Home > Media, mindfulist > Mindfulist 1/15: Reflect upon your present blessings…

Mindfulist 1/15: Reflect upon your present blessings…

A-Scanner-Darkly-1…of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have  some.” – Charles Dickens

At the moment, I’m enjoying tea and Philip Dick. This kind of thing keeps me going.

Compassion in isolation. That bit of the human condition is Dick’s playground.

It is so easy to miss what’s right in front of us. Sadly that has become cliché. Many of the most direct and powerful experiential truths come across that way.

Simple to communicate, passé in expression, world-shattering in application.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Just pulling things together in another way.

Dick’s strength is his ability to communicate internal experiences. Directly, without filters. It’s why his stories involving hallucinations come across so strongly. And science fiction trappings allow him to put his characters through situations that, in a realist novel, you would have to dance around. The physical circumstances give direct access to the idea.

As for that, The Man in the High Castle and A Scanner Darkly both communicate this wonderfully without any really necessary sf tricks, beyond their settings.

This is not a review. Just a few thoughts on how they create impact.

It’s Dick’s application of this ability that gives his novels their real emphasis. Philip Dick communicates isolation and our struggle to overcome, to connect with others. As Arctor, the main character in A Scanner Darkly says, “D is for dumbness and despair and desertion. The desertion of your friends from you, you from your friends. Everyone from everyone. Isolation and loneliness and hating and suspecting each other. D is, finally, death. Slow death. From the head down."

A Scanner Darkly is about damaged communication; people who, to paraphrase Dick, wanted to keep playing and didn’t know when to come in out of the street. The only hope, tenuous though it may be, is that Arctor’s sacrifice is for a greater good, that he just might help stop the people producing the drug.

Pretty damn meager. The joys are those of the characters themselves, in their quiet moments when they do something selfless for each other simply because they care.

I’m tearing up as I write this. One of my favorite reviews of the movie, at Quiet Cool, does a lovely job describing this.

ManInTheHighCastlePenguin1976 The Man in the High Castle is somewhat more hopeful. Of course, it takes a very Confucian outlook; this is fitting given the deep involvement of the I Ching in both its writing and in the lives of the characters.

There is always balance; it is always possible to see what’s right in front of you and reclaim your sense of humanity. From a Confucian standpoint, “personhood” is created through other people. It’s both internal and external. Hence the near-obsession in Dick’s books with status; it comes down to having an understanding of your relation to people around you. High Castle uses aesthetic interpretation to bridge that gap. It moves the characters away from their racism and anger, all those emotions stemming from frustration.

This is a potential solution, whereas Arctor’s tragedy illustrates how people inadvertently damage their communication. In that regard, the few moments of connection stand out that much brighter. Of course, Scanner has quite a few hallucinogenic scenes illustrating this damage, leading to the internal split in which Arctor loses track of himself.

High Castle has only one minor slip, where the art dealer Childan seems to be briefly transported to yet another alternate history; otherwise, there are no hallucinations, no drugs, none of the truly mind-warping passages PKD is often known for. Instead, reality itself, the horror of life (and the associated deaths) in a Nazi/Japanese run world, creates the necessary dissonance.

Which is probably what makes it both highly accessible and deeply personal. No turning back a page to figure out if you missed something, no wondering if you the reader are hallucinating. If Scanner is, as Dick said, his most personal work with regards to himself, High Castle may be the most personal with regard to the characters themselves. He originally wrote realist novels. What I’ve read of those are, frankly, boring; Dick has a talent for boring small talk, which, without a strong plot just doesn’t stand well. High Castle almost loops back around to his realist origins in characterization; however, the alternate history setting provides a level of despair and urgency fine-tuned to Dick’s thematic preferences.

In either case, Dick at his best is deeply compassionate about the emotional difficulties involved in generally urban/suburban life. The fundamental isolation in the midst of life and noise, business, culture, and possible hope for a connection.

It’s why we’re sympathetic for someone like Dr. Horrible.

I’m currently reading Dr. Bloodmoney. It’s worth reading if only for the descriptions, a short ways in, of the various characters experience of a large-scale nuclear attack. The narrative jumps, between characters and between time frames, circling in on the attack itself; this is a definitive moment, and parallels the characters’ attachment to Walt Dangerfield later on, as a source of stability, a source of commonality.

It has a strange B-movie feel, what with the various mutations and oddities that occur, but these scenes have managed to carry the plot so far. Reminds me greatly of Fallout, where a sense of the silly contrasts so well with the very fundamental, everyday pain and hardship the characters endure. On the one hand, we have an incredibly vivid description, from multiple perspectives, of the world turning inside out; the nuclear attack is internalized such that the characters at first think it is their own faulty perception. On the other hand, afterwards, it all takes back seat to the characters’ motivations. It’s still their own perceptions shaping the world, but in drastically altered circumstances; the joys are their own, as is the horror. They author their own pain through their own very human wants.

And now the nightmare’s here.

Categories: Media, mindfulist
  1. January 18, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    “Simple to communicate, passé in expression, world-shattering in application.” OK, love this.

    Also, in synchronicity land, I’m reading “The Man in the High Castle.” And your post is the second reference to “Through a Scanner Darkly” I’ve come across today.

  2. January 18, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Oh, you triggered some thoughts I couldn’t quite keep in my head when originally writing this, that flesh out my intention in mentioning Confucianism. I’ve edited it at the three paragraphs starting with “There is always balance.”

    I hope you’re enjoying High Castle. I’d love to hear any thoughts on it.

  3. January 19, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Well, I’m only on page 54. So far, it reads more like historical fiction than actual science fiction, not that that’s a bad thing. But I do love my sci-fi.

  4. January 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Yeah, as far as being sf, it’s primarily alt-history. It’s fairly well-known for the sake of defining the genre, to some extent. It is certainly different from the kind of thing he’s usually known for.

  1. February 10, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: