Pure Conceptual Imagination III: Is Philosophy Sci-Fi?, Composing, 18/08/2015

The question is totally rhetorical, of course. Philosophy has historically been written as arguments, and in many cases can become very dry language. Science-fiction is primarily a literary genre of entertainment. 

Really, because it began in publications perceived as being purely and crassly entertainment (the pulp magazines), it’s only relatively recently that science-fiction has even been perceived as a very prestigious form of art at all. As for philosophy, it’s rare that people even understand its artistic and creative dimensions. 

This is one element of my own writing career that I suspect will both be fruitfully fulfilling, and also very difficult: demonstrating that philosophy is a genre of art.

It’s an unusual way to think about philosophy, because most of our experiences with the tradition come in university courses and departments. That can be a great place to learn about and read philosophy, but it can be alienating if you hit a bad teacher or the department teaches the subject in a very dry way. The tradition has been so much more than classroom discussions and academic papers, secondary and tertiary material. 

What I presume is an accurate depiction of
Philip K. Dick's state of mind when
writing VALIS.
The best philosophy can read like the radical inventiveness of the most talented science-fiction author. That was the feeling I had, for example, when I first read Philip K. Dick’s VALIS. The book was amazing, a blur of schizophrenic delusions, political conspiracy, mythmaking on an epic scale, the total breakdown and rebuilding of a subjectivity, and a description of a complex philosophical system of how the social, personal, and neural combine to construct our reality. 

Dick created the most fruitful and strange* metaphysical idealism I think I’ve ever come across. VALIS was as perfect a union of philosophical concept-making and science-fictional drama as I’ve ever seen.

* So fruitful precisely because it was so strange.

Reading Frederic Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future, as I’ve said before, I see many examples drawn from literature, particularly science-fiction, because of its frequent utopian bent. But with him, it isn’t just a matter of examples and illustrations. 

I find that Jameson has a remarkable skill of drawing a philosophical concept through the explication of some literary work. Yesterday evening, I read a chapter that dwelled for a long time on the implications to update traditional Marxism for the era of modern capitalism, what he accurately called the Walmartization or Waltonist economy.**

** I once called it the Dollarama economy. I do like to follow Canadian content rules. I’m at least that much of a patriot.

His entire framework for this philosophical exploration was the storyline and world-building of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, where each person’s dream is often exploited to hide the most violent rot of a society. It’s a blurring of analytic styles and academic disciplines that I’d like to learn from and apply to writing, eventually, the Utopias manuscript itself.

He doesn’t have the same skill as Dick, of course, because Jameson is still writing philosophy, not the alchemical blend of philosophical argument, post-schizophrenic perversion, religious revelation, autobiography, and sci-fi. But few people can achieve the same level that Dick could when he was at his best.

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