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The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick
Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings
by Philip K. Dick
Edited and with an Introduction by Lawrence Sutin
Copyright 1995 - First Vintage Books Edition
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"A wide-ranging selection of free-wheeling philosophical essays and journal entries; humorous, thoughtful speeches; and plot scenarios. . . . For both casual and serious Dick fans, The Shifting Realities unearths some gems." -- Boston Phoenix
Philip K. Dick was both our most brilliant science fiction writer and a visionary philosopher who chose to couch his speculations in fiction. For, as he wrote about androids and virtual reality, schizophrenic prophets and amnesiac gods, Dick was also posing fundamental questions: What is reality? What is sanity? And what is human? This unprecedented collection of Dick's literary and philosophical writings acquaints us with the astonishing range and eloquence of his lifelong inquiry.
The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick includes autobiography, critiques of science fiction, and dizzyingly provocative essays such as "The Android and the Human" and "It You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others." Readers will also find two chapters of a proposed sequel to Dick's award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle and selections from the metaphysical Exegesis that inspired his classic VALIS.
Witty, erudite, and exploding with intellectual shrapnel, this is the last testament of an American original. This collection confirms Dick's reputation as one of the foremost imaginative thinkers of the twentieth century.
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To Mab, for her ceaseless fascination and patience with Philip K. Dick, and to Henry, always the most attentive reader of the Exegesis.
The editor would also like to thank Douglas A. Mackey for his kind assistance in tracing prior publication data for certain of the writings inluded herein.
Part One - Autobiographical Writings
Two Fragments from the Mainstream Novel Gather Yourselves Together (1949)
"Introducing the Author" (1953)
"Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick" (1968)
"Self Portrait" (1968)
"Notes Made Late at Night by a Weary SF Writer" (1968, 1972)
"Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick" (1972)
"Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick" (1973)
"Memories Found in a Bill from a Small Animal Vet" (1976)
"The Short, Happy Life of a Science Fiction Writer" (1976)
"Strange Memories of Death" (1979, 1984)
"Philip K. Dick on Philosophy: A Brief Interview," Conducted by Frank C. Bertrand (1980, 1988)
Part Two - Writings on Science Fiction and Related Ideas
"Pessimism in Science Fiction" (1955)
"Will the Atomic Bomb Ever Be Perfected, and If So, What Becomes of Robert Heinlein?" (1966)
"The Double: Bill Symposium": Replies to "A Questionnaire for Professional SF Writers and Editors" (1969)
"That Moon Plaque" (1969)
"Who Is an SF Writer?" (1974)
"Michelson-Morley Experiment Reappraised" (1979)
"Introduction" to Dr. Bloodmoney (1979, 1985)
"Introduction" to The Golden Man (1980)
"Book Review" of The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction (1980)
"My Definition of Science Fiction" (1981)
"Prediction" by Philip K. Dick Included in The Book of Predictions (1981)
"Universe Makers. . . and Breakers" (1981)
"Headnote" for "Beyond Lies the Wub" (1981)
Part Three - Works Related to The Man in the High Castle and Its Proposed Sequel
"Naziism and The High Castle" (1964)
"Biographical Material on Hawthorne Abendsen" (1974)
The Two Completed Chapters of a Proposed Sequel to The Man in the High Castle (1964)
Part Four - Plot Proposals and Outlines
"Joe Protagoras Is Alive and Living on Earth" (1967)
"Plot Idea for Mission: Impossible" (1967)
"TV Series Idea" (1967)
"Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (1968)
Part Five - Essays and Speeches
"Drugs, Hallucination, and the Quest for Reality" (1964)
"Schizophrenia & The Book of Changes" (1965)
"The Android and the Human" (1972)
"Man, Android, and Machine" (1976)
"If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others" (1977)
"How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" (1978, 1985)
"Cosmogony and Cosmology" (1978)
"The Tagore Letter" (1981)
Part Six - Selections from the Exegesis
From the Exegesis (c. 1975-80)
BY LAWRENCE SUTIN
This is a first-time collection, in book form, of significant nonfiction writings -- essays, journals, plot scenarios, speeches, and interviews -- by Philip K. Dick from throughout his career. These writings establish, I believe, that Dick was not only a visionary creator of speculative fiction but also an illuminating and original thinker on issues ranging from the merging of quantum physics and metaphysics; to the potential scope of virtual reality and its unforeseen personal and political consequences; to the discomforting relation between schizophrenia (and other psychiatric diagnoses) and societal "joint hallucinations"; to, not least, the challenge to primary human values posed in an age of technological distance and spiritual despair.
The bulk of these writings have either never before been published, or have appeared only in obscure and out-of-print publications. Dick saw himself first and foremost as a fiction writer, and there can be no question that it is in his stories and his novels -- both science fiction (SF) and mainstream -- that Dick's most permanent legacy resides. As for his nonfiction writings, those few essays and speeches that he published in his lifetime attracted scant attention. In certain cases, this was justified -- their style and quality were markedly uneven; indeed, the same may be said with respect to the contents of this volume, many of which -- the Exegesis entries -- Dick had no intention of publishing in his lifetime and hence no reason to revise and polish. (He may -- there is no direct evidence in his private writings to support the supposition -- have hoped that they be discovered and published after his death.)
