Thursday, 4 October 2012

Martian Time-Slip, part 2

In Martian Time-Slip Dick clearly upholds individual freedom, whether it be in terms of the schizophrenic ‘turn inward to meaning’ or Zitte’s bid for economic freedom. Yet the novel’s representation of mental illness also emphasizes the negative aspect of subjective inwardness. Dr Glaub draws attention to how ‘“in child autism, as with Manfred, there is no language at all, at least no spoken language. Possibly totally personal private thoughts…but no words.”’ Dick stresses how autistic noncommunication cages the subject within privatized existence – a sort of privatization which chills Jack Bohlen despite his experience of an empathy with the autistic boy, when he is ‘caught in a symbiosis with this unfortunate, mute creature who did nothing but rake over and inspect his own private world, again and again’. Earlier in the text, when he is exploring the ‘Public School’, Bohlen is troubled by the way in which autism ‘was in the last analysis an apathy toward public endeavour; it was a private existence carried on as if the individual person were the creator of all value, rather than merely the repository of inherited values’. Bohlen thinks that it is important that ‘The child learned that certain things in the culture around him were worth preserving at any cost’, and that ‘His values were fused with some objective human enterprise’. Dick bemoans the divorce of the radically noncommunicative from a communal objectivity, which he thinks of in terms of a taught tradition of values and culture. This divorce also represents the entrance to what Doreen Anderton, in conversation with Bohlen, calls ‘“the Tomb World”’.

‘Jack thought, And people talk about mental illness as an escape! He shuddered. It was no escape; it was a narrowing, a contracting of life into, at last, a mouldering, dank tomb, a place where nothing came or went; a place of total death.’

Dick thus associates psychotic noncommunication with a condition of total reification, or a freezing within an absence of experience; an absence of change. ‘It is the stopping of time. The end of experience, of anything new. Once the person becomes psychotic, nothing ever happens to him again.’ Yet despite lamenting the breakdown of the subject’s relation to objectivity in this way, Dick also offers a critique of objectivity in the form of the ‘composite psyche’ represented by the Public School. In this context he once more upholds the individual’s freedom, accusing an unfree society of imposing a diagnosis of mental illness on any child who displays signs of personal singularity:

Paul Klee. Early Sorrow. 1938
‘It was a battle, Jack realized, between the composite psyche of the school and the individual psyches of the children, and the former held all the key cards. A child who did not properly respond was assumed to be autistic – that is, oriented according to a subjective factor that took precedence over his sense of objective reality.’

Hence whilst Dick bemoans the alienation of the radically noncommunicative from intersubjective objectivity, or ‘the reality of interpersonal living, of life in a given culture with given values’, he critiques their educational institution – the Public School – which represents the ‘link’ to the ‘inherited culture’, and which is there ‘not to inform or educate, but to mold, and along severely limited lines’. ‘It bent its pupils to it [the culture]; perpetuation of the culture was the goal, and any special quirks in the children which might lead them in another direction had to be ironed out.’ Bohlen views ‘the fixed, rigid, compulsive-neurotic Public School’ as being, on one level, ‘an invention arising from necessity’ – insofar as its very neurosis offers the children a bulwark against their own psychosis, or ‘a reference point by which one could gratefully steer one’s course back to mankind and shared reality’. The reified, ‘compulsive-obsessive’ environment which the Public School represents – ‘a world in which nothing new came about, in which there were no surprises’ – at least enables ‘a deliberate stopping, a freezing somewhere along the path’ of psychosis. But Bohlen is also preoccupied by the way in which the Public School environment represents the conversion of ‘inherited culture’ into a form of reified intersubjectivity.

‘[…] Jack Bohlen, for the life of him, could not accept the Public School with its teaching machines as the sole arbiter of what was and what wasn’t of value. For the values of a society were in ceaseless flux, and the Public School was an attempt to stabilize those values, to jell them at a fixed point – to embalm them.’

It seems to be apparent, therefore, that what the novel’s treatment of the interface between mental illness and impaired communication is focussed on, above all else, is reification. Dick laments reified intersubjectivity just as he laments reified subjectivity. In Martian Time-Slip an important definition of psychosis returns to the vocabulary of jelling or coagulation, to describe the self reified beyond empathy and communication:

‘A coagulated self, fixed and immense, which effaces everything else and occupies the entire field. Then the most minute change is examined with the greatest attention. That is Manfred’s state now; has been, from the beginning. The ultimate stage of the schizophrenic process.’

It is as if the reified self expands until, become pure 'attention', it wipes itself out. Jameson’s ‘Philip K. Dick, in Memoriam’ concludes with a discussion of Dick’s prophetic treatment of the ‘end to individualism’ which increasingly characterizes society now. In response to the ‘death of the subject’, Jameson sees Dick’s writing as staging a ‘fitful and disturbing reappearance’ of ‘the collective’ – when the collective reappears precisely in the context of our reified intersubjectivity, or ‘the logic of stereotypes, reproductions and depersonalization in which the individual is held in our own time, “like a bird caught in cobwebs” (Ubik)’. Jameson reads Dick’s fiction as colliding a marginal collective made up of the vulnerable and the posthumous, with the radically alienating world of digitalized, virtualized intersubjectivity imposed on us by technology and mass media: within this scenario, Dick can attach some sort of redemptive value to the reification experienced by the autistic or ‘half-life’ community.

‘It is a literature in which the collective makes a fitful and disturbing reappearance, most often in a paralyzed community of the dead or the stricken, their brains wired together in a nightmarish attempt to find out why their familiar small-town worlds are lacking in depth or solidity, only to discover that they are “in reality” all immobilized together in some cryogenic half-life.’

As Jameson would go on to stress, in his ‘History and Salvation in Philip K. Dick’, in Martian Time-Slip Dick upholds the marginal, immobilized collective as the only social formation capable of future mobility. At the end of the novel, Dick presents Manfred Steiner as having been rescued, eventually, by Jack Bohlen’s attempt to communicate with him. In the novel’s climactic scene back-from-the-future Steiner may now be, as Jameson puts it, an ‘android-type prosthetic being’, but this is also Steiner’s (in Jameson’s phrase) ‘final apotheosis’, and a moment in which he can thank Bohlen for his humanity. ‘It lapsed into silence and then it resumed, more loudly, now. “You tried to communicate with me, many years ago. I appreciate that.”’ Though physically quite literally semi-reified, by now Steiner has found a way of releasing himself from the sort of contemporary reified intersubjectivity emblematized by the AM-WEB building, precisely – so Dick suggests – as a result of a developing capacity for communication and relationality. Bohlen asks Steiner, ‘“Did you escape AM-WEB?”’ ‘“Yesss,” it hissed, with a gleeful tremor. “I am with my friends.” It pointed to the Bleekmen who surrounded it.’ Relating to the Bleekmen, as Bohlen had surmised earlier, can enable Steiner to break through reification, by learning how to adjust – to change – precisely through learning how to be true to his own singularity:

‘Perhaps, for the first time in his life, the boy was in a situation to which he might make an adjustment; he might, with the wild Bleekmen, discern a style of living which was genuinely his and not a pallid, tormented reflection of the lives of those around him, beings who were innately different from him and whom he could never resemble, no matter how hard he tried.’  
Franziska Moebius. Kinder im Weg. Leipzig 2006.
transit trauma and arrested development

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