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the Complete Review
the complete review - biographical

I am Alive and You are Dead

Emmanuel Carrère

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To purchase I am Alive and You are Dead

Title: I am Alive and You are Dead
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Genre: Biography
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 315 pages
Original in: French
Availability: I am Alive and You are Dead - US
I am Alive and You are Dead - UK
I am Alive and You are Dead - Canada
Je suis vivant et vous êtes morts - Canada
I am Alive and You are Dead - India
Je suis vivant et vous êtes morts - France
Io sono vivo, voi siete morti - Italia
Yo estoy vivo y vosotros estáis muertos - España
  • A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick
  • French title: Je suis vivant et vous êtes morts
  • Translated by Timothy Bent

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Our Assessment:

B : breezy, entertaining biography of a very peculiar man

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 15/4/2004 .
The Guardian . 4/6/2005 Michael Moorcock
Harper's . 6/2004 John Leonard
Independent on Sunday . 26/6/2005 Ben Thompson
New Statesman . 11/7/2005 Bryan Appleyard
The NY Times Book Rev. F 20/6/2004 Charles Taylor
The Observer . 12/6/2005 Sean O'Hagan
San Francisco Chronicle . 4/7/2004 Michael Berry
The Telegraph . 12/6/2005 Christopher Tayler
The Telegraph . 26/6/2005 Andrew McKie
VLS . 5/2004 Benjamin Strong
Wilson Quarterly . Fall/2004 Robert Masello

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr Carrère shows how Dick's tumultuous life story leaked on to the pages of his science-fiction novels." - The Economist

  • "It's a shame this book contains no index and does not refer to the half-a-dozen or so other critiques and biographies of PKD, nor to interviews" - Michael Moorcock, The Guardian

  • "Emmanuel Carrère's I am Alive and You are Dead is remarkable--a depth charge, a CAT scan, and an exorcism." - John Leonard, Harper's

  • "Yet the harder he strives to boil down Dick's maverick genius to a conventional pathology of drug-induced paranoia and mental illness, the more stubbornly it resists such simplification. By an irony of aptly Dickian proportions, this book's real value comes not so much in Carrère's vain attempts to penetrate the wilds of the author's psyche, as in the connections he makes between Philip K Dick's work and the counter-cultural milieu which sustained it." - Ben Thompson, Independent on Sunday

  • "It has to be said that Carrere emerges triumphant from the process. This is a readable, intelligent and plausible evocation of Dick's inner world. Moreover, thanks to a fine translator, Carrere's narrative panache survives in English. Simply for a good read, anybody -- not just Dick fans -- can safely pick up this book." - Bryan Appleyard, New Statesman

  • "Rambling on while the reader sinks into catatonia, I Am Alive and You Are Dead (never was a book so aptly named) reads like a hyperadolescent spouting forth trippy what-ifs (.....) A book that succeeds in rendering silly the body of work it sets out to celebrate already qualifies as a disaster. But the problems with I Am Alive and You Are Dead don't end with Carrère's fannish -- and not always lucid -- retelling of Dick's novels. (...) Was anything having to do with this book checked ? (...) (T)he convoluted theorizing and tortured plot recitations of I Am Alive and You Are Dead illuminate neither science fiction nor the literary legacy of Philip K. Dick. " - Charles Taylor, The New York Times Book Review

  • "More ominously, there is nothing here in the way of an index or footnotes, none of the usual evidence of deep research that gives a biography the solid stamp of authority. (...) For all that, though, I am Alive and You are Dead is an intriguing read, well paced and packed with evidence of Dick's eccentricity, which was of the obsessive and neurotic kind, and must have made him impossible to be around for any length of time. (...) Carrère's labour of love is as good a place as any to start trying to understand the enigma of Philip K Dick" - Sean O'Hagan, The Observer

  • "He neither overstates Dick's gifts nor belittles his more outlandish hypotheses about the underlying meaning of reality. Although Carrere makes it perfectly clear how frustrating it must have been to live with this paranoid, mercurial writer, he also captures what surely was attractive about him -- his sense of humor, his intellectual curiosity, his very human vulnerability. (...) Carrere offers an especially compelling portrait of the author." - Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Biographies written novel-fashion from the point of view of their subjects are nearly always annoying, but Em-manuel Carrère has used the technique with impressive tact and skill. Unlike a stereotypical French intellectual, he also writes crisply" - Christopher Tayler, The Telegraph