But the lack of attention paid to Dick's nonfictional works is due to factors that go beyond unevenness of quality. To this day one finds, in SF critical circles, sharp resistance to the notion that Dick's ideas -- divorced from the immediate entertainment context of his fiction -- could possibly be worthy of serious consideration. It is as if, for these critics, to declare that certain of Dick's ideas make serious sense is to diminish his importance as the ultimate "mad" SF genius -- a patronizing role assigned him by these selfsame critics. But it is nonsensical to maintain, in the face of the plain evidence of the fictional texts themselves, not to mention his own writings on SF in this volume, that Dick's ideas and his fictional realms are divisible dualities rather than the permeable whole of a life's work. Thankfully, this kind of critical parochialism is diminishing even within the SF world. And as for the world at large, Dick is, at long last, receiving his due as a writer of both imaginative depth and intellectual power. Indeed, the story of his emergence into sudden literary "respectability" is a revelatory parable as to the fierce cultural strictures that, in America, dominate the type and degree of attention paid to an author and his works.
Philip K. Dick (1928-82), author of more than fifty volumes of novels and stories, has become, since his death, the focus of one of the most remarkable literary reappraisals of modern times. From his longtime status as a patronized "pulp" writer of "trashy" science fiction, Dick has now emerged -- in the minds of a broad range of critics and fellow artists -- as one of the most unique and visionary talents in the history of American literature.
This astonishing turnabout in recognition of Dick is evidenced both by the intensity of the praise bestowed on him and the range of voices that concur in it. Art Spiegelman, author/illustrator of Maus, has written: "What Franz Kafka was to the first half of the twentieth century, Philip K. Dick is to the second half." Ursula Le Guin, who has acknowledged Dick's strong influence on her own acclaimed SF novels, points to him as "our own homegrown Borges." Timothy Leary hails Dick as "a major twenty-first-century writer, a 'fictional philosopher' of the quantum age." Jean Baudrillard, a leader of the postmodernist critical movement in France, cites Dick as one of the greatest experimental writers of our era. New Age thinker Terrence McKenna writes of Dick the philosopher as "this incredible genius, this gentle, long-suffering, beauty-worshiping man." Dick appears on the cover of The New Republic while the critical essay within declares that "Dick's novels demand attention. . . . He is both lucid and strange, practical and paranoid." An electronic-music opera with a libretto based on the Dick novel Valis premieres to great acclaim in the Pompidou Center in Paris. The renowned Mabou Mines theater group performs a dramatic adaptation of the Dick novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said in Boston and New York. Punk and industrial rock bands take their names from Dick titles and pay homage to his books in their lyrics. Hollywood adapts a Dick novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and a story ("I Can Remember It for You Wholesale") into the movies Blade Runner and Total Recall, while an acclaimed French film adaptation of yet another novel (Confessions of a Crap-Artist) was released in America in the summer of 1993 under the title Barjo. In the past two years, Dick has been the subject of laudatory front-page features in The New York Times Book Review and the L.A. Weekly -- the opposite poles, one might say, of an overall mainstream acceptance. The headline for the L.A. Weekly feature sums up the thrust of the critical turnaround: "The Novelist of the '90s Has Been Dead Eight Years."
What makes this posthumous triumph all the more wrenching is the knowledge that, during his lifetime, Dick could succeed in reaching a wide readership only within the "ghetto" of the (SF) genre -- a critically derided "ghetto" that effectively prevented serious consideration of his works from without. Dick wrote a number of mainstream literary novels (including the above-mentioned Confessions of a Crap-Artist), most of which have been published posthumously. But the greatest of his fictional works fall within the SF genre, which allowed Dick a conceptual and imaginative freedom that was severely crimped by the strictures of consensual reality favored by the mainstream. Even within the SF genre, Dick was considered something of an odd figure, with his penchant for plots that emphasized metaphysical speculations as opposed to "hard" science predictions. Still, the sheer vividness, dark humor, and textured detail with which Dick rendered his spiraling alternate universes and the oh so human characters who inhabited them won over a sizable number of SF readers. In a writing career that spanned three decades, Dick produced a number of stories and novels that are widely regarded as SF classics; these include Time out of Joint (1959), Martian Time-Slip (1962), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Ubik (1969), A Scanner Darkly (1977), and Valis (1981).
In 1963, Dick was awarded the highest honor that SF has to bestow: the Hugo Award for The Man in the High Castle, a novel that exemplifies Dick's trademark blending of SF plot structure (as to which the number one rule is constantly to amaze the reader) and philosophical mazemaking (with a no-holds-barred skepticism that allowed for all possibilities). Dick was fervent in his view that SF was the genre par excellence for the exploration of new and challenging concepts.
