Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Flowing a Tears My Policemen Says

Oh garsh, I hope you all are ready for another reeeview of Philip K. Dick, whom I have been reading like a firestorm eats trees with its fire. "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said," has perhaps the best title of all his novels, of his entire compendium and not just those I've read to date. And PKD is a writer who had many good titles, I think.

Now as for the content of this one, as much as I like the idea in general: in the not-too distant future (or past, if you're going by its setting in 1988), a well known and beloved TV personality and genetically superior human being (due to certain bioengineered alterations that gave him the classification "6," a status repeatedly mentioned throughout the story, in opposition to "ordinaries" or the average "little" people) named Jason Taverner, possessing 30 million fans and counting, awakens after being gruesomely attacked to discover neither signs of his injuries nor having any recollection of how he has gotten to where he is, a seedy motel room. He quickly learns that only a day has passed, so say the newspapers he can find; he therefore deduces that he has not been comatose, not for any significant length of time. He also apparently has no identity whatsoever, which he discovers to his great discomfiture as he further investigates his situation. In fact it's much worse; it's as if he has never existed at t'all. So as I say, as much as I like the idea in general, it just didn't cohere for me as well as PKD novels typically do.


This is an issue of plot mostly. Normally the abstraction of whatever impetus is destroying / driving mad a PKDian protagonist is cleanly (or satisfactorily at least) brought together -- as is usually the case with, for example, genre mystery novels. In fact, "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said" might share the most similarities with mystery / detective novels of the PKD's I've yet read (although I've seen the film "Blade Runner" so I gather he had that bent), and that might also be where it runs afoul in my estimation, likewise. I felt that Taverner's situation deserved a ton of very clear explication that established how such a thing could happen in a plausible enough way, i.e. the very malleable rules of sci-fi and PKD himself are stretched (fine) but remain unbroken in bringing the narrative full circle.

But that's not how Taverner's plight is explained. Instead [SPOILAGE ALERT! Lots of Spoilers from this point onward (Though I shouldn't need to say it; these were obviously forthcoming)] Taverner and everyone else who dwells in the first world is, by process of a drug-induced fantasy in which a user can literally re-imagine every other living person's perception (at great physical detriment to him or herself), transported to a new state of consciousness, in which Taverner's being a common man is at its crux. The drug user was motivated to do so by her desire to meet Taverner in real life, himself unbound by the trappings of fame. Yes, this effect is a mind fuck, but I can't escape the fact that there is no drug in the world (or any other) that is capable of more than destruction of a single consciousness.

(New-related-thought update (10/23/10): I mean, put another way, I just can't shake the feeling that PKD could have done better with this one. I just think his imaginative prowess wasn't made full use of, that with a little more creative oomph I would have enjoyed "Flow My Tears" all so much better.

So now I ask . . .

Am I grounding myself in narrative rigidity, rigidity by which the boundaries of fiction can't or shouldn't be withheld? Might I take the transference of one and all from the tangible hallucination (or whatever it can be called) of the user in a different light? Is it perhaps meant to showcase, I dunno, say that there is a solipsism to this, that in effect a new world was conjured from the old, and that in no way can it be perceived that any of these characters are the literal incarnations of their previous' dimension's selves but rather wholly new, a new world has been created? Yes, that's possible but a lot to extract from what's offered in the text, despite the depth of detail PKD provides for explanation of the drug's effect.

Of course the woman who uses the drug is ultimately killed by it. Her intense two-day long bender had her expending a preternatural amount of energy that fatally sapped her of her life force. And in a sense Taverner is blamed for this, as he finally meets the woman and is at the scene when she finally succumbs to her fate. Once she is gone, Taverner's fame begins slowly to return to the minds of the world's population (one wonders at this, why did Taverner escape forgetting who he was (i.e. famous) right along with the rest of humanity at narrative's outset -- a less interesting plot turn, perhaps).

What's most interesting about the preceding is how little it seems to factor into the story's bigger questions. All the while, in an atypical portrayal of a police-state villain, General Felix Buckman is following the exploits of Jason Taverner. He is made aware of all of Taverner's attempts to procure some form of identity so Taverner can thus avoid being sent to a forced labor camp (facilities put in place as a means of incarcerating the population of students who were apparently responsible for an uprising that led to a second civil war; they lose, ostensibly, and are left to hidden dwellings beneath the university campuses, but none of this factors into the plot terribly much).

Buckman eventually decides it's necessary to pin the crime of murder to Taverner (for plot reasons I'll avoid getting into because at this point it would be, like, why read the book yourself? Which is something I want to compel you to do, i.e. read it for yourself). But he wrestles with his conscience constantly, making him a far cry from O'Brien of "1984" fame. In debating the matter with himself Buckman finally decides that Taverner was doomed before the whole thing got its start, from the moment he was brought to the attention of the state, as he says in the following quote:

And I could never explain it to you, Buckman thought. Except to say: don't ever come to the attention of the authorities. Don't ever interest us. Don't make us want to know more about you.
It's a prescient thought. One that I would say is entirely relevant to contemporary America, especially when you consider Taverner's celebrity status. The even more remarkable detail is that, ultimately, Taverner is not convicted of the crime. He gets off scot free, in fact. Although it's never said, one wonders if this is because of his celebrity. If a lesser man had been accused, a non-celebrity without Taverner's good bioengineered grooming, would he have been so fortunate? Makes you wonder, but not terribly hard. Leads you rather quickly to the conclusion that no, the lesser man would not have been as fortunate.

So don't come to the state's attention, sure, but if you do you'd better be famous. I think that pretty much distills the story to its most essential element. Maybe you don't have to read it anymore, after all!

Good night, for now...

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