SYNCHRONIC versus DIACHRONIC in the stories of Philip K Dick

My hypothesis is that PKD’s work is “metaphysical” from the beginning. One can see an evolution from the psychological and social motifs of the ealy short stories to the existential and ontological themes of THE EXEGESIS, but I would argue that even the first stories can be seen as gnostic tales. In particular Dick in the late novels makes a distinction between two sorts of time, two time axes: the fake, intercalated time of the Empire in which things only seem to change, and the real time that we only glimpse. This is what I have been trying to get at with my terminology taken from Bernard Stiegler of “synchronic” or stabilised, spatialised, programmed time (clock-time) and “diachronic” or disorderly, mutating, individuating time (becoming).

I see this distinction at work in the early stories, and this is what gives them their haunting quality: Dick is describing a life, a society, a world in stasis. There is an attempt to escape into freedom by introducing a destabilising element (the “god who runs”, the cuckoo clock, the withered apple tree, etc.). Something moves, there is an impression of greater sexual, emotional, or mental freedom. But the new order turns out to be even more oppressive and binding than the old. In the short stories it is often the women who suffer the most from the static de-personalised patriarchal order, who show the elemnt of freedom necessary to initiate change, and who fall back again into the synchronic trap.

In Deleuzian terms, the stories exhibit the struggle between the plane of organisation with its synchronic (spatialised, stabilised, controlled) time and the plane of consistance with its diachronic (durational, unstable, unpredictable) time. Dick’s early stories seem to explore oppressive mechanical or stabilised systems and potential ways out that ultimately turn out to be impasses, worse versions of the same. This is the “iron prison” of the post-”2-3-74″ works. THE GOLDEN MAN is a good example, as the world is trying to stop change by stamping out mutants. The “superior” mutant, the one that gets away, is the harbinger of an even worse stasis than before. STABILITY is the prototype for this failed escape, as Benton undoes “stabilization” by introducing an even more mechanical submission. I like Evan Lampe’s idea of the “disorderly clock” disrupting the patriarchal system of the “tyrannical clock”, but I think that, as with the deviant behaviour of the cuckoo, an even harsher system replaces it.


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