As Dick himself explained in an epistolatory interview (with critic Frank Bertrand) included herein: "Central to SF is the idea as dynamism. Events evolve out of an idea impacting on living creatures and their society. The idea must always be a novelty. . . . There is SF because the human brain craves sensory and intellectual stimulation before everything else, and the eccentric view provides unlimited stimulation, the eccentric view and the invented world."
High Castle contains a horde of stimulating ideas, beginning with the basic plot: a post-World War II world in which the Axis powers apparently have prevailed and the United States is a conquered land divided between Japan (the West) and Germany (the East). While the Japanese are relatively compassionate conquerors, the Nazis have extended their brutal methods throughout their dominions. Evil has become, under their reign, a palpable daily horror. One of the characters, a Swiss diplomat who is secretly working against the Nazis, sees them as the products of a collective psychic upheaval (described in terms that evidence Dick's indebtedness to C. G. Jung) that has obliterated the distinction between the human and the divine by reversing the sacrificial pattern of the Christian eucharist:
They [the Nazis] want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God's power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archetype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. It is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate -- confusion between him who worships and that which is worshiped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.
But beneath this apparent, horrific reality there exists -- for those who can experience it -- an alternate world in which the Allies are victorious and life has retained its capacity for goodness. To reach this alternate world is no easy matter; pain and shock may be necessary to open one's eyes, or the enlightening aid of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel-within-the-novel in High Castle that reveals the true state of affairs for those who read with intelligence, heart, and an open mind.
In 1974, perhaps the most tumultuous year -- for reasons shortly to be discussed -- in his signally tumultuous life, Dick contemplated writing a novelistic sequel to High Castle, but his inward repugnance at returning to an extended reimagining of the Nazi mentality prevented him from completing this project. The two chapters he did complete are published for the first time in this volume, as is the "Biographical Material on Hawthorne Abendsen" (1974).
Dick himself would come to hope, in the final decade of his writing life, that his own novels and stories could fulfill a role analogous to that of Abendsen for his readers: to alert them that the consensual reality that grimly governed their daily lives (the "Black Iron Prison," as Dick would come to call it in his philosophical journal, the Exegesis) might not be as impregnable as it seemed. This is not to say that Dick saw himself as a prophet or as one possessing an undeniable Truth of life (though Dick could sound -- temporarily -- convinced while exploring the possibilities of an idea that intrigued him.) On the contrary, Dick could be a relentless critic of his own theories and beliefs. He was also quite willing to satirize himself broadly (as the would-be mystic Horselover Fat) and his penchant for "wild" speculations in his autobiographical novel Valis (1981): "Fat must have come up with more theories than there are stars in the universe. Every day he developed a new one, more cunning, more exciting and more fucked." In his philosophical writings, Dick would don, dwell within, and then discard one theory after another -- as so many imaginative masks or personae -- in his quest to unravel the mysteries of his two great themes: What is human? What is real? What makes Dick such a unique voice, both in his fiction and -- equally -- in the nonfiction writings collected in this book, was not the answers he reached (for he held to none), but rather the imaginative range and depth of his questioning, and the joy and brilliance and wild nerve with which he pursued it.
Philosophical issues were always at the heart of Dick's subject matter as a writer. He sold his first SF story back in 1951, at age twenty-two. Even by then, his course was set: He would explore the basic mysteries of existence and of human character. In Michael in the 'Fifties, an unpublished novel by Kleo Mini (Dick's second wife, to whom he was married for most of the fifties decade), the psychological makeup of the title character is based loosely on Dick and displays the same intense scrutiny of existence that Mini remembers in her husband at the very start of his SF writing career. Here is a dialogue between Michael and wife Kate, based to some extent on Mini herself. Kate speaks first:
"I think you [Michael] -- sometimes -- want to pull away from the world. Away from me, away from everything I think of as real. Away from your house and your car and your cat. Sometimes you're very far away from all of us. And sometimes I think I'm like a string that brings you back to earth, holds you down to the earth."
She was right, he thought. She was real, as real as the crab grass and the kitchen table.
"Where is it you go, Michael?"
"I don't want to go anywhere, Kate. But I think there are different kinds of reality. And the car and the house and the cat are not all there is. Living like we do -- on the edge, in a way -- we're always so busy scraping along, trying to get by, that it keeps us, it keeps me from dealing with the other reality, the meaning of everything."*
* I would like to thank Kleo Mini for permission to quote from Michael in the 'Fifties, which offers a valuable portrait not only of Dick but also of the Berkeley milieu in which he came of age.
In his interview with Bertrand, Dick offered a summary of his early philosophical influences:
I first became interested in philosophy in high school when I realized one day that all space is the same size; it is only the material boundaries encompassing it that differ. After that there came to me the realization (which I found later in Hume) that causality is a perception in the observer and not a datum of external reality. In college I was given Plato to read and thereupon became aware of the possible existence of a metaphysical realm beyond or above the sensory world. I came to understand that the human mind could conceive of a realm of which the empirical world was epiphenomenal. Finally I came to believe that in a certain sense the empirical world was not truly real, at least not as real as the archetypal realm beyond it. At this point I despaired of the veracity of sense-data. Hence in novel after novel that I write I question the reality of the world that the characters' percept-systems report.
