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CULTURAL STUDIES

Man enough

Stanislaw Lem
Stanislaw Lem (Aleksander Jalosinski / Reuters / Forum)

ANDY KAUFMAN MAY have been a wearer of masks - wrestler, busboy, comedian - but his essentially humanoid nature was never in doubt. This was not universally the case with Stanislaw Lem, the Polish writer who died on March 27 at age 84.

In 1975, the translation of an essay by Lem titled ''Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among The Charlatans" appeared in the magazine ''Science Fiction Studies." Lem, who had worked hard to secure permission for Dick's novel ''Ubik" to be translated into Polish, was unaware that Dick-wallowing in drugs and paranoia-had already denounced him to the FBI. In a letter dated Sept. 2, 1974, Dick informed the feds that Lem was ''a total party functionary" and speculated further that he may not have been a person at all, but was ''probably a composite committee rather than an individual, since he writes in several styles."

Lem, unlike Dick, did indeed write in several styles, from the robot folk tales of ''The Cyberiad" (1965-67) to the Borgesian conceit of ''A Perfect Vacuum" (1971), which was a collection of reviews of imaginary books. But he was his own man, as the two directors who filmed his 1961 man-meets-oceanic-brain-in-space novel ''Solaris" discovered. The first was the Russian Andrei Tarkovsky, who injected some Tolstoy and a lot of soulful, craggy-faced staring into his 1972 version. Lem characterized his relationship with Tarkovsky as being ''like a pair of harnessed horses-each of them pulling the cart in a different direction." Of the 2002 ''Solaris," directed by Steven Soderbergh, Lem allowed that it was ''not devoid of ambition, taste, and climate," although he also declared himself ''not delighted with the prominence of love." A vision quite as awkward as Dick's, then-but with better manners.

James Parker's column appears biweekly in Ideas. E-mail cultural.studies@globe.com.

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