Monday, July 19, 2010

The Man in the High Castle: A Discourse

I didn't really get a lot of it, which is embarrassing since I'm a senior in college, majoring in English. So you'd think I could put on my collegiate hat and spout off some academic jargon. Yeah, not so much.

So, I will instead explore my first impressions before I go on about my hap-hazard visit to Wikipedia that revealed some other interesting themes.

First Impressions

I really like What If It Had Happened This Way books, which is what The Man in the High Castle is (another example of which I was quite fond was Superman: Red Son). I think these books help us put things in perspective - instead of whites being empowered and privileged, other empowered people view them with prejudice, as lower "placed" individuals.

I also like the idea of "place" Dick explored - it reminded me of how empowered individuals would tell other, supposedly "inferior" individuals to "learn your place." And it's really disgusting, forcing people into these hierarchies that don't exist - or shouldn't exist. I think people who don't realize their privilege need to be able to see themselves in somebody else's shoes, and I believe this fostering of empathy is one of the greatest functions that literature serves.

It also tickled me that the titular character (oddly enough not one of the protagonists) was an author. Not only that, but his book, which revealed another alternate reality where the Allies won instead of the Axis powers, was banned. Yeah, that's right. Ban literature all you want - it just means people are going to read it and see the things you don't want them to see - perspectives will break upon them as a new dawn of realization. Literature is a weapon - the greatest weapon because it appeals to the intellect, to the brain - it wields ideas instead of fire and metal. And it is beautiful that, with all the might at their disposal, the Germans feared this book.

As I said above, the reader doesn't actually meet the author of the book, the man in the high castle, until the very last few pages, which only heightens how powerful ideas and literature and words really are. Quite elegant, really.

The Question Marks Form

Though I like the idea of this book, I must be utterly truthful: I had a difficult time feeling anything for the characters - I had difficulties relating to any one of them. It wasn't until the very end when something struck me:

And what will that leave, that Third World Insanity? Will that put an end to all life, of every kind, everywhere? When our planet becomes a dead planet, by our own hands?

He could not believe that. Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be other life somewhere which we know nothing. It is impossible that ours is the only world; there must be world after world unseen by us, in some region or dimension that we simply do not perceive.

[. . .]

Whatever happens, it is evil beyond compare. Why struggle, then? Why choose? If all alternatives are the same...

Evidently we go on, as we always have. From day to day. At this moment, we work against Operation Dandelion [nuclear warfare]. Later on, at another moment, we work to defeat the police. But we cannot do it all at once; it is a sequence. An unfolding process. We can only control the end by making a choice at each step.

He thought, We can only hope. And try.

This was like -- Doctor Who, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Angel all mixed together like a Reeses Peanutbutter with an Additional Very-Delicious-But-as-of-Yet Undiscovered Component. And then, it grieved me that those different stories in different mediums from different cultures from different time periods still address the same flaws of the human condition in a different language each time -- hoping, hoping, perhaps, that eventually we'll catch on and start being magnificent instead of "eat[ing] one another."

Double grr argh.

The idea of the alternate world connected with both Dick and the Man writing alternate versions of history reminded me of a fancy I had as a child: writers discover worlds, alternate dimensions (something kinda/sorta explored in the film Stranger than Fiction). Thus, writers are excavators, mining and discovering and exploring new entire worlds - perhaps gods themselves or simply rediscovering that which already existed (it really depended on my views of inspiration at the time).

But, I never really connected this idea with the rest of the novel until I read the wiki article about the themes of the text.

Which was highly embarrassing and discomfiting because I just saw Inception on Friday and I've been thinking about it nonstop over the weekend and I should have been wondering in bright, neon green, blinking signs if Nolan had been sleeping with Dick under his pillow. And that's not even mentioning the fact that I also just finished Life on Mars over the weekend which also explores reality vs. unreal worlds.

Because seriously. With all that hovering in the brain, you'd think the implications would have hit me like a bitch-slap but it did not!

Summer is not an excuse to take off one's thinking cap, but yet I apparently did. I do humbly apologize and swear to never do it again.

So, as can be seen in the link above, the reader is presented with these various scenes of authenticity verses fraud. There are fake artifacts and there are real artifacts. There is authentic history and alternative histories (ie, both the novel within the novel and the text itself) -- and there are even examples of this within the text (when Mr. Tagomi stumbles into a restaurant where the whites won't give up their seats as Mr. Wikipedia Article informs my furiously blushing ears). And then, of course, there is the scene where Julianna discovers through the I Ching or the Oracle that the Germans and the Japanese had actually lost the war. Before I read the wiki article, I had instead considered that the definitions of "winning" and "losing" were relative - perhaps the material measurement of land or power did not equate to "winning" -- or, perhaps, that in war everybody loses. However, by connecting their discovery (that the Axis had lost) to this idea of fake vs authentic universes/dimensions/experiences really heightens the complexity of the text for me (while also increasing my pique that I hadn't formulated the connection myself).

Which means that the Novel Within the Novel of the Text is just as true as the reality in which they live and that there are other worlds - each just as true as the other - or perhaps false as the other.

Truly mind-bending.

Guildenstern: There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time.

Angel: If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do.

Doctor: The future pivots around you - here, now. So do good. For humanity, and for earth.

Rudolf Wegener: We can only hope. And try.

Even if there aren't other universes, even if we can't be blessed like Mr. Tagomino with a glimpse of an alternative dimension to truly give us some perspective, even if we won't have an Oracle telling us that our world isn't the real world, we still have to construct our reality. With every choice we make, every idea we believe, every word we speak or write, we construct something with lasting consequences.

Still...we should all be like Juliana:

"How strange," Juliana said. "I never would have thought the truth would make you angry." Truth, she thought. As terrible as death. But harder to find. I'm lucky. "I thought you'd be as pleased and excited as I am. It's a misunderstanding, isn't it?"

Also, very Rosencrantz and Guildenstern...

I fear that I am not being very articulate at the moment so I shall end this. Very thoughtful book, I highly recommend it. And if you want your mind reeling under this exploration of authenticity vs. non-authenticity, read it after watching Inception and Life on Mars.

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