Shifting Histories, Blurred Borders, and Mediated Sacred Texts in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle

Shifting Histories, Blurred Borders, and Mediated Sacred Texts in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in... Abstract Amazon Studios’ television adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle, an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II, highlights Dick’s preoccupation with issues of national and personal identity, the contingencies of history, and what we might call the sacred power of certain texts to shape reality by shaping worldviews. Dick gives the I Ching a central role in his novel, and consulted it himself for plot advice. This article argues that Dick elevates the world-creating influence of popular literature and media by positioning The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel-in-the-novel that depicts a history much like our own, as an equally ‘sacred’ text. The opening credits for each episode of the first two seasons of Amazon Studios’ television series The Man in the High Castle (2015-2016) begin with the whirr of a movie projector grinding to life, and the flickering glow of a projector’s lamp.1 The decidedly analogue sounds of film clicking through a projector’s gears introduce a mostly black and white sequence of images of war conducted against a backdrop of American landmarks.2 The movie motif flows into the opening moments of the first episode (‘The New World’) with a repeat of the projector lamp flare and instant immersion in celebratory scenes of happy, productive Americans who all know their places in society. Intermittent glimpses of a young man, who, we will learn, is named Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), sitting in a darkened movie theatre, contextualise the progression of shots as a newsreel, while the dated imagery and upbeat tone of the voice-over evoke social hygiene films of the 1950 s and 60 s. With the ‘cognitive estrangement’ typical of science fiction, to borrow a term from Darko Suvin, what is familiar and expected is suddenly tweaked to an unfamiliar ‘what if’ by a concluding image of an American flag bearing a swastika, and the narrator’s earnestly uttered ‘Sieg Heil.’3 Shots of Joe emerging from the theatre into a Times Square emblazoned with Nazi symbols add to the discomfiture, though a superimposed title offers at least some orientation: this is ‘The Greater Nazi Reich, New York City, 1962.’4 Despite or perhaps because of this calculated unsettlement, audiences familiar with the works of Philip K. Dick, and especially with the 1962 Hugo Award-winning novel on which the series is based, may actually feel at home with the emerging sense that we have been dropped into a parallel universe.5 In his eclectic exploration of an ever-shifting array of speculative ideas, Dick regularly entertained the suspicion that familiar reality available to our senses is not actually real, or at least cloaks other or deeper realities.6 Among his novels, The Man in the High Castle is a particularly striking example of a Dickian thought-experiment that assumes the possibility of fluid borders between alternative and even simultaneous chains of events. By emphasising the conceptualising power of visual media, both by evoking propagandistic newsreels of an earlier age, and by being itself a combination of recorded video and CGI, the Amazon series’ opening builds on Dick’s related penchant for claiming that knowledge of our mediated world is always indirect and subject to construction. What we understand to be ‘real’ or what ‘truly’ happened is determined by what and how we see, read, and hear. The novel’s adaptation across the disciplinary boundary between written and visual formats provides a helpful interpretive lens for illuminating its preoccupations. In particular, the series highlights Dick’s foregrounding of issues of national and personal identity, the contingencies of history, and what we might call the sacred power of certain texts to shape perception and hence, in a manner of speaking, reality. Amazon’s critically-acclaimed retelling of Dick’s tale makes consideration of his novel timely, but so has the global rise of right-wing and populist nationalism. Dick reminds us, through both the novel and series, that we face our own existential choices in relating to the mediated sacred texts that shape our worlds. As another creator of dystopian alternative histories has observed, the supposedly predictive power of science fiction is always rooted in the present of its time of creation. ‘I’m not a prophet’, asserts Margaret Atwood, author of the chilling ‘what if’ of reproductive slavery that is her 1984 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, also recently recast as a popular television series.7 Despite a trend for women to adopt the series’ iconic costumes to protest threats to women’s access to reproductive health care under a Donald Trump presidency, Atwood denies predicting such retrenchment when she wrote the book: ‘[p]rophecies are really about now. In science fiction it’s always about now. What else could it be about? There is no future. There are many possibilities, but we do not know which one we are going to have’.8 Dick’s novel, a product of the 1960s that looks back in time to reconceive World War II, may be just such an accidentally prophetic text. Its prescient immersion in questions of 20th century history, identity, and media, especially as revisited by the Amazon series, seems directed uncannily at 21st century readers. I. COMPLICATING BORDERS The visual toolbox of television helps clarify the geography of the novel, in which the Axis powers of Germany and Japan have won the war and divided an occupied United States into zones of influence: a Nazi-controlled region in the east, and a Japanese-controlled Pacific States in the west, separated by a buffer zone of the Rocky Mountain States (a largely lawless Neutral Zone in the series).9 In the credits sequence, a labelled map illustrates the divisions, while moving arrows indicate—again in newsreel style—the progress of invading forces. For Dick, the regional borders set up a context for exploring the more intangible boundaries of national and ethnic identity. His characters muse regularly about differences between types of people as indicated by, for example, distinguishing characteristics of Germans and Japanese. The rippling image of fused flags that concludes the credits encapsulates Dick’s presentation of these two countries as linked but uneasy and culturally distinct allies. Certainly for Frank Frink, an American Jewish machinist (played by Rupert Evans in the series), all occupiers are not created equal. Compared to the fanatical Germans with their genocidal campaigns, especially against Jews, he concludes, the Japanese at least represent a force of reason and legal order, ‘who would no more set up gas ovens than they would melt their wives into sealing wax’ (pp. 12-13). Frank’s ex-wife, Juliana (his girlfriend in the series, played by Alexa Davalos), shares his preference for the Japanese, summing up the Nazis as coldly cynical but enthusiastic, as though they ‘believed in nothing and yet somehow had absolute faith’ (p. 33). The distinction in the novel extends to the divergent emphases of the two empires, with the Japanese pursuing essentially altruistic governance of their occupied populations, while the Nazis apply their technological prowess to reconfiguring the racial and physical contours of the planet. Africa’s tribes have been ‘[w]iped out to make a land of—what? Who knew?’ Frank muses. ‘Maybe even the master architects in Berlin did not know. Bunch of automatons, building and toiling away. Building? Grinding down’ (p. 12). Such efforts to parse national character feed into subtler expositions of the nature of evil that nations perpetrate. Rudolph Wegener, a German Abwehr officer who masquerades as a Swedish trade envoy named Baynes (Victor Baynes in the series, played by Carsten Norgaard), wonders what predisposes Germans to their atrocities, even as his own commitment to stopping his countrymen makes him a notable exception: ‘[i]t is their unconsciousness… Their not being aware of what they do to others, the destruction they have caused and are causing. No, he thought. That isn’t it… But—they are purposelessly cruel … is that it? No. God, he thought, I can’t find it, make it clear’. The best explanation Baynes can muster is that the fault lies with ‘[t]heir view; it is cosmic. Not of a man here, a child there, but an abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. Blut. Ehre’. For them, he concludes, ‘[t]he abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them’ (pp. 37-38). In contrast to Baynes’s awakened perception of his own nation’s shortcomings, American antiquities dealer Robert Childan (played by Brennan Brown in the series) finds that the Germans’ racial doctrines fit all too well with his strong investment in maintaining ‘face’ or ‘place’ of social standing within a racial hierarchy. To Childan, the Germans possess a nobility of aspiration and accomplishment not matched by the Japanese, and show ‘what can be done where whites have conquered’ (p. 24). If they went too far in Africa, they had at least shown efficiency, he rationalises. Disdainful of the Japanese, but even more of the Chinese labourers who transport him in their pedecabs, and the African slaves who carry his bags, Childan is still obsequious in mimicking the Japanese culture of his patrons, and hyper-attuned to the opinions of those he considers his inferiors. Thrilled to be invited to dinner as an implied equal by a young Japanese couple, Paul and Betty Kasoura (played by Louis Ozawa Changchien and Tao Okamoto in the series), Childan revels in the momentary suspension of the hierarchical order. Yet he undercuts his own opportunity by expressing his racial prejudices and lack of appreciation for the complexity of American culture. He disappoints his more enlightened hosts by dismissing Jazz as ‘Negro music’ beneath his interest, and lauding the Axis victory as protection against a world controlled by Communists or Jews: ‘[p]ersonally, I do not believe any hysterical talk of “world inundation” by any people, Slavic or Chinese or Japanese’, admonishes Betty (p. 100). Just as 21st century realities of globalisation belie nativist fears of immigrants and ‘others who are not us,’ however, the book and the series are as much about the inevitable syncretism of intermingled societies, and the inadequacy of any generalisations about national identities or allegiances, as they are about difference. In a 1964 article on ‘Nazism and The High Castle’, Dick argues against his own efforts to make definitive statements about a nation or race, given the specificity of individuals: ‘we can no more