and everybody I knew thought he was writing about exactly what you seem to think he was writing about. I'm curious: were you around, back in the day?

The movies based on Dick's stories do not necessarily accurately reflect Dick's own themes and metaphors. These days, "android" normally means a humanoid robot, but several decades ago in SF, "android" typically referred to an organic (flesh-and-blood) but synthetic (human created) being. The android was sometimes used as a metaphor for the human being discriminated against on racial or other grounds. ("If you prick us, do we not bleed?") Dick, however, uses the android metaphor differently: as I noted elsewhere, the android for Dick is a human who is damaged in their capacity for empathy and relatedness. That's why Dick would not have been thrilled with the idea of a Phil Dick "android"; but a Phil Dick robot would be just fine.



But is Phil Dick talking about regressing back to former time periods, or the much more radical notion of previous structures existing in the sub-strata of reality and emanating forward, like the notion of ancient Rome, a proto-fascist state, The Black Iron Prison of VALIS, falling forward through history? I think for Phil Dick - sensing these things - was no mere matter of psychological themes. And in the exploration of these realities one thing is clear - the date doesn't matter. A smug talking refrigerator door is about everyday oppression. It is humorous but it represents the shadow. Have you heard the automated checkout robot at Woolworths? "Unexpected item in the bagging area." Combining elements of stern accusation and exasperation. So he had it right, now everyday objects talk to us, and form part of an oppressive regime who's intent is to shackle the soul. It seems to me all past structures are embedded in their futures and our presents and futures. The shadow does not come from Rome, although the metaphysics or physics of it so expressed is very powerful. Whether it was Rome or Akkad or Sparta or any one of the countless human nightmares past or present (North Korea for example) they are human, all too human, nightmares. The shadow is in us and always has been. Unfortunately it seems to be growing stronger and may overpower us all in the form of government super-agencies and private super-corps doing what fascism failed to accomplish, or something unexpected my change it all. Technology and knowledge can empower the shadows but they are in us, and I can't think of it ever being different. Religion and spirituality, God, and trying to live in some godly or spiritual way has not done very much to make things better beyond some inspirational, and co-optable, individual cases. The emergence of technology is as inevitable than it is dangerous. But it becomes dark because it's what people want, or want enough to ignore the negative consequences of getting what they want. Shackling the soul is a perennial human choice. The shackling potentials of today's tech-world just seem to all come together without any plan or prevision. We fought, often bloodily, totalitarianism, slavery, and autocracies with amazing success, but a whole different order of control is emerging and the development of its tools are inevitable.


Phil Dick did have previsions of it and his artistry makes his work far more than just projections of dystopias based on tech. In him the human being is caught up in it all, but also deeply involved in it all.