Late for the canonization

The Library of America’s descent into disreputable literary genres continues, I’m happy to say, with news that an edition devoted to Philip K. Dick will be released next year. Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude) disclosed at the end of this interview in The Elegant Variation that he will edit the volume.

First H.P. Lovecraft gets to enter the Black Jacket Society, now PKD gets to join! Horror fiction has long been at least semi-respectable to mainstream critics, but science fiction remains the most cootie-laden genre in American literature. I’d love to think that this LoA move shows that snobbery is a diminishing force among the literati — who have yet to come to terms with the grubby mass-market roots of American literature — but in PKD’s case it probably represents two decades of counterculture recognition and growing academic respectability. Though there’s no denying that PKD’s preoccupations — the shaky foundations of identity, distorted perceptions of reality, totalitarian abuses of power — give his work continuing relevance where so many other SF writers seem quaint and mired in their times.

Lethem says the LoA book will feature “four of his novels from the sixties,” which rules out A Scanner Darkly, PKD’s mid-1970s masterpiece, and fan favorites likes VALIS and The Divine Invasion. Though Lethem doesn’t let on which novel’s he’ll choose, I predict we’ll see The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, UbikThe Man in the High Castle, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep — the last not simply because it’s a superb book, but because of the critical cachet from Ridley Scott’s hugely overrated film version, Blade Runner.

All of this credibility comes a bit late for the writer — PKD’s been dead for two decades. It also opens up a universe of possibilities for editions of other underrecognized authors in the field of imaginative literature.

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