L'ecriture humaine has four aspects:
1. It shines a light on personal domestic spaces, the spaces often overlooked, dismissed or derogated by the dominant discourse. These spaces depict small scale community, class difference and sociality. They are where human relationships can be nurtured or exposed. If, as Stalin said, the death of one person is a tragedy and the death of a million a statistic, l'ecriture humaine focuses on the one person.
2. It tends toward the circular, not the linear. Life is not progress towards a defined end goal but a series of reiterative relationships, a return to the same ground in order to deepen it.
3. It rejects degradation or humiliation of any individual or group as a rite of passage or a definition of their humanity.
4. It foregrounds empathy and compassion.
This is always a literature of truth, not lies, of sentiment, not sentimentality, of telling difficult stories with an ethical compass pointing at empathy, compassion and forgiveness.
A work of l'ecriture humaine can be filled with violence, such as much holocaust literature is, but it nevertheless asserts humane values and censures degradation and horror. A l'ecriture that is not humane can, conversely, have no overt violence and can seem very beautiful and civilized while promoting an ethic of degradation and cruelty. To use the Nazi example again, as the good/evil divide is so clear there, much fascist literature uses beautiful language and description to exalt the 'Aryan' and whitewash violence and genocide as noble and pure.
Before reading The Man in the High Castle, I had watched the recent serialization of it through streaming it. It was an interesting experience to read the book after seeing the miniseries.
The series includes a compelling section not in the novel at all: it creates the story of John Smith, an all-American who throws his lot in with the Germans to become a very high-ranking and ruthless Nazi who yet loves his family. In this sub-plot he has to protect his son, who has a hereditary disease, from Nazi policy that require the adolescent boy be euthanized. The series also creates a dead sister for Juliana and makes Juliana a more central and sympathetic figure.
The book is more static and cerebral than the series, a luxury novels can afford, and focuses more intently on the Japanese occupation of the San Francisco area, Tao philosophy, and the I-Ching. Tagomi, a high ranking Japanese man, is a moral center in both the novel and the series, and in both cases, is able to cross the dimensional barrier between alternative histories, moving at times (though only once in the novel) into the world we know, in which the U.S. won the war. Spirituality and ethical living are central to Tagomi.
The bones of Dick's philosophy are buried under a plot that seems oddly peripheral to the central story, and therefore his philosophy becomes more ambiguous than in Burdekin. In a "say hello to the new boss/ same as the old boss," theme, the novel argues at the end that it doesn't make much difference who won the war while whoever is in charge oppresses those below, behaves violently, and has the nuclear capacity to destroy the earth. At the same time--and bumping up against this--is a portrayal of the Nazis as particularly evil, corrupt, stupid, and malevolent.
Burdekin makes an unequivocal case for nonviolence and woman's equality. Woman's equality is not a subject on Dick's radar, and he shows ambivalent attitudes towards violence. Tagomi is deeply upset when he kills two Nazi agent/thugs, as killing violates his deepest moral principles. Juliana, however, almost mechanically uses a razor to cut the throat of Joe, her Nazi lover, after she discovers he plans to assassinate Hawthorne Abendsen, the "man in the high castle." (Abendsen, in Dick's novel, wrote the alternative history novel that posits the Allies won the war.) Abendsen and his wife thank Juliana for her violent act, even though Abendsen lives unprotected and assumes he will be killed eventually.
Although all of Burdekin's central characters are men because the women have been reduced to a very low intellectual state, hers is far more the woman's novel in its sensitivity to women's plight and advocacy for appreciating the fully humanity of all people. Dick's characters are primarily men too, and they occupy a male world of business and politics. Even Childan's dinner at a Japanese couple's home is framed primarily as doing business--and Childan's interest in the Japanese wife is wholly sexual. The one female character to be fleshed out, Juliana, is exoticised and "orientalized," swinging between a surface self that is little more than a mildly sophisticated version of the "sexy, good-looking, crazy chick" and a mystical natural being with special spiritual insight. Abendsen calls her:
'a dathnon. A little chthonic spirit that ... roams tirelessly over the face of the earth.' He restored his glasses in place. 'She's doing what's instinctive to her, simply. expressing her being.'
Juliana in the novel is therefore a sex object, a crazy fucked up chick, and a mystical, spiritual, natural being--she is killer whore or redemptive goddess or nature symbol.
Burdekin's Swatiska Night works consistently in the genre of l'ecriture humaine: the focus throughout, while espousing solidly articulated, general humane principles, is on the particular. There's no discussion of large scale military movements or battles, as in Dick's novel, which enjoys re-envisioning World War II battlegrounds. This places Burdekin firmly in a mid-century feminist movement that included woman such as medieval and economic historian Elaine Power, and Virginia Woolf, who made it part of their politics to sideline war narratives, believing that real history lies in human community and that a constant narrative glorifying war meant ending war would be impossible.
Both Burdekin and Dick were interested in the spiritual. Burdekin ridicules Nazi spirituality but makes an impassioned defense of Quakerism--and her biography tells us she was interested in alternative religious views. Eastern religion is central to Dick.
Ultimately, both books have strongly anachronistic elements yet both make points that are, sadly, still highly relevant today.