samuel x. brase likes to write

The Questions

Posted in novel planning, second novel, third project by Sam X. on 5 February 2011

There’s an interesting lecture that Philip K. Dick once gave, where he muses on the overarching questions his writing inevitably probes. These questions are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” The lecture itself devolves into a very loquacious defense of his idea that we live in the time of the Bible.

I don’t know, I skimmed that part.

But the opening third of the lecture is fascinating. I have, for many years, been a fan of PKD. He’s one of the best sci-fi writers I can think of; he doesn’t write sci-fi because spaceships are fun, he writes sci-fi to allow himself the necessary room to explore his two questions. He wants to understand the world better, like most artists; he was channeling his uncertainty about reality. Instead of channeling emotional pain through the magic of piano music, he channeled cosmic wonder into sci-fi unreality yarns.

Naturally, I thought about myself while reading this. I thought about what my questions were; what am I probing through my art? Certainly, he had more to look back on and draw parallels when he made explicit his dominant themes. Maybe doing it at this stage is premature. But I don’t think it hurts.

My writing largely has to do with rebellion; power dynamics. But those aren’t the questions I’m asking. Whereas PKD asked “What is reality?” I am asking “What is society?” The reason for this being, reality beyond human understanding is largely irrelevant to human life. I’m less concerned with reality as we don’t know it, and more concerned with reality as we create it; that is, society.

Do I have a second question? Sure. I’ve been trying to think about how to phrase it. Like Dick’s, the second question is intertwined with the first. I’m not sure I can put it exactly into words right now.

It has to do with sovereignty; with control over others, conceded by those others. The ruler is granted sovereign control over a community by election (ideally, I suppose)–but to what point does his mandate override the will of the people? As we saw in Tunisia, the will of the people outlasted the mandate of the autocrat. But in other states, for example Iran a couple of years ago and Egypt now (so Mubarak hopes), the autocrat comes out on top–by exerting the power of the state over the electorate (so-called electorate in both of those states, for reasons of election fraud).

Where does authority’s mandate end, and society’s right to revolt begin?

(Update from March 13) As Gaddafi is making clear in Libya with each passing hour, the right to revolt is only part of the issue; that draws international recognition. The other half of the issue is the ability to carry it through.

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