Sunday, April 1, 2012

On "I Am Alive and You Are Dead" by Emmanuel Carrere ****

In reading this biography, I was reminded a bit of the life of L. Ron Hubbard, another science fiction writer whose tales became eventually the reality of his life. Philip K. Dick seems to have gone similarly insane. Both were "crap artists" of a sort, though Hubbard was into the con, whereas Dick merely told tales--and took odd positions--for amusement. But in the end, they both seem to have been mentally sick gentlemen.

I had previously read the biography of Philip Dick by his third wife Anne. In that book, she comes across as a bit crazy and high strung but largely sympathetic and very much still in love with her husband. In this book, she is the subject only of a chapter or so, and she does not come off all that well at all. High strung, she pushes Dick over the edge. But then, every woman except Kleo, his second wife, seems to do that eventually. He was, it appears, a very difficult man to live with. (After all, what kind of loving man offers a dedication to his wife that also takes a swipe at her--namely, "For Anne, who stayed quiet long enough for me to write this.")

Carrere traces Dick's life from its beginnings, when Dick's sister dies in infancy, the survivor guilt from which Dick would carry throughout life and an event that would play a role in many of his novels (wherein Dick imagines one character in a dream world and the other--the dead one--in the real world). This is in part the subject of Ubik, apparently one of his best novels (unfortunately not among the books I chose for my reading list). The biographer also, as a more-distant observer than Anne, offers various critical views on Dick's work, beyond Ken in this book equals Albert in real life (as Anne was wont to do, a practice that seems somewhat dubious, since characters might be based on reality but aren't reality).

What is clear is that while philosophical ideas, psychological ideas, and religion fascinated Dick, he also liked to be a contrarian, one who simply took whatever position others weren't. And in the end, he began to believe his own crazy ravings and rants, his own books full of paranoia. Amid bad marriages, he heavily inundated himself with prescription drugs (which would allow him to write a book in two weeks). When his marriage to Anne ended, he moved on to living among a young crowd of druggies. In the midst of this, his house was robbed, and this robbery would become the focus of much of his obsession in later life: Who did it? Was it the Feds? Was it communist agents? Was it himself? He became so obsessed with such ideas that when his work found some following among Eastern Europeans, he wondered if it might not be a communist plot of some sort and started up correspondence with the FBI, which bemusedly ignored him.

Later, having given up the drug lifestyle (though not necessarily all of the drugs), Dick became even more heavily steeped in religion, such that he sometimes thought he was having visions. At some points, he claimed to believe he was a John the Baptist-type personage, announcing the coming of the One, the next prophet down the line to come from the beyond. And his books might indeed be part of this.

Carrere makes a case that at the end of Dick's life, he possibly had a change of view: toward a belief that this world, this concrete world we're in, is real. No use pretending otherwise. But because Dick was one to constantly change positions, to arouse a person's ire, there's no way of knowing how sincere he was even in this position.

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