28 July 2006


I've just finished Emmanuel Carrère's I Am Alive and You Are Dead: a Journey Inside the Mind of Philip K. Dick. It's an excellent study, engagingly-written and wry, of one of the most fucked-up human beings ever to have carved out a successful career in any artistic field.

It's perfectly clear that Dick was, by any standards (and his own admission), a drug-addled delusionist who manipulated his way through five wives and numerous girlfriends in his search for God... but this book brought it home to me in a way which neither Dick's own highly critical autobiographical writings (thinly fictionalised in Valis and Radio Free Albemuth), nor Lawrence Sutin's more scholarly Divine Invasions had been able to do.

Carrère tracks Dick's intellectual and imaginative development through his science fiction as much as through his life, tracing some fascinating connections between the two and demonstrating a rich insight into both.

Dick's personal religion (or rather, the extensive sequence of mutually contradictory personal religions through which he ran on an almost daily basis in his obsessive quest for the truth) was one that only an S.F. author could possibly have come up with, but even having written a chapter of my thesis on the man I'd never realised the extent to which he seems to have equated the two. Not only the late, and obviously religious, novels (Albemuth, Valis, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), but even such secular-seeming works as Ubik (from which Carrère takes his subtitle) The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said were incorporated into Dick's canon of personal sacred significance.

It helps that Carrère's approach -- combining a sincere affection and admiration for Dick with despair at his atrocious personal behaviour -- is very similar to my own. What makes the book especially delicious to read is the author's terse Gallic cynicism, which allows some devastating deconstructions of its subject:
Linda's ordeal came to an end when one evening Phil met Tessa Busby, who consented to sleep with him. She moved into his apartment the next day. Her agreeableness convinced Phil that she was in the pay of his enemies. [p210]
This is, however, always tempered with a humanism which sympathises deeply with Dick's own, quite genuine, torments. I ended the book moved to tears by the account of Phil's final passing.

I'd recommend this book highly to anybody who's ever read a Philip K. Dick novel and wondered what kind of twisted mind could possibly have come up with that.

Still on a Dickian note, I'm indebted to Colin for pointing out that the BBC reserves the right to edit your memories.

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