Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ubik - Use Only as Directed

Who are we? Where are we? Why are we? How are we? What are we? Who is everyone else? Where is everyone else? These are questions explored by Philip K Dick in "Ubik", the book I read this week. And although these questions are explored, played with, turned over and the maker's initial carefully scrutinized we are left at the end pretty much where we came in. Nothing is explained because it cannot be explained, all that has happened is that the inexplicability has been lovingly documented. The notions of time, place and what it means to exist are shown in full view of the reader to be whatever you consider them to be at the present moment. Application of Occam's Razor to existance yields tanilizingly little certainty. In fact the whole book is a thorough examination and explanation of Descarte's "Cogito Ergo Sum".

Many have questioned why the book is called "Ubik", when the eponymous item in the story is far from ubiquitous, it is in fact incredibly scarce. I take it that the Ubik aerosol represents our knowledge of ourselves and what we believe we are. Therefore the aquisition of Ubik is more about self-discovery and awakening to the knowledge that the only thing you can be sure of is yourself than it is about redemption as some have chosen to interpret it.

Whatever Ubik may be the notions of what it means to be alive, what it means to interact with others and how we place ourselves in the universes we create are central to much of Dick's philosophy so far as I've been able to tell in my limited reading of his work. The repeated stripping away of layers of apparent reality to be replaced by something different which also doesn't quite make sense is a much more satisfying experience than the shallow "Here's reality. Oh no actually THIS is reality" hokum of fiction like "The Matrix" films. The idea that there is an explanation of everything, that we can if we strip away enough layers find the truth is an appealing idea to a rational creature, but the problem is that we never can peel away the layers of reality because that is the place we inhabit. You cannot step away from yourself.

I enjoyed this book very much, I liked the style and the narrative but I've enjoyed thinking about the themes it raised afterwards even more than the book itself.


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