Saturday, April 16, 2011

Was PKD Crazy/Were his experiences Real? a quick note

Questions about the reality of Dick's mystical experiences might be compared to questions about his sanity. We don't really have access to information that could confirm or deny. (aside-we might also compare the whole issue of authorial intention.) But we do know that Dick himself was worried about the problem, and devoted a large chunk of his literary energies to such speculations. My wish is that we aim to be at least as sophisticated as PKD himself was in our interrogations of these questions and the assumptions underlying them.

see also my comment on Dave Gill's excellent post on the "crazy" question
Weekly Round Up


  1. As Lawrence Sutin incisively states it in his "Introduction" to The Shifting Realities Of Philip K. Dick (NY: Vintage Books, 1995): "...the point here is not to seek to argue on behalf of Dick as an inspired seer, or even -- necessarily -- as a "sane" human being. (There is no "proof" possible as to the sanity or insanity of Philip K. Dick.) Rather, it is to challenge the reader to resist labels and to plunge into the ideas expressed in the texts themselves, and to wrest from them what seems useful and vital without regard to predisposing diagnostic labels." (p. xxiii)

  2. That's a great comment, Frank. I think it's natural for PKD to try to determine what is real about his experiences, but it's difficult for us to do so without passing judgment. (Incidentally, I'll also say that I think Sutin's biography is pretty solid; some people have slammed it as inaccurate in places, but it really brings PKD alive. I'm glad it now has a wider release.)

  3. I would agree with you, Josh, about Sutin's biography of Philip K. Dick. As I re-read parts of it now and then, it resonates with what PKD has actually written more and more. But I would also add Gregg Rickman's work as well. In conjunction with Sutin's, together they give, I think, a pretty accurate picture of PKD and what is useful and vital in his writing as he tries to find viable answers to What is "human," and What is Reality.

  4. As a follow-up to my previous post, I would add, from Gregg Rickman's To The High Castle Philip K. Dick: A Life 1928-1962 (Long Beach, CA: Fragments West, 1989):

    "I think that to fully understand Dick's writing in its historical context one must understand the man in his. I do not neglect the "material conditions" that shaped Dick's writing: the historical contexts of world war and cold war that swirled around Phil Dick, the economic factors that shaped his writing and affected his marriages, the cultural environment of America in the '50s, an environment that gave him space to express his feelings in the guise of a literary novel" (p. xxv).

    An important point here, one that most PKD scholars and critics tend to overlook or just neglect, is Phil's "cultural environment of America in the '50s," what he calls more than once in his letters, essays and interviews a "Zeitgeist." His attempts to cope with and understand this Zeitgeist can be found in his stories and novels.