Monday, February 2, 2009

Dr. Bloodmoney, AKA Narrative Line as Unstuck from Referent

Here, as Jameson notes in his "Philip K. Dick, In Memoriam," Science Fiction is understood as the attempt to "imagine the unimaginable" (345). Philip Dick's book may defy classification, which is not hard to do in Sci Fi, but it is still a novel, and as such, it has to work within our notion of narrative, and particularly, character development. And I admit, the book is brilliant, and I am glad I read it, but I felt no emotional connection with any of the characters in the book (the closest was Stuart, who seemed most normal, though in the text he sees himself as an outsider and "disappears" from this white world for nearly 200 pages, leaving us to deal with all the freaks - or as Jameson puts it, "real mutants." Most art forms - a film, a novel, even a painting - require some aspect of emotional identification. So what sets this book apart?

I start with the notion, mentioned in “Philip K. Dick, In Memoriam,” that this sub-genre requires “different (and stricter) laws than high culture, and can sometimes express realities and dimensions that escape high literature” (345). Dick, in his depiction of a 1960’s “countercultural” theme, seems to collect characters from a world of average Joes caught in otherworldly situations. These situations create a “collective” with a “fitful and disturbing reappearance, most often in a paralyzed community of the dead or the stricken” (347).

Well, this world certainly contains its share of the walking dead. The environment has been destroyed, the population paralyzed by a cataclysmic event, the food is gone, the ability to communicate dangles by the slimmest thread, communities are isolated or non-existent, and the “fittest survive.” Yet this notion of the strongest has mutated, as now the fittest include a phocomelus with no arms or legs and the ability to strange people with his mechanical arms and psychic mind; wild rats that can outwit humans; and an isolated individual who believes he began WWIII and can still wreck havoc with a power unequalled by any including God.

These characters are also set apart because they survive an atomic cataclysm which narrows their social environment to a handful of immediate survivors, and to a "kaleidoscopic plot structure" that Dick creates to hide the psychic world that maneuvers from the inside of Bluthgeld, to the outside of this "nightmarish uncertainty" (350). In "After Armageddon: Character Systems in Dr. Bloodmoney," the narrative slips from its dock into the "boundary between real and hallucinatory" so that nothing can be thought of as real or true (350). What we are left with are characters with which we can not identify as they are not really real.

As mentioned in "Man, Android and Machine," it is the lack of pure categories - of living and non-living, that makes Philip Dick most afraid - the man versus machine - the millions of hyprid humans that will one day exist between two worlds - the world, to some extent, that Aldous Huxley imagined and that scientists are bent on creating. And because the scientist has no reason to stop - indeed, as Dick points out - they have not found our soul, so they have declined to admit that it exists - they continue their quest, leading us blindly into a "state of a half-life . . . neither dead nor alive, but preserved in cold storage, waiting to be thawed out." It is here that I admit I am most uncomfortable - for all of these characters seem emotionally, physically or mentally half-dead, living the life of a zombie, and I can find no one with which to identify.

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