The Recycled Philip K. Dick

Essay and Artwork by
Cole Webber

I am greatly inspired by the breadth and detail and originality of PKD’s concepts. But — particularly in his pulp stories as compared to his novels — he is forced to circumvent his own desire and drive and the concepts’ own logical conclusion too often. He himself lamented this on more than one occasion in more (at the time) off the record media: zine interviews, tape recorded conversations with students, or his own journals. As he described, even in the “pulp trash” of the time, publishers were forced to attend to the sensibilities of a conservative librarian.  No sex, no hard hitting cries against authority, no swear words, (in other words, no reality to how people talk), and often, if not outright then implicitly, no commenting on social issues. Of course, the last requirement is possibly the main reason for, if not the speculative genre’s existence, its flourish-and-foothold period of the 1940s-1960s. Weeding out by censors didn’t pluck the weeds out fully, just forced them to move their roots more stably underground and to disguise themselves on the surface. If anything, the reality of this situation was more a commentary on the obtuseness of the censors and of the public, maybe, in general: the inability of the masses to speak in metaphor or principle, which therefore shined a spotlight on what rare and good a gift it is to think in these mediums. Many of the outlyinh episodes of the Twilight Zone are so blunt I would hesitate now to even call them allegory: But to the media or the masses, stick an alien or ghost somewhere near the reality  of racial injustice, and the whole thing becomes airable, tolerable, unreal. At times, though, this steering forced writers to avoid implied directions altogether. My case in point is a fascinating story by PKD in which a traveling Earthian businessman purchases an actual minor deity from another ‘tribal’ planet (actually moon) as a gift to his wife, who becomes dismayed and ultimately broken once neither she —nor him—can control it as a coin-box animatronic curiosity. In fact, and obviously as we know, the god controls them. A fascinating surrealist spin on colonialism, or hubris, or any other number of flaws in the megalomaniacal human identity, by the end the story becomes a simple adventure which I have to assume was not a choice but a forced slip of hand as PKD himself, later (and frequently) detested that a Western Adventure was the only conflict and ending publishers would publish. Even today, Star Wars space opera is more popular than most other things. While he was able to, I believe, write more honestly in his novels, many of these earlier works are cut off by their nature: their word count or topic. Cut short of not only the possibilities there but the ones he must be building to. Many of them, also by their nature, are no longer bound by copyright; and, even where they are not public domain, a pure premise and concept are not ownable or patentable .

One of the great freedoms we as artists have today is the ability to self-publish, and therefore to be “unpublishable”. We have the great freedom to not be censored or approved and to have the same people-reaching potential as all the rest anyways. This terrifies the publishers— a term which now bears little weight— for far more than monetary reasons. Who owns the culture owns the society, and through the capability of us all to have our own unlimited-print digital-presses, we are for the first time taking collective-individual and therefore democratic ownership of our exact thinking streams, cleaning it up from the mass media culture pumped mind mildew. Freedom of speech also demands the freedom to be heard, a right aided by mass media but hindered by monopolized control over the same mass media.

We are now for the first time getting the long-promised real mass media, in both senses of capability and ownership. This is a right some of the great writers missed; and as with any right I think it also bears a responsibility along with it: specifically, our use of our newfound right for those who lacked it. Why not just others now? Why not others too back in time?

When at a loss for inspiration, I look to those people who inspire me. We can source fromthis in an even more direct way: to take those great thinkers’ great concepts, and adapt, remix, reinterpret them, not in an effort to repossess (as the banks that deprived them of their intention in the first place would) but to re-invigorate. Or maybe not. Maybe they did intend a space opera procedure, as much as I doubt it. But the spirit of something lives on even when words change, and we can translate a premise into an actuality which may be one of the many potentialities. To give a knew endings; to bring new life. What might they have wanted to say? Ultimately, this is what we think, suppose, presume, and is an active contribution of ourselves as well. A concept does not have one ending or outcome, as PKD’s ultimate hallucinogenic and reference shifting writing shows. Neither does imagination — even our imagination — have an end. It is up to us to make it, to make multiples; And just as importantly to remake it.

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