Shameless Advertisement

 A selection of the book is available on this site. If you like what you see, you can order a copy of the entire book from Amazon.


Title Page

Expansive Reality and Restricted Desire in Three Novels by Philip K. Dick

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts at George Mason University


Joshua H. Lind
Bachelor of Arts
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 2000

Director: Amelia Rutledge, Professor
Department of English

Summer Term 2004
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA


This is dedicated to my wife Erin, without whom nothing is possible.


I would like to thank Dr. Amelia Rutledge for her many valuable insights in the development of this project. Thanks also to Dr. Katrina Irving and Dr. Debra Bergoffen.

Table of Contents



2.Dickian Strategies
Supra-Real and Irrational Forms of Expansive Reality
Profusion of Reality
After the Profusion of Reality
Labor and the Dickian Protagonist
Un-Becoming, Anti-Epiphany, Reversibility
Connectivity, Karma, Empathy

3.Martian Time-Slip and the Loss of the Social
Integration and Disintegration
The Appearance of the Android
The Dead and the Living
Murder and Salvation

4.The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and the Supra-Real World
The Morality of Restrictive Reality
Perky Pat and the Supra-Real Experience
Chew-Z and the Fall of Oedipus
Barney Mayerson and the Hint of Recoverable Humanity

5.Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the Unbearable Machine
Unbearable Life and its Simulation
Goats, Sex, and Death


Works Cited

Curriculum Vitae



Joshua H. Lind, M.A.

George Mason University, 2004

Thesis Director: Dr. Amelia Rutledge

Philip K. Dick is well known for crafting novels in which narrative reality is tenuous, uncertain, and shifting. These narrative realities are important explorations of contemporary social changes, especially the economic transformation from industrial capitalism to consumer capitalism. Rather than the restriction of human energy and desire required by labor-intensive industrial capitalism, consumer capitalism requires expanded desire. This expansion results in a supra-real world that operates by offering desirable images and representations while residual restrictions remain. The Dickian protagonist is caught between these two modes in an indeterminacy that characterizes contemporary subjectivity. Analyses of Martian Time-Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? will examine the struggle and subtlety of human subjectivity in a time of expanding reality.

Chapter One: Introduction

The novels of Philip K. Dick are enduring cultural texts that, over twenty years after his death, continue to be widely read and discussed by science fiction fans and cultural critics alike. Part of what makes Dick such an interesting writer is his preoccupation with the nature of reality in what some describe as a postmodern age. He enters the political and philosophical debate surrounding postmodernity by dramatizing the effects of the historical transition to an increasingly dissociative and dereferentialized universe. His novels inhabit the dynamic space between different historico-social structures, exploring postmodern modes of existence, tracing changes in the production and consumption of signs and problematizing emergent codes of meaning and reality. This thesis will argue that Dick attempts to fill the gap between restrictive industrial capitalism and expansive consumer capitalism by presenting a critique of the social control exercised by the prevailing social order over perception and desire in both modes. Dick performs this critique by questioning the effect of these constructions of reality at every turn, remaining ambivalent about outcomes, but following a consistent methodology that involves constructing narratives that are incomplete, shifting, uncertain, frightening, and often contradictory. These shifts in narrative reality may be the result of any number of nominal causes, from hallucinogenic drugs and psychotic episodes to more typical science fiction (SF) fare, such as alien beings and time travel devices. Reality may crumble around those characters desperate to maintain it, or characters may deconstruct reality themselves. The loss of stable reality may be utterly pessimistic or playfully humorous. The only constant in Dick’s work is the presence of an uncertain and problematic reality, which reflects contemporary changes in social domination.

Traditionally, social power determines what is real, and those who wield that power have a stake in obdurately maintaining the contingencies that perpetuate their hold on power, casting these contingencies as eternal truths, inescapably real. New forms of social control exercised by ‘consumer capitalists’ rather than industrial capitalists, however, subvert what the prevailing order had previously defined as rigidly real, working instead to generate and maintain the utterly unreal, collapsing brutal forms of social control and carefully eliciting the amorphous and subjective desire that takes its place. The reality in Dick’s novels is essentially ephemeral and insubstantial, reflecting a postmodern subjectivity no longer so obviously beholden to the representative forms of power: the primal leader, the Patriarch, the vicious Father. The long-standing structure of power changes itself so radically that contemporary subjects are left between residual social regulations and dereferentialized desire, torn between lingering restriction and an amplified desire for consumer products or cultural experiences that always seem to trail away, out of reach but never out of sight. This change results when labor-intensive, industrial capitalism transforms itself into post-industrial, consumer capitalism, and is paralleled by transformations in the regulation of desire. Rather than restricting desire, the prevailing order expands desire as a necessary element of consumerism. The conflict between desire and regulation is transformed by an economic system that comes to emphasize the former at the expense of the latter. In contrast to older social forms such as industrial capitalism, which enforced rigid social regulations and repressed desire, newer social modes of production and consumption require heightened desire. The modern subject transgresses historically buried social regulations by pursuing expansive desires paradoxically advanced by capitalists and derived from the social significations of desirability. What was once an ‘unbearable idea’ of transgression, in which desire was restricted and shunted off into ever-dissolving realms of that-is-not-really-how-I-feel, has become a newly acceptable idea, in which formerly-real regulations crumble, disappear, self-destruct, or bury themselves to the neck, underneath the flow of expansive desire. But the dissolution of ‘real’ restriction is paralleled by desire that hovers like a slow-motion cloud of blood-spatter slyly filmed and slickly produced. Consumer products are replaced by mere representation, after which desire is able to wrap itself around only the image — the fleeting and substanceless image. As contemporary capitalism de-realizes regulation, de-realized desire is produced, and is, in fact, the primary product of consumer capitalism; the signification of pleasure overwhelms any chance for pleasure itself. The frenzied activity of desire takes place within a form of capitalism that operates on the principle of what Deleuze and Guattari call deterritorialization. They argue that capitalism is “the only social machine that is constructed on the basis of decoded flows” of desire, but that this desire exists “under the social conditions that define its limit and the possibility of its own dissolution” (139-140). Rather than enacting repression, the large-scale capitalist social machine propagates itself through “the deliberate creation of lack as a function of market economy” (28), counter-intuitively flipping the terms, so that there is a subjective version of the repressive order and a prevailing order full of desire, within which the capitalist subject is encouraged to participate in a distorted and de-realized type of desire.