This condensed history of philosophical influences tells only part of the story of Dick's development as a writer. There are, to be sure, a good number of philosophical and spiritual perspectives that mattered greatly to Dick but are not listed above. But a more basic factor was the difficult childhood Dick endured, which included the early divorce of his parents, frequent Depression era cross-country moves with his financially strapped and emotionally distant mother, and bouts of vertigo and agoraphobia that interfered with Dick's schooling and friendships and caused his mother to have him examined by at least two psychiatrists. One of these psychiatrists speculated that Dick might be suffering from schizophrenia -- a diagnostic possibility that severely frightened the boy and would haunt the grown man all his life.
Throughout Dick's speculations, there is the underlying sense of a dark pain and of shattering experiences that had left him grappling for his place in the shared world (koinos kosmos, in the Greek of Heraclitus, a thinker whom Dick greatly admired) and struggling to evade the madness of solitary delusion (idios kosmos, private world; from idios comes the English "idiot" -- one who is cut off from that which is happening around him). Though fear lurked strongly within him, Dick insisted on staring madness in the face and asking if it, too, could lay claim to a kind of knowledge. Thus, in "Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest for Reality," a 1964 essay included herein, Dick argued that what is called schizophrenic or psychotic "hallucination" may be, in many cases, the result of extremely broad and sensitive perceptions that most "sane" persons learn to screen out of their consciousness. The Kantian a priori categories of space and time are examples of such screens; Kant claimed that these were necessary for the mental ordering of phenomenal reality, which would otherwise remain a hopeless perceptual chaos to human minds. In his essay, Dick theorized that, to the extent that our mental and sensory awareness happens to extend beyond these socially ratified screens, any one of us may become subject to "hallucinations" -- which are, in essence, unshared realities. While it is possible that "mystical" insights may ensue, there is a greater likelihood -- and a fearfully tragic one it is -- that we may find ourselves in a hell realm of utter mental isolation:
In the light of this, the idea of hallucinating takes on a very different character; hallucinations, whether induced by psychosis, hypnosis, drugs, toxins, etc., may be merely quantitatively different from what we see, not qualitatively so. In other words, too much is emanating from the neurological apparatus of the organism, over and beyond the structural, organizing necessity. . . . No-name entities or aspects begin to appear, and since the person does not know what they are -- that is, what they're called or what they mean -- he cannot communicate with other persons about them. This breakdown of verbal communication is the fatal index that somewhere along the line the person is experiencing reality in a way too altered to fit into his own prior worldview and too radical to allow empathic linkage with other persons.
There is an interesting parallel between Dick's emphasis here on a societally based definition of hallucinations -- as perceptions unshared by others -- and the insight offered by the eminent anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his Beyond Culture: "Perceptual aberrations are not restricted to psychoses but can also be situational in character, particularly in instances of great stress, excitation, or drug influences."* Instances, that is, in which, in Dick's words, "too much is emanating from the neurological apparatus of the organism."
* Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture (New York: Anchor Books, 1976, 1981), p. 229.
In his 1965 essay "Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes" (also included), Dick sought to give the fearful and isolated perceptions of the schizophrenic an analytical coherence that might extend beyond the purely personal to a new viewpoint on human experience:
What distinguishes schizophrenic existence from that which the rest of us like to imagine we enjoy is the element of time. The schizophrenic is having it all now, whether he wants it or not; the whole can of film has descended on him, whereas we watch it progress frame by frame. So for him, causality does not exist. Instead, the a-causal connective principle which [quantum physicist] Wolfgang Pauli called Syncronicity is operating in all situations -- not merely as one factor at work, as with us. Like a person under LSD, the schizophrenic is engulfed in an endless now. It's not too much fun.
Dick described himself, in this essay, as "schizoid effective" -- a "pre-schizophrenic personality." This fearful dancing on the high wire of self-diagnostics is a recurrent element in Dick's essays and journals. Two opposite possibilities set the boundaries: the fear that he might be insane ("psychotic" and "schizophrenic" were his most common terms), and the possibility that he might, through an encompassing intellectual understanding (anamnesis, the recollection of the archetypal realm of Ideas of Plato), win spiritual redemption -- freedom from his crippling fears, and a haven from the deluded and sorrowful world.
There was, for Dick, a certain sense in which his own writings might alleviate some of the sorrow -- for his readers and for himself -- by at least openly acknowledging the doubts and questions that existence posed for those who had eyes to see. As he wrote in one Exegesis entry:
I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist; my novel & story-writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art but truth. Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or explanation. Yet this seems somehow to help a certain kind of sensitive troubled person, for whom I speak. I think I understand the common ingredient in those whom my writing helps: they cannot or will not blunt their own intimations about the irrational, mysterious nature of reality, &, for them, my corpus of writing is one long ratiocination regarding this inexplicable reality, an integration & presentation, analysis & response & personal history.*
* Philip K. Dick, In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis, ed. Lawrence Sutin (Novato, Calif./Lancaster, Pa.: Underwood-Miller, 1991), p. 161.
