January 22, 2007 [A Scanner Darkly]

"Flow my tears," the policeman said, his memory like a finger running along the blade—and how heavy the feeling was, poison in the system right before the pain, just a little less breath and a weight on my chest, and I find it—well, not difficult to move, just incidental to being right where I am.

And where am I? It seems small but free, like the high stool on which a Nowhere Man could sit—except I'm lying down, one leg dangling, the foot on the floor, the couch scratchy on my arms, my tee shirt bunching up beneath me, and the house quiet while the traffic shivers outside like small waves breaking.  And the TV keeps on, excited voices turned down but insistent, whittling at something until it becomes something else.  So I crack one then both eyes open and see the flat familiar shapes on the screen sliding a little like plate tectonics sped up—each million years a half-second, the jitter from era to era no longer discernible—and it's faces and cars and trees—and more faces, some dull, some shifty, all bearing down on whatever's in front of them—except some of them slip and shift forever into scrambled disguises, masks and altered tones until no one knows who's who.  An undercover world.

And not quite real, rotoscoped and morphed, cartoons.  Finally!  Some truth there on the screen, a cartoon at last about "D" for Death: hilarious on the way down, until it's all bugs and funny looks from bystanders, until they're all on the hit list, even Phil Dick himself—and they keep remembering to swallow and down they go until alone in the field the harvest peeks up, down there where the cornstalks meet the loam and I find the little paperback and read:

"What does a scanner see?  Into the head? Down into the heart?  Does it see into me?  Into us?  Clearly or darkly?  I hope it sees clearly because I can't any longer see into myself.  I see only murk.  I hope for everyone's sake the scanners do better, because if the scanner sees only darkly the way I do, I'm cursed and cursed again."

And now I'm no longer on that couch, I'm on my own and I see him bending down; it's a moment without murk, almost joy—certainly relief, certainly one little piece of what should be; and he plucks a present for his friends at Thanksgiving.

In an essay on Dick's novel, Frank C. Bertrand reminds me of something that M.H. Abrams asserts about the Romantics in his book Natural Supernaturalism:

"Whether a man shall live his old life or a new one, in a universe of death or of life, cut off and alien or affiliated and at home, in a state of servitude or genuine feeling ... all depends on his mind as it engages with the world in the act of perceiving."

I can see Dick's scanner, Arctor, a clear and cleanly drawn object flat and right there against the glass wall of my TV, losing his old life to live the new, making a little quavery sound like a Theremin approached that makes me smile at the spooky half-gift and almost-promise of freedom slipped into his sock.


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