August 21, 2010

PKD Festival in io9

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 10:38 am

The recent PKD Festival in Colorado gets a write-up in io9, the online sf website.

The following comment caught my eye:

Finally, Lord Running Clam did his damndest to convince us that Dick’s writings contain the secrets of the Universe. But, for the most part, we already knew that.

If there’s one thing we should have learned from reading PKD and his letters, it’s that PKD is not an answer-man but a question-man. His life and writings (the two being so intimately tied together) are not insights into the arcana of the universe, but a never-ending obsessive testing and rejecting of themes and explanations. This is so overwhelmingly obvious from his work (just read his letters, volume 6 of which have finally been published) that it seems as if people must deliberately read their own desires into Dick.


July 22, 2010

Philip K. Dick letters

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 7:59 am

Updated below.

I didn’t quite believe this when I heard it a few weeks ago and so left it for a while, but I’ve just been notified by Amazon that my copy of the last (6th) volume of PKD letters is on its way to me! What a nice birthday present.

These cover the years 1980-1982, the last two years of his life. Henri Wintz, who helped type up the letters 20 years ago(!), has a few comments here. This will complete my collection of the letters (I have the 5 other vols, including a slipcase edition of the first volume).

Many people have a “JFK” moment: I have a PKD moment, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard he had died. I was an undergraduate student and was waiting with my friends to go into my prehistoric archeology class here, and was reading Ansible, the Dave Langford newsletter (still going!) which carried the PKD death notice:

Stop Press: Philip Dick died on 2/3 March in California, aged 53. RIP.

(Ansible March 1982).

Going back now and seeing those few simple words it’s so surprising how that moment can remain with me 28 years later.

Update 7/27/2010.

I’ve now receive the book and can confirm that it exists (well you never know with things Dickian). There’s a slip of paper in it (it doesn’t say “soft drink stand”) noting that only 1350 copies were printed and that the dust jacket was done 10 years ago and is out of date. Also they’ve cut the price tag off the jacket (wrong wrong wrong, will badly affect value–not that I plan to sell this after waiting so long to get it). The other books came out in 1991 so this is now 19 years late.

However, the contents are as moving and interesting as ever. Perhaps more so now that PKD has some distance from his ever-popular topic of 2-3-74 (Feb-March 1974). He still obsesses over it, but this is the time when he’s written Valis and is working on Valis Regained and Timothy Archer. He also buys his own “conapt” and gives his own varying interpretations of Valis. He has a long correspondence with Patricia Warrick about it so you know it’s all still there for him. And this is the time when he was getting interviewed a lot and generally things are happening with the movies.

Highly recommend but act quick before they sell out–don’t wait for the promised paperbacks!

June 6, 2010

Real names in Philip K. Dick’s Valis

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 10:24 am

Here’s a list of names of the real people who appear as characters in Dick’s novel Valis. Since they are often only lightly fictionalized it’s not too difficult to do and these have all appeared elsewhere before, but I thought I’d just compile them here. Sutin’s biography Divine Invasions is a major source, but you can guess a few oneself. Unfortunately the published Letters of PKD deletes people’s last names (a highly unusual act in publishing real letters), but they can be used to confirm an identification.

A disclaimer might be needed: This doesn’t mean that everything said about the character in the novel is the way to understand the real person, of course, especially as Dick altered or imputed characteristics for the sake of the work. Dick was an artist, after all, and the work must come first.

If there are any mistakes, please let me know.

“Horselover Fat,” “Philip K. Dick” — Philip K. Dick

“Beth” — Tessa Dick

“David” — Tim Powers / D. Scott Apel

“Kevin” — K.W. Jeter / Kevin C. Briggs

“Gloria Knudson” — “Donna” (Sutin, p. 178, who says she also inspired Angel Archer in Transmigration and Donna Hawthorne in Scanner). Although Sutin fictionalises her name as “Donna”, actually PKD identifies her himself in his essay “The Evolution of a Vital Love” (in The Dark Haired Girl): Kathy Demuelle (p. 172). He also tells us that the dedication in We Can Build You is her. In Valis Gloria commits suicide, but in Transmigration she’s the narrator. See PKD letter of July 14, 1974 to Claudia Bush (in Collected Letters, 1974, or the actual letter for sale here).

“Sherri Solvig” — Doris Sauter (eg., Sutin p. 239)

“Maurice” — Barry Spatz (website here). About 10 years ago Spatz kindly sent me his PKD case files, see previous blog entry.

“Father Larry” — Father Adams (see this amazing account by Adams’ son, Benjamin, who was 11 at the time! Scroll to “Nobly Wild, Not Mad: Memories of Phil Dick”).

Some real people are also mentioned in Valis, such as Bishop James (“Jim”)  Pike.