One aspect of that "personal history" that has continued to intrigue his readers is the bizarre and powerful series of dreams, visions, and voices that flooded Dick's consciousness in February and March 1974 (or "2-3-74," Dick's shorthand for that period) and stood for him as the central -- and, ultimately, inexplicable -- event of his life. These inspired what has become known as the "Valis Trilogy" -- the final three novels of Dick's life that have earned both critical praise and a broad readership (through their recent simultaneous reissuance as Vintage trade editions): Valis (1981), The Divine Invasion (1981), and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982). In all three novels, Dick explores the anguish and entropic emptiness of an earthly realm in which God (or whatever alternative name we give to the divine) remains unknown and perhaps unknowable. But also, in all of these works, Dick offers the hope that divine knowledge and redemption may yet be granted -- even to modern, scuffling souls who have trouble paying their rent and keeping their marriages together. There is a striking thematic resemblance between these novels and the speculations of the Gnostic thinkers of the early centuries of the Christian era. Indeed, in the definitive modern edition of Gnostic scriptures, The Nag Hammadi Library (1988), an "Afterword" singles out Dick (along with Jung, Hermann Hesse, and Harold Bloom) as a preeminent modern interpreter of Gnostic beliefs.
As we have seen, even prior to the "Valis Trilogy," philosophical and spiritual questions had formed the underpinnings of Dick's SF "alternate" worlds and "alien" intelligences. But Dick had harbored a carefully limited view of himself, through the first two decades of his writing career, as one who fervently posed ultimate questions but lacked -- as a matter of personal experience -- any real encounter with a higher source of being. After 2-3-74, this changed to an extent. By his very nature, Dick was not a man to arrive at -- or even to wish to arrive at -- a simple conclusion about any life event, much less as complex and unsettling a series of events as 2-3-74. But through all of his wrangling, one fundamental fact emerges plainly: 2-3-74 served as a soul-shaking inspiration for Dick as a writer and thinker. The pratfalls and paradoxes of his SF plots had begun to seem to him -- after two decades of prolific exploration -- mere entertainments. Not that Dick did not wish to entertain. On the contrary, it was one of his paramount concerns as a writer: He loved the excitement of a good SF plot, as is amply testified to in his essays on SF included in this volume. But one of the strongest facets of his character -- and one that sets Dick aside from the abundance of writers who dabble in metaphysical puzzles out of sheer amusement -- was his conviction that answers could be attained by those who persisted in asking questions. Imagination, intelligence, and yearning insistence could prevail. Now, in his final years, there was a new passion: the driving necessity of getting to the truth of what had happened to him in those months.
Was "2-3-74" a case of genuine mystical experiences, or a contact with "higher" (or simply "other") forms of intelligence, or a conscious manipulation of his mind by unknown persons, or a purely private outbreak of psychotic symptoms? Dick considered each of these possibilities, as well as others too numerous to summarize here, in his eight-thousand-page Exegesis (subtitled by Dick Apologia pro Mea Vita, to emphasize its central importance). The Exegesis was a journal -- handwritten, for the most part -- at which Dick labored night after night for eight years, until his death in 1982, in an attempt to explain 2-3-74 to his own satisfaction. He never succeeded. The Exegesis is, at times, a wild and wayward human record: Eight years' worth of impassioned journaling through the dead of the night (Dick's preferred time for creative effort), with no expressed intention of publication in his own lifetime, could not but result in highly uneven streaks of writing. But the Exegesis is also replete with passages that confirm Dick's standing as a subtle thinker and an astonishing guide to hidden possibilities of existence. A previous collection, In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis (Underwood/Miller, 1991), edited by the present writer, has won critical praise for Dick as a philosophical and spiritual thinker. Robert Anton Wilson (coauthor of the popular Illuminatus trilogy) wrote: "Dick explains 'mystic' states better than any visionary writer of the past." In Gnosis, reviewer John Shirley declared: "Deluded or spiritually liberated, Dick was a genius, and that genius shines through every page of this book." Further unpublished selections of the Exegesis appear in this volume -- including a full-length essay, titled (in the parodic pulp style that Dick employed with masterly effect in his fictional works) "The Ultra Hidden (Cryptic) Doctrine: The Secret Meaning of the Great Systems of Theosophy of the World, Openly Revealed for the First Time."
As is exemplified by this flamboyant title, there is something in the nature of Dick's raptly pell-mell style that may well put off those readers who think they know what "serious" writing must look and sound like. Of course, it was just such fixed canons of "serious" discourse that Dick devoted himself to dismantling -- or, in the more fashionable postmodern jargon that has come into prominence since his death, "deconstructing" -- in many of the essays included in this book.
