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Friday, May 29, 2009

The PKD Files: The Little god

Many of you are aware that during the 2007-08 academic school year I took an independent study course on Philip K. Dick. I read three of his novels, a whole bunch of his short stories, and a good bit of non-fiction and biographical material. One of those novels was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Most of you know this novel as the basis for Blade Runner, and I would recommend you get into the novel if you haven't already, because it is certainly a far different experience--more deeply rooted in psychological issues. Reading this novel for the second time in an academic setting has brought something to my attention I find rather curious.

Page 171 of the Del Rey/Ballantine 1996 edition of the book has a line that says: "He entered the elevator and together they moved nearer to god." The sentence itself is not necessarily too impressive. It's being metaphorical about the action of going upwards--and you could certainly interpret it on a deeper level (such as the fact that the elevator leads Deckard to the roof, which is a location where much of Deckard's problems arise--Polokov and the goat incident)--but there's something wrong with it. God is spelled with a lower-cased G. I am well aware that this could just be a typo, except that this spelling shows up in more than just this location and this book. Surely the copy editors didn't make the same mistake over and over?

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to try to unpack this spelling. Since we're not talking about "a god" or "the gods" it is clear that Dick is trying to make some sort of allusion to the Christian God. But making it lower-cased does something to the sentence that is really difficult to describe. What exactly could he mean by "god" rather than "God"? Why would Dick leave it lower-cased?

Those who may be familiar with Philip Kindred Dick are probably well aware that he was a deeply spiritual person. I would say spiritual because it is really difficult to pin him down to a specific religion. Dick was specifically interested in the spiritual and psychological aspects of the mind. Taking this into account I have to wonder why he chose to leave God lower-cased. Perhaps it was to lessen the effect of what God stands for. Or, perhaps what Dick is doing is attempting to portray in the actual writing a sense of the spiritual loss or reassignment of a dying Earth. This is a future dystopic Earth that has replaced Christianity with Mercerism, a religion with no god or gods, but with the shared experience of a brutal journey--Mercer's. This shared experience, coupled with the technological impact of the mood organ, is a crippled version of the Christian drive to embody Jesus's sacrifices, because the success of the experience does not constitute any sort of awakening or rise to a higher plane, even psychologically. When Deckard actually experiences Mercer's journey, there is no drastic change in his person. In fact, change seems to be dominated by the androids, more than anything else (and I'll probably talk about this subject later).

The problem in asking what the purpose of "god" is in Dick's text is that we cannot know what he was thinking while writing it--not fully, anyway. Our glimpses into his mind are just that: glimpses. Trying to understand completely what he meant by devaluing the traditional capitalization of God leaves us with little to work with. But perhaps I've touched on it here. Maybe the use of "god" is, in fact, connected to the hopelessness of Earth, as if to say that God has abandoned the planet and its remaining people. But again, I'm not sure.

I'm going to toss this out to all of you. What do you all think it could mean? Have you seen this used before and in which context? Or am I reading too much into this and it is nothing more than a typo that pops up all over his work?

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  1. I think it's possible that Dick, either consciously or not, meant for the lowercase treatment of the singular "god" to have the very effect it has: it de-personalizes the use of the term. If he'd capitalized it, "God", there'd be little doubt that he referred to the Christian "God" in particular. By leaving it lowercase, it becomes impossible to claim any god or God in specific. It's just "god". Period.

    The word means different things to different people, even within the same religion, maybe the only standard amongst all the different viewpoints being that "god" is simply something bigger than oneself. In a PKD world where the experience of religion and even self-awareness range a far broader (but not necessarily in a good way) spectrum than that of any single religion in and of itself, it makes a lot of sense to un-specify what "god" is. PKD usually stresses his characters' lack of understanding themselves and their place in existence. In that light, it would be an oddly concrete thing for him to do, to toss out side-by-side a solid capital-G "God" or lowercase plural "gods" as though anything in his stories were so assured in their standing.

    That's my two center rubbed furiously together. :)

  2. That's an interesting observation. I don't know if that's exactly what he was doing, because generally speaking you only lowercase when referring to the plural "gods." "god" would seem to reference a Christian world view, unless there are religions where that is uses, but generally single-God religions are Abrahamic/Christian.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. The little "g" might have been a typo, committed either by Phil or by the typesetter, or he might have been yanking your (the reader's) chain. He liked to play with words, and he believed that our words make our world. If you can control words (as in Orwell's 1984), you can control the world -- not only people, but also reality.
    Hope that helps you to understand or at least get a glimmer.
    ~~ Tessa Dick

  4. The thing is, I don't think it was a typo, because it appears in many of his novels (three for sure). It seems odd that it would be like that in so many of his works and be a typo. There definitely is more behind it.

    But certainly what you say does give me an insight into what he might have been doing. Maybe he wanted readers to latch onto that, to notice it and question it.