Study Guide

The Man in the High Castle Art and Culture

By Philip K. Dick

Art and Culture

He had been able to procure, miraculously, an almost mint copy of Volume One, Number One of Tip Top Comics. Dating from the 'thirties, it was a choice piece of Americana; one of the first funny books, a prize collectors searched for constantly. (2.48)

One nice thing about time is that it takes cheap things, like a comic book, and makes them into collector's items. Maybe this is Philip K. Dick, science fiction author, telling us that his work will one day be considered valuable. But maybe it's also a comment on how anything labeled as "Americana" can be sold here.

"But that's the task of art," Lotze said. "To advance the spirituality of man, over the sensual. Your abstract art represented a period of spiritual decadence, of spiritual chaos, due to the disintegration of society, the old plutocracy. The Jewish and capitalist millionaires, the international set that supported the decadent art. Those times are over; art has to-go on—it can't stay still." (3.96)

Lotze's feelings here are pretty standard Nazi thought about art: blah blah, modernism bad, Jews bad. (The Nazis banned a lot of art. Weirdly, they put on an art show with all that banned art. It was, of course, very popular.) So here's Lotze explaining to us how art has to fit into his politics to be any good.

"It's in fiction form," she said. "Naturally, it's got a lot of fictional parts; I mean, it's got to be entertaining or people wouldn't read it. It has a human-interest theme; there's these two young people, the boy is in the American Army. The girl—well, anyhow, President Tugwell is really smart. He understands what the Japs are going to do." Anxiously, she said, "It's all right to talk about this; the Japs have let it be circulated in the Pacific. I read that a lot of them are reading it. It's popular in the Home Islands. It's stirred up a lot of talk." (5.62)

We'd love to read more about Rita, though her main "role" here is as information source. First, she notes that the book isn't just about the alternate history, but needs a human-interest theme (that is, a love story) to get people to read it. (Is that how Dick does it?) Second, she notes that the Japanese didn't ban the Grasshopper book, like the Nazis did, showing that these different governments have different approaches.

"We are absurd," Mr. Tagomi said, "because we live by a five-thousand-year-old book. We set 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?" He inspected Mr. Baynes' face for his reaction. (5.93)

Baynes may think that Tagomi's relation to the I Ching is weird. But Tagomi sees some cultural similarity here. The I Ching and the Bible are treated the same way. But check out that final line there—Tagomi has an idea of the similarity between the culture, but he "inspected" Baynes for some reaction, as if he's not just interested in expressing his thoughts. Tagomi is checking out how Baynes thinks of this cultural similarity.

"Not a mystery," Paul said. "On contrary, interesting form of fiction possibly within genre of science fiction."

"Oh no," Betty disagreed. "No science in it. Nor set in future. Science fiction deals with future, in particular future where science has advanced over now. Book fits neither premise."

"But," Paul said, "it deals with alternate present. Many well-known science fiction novels of that sort." (7.51-3)

We had to include this part, where the Kasouras debate what "genre" the Grasshopper falls into—and also what genre The Man in the High Castle falls into. We may agree with Paul, but his argument is a rabbit-hole: this book is s.f. because there are other alternate history books that are s.f.—but why are those books s.f.? So, do they come up with an answer here?

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. (8.57-8)

This is Reiss's POV as he thinks about The Grasshopper book, and there's probably at least one paper here. We especially like the power of fiction angle, where he notes that it's a terrible book that should be banned… but he just has to see how it ends. But there's also a political angle: here's this Nazi reading and liking a book about how great it would be if the Nazis lost. Is art more powerful than politics?

Most of the pieces were abstract, whirls of wire, loops, designs which to some extent the molten metals had taken on their own. Some had a spider-web delicacy, an airiness; others had a massive, powerful, almost barbaric heaviness. (9.10)

Could you draw the Edfrank jewelry? Notice how much more space Dick has to use to describe this jewelry than he has to describe the books here. (He could go in to long descriptions of the awesome cover illustrations for the books, but he doesn't.) Is there something different about non-literature art?

"Yet," Paul said, "I have for several days now inspected it, and for no logical reason I feel a certain emotional fondness. Why is that? I may ask. I do not even now project into this blob, as in psychological German tests, my own psyche. I still see no shapes or forms. But it somehow partakes of Tao. You see?" He motioned Childan over. "It is balanced. The forces within this piece are stabilized. At rest. So to speak, this object has made its peace with the universe. It has separated from it and hence has managed to come to homeostasis." (11.85)

The Edfrank jewelry can't be pictured in this book (unless there were illustrations, which we would kill for), but maybe that's because the important thing is how people react to it. Is the Edfrank jewelry hard to talk about here because we're supposed to pay attention to Paul's almost religious reaction?

Life is short, he thought. Art, or something not life, is long, stretching out endless, like concrete worm. Flat, white, unsmoothed by any passage over or across it. Here I stand But no longer. Taking the small box, he put the Edfrank jewelry piece away in his coat pocket. (11.189)

Childan has just had some strange experience with the Edfrank jewelry, where he's come to take a stand against a powerful Japanese official. (Here, Paul.) But this art-related enlightenment doesn't seem to last super-long. Childan has this vision of art stretching out longer than life—but he's still got to about living. Childan may have had a life-changing moment, but it's still just a "small box" by the end of the chapter.

At six-fifteen in the evening she finished the book. I wonder if Joe got to the end of it? she wondered. There's so much more in it than he understood. What is it Abendsen wanted to say? Nothing about his make-believe world. Am I the only one who knows? I'll bet I am; nobody else really understands Grasshopper but me—they just imagine they do. (15.39)

Juliana happens to be right when she notes that Joe didn't really understand the book. (At least, Joe didn't seem to understand the role of the I Ching in writing this book.) But when she asks what Abendsen wanted to say, does it seem like the right approach to art? Should we approach a work of culture and ask "what are you trying to say?" as if each work had one thing to say? Or is that a good way to approach Grasshopper?

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