Dick is, as a matter both of style and of content, an uncategorizable thinker. One can dub him a "philosopher," and indeed he warrants the title in its original Greek meaning as one who loved wisdom and truly believed in the value of uninhibited questioning -- a rarity in this day and age, in which the word "metaphysical" has become a synonym for "pointless." But Dick has none of the systematic rigor and impersonality of tone that mark modern-day philosophical analysis for most readers. He adheres to no single philosophical school, though he feels free enough to wander through the hallways, so to speak, of each and every school of West and East down through the ages. He defends no propositions; rather, he samples them, explores them to their heights and the depths, then moves on. He proposes ultimate answers -- a goodly number of them, in fact -- and then confesses that he himself cannot choose among them. Especially in the Exegesis, Dick is sometimes moved to exclamations of unphilosophical joy; at other times the despair expressed on the page is a fearful thing. Dick clearly does not fit the modern mold of the "philosopher"; his true affinity is with the pre-Socratic thinkers, whose gnomic and evocative writings -- adamant, fragmented personal visions of the universe, its nature and purpose -- have resisted definitive textual analysis for more than two millennia.
If one attempts to label Dick as a "mystic," similar difficulties arise. First, the term "mystic" seems to imply, by its standard usage in theological literature, that Dick definitely made contact with a divine reality or "saw God," as modern parlance goes. This conclusion is, of course, unwarranted. Dick himself never made up his mind as to whether it was God or "psychosis" or "something other" that he contacted in 2-3-74. Indeterminacy is the central characteristic of the Exegesis. The sheer strangeness of Dick's visions, coupled with his self-confessed "nervous breakdowns," have led some readers and critics to conclude that 2-3-74 can be seen only as the product of mental illness; the diagnoses offered are legion. To be sure, attempts at posthumous diagnosis of Dick are doomed to be highly speculative, particularly when psychiatrists and psychologists who treated him at various times of his life themselves disagreed widely over his mental state (most placed him as neurotic in some form, and at least one found him quite normal). Quite aside from the difficulties of such diagnosis, there is the further concern that diagnostics per se are useful when applied to a living patient under treatment but are singularly reductive when employed as a simplistic categorizing label for a substantial body of writings by a deceased author. There is, in truth, no psychiatric term yet devised that does justice to the vividness and cornplexity of his writings -- and their impact on the psyches of his readers. To read Dick with attention is to participate -- startlingly -- in his unique vision, which frequently violates consensus assumptions about the nature of "reality," but retains nonetheless a brilliant coherence and emotional depth that signal anything but the workings of a madman, howsoever the facts of his life may be thrashed over and diagnosed by amateur analysts. Critic Alexander Star has aptly delineated the boundary between the man and the impact of his work: "Dick's sanity was open to question. But throughout his career he wrote with qualities that are rare in a science fiction writer, or in any writer at all. These included a sure feel for the detritus and debris, the obsolescent object-world, of postwar suburbia; a sharp historical wit; and a searching moral subtlety and concern."*
* Alexander Star, "The God in the Trash," The New Republic (December 6, 1993), p. 34.
To focus on a rigid binary definition of sane or insane constitutes, in the case of Dick and his work, a puerile simplification. The further the combined bodies of knowledge of psychology, anthropology, and history of religions progress, the less clear it seems that bright-line divisions among "religious," "shamanic," and "psychotic" states is possible or even useful in the absence of a careful appreciation of the cultural and personal contexts of the experiencer. This is not to argue that Dick even remotely resembles an "enlightened" mystic; it is well to remember that Dick's forte was questions, not answers; those who would see his ideas as fodder for a "cult" merely reflect their own hunger for conditioned thought. Dick's experiences, as reflected in the writings in the present volume, reflect a root indeterminacy, a persistent puzzlement and skepticism that underlie even his wildest speculations. To follow Dick along his metaphysical quest will, however, provide its own unique rewards for the reader who is able to maintain an open mind.
For example, one of the elements of his 2-3-74 experience was a series of "phosphene graphics" visions, which included, in one instance, a sighting of the Golden Rectangle of Greek aesthetics, which represented, in that culture, perfect architectural proportion as reflected in structures such as the Parthenon. Dick also became fascinated, during this period, with the Fibonacci logarithmic series, named after the thirteenth-century mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa, who utilized it to demonstrate a frequent structural analogy among spiral forms in nature, as in certain seashells, leaves, and rock formations. Subsequent research has extended the analogy to the spin of hurricane winds and the DNA double helix, as well as to the underlying theorems of fractal mathematics and computer imaging. Dick believed that the Golden Triangle and the Fibonacci series were keys to interpreting the archetypal truths being revealed in the "phosphene graphics"; these speculations appear frequently in the Exegesis and are featured in Dick's novel Valis and in the speech "If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others," included in this volume. Nonetheless, the skeptical reader is likely to give them short shrift, consigning them as mere gibberish.
But now consider the pervasive influence of phosphene graphics in shamanic visions and world religions, as summarized by anthropologist Michael Ripinsky-Naxon:
Somewhere in the neural network of the brain and the retina is spurred a phenomenon [phosphenes] that actuates inner sight, or luminous visions, and which may constitute the basis for an objective, physical framework for the visions encountered among religious adepts such as shamans and mystics. . . . Carl G. Jung, observing the transcultural character of the neurally stimulated phosphene shapes, pioneered the idea that certain archetypal symbols might originate in the personal experience of such luminous designs. . . . The almost visionary, later paintings, executed in an asylum, by Vincent van Gogh, exhibit phosphene patterns, as do many unskilled crayon drawings of youngsters between the ages of two and four years. As can be also expected, a large number of designs encountered in ancient and aboriginal cultures display phosphene-like characters.*
* Michael Ripinsky-Naxon, The Nature of Shamanism (Albany State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 148-50.
