Wednesday, September 9, 2009

T For Teen

09.09.09: “No. 9” indeed. It’s as if the date was predestined, its significance anticipated over four decades ago on The Beatles, aka the “white album.” Today is the day of The Beatles on Rock Band, coinciding with the (re)release of remastered versions of Beatles’ albums on CD. In addition, there has been widespread speculation that today may see the announcement that the Beatles catalog shall finally be available on iTunes, even though all four of the band members have solo material in the store available for download already. The marketing apparatus has attributed to the date a significance as profound as occultists do the date 2012, as if the human calendar, for the past few hundred years comprised of twelve months and 365 days—save when leap year makes it 366—is linked to events in nature—indeed, all across the universe. Hence today is to feel “historic,” a momentous day that occurs only once in a lifetime, nature and culture coinciding with all the awe and mystery of a planetary alignment: the Beatles remastered, on Rock Band, and perhaps, God willing, even on iTunes. All of this on a Wednesday, too, even though new releases typically occur on Tuesdays: presumably, the event is so unique that it must occur outside a normal routine, a predictable and banal cycle, and be set aside on a singular day and date, a calendar event so fraught with the aura of magic (and the mnemonic properties of an incantation) - 9.9.09 - that only something utterly singular and profound may occur.

Of course, despite all the media hype, what today’s event really marks, or rather reveals, is something Marshall McLuhan observed decades ago: The content of the new media is the old. It also reveals something about the nature of the commodity that Marx observed over a century ago, that the commodity appears initially as an obvious, trivial thing, “but its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.” Remember that the media loves singular dates as much as it loves anniversaries: it provides ready-made content that can be repackaged as “news,” as novelty. The 40th anniversary of Woodstock came and went; this day, too, shall pass, with neither bang nor whimper.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Search For Philip K. Dick

Anne Dick, third wife of the late science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (the couple is pictured at left, early 1960s), sent me the link to an interview with her conducted in conjunction with the re-issue of her revised biography of the great author, Search For Philip K. Dick, first published by Mellen Press in 1993. Anne still lives in the house she shared with Philip K. Dick, located in Point Reyes Station, California, about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. Her book is a fascinating, and I think candid glimpse into the domestic life of the writer, to whom she was married from 1959 to 1965 (Dick left Anne, his and Anne’s daughter Laura, and his three stepdaughters in early 1964; the divorce was finalized in 1965). The period from 1959-64, that is, the period during which he was married to Anne, was a tremendously prolific period for the writer, and Anne was there to see it all. During the period 1958-64, Dick wrote many of his most celebrated novels, among them The Man in the High Castle (1962, for which he won the Hugo Award in 1963), We Can Build You (written 1961, immediately after Man in the High Castle; eventually published 1972), The Penultimate Truth (1964), Martian Time-Slip (1964), The Simulacra (1964), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), and Dr. Bloodmoney (1965, in which the house in which Anne still lives is depicted). His great “mainstream” novel, Confessions of a Crap Artist, was also written while he was married to Anne, but remained unpublished until 1975. Note that this is not all of the work Dick published during this period, merely a representative sample of several of the noted works, but in any case The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is, in my view, among his greatest works, and Anne’s portrait of the author before, during, and after the writing of this novel is utterly engrossing reading.

As Anne indicates in the interview, she was compelled to write the book after Phil’s death at age 53 in March 1982, as an attempt to try and come to a complete understanding of her relationship with him, which ended unpleasantly and strangely in March 1964. (The novel for which he is perhaps best known, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was not written until 1966, while he was married to Nancy Hackett, but draws on some material he first explored in We Can Build You, unpublished at the time he wrote the later novel.) I’m not sure Anne has ever received the proper acknowledgment she deserves for writing Search for Philip K. Dick, as it remained in manuscript form for many years, during which it was used as a source of information for Dick’s biographers—she did them a great service in tracking down a number of the author’s friends and acquaintances from the Berkeley years, as well as providing a rather candid and detailed account of her years married to the author. I’ve spent many delightful hours with Anne, although I haven’t had the opportunity to visit her at her Point Reyes Station home in several years. At a remarkably robust 82 years of age, she reveals in the interview that she is as articulate, candid, and insightful as ever, and explains her reasons for writing the memoir/biography in greater detail. She has always been extremely generous with her time to those like myself who are fascinated by Philip Dick’s remarkable body of work, and so I’m extraordinarily pleased that Anne was able to revise and re-issue her valuable and important book. If you have any interest at all in one of the greatest and most important American authors in the second half of the twentieth century, then I would strongly encourage you to purchase a copy. Order information is available here, and the link to the interview with Anne (also provided above) is available here.

Congratulations, Anne, on the publication of the revised edition of your important book!