Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Authenticity, Ethnography, and Colonialism in Philip K. Dick's the Man in the High Castle

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Authenticity, Ethnography, and Colonialism in Philip K. Dick's the Man in the High Castle

Article excerpt

The truth of art lies in its ability to break the monopoly of established reality (that is, of those who established it) to define what is real.

--Herbert Marcuse

IN HIS 1962 NOVEL THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, PHILIP K. DICK EXPLORES the relationship of authenticity to colonialism. The problem of authenticity runs through much of Dick's work, notably in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which explores issues of how to distinguish a human from an android, and the authenticity of trash ("kibble"). Similar issues are explored in many other works, including Time Out of Joint, Martian Time-Slip, Ubik, The Simulacra, and We Can Build You. In these and other works, Dick explores authenticity from a variety of perspectives and applies it to a variety of situations; it is absolutely central to the twin concerns that run through almost all of his writing: "What is reality?" and "What constitutes the authentic human being?" ("How to Build" 260). The Man in the High Castle stands out in Dick's corpus, however (along with Martian Time-Slip), in tying the complex and ambiguous issues of authenticity explicitly to colonialism. (1)

Those who have commented on authenticity in Dick's work have tended to examine authenticity as a concept in philosophy (e.g., Huntington throughout), but there are many definitions and uses of the concept of authenticity throughout the humanities, arts, and social sciences. (2) Anthropologist Charles Lindholm describes

   two overlapping modes for characterizing any entity as authentic:
   genealogical or historical (origin) and identity or correspondence
   (content). Authentic objects, persons and collectives are original,
   real, and pure; they are what they purport to be, their roots are
   known and verified, their essence and appearance are one. [...]
   [T]hese two forms of authenticity are not always compatible, but
   both stand in contrast to whatever is fake, unreal, or false, and
   both are in great demand. (2; italics in original)

This last point is crucial: the authentic cannot exist without the inauthentic; authenticity cannot exist without alienation. (3) One implies the other. "Authenticity" is generally applied in specific contexts, it refers to concrete things (a song, a chair, a food), and yet, paradoxically, it makes the concrete abstract, it transmutes the chair or song or food into an abstract category by which it is judged to have value (if authentic) or not (if fake).

Since things are almost never what they seem in Dick's work, it might be said that nothing is authentic; the assertion of authenticity is a form of control, a way that those in power create "spurious realities" ("How to Build" 261). Authenticity is always "historically contingent and subject to local reappropriation" (Clifford 10), but in Dick's novels, competing ideas of what is authentic can literally create competing realities, worlds in which the Japanese and the Americans won the war exist simultaneously. The gateways to alternative worlds are concrete things (jewelry, a book), which are works of art crafted by individual artists; the act of artistic creation conveys a kind of authenticity. For Dick, the search for authenticity by individuals in their everyday lives is the way to fight back against those who seek to control them. "Reality" is relative and can be manipulated, but not all reality is inauthentic. Individuals must define their own authenticities.

In The Man in the High Castle, Dick constructs an ethnography of an occupied California, and through this he explores the complex, competing notions of authenticity in a colonized society. Although reality is ultimately unstable in this novel (as in virtually all of Dick's work), Dick has carefully thought out the role of authenticity and its use in situations of unequal power to assign (or withdraw) value. This extends to everything from art and consumer goods to language, social interaction, and notions of causality, and ultimately to the value of human cultures and of individual humans. …

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