EN 4241  Utopias and Dystopias

2011-12, Semester 2

Rajeev S. Patke 



Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)

SF STUDIES: Special issue on Philip K. Dick 1975
Wikipedia map of the world as in the Dick novel
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_in_the_High_Castle
  • Dystopian topics:
- Alternate history: Link 1: The Alternate History list (Also see their Introduction
                       Link 2: Wikipedia article on Alternate History
                       Links 3/4: Wikipedia article on Counterfactual History    Counterfactual thinking
Note: "Counterfactual history distinguishes itself through its interest in the very incident that is being negated by the counterfactual, thus seeking to evaluate the event's relative historical importance. Such historians reason arguments for each change, outlining changes in broad terms only, as befits a mere byproduct of the exercise.

An alternate history writer, on the other hand, is interested precisely in the hypothetical scenarios that flow from the negated incident or event. A fiction writer is thus free to invent very specific events and characters in the imagined history."
- Possible worlds theory: Link 1: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
                            Link 2: Marie-Laure Ryan: Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory
  • Narrative style & technique: Distinguish between how Dick creates an alternate history from the kind of world that is.
  • Scenes, situations and plot: Comment on the effect of having several narrative lines interwoven together: that involving Childan and Tagomi, that involving Tagomi and Haynes, that involving Frank Frink & Ed McCarthy, and that involving Juliana and Abendsen.
  • A few questions to consider: (1) How is Japanese colonization distinguished from German colonization?
  •                                 (2) How are speech habits stylized so as to characterize the effects of colonization on speech acts?
  •                                 (3) How are race-relations handled by the novel? And gender-relations?
  •                                 (4) The role for comedy, humor and irony in the novel? And satire?
  •                                 (5) How does the politics of the alternate history reflect on the politics of the Cold war?
  •                                 (6) Comment on Dick's handling of Operation Dandelion (internal politics in Nazi Germany; relations between Germany & Japan).
  •                                 (7) The representation of Baynes/Wegener as compared with Tagomi: who is the more self-conflicted? Why?.
  •                                 (8) Comment on the ironies constructed by Dick around the reversal of fortunes between the US and Japan.
  •                                 (9) Comment on the role of geography in Dick's handling of alternate history. Also his use of the space exploration theme.       
  •                                 (10) Comment on the view ascribed to Captain Wegener: "On some other world, possibly, it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components" (246). What is your attitude to his view that in an ideal world "morality is easy because cognition is easy"? Relate that to what is said earlier by Baynes/Wegener to General Tedeki: "We should reflect solely on reality, on actual power. Not on ethical intentions" (i.e. in relation to who is worse between the German SS and the Germany Wehrmacht [the military] (190).
  • Topics for seminar discussion:
  • (1) The role of the I Ching in the novel (the relation of divination to events; of Eastern thought by a Western author)?
  • Example: Frank: "We bucked the moment. Bucked the Tao. Upstream, in the wrong direction" (194). Does its use differ between him, Juliana and Tagomi?
  • (2) The role of commodity fetishim in the narrative.
  • (3) The relation of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy to the narrative written by Dick (the relation of alternative history to history as we know it)
  • (4) The difference between Dick's form of Dystopianism and that of Burgess
  • (5) The difference between the role of technology in Dick's narrative and that in Miller's narrative (especially the Bomb).




Last Updated  10 February 2012