Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Some observations on Philip K. Dick's Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

  • Dick's misogyny is vicious. He is utterly incapable of mentioning a woman, any woman, in any context, no matter how briefly, without stopping to demean, belittle, ridicule, and/or objectify her. It is to the point that the word misogyny alone is insufficient to describe it; adding gynophobia helps some, because there is a palpable element of fear to his hatred, but in all, language, even the misogynist patriarchal language we have, sputters into shocked silence in the face of woman-hating this...dedicated. And yet he consistently puts some of his most interesting thoughts and writing into the mouths of women characters. Ruth Rae, for example, is a monstrous caricature that only particularly virulent misogyny could come up with; and yet her sudden disquisition on animals, love, grief, and so forth in chapter 11 contains some of the most fascinating and sensitive writing Dick ever produced, and is the first time that this until then only intermittently decent novel really comes to life. I'm not saying any of this makes up for the misogyny—Christ, far from it—merely that it is very peculiar, and I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.
  • It is impossible to "get a fix" on any of the characters in this novel. It is impossible to "like" or "dislike" any of them in the sense that most novels encourage us to like or dislike their characters. We spend most of our time basically inside Jason Taverner's head, but who is he? At times he seems a vacuous celebrity; at times, a philosopher. Early on we see him wholeheartedly supporting a genocidal sterilization policy, but we are given no hint of any kind of internal architecture that would support such a belief. He is an unquestioning beneficiary of a police state who can immediately articulate complex objections to the nature of that state. He is cruel and unfeeling; he is sentimental. He is a Van Vogtian superman who, as in Van Vogt, spends the entire novel in over his head; unlike in Van Vogt, it is impossible to imagine him in any other situation. (Can we really see him as the host of a variety show? even one that features dramatic presentations of scenes from Proust?) Who is this man? Certainly not a "character" in the usual novelistic sense; the same goes for all of the other characters. Nor are they Asimovian "labels for the different parts of the story machine", for the parts of this story machine are resolutely unlabeled.
  • Flow My Tears takes place in "the future"—it was published in 1974 and takes place, as the first sentence establishes, in 1988—but it is such a wholly impossible future from the vantage point of that 1974 that it has to be considered an "alternate future." There are things that did not exist in 1974 that have been going on in the novel's present for much longer than 14 years. The 1974 the characters in the novel lived through had to have been a different 1974 than the one in which Dick wrote. The novel rarely, if ever, makes this explicit, but it is consistent. I don't have much to say about this, no theorizing or analyzing to do, but I find it interesting, a seldom-used approach that strikes me as having a great deal of potential, though I am not certain at the moment what exactly I think that potential to be.
  • I have to say, I have no idea what Dowland is doing in this novel, aside from the obvious fact that Dick, like all those with any sense at all, loves him. I don't object to his presence, I just don't see the reason for it. That said, I've learned as much about music from the brief but inexplicably illuminating comments scattered throughout Dick's works as I have from anyone, so I suppose I should thank him.
  • And finally, all those people who consider Philip K. Dick a genius—well, he might be, or at least he pretty definitely was sometimes, but I hope they all realize that he was also, fundamentally, kind of a dumbass.

No comments: