Saturday, August 22, 2009

Philip K. Dick's Simulation

I picked up Philip K. Dick's The Simulacra in the library thinking back on Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, which I had begun reading three years ago but had not finished. And little did I know how correct the intuition was, for as I pulled it off the shelf and read the chapter on "Simulacra and Science Fiction," I came across the name of Philip K. Dick.

Philip K. Dick is the author of Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep?, which was the basis for Blade Runner, as well as the works which became Total Recall, Minority Report, etc. (I was surprised by some of the films, as I never knew their origins).

Simulacra begins with the introduction of several characters and plot lines for the reader to follow, but it is readily apparent how the path will begin to converge. Beginning with the arrest of Dr. Egon Superb, the last remaining psychoanalyst thanks to the the McPhearson Act, to the eccentricities of Richard Kongrosian, the tangle of lives that make up the story of Simulacra provide the backdrop for a tale of a multidimensional conspiracy. As the White House and the mysterious Bertold Goltz travel through time, Dick reengages us in Nazi Germany, coup d'etats, atomic bombs and civil war.

This leads us to Baudrillard.

According to Baudrillard, science fiction is the quantitative extension of the productive universe (in contrast to utopia, which is qualitative and transcends). What has happened to science fiction, Baudrillard notes, is that it has begun to fold in upon itself. It is no longer an infinite expansion of the realities of production and exploration - e.g., space travel - because science has filled the gaps of space (it is no longer infinite in the imagination). Now science fiction turns to recycling historical occurrences, such as in the works of Harry Turtledove. Science fiction no loner invents in the manner of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, but merely recycles, and Baudrillard presents Dick - The Simulacra in particular - as an example of the recycling trend within science fiction.

In The Simulacra, Dick has the White House bring Hermann Goering into the future in a supposed attempt to stop the Holocaust by allowing the 3rd Reich to survive, rather than meet its intended doom. Baudrillard also cites the civil war which begins at the end of book as part of this recycling behaviour. According to Baudrillard's line of thinking, this falls into the order of simulation, since it is no longer extending the imaginative limits of science, but is taking events from the past and recasting them in the future, i.e., divorcing them from their historical context and meaning. Even some of the characters themselves are simulations: the First Lady, Nicole Thibodeaux; the papoolas (an extinct Martian creature); the chuppers (reminiscent of the Neanderthals).

I'm looking forward to reading some more works by Philip K. Dick, but in the meantime, I'm going to finish reading Simulacra and Simulation.

No comments:

Post a Comment