Philip K. Dick gave the following while attending the 2eme Festival International de la SF de Metz, Metz, France, September 19-25, 1977
by Yves Breux and Francis Luxereau
Transcribed, edited, annotated and with afterword by Frank C. Bertrand
Note: Ellipsis indicates undecipherable words.
Q: Situation d’ecrivain en France et comparaison avec les USA? [What is the situation of the writer in the USA as compared with the writer in France?]
PKD: Comparison between the two? Between my position as a writer in America and my position as a writer in France? I’d be very happy to discuss that.
The position which writers such as myself hold in America are, those positions are very lowly. Science Fiction is considered to be something for adolescents, for just high school kids, and for disturbed people in general in America. And the publishers will buy a novel which must meet rigid moral standards, the standards which libraries have, which has to do with sex and violence and so forth. So we’re limited in our writing to books which have no sex, no violence, and no deep ideas. Just something of an adventure kind of nature, what we call Space Opera, which are just Westerns set in the future.
This is a strong pressure on us. The field, science fiction, is just a genre there, ranked at the level of nurse romance publications. We are considered at the bottom rung. Now, it’s not as bad today as it was a few years ago, because recently the academic community has discovered us. And there are scholarly articles being written in America about science fiction. And also, science fiction novels are being used in courses at universities and high schools and colleges. In fact, one of my novels is used even in a course in “The Modern Novel,” not just in “The Science Fiction Novel,” but as an example of the modern novel. But that’s rare. And the general attitude is still highly prejudicial in America.
Now, I started out as a pulp writer doing stories for pulp magazines. And I never imagined myself to have any importance. So, I was not dismayed by this attitude. I just took it for granted. I had been a clerk in a store and I was use to having people yell at me, telling me what to do. And so to find myself a writer, and be yelled at and told what to do did not surprise me.
But then I discovered that in Europe, especially in France, science fiction was taken seriously. And the science fiction writer was not regarded as something on the level of a janitor. And my delight was enormous. And my amazement was enormous. And my agent was quite pleased. And I began to meet people from France who had come over and would visit with me. A gentleman who is doing his dissertation on a novel of mine came to visit me. And I was, I was simply amazed. I could not imagine anyone taking science fiction seriously.
Now, as far as my own work went. I had written what I considered to be serious novels. But they never received any popularity in America. The largest number of sales of any novel of mine was Solar Lottery, which sold something over three hundred thousand copies. Man In The High Castle, which I won the Hugo Award for, sold almost, well by now, three hundred thousand copies. But by and large the average American science fiction novel sells about forty to fifty thousand copies, which in a country the size of the United States, is very small portion of the reading public.
Now, there are exceptions, of course, like The Andromeda Strain, which became best sellers. But these are always highly promoted by the publisher. And usually involves very simplistic ideas, such as the disease from outer space. Ideas that are archaic. They’re no longer really interesting ideas. They’re something H.G. Wells wrote about, or could have written about. And I would say that the greatest stimulus to me as a serious writer has been the French reaction to my writing which began somewhere between 1964 and 1968.
It was in 1964 that Editions OPTA first approached me and stated that they wanted to publish all of my novels, they said. And from their correspondence I could tell they had a quite different attitude toward my writing and core science fiction in general. So I was stimulated to do a much more serious type of novels, just knowing that eventually it would receive a more serious audience.
But in America it was common, for instance I remember when I purchased my first published story. Somebody said to me, “Do you read that kind of stuff?” And I said, “Madame, I not only read it, I write it.” And people would say to me, “Well, why don’t you write something serious? Why do you write science fiction? Write something serious.” …
Nevertheless, I did as well as I could. I wrote the most profound, most imaginative novels I could and just … it out into the world and hope it would eventually receive an audience. But there is a considerable difference in French interest in science fiction and the American interest. And I appreciate the French interest enormously. And in fact it would be impossible for me to have continued my career without the help the French public has given to me.
Q: Votrepopularite en France vient-elle de notre culture, le romantisme, etc.? [Has your increasing popularity in France come from our culture, romanticism, etc.?]
PKD: There is a major flaw in America which does not appear to exist in France and that is the American people are basically anti-intellectual. They’re not interested in novels of ideas and science fiction is essentially a field of ideas. And the anti-intellectualism of America, Americans, prohibits their interest in imaginative ideas, in intellectual concepts.
