Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Man In The High Castle

Back to books:


In the spirit of this novel, before writing this week's blog I decided to throw the I Ching. I got Hexagram 48, which is "The Well."
"Deep waters penetrated and brought to the surface: The Superior Person refreshes the people with constant encouragement to help one another." 

That's fairly optimistic...

As for the surface, well that's this "alternative" 1960s America, which has been split by the conquering German and Japanese empires. Dick doesn't really project a thought experiment here; the two competing cultures are pretty much the same as they were in the "real" 1940s. Neither technology nor the rise of a new generation seem to have changed either society at all.

What the novel presents instead, is a balance between Japan and Germany, partly to reflect the Soviet/U.S. cold war dichotomy, but also presenting the idea of the Tao.


For this is the modern state of endless wartime. Agents belonging to one side need to infiltrate the other in order to keep the balance. Rudolf Wegener, pretending to be Swedish travels to California to provide the Japanese with the intel necessary to keep Germany from having too much power. Joe Cinnadella, a fake Italian, is attempting to assassinate the author of an influential novel. Frank Frink hides his Jewish identity and sells jewelry that starts the process of adding an American influence to the Japanese-dominated west coast culture.
"For it is a fact that wu is customarily found in least imposing places, as in the Christian aphorism, 'stones rejected by the builder.' One experiences awareness of wu in such trash as an old stick, or a rusty beer can by the side of the road. However in those cases the wu is within the viewer."
Which leads us to the old problem of interpretation. Dick claimed to have written this book by throwing the I Ching and working the answers into the text, which resulted in the end structure and abrupt ending. Like any good prophecy system, the verses are written in a vague and metaphoric fashion, leading the reader to fill in the spaces with his or her own story. Many of the passages within the novel seem to be written in a similar fashion.
"'An accurate guess,' the girl said. 'We are starting to decorate. A bit undecided. Do you think you could inform us?'"
Or this is just the author displaying a bit of orientalism. Much of the dialog, internal and external, seems to mimic the old Hollywood idea of how Japanese or Chinese people talk. This may be Dick's way of showing that everyone is speaking Japanese. It also resembles Joycean stream-of-consciousness, but given that the style carries over into dialogue, that's probably not the influence here.

 Outside of the concept, there isn't much else in the novel to recommend it. The brief foray into presenting the I Ching as some sort of self-aware intelligence powered by billions of human souls, and the usage of slavery as part of a caste system are both expanded and used to better effect in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (One could almost view Electric Sheep as a presentation of the Nazi world barely touched upon in High Castle.) The characters (presented with a bit of Freudian psychology) are all brought up short at the end of the novel, leaving many of them with unfinished arcs. We are given a tantalizing view of our reality through the eyes of one of Dick's proper Japanese men, but this is also not followed up on. Perhaps it's best to read this skinny book as it's own religious text, and read between the lines.
"He could not believe that. Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be other life somewhere which we know nothing of. 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 no perceive."
Given the choice to travel to (to us) fictional worlds, would we pick the best possible one? Or just the one where the home tribe is the one in power?  Or is this the best possible one, where the balance is kept by constant conflict?

(ymajik on Youtube)

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