Dick is a variable and reversible writer whose work cannot be adequately addressed by the critical tools of a single theorist. Therefore, the arguments developed in this thesis are drawn from the work of several important thinkers, whose names and ideas will be quickly broached here in order to lay the groundwork for what is to come. The following discussion, quickly sketched in a concentrated form, hardly exhausts the concepts of these theorists, but it will hopefully provide a way of looking at the work of Philip K. Dick — and be exemplified in the course of later, more detailed, discussions. As suggested, Dick is an important writer because he captures contemporary American society as it makes a fairly radical change in socioeconomic form. One of the results of this change is the tendency to ‘de-realize’ reality. The term ‘de-realize’ appears often in this thesis and provides a good opportunity to discuss the two distinct modes of social domination that I will attempt to intertwine. The first is restrictive reality. Marx’s notion of commodification, of both the product and the laborer, is a good example of restrictive de-realization (which I call ‘restrictive reality’ because it is reality as defined by restrictive social modes). Commodification obscures the use-value of the object produced and the humanity of the laborer, thereby de-emphasizing the real relations that went into the act of producing the product, or ‘de-realizing’ the real. Another example of restrictive reality is Freud’s notion of the Oedipus complex, which represses desire into the production of children via the ‘proper’ family unit. Desire is repressed by the Father, thereby de-emphasizing the real possibilities of desire, or ‘de-realizing’ the real.

However, both Marx and Freud understood the reverse of their restrictive realities. In fact, contained within restriction is the necessary second mode of social domination: expansive reality. In Marx, the reason for the restrictive reality of industrial labor is to divorce commodities from any sense of their use-value so that commodities become expensive, from the sale of which the owners of the means of production become wealthy (i.e. produce Capital). Labor is restrictive so that the value of commodities may be expansive. Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard each point out the ways in which the modern consumer system inflates the signs of happiness and advances a ‘society of the spectacle’ that deals in expansive reality. Expansion, therefore, is not liberation from restriction, but its natural extension, the development of an expansive social necessity that contradicts restriction. This calls to mind Herbert Marcuse’s concept of the performance principle, which describes the worker who is repressed by labor beyond what is needed to survive because ‘needs’ have themselves been expanded — which increases restrictive labor.

In Freud, the reason for the restrictive reality of Oedipalized desire is to institutionalize guilt so that existing modes of social organization (‘civilization’) may persist. Guilt is divorced from any sense of necessity so that it can be heightened, from the attribution of which the patriarchal owners of Oedipus become powerful. Freud writes that “the sense of guilt produced by civilization is not perceived as such either, and remains to a large extent unconscious” (Civilization 99). Deleuze and Guattari suggest that the modern consumer system ‘deterritorializes,’ or releases and expands, desire, creating an expansive reality. This desire is then ‘reterritorialized’ in subjective constructions based on the myth of Oedipus. That is, deterritorialized desire is not liberation from Oedipal restriction, but its natural extension, the development of expanded Oedipal desires that contradict restriction.

Each of the above contradictions is a case of what will be called the ‘unbearable idea,’ a phrase used to refer to simultaneous social demands for restriction and expansion that ultimately trap the subject in a paradox and sustain the dominance of the prevailing social order. The central goal of this thesis, as mentioned earlier, is to explore how Dick inhabits the space between restrictive reality and expansive reality, charting the psychological journeys his characters make through these types of de-realizations. I will use Raymond Williams’s terms ‘residual’ and ‘emergent’ at times to refer to the restrictive reality of industrial capitalism and the expansive reality of consumer capitalism, since this progression (restrictive to expansive) seems to adequately trace historical changes in the modes of production and consumption.

It must be stated that Dick was not a rigorously systematic thinker, but rather a radically original fiction writer who subverted his own constructions as often as those of society and social power, capturing the spirit of postmodernity at the same time he offers a critique of it. It would be misguided to describe Dick’s fiction as being part of a coherent, unyielding, unified, and parsimonious theory, for his novels refuse to offer a singular result: inconsistency, irrationality, and unreality are, paradoxically, the order of the day. Contemporary society moves methodically into new expansive modes, while the structures of older restrictive forms are increasingly covered over. Dick pays particular attention to the dehumanization, or ‘androidization,’ inherent in this process. The way modern Western society organizes reality leads to a diffusion of humanity and a troubling change in subjectivity, marked by the proliferating unreal objects of late capitalism. Dick, as a persistently psychological writer, focuses his attention on how people develop ways of reacting to and within postmodern and hyper-real culture, attempting to extricate a sense of humanity from within this struggle. What he finds lodged within the fog of the de-realized universe is human flesh, surrounding a human heart still somehow connected to others in a web of human relations. Empathy and karma (or meaningful actions that, paradoxically, have acausal effects) emerge from the Dickian narrative as what remains after the terrifying loss of the restrictive real and the empty exaggeration of misguided desire for simulation.

This thesis will read Martian Time-Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as attempts by Dick to expose and criticize the idea that deterritorialized desire and wanton subjectivity are all that remain of human energy after it has been captured in the glow of the television set, indelibly marked by unhinged, dereferentialized contemporary significations. His novels attempt to show how humanity is as endangered by the expansion of desire as it is by the restriction of desire and, while it may seem that he often works at cross-purposes, that is only because his notion of humanism rebels against both restriction and expansion. Humans face a new struggle in confronting a postmodernism that seems liberating but is ultimately empty. It is difficult to assert that Dick does anything consistently in his fiction other than problematize reality, for he does not engage in this problematization for the same purpose or with the same methods in all of his work. For the critic approaching Dick’s work, the greatest challenge is to reconcile the variable and contradictory ways that he subverts reality. The previous sentence reveals this problem in practice, because sometimes Dick ‘subverts’ a status quo reality and sometimes he presents a reality that subverts itself in order to reterritorialize the subject in new modes of domination. While Dick is often caught up in the difficulties of contemporary uncertainty, delving into the details of our ongoing malaise, he insists that something human remains. It is somewhat problematic to use the term ‘humanism,’ since this term is caught up in enduring restrictive modes, indicating a sort of regression to previous forms of social organization. However, Dick’s humanism seems to emerge from this contemporary struggle, rather than reclaim an earlier subject position. Dick, whose historical moment was balanced on the cusp of the expansively de-realized world, enters the game too late to make normative judgments based on an ‘eternal’ human subjectivity, and his return to humanism is rather an advance to a humanism indelibly marked by the deterritorialization of desire.

Before briefly outlining the overall organization, I should state what this thesis will not do. No attempt will be made to fit these three novels — stylistically, chronologically, or thematically — into Dick’s oeuvre. Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Novels of Philip K. Dick already accomplishes that task masterfully. No attempt will be made to position these three novels within the SF genre of which they are a part, nor the literary history of postmodern novel, of which they are also a part. Neither will this thesis attempt to make links between these three novels and Dick’s fascinating and troubling biography. Instead, these novels will be treated as cultural texts produced at a certain time and in a certain sociopolitical milieu, making available a set of readings that also derives many of its critical viewpoints from the same era (e.g. Baudrillard, Debord, Lukács, Marcuse, etc).