Ripinsky-Naxon goes on to consider the archetypal symbol of the spiral specifically:
If we. . . recognize the spiral to be an archetypal pattern and its schematic representations as the labyrinth, then this conception may help elucidate our understanding of why this motif has been used to symbolize the unknown origin-point leading to the Hereafter, the cave, the tomb, and the womb of the Great Mother. The tomb, as has been noted, was constructed in resemblance of the body of the Great Mother, whose energy and procreative sexuality are conveyed through the element of the spiral.*
* Ibid., p. 150.
In this regard, note that Dick believed (see "If You Find This World Bad ...") that he sighted, through the vision of the Golden Rectangle, the goddess Aphrodite, or the sexual aspect of the Great Mother. As for the Importance of the Great Mother to Dick both philosophically and psychologically, the reader may consult his speech "The Android and the Human" in the present volume.
Again, the point here is not to seek to argue on behalf of Dick as an inspired seer, or even -- necessarily -- as a "sane" human being. (There is no proof possible as to the sanity or insanity of Philip K. Dick.)* Rather, it is to challenge the reader to resist labels and to plunge into the ideas expressed in the texts themselves, and to wrest from them what seems useful and vital without regard to predisposing diagnostic labels. One might further urge that readers suspend their tendency to read Dick's metaphysical writings with belief or disbelief foremost in mind. For Dick, as the writings themselves reveal, had no pointedly persuasive intentions with respect to the reader. In turn, those readers who refuse to worry over whether Dick persuades them on any particular points may find that he illumines any number of prospective paths for further exploration. There is a beauty and a visionary intensity to the possibilities Dick offers, as in "Cosmogony and Cosmology," a 1978 essay in which Dick sought to distill key concepts of the Exegesis. The divine form discussed is that of a righteous Godhead (akin to the redeeming Logos of the Gnostics) who has lost the memory of himself as the true creator and has ceded control of the earthly realm to a blind and ignorant demiurge or "artifact." This "artifact" (akin to the Gnostic Archon) holds all humans in its delusional thrall, and even the Godhead must struggle against it.**
* There is a considerable range of quality in the attempts to apply diagnostic measures to Dick's life and writings. Jay Kinney, for example, offers a thoughtful and subtle comparison between schizophrenic and shamanic states in his "Wrestling with Angels: The Mystical Dilemma of Philip K. Dick" (published in In Pursuit of Valis). In the writings of Gregg Rickman, however, diagnoses of Dick abound and are relentlessly flogged despite the highly inconclusive evidence. Paul Williams, the onetime literary executor of the Dick estate, provides a sound assessment of Rickman's egregious mode of analysis in his To The High Castle, Philip K. Dick: A Life (1928-1962) (Long Beach, Calif.: Fragments West/The Valentine Press, 1989), of Dick as a potential victim of child abuse. See "The Rickmanization of PKD" in the "Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter," No. 24 (May 1990).
** For those readers who would insist upon viewing Dick as a "mad" charlatan tossing about ideas he could not comprehend as truly as might a "sane" and reasonable scholar, the following case study -- in miniature -- may prove illuminating.
The late Ioan P. Couliano, an acclaimed historian of religious thought who taught at the University of Chicago Divinity School and worked as a scholarly collaborator with the eminent Mircea Eliade, had occasion to examine one novel of the "Valis Trilogy" -- The Divine Invasion -- in his landmark survey of Gnostic thought The Tree of Gnosis (New York: HarperCollins, 1992). Couliano's judgment of the thematic influences in that novel was intended to rebut those who, in Couliano's view, too carelessly cited Dick as an example of a "Gnostic" science fiction writer:
"A closer look at the novel shows that, indeed, Dick took inspiration from Jewish and Jewish-Christian apocalyptic literature (especially The Vision of Isaiah), yet his novel, which describes the descent of God to the earth through the first heaven controlled by the troops of Belial the Opponent, and God's encounter with his wisdom in a kindergarten, makes no use of gnostic material."
Now compare this with an analysis by Dick himself, written in 1979, in the concluding pages of an unpublished outline of the novel in progress (then titled Valis Regained) that would become The Divine Invasion. Note that Dick himself recognizes the absence of a fundamental Gnostic good-evil dualism in this novel. He also makes reference to Isaiah (though his source is the Bible, not the apocalyptic text cited by Couliano):
"In the first novel, Valis, the protagonist Horselover Fat was obsessed -- and for good reason: His girlfriend had killed herself -- by the problem of evil. He finally came to the conclusion that two gods exist, which is to say a bitheism, each contending against the other. Although Valis Regained draws heavily on the bitheism of the Qumran people, it basically presents another view, not syntonic to Horselover Fat: monotheism, with the notion that evil has no true existence of its own but borrows its existence, or is lent its existence, from the one God. Valis Regained bases its theology on the extraordinary passage in Isaiah 45:6-7 [the capitalization is Dick's own]:
". .. so that men from the rising and the setting sun
may know that there is none but I:
I am the LORD, there is no other;
I make the light, I create darkness,
author alike of prosperity and trouble.
