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review 2017-11-29 14:11
Fictionalizing Philosopher: “Philip K. Dick and Philosophy - Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits” by Dylan E. Wittkower
Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits? - D.E. Wittkower

‘In Blade Runner, also, it is an authentic relationship to Being that is taken to be what essentially ensouls both humans and replicants. Such is the import of Roy Batty’s famous final soliloquy:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.”’


In “Philip K. Dick and Philosophy - Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits” by Dylan E. Wittkower



I just wanted to say that in my opinion any attempt to construct a coherent interpretation pf Phil Dick’s universe is missing the point. To be able to to construct a Weltanschauung of Dick’s writing we should focus only on philosophy. In all of Dick’s fiction time and causality are of the essence. The point is that, once time and causality become malleable, there is no hope of forming a solid, consistent interpretation of events in Dick’s fiction. That leads to our questioning the Nature of Reality. The focus shifts from epistemology - the problem of knowledge - to ontology - the way different realities are produced. This shift, according to Brian McHale, is precisely what defines the transition from modernism to postmodernism. In its resistance to coherent interpretation, "Ubik" is similar to certain more "literary" works of the 60s, for example the “nouveau romans” of Robbe-Grillet, or Richard Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar". (Granted these are very different stylistically). Is it because Dick is writing SF that so many assume the incoherence is sloppiness rather than a deliberate rhetorical strategy?


I think Robbe-Grillet was perhaps deliberately, not just stylistically, trying to put thinking and theorizing about the art of writing into the structure of his novels to create novelty, as writing, which he called “Noveau Roman”. I don't know what Brautigan was trying to do, but Phil Dick's subjects and concerns about reality weren't about writing per se, but about living. I don't think he was trying to deliberately create a new kind of writing or novel. That doesn't mean his works are narrowly interpretable, but many, many SF novels have time travel, space/time warps, and so on, but are interpretable. Interpretations or readings are just perspectives which aren't meant to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Reasonably consistent interpretations are possible, such a everything-is-perfect's Jungian analysis. Works like Phil Dick's makes people want to interpret them and present many overlapping and partial possibilities of interpretation and perhaps ultimate impenetrability.



If you're into Literary Criticism on Phil Dick, read on.

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review 2017-11-27 01:21
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America - Ibram X. Kendi

It has taken me a long time to read this book. The problem was not that I found it boring or difficult to read or unpersuasive—anything but. The problem was simply that it was too persuasive, and what it persuaded me of was profoundly depressing. I found myself resisting picking it up yet once more and going on to read yet more of, and be yet again convinced and depressed by, Kendi’s detailed and ugly history of the ongoing power of racist ideas in the United States (and really, for that matter, in Canada and Europe and elsewhere). 

Kendi’s main argument is that, contrary to popular belief, the development of racist theories about human differences has not led to the racist behaviour that has marginalized, impoverished, and enslaved people of African origins in the US. Instead, the desire to use people as slaves, or to prevent them from having a political voice or a right to fair housing, or to otherwise take advantage of them and make money from doing so has preceded the development of the theories that justify that behaviour—and continues to do so.  

There were people who wanted to buy and sell slaves before there was a theoretical justification for doing so. More recently, an urge to make money from the incarceration of massive numbers of Americans of colour has encouraged the development of theories of differences in racal intelligence and the misleading and inaccurate intelligence tests that still maintain them.  they have also supported an unthinking faith in ideas of individual self-reliance, the dangers of welfare, etc. that still blames people of colour rather than economic conditions for their poverty. Those theories then allow for and sustain the ongoing existence of the slums and other social conditions that encourage poverty and lack of opportunity and thus lead to crime and profitable incarceration—and those in turn appear to confirm the racist theories that allowed the inequitable social conditions n the first place. Racist theory works by offering to account for why Whites have no choice but to take advantage of Black people, always by placing the blame on a theoretically-established and clearly false conception of Black inadequacy.

Kendi identifies three main types of racist theories. First is the idea that people whose ancestors came from different continents are inherently and unalterably different from each other and that Africans and Asians, etc., are inherently inferior to the Europeans who wish to take economic advantage of the supposedly inferior others, thus justifying taking that advantage. Second is the idea that matters like primitive social conditions or the hot African climate or later, the experience of slavery, have made people of certain races debilitated or without morals or otherwise inferior to the supposedly advanced Europeans, and so those other people need to be encouraged and helped to become more like Europeans before they can be treated equally. The third idea is antiracism, or the belief that all people are already and have always been equal to one in any way that matters, and it is those who think otherwise who need to change their ideas and also, change the laws and social customs, etc., that still now  create differences and promote inequality, sometimes even by professing to combat it.

