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Philip K. Dick in Translation. By Patrick Clark

    What follows is a curious bit of creative translation. Gilles Goullet sent me the "postface" -- "afterword" we’d say in the States -- to the French translation of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said entitled Le Prisme du Neant published by Le Masque in 1975. Gilles ran it through Alta Vista’s translation service for me. I cleaned up the syntax somewhat and had Gilles double check it. It’s hard to say how faithful it is to Serge De Beketch’s original piece. Think of it as a fair approximation at best. In the course of the essay, De Beketch quotes generously from an interview Phil did with Vertex magazine. I’ve left the translations intact of those quotations as Alta Vista rendered them but included footnotes with what Phil actually said in the course of that interview. It should give readers an idea of the level of accuracy of the translating at work here.


    "The greatest author of the years 1963-1965 is, without question, Philip K Dick. In 1964, he published successively two new major works: The Simulacra and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. At that time, Dick wrote under the influence of amphetamines and hallucinogens and in the beginning wrote well. He is no longer the same way today where, after a last remarkable novel, Ubik, drugs apparently began their destroying effects."

These sentences, drawn from Histoire de la science-fiction, 1911-1971 by Jacques Sadoul, more or less summarize the opinion generally shared by the readers and the specialists of S.F. in connection with Philip K. Dick who was, and perhaps remains, the more original, the more surprising and the most captivating contemporary writer of his generation.

In a few years, indeed, Dick published, in addition to the titles referred to above, works like. The Penultimate Truth and Clans of the Alphane Moon which, while of second stature, are none the less strong works. In 1962, Dick won a Hugo Award (the highest prize in science fiction, named in homage of Hugo Gernsback, one of the precursors of SF in the U.S.A.). This distinction crowned his novel, The Man in the High Castle, which SF lovers recognize as (along with Ubik) the best of Dick’s works.

At this time, when the Hugo Award placed him at the side of the greatest SF authors such as Van Vogt, Asimov, Heinlein, Anderson, etc, Dick had only been publishing for ten years.

It is in 1952, indeed, that the name of Philip K Dick appeared for the first time. An appearance which, moreover, passed unnoticed. Dick was part of a plethora of young writers who hesitate between the message and livelihood. He will stick to the livelihood for two years, multiplying the small stereotyped short-stories which he writes almost weekly. Suddenly, in 1954, appeared " The Father-thing " which is the first significant literary event of the life of Dick.

In a surprising bare and strong style, the author tells the horrible history of a child who discovers that an extraterrestrial creature has replaced his father by adopting his appearance. The child prevents the alien from visiting the same fate on his mother by burning her " father thing ".

The people who easily perceive the prefiguration of one of Dick’s main obsessions are amateurs of "Freudianism of the bazaar," helped by the myth of the father: that power is only pretense. One can control only through lies and the governed citizens are always fooled.

This dispute with social hierarchies, this negation of their ethical justification, is a permanent feature in Dick’s work.

The Man in the High-Castle tells men's discovery that the world in which they live is only appearance and that in fact the universe of the books is reality. The Simulacra describes America whose leader is actually an electronic fake commanded by a private lobby. The 3 Stigmata of P.E. presents a strange creature, half-man, half-machine, about whom the reader is unsure if it is a human, an extraterrestrial or a simple illusion. As for Ubik, it is for the novel as well as for the entity which gave him its name, a kind of exacerbation of this principle of uncertainty.

With Flow My Tears, the Police Man Said appeared a second "obsession" of Dick. At least, it gives more importance to an issue already touched upon in other novels: the interrogation on the nature of identity. On the thin network of threads, links and information which makes a man himself and not another and that he is aware of the difference.

And here, one finds that aspect of Dick evoked by Sadoul: that of drug-addict. Who better than a drug-addict could express the nightmare of this permanent dilution of the personality; the anguish of this infernal race after a unceasingly dissolving "ego?" The plot of Flow My Tears is exemplary in this respect. A world-famous television talk show host wakes up one day in a sordid hotel room, without papers, and discovers that he has become unknown to his contemporaries. His agent, his friends, even his mistress do not recognize him though he is physically the same.

The conclusion of the novel, its "explanation," is typical of the creations and ways of thinking of a user of hallucinogens. Thus how could one escape the obvious assumption that Dick is himself a convinced addict, an inveterate doper?

However, and it is an additional proof of his talent, Dick has never, from his own admission, drawn his inspiration from his experiments with drugs (which seem extremely limited in any case). In a recently published interview by the American magazine Vertex, he declares: " My novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which is a kind of terribly missed trip, has been written before I have never seen any little piece of LSD I had simply read the description of some of its effects. Thus, since this novel which seems the most influenced by the drug was written before I had never taken any, I think that I could have written the other ones without a true experience."[1]

And Dick adds: "First of all, know that it is impossible to write anything under the influence of acid. I tried it once and it was of Latin. All the results were in Latin and Sanskrit, and the market is very limited for this kind of things." [2] Then, as though deciding to diminish once and for all this reputation, he continues: " I have not often take drugs. I am always surprised by reading on this subject things like: ‘He takes drugs to find true reality behind the illusion.’ All what I found are places from which I was in a real hurry to shove off. Places where there is no more reality. Only more horror." [3]

No doubt such an interview will cause some surprises among amateurs of science fiction. The "radical", the "tripper" Dick yields the place to a balanced writer, whose sense of humor is not his least quality, and who does not fear to make statements in small connection with the image which one generally hawks of him. As this one " I formally condemn those who push others to take drugs. Like Senator Julian Bond said: "Kill the dealers if it is needed. If one of them tries to involve your child, knock him off! There is no worse slavery." [4]

Philip K Dick as a defender of morals, hygiene and youth -- the science fiction conceals quite good surprises.



Quotes are from Arthur Byron Cover, "Vertex Interviews Philip K. Dick," Vertex; Feb. 1974: pp. 34-37, 96-98.

[1]"Take my novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich, which deals with a tremendous bad acid trip, so to speak. I wrote that before I had ever seen LSD. I wrote that just from reading a description of the discovery of it and the kind of effect it had. So if that, which is my major novel of a hallucinogenic kind, came without my ever having taken LSD, then I would say even my work following LSD which had hallucinations in it could easily have been written without taking acid."

[2] "First of all, you can’t write anything when you’re on acid. I did one page once while on an acid trip, but it was in Latin. Whole damn thing was Latin and a little tiny bit in Sanskrit, and there’s not much market for that."

[3] "Not that much. I wasn’t getting up in the morning and dropping acid. I’m amazed when I read the things I used to say about it on the blurbs of my books. I wrote this myself: ‘He has been experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs to find the unchanging reality beneath our delusions.’ And now I say, ‘Good Christ!’ All I ever found out about acid was that I was where I wanted to get out of fast. It didn’t seem more real than anything else; it just seemed more awful."

[4] "I would never condemn an addict, but on the other hand I would condemn anyone who addicted someone. Like Julian Bond said -- remember Congressman Bond -- kill the pusher man, if you have to. If he is going to make your children into a junkie, shoot him. Now that’s an extreme view, see? Like a lot of people would lump the users and dealers together. But I realize that the user is a victim. You cannot be more of a victim than the user of heroin. There is no slavery like it."

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