This thesis will begin with a brief background of some of the critical work on Dick and a discussion of his stated theories of reality and perception (although it will be admitted that he deviates, sometimes significantly, from these theories in his fiction). This will be followed by a brief reading of two Dick short stories from the 1950s, leading to an enumeration and discussion of some of Dick’s narrative strategies, such as un-becoming, anti-epiphany, and reversibility. The implications of these techniques will lead to the positive aspects of humanism — such as connectivity, empathy, and karma — that survive problematized reality. Finally, a closer evaluation of three novels by Dick will expose these concepts in practice. The three novels in this study present the rise of postmodern subjectivity. Martian Time-Slip presents a world based on restrictive labor and then surveys possible responses to that world, including the complete dissolution of the social by means of over-emphasizing the self. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch introduces modes of mediation in which deterritorialized desire fills circumscribed spaces, the de-realized worlds of Perky Pat and Chew-Z. Self and world cannot interact because the self pursues an utterly de-realized world of heightened and directed desire. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? tells the story of a man who struggles within the unbearable idea, driven by deterritorialized desire and commercialization to prosecute the deadly needs of the prevailing order as a bounty hunter, while simultaneously feeling a socially-induced empathy for his prey. These novels develop narratives that explore the possible reactions to the de-realized social strategies employed by the prevailing social order that ensure indeterminacy and fractured human subjectivity.

Chapter Five: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the Unbearable Machine

1 || Introduction

For several reasons, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (hereafter Androids) occupies a complicated place in the Dickian canon. First, the novel was filmed as the critically successful Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, which boosted Dick’s popularity, but also presents problems in discussing his literary project. The film has become its own cultural text, separated from the novel by fourteen years and significant plot differences, but many critical articles still tie the two together, outlining the differences between the book and the film. Though the film has entered the popular imagination, this chapter will content itself with the novel that Dick produced, which is complex enough in its own right. Second, the novel is a split decision, hailed as one of Dick’s most effective novels at the same time it is criticized as one of his worst. Two of Dick’s most important critical admirers, Stanislaw Lem and Darko Suvin, find it a deeply flawed work. Others, such as Patricia Warrick, Donald L. Lawler, and David Pringle, find much to commend. The primary criticism of the novel centers on the variable ways in which the androids are portrayed: sometimes dangerous, conniving, and brutal, and other times helpful, honest, and sympathetic. These shifting characterizations result in logical fault-lines that some readers find difficult to overlook. This is an especially intriguing complaint to direct toward Dick, whose literary career was based on such shifting, reversible, and complex constructions. This chapter will explore this ambiguity, not by attempting to reduce it to clarity or certainty, but rather by finding what is gained by it. If such measurements were possible, Androids would be one of Dick’s least politically declarative texts — while at the same time, the novel also establishes a fine sense of political reality, describing the social contingencies that force subjects to participate in the social system while living with the possibility of critique. Ultimately, the indeterminacy of human subjectivity described in Androids, trapped as it is between androidizing labor and supra-real expansion of desire, is essentially a contemporary subjectivity.

Kim Stanley Robinson has pointed out one major difference between this novel (as well as many other later Dick novels) and much of his earlier work: Androids lacks multiple and interacting perspectives. Whereas a novel like Martian Time-Slip entered and shifted between the viewpoints of many characters (e.g. Jack, Arnie, Silvia, Manfred, Otto, etc.), Androids strongly favors one narrative perspective throughout, focusing on the concerns of bounty hunter Rick Deckard as he attempts to kill, or ‘retire,’ a group of androids that have illegally returned to Earth. Robinson keenly points out that this focused perspective necessarily limits the number and range of socioeconomic positions presented in the novel, which has radical implications on how ‘political’ the novel can be, but he quickly adds that this is “a shift not in what Dick wrote about, but in how he structured what he wrote about” (90). The difficulties with reality in many of the earlier novels center on problems of governmental control of perception, such as Time Out of Joint. The problem is not that stable reality does not exist, but that interested social forces construct systems that encourage false perception of reality. Other early novels, such as Eye in the Sky, raise the problem of varying perspectives on reality resulting when different socioeconomic worldviews collide with one another. In these two examples, the struggle for reality takes place between people (or between people and government). In limiting Androids to mostly one perspective, Dick closes in on the experience of the contemporary subject who faces a de-realized world alone, and therefore the novel more accurately represents the struggle against social forces that isolate the subject. The struggle for reality and meaning rests, in this novel, with the self; in the self-world dialectic, Dick focuses on the self. While not denying this dialectic, Dick uses Deckard as a way to more closely examine the development of subjectivity. Rather than the snapshots of Manfred, Jack, Leo, and Barney, Dick takes his time to follow a character through an extraordinary workday to see labor and supra-reality interact. The push and pull of contesting views is sacrificed for a more detailed view of one man’s journey through his socioeconomic surroundings, simultaneously threatening and discovering own humanity in his attempt to understand empathy in a world of contradictory social forces.

Like the preceding chapters, this chapter will provide a mixed reading of what is an undeniably ambiguous novel, but one that again reveals how social changes based on the mobilization of deterritorialized desire lead to a de-realized world, which in turn disrupts the dialectical relationship between Self and World, leading to what Joseph Gabel characterizes as schizophrenic thought. Androids describes this loss as the end-result of living within media-saturated postmodern society that overlays a restrictive work world, a process that destroys the human at the same time the foundation of humanity is discovered within one’s self. Restriction and expansion of desire is carefully balanced in order to point out the problematic aspects of each. Androids is mostly concerned with the meager human alternatives to the paralyzing conundrum of restriction and expansion, law and desire, order and individuality — and the necessary connection between them.

In the first two chapters of the novel, Dick introduces three supra-real aspects of the world that surround and shape Deckard, creating a mediascape Deckard must fight through in order to do his job. With this as a background, the novel essentially becomes a story of how one man attempts to reconcile the supra-real mediascape with the things his job makes him do. This chapter will concentrate on Deckard and the socioeconomic reality constructed around him, which is marked by supra-real media that heightens and directs deterritorialized desire. This position will be contrasted with the only other strong viewpoint in the novel, that of John Isidore. Any attempt to make unequivocal political sense out of Deckard’s tale is necessarily undone by Isidore’s. Tracing Deckard’s intense drive to do his duty, earn money, and at the same time understand himself, Androids is a novel that, like many others by Dick, inhabits a carefully balanced position between androidization and human recovery.

2 || Unbearable Life and its Simulation

The reader is first introduced to Deckard as he wakes up in an artificially merry mood made possible by a ‘Penfield mood organ.’ Although this SF gadget does not receive much attention through the rest of the novel, it properly sets the stage for the crisis in subjectivity that Deckard will face. Because of this technology, he ostensibly controls his perspective, his way of viewing the world — and yet its artificiality creates problems. The first such problem is his wife Iran’s mood, which she lets develop naturally, resulting from the contingencies of life rather than a “merry little surge of electricity” (§1: 3). Despite his electrically induced positive feeling, Deckard gets into an argument with Iran when she orders him to “[g]et your crude cop’s hand away” (§1: 3). His irritation at this comment is proof that the mood organ is merely a gadget, because it cannot counteract the emotions under the surface. His mood runs aground when confronted by Iran’s mood, producing a natural mood resulting from the process of social interaction. Soon they are face to face, each about to manipulate their moods to the most vehement levels in order to win the argument — which suggests that ‘winning’ involves having the strongest mood rather than employing the most effective arguments. More importantly, their moods drive their Penfield mood choices, which diminishes the value of the Penfield in the first place; and yet they still believe in it, or they would not threaten to use it. Iran schedules a “six-hour self-accusatory depression” (§1: 4), even though she could very well order delirious happiness all week long. The realization that the mood organ merely responds to already derived moods — and that the moods of others can break through the mood established by the Penfield apparatus — not only limits its usefulness, but limits Dick’s narrative use of the gadget. Stanislaw Lem, who laments Dick’s decision to discard the Penfield apparatus (“Hopeless” 89), misses the point that the subject itself is by far the more interesting object of study. The Penfield sets the stage for supra-reality that, while ultimately ineffective, still shapes the behavior of social subjects.

The interaction between Deckard and Iran is in sharp contrast to the cold emptiness of their apartment building. World War Terminus has decimated the world’s human and animal population, and the radioactive dust that slowly sterilizes people threatens to further reduce the amount of life on Earth. The mood organ merely allows them to cover over the emptiness of the building. Iran realizes “how unhealthy it was, sensing the absence of life, not just in this building but everywhere, and not reacting” (§1: 5). She believes that even negative emotion should be experienced rather than artificially manipulated. Deckard dismisses her attempt to emotionally understand the events that have left the Earth nearly destroyed, suggesting that this type of understanding could lead to depression and become psychologically dangerous. Deckard’s position is ironic because he uses the Voigt-Kampff empathy test in order to separate the android from the human, after which he disposes of the non-human. In essence, he counsels her to dispense with thoughtful emotion, even though it is his job to destroy impassively unemotional androids. Humans, according to the conventional wisdom within the narrative, are empathetic while androids are not. Critical commentary of the novel has insisted on the inaccuracy of this distinction, but Dick makes a useful point: our idea of ourselves as empathetic beings is perhaps inaccurate, but it is an intensely cherished illusion. Rather than naively succumbing to this notion, Dick unveils Deckard’s painful realization that humans are not, by nature, empathetic. The brutal bounty hunter, Phil Resch, is an important counterpoint character because he is emblematic of a common human failing: lack of empathy. Instead of praising Iran’s wish to react emotionally to the emptiness of the apartment building and, by extension the entire planet, Deckard believes she should choose artificial happiness. The primary irony of the mood organ is the fact that humans, who are supposedly distinguished by their ability to express empathetic emotions, also have the ability to prod their emotions electronically — leading to the inevitable temptation to overwrite a natural emotion with something more pleasant. The Penfield represents what Baudrillard has called ‘magical thinking,’ which is “a mentality based on miraculous thinking, a primitive mentality, in so far as that has been defined as being based on a belief in the omnipotence of thoughts” (Consumer 31). Baudrillard develops this idea further by claiming that the ‘affluent society’ is based on the omnipotence of signs, which encourage the “accumulation of the signs of happiness” (Consumer 31). Dick extends the primitive into the dystopian future by allowing subjects to technologically obscure their emotional reactions to environmental ruin and extinction, making human thought not only potent but divorced from worldly events, utterly phantasmic. This fact is what makes Androids so clearly a relevant postmodern novel, describing as it does a dereferentialized relation between people and events.

The Penfield mood organ is only one supra-real means in the novel through which social subjects detach themselves from events. Buster Friendly’s seemingly non-stop radio and television show is an ever-present invitation into a phantasmic realm, a closed-circuit world that involves only Buster Friendly, his Friendly Friends, and the invested viewer, who staves off emptiness by listening to the ever-present voice of the friend in the television. One afternoon shortly before the day described in Androids, during a commercial break from Buster Friendly’s show, Iran was confronted by an advertisement that recalls the war’s radioactive devastation, after which she decided to schedule the depression that Deckard feels is dangerous. The commercial is for “Mountibank Lead Codpieces,” which men wear outdoors to protect their reproductive potency (§1: 5). The ad disturbed Iran, perhaps because it revealed their socioeconomic concerns, a reminder of real danger. Deckard must maintain his reproductive health in order for them to retain their social status. The commercial also raised the fact that Deckard was away at work, leaving her alone, intensifying the loneliness of the building. Dick’s novels often utilize traditional gender roles, and Androids, too, offers a familiar picture: Deckard goes off to work while Iran stays home. But Dick subverts this masculinist picture by suggesting that, even though Iran eventually allows Deckard to dial their initial moods for the day, his choice for her will inevitably wear off: “pleased acknowledgement of husband’s superior wisdom in all matters” (§1: 7). This is affirmed later when she tells him that she redialed as soon as he left (§8: 94).

The Penfield mood organ merely allows one to complete one’s duty, which is to happily persevere — a goal that is compromised by its remoteness. In an environment decimated by World War Terminus, all forms of life have become scarce and valuable. But the world Dick creates is fully commercialized, hinging happiness on the ownership of animal life. Animals are an image of the possibility of happiness, the actuality of life — but real animals are exceptionally rare. So at the same time society emphasizes happiness as a goal, that goal is structurally and economically remote. Lacking the real object, signs of life are offered by an industry that manufactures artificial animals. In order to cover over the lack of life on Earth, consumer culture is centered on ersatz animals, electric constructs that seem like life. The electric animals are signs of life that can provide (false) support for the (false) feeling that the world may be better and more resilient than it is. Desire for animals is generated and heightened, and the prevalence of artificial animals obscures the real, leaving subjects in an effectively de-realized world. Baudrillard writes that the images subjects continue to consume “represent our tranquillity [sic] consecrated by distance from the world, a distance more comforted by the allusion to the real [. . .] than compromised by it” (Consumer 34). While real animals exist, they are always under the suspicious shadow of artificiality. Even the verifiably real animals sold at the animal stores are de-realized by spiraling prices, becoming imaginable rather than achievable. The Deckards participate in the logic of these cultural signs, watching Buster Friendly and pretending to feed and care for their electric sheep, as they must. However, the result is an unbearable idea, catching them between the reverence for life and the sham of life. Deckard’s conundrum is described succinctly: “He wished to god he had a horse, in fact any animal. Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one. And yet from a social standpoint it had to be done” (§1: 9). Leaving for work in the morning, Deckard gets in a conversation with his neighbor and reveals that his original sheep, Groucho, died some time ago and was replaced with an electric sheep. The neighbor is, for the most part, sympathetic, but when his sympathy wears thin, he says:

