Tuesday, 6 March 2012

There Was So Little Lit. Crit.

Over on the Philip K. Dick Fan Site here on March 2, responding to the thirtieth anniversary of  Dick's death, David Keller discerns a contest between academic literary criticism and informal communication about fiction: a contest to the detriment of free response to writing. Reading this account, it does seem to me that in the space of the past thirty years or so a living literary or intellectual culture has died, to be replaced by the exam hall, dissertation anxiety and other features of a global academic bureaucracy - which, like the mass media, exists largely to impose 'authority' (Keller's word), rather than to stimulate free communication and intellectual life. Culture's afterlife appears to be as a generator of standardized forms of cognitive law, whilst before it lived as a communicative aspect of collective and personal existential freedom. Arguably, a democratic participative relation to culture is available now only in the virtual realm of online enthusiasts (Dick's Vast Active Living Intelligence System): 'This list, which is hardly a general sample of readers, is about the closest I come to informal discussion about PKD or his writings nowadays.' Back in the unfree 'real' world, itself increasingly an epiphenomenon of digital technology, you either make the cognitive law (as an academic, or media worker promulgating 'received opinion') or submit to it (as a student, or consumer): 

'I read all sorts of things written about PKD, his themes, his stories and novels (either in general or about specific ones) and think the bulk of what I read is A) terribly flawed in some manner or B) written from cultural, social, temporal perspectives very different than mine or some combination of A and B. Perhaps the worst aspect of this to me is that so much of it seems basically received opinion that was crafted after his death by W-M Corporations and/or lacks crucial contextual knowledge. I honestly think the discussions I had with friends, had or overheard at parties and other such informal talk in the 60s and 70s was better informed. OTOH, I don’t know what such contemporary conversations are like. This list, which is hardly a general sample of readers, is about the closest I come to informal discussion about PKD or his writings nowadays. And OTTH I’m sure there must be a significant amount of very good discussion & writing that doesn’t seem that way to me because I lack context or perspective to understand it properly. One thing I’m certain of is that I was very fortunate to have read PKD for such a long time when there were new novels and stories to look forward to, so many opportunities to talk with people about the brand new one, there was so much shared contemporary background knowledge for us to speculate about topical references or commentary and there was so little lit. crit. we were aware of or mass media “information/slush/stereotypes” to come between us and what we read. In a very real sense we were freer to think for ourselves, to perceive and interpret what Phil wrote without it passing through an external PKD filter first and in our discussions we mostly had to stand or fall (or float!) without appeal to authority. Maybe this wasn’t so much the case for SF fans who went to conventions and panels and whatnot though they did still [sic] wouldn’t have had the mass media sludge bombardment. I’m just writing from my personal experience and perspective in the midst of distractions.

No cell phones, no internet, Soviet Union still apparently going strong, the space program barely visible, PTSD was still PTSS [...] It seems like we’ve gone through a lot of generations worth of social and technological change since 1982.'

Quite a lot of initials there: I only got PTSD/S. As I continue to work through my own PATD (Post-Academic Trauma Disorder) on this blog, in the next entry here you're going to get a lot of post-academic stuff about the meta-critic of Kant, philosopher of language J. G. Hamann. In the meanwhile, if anyone can explain any of the non-PKD/-trauma initials in Keller's writing (W-M, OTOH, OTTH), do let me know!

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