I, the LORD, do all these things."
Had Couliano taken the time to study the first novel in the trilogy -- Valis -- it is possible that his judgment as to the presence of Gnostic ideas in Dick's work would have changed. Nonetheless, the comparison of these two quotations is useful not only as a validation of Dick's knowing use of religious source material but also as a fair warning to all those who would paste a doctrinal label of any sort on Dick's work. Dick's viewpoints were multifold, indeterminate, and changeable; he cannot rightly be described by any "ism."
Observe how Dick, in tracing out the possibilities of this spiritual viewpoint, employs the narrative gifts of a fiction master to create a haunting parable of a fallen and amnesiac god who must wander for centuries through his own creations to win his own redemption:
He [the Creator] no longer knows why he has done all this to himself. He does not remember. He has allowed himself to become enslaved to his own artifact, deluded by it, coerced by it, finally killed by it. He, the living, is at the mercy of the mechanical. The servant has become the master, and the master the servant. And the master either renounced voluntarily his memory of how this happened and why, or else his memory was eradicated by the servant. Either way, he is the artifact's victim.
But the artifact is teaching him, painfully, by degrees, over thousands of years, to remember -- who he is and what he is. The servant-become-master is attempting to restore the master's lost memories and hence his true identity.
One might speculate that he constructed the artifact -- not to delude him -- but to restore his memory. However, perhaps the artifact then revolted and did not do its job. It keeps him in ignorance.
The artifact must be fought; i.e., disobeyed. And then memory will return. It is a piece of the Godhead (Urgrund) which has somehow been captured by the artifact (the servant); it now holds that piece -- or pieces -- hostage. How cruel it is to them, these fragments of its legitimate master! When will it change?
When the pieces remember and are restored. First they must wake up and then they must return.
If all of this seems impossibly speculative to the reader, it may be still more unsettling to realize that there is a direct parallel between the ideas expressed by Dick above and the cosmological theories posed by highly respected quantum physicists such as David Bohm. In The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot offers a summary of Bohm's viewpoint on the "implicate" and "explicate" orders of the cosmos that is strikingly analogous to the Urgrund/artifact dichotomy posed by Dick:
As we have seen, according to Bohm the apparent separateness of consciousness and matter is an illusion, an artifact that occurs only after both have unfolded into the explicate world of objects and sequential time. If there is no division between mind and matter in the implicate, the ground from which all things spring, then it is not unusual to expect that reality might still be shot through with traces of this deep connectivity. [Fellow physicist F. David] Peat believes that synchronicities are therefore "flaws" in the fabric of reality, momentary fissures that allow us a brief glimpse of the immense and unitary order underlying all of nature. . . . According to Peat, when we experience a synchronicity, what we are really experiencing "is the human mind operating, for a moment, in its true order and extending throughout society and nature, moving through orders of increasing subtlety, reaching past the source of mind and matter into creativity itself."*
* Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe (New York: Harper Perennial, 1992), pp. 79-80.
Dick was hardly an expert in quantum physics theories, though he did read in the field sporadically. As the essay "Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest for Reality" attests, he was especially interested in the concept of synchronicity posed by physicist Wolfgang Pauli (who worked in conjunction with C. G. Jung in formulating this theory). But the key parallels between Dick's writings -- both fiction and nonfiction -- and the current insights of quantum physics do not seem, based on the evidence of the Exegesis and other personal writings by Dick, to have been based on reading, but rather on an experiential grappling on Dick's part that proved synchronous, as it were, with the findings of the quantum physicists. For example, in his 1977 speech "If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others," included herein -- a speech that predates any widespread public discussion of the quantum physics notion that the known structure of the cosmos may aptly be described by the metaphor of a hologram -- we find Dick asking, based on his experiences of 2-3-74, "Do we collectively dwell in a kind of laser hologram, real creatures in a manufactured quasi-world, a stage set within whose artifacts and creatures a mind moves that is determined to remain unknown?"
Nor is quantum physics the only field in which Dick's speculations find a revelatory context. Consider the concept of "fake fakes," which is put to use in so many of Dick's novels and stories and which is explored persistently in his nonfiction writings as well. Examples included in the present volume may be found in the outline for a proposed (but never completed) novel Joe Protagoras Is Alive and Living on Earth, as well as in the proposal for a script (never written) for the television series Mission: Impossible and in the 1978 speech (likely never delivered) "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later." In essence, a "fake fake" is -- despite its seeming status as a mere contradiction that equates into "genuine" -- a radically new ontological category that takes on significance precisely because it perplexingly mimics (and even threatens to supersede) our "ordinary" or consensual reality. Hence the "fake fake" is no mere SF plot prop -- although Dick certainly employed it to dazzling effect as just such a prop -- but is also a commentary on the inundation of our world by mechanical and computer-generated simulacra.
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