“Buy a cricket,” Barbour suggested wittily. “Or a mouse. Hey, for twenty-five bucks you can buy a full-grown mouse.”
Rick said, “Your horse could die, like Groucho died, without warning. When you get home from work this evening you could find her laid out on her back, her feet in the air, like a bug. Like what you said, a cricket.” He strode off, car key in his hand.
“Sorry if I offended you,” Barbour said nervously. (§1: 14)

What is particularly striking about Deckard’s exchange with his neighbor is that it foreshadows the scene near the end of the novel when Deckard’s brand new live goat is dropped from the apartment building to its death. This is an example of Dickian karma, in a negative sense, as Deckard’s interaction with his neighbor acausally comes back to haunt him. Rather than the compassionate offering that Jack Bohlen gives to the Bleekmen in Martian, Deckard makes a mean-spirited comment to his neighbor that condemns him to an eventual negative outcome. Importantly, this exchange comes after Deckard has used the mood organ to prepare himself for work as a bounty hunter, which unleashes a necessary aggression. Deckard sets the Penfield to reaffirm and strengthen his desire to succeed at work. He puts on his ‘Ajax model’ lead codpiece, approaching his work like the fearsome Greek hero of that name. He leaves for the day with a ferocious drive to do well at work in order to purchase another live animal, which post-war society has fetishized as status symbols, such that producing and maintaining animal simulacra is a lucrative business. Deckard even carries with him a “creased, much-studied copy of Sidney’s Animal & Fowl Catalogue January supplement” (§1: 10) to remind him what he works for. While the war seems to have caused people to value animal life, this value is hyper-realized in the form of commodified ersatz animals.

There are two results of the commodification of both live and ersatz animals. First, consumer fetishism extracts surplus labor based on excessive repression, as described by Marcuse in his notion of the performance principle. Marcuse describes surplus repression as “that portion which is the result of specific societal conditions sustained in the specific interest of domination” (87-88). The logic of the performance principle elevates consumer products to the level of needs, such that the satisfied subject is defined “in terms of automobiles, television sets, airplanes, and tractors” (Marcuse 153) — or, in this case, live animals in an artificial market. The second result is that this hyper-realized economic system also commodifies the laborer. The concept of the commodified laborer was discussed earlier, but is especially useful in reading Androids. Lukács argues that the contemporary laborer’s

situation is defined by the fact that his labour-power is his only possession. His fate is typical of society as a whole in that this self-objectification, this transformation of a human function into a commodity reveals in all its starkness the dehumanised and dehumanising function of the commodity relation. (92)

Deckard, as the laboring bounty hunter, is dehumanized by his labor — a labor that essentially involves the production of death; he is dehumanized (or ‘androidized’) as he roots out androids and destroys them. Deckard’s marathon workday is the epitome of self-objectification, as he progressively loses the emotional understanding that he believes distinguishes humans from androids. He becomes a simulation of life himself, reduced to a function that deals out death in order to maintain the status quo on Earth; he seemingly becomes a killing machine, androidized by his own economic need to dispose of androids. As a bounty hunter, he is allowed to commit socially-sanctioned violence, becoming the ultimate ‘peace officer’ — a euphemism for one who maintains peaceful social stability by lasering androids to death.

3 || Empathy

Despite the argument above, Deckard is not quite a killing machine, plagued as he is by moral uncertainty. In The Iliad there are two Ajaxes, and so there seem to be two Deckards in Androids: one is a crude cop, but the other is sensitive to the plight of the androids. These two aspects of Deckard’s personality struggle to understand the duties of a bounty hunter in society. Dick would explore this interior dualism in many of his later novels, including Valis and the deeply claustrophobic A Scanner Darkly, but in Androids the two perspectives struggle between emotional empathy and economic exigency — both, paradoxically, required by the social system.

Mercerism, a religion that spread widely following World War Terminus, is based on empathy as its cardinal moral law, and Deckard is influenced by its precepts even if he isn’t a fervent practitioner. Dick chooses to explicate Mercerism through John Isidore, the slow-witted ‘special’ who attempts to protect some of the escaped androids that Deckard must retire. Isidore’s narrative perspective provides a counterpoint to Deckard’s, one that is simultaneously more empathetic and more naïve. The novel follows the two stories as they develop independently, until the characters meet at the novel’s climax. Isidore lives a lonely life in an abandoned apartment building on the outskirts of San Francisco, perceiving the world with the help of the supra-real media, which keep him company. And yet the television traps him in an unbearable idea. The advertisements encourage him to emigrate and buy a personal android, but he is denied these things because he is a ‘special’ who cannot reproduce and populate the colonies. More than the TV, he prefers the empathy box, the tool that connects him to Wilbur Mercer and his supra-real world of shared suffering. Mercerism requires its adherents to ‘fuse’ with the Christ-like figure, Wilbur Mercer, in his unending quest to reach the summit of a barren mountainside. The religion is another mediating structure between Self and World, but is developed with more nuance than Buster Friendly television program. The empathy box presents a de-realized experience that people enter alone, but it also brings people together. On one level, Mercerism is a system that distributes pain to all of those who connect, executing the inevitable answer to the unbearable idea: punishment for whatever slim happiness one may achieve. Users receive physical wounds from the rocks that are thrown at Mercer as he climbs the mountain. In this way, the social system is based around two supra-real sources, one that generates desire and another which punishes that desire, constructing a closed system of desire and punishment, simultaneously deterritorializing and reterritorializing desire, an unbearable machine. Jill Galvin convincingly argues that Mercerism, “far from appealing to innate human characteristics, functions[s] merely as the means by which the government controls an otherwise unwieldy populace” (416). Society becomes self-regulating in the manner of an internalized super-ego that takes the form of a religious media figure.

The reverse of Mercer is the other supra-real media figure, Buster Friendly. Comparing and contrasting Buster Friendly and Wilbur Mercer requires the distinction between restrictive and expansive reality made earlier. Buster Friendly is pure entertainment, “Earth’s most knee-slapping TV comic” (§6: 63), who wastes tremendous amounts of time in inane conversations with other popular figures in the entertainment industry. In this sense, he opens a supra-real world divorced from the one that confronts Deckard and Isidore in their regular workdays. He broadcasts for 23 hours per day, has guests that appear for three continuous days, and is available to everyone in the planetary system: “Practice transmissions beamed to Proxima had been attempted, in case human colonization extended that far. Had the Salander 3 reached its destination, the travelers aboard would have found the Buster Friendly Show awaiting them. And they would have been glad” (§7: 74). Buster seems to define the borders of human civilization, overwriting every remaining human space with a comfortably vapid ‘gladness’ that envelopes social subjects. He preaches a sort of sedate pleasure, laughing off the ridiculousness of social life, like when his guest, Amanda Werner, turns down a part in a film because of a seven a.m. start time (§7: 73). The sedate pleasure of watching the program while relaxing at home is interrupted by the television advertisements that instruct subjects to seek out the products and experiences available in consumer culture. The supra-real, individual experience of watching Buster transforms into listening to the Buster radio show while carrying out the duties of modern labor, which both Deckard and Isidore do during the course of their respective workdays. Buster and the entertainment apparatus nudge the characters into playing their continued part in the status quo. Deckard maintains the sanctity of ‘humans’ by carrying out sanctioned violence, while Isidore participates in another ongoing subterfuge, driving a truck for the ‘Van Ness Pet Hospital,’ which is actually an electronic animal repair business. Mercerism works against Buster’s pleasure, by requiring sacrifice from people who would otherwise be able to live a life of relative leisure. Rather than a sedate pleasure, subjects are taught to desire their own pain.

However, one must resist the simplicity of casting Buster as a postmodern purveyor of consumer culture and the signs of deterritorialized desire, and casting Mercer as a restrictive throwback to repressed desire, for Androids is a complicated and carefully balanced sociopolitical text. Mercer is, after all, an important proponent of human connection, one of Dick’s most important concepts: “Isidore stood holding the two handles, experiencing himself as encompassing every other living thing” (§2: 25). This experience allows practitioners of Mercerism to reconnect to collective humanity. And the pain meted out by the empathy box also serves to cut through the tantalizing numbness created by Buster Friendly. And at the same time Buster spins out a supra-real world of isolating entertainment, he also uncovers the fact that Mercerism is a fraud and that the entire spectacle of Mercerism is a carefully crafted illusion. Isidore believes that “Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting for control of our psychic souls” (§7: 76). On a certain level, this is an accurate characterization, for the two ideologies conflict on the basis of how to regulate desire. But by complicating the two, Dick highlights the fact that each of these perspectives simultaneously acts upon the social subject. The contemporary social program involves both the generation and restriction of desire in order to create the modern alienated subject. What is missing from both Buster Friendly’s expansive supra-real world and Mercer’s restrictive supra-real world is the possibility of activity that exercises human ability that results in the feeling of human achievement and satisfaction as described by Marcuse. Even the satisfaction that comes from genuine interaction with people in the process of empathy is also tainted by the effect on the subject by both Buster and Mercer. Empathy, as exercised in Mercerism, is reduced to an impersonal punishment rather than an interaction between people.

The logic of empathy is also exercised by the Voigt-Kampff test given to suspected androids. Deckard first gives the Voigt-Kampff test to Rachael Rosen, an advanced Nexus-6 android owned by the Rosen Corporation, the company that manufactures androids. The test works by measuring the physiological responses of test subjects to a series of hypothetical situations that involve harming animals, such as the boiling of lobsters. When Rachael hears this situation, she responds: “‘Oh, god,’ Rachael said. ‘That’s awful! Did they really do that? It’s depraved! You mean a live lobster?’ The gauges, however, did not respond. Formally, a correct response. But simulated” (§5: 50). The test is set up to determine which aspects of the situations described elicit the most emotional response, but it really tests for the most socially appropriate responses. That is, it determines who is not sufficiently moved by current social mores and restrictions; those who are not are ‘retired’ from existence. The ‘rules’ of empathy are not eternal, but rather culturally defined. This is evident later, when Deckard gives the Voigt-Kampff test to Luba Luft, an android posing as an opera singer who does not speak English as a first language. She trips him up repeatedly as he tries to describe situations using words she doesn’t know or cultural references she does not understand. After she thoroughly frustrates the inquisition in this way, she highlights the underlying sexuality of the Voigt-Kampff questions. The test works by offering the culturally loaded subject of sex alongside the reverence for animal life that has arisen after World War Terminus in order to see if the test subject responds to the ‘correct’ material. But Luba takes Deckard to task for the sexually inappropriate material in the questions before he has a chance to call her to account for her lack of ‘proper’ affect regarding the animals.

“Let me see some more of your questions.” She held out her hand and, reluctantly, he passed her the sheets. “‘In a magazine you come across a full-page color picture of a nude girl.’ Well, that’s one. ‘You became pregnant by a man who has promised to marry you. The man goes off with another woman, your best friend; you get an abortion.’ The pattern of your questioning is obvious” (§9: 105-106)

Luba finds him guilty of lascivious meanings even though he had no such overt intent. Coded within the language is a system of power relationships of which he was not aware. Her questions trouble him because they reveal the scope of social power he possesses and that, although he believed he was prosecuting her lack of empathy, he was in fact prosecuting her sexual status. Galvin writes that, “in subverting language, Luba calls attention to the contrived nature of Rick’s human mastery, which only in reality extends so far as the state whose authority he props up” (423). While she uses this technique to draw Deckard into an elaborate trap, the trap nonetheless reveals the cultural material contained within the questions, uncomfortably suggesting that the whole testing process is nothing more than a witch-hunt to support the prevailing social order. Stanislaw Lem criticizes Androids by suggesting that Dick “did not want to do without these logically exclusive alternatives, the [Voigt-Kampff] test must be at the same time reliable and unreliable, the androids must act at the same time with malice aforethought and in complete innocence” (“Hopeless” 91). But the testing that Deckard accepts as reliable during Rachael’s test feels less reliable during Luba’s test, suggesting that pure logic has very little to do with it, and that social logic is at work instead. Dick demands that the test be uncertain in order to reflect the indeterminacy of contemporary social relations.

After tracking Luba down at an art museum, Deckard and the remorseless Phil Resch contemplate the Edvard Munch painting The Scream, in which an indistinct figure screams: “[t]wisted ripples of the creature’s torment, echoes of its cry, flooded out into the air surrounding it; the man or woman, whichever it was, had become contained by its own howls” (§12: 130). Phil Resch believes this image accurately represents how androids feel, and yet Luba is rather more interested in Munch’s Puberty, a painting “of a young girl, hands clasped together, seated on the edge of a bed, an expression of bewildered wonder and new, groping awe imprinted on the face” (§12: 131). The image, from Deckard’s perspective, is one of awakening and energy. But in Munch’s painting, a dark shadow looms on the wall behind her. The shadow may represent the android center within Luba, but at the same time the shadow could represent Deckard, the killer who follows her as she emerges into personhood. The shadow itself also has an indistinct shape reminiscent of the figure in The Scream, tying the two images together. Again, the shadow/screamer could represent Luba, who will scream as Resch kills her: “She began to scream; she lay crouched against the wall of the elevator, screaming” (§12: 134); but the shadow/screamer is also Deckard, who hunts the girl with a great sense of unease, efficiently delivering death as the shadow, but simultaneously isolated by his murderous and dehumanizing labor. Both Deckard and Luba are ‘contained by their own howls.’ Before she is killed, he buys her a book of Munch’s collected works as a way of identifying with her, the book representing their connected lives as opposite sides of a dehumanized social system. After Resch kills her, Deckard lasers the book to ashes in order to wipe out their brief connection, but he has been changed by the connection, asking Resch: “Do you think androids have souls?” (§12: 135). Deckard later insists:

