26 July 2006

A Scanner Darkly and Lullaby

Yesterday, I went to see A Scanner Darkly, and I also started reading Lullaby by Chuck Pahluniak. Just now, I finished Lullaby. The two of them got under my skin a bit, maybe partly because of tense situations in my life that also came up this week, but also because of strong parallels between the two. Both have a strong tone of paranoia, and a theme of losing one's identity, or discovering that there's no identity to lose. Actually, the parallels are so close that Pahluniak probably lifted some of the character and structure from Dick's novel. Both feature central characters who abandon the family life for an isolated existence under assumed identities, and eventually lost the new existence, too, leading to a string of rebirths that blur their identities like an over-dubbed cassette tape, all of this happening in a milieu of surveillance and threat of contagion. Both view reality as samsara, a kind of elaborate light show distracting us from what's happening underneath, which resonates with my Buddhist leanings. I'm not attributing it to more than coincidence that I encountered the two more or less simultaneously, though there are certainly times I would have passed up a Pahluniak novel without a second thought, and yesterday I bought two and went to see a movie based on a Dick novel, knowing full well the paranoid and otherwise dark strains in both bodies of work (though I think Linklater cancelled out P.K. Dick in my expectations of Scanner). What I'm taking from both is less the darkness, though, than a reinforcement of my belief that pursuing identity, pleasure, contact and so forth is fruitless, and binds me in suffering. The competing belief remains, though, that I should seek greater contact, more pleasure, and make something of myself. In a sense, the experiences of this past week (which also included tripping over dharma in several situations, and one period of extreme intoxication) have made clear these two poles I shuttle between.

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