Why our July meeting’s postponed
Our July reading meeting will be postponed until August as the core members of the PKD Reading Group will be presenting at an international conference at the University of Sydney. This allows us to spend twice as long on pages 312-444 of The Exegesis, which, as we dig deeper into the tome, seems to require these postponements, doublings, and prolongations of time.
The reading group will be presenting a three-paper panel at this conference, a novel-centered four-day affair titled “The Prosaic Imaginary: Novels and the Everyday, 1750-2000.” Reassessing the novel as “portable property” after John Plotz’s 2008 book, the conference will take up the term “prosaic” in new ways, addressing the practice of novel reading as an ‘everyday’ activity, and considering novels as texts uniquely given to an authors’ (and readers’) study of that which is ‘prosaic’ and imaginary in the material world (and their interrelations). More information about the conference, and registration for attendance to it, is best accessed through the conference’s novelnetwork.org website. We’d love to see you there.
I’ll embed our (pdf) abstract below for those interested:
Doing ‘things’ with Dick’s novels
As our abstract suggests, we’ll be sketching out a broad relation between Dick’s novels and their depiction or relation to material ‘things.’ More generally, our papers will give attending scholars and participants an overview of this reading group, Philip K. Dick’s life and career, and Dick’s own obsession with objects of all kinds. Our panel’s engagement with Dick’s psychological and ontological responses to objects is signalled by our abstract’s title: ‘Novel Objects: The Unsettling Life of Things in the Novels of Philip K. Dick.’
Dick’s obsession with his filing cabinet, which hosted a vast collection of SF magazines, and his fixation on his Magnavox amplifier and other hi-fi equipment, which he would reimagine as Palmer Eldritch’s “vidlux” eyes in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), is emblematic of Dick’s loving and epicurean treatment and collection of objects and machines in his novels and short stories. Looking at his third wife Anne’s children (“the girls”) playing with Barbie dolls on the floor (including a Ken doll) — dolls that Dick and Anne had given them for Christmas in 1963 — Dick was inspired to write his short story “The Days of Perky Pat” (later becoming The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch), which depicts a group of displaced adults playing with similar dolls and “layouts” (doll houses) on the colonies of Mars. As Dick wrote in an introductory note to the story,
‘The Days of Perky Pat’ came to me in one lightning-swift flash when I saw my children playing with Barbie dolls. Obviously these anatomically super-developed dolls were not intended for the use of children, or, more accurately, should not have been. Barbie and Ken consisted of two adults in miniature. The idea was that the purchase of countless new clothes for these dolls was necessary if Barbie and Ken were to live in the style to which they were accustomed. I had visions of Barbie coming into my bedroom at night and saying, ‘I need a mink coat.’ Or, even worse, ‘Hey, big fellow… want to take a drive to Vegas in my Jaguar XKE?’ I was afraid my wife would find me and Barbie together and my wife would shoot me.
[See: The Complete Stories of Philip K. Dick: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and Other Classic Stories (New York: Citadel Press, 1987), 366.]
The above lines (or visions) express a good-humoured, but typically anxious Dick of the early 1960s — the Dick who felt that sustaining his recent marriage to Anne involved, at least partly — and whether he was right or wrong to think so — keeping his relatively new family happy, living in ‘the style to which they had become accustomed.’ Interestingly, Dick and Anne did own a Jaguar, although it was a white 1953 MK VII Saloon — not an XKE.
Dick’s attachment to the vehicle, which he and Anne had bought in 1963 for $2,000 from the “head mechanic at British Motors” (according to her memoir), fastidiously replacing the carpet with the “best-quality royal blue plush carpeting [they] could find” (60) is expressed in the second chapter of We Can Build You, when our narrator Louis Rosen lovingly describes the model, owned by businessman Maury Frauenzimmer:
The Mark VII Saloon Model Jaguar is an ancient huge white car, a collector’s item, with fog lights, a grill like the Rolls, and naturally hand-rubbed walnut, leather seats, and many interior lights. Maury kept his priceless old 1954 Mark VII in mint condition and tuned perfectly, but we were able to go no faster than ninety miles an hour on the freeway which connects Ontario with Boise (WCBY, 8).
In the late ’40s, over a decade before Perky Pat was inscribed on the pages of Amazing Stories, Dick worked as a sales clerk at a record and hi-fi shop, University Radio and Electronics, and later at another shop, Art Music, where he sold records and repaired hi-fi equipment, nurturing his relation to material objects. (According to these entries on popturf.com, University Radio was located at 2165 Shattuck Ave and Art Music was at 2328 Telegraph Ave.) Withdrawing from UC Berkeley in 1947 due to his disapproval of the then mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corp regime (Dick claimed he refused to reassemble his rifle during the ROTC), Dick’s literary career took its first steps in the 1950s when he sold his first SF novel, Solar Lottery. All the while he had been trying to carve out a literary career, Dick had fallen back on his employment in these music and record shops. Just before he sold Solar Lottery, Dick, in 1953, briefly worked at Tupper and Reed.
[The above chronology is adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s Chronology at the back the Library of America volume. See: Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (New York: Library of America, 2007), 803-4.]
Our Curated Exhibition
Things are moving along well with our curated exhibition in concert with the University of Sydney Rare Book Library and its astonishing Science Fiction and Fantasy collection. As we telegraphed a few posts ago, we’ll be displaying a number of first and early edition Dick hardback and paperback novels, but, in addition, we also will be showing off some of the early short story magazines. Our preliminary list of those that we want to have on display follows (in no particular order):
- “The Adjustment Team,” Orbit SF (No 3 or 4?) Sept/Oct 1953;
- “The Turning Wheel,” Science Fiction Stories, no. 2, 1953;
- “Beyond Lies The Wub,” Planet Stories, July 1952;
- “Roog,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Feb 1953;
- “The Father-Thing,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1954;
- “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1966;
- “The Little Black Box,” World of Tomorrow August 1964;
- “The Days of Perky Pat,” Amazing Stories, December, 1963;
- “Your Appointment Will be Yesterday,” Amazing Stories, August 1966;
- “A. Lincoln, Simulacrum,” Amazing Stories, January 1970;
- “Beyond The Door,” Fantastic Universe, January 1954;
- “Minority Report,” Fantastic Universe, January 1956;
- “Paycheck,” Imagination, January 1953;
- “The Golden Man,” IF, April 1954;
- “Second Variety ,” Space Science Fiction, May 1953; and
- “King of the Elves,” Beyond Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1953.
Cotton-gloved among the silver fish, our rare book librarian friends are doing the heroic work of wading through the stacks and compactor shelves for these particular items, and we cannot wait to get the exhibition up and ready. Watch this space for photos and updates over the coming weeks. If you’re interested in coming along to the Reading Group in future months, please also see the revised meeting schedule.