Philip K. Dick
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes


“My books (& stories) are intellectual (conceptual) mazes & I am in an intellectual maze in trying to figure out our situation (who we are & how we look into the world, & world as illusion, etc.) because the situation,” writes PHILIP K. DICK (1928-82) somewhere in his Exegesis, “is a maze.” Those familiar only with Hollywood’s adaptations of his work might imagine that the maze to which Dick refers is one whose walls and mirrors might be shattered — thus dispelling all illusions forever — through a heroic effort. Not so! Long before his theoretically-minded contemporaries lamented the forces of governmentality that inscribe us in the clutches of power-knowledge, or the hegemonic allure of the dominant discourse, Dick speculated that social control was exercised through diabolically subtle and bewildering mechanisms. In The World Jones Made, Time Out of Joint, Martian Time-Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Now Wait for Last Year, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, A Maze of Death, We Can Build You, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, A Scanner Darkly, and VALIS — to name my favorite, um, twelve Dick novels — we learn that heroic measures against political and epistemological neototalitarianism are forever doomed to fail. In a 1972 speech, Dick instead hailed the “laziness, short attention span, perversity, [and] criminal tendencies” of the semi-employed, drug-abusing, near-schizophrenic schlemiels with whom he was then spending most of his time. “We can tell and tell him what to do, but when the time comes for him to perform, all the subliminal instruction, all the ideological briefing, all the tranquilizing drugs, all the psychotherapy are a waste,” insisted Dick. “He just plain will not jump when the whip is cracked.”

A couple of the ideas in this item were first aired in Hermenaut #15 (1999), n+1 #1 (Fall 2004), and Slate Magazine (June 27, 2006). Click here for more science fiction on


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Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.