Friday, January 30, 2009

The Paranoia of Utopias

"As if one man could bring about a world war and the deaths of millions, even if he wanted to" (Dick).

In the Prison-house of Language, Fredric Jameson observes of the semantic triangle that it is "deigned to diagram the way in which, from any given starting point, S, a whole complex of meaning possibilities, indeed a complete meaning system may be derived" (163). I.A. Richards, a proponent of the New Rhetoric, saw in the semantic triangle, the better form of communication; one that de-emphasized persuasion and moved it into a hermeneutic—a place for understanding the text. According to this theory, words/language are indeterminate; they are instruments. Signs, on the other hand, are more comprehensive than words themselves, so meaning has to be interpreted in a larger context. In this context, ambiguities are the hinges of thoughts as they help open things up. By this logic, thought creates an indirect relationship between the symbol and the thing.

Understanding the semantic triangle made up of the symbol (or the word), the thought expressed in the words used to describe the referent, and the referent itself, that which is conjured up in the mind depending on the words, is a useful form of deciphering communication. It is made meaningful more so in Dr. Bloodmoney, given that Phillip K. Dick leaves it to the reader to decide for herself what's real and what isn't. By Jameson's semantic triangle, Dick succeeds in elevating his form of fiction from the usual response to the concrete historical dilemma in the form of the bomb, to an iteration of a truly different world as a result of that bomb. The remaining inhabitants are left to decide their future from hereon depending, not on past privileges or disadvantages accorded say, by race, social class, but on sheer skill and ingenuity. The characters free their imagination and so do we. As readers, we have to allow our imagination to be free of our representation of the world before we can make meaning of the fantastic world that is conjured up in most science fiction. Jameson makes us aware that discussing a future society that can't be represented realistically is complicated because it demands a paradigm shift in our imagination. The racial undertones present occupy that familiar place in the American psyche. Dr Bloodmoney may be a work of fiction, sf at that; but at a certain level it is not. Note that Dr. Bloodmoney is set in Berkeley, West Marin County, and it mentions familiar places, such as the Pentagon, Washington, NY City, and deals with familiar concepts—family, love, etc. It also orbits the earth via satellite, occupied by Walt Dangerfield. Thus, we are simultaneously required (in our imagination) to move back and forth between the real and the fantastic.

In Dr. Bloodmoney, we are not focused on what is human, or real, (Hoppy Harrington) or even sane (Stuart McConchie); we weave among all three; we navigate the politics and the personal in light of the catastrophe that has just been witnessed. The characters are sandwiched between two catastrophes—the explosion; the war. Out of the catastrophe emerges a simpler world. In the process, though, we see a glimpse of how humans survive in situations like this; how they maintain their personality and how they remain true to their values—values they once held before all hell broke loose. Thankfully, the message of hope and unity endures in the character of Walt Dangerfield despite the loneliness he suffers following the suicide of his wife.
We are left to distinguish between the physical and the psychological explosions. Are we under the spell of Bluthgeld and his psychic powers? What is real? imagined? the semantic triangle might help us make meaning here. Again, Dick seems to be dealing with a futuristic world in a world where the future has come and gone. But it isn't predictive in that none of that happened. Perhaps it forces us to consider what could be, if it were to occur. The atomic blast occurred and now survivors of the blast are attempting to forge their way ahead.

Dick's narrative strategy seems to suit Jameson's description of science fiction (sf) novels. Notice how Dick extrapolates the reader into negotiating the "relationship between the author's environment and the created world" (44). We find ourselves in the suburbs of San Francisco where, along with the characters, we encounter and navigate the catastrophe orchestrated by Dick's imaginative mind. We are drawn into his personal moral and psychological concerns about good and evil. In fact, there are more instances in which tendencies in the historical environment are played out in the alterative world. These include war, nuclear disasters, protest letters (to President Johnson), etc. And in this third world that is being remade, we see unfolding before us, a sort of bucolic existence in which great cities and technological advances are not the mark of progress.

Everything that runs on electricity gets thrown out as kipple, a manifestation of entropy---Dick's idea of entropy--a state of inaction

Idios kosmos (solitary delusion--Hoppy; Bluthdel) koinos kosmos (shared world--book ending). Is Dr. Bloodmoney in the genre of science fiction? Given the scene that occurs after the holocaust, it is. No so much a fantasy element, but science gone wrong leads to an evolvement of changes that take us to the next level...atomic/radiation changes.

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