“The Eyes Have It” was published in Science Fiction Stories in 1953. It is currently most easily available in the third volume of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick (now known as Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick). It can be found on pp. 27–29 in that Second Variety version. It appears to be the shortest of Dick’s early career stories.
The narrator discusses his discovery of an invasion of Earth. The narrator warned the government but he was ignored. The narrator learned of this invasion by reading book found abandoned on a bus. He did not notice that the author of the story seemed to predict an alien race with immense powers, but on closer examination it was obvious on every line.
Reading every line of the novel literally, the narrator learned that the aliens’ eyes can move around the room, even shifting from person to person. They can remove other body parts, divide themselves into two parts to be in two places at once, and function without brains. Terrified, the narrator runs from the garage where he was reading the story to the house, where he plays Monopoly and awaits the alien invasion.
This is a delightful little story that shows how strange the English language can be when taken literally. The narrator, reading a mainstream novel, is irrational to do this, but in science fiction a sentence like “outside the movie theater we split up. Part of us went inside, part over to the cafe for dinner” (28) could be taken to suggest “binary fission.”
The story suggests a man losing control of his grip on reality, but this is manifest in the world as an inability to differentiate between metaphorical and literal language. This story also tells us about the use of metaphoric language in different genres. “He fired his gun” has a different meaning in erotica than it would in a western. In science fiction, we can go even farther and imagine that the gun was causing problems at work and the boss had to end his employment.
Audiobook version of “The Eyes Have It.”
This story seems a little frivolous at first, but it is a good test case for the definition of science fiction as cognitive estrangement. Here the sense of wonder is induced in the hero as reader of what may well be an ordinary novel, but where he interprets literally certain habitually figurative expressions. Because the author is Philip K. Dick we are left with a certain doubt at the end: is the narrator just naive, perhaps even stupid, in taking words literally, at face value, or is he a step more “meta” than us, understanding what we have been trained to regard as second degree metaphorical discourse as in fact conveying literal truth?
I am reminded of Zizek’s analysis of John Carpenter’s film THEY LIVE. A homeless tramp discovers a pair of glasses that when donned reveals a world of alien invasion hidden beneath the superficial illusion of normality. Zizek claims that the normal perception is “ideology” and that the glasses serve to remove our ideological filters. The book found on a bus (i.e.. outside the conjugal frame) and read in a garage contains no language that is not already familiar from ordinary life, yet somehow this book serves to defamiliarise the language and to reveal a “hidden” content, one that is hidden in plain sight.
The unfamiliar world that the narrator is initiated into is one where the Earth has been infiltrated by aliens in human form, going about fairly ordinary human activities, These aliens differ from us in that they do not have a unified body organised hierarchically with the brain as hegemonic organ. Their organs can detach themselves and move independently, and their body may split in two (or perhaps even more) parts. He discovers what some have considered to be the basis of modern day liberal ideology, the fixed unitary subject, is an imaginary construct, a fictional synthesis of a fragmentary body. That this discovery applies not just to the aliens of the book but to himself is signalled by the end of the book he seeks refuge from the horrible truth in a return to conjugal warmth, playing Monopoly with his wife and children in the kitchen. He tries to forget the truth glimpsed, declaring “I have no stomach for it”, i.e.in effect he himself is one of the corporally fragmented aliens.
Thanks. Great comments.
Glad to see you back here. I plan to finish up with the stories in the next couple days. I have most of the 1960-1980s stories ready to upload; I just have been a bit lazy.
Thanks for all the interesting work. I like reading your analyses and I will gladly read and review your book when it comes out.
This is a story that I have been wanting to comment for some time now. When I first read it I found it pretty silly, but on reflection it is perfect for the interplay of alienation and estrangement that I find interesting in much science fiction. I recently listened to an interview with PKD where he claimed that one of his books was released as a mainstream novel in hardcover, and as a science fiction novel in paperback. The duality of status confirmed the duality of language that this text already highlights. Interview: https://archive.org/details/ATalkWithPhilipK.DickOnHour25In1976.
I really appreciate it. Not sure when the release date for the book is, but I am almost done with a text that I am happy with. I hope by the end of the year it will be out.
I think the book he is talking about is Confessions of a Crap Artist (maybe Man in the High Castle). I know Confessions was marketed as science fiction in the Vintage edition. The new Mariner editions (much better quality and covers by the way) clearly present it as a “non-science fiction” novel.
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I checked the interview, the book he is talking about is A SCANNER DARKLY.
Wow, but that book is not “mainstream.” But it says a lot about how he looked at the world that he thought it was.
From the beginning of the interview, talking about science fiction as ghetto: “I mean, you can now call anything you want science fiction or you can decide not to call it science fiction. I have a book coming out. The hardcover edition of it will be called mainstream and the paperback is going to be sold as science fiction. If you buy the hardcover you’re reading a mainstream novel. If you buy the Ballantine paperback you’re reading a science fiction novel. But the text is identical in the two. And they were bought simultaneously by Doubleday and Ballantine working in tandem…Sharon Jarvis at Doubleday read its first eighty pages. She says, well, there’s no rocket ships in this book. It’s not science fiction. I’m going to throw it down the hall to the other editors, the trade editors and let them market it. And Ballantine looked at the manuscript and said, hot dog, this is wonderful science fiction. We’re going to make millions. And then I said, you guys better get together. So I really don’t know. I mean, it came out of the ghetto in the hardcover edition and it went right back into the ghetto in the paperback edition”. (Transcript here: https://ia601207.us.archive.org/13/items/ATalkWithPhilipK.DickOnHour25In1976/PKD-transcript.html).
I actually remember this interview now that I read it.
This sounds exactly like the weird duality that his fiction is famous for.Within it,truth and reason becomes impossible to distangle.Here it seems,life imitates art,or vice versa.
I was sure what to say about TEHI,as it seems it’s already all been said.I think at this early stage,he was looking at changing the stale cliches of science fiction,and attempting to imbue them with fresh insight.In this case,I think this was a bold move.
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