Sunday, May 24, 2020

Divine Invasions (1989)

I probably should have gotten to Lawrence Sutin's biography of Philip K. Dick sooner, if only to help direct my little reading program. This biography appears to be well-researched and certainly has a good deal of sympathy and understanding for Dick's work. Dick is one of those artists like William Faulkner who was both so prolific and so consistent that no one really agrees on his single best, though a handful of titles show up regularly: The Man in the High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip, Ubik, you-pick, etc. I have been flailing around looking into any Dick titles I see endorsed by anyone, which led me to more arguably minor work, such as Dr. Bloodmoney or The Zap Gun or some of the stories. At the same time, I missed no fewer than four of the 11 titles Sutin says are essential, including VALIS (which I must admit I've foundered on a few times). I'll be trying to get to them eventually. As a biography, Divine Invasions performs the usual service of pinning down data points and clarifying the life and the work. Things I did not know: Dick hated his mother, was married four times, and never took hallucinogens much. In his relationships with women, in fact, he comes across as a creep—a contemptible one even. So it goes. Most biographies reveal feet of clay one way or another. On the other hand, it sounds like Dick was even more of a high-IQ genius than I thought, reading widely in modern and ancient texts, including in Latin and German. I was a little dismayed to find out how religious he was, even more or less conventionally Christian, though it wasn't entirely surprising, except maybe the Christianity. I was less interested in his psychology and ideas anyway, and more in his work strategies. There's plenty of everything in Sutin's biography, and I was particularly happy to extend my reading list as I came to implicitly trust Sutin. Then I went to the wilds of the internet to assay the opinion wilderness. It is particularly rich and confusing when it comes to Dick and not much less so on which of the half-dozen or so biographies are best. Dick had a way of reaching lots of people in lots of different ways. Sutin's book is invaluable at taking a crack at organizing it all and is generally acknowledged as the most encompassing, objective, and accurate. In a way, I'm still trying to figure out what appeals to me about Dick in the first place. I used to think it was the hallucinogenic weirdness and certainly that's part of it. But read enough Dick and that side starts to feel more mechanical, even rote. I found myself landing on The Man in the High Castle as my idea of the best—though it's marred slightly by too-busy weird elements, it's less so than many of his most lauded. The one thing I think everyone agrees on, including Sutin, is that no one has yet got to the bottom of Dick, and no one may ever. He is a moving target forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment