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Posts Tagged ‘Philip K. Dick

“The early 70s were the days when all the survivors of the Sixties went a bit nuts”*…

 

Painting of an Astronaut and Martian by Frank R. Paul

 

Stephen Paul Miller calls the seventies the uncanny decade — the “undecade.” Things were particularly weird in these years, which remain shrouded in America’s cultural memory, as if by a kind of smog. One reason for the haze is the period’s elusive placement between the highly overdetermined sixties — often considered by historians to last well into the subsequent decade — and the more garish icons that come to the fore later in the seventies, like disco and punk, Pong and Star Wars, Jonestown and the Bicentennial. Indeed, liminality is a key characteristic of the early seventies. Radical and transformative forces unleashed in the sixties mutated and dissipated into much broader segments of culture and society. One no longer needed to be an inhabitant of San Francisco, the East Village, or Ann Arbor to explore the creative maelstrom of drugs, uncorked sexual experimentation, and the alternative worldviews associated with radical politics or the occult revival. Thresholds were everywhere.

At the same time, and in stark contrast to the previous years, the horizon of individual and social possibilities abruptly narrowed. Whether left, right, or center, the nation drifted into a Slough of Despond perhaps unprecedented in American history. In polls taken at the end of the seventies, people looked back at a decade of “disillusion and cynicism, helplessness and apprehension,” a list we might as well round out with disorientation, paranoia, boredom, and frustrated rage. I suspect that one reason we find ourselves dependably amused by tacky seventies fluff like shag carpet, massive sideburns, and smiley face buttons is that we need to keep the trauma and perplexity of the era at bay. This is despite (or due to) the fact that so many of the era’s bummers resonate with our own: fears about terrorism and environmental collapse, surveillance paranoia, political cynicism, foreign war fatigue, and a pervasive apocalyptic undertow that tugs beneath an over-heated, desperately sexualized, fantastical, and often bleak popular culture…

Three psycho-spiritual “events” of the 1970s — involving Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, and Terence and Dennis McKenna — had a strange synchronicity.  In an excerpt from his new book, High Weirdness, the ever-illuminating Erik Davis explains: “In the Age of the Psychonauts.”

* Robert Anton Wilson

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As we push at the doors of perception, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that the theatrical musical Jesus Christ Superstar premiered on Broadway.  With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, it had originated the prior year as a concept album (that was given a concert performance in Pittsburgh earlier in 1971).

JCS source

 

“This may be the most important proposition revealed by history: ‘At the time, no one knew what was coming’.”*…

 

PKD

 

Well, maybe someone had an inkling…

Philip K. Dick‘s Radio Free Albemuth (1985).

Unlike Dick’s many stories set in a dystopian future, this one is set in a dystopian present — one in which an opportunistic incompetent, the mouthpiece for a crackpot conspiracy theory and front-man of a right-wing populist movement, becomes president of the United States with the secret support of the KGB and the FBI. (“Why should disparate groups such as the Soviet Union and the U.S. intelligence community back the same man? … They both like figureheads who are corrupt. So they can govern from behind.”) As he wages war against “Aramchek,” an imaginary subversive organization, President Fremont abrogates American civil liberties; this leads to the emergence of a resistance movement… organized through transmissions from a superintelligent, extraterrestrial being or network known as VALIS. (See Dick’s 1981 novel VALIS.) Nicholas Brady, a record store employee, is the recipient of these transmissions, and a kind of subliminal organizer of the resistance; his experiences are a lightly fictionalized version of Dick’s own infamous “2–3–74” gnostic freak-out. As Brady becomes a successful record producer (encoding anti-Fremont messages into folk songs), his best friend, science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, struggles in vain to stay out of the clutches of the right-wing populists. Brady’s ultimate song-message is written by a woman named Aramchek; it is recorded by a band called, yes, Alexander Hamilton.

Fun facts: Drafted in 1976, published posthumously despite not being finalized. The novel was adapted by John Alan Simon in 2010; the film stars Jonathan Scarfe as Brady, Shea Whigham as Dick, and Alanis Morissette as Sylvia Aramchek…

Via the ever-educational HiloBrow

* Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

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As we ponder prescience, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that The Twilight Zone aired its 31st episode in its inaugural season, “The Chaser.”  As IMDb recounts, “a young man obsessed with winning over an uninterested beauty gets more than he bargained for when he buys a love potion to gain her affection.”

twilight zone source

 

“All we are not stares back at what we are”*…

 

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, “Where’s the self-help section?” She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

– George Carlin

Napoleon Hill is the most famous conman you’ve probably never heard of. Born into poverty in rural Virginia at the end of the 19th century, Hill went on to write one of the most successful self-help books of the 20th century: Think and Grow Rich. In fact, he helped invent the genre. But it’s the untold story of Hill’s fraudulent business practices, tawdry sex life, and membership in a New York cult that makes him so fascinating…