  • "I'm not sure that this very good book is where you should start on PKD, but start you should. Nor am I sure that it is a true account of the man and his work. But that's as it should be." - Andrew McKie, The Telegraph

  • "If I Am Alive and You Are Dead honestly speculates, fine. The result matches the sinister tension of Carrère's novel Class Trip" - Benjamin Strong, Voice Literary Supplement

  • "Just how he accomplished so much is, unfortunately, left obscure in this sympathetic but self-indulgent portrait. (...) Philip K. Dick often lost touch with reality-indeed, it became his trademark, in his life and in his art -- but it's too bad Carrère felt he had to follow suit" - Robert Masello, Wilson Quarterly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Emmanuel Carrère admits (and warns) in his preface that this "is a very peculiar book". In part that's because its subject, legendary science fiction author Philip K. Dick, was a very peculiar man, but Carrère's approach also contributes to the peculiarity. Presented as a fairly straightforward birth-to-death biography, Carrère uses Dick's own work to fill in much of the detail, reading the fiction as autobiographical -- and he does so without always alerting the reader what information comes from what source. It makes for a very intimate biography, revealing feelings, events, and exchanges -- a good deal of which is based at least on some conjecture (and/or a very literal reading and interpretation of Dick's work). Carrere promises: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, and that's what he delivers -- but whether it really is Dick's mind that is presented is open to question.
       Any way one reads it, I am Alive and You are Dead makes for a pretty compelling read: Dick would hardly be believable as a fictional character. A pill-popping paranoid, terribly clingy, for the most part unable to live by himself, constantly infatuated but inconstant in his infatuations, he sounds like a pretty messed-up soul, and he certainly made life for those around him difficult as well. He consumed enormous amounts of drugs -- for professional rather than recreational purposes, for the most part, needing the energy to churn out the books he did -- and that presumably didn't help an already fairly unstable mental state. He was in therapy most his life, but seems to have enjoyed toying with his analysts as much as actually trying to get help.
       As Carrère harps on, the blurry line between reality and its opposite (be it fiction or a philosophically more complex concept) was the cornerstone of his life (and art). He refused to believe things were as they appeared, always suspecting everything -- from insignificant small things to the world itself -- to be something else entirely, appearing in disguise, trying to fool him. That his paranoid delusions turned out occasionally to contain elements of truth -- the Watergate scandal seemed to prove him right about how politics worked in the US -- only reinforced his beliefs.
       Carrère does a fine job of following Dick's life and career, particularly the personal side: the women he chased and the ones he married, his run-ins with the police, his mental health issues. His desperation -- and there's frequently a sense of urgency to him -- comes across well, and the major milestones in his life are well-related. The focus in the biography is entirely on Dick, making for an odd immediacy: the women (and children) he leaves behind, for example, pretty much disappear from sight once they're out of the picture. Dick appears to be (or is presented as) living almost entirely in the moment and, from day to day, the present.
       Oddly, for a book so closely based on his books, what Dick wrote doesn't figure that prominently here. A few of the novels do -- Carrère cites them at length, or acknowledges using them for his re-construction -- but many are entirely ignored or (in the case of his so-called mainstream novels, most only published after his death) dismissed. There's not even a bibliography, and readers unfamiliar with Dick's output are surely only left with a vague sense of what exactly he did write.
       The birth-to-death range, and focus solely on the person, also doesn't give the full picture of Dick's influence and the significance of his work. A few episodes do show his standing and the interest of others in him and his work, but Carrere's view is entirely one-sided: the Stanislaw Lem-fiasco, for example, gives some sense of how Dick was regarded abroad -- what a fan and supporter to have !--, but Carrere doesn't bother to look at it from Lem's side. In addition, written in 1993, the book can't really take in the enormous influence Dick has had now that so many of his works have been filmed -- not that Carrère even shows much interest in Blade Runner, aside from what Dick did with the proceeds.
       I am Alive and You are Dead is very readable, and a fine introduction to the man, perhaps best suited for those who have read a few of Dick's works and are curious about the man behind them. It's more an interpretation of Dick's life than a true biography, but provides enough of the relevant facts and markers from his life to make for an adequate biography. But one wishes Carrère had brought more of Dick's work (or more of it more clearly) into the discussion.

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I am Alive and You are Dead: Reviews: Philip K. Dick: Other books by Emmanuel Carrere under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Emmanuel Carrère was born in 1957. He has written numerous books, which have been widely translated.

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© 2005-2022 the complete review

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