Monday, April 14, 2008

Philip K. Dick: The Simulacra (part 1)

The Simulacra (link has spoilers) is a 1964 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. The novel portrays a future totalitarian society apparently dominated by a permanent matriarch, Nicole Thibodeaux. It revolves around the themes of reality and illusionary beliefs, as do many of Dick's works.

It's also so damn excellent I'll have to do at least two posts about it, cause I'm making way too much notes. I don't think quotations out of a book spoil the book, you'll have forgotten the quotes long by the time you read it after this post entices you to do so ;)

"When did the position of First Lady begin to assume stature greater than that of President? ... In the corner of his living room the television set said taaaaanggg, indicating that it was about to come on... A special, dealing with activities at the White House, he speculated. Another tour, perhaps, or a thorough scrutiny (in massively-detailed depth) about a new hobby or passion of Nicole's. Has she taken up collecting cone-china cups? If so, we will have to view each and every damn cup."

"...and he was left, as so often before, merely to guess at the reasoning of the Party bureaucracy. He could not genuinely fathom its motives, and in a sense for that he was glad. It proved that he was not spiritually a part of it."

In the book society is stratified into Ges (German geheimnisträger, "bearers of the secret" - the elite) and Bes (German befehalträger, "implementers of instruction" - professional and artisanal) classes:

"...Any failure would have betrayed to the Bes the secret, the Geheimnis, which distinguished the elite (the Ges), the establishment of the United States of Europe and America; their possession of the one or more secrets made them into Geheimnisträger, bearers of the secret, rather than Befehlträger, mere carry-outer of instructions."

"The Autobahn fatigued Chic Strikerock, with its centrally controlled cars and wheels spinning up invisible runnels in massed procession. In hi sown individual car he felt as if he were participating in ablack magic ritual - as if he and the other commuters had put their lives into the hands of a force better left undiscussed."

"Old-time civilization, Chic said to himself. The next layer down, just on the verge of being uncovered by the autoshovels operating in the airless, near-weightless void of mid-space, of the big-planet moons.
We're being robbed, he decided. The next layer down will be comic books, contraceptives, empty Coke bottles. But they - the authorities - won't tell us. Who wants to find out that the entire solar system has been exposed to Coca Cola over a period of two million years? It was, for him, impossible to imagine a civilization - of any kind of life form - that had not contrived Coke. Otherwise, how would it authentically be called a 'civilization'?"

"Something sizzled to the right of him. A commercial, made by Theodorus Nitz, the worst house of all, had attached itself to his car. 'Get off,' he warned it. But the commercial, well-adhered began to crawl, buffeted by the wind, towards the door and the entrance crack. It would soon have squeezed in and would be haranguing him in the cranky, garbagey fashion of the Nitz advertisements.
He could, as it came through the crack, kill it. It was alive, terribly mortal; the ad agencies, like nature, squandered hordes of them.
The commercial, fly-sized, began to buzz out its message as soon as it managed to force entry. 'Say! Haven't you sometimes said to yourself, I'll bet other people in restaurants can see me! And you're puzzled as to what to do about this serious, baffling problem of being conspicuous, especially-'
Chic crushed it with his foot."

"'I think,' Emil Stark said, 'that if the Third Reich is given the weapons it needs it will survive its victory by perhaps five years - and very possibly not even that long. It's doomed by its very nature; there's absolutely no mechanism in the Nazi Party by which a successor to der Führer can be produced. Germany will fragment, become a collection of small, nasty, quarrelling states as it was before Bismark. My government is convinced of this, Mrs Thibodeaux. Remember Hess's introduction of Hitler at one of the great Party rallies. "Hitler ist Deutschland." "Hitler is Germany." He was correct. Hence after Hitler what? The deluge. And Hitler knew it. As a matter of fact, there is some possibility that Hitler deliberately led his people to defeat. But that is a rather convoluted psychoanalytic theory. I personally find it too baroque for credence."

"A man, when he emigrated, could buy neighbours, buy the simulated presence of life, the sound an dmotion of human activity - or at least its mechanical near-substitute - to bolster his morale in the new environment of unfamiliar stimuli and perhaps, god forbid, no stimuli at all. And in addition to this primary psychological gain there was a practical secondary advantage as well. The famnexdo group of simulacra developed the parcel of land, tilled it and planted it, irrigated it, made it fertile, highly productive. And the yield went to the human settler because the famnexdo group, legally speaking, occupied the peripheral portions of his land.
The famnexdo were actually not next-door at all; they were part of their owner's entourage. Communication with them was in essence a circular dialogue with oneself; the famnexdo, if they were functioning properly, picked up the covert hopes and dreams of the settler and detailed them back in an articulated fashion. Therapeutically, this was helpful, although from a cultural standpoint, it was a trifle sterile."

"Tough, I mean, mind your own darn business. Who asked for your artificial contrived opinion?"

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