Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Man in the High Castle

Yesterday I finished Philip K. Dick's (1992/1962) book, The Man in the High Castle. Consider everything that follows to be composed of spoilers.

High Castle depicts an alternative-Earth following German-Japanese victory in the Second World War. Yet that setting is mainly a backdrop; the book is much more focused on the personal stories of a handful of characters whose story-arcs intersect in odd ways. Each character is a fake invested in the manufacture of reality. Each somehow knows that her or his own duplicities and productions of historicity reflect a larger artificiality.

To illustrate, one character, a producer of ersatz Americana knickknacks (coveted by Japanese occupiers of the western United States) comments on the value of human-made authenticity in the form of "proof," rather than some intrinsic quality, to generate meaning: "And so it's all a fake, a mass delusion. The paper proves its worth, not the object itself!" (p. 64). Throughout High Castle, characters stretch against the confines of the simulations that confine them. But each (with, perhaps, one exception) find no truer meaning "outside" their continuum than within.

The reader studies the fragments, hoping that "this" reality is more meaningful than the ones that reside in the book. But I found myself wondering all the same.

Some other quotes:
"Apple pie, Coca-Cola, stroll after the movie, Glenn Miller . . . you could paste together out of tin and rice paper a complete artificial America" (p. 112).

"Synthetic image distilled from hearing assorted talk. Myth implanted subtly in tissues of brain" (pp. 142-143).

"Now one appreciates Saint Paul's incisive word choice . . . seen through glass darkly not a metaphor, but astute reference to optical distortion. We really do see astigmatically, in fundamental sense: our space and our time creations of our own psyche" (p. 233).

"Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be life somewhere which we know nothing of. It is impossible that ours is the only world; there must be world after world unseen by us, in some region or dimension that we simply do not perceive" (p. 244).
One can hardly imagine Gibson's Gernsback Continuum without this book.

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