PHILIP K. DICK FESTIVAL: academic dickheads celebrate the scandalous genius of science fiction at SFSU
Philip K. Dick was a nut case. Philip K. Dick was a genius. Philip K. Dick was a decent science fiction writer, but no more than a footnote in the history of 20th century literary fiction. Philip K. Dick is one of the most significant writers of the last 50 years.
Google the name and you will find ample support for all of the above.
Pay attention, though, and it is increasingly clear that of those assertions the second (he was a genius) and fourth (he is significant) are winning the day.
Consider: In November of 2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, about 1,000 pages culled by editors Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem from nearly 8,000 pages of Dick’s journals and annotated by an entire troupe of Dick scholars.
Consider: In May of this year, the Opinion Pages of the New York Times devoted nearly 5,000 words to an online series by philosopher Simon Critchley under the title, “Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Philosopher.”
Consider: The prestigious Library of America has included three volumes of Dick’s work (the same number as Herman Melville).
And then, last year, the U.S.A.’s first Philip K. Dick Festival (a major academic conference) was inaugurated.
This brings us to the current event at SFSU, which took place on the weekend of September 22 and 23rd, organized by SFSU Lecturer David Gill (a passionate Dick scholar whose provocative e-mail address is email@example.com).
When writer SB Stokes called my attention to this remarkable conference, I was anxious to attend. You see, I don’t know Dick (as well as I would like) and I realized that this situation warranted a fix.
And so I found myself attending talks like “Do Scientists Dream of Electric Thought Experiments” and “Neoplatonism and The Problem of Dick’s Christianity” with a motley assortment of fans and scholars from all over the world.
Science fiction gives us this pool of philosophical concepts on which scientists can draw while they are solving scientific problems and doing science.
This wildly enthusiastic festival—Gill insists that festival, rather than conference, is the appropriate word—was quite unlike any academic event I have ever attended. You shoulda been there.
Dick thinks that he had a mystical experience similar to the one Plotinus had.
At one point during the proceedings, a presenter asked the audience these questions: “How many of you have felt that your lives were changed by reading Phil’s novels?” and “How many of you, after reading one of Phil’s novels, have experienced strange synchronicities in your own life related to what you had read?” In both cases, just about everybody in the house shot a hand into the air. It was the best kind of weird.
What the fuck do we do with ‘The Exegesis’? I’ve worked on it. I don’t understand it. It’s a nightmare. It’s crazy.
I started teaching classes on Philip K. Dick and we would do fifteen novels in fifteen weeks. People would leave messages on my answering machine… saying ‘Professor Doyle, I don’t know what fiction is anymore.’
Trust me: Philip K. Dick and the Philip K. Dick Festival will rock you pretty hard. The entire list of presenters is as follows (check out their links—truly amazing):
James Burton, Erik Davis, Grania Davis, Rich Doyle, David Duffy, David Gill, John Goodrich, Marc Haefele, Ted Hand, David Hyde, Pamela Jackson, Jonathan Lethem, Doug Mackey, Charles Platt, Charles Reid, Laurence Rickels, Gregg Rickman, Dore Ripley, Umberto Rossi, Rudy Rucker, Chris Rudge, Paul Sammon, William Sarill, Brad Scheiber, Stefan Schlensag, John Alan Simon and Henri Wintz
Philip K. Dick is as important a writer as you can possibly imagine. He’s substantial, valid, literarily defensible—a substantial citizen in the world of letters.
Want more? Check out totaldickhead.blogspot.com and philipkdickfestival.com, where videos of the entire conference will be posted over the coming days. You can also watch Jackson and Lethem reading from and discussing the Exegesis right over here.
Charles Kruger is “The Storming Bohemian” and the founder, lead reviewer and editor of TheatreStorm, covering the Bay Area Theatre scene. He is a regular contributor to Litseen as staff writer, videographer, and columnist, and contributes occasional reviews to The Rumpus. Charles proudly serves on the Board of Directors for Quiet Lightning and can often be seen performing his poetry at spoken word venues around San Francisco. He is also a painter, whose work can be seen here.