Philip K. Dick, Late Modernism, and the Chinese Logic of American Totality

How did the novel, which shared most of its history with the rise and consolidation of the modern nation-state, adapt to a new world order scrambled by war, colonialism, and migration? Rebecca Walkowitz and Matthew Hart, among others, have traced high modernist experiments with multilingualism, which seemed to offer the utopian possibility of an idiom to heal broken continents.[1] Nobody articulated this sentiment with greater bombast than Eugene Jolas, a self-declared “intercontinental amalgam” who found in Manhattan “a super-Occidental form of expression with polyglot overtones,” an “Atlantic, or Crucible, language . . . the result of the interracial synthesis that was going on in the United States, Latin America, and Canada.”[2] Though Jolas was convinced that “this titanic linguistic compound would facilitate intellectual communication and creative expression on a universal basis,” James Joyce, who indeed experimented with a “linguistic compound” in Finnegans Wake, did not herald an era of transnational communication (Man from Babel, 273).[3] Those earlier disappointments with cosmopolitan polyglossia, Jed Esty claims, spawned a regression to nativism, as the aging high modernists tried to salvage a sense of national identity in the wake of imperial overexpansion.[4] But what about the late modernists, those younger writers who were born headfirst into “the interracial synthesis,” and arrived too late to find consolation in either cosmopolitanism or nativism? In what follows, I identify a third way in the late modernism of Philip K. Dick, who impounds a foreign, non-verbal, empirical form to manage political and cultural instability.

The Uncanny Golden Country: Late-Modernist Utopia in Nineteen Eighty-Four

“My new book is a Utopia in the form of a novel”—this is how George Orwell characterized Nineteen Eighty-Four in a letter to a friend on 4 February 1949. As its reception history abundantly documents, it turned out to be an interpretive challenge to read the novel as a utopia.