Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Prompt 2: Marcuse and Dick

Phillip K Dick criticizes society’s resignation of technology’s advances to standardize human perception through . Similarly, Herbert Marcuse divides human perception into inner and outer dimensions, conceding that political and economic power structures that control our society have polluted our outer dimension with an illusion of false needs and beliefs. In recent development of our own society, the exponential advancement of technology has trespassed our last vestige of individuality: our inner dimension.  Without this personal dimension we resign ourselves to the status quo of society however harmful the norm may be to ourselves. In his novel, Dick creates a microcosm of our own society by developing social structures that use technology to infiltrate the inner dimensions of members in this deteriorating society.  
One of the most powerful social structures implemented in Deckard’s world is “Mercerism,” which is the “religion” of the masses. Mercerism is the immersion of one’s self through the empathy box into the shoes of Wilbur Mercer who himself resigns himself to be berated and harmed by an antagonistic external source.  Mercer is an icon of passiveness and guides Deckard to “Go and do [his] task, even though [he] know it’s wrong” (178).  This conditioning of Deckard to be passive is an attack on his ability to deny the status quo through “transposing the outer into the inner”, or what Marcuse what refer to as “introjection.”  When the ability of introjection is lost then inner self has accepted it’s current state just as Mercer has.  Marcuse asserts that the “prevailing forms of social control are technological,” which is exemplified in Mercerism by the use of the empathy box.  The empathy box, a piece of technology, is an essential tool that promotes the efficacy of Mercerism in pacifying the masses.  This advanced technology allows the political and economic power structures to indoctrinate the passivity that is required to maintain the status quo they have created.       
The status quo of both Deckard’s society and our own is characterized by selfish motives such as want and greed.  By succumbing to the cultural norm of consumerism, we feed into and enable the system that perpetuates our state of affairs.  Dick illustrates this through Deckard’s willingness to give in to the intrusive power of Mercerism and performing a task that he knew was wrong and his subsequent attempts to alleviate the guilt and pain by purchasing a real goat.  After learning that Rachel had killed the goat, Deckard passively accepts his fate, saying “‘I’ll be alright,’” to his wife, but thinking to himself, “and I’m going to die.  Both those are true” (227).  This resigned and morose attitude is apparent in many characters throughout the novel and is almost always eased by the introduction of a new possession.  In this specific instance, Deckard, upon finding the toad felt like “a kid again” (238).  Despite working so hard to obtain the goat, when it was gone he accepted the news without emotion.  However after getting a new possession, the toad, he immediately became happy again.  By creating a reality in which the only happiness is received from objects, in essence, the power structures enslave the population.
Once passivity is indoctrinated to the masses, it perpetuates itself by alienating the members of society who disagree with the status quo.  The detrimental loss of inner self and genuine emotion is illustrated in Deckard’s wife, Rachel, who initially embraced her inner self and refused to go along with the “norm” but progressively became more apathetic and unable to control her utter lack of emotion.  Marcuse’s idea of introjection is illustrated in Iran when at the very beginning in the novel she “realized how unhealthy it was, sensing the absence of life...and not reacting”  (5).  Her realization that her apathy was an ailment, a sign of mental illness, she decided to set her mood organ to despair in an attempt to feel some sort of emotion that strayed from the norm.  However, Deckard, already enslaved by the power structures in place, alienates her to the point that she begins to believe that she is in the wrong when she says, “Okay, I give up; Ill dial anything you want me to be” (7).  This illustrates Marcuse’s point that the “intellectual and emotional refusal "to go along" appears neurotic and impotent.”  The stigma that is associated with being “crazy” causes most dissidents to resign along with their already indoctrinated peers.  

Through his depiction of character development between Deckard and his wife, Dick illustrates the increasingly intrusive influence that technology has on our society and uses stark exaggerations, such as the empathy box, to show that these advancements can penetrate even our most inner thoughts.

2 comments:

Caleb Radomile said...

You have a decent thesis, talking about the relation of Marcuse's one dimension in DADES, but I think it could be stated more clearly rather than just alluding to it in the intro. Your examples make some sense, but I feel like they need more clarification if you're really trying to prove your point. In the second paragraph you say Mercerism is about passiveness and resignation, but then go on in the third paragraph and relate it to greed and selfishness.Those qualities don't exactly go together well, but if you can figure out a better way to clarify it and make it work, go for it. The third paragraph needs more tie in's with Marcuse. What would he have to say about a greedy, selfish society? The fourth paragraph would be better if you didn't all of a sudden jump to talking about Rachael in between discussing Iran. I would separate Rachael from Iran and expand on her character more there for revision.

Adam said...

I don't understand the 1st sentence. The rest of the 1st paragraph is defensible as a reading of/ variation upon Marcuse. The thesis is a little awkwardly written, but interesting.

The 2nd paragraph seems like an excellent interpretation of Philip K. Dick, using details of both tests skillfully.

In the 3rd paragraph, I couldn't help thinking that the toad in the novel functions something like the cake in Portal - it's both fake and all-important. While I think this paragraph is a good reading of the text, I'm not sure it doesn't do much that the 2nd paragraph didn't already do - it's almost another example of introjection. Maybe you should be more explicit about what you're trying to do here?

Your reading of Iran seems underdeveloped. Is she a passive victim of introjection (presumably by Mercerism), is she struggling to authentically resist the status quo (engaging, perhaps, in something like Marcuse's Great Refusal), or is it more complicated? This is a society where people resist, or try to resist, the beliefs which have been imposed upon them - to what extent do they succeed or fail, and what does that success or failure mean?

Your discussion of introjection and passivity is good. I would like to see you develop that reading through the more challenging moments in the text (the discussion of Iran where you struggle), or perhaps turn it back more on our world, asking whether this is an accurate representation of us, and if so, what do we do with that understanding.