There was a moment in time in which I was really interested in the writing of Philip Dick. For a couple of years, back around when I was 19 years old, I read anything by Dick I could find. And now, there are moments like today, in which I go back and rediscover some of the things I that inspired me back in the day.
The past couple of weeks, I’ve returned to Dick’s writing. I find myself more engaged than I was anticipating. Adam Gopnik’s article in The New Yorker sometime back still strikes me as the best analysis of his work, essentially saying that Philip Dick was a mediocre writer with a tremendous work ethic, and with truly remarkable ideas.
Among the conundrums at the heart of his work is the elusive nature of identity, both personal identity and identity as a human. In Dick’s world, the only absolute is the perceived reality can be usurped at any moment, and the realities that escape our perceptions are often much more loaded, complicated, and influential.
Identity is always in fragments, hidden in the different layers of reality. Think of life today, as we dessiminate/fragment our presence across the different cyber realities dominating our lives. Identity is no longer bound to body and place, as our words, pictures and ideas can influence people miles away.
As we move ever more quickly towards the future (to the drum beat of technology), the present becomes more elusive and complicated. And so much is lost as we lose sight of the present.
In the end, I’ll side with Gopnik. Dick was an average writer, though wrote so damn much there are bound to be moments of pure beauty. The questions and problems that defined Dick’s life and work, however, are full of remarkable complexity, and at times can ask us to reconsider what we are and what we understand of ourselves.