hold a people responsible than we can hold any other mythical, semantic, nonactual entity responsible; German1 is not German2 and German2 is not German3 and so forth’.10 Using himself as an example, he asserts, ‘I am not a “white man.” My German friends are not “Germans,” nor my Jewish friends “Jews.” I am a nominalist. To me, there are only individual entities, not group entities such as race, blood, people, etc’.11 In addition to Baynes as a German outlier, Dick presents Trade Minister Nobosuke Tagomi, Baynes’ counterpart in the Japanese occupying force (played by Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa in the series), as both morally sensitive and heroic as he saves several lives, including Frank’s. The series develops his character more fully, making him an active resister of warmongering Japanese elements. Childan struggles to process his attraction to Japanese culture (and to Betty Kasoura). Juliana teaches Judo and in the series is adept at Akido. An American assistant to Tagomi darkens his skin to appear Japanese, and is offended when Tagomi seeks his expertise as ‘native born’ in selecting an appropriately American gift (p. 19). Meanwhile, the Kasouras and other Japanese patrons of Childan’s shop are fascinated with objects from America’s past. The series personifies the negative aspects of the occupying forces by introducing Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell), a high-ranking American collaborator in the Nazi SS, and Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido (Joel de la Fuente), head of the Japanese Kempeitai secret police, as a matched pair of cruelly devious spymasters. Kido even fails to live up to the appreciation of Japanese restraint expressed in the novel by using a gas chamber to kill Frank’s sister and her children (‘Sunrise’). Yet these distilled characterisations of evil are complicated as well, especially by the second season. Kido reveals self-sacrificial nobility in his commitment to his country (‘A Way Out’), and joins forces with Smith to draw their two nations back from the brink of nuclear war. Already positioned as strongly, if authoritatively, invested in family, Smith concocts an elaborate subterfuge to circumvent Nazi policies of eugenics when his son, Thomas (Quin Lord), is diagnosed with an incurable illness that would categorise him a disposable ‘useless eater’. With a certain playfulness, the series follows Dick’s exploration of cultural hybridity by offering modified examples of American entertainment that underscore popular media’s role in reflecting and shaping cultural assumptions. A television game show, ‘Guess My Game’, mimics ‘What’s My Line?’, but with a mystery guest who learned his ‘game’ as a Hitler youth (‘Sunrise’). Members of the Reich Police channel Dragnet’s monotone dialogue on the television show American Reich: ‘[i]f you’ve got a problem with Hitler, you’ve got a problem with me’ (‘The Road Less Traveled’). Baynes’ son reads Ranger Reich rather than Ranger Rick magazine (‘A Way Out’). As Joe leaves the movie theatre in the opening episode, a pull-back shot lingers on the movie marquee advertising The Punch Party, a movie Rock Hudson and June Allyson never made, but could have made as a sequel to The Punch Bowl (Die Feuerzangenbowle), a 1944 comedy popular in Germany. Perhaps the series’ most unsettling extrapolation of Dick’s blurring of cultures is the upper-middle-class Long Island lifestyle of Smith’s family. The ‘it could happen here’ element extends to recasting American symbols of the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving into VA, or Victory in America, Day, a holiday of patriotic bunting, fireworks, games of catch, and outdoor picnics of turkey and apple pie to celebrate Nazi conquest (‘Three Monkeys’). To return to the credits sequence, the soundtrack’s breathy, lisping rendition of ‘Edelweiss’ by Sweden’s Jeanette Olsson at first seems appropriately associated with Germany, if eerily incongruous with images of war, given Olsson’s tone of little girl innocence. On reflection, however, the song offers a multi-levelled underscoring of popular culture’s power to shape historical memory. Written by Americans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for their 1959 musical The Sound of Music, ‘Edelweiss’ owes its ubiquity as a cultural reference to the 1965 film that has given generations of audiences a sanitised exposure to the horror of National Socialism. In the play and film, it is a song of patriotic love not of Germany but of Austria in the face of German aggression, sung at a poignant moment of the Von Trapp family’s departure from their homeland. The song thus manages to simultaneously evoke Germanic culture, Nazism, resistance to Nazism, love of country, and deep loss despite not being a ‘real’ traditional song. II. ALTERNATE HISTORIES Such creative explorations of popular culture’s imbrication with national sensibility reflect Dick’s overarching project of inviting his readers to consider history itself as fluid by presenting our assumed past set slightly askew. Characters in his novel mingle references to familiar individuals and events with fictional ‘might-have-beens’ that constitute their history, such as the assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt after his first year of office (p. 59). One can learn a lot about the actual Third Reich by googling to see which of Dick’s descriptions of the military and political fortunes of Germany’s Nazi leaders are ‘real’ and which imagined. At the same time, Dick uses The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel-in-the-novel, to provide his characters with an inkling that the war’s outcome might have been different. Written by author Hawthorne Abendsen, the ‘man in the high castle’ of Dick’s title because he purportedly lives in a mountain stronghold, Grasshopper suggests that in some alternate history the Allies won the war. Not exactly our history, Abendsen’s description has the United States and the British Empire, rather than the United States and Russia, emerge from the war as rival global powers. In the series, the novel has been replaced by a collection of newsreels, all also labelled ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’, that show various permutations of historic and future events. As Abendsen (Stephen Root) explains, ‘each one of these films shows a reality like ours but not ours’ (‘The Tiger’s Cave’). The switch from novel to newsreel makes practical sense, given the visual medium of television. The newsreels’ centrality also emphasises again the power of publically-consumed media to establish, shape, or recast cultural perspectives. As characters watch the films, aural and visual references to movie technology serve as touchstone reminders that we are experiencing a mediated narrative that is itself at least partly about media. The sensory ‘thingness’ conveyed by close-ups of discrete parts of a projector’s clunky machinery, the separate steps of threading or rewinding film, a projector’s lamp haloing or silhouetting a character’s head, and even film melting as it burns, makes the intangible tangible. By emphasising the tactility of film projection, these punctuating segments give concrete form to media’s ephemeral nature as process or influence, the often-unacknowledged water through which a global citizenry swims like fish. Ultimately, Dick’s novel asks that all understandings of history, as of national identity, be seen as contingent because they are shaped by the mediated texts we consume, a truism that might be supported by comparing the presentations of almost any contemporary political story on conservative versus progressive media outlets. Building on a schema developed by Carlo Pagetti to distinguish the various histories at work, Umberto Rossi calls the shared history of Dick’s readers the Zero Text. This, ‘our’ so-called reality, is what Dick often referred to as the koinos kosmos or ‘common universe’ after Heraclitus,12 and Roland Barthes in his five-fold narrative code calls the ‘cultural’ or ‘referential’ code of mutually assumed knowledge.13 In the short-hand of this reality, at least as widely assumed in the 1960s, the United States emerged from World War II as a major power committed to advancing global well-being and making the world safe for democracy. The Primary Text or history in the Pagetti/Rossi charting is the story of Dick’s fictional narrative, in which Germany and Japan won the war. The Secondary Text is the approximation of our Zero History conveyed in Grasshopper. Rossi reads High Castle as a Cold War novel, however, with Dick pushing his readers to be more cognisant of a fourth text, an alternative version of Zero History that emphasises the West’s post-war imperialism and destructive investment in nuclear geopolitics. In this history, obscured by the opaquing investment by media of his day in the original Zero Text’s mythology of American goodness, ‘the world lives under the menace of nuclear war, USA and USSR waste their resources due to militaristic politics, Third World countries are exploited and ultimately destroyed, and—notwithstanding the apparent decolonization process—indirectly controlled by the great powers’.14 By turning the tables on his readers with the narrative experiment of an occupied America, Dick asks them to contemplate global hegemony as practiced by the United States and other Western powers. At his most generous, Dick may be asking his readers to realise that they are, at best, such semi-benevolent occupiers as the Japanese. Rossi, however, sees Dick likening Americans to the Germans in their mindless inattention to the nature of their actions that Baynes describes. In this, the first season of the series falls short of Dick’s vision. With their depictions of the harsh exigencies of living in an occupied nation, and with references to what has not happened in the Primary History of Dick’s invented world, such as the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the episodes push contemporary audiences to think critically about the United States’ role on the global stage. But, the season’s story arc of courageous American Resistance fighters does not encourage quite the same national soul-searching Dick advanced. The second season’s expanded characterisation and plot development corrects that as brutal ‘ends-justifies-the-means’ tactics of certain members of the Resistance, including sacrificing civilians to generate terror, cloud the movement’s moral standing. ‘Look at you in that uniform—it suits you’, Juliana accuses George Dixon (Tate Donovan), a Resistance fighter dressed as a Nazi, who plans to destroy Smith by revealing Thomas’s illness. Dixon doesn’t disagree: ‘if we’re going to beat them, we need to be worse’ (“Fallout”). III. MEDIATED SACRED TEXTS For Dick, how we engage with the texts that establish our understandings of history and thus of who we are is critical. It may be helpful, in fact, in approaching the novel as well as the series, to think of the abilities of texts to create perceptions of reality, and so to create worlds, or at least worldviews, as sacred in scope. Drawing on a broad understanding of the concept, I want to think, as I believe Dick does, about ‘profane’ mediated texts of popular culture, and other texts, as sacred for what they do and for how they are understood. Juliana reflects that even the ‘gabble’ of Adolf Hitler, mad from venereal disease, remains ‘still sacred, still Holy Writ’, an infection producing the murderous policies of the Nazi Reich and, with the Nazis’ space-colonising ambitions, poised to contaminate other planets (p. 33). Dick places the functioning of traditional sacred texts at the center of his narrative through repeated references to the I Ching or Book of Changes.15 Essentially a character itself, the I Ching is consulted by Tagomi, Frank, Juliana, and Childan, all of whom expect its cryptic aphorisms selected from 64 hexagrams to communicate prophetic guidance about real events. ‘We are absurd’, Tagomi tells Baynes, ‘because we live by a five-thousand-year-old book. We ask it questions as if it were alive. It is alive. As is the Christian Bible; many books are actually alive. Not in metaphoric fashion. Spirit animates it. Do you see?’ (p. 62). In the series, Tagomi is the only character who consults the oracle as part of a regular discipline of meditation. In both the series and novel, however, his respect for the I Ching assumes the existence of a different plane of reality, one tellingly ignored by those without proper vision. As he dismissively sums up a German official: ‘he only understands the world he can see’ (‘The New World’). Dick himself famously consulted the I Ching in making plotting decisions for the novel (as Abendsen does in writing Grasshopper), including the results in his text as those obtained by his characters.16 More than just a novelty, Paul Mountford argues, Dick’s consultations channelled through the twelve readings described in the book provide ‘a kind of occluded patterning at the core of the novel, encapsulated in alternating doublets, pairings, and other complementarities between characters, in terms of their questions, the hexagrams they receive, and when they receive them’.17 The two final castings of hexagram 61, Chung Fu or ‘Inner Truth’, by Tagomi and Juliana, Mountford maintains, are key to understanding the level of uchronic or multi-world imagining Dick accomplishes. Tagomi receives his result as he tries to make sense of being momentarily shifted into the Zero Text of our history. Juliana receives hers in the company of Abendsen and his wife when she asks the I Ching why it directed Abendsen to write the particular plot of Grasshopper.18 The resulting realisation by the characters that ‘their world is a fiction and that the fictional world of Grasshopper is the real one’ is not so surprising to Dick’s readers since we are reading a book of fiction. ‘Yet, with this denouement’, Mountford observes, Dick undermines ‘our own sense of the real by asking: what if, by implication, this world is a fiction too?’19 In a sense, therefore, Grasshopper is for Dick just as telling an example of a text that could be considered sacred because of its power of world creation. Feared by the Germans as a threat to their control, and sought out by oppressed Americans as a hopeful vision of an alternative present, the novel possesses the kind of concurrently attractive and repellent power associated with the concept of ‘taboo’. As Joe tells Juliana, ‘I read it in the toilet. I hid it in a pillow. In fact, I read it because it was banned’ (p. 78). The copy Joe carries reflects its status as a text that is used, Juliana observes: ‘[t]he book had grease on it; pages were torn. Finger marks all over it. Read by truck drivers on the long haul, she thought. In the one-arm beaneries late at night’ (p. 74). On one level, Dick’s novel-in-the-novel structure considers the power of fiction to create narrative universes, an understanding of world-creation with potential metanarrative application. Grasshopper’s story-telling has exercised transformative power by summoning the possibility of a different universe, but so, in a way, has Dick’s own novel. Even more than that, however, Lawrence Sutin relates, ‘Dick himself would come to hope, in the final decade of his writing life, that his own novels and stories could fulfill a role analogous to that of Abendsen for his readers: to alert them that the consensual reality that grimly governed their daily lives … might not be as impregnable as it seemed’.20 In this, Dick embraces rather than rejects the association of his fiction with lowly popular culture. Grasshopper has ‘a lot of fictional parts’, one character admits. ‘I mean, it’s got to be entertaining or people wouldn’t read it’ (p. 60). Such entertainment value, in fact, helps link Grasshopper to other traditional sacred texts by contributing to its inspirational force. Even Freiherr Hugo Reiss, a German official, experiences that power as he reads it. ‘How that man can write, he thought. Completely carried me away. Real. Fall of Berlin to the British, as vivid as if it had actually taken place. Brrr. He shivered. Amazing, the power of fiction, even cheap popular fiction, to evoke. No wonder it’s banned within Reich territory; I’d ban it myself. Sorry I started it. But too late; must finish, now’ (p. 112). Others, however, reveal their lack of vision through responses to texts Dick suggests have similarly significant power. Childan, during his disastrous dinner with the Kasouras, admits he has never heard of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, which Paul perceives provides ‘[i]nsight of most original kind into meaning of pain for no reason, problem which all religions cope with’ (p. 102). Mr. Wyndham-Matson, owner of the factory where Frank works, has never read Grasshopper, though he claims to have heard of the author: ‘[b]ut actually he had not. All he could recall about the book was—what? That it was very popular right now. Another fad. Another mass craze. He bent down and stuck it back in the shelf. “I don’t have time to read popular fiction. I’m too busy with work”’ (p. 59). In the series, Tagomi, by contrast, consults a library’s collection of restricted books, which includes works by William Blake, Aldous Huxley, W.B. Yeats, and Sigmund Freud (‘The Road Less Traveled’). He specifically studies William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, which prompts a Dickian soliloquy: ‘when one is troubled by the reality of this world, it can be comforting to consider other possibilities, even if those possibilities disturb us, so strong is the desire to escape the tyranny of consciousness and the narrow boundaries of our perceptions, to unlock the prisons of thought in which we trap ourselves, all in the hope that a better world or a better version of ourselves perhaps may lie on the other side of the door’. His library visit is intercut with a scene of Joe reading Huckleberry Finn to his girlfriend Rita’s son, who asks about Huck’s musings over racial morality. ‘They burned that for a reason’, complains Rita (Jessie Fraser), another character lacking attuned appreciation, ‘he doesn’t need to read about those people’. The television series’ positioning of the Grasshopper newsreels expands on Dick’s sanctification of the Grasshopper novel. Not just German but also Japanese security forces as well as the Japanese Yakuza crime syndicate go to vicious lengths to confiscate the films, while members of the Resistance risk their lives to preserve them. ‘What’s so important about a film?’ Joe and in various ways other characters ask. ‘That film can change the world’, responds one Resistance operative. ‘I found the reason … for everything’, exudes Juliana’s sister, Trudy (Conor Leslie), shortly before being shot for her role in transporting a film. With a seemingly magical ability to reveal multiple formulations of how the past might have been and the future might be, but without an apparent source, the newsreels could be considered ‘received’ sacred texts, as in the Hindu concept of shruti for texts that have nonhuman origins. At the apexes of two networks of collection, two collectors—Abendsen and Hitler—recognise the potential significance of particular versions of the histories the films depict coming to pass.21 The multiplicity of the newsreels’ contents, however, highlights the responsibility individuals carry for their relationships with the competing mediated narratives. Lucy Collins (Emily Holmes), a Nazi wife, describes the work of her television executive husband in a totalitarian regime as deciding ‘what people think, or at least what makes it on to the news. To hear him describe it, it’s the same thing’ (‘Kintsugi’). Yet, ‘[d]estiny is in the hands of men’, Tagomi reminds Baynes (‘A New Day’), a phrase repeated in multiple contexts. Individuals seem to have some power to influence which film’s formulation comes to define their history, so that Juliana’s killing of Dixon as depicted in one film establishes that film’s train of events and avoids others. But at an even more fundamental level, responses to the films’ visions themselves can have world-shaping significance. Faced with a desperate choice, Juliana rejects a film’s depiction of Joe as a Nazi executioner, and saves his life when he claims to have changed (‘A Way Out’). ‘Oh God’, she concludes. ‘I don’t believe the film. I don’t believe it. I believe you’. IV. REAL AND FAKE In both the novel and series, therefore, the power of texts to establish worlds is at least in part dependent on the perspectives of those who engage them: ultimately, what defines a text as sacred is the willingness of individuals to consider it so, an important observation in assessing contemporary media landscapes. In the ambiguous denouement of Dick’s novel, which he admitted has most charitably been called ‘open-ended’, just what it means for Grasshopper to be true, for example, is left unclear. Abendsen and his wife resist the I Ching’s unnerving description of his novel as reality, but Juliana embraces the hope the reading represents, and thereby finds it effective. “‘How strange”, Juliana said [to Mrs. Abendsen]. “I never would have thought the truth would make you angry”. Truth, she thought. As terrible as death. But harder to find. I’m lucky’ (p. 229). Earlier she had revelled in her resonance with the novel: ‘[a]m I the only one who knows? I’ll bet I am; nobody else really understands Grasshopper but me—they just imagine they do’ (p. 219). If he had not actually written about a true alternate history, Abendsen at least ‘told us about our own world, she thought. … This, what’s around us now. … He wants us to see it for what it is. And I do, and more so each moment’ (p. 220). Yet, for Dick, even what it means to say something is ‘true’ is open to debate. His contemplation of multiple realities merges with questions of ‘authenticity’, including whether the term has meaning at all. As Rossi relates, the novel depicts a litany of duplicities, several of which are repeated in some form in the series: Wegener pretends to be Baynes; Frank attempts to pass as non-Jewish and successfully impersonates a representative of a Japanese admiral; Joe (last name Cinnadella in the novel) claims to be Italian, but is a possibly Swiss assassin helping the Germans eliminate Abendsen; a former Japanese imperial chief of staff travels to San Francisco under an assumed name; Abendsen, the ‘man in the high castle’, lives in a suburban home, not a fortress.22 In addition, supposedly respectable businessman Wyndam-Matson is, in fact, a fraudster. His company forges pre-war American artefacts to feed a market dependent on no one asking how many ‘antiquities’ might be fake. ‘Perhaps someday they would’, Frank thinks, ‘and the bubble would burst, the market would collapse even for the authentic pieces’ (pp. 43-44). Frank’s own work in producing small arms of the American Civil War and Frontier period is ‘good’ in the sense of being convincing fakes. This ironic recasting of the nature of quality is reinforced when a wholesale distributor draws back the curtain on the economy of simulacra: ‘I knew they were fakes’, he complains to Wyndam-Matson, ‘I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the lousy part’ (p. 55). Dick further complicates any straightforward dichotomy of real and fake through a didactic demonstration of the elusive value of ‘historicity’, or state of association with an historical event. As Wyndam-Matson explains, one of two Zippo lighters ‘was in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pocket when he was assassinated. And one wasn’t. One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object ever had. And one has nothing.’ Since ‘there’s no “mystical plasmic presence”, no “aura” around it,’” however, he argues, authenticity depends on some external proof, such as a certifying document, which itself could be fake. “‘I mean, a gun goes through a famous battle, like the Meuse-Argonne, and it’s the same as if it hadn’t, unless you know. It’s in here.” He tapped his head. “In the mind, not the gun.’” As a result, ‘the word “fake” meant nothing really, since the word “authentic” meant nothing really’ (pp. 57-58). Wyndam-Matson’s further assertion that quite apart from any historicity, ‘[a] Colt .44 is a Colt .44. …It has to do with bore and design, not when it was made’, however, suggests that there may be some validity to the quality of authenticity after all, though oddly often as a product of craftsmanship. Paul Kasoura identifies the original jewellery Frank makes after he leaves the factory as extraordinary. The pin is just ‘a piece of metal which has been melted until it has become shapeless’ and ‘represents nothing,’ he tells Childan. Even so, Paul is strangely drawn to the piece, recognising that the pin has ‘no historicity, and also no artistic, esthetic worth’, and still ‘partake[s] of some ethereal value—that is a marvel’ (p. 156). The creator of the pin has managed to infuse it with a sense of wu, Paul explains, translated by Childan as ‘wisdom’ or ‘comprehension’ (p. 155). By contemplating it, ‘we gain more wu ourselves. We experience the tranquility associated not with art but with holy things’, Paul concludes. ‘We evidently lack the word for an object like this. So you are right, Robert. It is authentically a new thing on the face of the world’. Tagomi’s shift to our Zero History as he meditates while holding one of the pins, and his similar fascination in the series with a necklace Frank made for Juliana, underscores Dick’s investment in this potential power of artistic creation to convey something ‘true’. A similar quality of authenticity seems to reside in at least some individuals, despite misleading appearances. Tagomi, for example, feels able to grasp the essence of Baynes’s character, even though Baynes is lying about his identity: ‘[t]o know a good man when he met him. Intuition about people. Cut through all ceremony and outward form. Penetrate to the heart… I like him, Mr. Tagomi said to himself. German or Swede’ (pp. 80-81). In the series, as exemplified by Juliana’s decision to save Joe, characters are constantly challenged to make life or death judgements about the inner natures of others, with various versions of the plea ‘trust me’ a repeated refrain. The book and series also highlight the processes by which characters come to understand their own natures. For all his obsequiousness, Childan rises to a new sense of identity as an American in rejecting Paul’s suggestion that he mass produce Frank’s jewellery as a ‘line of amulets to be peddled all over Latin America and the Orient’ (p. 158). The creators of the pin, Childan responds (to Paul’s actual pleasure), ‘are American proud artists. Myself included. To suggest trashy good-luck charms therefore insults us and I ask for apology’ (p. 162). In parallel developments in the series, Joe works toward a new self-understanding in relation to his high-ranking Nazi father, while Frank tries to find a sense of purpose and belonging by working with the Resistance. Most critical, however, is Abendsen’s reading of Juliana and her willingness to ‘bet on the best in us’ (‘Fallout’). He knew she would shoot Dixon to save Thomas because she ‘would do anything to save a sick boy, a Nazi boy even, because she would believe he deserved the chance, as slim as it might be, to live a valuable life’. Nuclear war is avoided and millions of lives saved because of ‘the choice you made, the goodness in you. One selfless act of love and hope. That’s what I put my money on.’ V. CONCLUSION In the end, for Dick in his nominalism, personal character seems to be the fundamental arena for working out what constitutes authentic engagement with competing representations of reality, a never-ending process still critical today. In an era of claims about ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, Dick might say an individual’s nature is revealed by her choices about which of multiple mediated sacred texts create her reality. Despite the significant licence Amazon’s series takes with the novel’s characters and plot, the first two seasons of The Man in the High Castle have perceptively translated key elements of Dick’s world-subverting and world-revealing vision for new audiences. Even without Amazon’s reconceptualisation, however, Dick’s novel is uncomfortably resonant more than 50 years after its writing. As emboldened Nazi and other White Nationalist groups march through American streets, threats of nuclear war resurface, and an American president creates his own alternative reality through mediated texts, it is apparent that Dick’s imaginative creation captured future history all too well. References Footnotes 1The Man in the High Castle. Created by Frank Spotnitz. Perf. Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rufus Sewell. Amazon Studios, 2015-2016. At the time of writing, the third season was scheduled to be released in 2018. 2 The credits segments for the two seasons are essentially the same in concept, though some of the images are different. 3 See Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979). 4 The first episode of the second season offers a similarly jarring disjunction as an American high school class rises to pledge allegiance to Adolf Hitler. 5 Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, in Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (New York: Library of America, 2007), 1-229. Henceforth all further references to this work will be cited parenthetically in the main text. 6 See, e.g., Philip K. Dick, ‘If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others’ (1977), in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, ed. Lawrence Sutin (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 233-258. 7 Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (New York: Anchor, 1986). The Handmaid’s Tale. Created by Bruce Miller. Perf. Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella, Amanda Brugel, Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer, O-T Fagbenie. Hulu, 2017-2018. 8 Lisa Allerdice, “Margaret Atwood: I am not a prophet. Science fiction is really about now,” The Guardian, January 20, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/20/margaret-atwood-i-am-not-a-prophet-science-fiction-is-about-now. 9 The series simplifies Dick’s geography by eliminating an apparently autonomous region called the South, characterised by a resurgence of antebellum race relations. 10 Philip K. Dick, ‘Nazism and The High Castle’, in Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, p. 116. 11Ibid., p. 117. 12 Lawrence Sutin, Introduction, Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, p. xv. 13 Umberto Rossi, ‘Obscure Admixtures: The Man in the High Castle Considered as a (Cold) War Novel’, The Twisted Worlds of Philip K. Dick: A Reading of Twenty Ontologically Uncertain Novels (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), p. 84. Rossi draws on Carlo Pagetti’s 1977 introduction to La svastica sul sole, an Italian-language edition of Dick’s novel. See R Barthes, S/Z: An Essay, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974). 14 Rossi, ‘Obscure Admixtures’, p. 85. 15 The series expands Dick’s investment in the idea of sacred texts by incorporating the reference to Ecclesiastes 12:05 in the Grasshopper Lies Heavy title as a plot device, and by adding a Nazi proscription of the Bible to elevate its status as a banned book. At least one member of the Resistance is identified as Muslim through his obedience to the Koran, a Jewish family recites the Kaddish prayers to mourn a death, and Frank dreams of reading the Haggadah aloud as he leads a Passover Seder with his sister and her children. 16 Paul Mountford, ‘The I Ching and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle’. Science Fiction Studies 43:2 (July 2016), p. 289. 17Ibid., p. 300. 18Ibid., p. 300-301. In the series, Tagomi and Juliana not only meet as employer and employee, but in ‘our’ reality Juliana is Tagomi’s daughter-in-law. 19Ibid., p. 303. 20 Sutin, Introduction, Shifting Realities, p. xiii. 21 In the series, Abendsen is not the source of the films but has expansive knowledge of their content. 22 Rossi, ‘Obscure Admixtures’, p. 89. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Literature and Theology Oxford University Press

Shifting Histories, Blurred Borders, and Mediated Sacred Texts in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle

Literature and Theology , Volume Advance Article (2) – May 30, 2018

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Abstract

Abstract Amazon Studios’ television adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle, an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II, highlights Dick’s preoccupation with issues of national and personal identity, the contingencies of history, and what we might call the sacred power of certain texts to shape reality by shaping worldviews. Dick gives the I Ching a central role in his novel, and consulted it himself for plot advice. This article argues that Dick elevates the world-creating influence of popular literature and media by positioning The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel-in-the-novel that depicts a history much like our own, as an equally ‘sacred’ text. The opening credits for each episode of the first two seasons of Amazon Studios’ television series The Man in the High Castle (2015-2016) begin with the whirr of a movie projector grinding to life, and the flickering glow of a projector’s lamp.1 The decidedly analogue sounds of film clicking through a projector’s gears introduce a mostly black and white sequence of images of war conducted against a backdrop of American landmarks.2 The movie motif flows into the opening moments of the first episode (‘The New World’) with a repeat of the projector lamp flare and instant immersion in celebratory scenes of happy, productive Americans who all know their places in society. Intermittent glimpses of a young man, who, we will learn, is named Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), sitting in a darkened movie theatre, contextualise the progression of shots as a newsreel, while the dated imagery and upbeat tone of the voice-over evoke social hygiene films of the 1950 s and 60 s. With the ‘cognitive estrangement’ typical of science fiction, to borrow a term from Darko Suvin, what is familiar and expected is suddenly tweaked to an unfamiliar ‘what if’ by a concluding image of an American flag bearing a swastika, and the narrator’s earnestly uttered ‘Sieg Heil.’3 Shots of Joe emerging from the theatre into a Times Square emblazoned with Nazi symbols add to the discomfiture, though a superimposed title offers at least some orientation: this is ‘The Greater Nazi Reich, New York City, 1962.’4 Despite or perhaps because of this calculated unsettlement, audiences familiar with the works of Philip K. Dick, and especially with the 1962 Hugo Award-winning novel on which the series is based, may actually feel at home with the emerging sense that we have been dropped into a parallel universe.5 In his eclectic exploration of an ever-shifting array of speculative ideas, Dick regularly entertained the suspicion that familiar reality available to our senses is not actually real, or at least cloaks other or deeper realities.6 Among his novels, The Man in the High Castle is a particularly striking example of a Dickian thought-experiment that assumes the possibility of fluid borders between alternative and even simultaneous chains of events. By emphasising the conceptualising power of visual media, both by evoking propagandistic newsreels of an earlier age, and by being itself a combination of recorded video and CGI, the Amazon series’ opening builds on Dick’s related penchant for claiming that knowledge of our mediated world is always indirect and subject to construction. What we understand to be ‘real’ or what ‘truly’ happened is determined by what and how we see, read, and hear. The novel’s adaptation across the disciplinary boundary between written and visual formats provides a helpful interpretive lens for illuminating its preoccupations. In particular, the series highlights Dick’s foregrounding of issues of national and personal identity, the contingencies of history, and what we might call the sacred power of certain texts to shape perception and hence, in a manner of speaking, reality. Amazon’s critically-acclaimed retelling of Dick’s tale makes consideration of his novel timely, but so has the global rise of right-wing and populist nationalism. Dick reminds us, through both the novel and series, that we face our own existential choices in relating to the mediated sacred texts that shape our worlds. As another creator of dystopian alternative histories has observed, the supposedly predictive power of science fiction is always rooted in the present of its time of creation. ‘I’m not a prophet’, asserts Margaret Atwood, author of the chilling ‘what if’ of reproductive slavery that is her 1984 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, also recently recast as a popular television series.7 Despite a trend for women to adopt the series’ iconic costumes to protest threats to women’s access to reproductive health care under a Donald Trump presidency, Atwood denies predicting such retrenchment when she wrote the book: ‘[p]rophecies are really about now. In science fiction it’s always about now. What else could it be about? There is no future. There are many possibilities, but we do not know which one we are going to have’.8 Dick’s novel, a product of the 1960s that looks back in time to reconceive World War II, may be just such an accidentally prophetic text. Its prescient immersion in questions of 20th century history, identity, and media, especially as revisited by the Amazon series, seems directed uncannily at 21st century readers. I. COMPLICATING BORDERS The visual toolbox of television helps clarify the geography of the novel, in which the Axis powers of Germany and Japan have won the war and divided an occupied United States into zones of influence: a Nazi-controlled region in the east, and a Japanese-controlled Pacific States in the west, separated by a buffer zone of the Rocky Mountain States (a largely lawless Neutral Zone in the series).9 In the credits sequence, a labelled map illustrates the divisions, while moving arrows indicate—again in newsreel style—the progress of invading forces. For Dick, the regional borders set up a context for exploring the more intangible boundaries of national and ethnic identity. His characters muse regularly about differences between types of people as indicated by, for example, distinguishing characteristics of Germans and Japanese. The rippling image of fused flags that concludes the credits encapsulates Dick’s presentation of these two countries as linked but uneasy and culturally distinct allies. Certainly for Frank Frink, an American Jewish machinist (played by Rupert Evans in the series), all occupiers are not created equal. Compared to the fanatical Germans with their genocidal campaigns, especially against Jews, he concludes, the Japanese at least represent a force of reason and legal order, ‘who would no more set up gas ovens than they would melt their wives into sealing wax’ (pp. 12-13). Frank’s ex-wife, Juliana (his girlfriend in the series, played by Alexa Davalos), shares his preference for the Japanese, summing up the Nazis as coldly cynical but enthusiastic, as though they ‘believed in nothing and yet somehow had absolute faith’ (p. 33). The distinction in the novel extends to the divergent emphases of the two empires, with the Japanese pursuing essentially altruistic governance of their occupied populations, while the Nazis apply their technological prowess to reconfiguring the racial and physical contours of the planet. Africa’s tribes have been ‘[w]iped out to make a land of—what? Who knew?’ Frank muses. ‘Maybe even the master architects in Berlin did not know. Bunch of automatons, building and toiling away. Building? Grinding down’ (p. 12). Such efforts to parse national character feed into subtler expositions of the nature of evil that nations perpetrate. Rudolph Wegener, a German Abwehr officer who masquerades as a Swedish trade envoy named Baynes (Victor Baynes in the series, played by Carsten Norgaard), wonders what predisposes Germans to their atrocities, even as his own commitment to stopping his countrymen makes him a notable exception: ‘[i]t is their unconsciousness… Their not being aware of what they do to others, the destruction they have caused and are causing. No, he thought. That isn’t it… But—they are purposelessly cruel … is that it? No. God, he thought, I can’t find it, make it clear’. The best explanation Baynes can muster is that the fault lies with ‘[t]heir view; it is cosmic. Not of a man here, a child there, but an abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. Blut. Ehre’. For them, he concludes, ‘[t]he abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them’ (pp. 37-38). In contrast to Baynes’s awakened perception of his own nation’s shortcomings, American antiquities dealer Robert Childan (played by Brennan Brown in the series) finds that the Germans’ racial doctrines fit all too well with his strong investment in maintaining ‘face’ or ‘place’ of social standing within a racial hierarchy. To Childan, the Germans possess a nobility of aspiration and accomplishment not matched by the Japanese, and show ‘what can be done where whites have conquered’ (p. 24). If they went too far in Africa, they had at least shown efficiency, he rationalises. Disdainful of the Japanese, but even more of the Chinese labourers who transport him in their pedecabs, and the African slaves who carry his bags, Childan is still obsequious in mimicking the Japanese culture of his patrons, and hyper-attuned to the opinions of those he considers his inferiors. Thrilled to be invited to dinner as an implied equal by a young Japanese couple, Paul and Betty Kasoura (played by Louis Ozawa Changchien and Tao Okamoto in the series), Childan revels in the momentary suspension of the hierarchical order. Yet he undercuts his own opportunity by expressing his racial prejudices and lack of appreciation for the complexity of American culture. He disappoints his more enlightened hosts by dismissing Jazz as ‘Negro music’ beneath his interest, and lauding the Axis victory as protection against a world controlled by Communists or Jews: ‘[p]ersonally, I do not believe any hysterical talk of “world inundation” by any people, Slavic or Chinese or Japanese’, admonishes Betty (p. 100). Just as 21st century realities of globalisation belie nativist fears of immigrants and ‘others who are not us,’ however, the book and the series are as much about the inevitable syncretism of intermingled societies, and the inadequacy of any generalisations about national identities or allegiances, as they are about difference. In a 1964 article on ‘Nazism and The High Castle’, Dick argues against his own efforts to make definitive statements about a nation or race, given the specificity of individuals: ‘we can no more hold a people responsible than we can hold any other mythical, semantic, nonactual entity responsible; German1 is not German2 and German2 is not German3 and so forth’.10 Using himself as an example, he asserts, ‘I am not a “white man.” My German friends are not “Germans,” nor my Jewish friends “Jews.” I am a nominalist. To me, there are only individual entities, not group entities such as race, blood, people, etc’.11 In addition to Baynes as a German outlier, Dick presents Trade Minister Nobosuke Tagomi, Baynes’ counterpart in the Japanese occupying force (played by Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa in the series), as both morally sensitive and heroic as he saves several lives, including Frank’s. The series develops his character more fully, making him an active resister of warmongering Japanese elements. Childan struggles to process his attraction to Japanese culture (and to Betty Kasoura). Juliana teaches Judo and in the series is adept at Akido. An American assistant to Tagomi darkens his skin to appear Japanese, and is offended when Tagomi seeks his expertise as ‘native born’ in selecting an appropriately American gift (p. 19). Meanwhile, the Kasouras and other Japanese patrons of Childan’s shop are fascinated with objects from America’s past. The series personifies the negative aspects of the occupying forces by introducing Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell), a high-ranking American collaborator in the Nazi SS, and Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido (Joel de la Fuente), head of the Japanese Kempeitai secret police, as a matched pair of cruelly devious spymasters. Kido even fails to live up to the appreciation of Japanese restraint expressed in the novel by using a gas chamber to kill Frank’s sister and her children (‘Sunrise’). Yet these distilled characterisations of evil are complicated as well, especially by the second season. Kido reveals self-sacrificial nobility in his commitment to his country (‘A Way Out’), and joins forces with Smith to draw their two nations back from the brink of nuclear war. Already positioned as strongly, if authoritatively, invested in family, Smith concocts an elaborate subterfuge to circumvent Nazi policies of eugenics when his son, Thomas (Quin Lord), is diagnosed with an incurable illness that would categorise him a disposable ‘useless eater’. With a certain playfulness, the series follows Dick’s exploration of cultural hybridity by offering modified examples of American entertainment that underscore popular media’s role in reflecting and shaping cultural assumptions. A television game show, ‘Guess My Game’, mimics ‘What’s My Line?’, but with a mystery guest who learned his ‘game’ as a Hitler youth (‘Sunrise’). Members of the Reich Police channel Dragnet’s monotone dialogue on the television show American Reich: ‘[i]f you’ve got a problem with Hitler, you’ve got a problem with me’ (‘The Road Less Traveled’). Baynes’ son reads Ranger Reich rather than Ranger Rick magazine (‘A Way Out’). As Joe leaves the movie theatre in the opening episode, a pull-back shot lingers on the movie marquee advertising The Punch Party, a movie Rock Hudson and June Allyson never made, but could have made as a sequel to The Punch Bowl (Die Feuerzangenbowle), a 1944 comedy popular in Germany. Perhaps the series’ most unsettling extrapolation of Dick’s blurring of cultures is the upper-middle-class Long Island lifestyle of Smith’s family. The ‘it could happen here’ element extends to recasting American symbols of the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving into VA, or Victory in America, Day, a holiday of patriotic bunting, fireworks, games of catch, and outdoor picnics of turkey and apple pie to celebrate Nazi conquest (‘Three Monkeys’). To return to the credits sequence, the soundtrack’s breathy, lisping rendition of ‘Edelweiss’ by Sweden’s Jeanette Olsson at first seems appropriately associated with Germany, if eerily incongruous with images of war, given Olsson’s tone of little girl innocence. On reflection, however, the song offers a multi-levelled underscoring of popular culture’s power to shape historical memory. Written by Americans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for their 1959 musical The Sound of Music, ‘Edelweiss’ owes its ubiquity as a cultural reference to the 1965 film that has given generations of audiences a sanitised exposure to the horror of National Socialism. In the play and film, it is a song of patriotic love not of Germany but of Austria in the face of German aggression, sung at a poignant moment of the Von Trapp family’s departure from their homeland. The song thus manages to simultaneously evoke Germanic culture, Nazism, resistance to Nazism, love of country, and deep loss despite not being a ‘real’ traditional song. II. ALTERNATE HISTORIES Such creative explorations of popular culture’s imbrication with national sensibility reflect Dick’s overarching project of inviting his readers to consider history itself as fluid by presenting our assumed past set slightly askew. Characters in his novel mingle references to familiar individuals and events with fictional ‘might-have-beens’ that constitute their history, such as the assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt after his first year of office (p. 59). One can learn a lot about the actual Third Reich by googling to see which of Dick’s descriptions of the military and political fortunes of Germany’s Nazi leaders are ‘real’ and which imagined. At the same time, Dick uses The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel-in-the-novel, to provide his characters with an inkling that the war’s outcome might have been different. Written by author Hawthorne Abendsen, the ‘man in the high castle’ of Dick’s title because he purportedly lives in a mountain stronghold, Grasshopper suggests that in some alternate history the Allies won the war. Not exactly our history, Abendsen’s description has the United States and the British Empire, rather than the United States and Russia, emerge from the war as rival global powers. In the series, the novel has been replaced by a collection of newsreels, all also labelled ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’, that show various permutations of historic and future events. As Abendsen (Stephen Root) explains, ‘each one of these films shows a reality like ours but not ours’ (‘The Tiger’s Cave’). The switch from novel to newsreel makes practical sense, given the visual medium of television. The newsreels’ centrality also emphasises again the power of publically-consumed media to establish, shape, or recast cultural perspectives. As characters watch the films, aural and visual references to movie technology serve as touchstone reminders that we are experiencing a mediated narrative that is itself at least partly about media. The sensory ‘thingness’ conveyed by close-ups of discrete parts of a projector’s clunky machinery, the separate steps of threading or rewinding film, a projector’s lamp haloing or silhouetting a character’s head, and even film melting as it burns, makes the intangible tangible. By emphasising the tactility of film projection, these punctuating segments give concrete form to media’s ephemeral nature as process or influence, the often-unacknowledged water through which a global citizenry swims like fish. Ultimately, Dick’s novel asks that all understandings of history, as of national identity, be seen as contingent because they are shaped by the mediated texts we consume, a truism that might be supported by comparing the presentations of almost any contemporary political story on conservative versus progressive media outlets. Building on a schema developed by Carlo Pagetti to distinguish the various histories at work, Umberto Rossi calls the shared history of Dick’s readers the Zero Text. This, ‘our’ so-called reality, is what Dick often referred to as the koinos kosmos or ‘common universe’ after Heraclitus,12 and Roland Barthes in his five-fold narrative code calls the ‘cultural’ or ‘referential’ code of mutually assumed knowledge.13 In the short-hand of this reality, at least as widely assumed in the 1960s, the United States emerged from World War II as a major power committed to advancing global well-being and making the world safe for democracy. The Primary Text or history in the Pagetti/Rossi charting is the story of Dick’s fictional narrative, in which Germany and Japan won the war. The Secondary Text is the approximation of our Zero History conveyed in Grasshopper. Rossi reads High Castle as a Cold War novel, however, with Dick pushing his readers to be more cognisant of a fourth text, an alternative version of Zero History that emphasises the West’s post-war imperialism and destructive investment in nuclear geopolitics. In this history, obscured by the opaquing investment by media of his day in the original Zero Text’s mythology of American goodness, ‘the world lives under the menace of nuclear war, USA and USSR waste their resources due to militaristic politics, Third World countries are exploited and ultimately destroyed, and—notwithstanding the apparent decolonization process—indirectly controlled by the great powers’.14 By turning the tables on his readers with the narrative experiment of an occupied America, Dick asks them to contemplate global hegemony as practiced by the United States and other Western powers. At his most generous, Dick may be asking his readers to realise that they are, at best, such semi-benevolent occupiers as the Japanese. Rossi, however, sees Dick likening Americans to the Germans in their mindless inattention to the nature of their actions that Baynes describes. In this, the first season of the series falls short of Dick’s vision. With their depictions of the harsh exigencies of living in an occupied nation, and with references to what has not happened in the Primary History of Dick’s invented world, such as the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the episodes push contemporary audiences to think critically about the United States’ role on the global stage. But, the season’s story arc of courageous American Resistance fighters does not encourage quite the same national soul-searching Dick advanced. The second season’s expanded characterisation and plot development corrects that as brutal ‘ends-justifies-the-means’ tactics of certain members of the Resistance, including sacrificing civilians to generate terror, cloud the movement’s moral standing. ‘Look at you in that uniform—it suits you’, Juliana accuses George Dixon (Tate Donovan), a Resistance fighter dressed as a Nazi, who plans to destroy Smith by revealing Thomas’s illness. Dixon doesn’t disagree: ‘if we’re going to beat them, we need to be worse’ (“Fallout”). III. MEDIATED SACRED TEXTS For Dick, how we engage with the texts that establish our understandings of history and thus of who we are is critical. It may be helpful, in fact, in approaching the novel as well as the series, to think of the abilities of texts to create perceptions of reality, and so to create worlds, or at least worldviews, as sacred in scope. Drawing on a broad understanding of the concept, I want to think, as I believe Dick does, about ‘profane’ mediated texts of popular culture, and other texts, as sacred for what they do and for how they are understood. Juliana reflects that even the ‘gabble’ of Adolf Hitler, mad from venereal disease, remains ‘still sacred, still Holy Writ’, an infection producing the murderous policies of the Nazi Reich and, with the Nazis’ space-colonising ambitions, poised to contaminate other planets (p. 33). Dick places the functioning of traditional sacred texts at the center of his narrative through repeated references to the I Ching or Book of Changes.15 Essentially a character itself, the I Ching is consulted by Tagomi, Frank, Juliana, and Childan, all of whom expect its cryptic aphorisms selected from 64 hexagrams to communicate prophetic guidance about real events. ‘We are absurd’, Tagomi tells Baynes, ‘because we live by a five-thousand-year-old book. We ask it questions as if it were alive. It is alive. As is the Christian Bible; many books are actually alive. Not in metaphoric fashion. Spirit animates it. Do you see?’ (p. 62). In the series, Tagomi is the only character who consults the oracle as part of a regular discipline of meditation. In both the series and novel, however, his respect for the I Ching assumes the existence of a different plane of reality, one tellingly ignored by those without proper vision. As he dismissively sums up a German official: ‘he only understands the world he can see’ (‘The New World’). Dick himself famously consulted the I Ching in making plotting decisions for the novel (as Abendsen does in writing Grasshopper), including the results in his text as those obtained by his characters.16 More than just a novelty, Paul Mountford argues, Dick’s consultations channelled through the twelve readings described in the book provide ‘a kind of occluded patterning at the core of the novel, encapsulated in alternating doublets, pairings, and other complementarities between characters, in terms of their questions, the hexagrams they receive, and when they receive them’.17 The two final castings of hexagram 61, Chung Fu or ‘Inner Truth’, by Tagomi and Juliana, Mountford maintains, are key to understanding the level of uchronic or multi-world imagining Dick accomplishes. Tagomi receives his result as he tries to make sense of being momentarily shifted into the Zero Text of our history. Juliana receives hers in the company of Abendsen and his wife when she asks the I Ching why it directed Abendsen to write the particular plot of Grasshopper.18 The resulting realisation by the characters that ‘their world is a fiction and that the fictional world of Grasshopper is the real one’ is not so surprising to Dick’s readers since we are reading a book of fiction. ‘Yet, with this denouement’, Mountford observes, Dick undermines ‘our own sense of the real by asking: what if, by implication, this world is a fiction too?’19 In a sense, therefore, Grasshopper is for Dick just as telling an example of a text that could be considered sacred because of its power of world creation. Feared by the Germans as a threat to their control, and sought out by oppressed Americans as a hopeful vision of an alternative present, the novel possesses the kind of concurrently attractive and repellent power associated with the concept of ‘taboo’. As Joe tells Juliana, ‘I read it in the toilet. I hid it in a pillow. In fact, I read it because it was banned’ (p. 78). The copy Joe carries reflects its status as a text that is used, Juliana observes: ‘[t]he book had grease on it; pages were torn. Finger marks all over it. Read by truck drivers on the long haul, she thought. In the one-arm beaneries late at night’ (p. 74). On one level, Dick’s novel-in-the-novel structure considers the power of fiction to create narrative universes, an understanding of world-creation with potential metanarrative application. Grasshopper’s story-telling has exercised transformative power by summoning the possibility of a different universe, but so, in a way, has Dick’s own novel. Even more than that, however, Lawrence Sutin relates, ‘Dick himself would come to hope, in the final decade of his writing life, that his own novels and stories could fulfill a role analogous to that of Abendsen for his readers: to alert them that the consensual reality that grimly governed their daily lives … might not be as impregnable as it seemed’.20 In this, Dick embraces rather than rejects the association of his fiction with lowly popular culture. Grasshopper has ‘a lot of fictional parts’, one character admits. ‘I mean, it’s got to be entertaining or people wouldn’t read it’ (p. 60). Such entertainment value, in fact, helps link Grasshopper to other traditional sacred texts by contributing to its inspirational force. Even Freiherr Hugo Reiss, a German official, experiences that power as he reads it. ‘How that man can write, he thought. Completely carried me away. Real. Fall of Berlin to the British, as vivid as if it had actually taken place. Brrr. He shivered. Amazing, the power of fiction, even cheap popular fiction, to evoke. No wonder it’s banned within Reich territory; I’d ban it myself. Sorry I started it. But too late; must finish, now’ (p. 112). Others, however, reveal their lack of vision through responses to texts Dick suggests have similarly significant power. Childan, during his disastrous dinner with the Kasouras, admits he has never heard of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, which Paul perceives provides ‘[i]nsight of most original kind into meaning of pain for no reason, problem which all religions cope with’ (p. 102). Mr. Wyndham-Matson, owner of the factory where Frank works, has never read Grasshopper, though he claims to have heard of the author: ‘[b]ut actually he had not. All he could recall about the book was—what? That it was very popular right now. Another fad. Another mass craze. He bent down and stuck it back in the shelf. “I don’t have time to read popular fiction. I’m too busy with work”’ (p. 59). In the series, Tagomi, by contrast, consults a library’s collection of restricted books, which includes works by William Blake, Aldous Huxley, W.B. Yeats, and Sigmund Freud (‘The Road Less Traveled’). He specifically studies William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, which prompts a Dickian soliloquy: ‘when one is troubled by the reality of this world, it can be comforting to consider other possibilities, even if those possibilities disturb us, so strong is the desire to escape the tyranny of consciousness and the narrow boundaries of our perceptions, to unlock the prisons of thought in which we trap ourselves, all in the hope that a better world or a better version of ourselves perhaps may lie on the other side of the door’. His library visit is intercut with a scene of Joe reading Huckleberry Finn to his girlfriend Rita’s son, who asks about Huck’s musings over racial morality. ‘They burned that for a reason’, complains Rita (Jessie Fraser), another character lacking attuned appreciation, ‘he doesn’t need to read about those people’. The television series’ positioning of the Grasshopper newsreels expands on Dick’s sanctification of the Grasshopper novel. Not just German but also Japanese security forces as well as the Japanese Yakuza crime syndicate go to vicious lengths to confiscate the films, while members of the Resistance risk their lives to preserve them. ‘What’s so important about a film?’ Joe and in various ways other characters ask. ‘That film can change the world’, responds one Resistance operative. ‘I found the reason … for everything’, exudes Juliana’s sister, Trudy (Conor Leslie), shortly before being shot for her role in transporting a film. With a seemingly magical ability to reveal multiple formulations of how the past might have been and the future might be, but without an apparent source, the newsreels could be considered ‘received’ sacred texts, as in the Hindu concept of shruti for texts that have nonhuman origins. At the apexes of two networks of collection, two collectors—Abendsen and Hitler—recognise the potential significance of particular versions of the histories the films depict coming to pass.21 The multiplicity of the newsreels’ contents, however, highlights the responsibility individuals carry for their relationships with the competing mediated narratives. Lucy Collins (Emily Holmes), a Nazi wife, describes the work of her television executive husband in a totalitarian regime as deciding ‘what people think, or at least what makes it on to the news. To hear him describe it, it’s the same thing’ (‘Kintsugi’). Yet, ‘[d]estiny is in the hands of men’, Tagomi reminds Baynes (‘A New Day’), a phrase repeated in multiple contexts. Individuals seem to have some power to influence which film’s formulation comes to define their history, so that Juliana’s killing of Dixon as depicted in one film establishes that film’s train of events and avoids others. But at an even more fundamental level, responses to the films’ visions themselves can have world-shaping significance. Faced with a desperate choice, Juliana rejects a film’s depiction of Joe as a Nazi executioner, and saves his life when he claims to have changed (‘A Way Out’). ‘Oh God’, she concludes. ‘I don’t believe the film. I don’t believe it. I believe you’. IV. REAL AND FAKE In both the novel and series, therefore, the power of texts to establish worlds is at least in part dependent on the perspectives of those who engage them: ultimately, what defines a text as sacred is the willingness of individuals to consider it so, an important observation in assessing contemporary media landscapes. In the ambiguous denouement of Dick’s novel, which he admitted has most charitably been called ‘open-ended’, just what it means for Grasshopper to be true, for example, is left unclear. Abendsen and his wife resist the I Ching’s unnerving description of his novel as reality, but Juliana embraces the hope the reading represents, and thereby finds it effective. “‘How strange”, Juliana said [to Mrs. Abendsen]. “I never would have thought the truth would make you angry”. Truth, she thought. As terrible as death. But harder to find. I’m lucky’ (p. 229). Earlier she had revelled in her resonance with the novel: ‘[a]m I the only one who knows? I’ll bet I am; nobody else really understands Grasshopper but me—they just imagine they do’ (p. 219). If he had not actually written about a true alternate history, Abendsen at least ‘told us about our own world, she