May 16, 2007

The Man In The High Castle

by Philip K. Dick

This 1962 alternate history explores a world in which Germany conquered Europe and Japan successfully carved out a co-prosperity sphere throughout the Pacific rim, including the North American coast. In a clever conceit, Dick's characters themselves are reading an alternate history that describes yet another outcome of the war, and several come to conclude that their own reality is but a dream.

The core topic, I think, is the American occupation of Japan and its consequences, both for the US and for Japan. We see the contrast of imperial swagger and sincere appreciation for artistic and folk traditions, and we experience at first hand (but with roles reversed) the subtle argumentation of art and mass production, the debasement of the oppressed by the temptations of mass production and the quick buck. And we see strategies for resistance, ranging from subverting the market for "authentic" antiquities to creation of new, ideologically charged, indigenous art forms.

A strange omission, it seems to me, is any mention of the Japanese Detention Camps. Surely, these camps would have become a cause célèbre in the Japanese occupation of California, and the Survivors would have been very much on the minds of the Japanese administration and of the oppressed native Americans.