For Kendi, the beliefs of a lot of Americans of both African and European backgrounds who have played significant parts in the fight against slavery and other form of inequality, in the past and now, fall into the first two categories. There have been Blacks as well as Whites who have believed so fervently in the undeniability of racial difference that they worked for the development of a society of separate but equal races—forms of apartheid. And there have been both Blacks and Whites who have bought into the idea that Blacks have been made different and inferior by a history of ill treatment, and need to become better, i.e., almost always, more like Whites, in order to deserve, and before they can achieve, equality. These  assimilationist views fall within Kendi’s second category. 

For Kendi himself, only anti-racism is an acceptably safe position—the one that doesn’t sustain racism even while trying to fight it. He finds very few people throughout history or even now who represent it. That’s what makes the book so depressing—that, and the overwhelming evidence he presents to support the conclusion that the white suprematist ideas that have received so much attention in recent times are neither new or newly powerful. They have always been there, and they have always had more profoundly powerful effects on the lives of people of colour in North America than have public avowals of belief in or the passing of laws in support of equal treatment for all.  

Stamped from the Beginning is well worth reading, in spite or, no, exactly because of, how depressingly convincing it is. 



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review 2017-11-11 22:17
Excellent historical perspective on the genre
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

Disclosure:  I acquired a free Kindle edition of this public domain work.


Although a bit dry at times, Edith Birkhead's 1921 study of gothic fiction is still a valuable resource for anyone wishing to understand the evolution of the genre.  Her insights remain relevant even a century (almost) later.


She starts with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto and moves forward into the novels of Mrs. Radcliffe, Matthew "Monk" Lewis, and others at the end of the eighteenth century.  The connections she makes between the authors and the books they read as well as the books they wrote was interesting.  Too often, literary analysts seem to assume the books write themselves and evolve one after the other without human intervention.


Many of the books and authors cited have of course been classics for a very long time, but others are less well known and less available even in this age of digitization.  It's going to be fun tracking down some of these unfamiliar titles.


One aspect I found particularly interesting, and again given that this was written nearly a hundred years ago, was that Ms. Birkhead recognized the integration of aspects of the gothic story into other genres of fiction, whether bringing elements of the supernatural into the mundane setting such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, or allowing natural fear and terror to heighten the reader's excitement and interest, as in The Prisoner of Zenda.


The edition I obtained is complete with footnotes and index, which will be very useful.



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text 2017-10-30 00:55
Reading progress update: I've read 53%. or When Technology hiccups and gives us a chuckle
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

Many of these public domain works have been republished using OCR scanners, which occasionally misread things.  There are supposed to be proofreaders, but I guess they aren't perfect, either.  I wouldn't have caught this one if I weren't simultaneously reading Northanger Abbey.


Nor is Catherine aided in her career by those "improbable events," so dear to romance, that serve to introduce a hero—a robber's attack, a tempest, or a carriage accident. With a sly glance at such dangerous characters as Lady Greystock in The Children of the Abbey (1798), Miss Austen creates the inert, but good-natured Mrs. Alien as Catherine's chaperone in Bath:


"It is now expedient to give some description of Mrs. Alien that the reader may be able to judge in what manner her actions will hereafter tend to promote the general distress of the work and how she will probably contribute to reduce poor Catherine to all the desperate wretchedness of which a last volume is capable, whether by her imprudence, vulgarity or jealousy—whether by intercepting her letters, ruining her character or turning her out of doors."

Birkhead, Edith. The Tale of Terror A Study of the Gothic Romance (p. 74). Kindle Edition.

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text 2017-10-28 00:20
Reading progress update: I've read 28%.
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

I'm feeling slightly lost because she discusses details of so many of the early books -- by Mrs. Radcliffe, by "Monk" Lewis, by Tobias Smollett, by Jacques Cazotte and others -- with the assumption that her reader has also read,  and is familiar with, them all.


But it's still a good analysis, and I'm enjoying her commentary.

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