June 2, 2010

Dick’s self-perspective

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 7:30 am

A few nights ago I had a chance to watch the Philip K Dick documentary “The penultimate truth.”  is quite short at just 89 minutes long.  Nevertheless the director has done a good job in including interviews with many of Dick’s friends ex wives and colleagues.  Perhaps the most interesting footage is an excerpt from Dick’s speech at the Metz science fiction convention in France.  I had not previously known that footage of this speech existed.  The whole speech is not shown but nevertheless you can see the audience look rather bemused.  Also included is a short interview with Dick’s then girlfriend.  She offers a rather negative opinion about the speech, saying that it was actually an embarrassment.  It is true that this speech has a notorious position in Dick scholarship.  Dick gave the speech a few years after his infamous experiences of 1974.  As such it is yet another attempt by him to understands those experiences.  Additionally since this was delivered as a science fiction convention Dick obviously no felt no compunction about speculating quite wildly about the origin of those experiences.  The filmmaker obviously has some sympathy with Dick’s girlfriends position.  She too is shown in the audience, as her interview plays over the footage in which she claims that she was very embarrassed by this talk.  The overall effect than is too portrayed Dick as being out of control.

However, a very different view is available to the reader of the novel VALIS.  Again, this is a lightly fictionalized account off Dick’s actual experiences.  Many of his real life friends appear in the novel, such as KW Jeter, Maurice (his analyst Barry Spatz) and Sherri Solvig (Doris Sauter).  Both Spatz and Sauter also appear in the documentary.  Most intriguingly, Dick himself appears as a character in his own book.  Not only once, but twice; as the narrator, and as a character called Horselover Fat.  As a narrator himself points out, ” I am writing this in the third person to gain much needed objectivity”.  The narrator (a version of Philip K Dick himself) frequently points at just how crazy horse lover facts appears.  The novel was written in 1981, about four years later than the speech at Metz, and perhaps by this time Dick realized that many of his ideas sounded unusual to others.  Nevertheless, it is quite clear that Dick had a rather good self assessment.  Rather than 1/2 crazed out of touch speaker at Metz, we are offered an unsparing self assessment which is filled with Dick’s irrepressible humor.  Indeed, it is perhaps this humor which is the most appealing aspect of this very difficult novel.  Two sites just capital one instance, we are told off the character Kevin and his dead cat.  The Kevin character (who stands in for both Kevin Briggs and KW Jeter to) uses his cat, which ran out into the streets and was hit by a car, as evidence that there is no God.  On judgment day says Kevin, he will whip out the cat which by this time would be a stiff as a board and hold it out by the tail like a frying pan.

VALIS is not the best known or the best loved of Dick’s novels.  On the other hand, along with the Transmigration of Timothy Archer, it is the one in which Dick’s philosophical musings reach their most profound moments.  The fact that even Dick had to split his narrative character into two parts, indicates that he felt it necessary to continually provide a mechanism for self assessment.  This, along with the humor that suffuses the novel, make it one of the most important Dick’s canon.  Therefore, while I thought that the documentary was often interesting, especially since it manages to interview quite a few of those who knew Dick, the portrayal of him as lacking self-awareness is incredibly off the mark. There can have been few writers who subjected themselves to such merciless and continual assessment as Dick. His whole so-called Exegesis, parts of which are now slated for publication next year, are the result of this examination. It is rather more truthful to see Dick as one who questioned, maybe even over-questioned, his life.

PS this is the first piece I have tried with voice recognition software, so apologies for any misspellings I missed.

January 28, 2010

LA Times 6-part series, Tessa disputes narrative

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 6:39 pm

The LA Times is in the middle of a 6-part series on PKD, which begins like this:

While writer and student were chewing the fat, Dick’s wife, Tessa, and her brother began grabbing things – lamps, chairs, the crib – seemingly oblivious to the two friends.

“She and her brother were carrying things out of the house,” recalls Powers. “I said, ‘Phil, they’re taking stuff, is this OK?’ ”

“Powers, let me give you some advice, in case you should ever find yourself in this position,” Dick responded. “Never oversee or criticize what they take. It’s not worth it. Just see what you’ve got left afterward, and go with that.”

“And then,” Powers recalls, “her brother said, ‘Could you guys lift your glasses? We want the table.’ “

Dick was an old hand at marital dissolution. Tessa had reached her breaking point with her husband’s infidelity, and that evening was the beginning of what would become his fifth divorce. The author could bounce in and out of love affairs, stints in rehab and drug overdoses — while keeping his cool — better than most.

After Tessa left, Dick told Powers not to stick around for his sake – he’d be OK. But that night, the novelist’s nonchalance would not last. After Powers left, Dick took 49 tablets prescribed for his heart condition, alongside a cocktail of other pills including blood pressure meds. He slashed his wrist and sat in his car, parked in his garage with the door closed, so the carbon monoxide would finish him off.

In other words, he tried to commit suicide three different ways.

In a post on her own blog however, Tessa Dick describes that evening significantly differently:

After reading yet another fantastic and completely fabricated account of my husband’s suicide attempt, I have decided that it is time that I told the full story of what happened that day.

