‘Her screwball expression’: Philip K. Dick describes female beauty in The Man in the High Castle; male writers unintentional misogyny in describing love interests; and K. Dick’s influence on me

Philip K. Dick is one of the biggest names in science fiction: fact. His is a well-greased engine, skirting–as all the greatest writers do– all manner of intellectual disciplines as well as the well-trod line between genius and madness.
Of his writing style, his brevity is perhaps one of his biggest strengths: he has a style that is shotgun in its delivery yet dove-like in its poetry.
And just so, a particular paragraph:

But above and beyond everything else, he had originally been drawn by her screwball expression; for no reason, Juliana greeted strangers with a portentous, nudnik, Mona Lisa smile that hung them up between responses, whether to say hello or not. And she was so attractive that more often than not they did say hello, whereupon Juliana glided by.

Like a pinch of gunpowder in a hungover breakfast fry up: brilliant. A wonderful way of describing the often-occuring effect of woman upon man (other variations are available). Read the book to see how that paragraph ends, just as telling as the initial effect where the aforementioned sexualised social interaction is concerned.

At which point a diversion into one of the most frustrating things about male authors: descriptions of female love interests. Unveiled misogyny, or a fair and honest focus on the want of the crotch? I literally closed ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ when I was fifteen/sixteen and lost interest in Milan Kundera based on this male-centred approach to describing the phenomenon that is best explained as ‘woman makes man think of sex’ and is therefore incapable of any accurate empathy, something this reddit thread explores by questioning his relevance in the current age. And as much as I wish I wasn’t writing this, Haruki Murakami is awful for it, though his ‘sad lonely man’ trope does lend itself to such narration, this thread suggests I’m not alone in this and if you read it through you’ll find some interesting theories as to why. It is just so painful to find your heroes are human, that for all their conduction of ethereal abstracts into addictive writing they come out with some dog shit about how some female character is ‘pretty but in a plain sort of way’. It’s difficult to not betray myself here but I read this description of the collision of the human condition and the biological imperative  as ‘yeh I guess I’d probably do her’.

Anyway, back to Philip K. Dick: I came to his writing relatively early in my reading life, probably thanks to the shop Fopp, but being a hesitant reader in my teens it was the films based on his books that had me assimilating his ideas as a permanent canal in my tastes. I’d watched and re-watched Total Recall and Screamers many times on home-recorded VHS. I’d seen Imposter and would soon see Minority Report and I had no idea that they were based on his books. I’d also paid for at least two of the seven different edit-releases of Blade Runner: of which around the time I was sixteen my favourite was the noir, Harrison Ford voice-over release.
In 2006, when A Scanner Darkly came out starring Keano Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr and Winona Ryder I started reading Ubik because it was cool at nineteen-ish to think I was somehow ‘above’ this fairly hyped, gimmicky cartoon of a film and so the gradual tide of his writing washed over me. Thank god!

Jenny Drew Something

Sometimes blogs fall by the wayside (just look at the gaps between my last post!) Sometimes they change and adapt and have a lick of paint. I’m delighted that JennyDrewSomething has taken the path of the latter, with fresh content and a book “Cartooning Teen Stories” her exploration of real-life important health/mental-health and other similar issues through comics does that wonderful thing of elevating something otherwise banal or tedius–not that the topic is like that, but the detached discussion that we sometimes hear on the radio can desensitise us. I look forward to seeing what she continues to do. In her own words:

“I am an author and Preventions Keyworker for B&NES Youth Offending Service, and I have always loved comics. Since obtaining my Advanced Diploma in the Therapeutic Application of the Arts, I have been using cartoons as a therapeutic storytelling tool with young people. More than just sci-fi and superheroes, everyday narratives and themes can be explored through text and image, in a way that is accessible and unthreatening. Through understanding this visual language, young people are able to express their own ideas using the comic form.

My book ‘Cartooning Teen Stories’ is available to purchase from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.”

“What’s the point?”–a conclusion to skate around when one confronts the state of the Great British identity

Is there a war on liberalism in Great Britain? With mentions of Jeremy Corbyn, or socialism, come what seems to be inevitable sneering and jeering and “lefty liberal” mockery. And it feels like the right hand is spiting the left but forgetting we’re all a part of the same body. It also feels like we’ve been here before and we’re just going around in circles. But then we are, aren’t we? Politics is transparently cyclical and without the great leveller that was the world wars will the “lefties” will have their voices heard? It seems unlikely. Voices of honesty and integrity are bland, it is only the grandstanders and the spinners that take the soapbox and only the sensational that get the headlines. The power of change is left in the hands of the many millions of non-voters, the third of Brits who are apathetic to their own lives, let alone the lives of others, and if they’re not voting now they’re not going to for the unspectacular Jeremy. Or at least that’s the fear. It is not a fear of left-wing defeat, but a fear that reality–truth, is not going to be outed. Without truth we’re just ice skating on jelly and hedonistically splaying apart our country. No one can react, grow or solve when the ground we’re building on isn’t understood. And as for change: proportional representation is never going to happen, it’s not going to be a thing, the Green Party will not be heard, JC will split their 2015 success and the environment will disappear further from the front-pages. The chinese will build their nuclear bonfires and George Osbourne will sell our integrity to whoever finds a way of finally botoxing away the distant bemusement that he can’t seem to hide from his face.

And it’s not new, it’s Thatcher, and its voices of the seventies that I hoped wouldn’t resurface. It’s emphasis placed on businessmen and women; cash-flow over humanity. It’s pretty fucking disgusting and it keeps leading to a question: what’s the point?

Remembrance Sunday, war, tolerance, and community

Today I am respecting the war dead, and living too, hopefully you can take some time out to do so also. remembrance poppy Sometimes I think that war is so much more honest than most of life. Once you ignore the propaganda and strip it down to vital days like today, it’s stark and unambiguous; it says ‘this person is dead’, ‘this person died’ and there’s no way anyone can argue with that. But how we got to that point is through dishonesty and disrespect, trying to pull societies somewhere that we have no right to pull them; feeding voters spin to elicit legitimacy. So it’s more important than anything to respect the living and each other, to be tolerant and understand that this isn’t a competition. Life is not dog eat dog. War is not good. Fighting is not kind.