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Commentary on Foreigners' (P. K.) Dick

Commentary on Foreigners' (P. K.) Dick

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Published by Frank Bertrand
Critical commentary of three foreign criticisms of Philip K. Dick, to include a Swiss and Icelandic dissertation
Critical commentary of three foreign criticisms of Philip K. Dick, to include a Swiss and Icelandic dissertation

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Published by: Frank Bertrand on Jun 25, 2013
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09/18/2013

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Commentary on Foreigners’ (P.K.) Dick
 By Frank C. BertrandIt is certainly understandable if one gets the impression that a majority of pastand current criticism and/or commentary about Philip K. Dick is of American origin. Mostnewspaper and magazine pieces about Phil, as tracked by
The Reader’s Guide ToPeriodical Literature
, will be found in American publications. The steadily increasingstream of academic essays about Phil, in such well known peer-reviewed scholarly journals as
Science Fiction Film and Television
, are of American derivation. And let’snot overlook the deepening pile of theses, dissertations, monographs and book lengthstudies wafting down from the broken windows in the various dilapidated ivy-coverededifices strewn across our land like so many waifish watchtowers. These, too, areproudly made in America.In spite of all this, however, the first two critical essays written about Philip K.Dick are British. The first PhD dissertation was written in French. And any open-minded,non-cliquish check will ascertain that foreigners have had just as much, if not more,meaningful things to say about Phil than Americans.One such notable commentary isthat by the Chilean novelist and poetRoberto Bolaño (1953-2003), who wasposthumously awarded the National BookCritics Circle Award in 2008 for his novel
2666
, of which they wrote, “…what he leftbehind is a work so rich and dazzling that it will surely draw readers and scholars forages.” In the recently published collection,
Between Parentheses
(NY: New Directions
 
Books, 2011), which includes most of the columns Roberto wrote for the
Las ÛltimasNoticias
newspaper, from May 1999 – July 2001, he writes that “Dick was a kind of Kafka steeped in LSD rage….[A] Thoreau plus the death of the American Dream.” Also,“Dick is the first, literally speaking towrite eloquently about virtualconsciousness,” and, “…despiteeverything, never loses his sense of humor, which means that he owesmore to Twain than to Melville.”(
Between Parentheses
, p. 197
inpassim
)Each of these four statements are quite intriguing and worth further explication, inparticular the last one about Phil’s “sense of humor, which means that he owes more to Twain than Melville.” I would argue for Jonathan Swift versusMark Twain, but Dick’s use of humor, especially “black humor,” issomething that’s been conveniently overlooked in favor of valiantly continuing to attempt to make him into a slicksimulacrum of a venerable PoMo Mystic saint.Instead one could start with something that Phil actuallywrote, not what some pundit tells us he meant to write, and that is in a 9-30-64 letter: “Ifind sorrow in humor and humor in sorrow, and not only in sorrow but in the mighty, theseriousness of life, the great weighty matters that assail us and determine ourdestiny…” This is intriguingly similar to what Mark Twain wrote for the epitaph to chapter
 
ten of 
Following The
Equator (1897): “The secretsource of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There isno humor in Heaven.” Add to this a dash of what PhilDick says in a 9-30-81 interview with Gregg Rickman,that “A lot of the humor that comes later in my writing,which is successful, can be seen in an early form in
The Man Who Japed
. The guy finding the head whenhe goes to buy a pie in the automat. That kind of thing.” And, from the same interview, sprinkle in, “They all had the same elements of humor – they were balanced, they were beautifully balanced between humor andtragedy, I think.”As for Roberto comparing Phil to Franz Kafka, that is not so new, though hischaracterization is certainly vivid and memorable. Unfortunately, there is no reliableevidence that Phil took LSD regularly, thusa “LSD rage” is unlikely. Brian W. Aldisscompared Kafka to Phil years ago, and theauthor/illustrator of the unforgettable
Maus
 (serialized from 1980 to 1991 as an insertin the avant-garde comic
Raw
), ArtSpiegelman, has written “what Franz Kafkawas to the first half of the twentieth century, Philip K. Dick is to the second half.” Themost relevant, however, is what Phil himself wrote in a 5-4-73 letter: “the middle initial in

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