Phillip K. Dick’s Exegesis raises some fascinating questions as discussed at the Stone (here). Modern times have made mystical subservient to reason in much of the intellectual realm. It would be easy to dismiss Dick’s insight as hallucination but what if there’s some truth? Gnosticism could help Christianity arrive at truth even if there are significant areas of disagreement:
But the core of Dick’s vision is not quite Christian in the traditional sense; it is Gnostical: it is the mystical intellection, at its highest moment a fusion with a transmundane or alien God who is identified with logos and who can communicate with human beings in the form of a ray of light or, in Dick’s case, hallucinatory visions.
Dick’s gnosticism also allows us to see in a new light what is the existentially toughest teaching of traditional Christianity: that sin lies within us in the form of original sin… We are not wicked. It is the world that is wicked. This is an insight that first finds its modern voice in Rousseau.
- Assume that Mysticism and Reason exist along a scale and we each have a combination of what “feels right” (balance as in the Tao).
- Assume that there is an absolute scale on which exists such that you could determine Dick is relatively more naturally mystical than I am.
- In general the more mystical our nature is, the more we would gravitate toward a more mystical answer in the case of ambiguity and the rational toward reason (e.g. mystics would prefer art over science).
- Those with lesser faculties of reason would feel exploited by those more reliant on reason if the material world held them hostage.
- If we assume a sense of fairness and cannot identify each other’s level of comparative mysticism / reason, how could we fairly resolve conflict? In other words, a Gnostic, if in doubt would say go with a more mystical/aesthetic solution. A more rational nature would say, if in doubt rely on reason (science trumps art).
- If mysticism requires expression of the true self over the ideal self as embodied by Christ, is the Christian tradition oppressive to the mystic by declaring him wicked through original sin? What if sin were a necessary component to determining who we are?
Modern times strike me as reason gone amok at the expense of mysticism. We have chosen Aristotle over Plato in the secular; Aquinas over Augustine in the moral order. Science reigns supreme over art; the moral over the spiritual. What if the tides turned and reason no longer reigned supreme?
“The world we actually have does not meet my standards.”
Did you know that Philip K. Dick once saved the life of his infant son by speaking Greek, a language he did not know? Or that he could write an entire novel in eight to twelve days as long as he kept a steady diet of vitamin pills and…
PKD-tumblogs multiplying :DDDDDDD
You’ll probably note the lack of a “Project No. 1” anywhere near this post. That’s because Project No. 1 is and will be (until I’m done with it) my novel. That’s sort of a constant, and I consider all other things side projects. Sometimes to the detriment to my GTD list (and occasionally sanity).
That said, “You Don’t Know Dick” sort of snuck up on me a couple weeks ago, and I’ll be done with it in another couple short weeks. Let’s start at the beginning, six years ago, back when I was in graduate school.
Woah, woah. Hold up there, hoss. You say. Didn’t you say this project “snuck up on you like a twelfth level rogue in a darkened dungeon?”
Well, I don’t remember using a D&D simile, but let me explain. Back in 2006, I was frantically attempting to complete my Master’s thesis. At the time, I still had delusions of a PHD program, but I wanted to remain true to my nerd roots. Thus, with some gentle prodding from my advisor, I deemed it neat and proper to perform a Lacanian psychoanalytic criticism of The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, the last book Philip K. Dick finished before he died.
Dick’s work is fertile ground for psychoanalytic analysis; I held a particular fondness for that kind of critical work, and his last name lent itself to endless puns and jokes appropriate for a middle school lunch room. Plus, I only had two classes my final semester, and they were Tuesday/Thursday lectures. That meant I had three and a half months of four day weekends. Plenty of time to research and write. All seemed shiny, and all was well until, around March (actually) I took a look at the thesis schedule and realized I had four weeks to turn in a 80+ page finished paper and I only had (30+ pages of notes, yes) two pages of actual thesis.
Needless to say, the final product was a little…rushed, and I’ve never been more ashamed of a piece of academic work. (Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m definitely not proud of it.) What I regret most, though, isn’t the sketchy logic or stilted prose. It’s giving the paper a stale and academic sounding title instead of the infinitely more amusing, “You Don’t Know Dick.”
(Heh heh. *Snicker snicker*)
Flash forward to the present day. An actor/musician colleague of mine is putting together a do at a local venue. ”It’s a thing,” he tells me. ”To help me fund this play called 800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick.”