But there’s another facet as regards my particular works, say compared to other science fiction writers. I grew up in Berkeley [city on east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern California]. And my education was not limited at all to reading other science fictions novels preceding my own, such as Van Vogt, or Heinlein; people of that time like Padgett and so on, Bradbury. But I read, because University City was still there, Stendhal, Balzac, Proust, and the Russian novelists influenced by the French, people like Tourgourniev [French pronunciation for Turgenev]. And I even read Japanese novels, modern Japanese novels, novelists who were influenced by the French realistic writers.
And I think one reason that I’ve been popular in France in because the slice of life realistic novel that I write is essentially based on the 19th century French realistic novels. For instance, if I were to name my favorite novels, I would name Madame Bovary and Stendhal’s The Red And The Black. Those would be my two favorite novels. Or Tourgourniev’s Peres et Fiels [French title for Fathers and Sons]. And in a sense I was learning about the novel not from English prose novels but from French prose novels.
So it makes sense, perhaps, that my writing would be well received in France. A novel of mine, such as The Simulacra, for example, which contains maybe fifteen to sixteen major characters is definitely derived from such French writers as Balzac. I think this applies more to me than to other American science fiction writers. In fact I think that it’s a great flaw in American science fiction writers, and their readers, that they are insulated from the great literature of the world, the Russian novels, the French novels, the English novels, and the great American novels. In other words, it’s a closed loop.
An American science fiction writer is usually someone who’s been a science fiction fan, and has read only science fiction novels. And so when he goes to write science fiction, he bases it solely on prior science fiction. But because I was fortunate enough to live in Berkeley, which is probably as much an intellectual center as you’d find anywhere in the world, I was not limited as my other friends who write science fiction are.
Q: Avez vous ete beaucoup sollicite depuis votre arrivee en France? [Have you had many requests since your arrival in France?]
PKD: Well, I had been told, you know, by my agent and by French fans that I would probably encounter publishers and editors that had brought out my books. I’m quite aware of how many books of mine are in print in France, and how many editions, because I receive detailed reports from my agent. And I knew that, in France especially, say in contrast to later in Germany or England, there would be a greater interest in my writing by people in the business, people in the industry, rather than merely fans, readers.
Q: Votre definition – votre gout de la vie – dans le siecle aux USA? [How would you define your “taste of life” in the USA this century?]
PKD: Well, my relationship the United States has always been a very bad one. It has always seemed to me that I was about to be arrested by American police for some obscure reason. And perhaps that’s because of reading Kafka’s The Trial. That book influenced me very much, where someone is arrested for a crime, and he is never told what crime he has committed.
And in Berkeley we were very radical. There is a Bob Dylan song, let’s see, he said, whatever it was you were doing you don’t know what it was, but the police say you’re doing it again; something like that, I always had that feeling. And it was a symbol of my alienation from my own country’s culture. I mean, they didn’t read my books and I didn’t like them. I didn’t feel any affinity and relatedness to my neighbors and the population in general.
I remember one time my fear of the police was so great that whenever I saw a parked police car, and I was driving along, I would ask my wife to stop our car and I would surrender to the police on the spot, to whatever crime they wanted to accuse me of. My fears became greater during the Nixon administration because at that time there really was some basis for people like me to worry. After Nixon was deposed my fears went away completely, and I have a sense now that the United States is a permissive and tolerant nation.
As far as my reputation in the United States, I don’t expect ever to have any reputation in the United States except, well, the police once told me that I was a crusader, and they had no use for crusaders. But unfortunately they didn’t tell me what I was crusading for. I was afraid to ask, “But what was I a crusader for?”
And they told me that if I did not get out of the county I would be shot in the back, or worse, some night. And I merely took their advice. I left the United States and went to Canada for a while. But I never found out what I was crusading for. It may have had something to do with my writing. It may have had something to do with my lifestyle, or a combination of both. But I was too afraid of the police to ask what it was that I was doing.
This attitude of mine shows up in my recent novel A Scanner Darkly, where a narcotics agent winds up reporting on himself, turning over information on himself to his higher ups. The paranoia of the Nixon period was so great, by the government, and also by the counter-culture, the Berkeley people. Anybody like me who grew up and was part of the Berkeley counter-culture became a marked man during the Nixon administration.
