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The Secret Museum of Mankind
Published in 1935, the Secret Museum
is a mystery book. It has no author or credits, no copyright, no date, no page numbers, no index. The commentary is dated, and racist in the extreme, but the collection of photos of from the early part of the century is truly amazing. It's like walking through a carnival sideshow from long ago.
The Broken Bubble
I just finished The Broken Bubble
by Philip K. Dick.
It's not a sci-fi novel. It's one of a handful of "mainstream" novels that he wrote. I think it's one of his best of either kind. The story is pretty simple: a disc jockey gets supended from work for refusing to read an used car ad; He and his ex-wife meet a young couple; there's an affair; a baby is born - regular life stuff. However, Dick sees the hidden forces pushing at people. The novel is set in the 1950's but it could have been last week or the late 1600's. Dick see clearly the words that push us from the outside: ads, billboards, pamphlets, school; and from the inside.
We're all driven by words. Some pull us up us, some don't, some just pass right on by. Dick shows how the words from school are useless and most of words from the radio are just lies. The disc jokey is the one voice speaking to the young and he does it through the records he plays. The names of the records he played are not mentioned. Dick did not like Rock 'n Roll and he knew nothing about. Apparently, he didn't want to learn either because the only music mentioned is Dick's favorite German classics. Hpwever, he knew it was a positive voice which spoke to people in a language they understood.
The novel owes a lot to the Beat's, but it's bleak view of society is unique to Dick Although set in the 50's, it describes the modern world.
I wonder about the kinds of words we use. There are those who love words so much, they believe that they can be captured in a book that was not written by a human being. But who else has words but humans? Maybe god, but why would god need words. Until recent history, no one but people had words, maybe god, but you usually didn't get to hear that. Someone always spread rumors about what was said. Maybe written words, but they were slow, static, not like real words, except in our minds where no one could hear. Now, everything talks. We're surrounded by chattering machines: TV, youtube, the door at Staples this morning. Everything yacks at us with words telling us how to think, how to act.
When we speak, can we use our own words anymore or do we use the words from the machines? Is there any difference?
Who we are
I have been reading Emmanuel Carrere's biography of Philip K. Dick
, I am alive and you are dead
. The title comes from the novel Ubik. Part of Ubik involves a man trying to communicate with a group of people who are in suspended animation after an explosion. To the people in the suspended state, his communications are dreams. One of Dick's major themes was that what we assume to be reality is an illusion. Worse than an illusion, reality was often seen as a deception perpetrated by a malign and totalitarian power.
I found myself thinking of PKD recently after a lunchtime conversation with a colleague who studies bacteria. He remarked that we carry ten times as many bacterial cells as we do cells containing our own DNA. We have on the order of 10^12 cells and carry on our skin, in our guts etc. on the order of 10^13 bacterial cells. These bacteria perform useful function for us, for example, helping us digest our food. In some real sense, our physical being is a symbiont with these bacteria. All of our cells die and are replaced in something like a 5 year cycle. We are legion, not singular.
In our mental lives, most of us carry a strong sense of identity. We have a series of memories that we use to make up our personal history. However, our memories are constructed in our brain at the current time, so we have no way to confirm their accuarcy except by appeal to things in the external world -- I remember my wedding, my wife remembers it also, although not identically, so it must have happened. What happens when the external world conspires in a way to no longer confirm our memories and our illusions of our identity? What happens when the symbiots no longer cooperate. This is what Dick explores in his novels.
One of PKD's other themes was the role of the divine and its relation to this shifting reality. For many people, God, or whatever concept you want to appeal to, is an ultimate reality. The one thing that is not an illusion. Dick could never settle on whether he thought God was perpetuating the illusion for good or evil, in our terms, not God's. God's purpose, if there can be such a thing, is inscruable.
An android of Philip K. Dick was impaneled in a San Diego Comic Con presentation on the film adaptation of Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly
. Unfortunately, sometime in February 2006, the android was "misplaced" by an airline, and has yet to be located. It's probably somewehere wondering if it's a man dreaming he's an android or an android dreaming that he's a man.
I just finished reading Epileptic by David B. Epileptic is a graphic novel/memoir about the author's life with his epliletic brother. It's a truly amazing work. I've been interested in graphic novels ever since I stumbled across Harvey Pekar's American Splendor in the library several years ago. There are a number of exceptional graphic works: Art Spiegelman's Maus, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi etc. Eplieptic is truly outstanding. Graphic novels are a unique medium, a combination of visual story telling like movies and narrative like novels. They combine both into a unique medium that seems especially suited for personal narratives.
Epileptic by David B.
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