Sunday, August 19, 2007

Philip K. Dick

A friend has send me a link to an article in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik on Philip K. Dick; he comments: It really captures both what I like and dislike about him - for example:

"All this remains thrilling and funny; to detail Dick's conceits is to inventory a time. The trouble is that, much as one would like to place Dick above or alongside Pynchon and Vonnegut-or, for that matter, Chesterton or Tolkien-as a poet of the fantastic parable he was a pretty bad writer ... At the end of a Dick marathon, you end up admiring every one of his conceits and not a single one of his sentences ... That's probably why Dick's reputation as a serious writer, like Poe's, has always been higher in France, where the sentences aren't read as they were written. And his paint-by-numbers prose is ideally suited for the movies. The last monologue in "Blade Runner" ("All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die"), improvised by Rutger Hauer on the set that day, has a pathos that the book achieves only in design, intellectually, because the movie speech is spoken by a recognizable person, dressed up as a robot, where Dick's characters tend to be robots dressed up as people."

[HD: perhaps the French translations are better than the original, the way the Vulgate, King James' Version and Luther's translation all produce prose of great beauty from the generally disheartening Greek of the New Testament.]


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.

Gopnik later says:

At the end of a Dick marathon, you end up admiring every one of his
conceits and not a single one of his sentences. His facility is
amazing. He once wrote eleven novels in a twenty-four-month stretch.
But one thing you have to have done in order to write eleven novels in
two years is not to have written any of them twice.

No, Mr Gopnik. Not true. I once wrote 10 novels in 11 months, and they were all different -- but they were not all finished, because at the end of the year I got an offer of publication for The Last Samurai. If I had had another 3 months I suppose I would have finished 10 novels in 14 months. If I had had PDK's access to amphetamines it might have been a different story. It takes Adderall to write AND publish.

1 comment:

Jenny Davidson said...

I think people have a very distorted view of productivity, it is some pitiful hangover from modernism I suppose to think that better and more valuable writing drips from the pen only in very meager amounts. My comical confession: whenever I find myself disheartened about whether I am actually going to be capable of doing a fair bit of writing in a tight time frame, I think about how many pages of Bleak House Dickens wrote every month, or really any of those nineteenth-century novelists, and I buckle down fairly happily thinking "if you can tap into the right state of mind, there is absolutely no reason that you can't easily write 30,000 in a month." Then again, the challenge is figuring out what to do with those pages once you have them.

I have no desire to single out Gopnik in particular, but I fear that almost all of what's published as criticism in fairly mainstream publications is just full of commonplace ideas phrased slightly more stylishly than average! I don't see the point, really, of writing this kind of criticism--there is a low proportion of thinking and a high proportion of (what would I call it?) hat-doffing to the perceived obligations of the form. Even with more conventional book reviews, I hate having to write the part where you say what the novel is (as it were) "about": I find it much more useful to see several well-selected passages and make a decision about whether I am going to read the book on the basis of the prose style, it is perfectly reasonable for non-fiction to give an account of what's in the book but I do not see why I need to hear plot summary of a novel, if you've got a thousand words only they can be spent more wisely!

All right, that's my Sunday-morning rant...