Pondering Dick

Although Phillip K Dick's masterful Man In The High Castle features narrative fiction, in particular one fiction; The Grasshopper Lies Heavy as it's titular key plot element, I'm unsure as to whether to include it as part of my dissertation. For one, it differs in the particularities of the style of dystopia. High Castle can't really be called a dystopia in the sense that the others are, it is in alternate present where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan win WWII, dividing America between them. Although we may experience the same alien uncomfotability with this context, the very fact that the context is so specific sets it apart from Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 and so on in that they are vague, faceless, potential futures. Although High Castle quite possibly provides a link with Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, set in a very plausible future New York.

The most important difference may be the method of sedation. In Brave New World, 451 and Super Sad, the state uses the same method to surpress the population; to sate citizen's desires with meaningless consumption or entertainment. In Brave New World, sex and the 'feelies' provide quantified stimulation. In 451, the 'televisors' and drugs give us a simulated feeling of belonging to a wider society, satisfying our desires for human contact and emotion. The near-future debt-ridden America of Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story tries to save it's economy from China as well as subdue it's people with out-and-out, voracious consumerism and social networking activity.

Man In The High Castle takes a different tack. The suppression on the part of the state is done in the normal way - martial law, brutality and reluctant respect for the victors but the deception lies in the meta-nature of the plot; that neither the world inhabited by Dick's characters, nor our own is real.

The 'big reveal' that is key to dystopias - the moment when the hero realises something is systematically wrong with the world around him, caused by a state deceiving it's people, realised through technology and revealed through the reflectivity of narrative only happens when the story itself (The Grasshopper Lies Heavy) confesses to be a truth against which the entire world of Man In The High Castle is a fallacy.

Does this qualify it as a technological dystopia? And if it isn't, is it still relevant? The characters in the book are driven by a sense of unease with their world, much like the other lead characters, but since my work focuses on comparing these classic dystopias with current fears and theories about how technology and narrative interact it could end up veering slightly off the topic if dwelled on for too long, although it should be included as an important example of narrative providing, in this case quite a literal, looking glass into reality.