112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Darkly Scanning A Scanner Darkly: “Philip K. Dick in the OC” and Teaching Digital Literary Studies

David Sandner, California State University, Fullerton

This presentation explores the implications of a real-world example of using technology to teach literary studies: a collaborative assignment to create a website devoted to author Philip K. Dick’s ten-year association with California State University, Fullerton, and to his papers in our library’s Special Collections, using maps, digital archives, interviews and original research.


            In 1972, author Philip K. Dick moved to Fullerton, California, in Orange County, at the behest of Dr. Willis McNelly, Professor of English at California State University, Fullerton. Dick lived in the OC for ten years until his death in 1982, and left his manuscripts and papers to CSUF’s Special Collections in the library. In the Spring of 2014, I taught the first Digital Literary Studies class for the English Department at CSUF. As a final collaborative assignment, our class, using the fact of Dick’s presence on our campus, created a website, “Philip K. Dick in the OC.”

With the site, we intended to document and share CSUF’s literary history by creating digital archives both aggregating and ordering what was out there into relevant links and commenting upon it from our own perspective, and creating our own content through interviews, new explorations, and research, especially into our University’s Special Collections. We also deployed mapping through Google Earth (and Maps) to spatially locate pertinent places important to Dick’s life in Orange County. We also mapped two novels set in Orange County, A Scanner Darkly and Radio Free Albemuth, in order to see the relationship of the places important in his real life to the fictional settings of his OC novels. Further, we used Google Earth to create a literary tour of A Scanner Darkly in order to think about the way characters move about in the work…and to think about how physical space controls the characters. In doing so, we sought to understand not just Dick’s presence here and what it means to us but, further, how Orange County itself shaped his thinking and writing.

            This presentation is a record of our accomplishments, discoveries, and difficulties. I will display the site itself and its design and archives. I will simultaneously consider the implications of our work, developing thoughts about how our digital work performed new kinds of literary inquiries into Dick’s writing, especially his Orange County novel, A Scanner Darkly, and the ways that might inform literary scholarship on Dick, science fiction, or any writer. To point briefly toward what emerged from our digital work, locating Philip K. Dick in Orange County in both his life and his writing reveals a surprising “grounded” quality to his seemingly “far out” works. His name-checking of endlessly repeated chain stores, for example, is not just a postmodern literary “move” (though it is that), but an accurate rendition of the changes undergoing late 20th century Orange County which, with its massive influx of new residents, acts as a kind of petri dish for late 20th-century capitalism in its invention of new mass ways of selling and buying and living in a Disney-fied simulacrum of life. Equally, the science fictional elements are not just a “gesture” toward popular culture but a reflection of the lost humanity inherent in a hypertrophied surveillance society that is Dick’s frightening depiction of a tomorrow that is now our yesterday.