One morning in February of 1976, I took our two-year-old son to preschool as usual, then attended a class at the local community college from 9 to 10 a.m. When I returned home, Phil was agitated and pacing around. He demanded that I leave immediately, so his new girlfriend could move into the house. I believe that the mood elevators which his psychiatrist had prescribed were causing his agitation, and he was beginning to get violent. He began throwing things around the living room, and he threatened to kill me if I did not walk out right away. So I walked out.

I called my brother, and that afternoon he and his wife came with me to the house, so I could get my clothes and the baby’s clothes and toys. My brother stood outside the front door, while my sister-in-law went into the house with me. It took us two trips to get the clothes and toys and load them into my car. The whole time, Phil and K.W. Jeter were sitting on the couch, drinking and talking. Jeter glared at me when I walked by. His expression was a mixture of hatred and contempt.

She doesn’t dispute that PKD attempted suicide shortly later, but her involvement in it is cast in a very different way:

I was planning to stay with my parents until I got on my feet, but the next morning I learned that Phil was in the hospital, having attempted suicide. I went back to the house, where I found a note from Phil’s girlfriend telling me to buy cat food and take some clean clothes to Phil. She had taken Phil’s little Fiat sports car and my gasoline credit card. There was no sign that she had moved into my house, so I stayed there and cleaned up the mess that Phil had made when he tried to kill himself. I also bought cat food, and then I bought some brand new clothes for Phil and took them to the hospital. He stayed in the mental ward for about two weeks, and I took our son to visit him there one time. He seemed much calmer and more himself.

I dropped out of the community college, where I had been taking two classes, and I tried to take care of Phil when he came home. But that June, just over three months later, Phil moved out to an apartment that he had rented for another new girlfriend. He had a moving company take all of our furniture. I had to give up the house because I could not pay the rent, so I moved in with my mother until I could get on my feet.

Certainly it’s not quite a difference of factual events, but rather the motives and character that differ in the two accounts (unfavorable in the LA Times narrative, more understanding to both Tessa and PKD in the 2nd, allocating some of the culpability to the medication). However, despite her understandable irritation at the uncritical first narrative, neither does her account show it is “fantastic and completely fabricated.” That’s just exaggeration.

December 4, 2009

Anne Dick on Searching for PKD

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 11:56 pm

The Orlando Weekly (?) has some good quotes from Anne Dick on the reissue of her book, Search for Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982, which it calls the first PKD biography.

Here’s a selection:

Dick recently revisited the work: She has revised the original text and issued an affordable $17 paperback edition through her own Point Reyes Cypress Press. “It was accidental that I did it at this time. I was waiting and waiting for some poetry to come back from an editor and decided to use my waiting time go through Search and do a small edit. It turned into a major revision.” She added new material about her former husband and reorganized the text, making it more readable.

The project itself grew out of a need for answers. “[It] was an attempt to understand what had happened to our relationship at the time of our divorce,” she says. “Actually, writing things down turned out to be therapeutic. In words I could go back and feel more in control during those chaotic times.”

She found the attention flattering, even though her husband often portrayed women negatively. “I liked being Juliana Frink [from Man in the High Castle]. It was fun to watch the good-looking, bitchy French lady in Barjo [the 1992 French film adaptation of Confessions]. Phil didn’t paint positive female protagonists until he wrote The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, his last book.”

Dick revealed several arguably unflattering aspects of her ex-husband. “Many people know now how eccentric Phil’s life was. Many great writers had strange and unsettling lives.” She explored several of his positive traits as well. “He always tried to help people throughout his life. His books are full of light. I think most people are different and strange way down in their psyches, and in some people their unusual characteristics are closer to the surface.”

Anne Dick maintains relationships with several other members of the Phil Dick clan. “I get along fine with the ones I know, [like] Nancy [Philip’s fourth wife] and Isa [Philip’s daughter with Nancy]. I’m not in touch with Kleo [his second wife], although she did give me a good interview back in the early 1980s when I was writing Search. I don’t know Tessa [his fifth wife]. My daughter Laura [with Philip, who manages her father’s estate along with Isa] and I get along well, but when we get together we don’t talk about the Philip K. Dick estate. I only know what’s happening when I read David Gill’s blog, The Total Dick-Head

December 1, 2009

New graphic novel of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 7:30 pm

Looks interesting, out today:

October 24, 2009

Very phildickian

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 10:48 pm

PKD’s grave:

Among the items found at gravesites in Fort Morgan’s Riverside Cemetery have been beer, cigarettes and — sheep?

Toy and stuffed sheep are frequently placed at the tombstone of Philip K. Dick, who was buried at Riverside in spite of his family’s wishes because he wanted to be interred next to his twin sister, who died in Fort Morgan in infancy.

The sheep are a homage to Dick’s story, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which became the movie “Blade Runner,” Fort Morgan Museum educator Andrew Dunehoo told several groups of area residents during tours of the cemetery Saturday.

Several of Dick’s stories became motion pictures, among them “We Can Dream It For You Wholesale,” which was developed into “Total Recall,” “Minority Report” and “A Scanner Darkly.”

Fans of Dick sometimes leave pens at his graveside, a nod to his writing vocation.

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