Modern readers are probably familiar with the 2006 sensation The Secret, but the concepts in that book were essentially plagiarized from Napoleon Hill’s 1937 classic Think and Grow Rich, which has reportedly sold over 15 million copies to date. The big idea in both: The material universe is governed quite directly by our thoughts. If you simply visualize what you want out of life, those things and more will be delivered to you. Especially if those things involve money…

You can see the influence of Hill in everything from the success sermons of Tony Robbins to the crooked business dealings of Trump University. In fact, you can draw a direct line to Donald Trump’s way of thinking through Norman Vincent Peale, an ardent follower of Napoleon Hill. Reverend Peale, author of the 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking, was Donald Trump’s pastor as a child [c.f. here]…

I’m not here to say that there’s nothing to be learned from some of Hill’s writings—especially those that speak of self-confidence, being kind to others, and going the extra mile for something you believe in. But the real story behind Napoleon Hill’s life is long past due…

That fascinating tale in full at “The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, the Greatest Self-Help Scammer of All Time.”

* W.H. Auden

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As we tell ourselves that we’re OK, we might send speculative birthday greetings to the anti-Hill, Philip Kindred Dick; he was born on this date in 1928.  A novelist, short story writer, essayist and philosopher, Dick published 44 novels and 121 short stories, nearly all in the Science Fiction genre.  While he was recognized only within his field in his lifetime, and lived near poverty for much of his adult life, twelve popular films and TV series have been based on his work since his death in 1982 (including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment BureauImpostor, and the Netflix series The Man in the High Castle).  In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923; and in 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

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“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”*…

 

Benedikt Groß (designer of a cool typeface made up of satellite imagery, among many other nifty things) has created Population.io, a new site (still in Beta) that visualizes a user’s place in the world’s population in a series of elegant tables and charts… including one that estimates the time of the users death (at least loosely– that is, based on average life expectancy where he/she lives).

Locate yourself.

* Mark Twain

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As we settle into the global village, we might send speculative birthday greetings to Philip Kindred Dick; he was born on this date in 1928.  A novelist, short story writer, essayist and philosopher, Dick published 44 novels and 121 short stories, nearly all in the Science Fiction genre.  While he was recognized only within his field in his lifetime, and lived near poverty for much of his adult life, eleven popular films have been based on his work since his death in 1982 (including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau, and Impostor).  In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923; and in 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

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Written by LW

December 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“An uninspiring canvas becomes a glamorous masterpiece when it is reattributed to a better-known artist”*…

 

Cornell psychologist James Cutting wondered why it is that when a work of art is considered “great,” we too often stop thinking about it for ourselves…

The intuitive answer is that some works of art are just great: of intrinsically superior quality. The paintings that win prime spots in galleries, get taught in classes and reproduced in books are the ones that have proved their artistic value over time. If you can’t see they’re superior, that’s your problem. It’s an intimidatingly neat explanation. But some social scientists have been asking awkward questions of it, raising the possibility that artistic canons are little more than fossilised historical accidents.

Cutting wondered if a psychological mechanism known as the “mere-exposure effect” played a role in deciding which paintings rise to the top of the cultural league. In a seminal 1968 experiment, people were shown a series of abstract shapes in rapid succession. Some shapes were repeated, but because they came and went so fast, the subjects didn’t notice. When asked which of these random shapes they found most pleasing, they chose ones that, unbeknown to them, had come around more than once. Even unconscious familiarity bred affection.

Back at Cornell, Cutting designed an experiment to test his hunch. Over a lecture course he regularly showed undergraduates works of impressionism for two seconds at a time. Some of the paintings were canonical, included in art-history books. Others were lesser known but of comparable quality. These were exposed four times as often. Afterwards, the students preferred them to the canonical works, while a control group of students liked the canonical ones best. Cutting’s students had grown to like those paintings more simply because they had seen them more.

Cutting believes his experiment offers a clue as to how canons are formed. He points out that the most reproduced works of impressionism today tend to have been bought by five or six wealthy and influential collectors in the late 19th century. The preferences of these men bestowed prestige on certain works, which made the works more likely to be hung in galleries and printed in anthologies. The kudos cascaded down the years, gaining momentum from mere exposure as it did so. The more people were exposed to, say, “Bal du Moulin de la Galette”, the more they liked it, and the more they liked it, the more it appeared in books, on posters and in big exhibitions. Meanwhile, academics and critics created sophisticated justifications for its pre-eminence. After all, it’s not just the masses who tend to rate what they see more often more highly. As contemporary artists like Warhol and Damien Hirst have grasped, critical acclaim is deeply entwined with publicity. “Scholars”, Cutting argues, “are no different from the public in the effects of mere exposure”…

Get the complete picture at “Why the Mona Lisa Stands Out.”

