Light Through Cracks
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick presents a dissonant futuristic world, entropic with kipple and pervading silence. Initially, a stark dichotomy between humans and androids clash, but as Dick delves deeper into the nuances of the dystopia, the demarcations between the real and the synthetic begin to blur and illuminate. Through Isidore and his isolated experiences of mostly the synthetic, Dick employs an incompletely transitioned darkness to light motif to suggest that without a balanced experience of both the real and unreal, the isolation of a binary from the other can lead to an unhealthy close-mindedness and impairs a more meaningful human collective. Through Deckard and his isolated embrace of the real, Dick uses the same motif to delineate the blurred complexities of the authentic and synthetic dichotomy and the need to couple these binaries in harmony rather than reject one or the other. By converging the lives of Isidore and Deckard and utilizing a transitioning incomplete to complete, darkness to light motif, Dick explores a transcending blurred model that healthily balances the authentic and synthetic, ultimately suggesting a harmonious integration of these dichotomies as a possible impetus for an enlightened trans-humanist collective.
Dick uses a motif that incompletely transitions from darkness to light to portray Isidore’s heavy interactions with synthetic Mercer fusions as an unhealthy isolation from a true balanced experience of the real and unreal. Alone in his abandoned apartment, Isidore relies on his empathy box, fusing with “the [others’] mentalities…on the hill, the climb” (Dick 22). His “hill climb” from the bottom to the top is emblematic of an ascension from darkness to light. While Isidore’s solitude symbolizes the darkness, his simulated “fusion” of collectivity acts as a temporary light, a surrogate for human communication, that allows him to “[break] the illusion of aloneness” (25). Yet, Isidore soon gets hit by a rock and is forced “to end, as always” (25). Through the quick “end” of Isidore’s climb, Dick portrays an incompleteness of his darkness to light ascension to suggest that despite Isidore’s constant synthetic experiences with the empathy box, his climb to collectivity is incomplete without the coupled experiences of the real, “end[ed] as always” by the need to return to reality. Through Isidore’s additional speculation to “live in town,” Dick hints on the idea of striking a healthy balance between synthetic experiences and human communication, the “town,” to reach a more complete collectivity (25). As Galvan highlights, the empathy box “only temporarily [alleviates] the anguish of social dislocation” but “makes him dependent on the life of the machine” (Galvan 2). Although Isidore desires to experience real collectivity and does interact with fellow humans Mr. Sloat and Milt, he is so attached to the empathy box, the synthetic “life of the machine,” that he ironically becomes more separated from the human and the real. Dick consequently reveals that Isidore’s unbalanced isolation from the authentic limits him to the Mercer box and an unhealthy narrow-minded perspective of the world. Thus, it is through experiencing a balanced interaction between the real and synthetic that later catapults Isidore into a healthier unison with the human collective.
On a contiguous level, Dick uses the incompletely transformed darkness to light motif to call attention to Deckard’s black and white model that embraces the real and rejects the synthetic; Dick does so in order to illustrate the model’s true complexities that blur the distinctions between the real and unreal and the need to couple binaries in a balance. Ready to retire android Luba Luft, Deckard listens to her opera song and is entranced by the “pleasure…the quality of her voice” (Dick 99). Compared to Iran’s depression and Phil’s coldness, Luba’s mesmerizing voice introduces a “pleasure,” a passionate breath of fresh air into Deckard’s otherwise dissonant world. The beauty “of her voice” symbolically sheds light into darkness, through which Dick introduces the darkness to light motif. When Luba is killed, Deckard feels empathetic towards her, questioning “the distinction between authentic living humans and humanoid constructs” (142). Initially viewing androids, the synthetic, distinctly separate from and inferior to humans, the real, Deckard begins to undergo a deconstruction and blurring of his previous black and white model. Through his questioning of “the distinction,” Dick underlines the complexities and ambiguities of the boundaries between androids and humans. Luft’s voice has thus poured light into the cracks of Deckard’s isolated model and onto the possibility of a balanced android-human perception. Yet, like Isidore, Deckard does not fully ascend to the light. He uses his bounty money to buy an authentic black female goat, a representation of the Devil and the darkness. As Vint suggests, the purchase of a real animal is a reduction of androids to an exchange value, a commodity (Vint 2). The one-sided embrace of the goat, the real and the devil, is Deckard’s return to the darkness and his old narrow mindset that rejects the synthetic. Paralleling the incompletely transitioned darkness to light motif to Deckard’s reversion, Dick thus elucidates the unhealthiness of a one-sided model and suggests, instead, a reconciliation between binaries.
Through the convergence of Isidore’s and Deckard’s lives near the end, Dick employs a completely transitioned darkness to light motif to explore a balanced dichotomous paradigm of the real and synthetic as a transcending empowerment towards a trans-human collectivity. Traumatized by the androids’ cruel mutilation of a spider, Isidore holds the revived mechanical arachnid in his hands as he “step[s] outside…[comes] at last to the only verdant spot” in the apartment and “deposits [it]” (Dick 217). Reflective of Isidore’s isolated condition, the solitary mechanical spider is “deposited” from a dissonant, synthetic android environment to a safe “verdant spot,” a natural plot of land. Dick highlights that its release into nature is emblematic of a transformative dichotomy of the mechanical and natural that converges into a balance. Simultaneously, the two protagonists meet, and Deckard shines a “beam of yellow light” onto the spider (218). By introducing the two’s convergence with Deckard shining a “beam of yellow light” into Isidore’s life, Dick suggests the possibility that Deckard’s one-sided model of embracing the real shines a “light” of hope and completes Isidore’s paradigm of isolated synthetic experiences through a vicarious balanced transfer. Through this transitioning dark to light motif, Dick illuminates that Isidore’s vicarious contiguity allows him to “l-l-live deeper in town where there’s m-m-more people” and healthily confront his loneliness (225). Similarly, Deckard also finds an animal, an electric toad “blended in totally with the texture” (237). Embracing the toad, Deckard accepts the electronic in his model and the idea that there are no true distinctions between the synthetic and authentic, like the electronic toad “blended totally” in the landscape to a point of invisibility. Through this darkness to light revelation, Dick lastly delineates Deckard’s newfound “peaceful co-existence” with the blurred synthetic and real as a means for a “posthuman collective” (Galvan 2). The posthuman collective is no longer a human-dominated model but a blurred amalgam of the electronic, ersatz, and human into a new trans-humanist collective.
Dick first uses incompletely transitioned darkness to light motifs to show that unbalanced dichotomies of the real and the unreal isolate the mindset to a narrow, unhealthy bandwidth. For Isidore, his isolation of the synthetic has prevented him from experiencing a true healthy collective. For Deckard, his isolation of the real has prevented him from perceiving the complexities and ambiguities of the world’s gray model. Yet, through the convergence and divergence of Isidore and Deckard to healthier lives, Dick employs completely transitioned darkness to light motifs to underscore a contiguous balance of the real and synthetic. He reveals that the blurred complexities of this transcending model does not shine light into an ordinary black and white human collective but into a new enlightened trans-humanist collective that may lead Isidore’s and Deckard’s world and even humanity today into a brighter future.
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Random House Group, 1968. Print.
Galvan, Jill. Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Nov., 1997), pp. 413-429. Print.
Vint, Sherryl. Speciesism and Species Being in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Mosaic (Winnipeg), Vol. 40, No.1 (Mar., 2007). Print.
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