It is impossible to tell how much of our fears were justified. I mean, there were illegal entries, my house was broken into, my files were blown open, my papers were stolen. We never found out who did it. My attorney said it was the government. There was no doubt that it was the government. But what they were looking for I don’t know. What they thought I was doing, I don’t know. I don’t even know if it was the government. But there were many such illegal entries.
And an experience like that tend to make you very paranoid, that you are suspected of some crime. But, like in Kafka’s The Trial, they never told me what it was I had done. They just told me I was a crusader, and they didn’t have any need for crusaders. And the fact that I was an intellectual writer only made me more suspicious in their eyes.
You’ve got to take into account that in the United States to be an intellectual, to be a writer, it to wear a sign on your back saying I’m an enemy of the state. I mean, it is something that is hard to understand, I think. There is such an anti-intellectual attitude in America. It’s incredible the suspicion the authorities have of what they use to call eggheads…
Well, they use to call intellectuals eggheads. It was a term of derision. And the term originated in Nazi Germany. Most people don’t know that. I happen to know this because I did a lot of research into Nazi Germany for my novel The Man In The High Castle. The term egghead is used by the Sturmabteilung, the SA. It referred to the fact that when they beat up people who were defenseless, their skull cracked so readily against the pavement that the term egghead was evolved by the Sturmabteilung, and that term was carried over into the United States without any knowledge of its origin. However, the fact that that is the origin of the term egghead, which is the term for American intellectuals, that origin tells a great deal about the kind of people who would use such a term.
Q: Connaissez vous cette image qui vous a precede ici? [Are you aware of the image which has preceded you here, paranoid, drug-addicted, etc.?]
PKD: I lost that kind of apprehension abruptly in 1974 when the Nixon administration ceased to exist. I doubt if the paranoia was irrational, considering the government that the United States had. Had my paranoia been irrational it probably would have persisted after the Nixon government was deposed. But in March of 1974 the government program of spying on dissident, anti-war intellectuals, the so-called COINTELPRO, was abandoned. And in March of ’74 my so-called paranoia disappeared completely. I felt a lifting of the oppression, the sense that there was a watching police agency which was monitoring our activities. I felt that sense lift, in March of ’74, and it never returned.
In March of ’74 the CIA operation CHAOS, which was to harass, disrupt and keep surveillance on American dissidents was officially abandoned. So the kind of paranoia which Michel Demuth noted, which was real, was based on the fact that we were harassed, we were under surveillance. We really were. There was no doubt about it whatsoever. I’ve seen my CIA file. I’ve seen my FBI file under The Freedom Of Information Act. I was legally allowed to see both files. The CIA opened my mail. The FBI had a file on me. I’ve seen both. I no longer have the sense of the police activity.
It depends a little on what you mean by paranoia. If you mean a psychotic conviction that you are being persecuted, which is not in accord with reality, I don’t think I had that. But, boy, I sure thought the cops were watching everything I did. And I was correct. I was tipped off by the criminal underground that my house was being watched. The license plate numbers of every car that stopped in front of my house was taken. And these were not part of my imagination, these were actual events.
Anyone who visited me, their license plate number was written down by the people next door. And I was told that the house was being watched, and eventually that my house would be hit, my files would be opened, my papers would be taken, and so it came to pass.
As I said in the Rolling Stone article on me, when I came home and found my house consisting of nothing but rubble, ruins, chaos, broken windows, smashed doorknobs, blown open files, I said, “Thank God, I’m not crazy. I have real enemies.” It’s a tremendous relief to discover that somebody really is after me.
This interview is transcribed from a three-part filmed interview, 21:32 minutes in length, that Philip K. Dick gave while attending the 2eme Festival International de la Sf de Metz, and broadcast by Canal Jimmy, a satellite digital TV channel in France and Italy. It has been available on YouTube, labeled as “Philip K. Dick rare interview in France,” for some time. Parts of it were incorporated into the 1994 BBC documentary, “A Day In The Afterlife Of Philip K. Dick.” A French version, done by Gilles Goullet, is titled “Philip K. Dick. Metz, Sept. 77, Interview.” That version is what appeared in PKD Otaku No. 1.