Johnston Jones, Richard David (2021) “Partial solutions to the menace”: Philip K. Dick and the Politics of Genre. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

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In an essay published in 1955, titled ‘Pessimism in Science Fiction’, Philip K. Dick posits that science fiction (sf) cannot function as social critique without conveying a tentative utopian impulse: a “partial solution to the menace”. In the unfolding Cold War climate, it was not enough, Dick argued, for sf to be simply apocalyptic, despite the world’s nuclear superpowers threatening the annihilation of human life on earth. This thesis examines Dick’s engagement with the structure and function of genre as a political act designed to produce alternative ways of thinking about reality – “partial solutions”.
The majority of Dick’s work is written in the sf mode, which depicts alien worlds, strange creatures, and various technological gizmos, but it is rooted in the daily struggle of life under capitalism. This thesis builds on the work of the Marxist sf critic Darko Suvin, who argues that sf is a literature of “cognitive estrangement”: a type of fiction predicated on the analogical relationship between sf’s “estranging” aesthetics and ideas and the lived and imagined conditions of capitalist society. What I argue here is that Dick’s sf (and “genre fiction” generally) is imbued with a self-consciousness of its own “para-literary” nature and, therefore, its relation to the means of cultural production and commodification. It is sf’s estranging properties and “mass-cultural” status that make incorporation and anachronism fundamental parts of its structure. Dick’s sf exploits this distinctive relationality, purposely invoking other generic modes – the Western, detective fiction, the conspiracy thriller, autobiography – to engage in a critique of late capitalism and the hegemony its structures hold over our interpretation of texts, history, and our daily experiences of the world in which we live.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Contributors: Peacock, James (Thesis advisor)
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 18 Oct 2021 09:57
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2021 09:57

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