How Jeet Heer Betrayed Philip K. Dick Admirers
[A review of:
"Marxist Literary Critics Are Following Me!",
by Jeet Heer, Linguafranca, Vol. 11, No. 4, May/June 2001]
I have been a long time reader of, and sometime subscriber to,
Linguafranca, a smartly edited and designed literary publication in which
one can usually find informative if not incisive articles about the
machinations of "academic life" from academic politics to games of
one-up-mansship to the publish-or-perish syndrome. It was with some
surprise and chagrin, therefore, that I recently read in Linguafranca Jeet
Heer's article, "Marxist Literary Critics Are Following Me!", with it's
ominous subtitle, "How Philip K. Dick betrayed his academic admirers to
"...my ideas, drawn rather from within than from
reading or from an intimate experience with the
world, will not disown their origin; they would
rather incur any reproach than that of a sectarian
bias, and would prefer to succumb by their innate
feebleness than sustain themselves by borrowed
authority and foreign support."
J.C. Friedrich Von Schiller, Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man, 1794
My initial reactions derived not so much from the loaded connotations of Heer's title as they did from Linguafranca having printed this at all, for it's far below their usual standards. Heer's article reads as nothing less than a blatant apologia for those Marxist literary critics who wield convoluted esoteric jargon in their attempt to make Philip K. Dick postmodernism's meek poster-child.
Unfortunately for those Marxist literary critics Heer's apologia is nowhere near the cogeny, clarity and class of Plato's Apology, the Apologia of Apuleius or Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua. It does remind me of the apologia for the treatment of heretics in the Middle Ages presented at Oxford late in the 19th century by the Roman Catholic Church; this can be gleaned from how Heer early on characterizes PKD as "a canny prophet of virtual reality" and "these critics have played a key role in the cannonization of Philiip K. Dick" [emphasis mine].
Now, this could be an astute, albeit debatable, observation if it didn't conveniently overlook what thousands of PKD readers and fans worldwide did via fanzines and conventions well before the Marxist literary critics happened upon PKD as Columbus did a few Carribbean Islands. It also ignores the early work of Bruce Gillespie, in SF Commentary, and the French critics Marcel Thaon and Gerard Klein.
In fact, rather than playing a "key role" and being "Dick's academic champions," the Marxist literary critics Heer singles out Fredric Jameson, Peter Fitting, Richard Pinhas, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., and Darko Suvin have attempted to do their best to obscure PKD, darkly, with a thin veneer of incestuous erudite verbiage meant for converting other academic critics who are equally determined to make PKD instead an exemplar of gnosticism and/or mysticism. The Marxist literary critics very much want for this purpose to surrealistically paint PKD as the "laureate of radical postmodernism", whatever that is suppose to mean.
It's understandable, then, that Heer (a Ph.D. candidate at York University, and co-editor of the journal left history, with a BA in English and History from the University of Toronto, where Peter Fitting is an Associate Professor of French) would seek to claim that Philip K. Dick denounced these poor, misunderstood Marxist literary critics to the FBI as "...agents of a KGB conspiracy to take over American science fiction." This is because PKD didn't "...appreciate the methods and styles of contemporary literary criticism," and therefore his conspiracy story "...can be read as a paranoid fantasy about literary criticism, which involves not just finding meanings deeply hidden in the text but sometimes also inventing meanings."
Heer would have been less misguided if he had read Philip K. Dick's FBI file, wherein one interview memo, in part, states:
Also, Elaine Sauter, who spoke with PKD extensively near the end of his
life (see: What If Our World Is Their Heaven: Final Conversations With
Philip K. Dick), has stated she rejects "...the theory that the whole
episode was part of Dick's neurosis." More to the point, she adds,
"There's been a big tendency since Phil's death to minimize his
intelligence and his mental health and how personable and intelligent he
"Blade Runner Author Suspected Syphilis Plot," by Janon Fisher)
"The information which Dick furnished to FBI
Headquarters by letters was reviewed with him.
He furnished generally the same information as
reflected in the two letters. The information
reflected in those letters was presumption only
on his part regarding Neo-Nazism and Minutemen.
He did not have any further basis or substantiation,
names of individuals, or additional information to
which he previously furnished." [emphasis mine]
Then we have the important observations of PKD's last wife, Tessa Dick, who has said, "Phil told me he'd only sent the first three or four letters, and he stopped mailing them, because the FBI had lost interest (or perhaps never had any interest) in the case..." In addition, Dick's procedure was to "write a letter, address and stamp an envelope, go out in the back alley, and drop the letter in the trash bin. The authorities will receive the letter if, and only if, they are spying on him." (see: "The Nature of Dick's Fantasies," by Gregg Rickman)
As someone who has actually interviewed Philip K. Dick and read his extant letters, I heartily second Sauter and Tessa's comments. I would also note that in an early letter, Phil writes about reading Lionel Trilling and Ortega y Gasset. Then there are his observations about being influenced by Henry Miller, Nathanael West, James T. Farrell, and "especially Schiller". To this should be added his strong interest in "black humor" and admiration for Vonnegut's novel Player Piano, all of which make Heer's allegations highly suspect.
But what really needs emphasis and remembering by Heer and the Marxist literary critics is that PKD once wrote a very witty novel titled The Man Who Japed. Until Heer and his ilk understand this we will continue to see articles like "Marxist Literary Critics Are Following Me!" that carefully pick and choose only "facts" helpful to promoting the Marxist/Postmodernist cause, and not Philip K. Dick. (FCB, 7/01)