* Arthur Smith

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As we cathect on connoisseurship, we might send fantastic birthday greetings to Roger Zelazny; he was born on this date in 1937.  Probably best known for his Amber series, Zelazny was a prominent member– with Philip K. Dick, Samuel Delany, Thomas Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Harlan Ellison– of the American “new wave” science fiction movement; he won three Nebula awards and six Hugo awards.  In 1976, Zelazny helped Philip K. Dick, who wasn’t able to continue on his own, finish Deus Irae; having learned in the process of Dick’s financial straits, Zelazny voluntarily reduced his royalty from one-half to one third. 

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Written by LW

May 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true…”*

 

It is not just an artist’s work, but their personalities — inadvertent, performative, implied, affected, whatever — by which an overall narrative, or “personal brand,” of the artist is measured, which invariably informs how the art is perceived. Do likeable people make likeable art, and vice versa? Is it better to be an arrogant genius than a modest one? At what point is arrogance reasonable? One hates to reduce art-making to the two binaries presented, but this seems to be the case: What you think of yourself, and what others think of you… this is all grossly subjective and was distractedly assembled while this contributor was at work, in a cast (broken hand, bike accident), with low blood sugar due to manorexic tendencies (no breakfast, salad for lunch), and I know there’s not enough women and minorities represented, and that this is all rather mainstream, so if you point that out, I’ll know that you didn’t finish reading this ¶. Cheers, to the people who touch us.

Jimmy Chen in “Artistic Temperaments

* John Steinbeck

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As we take our geniuses as we find them, we might send a birthday reminder that “just because one’s paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t after you” to Philip Kindred Dick; he was born on this date in 1928.  The author of 44 novels and over 120 short stories, PKD, as his now-legion fans know him, won every major award available to the science fiction writer during his lifetime, but barely scratched together a living.  It was only after his death in 1982 that his work was picked up by Hollywood; ten popular films based on his works have been produced (so far), including Blade RunnerTotal Recall (twice), A Scanner DarklyMinority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau.  In 2007, he became the first sc-fi writer to be included in the Library of America series.

PKD’s influence on literary and cinematic science fiction, and on popular culture in general, has been monumental.  But he has admirers within the ranks of philosophy as well, among them,  Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Laurence Rickels, and Slavoj Žižek.  Writing of Dick’s evocation of postmodernity, Baudrillard observed…

It is hyperreal. It is a universe of simulation, which is something altogether different. And this is so not because Dick speaks specifically of simulacra. SF has always done so, but it has always played upon the double, on artificial replication or imaginary duplication, whereas here the double has disappeared. There is no more double; one is always already in the other world, an other world which is not another, without mirrors or projection or utopias as means for reflection. The simulation is impassable, unsurpassable, checkmated, without exteriority. We can no longer move “through the mirror” to the other side, as we could during the golden age of transcendence.

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Written by LW

December 16, 2013 at 1:01 am

Appeasing the Gods…

 

Earlier this spring, director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) made a pilgrimage to the Ft. Morgan, Colorado grave of Philip K. Dick and his twin sister Jane to leave an offering in hope of good fortune in Cox’s Kickstarter quest to fund Bill, the Galactic Hero, a feature comedy based on Harry Harrison’s classic anti-war science fiction novel…


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Cox’s prayers were answered:  Kickstarter members (your correspondent included) oversubscribed his goal. But it’s not too late for readers to get in on the action; Cox and his terrific team of fellow-travelers can use more support, so the campaign remains open.

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As we get in touch with our inner mogul, we might recall that on this date in 1984, music history was made. As History reports,

Almost 20 years and who knows how many drummers into their unique career in rock, the surviving members of one of England’s loudest bands had reached yet another low point in the spring of 1984. Only two years removed from a disastrous 1982 world tour that not only failed to turn the album Smell The Glove into a comeback hit, but also led to the group’s breakup, Spinal Tap now had to suffer the indignity of seeing the Marty DiBergi-helmed behind-the-scenes film of that tour gain widespread theatrical release. Would the numerous embarrassments catalogued in the hard-hitting rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap provoke public sympathy for and renewed interest in the band that Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls began back in 1964 as The Originals? Or would the group behind such familiar classic-rock hits as “Give Me Some Money” and “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” be consigned once and for all to obscurity? In this atmosphere of uncertainty, Spinal Tap elected to go back to their roots, kicking off a tour of small American rock clubs with an appearance at New York City’s legendary CBGB’s on May 6, 1984.

Of course, almost none of the above is true, strictly speaking. A group calling itself Spinal Tap did play CBGB’s on this day in 1984, but that group was the fictitious invention of director Rob Reiner and the comic actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer—St. Hubbins, Tufnel and Smalls, respectively. Reiner’s directorial debut was the aforementioned This Is Spinal Tap, a film that launched the mockumentary mini-genre as well as a thousand catchphrases, from “These go to 11” to “None more black.”

This, the band’s first public appearance, happened during the film’s first week of release; as one attendee recalled, it drew “every professional musician in the city of New York.”

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Written by LW

May 6, 2013 at 1:01 am

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