“I’m getting out of this business.”
“And go into what?”
“Anything. Insurance underwriting, like Garland was supposed to be doing. Or I’ll emigrate. Yes.” He nodded. “I’ll go to Mars.”
“But someone has to do this,” Phil Resch pointed out.
“They can use androids. Much better if andys do it. I can’t anymore; I’ve had enough. [Luba] was a wonderful singer. The planet could have used her. This is insane.” (§12: 136)

Deckard is disgusted with Resch because Resch seems to represent everything that is supposedly wrong with androids: he kills without compunction. Luba, on the other hand, was an artist. Dick’s oeuvre is filled with reverence for creators and repairers, those who shape the material of the world into an original and moving creation, or those who could reclaim the usefulness of items. Luba’s voice and her ability to convey emotion through music makes Deckard think about the possibility that androids may have human emotions, creating a crisis that leads him to question his own lack of empathy. She was a frightened being screaming and a being awakening into womanhood, and he felt like the scream that contained her and the shadow that haunted her.

4 || Goats, Sex, and Death

Deckard’s emotional crisis leads to a curious set of responses. First, he decides to buy a live goat. In the middle of the most difficult workday of his life, he purchases the goat (although he only has enough money for a down payment) as a way to convince himself that the work is worth doing. The ‘time slip’ between labor and remuneration is unacceptable in the face of his crisis; he must reaffirm the connection between his murderous labor and the reward offered by the prevailing social order. The fetishized animal is necessary to continue: “But I had to [buy the goat], he said to himself. The experience with Phil Resch—I have to get my confidence, my faith in myself and my abilities, back. Or I won’t keep my job” (§15: 170). The goat will, in Deckard’s opinion, resolve the conflict between his reservations about retiring androids and the need to do so.

As soon as he brings the goat home to Iran, she wants him to share his elated feeling with those who are fused with Mercer, considering it ‘immoral’ to keep the feeling to himself. Ironically, the type of exchange that Iran describes would work like a testimonial in an advertisement, in which the commercial’s creator records and distributes the satisfied customer’s ecstasy in order to sell a product. Deckard believes the new animal is the source of the joy he shares, and he would broadcast this concept through the empathy box, but the animal is only a container of his complex social anxieties rather than an actual source of happiness. Baudrillard argues that advertising “does not liberate drives,” but actually “liberates phantasies that serve to inhibit those drives” (System 193). Deckard’s goat is wrapped up in the process that fetishizes consumer objects as needs, the system of indebtedness that binds Deckard to further labor, and the ideology of the preciousness of animal life that perversely allows them to be bought and sold in a market that prospers when supplies are rare rather than abundant. Like the absurdly joyous actors in television advertisements who sell products by linking them to the production of joy, the moral precepts of Mercerism require that Deckard essentially film an advertisement for the animal industry. Before he takes hold of the empathy box, however, the phone rings. Even before the ambiguous joy can be shared, Deckard’s boss is calling him back to his duty (which, because of his new indebtedness, is now more formally required): “Three more andys, Rick thought to himself, that I should have followed up on today, instead of coming home. On the vidscreen Harry Bryant’s face had formed, so it was too late to get away” (§15: 176). The object of happiness and attainment in the consumer system (i.e. the goat) is also the object that insures the need for further labor, the surplus labor extracted as a means for paying off the goat. The goat is his burden, the object that contains his continued servitude to the socioeconomic system. Baudrillard sums up this situation as an “overall pattern of gratification/frustration […]: with its purely formal reduction of tensions and its ever-vain regressions, what the object ensures is a perpetual renewal of conflicts” (System 193).

When Deckard takes the handles of the empathy box, Mercer appears and tells him, despite his burgeoning ability to empathize with androids, that he must continue with his duty, retiring the remaining androids. Mercer is, in this case, a spokesperson for the prevailing order: “Go and do your task, even though you know it’s wrong” (§15: 178). What had been developing into a moral question for Deckard has been resolved in a conflicted way: it is morally imperative that he continue, and yet it is, by definition, ‘wrong.’ In making this imperative ‘clear’ to Deckard, Mercer lives up to his name, which is a cross between ‘mercy’ and ‘mercenary.’ Mercerism, for someone in Deckard’s line of work, ensures the unbearable idea; the social system expects him to empathize at the same time it expects him to kill rather than empathize. Empathy in his case is hazardous to his occupation.

Following this sequence of a fetishized reward in the form of the living goat and the imposition of guilt and necessity via Mercer is Deckard’s sexual assignation with Rachael Rosen. Deckard calls Rachael to enlist her help in retiring the three remaining androids, counting on her to be the self-interested android that cannot empathize at all, even with other androids. When he meets with her at a hotel, he has the sudden realization about the leader of the escaped androids Roy Baty: “he had acquired an overt, incontestable fear directed toward the principle android. It all hung on Baty—had hung on it from the start” (§16: 191). In Baty, Deckard sees an android version of himself, the one who would come after him and ‘retire’ him without remorse. Deckard risks his life for a paranoid vision, the sense that he is after himself. In coming face-to-face with Baty, Deckard faces his own obligation to the prevailing social order. He must defend his goat by risking his own life.

He intends to have sexual intercourse with Rachael in order to test himself against the possibility of empathy with androids. But everything about her response is emphatically human and, perhaps for this reason, Deckard comes to hate her. Before their sexual act, she ponders the fact that androids cannot bear children: “‘Is that a loss?’ Rachael repeated. ‘I don’t really know; I have no way to tell. How does it feel to have a child? How does it feel to be born, for that matter?’” (§16: 193). As this pensive thinking moves beyond a logical conundrum and into an existential dilemma, Rachael paradoxically displays human emotion while contemplating the impossibility of her own humanity. Similarly, her act of treachery against Deckard is also her firmest display of empathy for the other androids. She is involved in a plot to use sex to drain the vicious spirit of the bounty hunters in order to get them to stop killing androids. She takes the sexualized aggression (as seen in the Voigt-Kampff questions) out of Deckard via the sex act, creating a human bond between them. Deckard feels betrayed because she has deceived him — and will not help him accomplish his task. The android plot has interrupted his plan to achieve happiness through buying consumer products. So, although Rachael is revealed as a calculating and devious opponent, she is also shown to be empathetic and caring regarding her android compatriots. Deckard’s anger is a result of his obligation to the capitalist system of class privilege and the fetishized consumer experience. Deckard latches on to her ‘android’ status and disregards the evidence of her empathy and group solidarity. He relies on this distinction to convince himself that he must continue his task by retiring the three remaining androids. Deckard therefore becomes a minion of the elites (the humans) who is placated by the desirable objects of success in the current system (e.g. the goat).