thought. … This, what’s around us now. … He wants us to see it for what it is. And I do, and more so each moment’ (p. 220). Yet, for Dick, even what it means to say something is ‘true’ is open to debate. His contemplation of multiple realities merges with questions of ‘authenticity’, including whether the term has meaning at all. As Rossi relates, the novel depicts a litany of duplicities, several of which are repeated in some form in the series: Wegener pretends to be Baynes; Frank attempts to pass as non-Jewish and successfully impersonates a representative of a Japanese admiral; Joe (last name Cinnadella in the novel) claims to be Italian, but is a possibly Swiss assassin helping the Germans eliminate Abendsen; a former Japanese imperial chief of staff travels to San Francisco under an assumed name; Abendsen, the ‘man in the high castle’, lives in a suburban home, not a fortress.22 In addition, supposedly respectable businessman Wyndam-Matson is, in fact, a fraudster. His company forges pre-war American artefacts to feed a market dependent on no one asking how many ‘antiquities’ might be fake. ‘Perhaps someday they would’, Frank thinks, ‘and the bubble would burst, the market would collapse even for the authentic pieces’ (pp. 43-44). Frank’s own work in producing small arms of the American Civil War and Frontier period is ‘good’ in the sense of being convincing fakes. This ironic recasting of the nature of quality is reinforced when a wholesale distributor draws back the curtain on the economy of simulacra: ‘I knew they were fakes’, he complains to Wyndam-Matson, ‘I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the lousy part’ (p. 55). Dick further complicates any straightforward dichotomy of real and fake through a didactic demonstration of the elusive value of ‘historicity’, or state of association with an historical event. As Wyndam-Matson explains, one of two Zippo lighters ‘was in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pocket when he was assassinated. And one wasn’t. One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object ever had. And one has nothing.’ Since ‘there’s no “mystical plasmic presence”, no “aura” around it,’” however, he argues, authenticity depends on some external proof, such as a certifying document, which itself could be fake. “‘I mean, a gun goes through a famous battle, like the Meuse-Argonne, and it’s the same as if it hadn’t, unless you know. It’s in here.” He tapped his head. “In the mind, not the gun.’” As a result, ‘the word “fake” meant nothing really, since the word “authentic” meant nothing really’ (pp. 57-58). Wyndam-Matson’s further assertion that quite apart from any historicity, ‘[a] Colt .44 is a Colt .44. …It has to do with bore and design, not when it was made’, however, suggests that there may be some validity to the quality of authenticity after all, though oddly often as a product of craftsmanship. Paul Kasoura identifies the original jewellery Frank makes after he leaves the factory as extraordinary. The pin is just ‘a piece of metal which has been melted until it has become shapeless’ and ‘represents nothing,’ he tells Childan. Even so, Paul is strangely drawn to the piece, recognising that the pin has ‘no historicity, and also no artistic, esthetic worth’, and still ‘partake[s] of some ethereal value—that is a marvel’ (p. 156). The creator of the pin has managed to infuse it with a sense of wu, Paul explains, translated by Childan as ‘wisdom’ or ‘comprehension’ (p. 155). By contemplating it, ‘we gain more wu ourselves. We experience the tranquility associated not with art but with holy things’, Paul concludes. ‘We evidently lack the word for an object like this. So you are right, Robert. It is authentically a new thing on the face of the world’. Tagomi’s shift to our Zero History as he meditates while holding one of the pins, and his similar fascination in the series with a necklace Frank made for Juliana, underscores Dick’s investment in this potential power of artistic creation to convey something ‘true’. A similar quality of authenticity seems to reside in at least some individuals, despite misleading appearances. Tagomi, for example, feels able to grasp the essence of Baynes’s character, even though Baynes is lying about his identity: ‘[t]o know a good man when he met him. Intuition about people. Cut through all ceremony and outward form. Penetrate to the heart… I like him, Mr. Tagomi said to himself. German or Swede’ (pp. 80-81). In the series, as exemplified by Juliana’s decision to save Joe, characters are constantly challenged to make life or death judgements about the inner natures of others, with various versions of the plea ‘trust me’ a repeated refrain. The book and series also highlight the processes by which characters come to understand their own natures. For all his obsequiousness, Childan rises to a new sense of identity as an American in rejecting Paul’s suggestion that he mass produce Frank’s jewellery as a ‘line of amulets to be peddled all over Latin America and the Orient’ (p. 158). The creators of the pin, Childan responds (to Paul’s actual pleasure), ‘are American proud artists. Myself included. To suggest trashy good-luck charms therefore insults us and I ask for apology’ (p. 162). In parallel developments in the series, Joe works toward a new self-understanding in relation to his high-ranking Nazi father, while Frank tries to find a sense of purpose and belonging by working with the Resistance. Most critical, however, is Abendsen’s reading of Juliana and her willingness to ‘bet on the best in us’ (‘Fallout’). He knew she would shoot Dixon to save Thomas because she ‘would do anything to save a sick boy, a Nazi boy even, because she would believe he deserved the chance, as slim as it might be, to live a valuable life’. Nuclear war is avoided and millions of lives saved because of ‘the choice you made, the goodness in you. One selfless act of love and hope. That’s what I put my money on.’ V. CONCLUSION In the end, for Dick in his nominalism, personal character seems to be the fundamental arena for working out what constitutes authentic engagement with competing representations of reality, a never-ending process still critical today. In an era of claims about ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, Dick might say an individual’s nature is revealed by her choices about which of multiple mediated sacred texts create her reality. Despite the significant licence Amazon’s series takes with the novel’s characters and plot, the first two seasons of The Man in the High Castle have perceptively translated key elements of Dick’s world-subverting and world-revealing vision for new audiences. Even without Amazon’s reconceptualisation, however, Dick’s novel is uncomfortably resonant more than 50 years after its writing. As emboldened Nazi and other White Nationalist groups march through American streets, threats of nuclear war resurface, and an American president creates his own alternative reality through mediated texts, it is apparent that Dick’s imaginative creation captured future history all too well. References Footnotes 1The Man in the High Castle. Created by Frank Spotnitz. Perf. Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rufus Sewell. Amazon Studios, 2015-2016. At the time of writing, the third season was scheduled to be released in 2018. 2 The credits segments for the two seasons are essentially the same in concept, though some of the images are different. 3 See Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979). 4 The first episode of the second season offers a similarly jarring disjunction as an American high school class rises to pledge allegiance to Adolf Hitler. 5 Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, in Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (New York: Library of America, 2007), 1-229. Henceforth all further references to this work will be cited parenthetically in the main text. 6 See, e.g., Philip K. Dick, ‘If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others’ (1977), in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, ed. Lawrence Sutin (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 233-258. 7 Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (New York: Anchor, 1986). The Handmaid’s Tale. Created by Bruce Miller. Perf. Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella, Amanda Brugel, Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer, O-T Fagbenie. Hulu, 2017-2018. 8 Lisa Allerdice, “Margaret Atwood: I am not a prophet. Science fiction is really about now,” The Guardian, January 20, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/20/margaret-atwood-i-am-not-a-prophet-science-fiction-is-about-now. 9 The series simplifies Dick’s geography by eliminating an apparently autonomous region called the South, characterised by a resurgence of antebellum race relations. 10 Philip K. Dick, ‘Nazism and The High Castle’, in Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, p. 116. 11Ibid., p. 117. 12 Lawrence Sutin, Introduction, Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, p. xv. 13 Umberto Rossi, ‘Obscure Admixtures: The Man in the High Castle Considered as a (Cold) War Novel’, The Twisted Worlds of Philip K. Dick: A Reading of Twenty Ontologically Uncertain Novels (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), p. 84. Rossi draws on Carlo Pagetti’s 1977 introduction to La svastica sul sole, an Italian-language edition of Dick’s novel. See R Barthes, S/Z: An Essay, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974). 14 Rossi, ‘Obscure Admixtures’, p. 85. 15 The series expands Dick’s investment in the idea of sacred texts by incorporating the reference to Ecclesiastes 12:05 in the Grasshopper Lies Heavy title as a plot device, and by adding a Nazi proscription of the Bible to elevate its status as a banned book. At least one member of the Resistance is identified as Muslim through his obedience to the Koran, a Jewish family recites the Kaddish prayers to mourn a death, and Frank dreams of reading the Haggadah aloud as he leads a Passover Seder with his sister and her children. 16 Paul Mountford, ‘The I Ching and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle’. Science Fiction Studies 43:2 (July 2016), p. 289. 17Ibid., p. 300. 18Ibid., p. 300-301. In the series, Tagomi and Juliana not only meet as employer and employee, but in ‘our’ reality Juliana is Tagomi’s daughter-in-law. 19Ibid., p. 303. 20 Sutin, Introduction, Shifting Realities, p. xiii. 21 In the series, Abendsen is not the source of the films but has expansive knowledge of their content. 22 Rossi, ‘Obscure Admixtures’, p. 89. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Literature and TheologyOxford University Press

Published: May 30, 2018

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