Friday, August 17, 2007

The madness of life

One of these days I'm going to read some PKD... one of these days... Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has been sitting on my shelf for at least ten years, waiting for be to get beyond my dislike of Blade Runner. (But A Scanner Darkly is cool...)
Dick tends to get treated as a romantic: his books are supposed to be studies in the extremes of paranoia and technological nightmare, offering searing conundrums of reality and illusion. This comes partly from the habit, hard to break, of extolling the transgressive, the visionary, the startling undercurrent of dread. In fact, Dick in the sixties is a bone-dry intellectual humorist, a satirist—concerned with taking contemporary practices and beliefs to their reductio ad absurdum. If we oppress the Irish, why not eat them? Swift asked, in the model of all black satire—and if we can make quotidian and trivial the technology that has already arrived, Dick wonders, then why would we not do the same to the future yet to come, psychic communication and time travel and the colonization of Mars? Although “Blade Runner,” with its rainy, ruined Los Angeles, got Dick’s antic tone wrong, making it too noirish and romantic, it got the central idea right: the future will be like the past, in the sense that, no matter how amazing or technologically advanced a society becomes, the basic human rhythm of petty malevolence, sordid moneygrubbing, and official violence, illuminated by occasional bursts of loyalty or desire or tenderness, will go on. Dick’s future worlds are rarely evil and oppressive, exactly; they are banal and a little sordid, run by a demoralized élite at the expense of a deluded population. No matter how mad life gets, it will first of all be life.

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