Not surprisingly, it is Rachael who takes this object from him by throwing his goat over the edge of the building to its death, in an attempt to remind him that he is not a member of the upper-class, but just a working wage slave who receives a product that binds him more firmly to the system, ensuring that he remains a stalwart defender of a system that does not really protect him. When he comes back from his deadly mission to find his goat murdered, Deckard faces the possibility that it all may have been in vain, that his duty was less the protection of humanity than it was the protection of a prevailing social order. Rachael’s words before he left her in the hotel must have come back to him as he returned to find the goat dead: “You love the goat more than me. More than you love your wife, probably. First the goat, then your wife” (§17: 202).

5 || Endgame

Deckard arrives at the lonely apartment building where the escaped androids are staying with John Isidore, who tells him that his mission is outside the bounds of acceptability according to Mercerism. And yet Deckard is told the exact opposite by Mercer himself, who makes an appearance without benefit of an empathy box, appearing as a phantasm that maintains the strictures of the prevailing order, urging Deckard on. Mercer helps him kill Pris Stratton, the same model of android as Rachael Rosen:

Rachael, the prototype, used by the manufacturer to protect the others. He fired at her as, imploringly, she dashed toward him. The android burst and parts of it flew; he covered his face and then looked again, looked and saw the laser tube which it had carried roll away, back onto the stairs; the metal tube bounced downward, step by step, the sound echoing and diminishing and slowing. (§19: 221)

The diminishing sound of the laser tube parallels the diminishing likelihood of his death, but also represents the waning chance that he may be delivered out of his vicious circle, in which he exchanges his labor for his humanity and his self-determination for his control by the unbearable machine of Buster and Mercer. Pris’s laser tube represents a chance to de-mystify his relation within the prevailing system, a chance to begin again, revealing the ‘irrational’ knowledge of his socially-beholden position. Rather than setting aside expanded consumer desire in place of real relations between people, Deckard chooses to protect his supra-real world. Instead of a new beginning, Pris-Rachael represents the ultimate danger: the loss of his hard-fought position in society and its rewards. When Deckard kills Irmgard, Roy Baty “let[s] out a cry of anguish” (§19: 223) which simultaneously proves that Roy loved Irmgard as a human would and that Deckard’s inner revolt, through which he sought empathy and genuine feeling, is over.

The fundamental difficulty with this killing scene is that the reader does not — and cannot — know whether Deckard does a good thing or a bad thing. The book does not suggest whether Deckard is good or evil — and Deckard himself remains unsure. The indeterminacy of the novel replicates the epistemological difficulties of living in supra-real society — and these difficulties are translated into ontological difficulties that cannot be overcome but must be muddled through. Deckard, submerged at the beginning of the novel into the supra-real world, bursts out into a Self-World relationship marked by the logic of consumer capitalism. The supra-real world of Buster Friendly and Mercer emphasize the self as an extension of this logic, always in pursuit of the fetishized consumer object, as Deckard wakes up from expansion into a nightmare of fierce consumerism, greed, and violence. He is not an adjudicator of the split between human and android, but instead uses the distinction provided by society to ‘make a living’ by acquiring falsely valuable products. Kim Stanley Robinson points out that:

Dick has given us two oppositions, Human/Android and Human/Inhuman. As the novel begins we are to assume that the two oppositions are identical, but the action of the narrative first forces the two apart, and then leads us to conclude that the first one is inessential, the second vitally important. (92)

The distinction between these two oppositions is crucial to Dick’s overall project, which attempts to locate the human within the de-humanizing events of late capitalism. During the killing scene, however, Deckard has most fully assumed the ‘inhuman’ mode — even though he is clearly human in the former opposition (human/android). Deckard, as a bounty hunter, is forced to retire androids that think and feel much like humans do (i.e. still marked by moments of hatred or cruelty), and therefore loses his own humanity. He must steel his own emotions against empathy for his victims, as instructed by Mercer, as if he is in a first-person shooter video game plucking off de-humanized figures. Upon completion, he thinks, “[s]ix today; almost a record. And now it’s over and I can go home, back to Iran and the goat. And we’ll have enough money, for once” (§19: 224). Similar to Jack Bohlen in Martian Time-Slip, Deckard becomes androidized at work because he believes he can return to a peaceful home with all of the good things money can buy.

But the novel moves past the killing scene in order to concentrate on Deckard’s final transformation. Rachael has thrown his reward over the side of his apartment building, forcing Deckard to re-examine the meaning of his accomplishments. This is, in a sense, the main karmic action in the novel, although there is a clear causal relationship between the way Deckard treats Rachael and her later actions against him. Deckard attempts to contact Dave Holden, the department’s primary bounty hunter, in order to boast about his successes, but Holden is not available because he is still recovering from his bounty hunting injuries. The ultimate protector of the prevailing social order, Deckard cannot get a confirming and rewarding response from the social order. Upon reflection, Deckard thinks “everything about me has become unnatural; I’ve become an unnatural self” (§21: 230). It is only after he has carried out his duty that he realizes the consequences. Bereft of his goat and wondering about his own humanity, Deckard becomes aware of the logic of consumer capitalism and the insidiousness of what it makes him do. Jill Galvin writes that “[Deckard] cannot see himself as part of a posthuman community until he has abjected himself […] — until he has horrified himself as a murderer and, by this act, acknowledged himself as a non-subject” (426). While Galvin’s ultimate conclusion is that Deckard recognizes the “interaction with the mechanical landscape” that forces him to “[relinquish] a self that has outgrown traditional human bounds” (428), perhaps a more useful conclusion is that the landscape revealed in the novel includes problematic subjectivities based on supra-real desire and coordinated restriction. That is, the confluence of the expansive mediascape of consumer desire and the residual restriction of selfish desire create untenable and unstable subject positions.

At the end of the novel, Deckard names the one emotion his efforts may not have earned for him, but paradoxically, one that he will hopefully achieve: “Long deserved peace” (§22: 243). Each of the preceding murders forced him to simultaneously rejoice and feel guilty, questioning his own uncaring, robotic performance. When Deckard tells his secretary, “‘I’m no longer with the department’” (§21: 233), it is possible that he has regained a sense of human compassion, one that will allow him to reorganize his needs and develop new ways of meeting them. In its pessimism, Androids tells a cautionary tale about androidization, commercialization, class struggle, and violence. In its optimism, the novel fills the gap between expansion and restriction with the possibility of the human. The final image, in which Iran calls to order artificial flies for the artificial toad that Deckard found after his soul-searching, shows a more moderate consumer desire, making the scene peaceful, optimistic, and cathartic. Instead of being driven to destroy mechanical ‘life’ in order to purchase fetishized animals, Deckard is content, devoted to his toad, and resting in a ‘long deserved peace’ that does not require a mood organ.