David Gill interviews Jonathan Lethem about Philip K. Dick

In the third issue of the online art/lit/culture journal Article, David Gill, author of the Philip K. Dick blog "Total Dick-head" writes about the new "prestigious" Library of America volume anthologizing four PKD novels and interviews the edition's editor, novelist and MacArthur "genius" Jonathan Lethem. From Gill's interview with Lethem:

 Largecovers Collections Four Novels Of The Sixties Library Of America-May 2007-2
What will the Library of America volume mean for Dick’s legacy?

It’s a weird thing to leap into this concept of what is a legacy, what is posterity -- those things are so bizarrely subjective. In some quarters Dick is already one of the defining voices of the second half of the twentieth century and in other quarters he is obviously disreputable forever. This volume becomes part of a conversation that’s a cacophony. There’s not one paradigm anymore, if there ever was, of a literary reputation.

With Dick there’s a sense of his always arriving in the culture, always being discovered. There are certain things that no matter how many people love them they retain their dissident quality. If you love something like Philip K. Dick you feel like you’re the only one that gets it. That said, I go back a certain distance with this. I was around in the years just after his death, hanging out with Paul Williams working on the Philip K. Dick society newsletter. Which was this photocopied labor of love, with a circulation in the hundreds. And all the books were pretty well out of print. There’s an unimaginable difference between now and 1991-92 when in order to even read the major works people were circulating imported British mass-market paperbacks.

That’s the way change happens, people declare it and then slowly their declaration is turned into a reality; it’s like the gentrification of a neighborhood. When my parents moved into this part of Brooklyn in 1968, everyone was promising each other it was about to happen here. Fools invested their money in opening boutiques on a street that was mostly boarded up shops and gas stations. But now you know what? There are boutiques there now, thirty years after it looked like a silly idea. You say something is going to happen for a long time and then a lot of people get exasperated and say oh you’re ridiculous; it’s never going to happen. Then one day it sort of happens. I think Dick’s gentrification has that quality too. This is not only the way literary reputations are transformed but the way change generally occurs, especially change in opposition to entrenched class prejudices. And a lot of the biases against genre fiction have not to do with any kind of aesthetic or literary judgment but with class discomfort. That kind of change happens very slowly, but it does occur, it distills as people come of age: people in your generation, people even younger than you, don’t care; they just don’t understand the prejudices of the previous generation. So that’s how it’s happening. It’s a very layered kind of transformation. Yet Dick retains an outré vibe – the work conveys a permanent and intrinsic cult affect.

Link to Article, Link to buy Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s

Previously on BB:
• Jonathan Lethem on Philip K. Dick Link
• Jonathan Lethem: remix my stories! Link
• Library of America to publish Philip K. Dick Link
• Adam Gopnick on Philip K. Dick Link