Tell me more, I say. And buy me a coffee.
He does both, and gives me the rundown. The colleague, John, reserved some space at the New Hazlett Theatre in the hopes of holding a workshop and putting together a show that had absolutely nothing to do with PKD. But then he got work that actually paid. A lot of it. And before he knew it, he had less than two months to put this workshop-thing together — which, to do correctly, takes more planning than that.
So, instead of doing what I did with my thesis (which involved forceps, a hefty amount of pulling, and a part of my anatomy where the sun don’t shine) he decided to chuck the original project and host a fundraiser for the Dick play. (Heh heh.)
“It won’t be a reading of the full show,” he tells me. ”I want to give people a reason to come back when I produce it. So I’m going to do selections and I want to fill up the rest of the time with…something. René (she runs the Hazlett) tells me you did a thesis on PKD.”
I did, I say.
“Would you like to be involve?” He asks.
I would, I say.
“I’ll pay you,” he says.
Hell, let’s get this party started.
Two weeks and one meeting later, we’ve got two (confirmed) actors and one director on board, a format for the evening that equates to more than just “things,” and I’ve got my assignments and GTD items all lined up. I’ve also got a lot of enthusiasm. Here’s my chance to redeem my shattered academic ego and totally nerd it up on stage with one of the weirdest, trippyest, most mind-bending author’s of the 20th century.
In a few days, I’ll have a website for the event up and running, and I’ll be cross-posting updates here and on that site.
If you’re in Pittsburgh and a fan of science fiction (or if you’re not in Pittsburgh but know SF fans in town), spread the word. Let people know about this thing I’m doing and encourage, prod, and cajole them into coming.
You might not know Dick, but by the time I’m done with you, you will know him well.
[4:1] In Ubik the forward moving force of time (or time-force expressed as an ergic field) has ceased. All changes result from that. Forms regress. The substrate is revealed. Cooling (entropy) is allowed to set in unimpeded. Equilibrium is affected by the vanishing of the forward-moving time forcefield. The bare bones, so to speak, of the world, our world, are revealed. We see the Logos addressing the many living entities.* Assisting and advising them.** We are now aware of the Atman everywhere. The press of time on everything, having been abolished, reveals many elements underlying our phenomena.
If time stops, this is what takes place, these changes.
Not frozen-ness, but revelation.
There are still the retrograde forces remaining, at work. And also underlying positive forces other than time. The disappearance of the forcefield we call time reveals both good and bad things; which is to say, coaching entities (Runciter, who is the Logos), the Atman (Ubik), Ella; it isn’t a static world, but it begins to cool. What is missing is a form of heat: the Aton. The Logos (Runciter) can tell you what to do, but you lack the energy—heat, force—to do it. (I.e., time.)
*Logos is an important concept that litters the pages of the Exegesis. An ancient Greek word with a wide variety of meanings, Logos can mean word, speech, reason (in Latin ratio) or giving an account of something. For Heraclitus, to whom Dick frequently refers, Logos is the universal law that governs the cosmos, of which most human beings are somnolently ignorant. Dick certainly has this latter meaning in mind, but most importantly, Logos refers to the opening of the Gospel of John, which invokes the word that becomes flesh in the person of Christ…the core of Dick’s vision is gnostic: it suggests a specifically mystical contact with a transmundane or alien God who is identified with Logos and who can communicate in the form of a ray of light, non-objective graphics, or some other visionary transfer. The novelty of Dick’s gnostic vision is that the divine communicates through information that has a kind of electrostatic life of its own.
**Neoplatonism is crossed with thermodynamics to provide a framework for Dick to think through his experiences here. The entire universe can be comprehended as subject to an imperative: more entropy! While entropy is usually associated with the negativity of disorder, here it functions as something like a revelation: the bare bones, so to speak, of our world are revealed. And while the revelation is a “regression,” it enables an insight into the nature of reality. The divine, “Atman,” is perceived within all things for Dick even as the vehicle of this revelation is entropy—in the guise of noise, he receives a clarifying signal.
The definitive presentation of Philip K. Dick’s brilliant, and epic, final work is hitting the social sphere.
• Enjoy the hundreds of existing annotations…
From Exegesis, by Philip K. Dick
The Gnostic Christians of the second century believed that only a special revelation of knowledge rather than faith could save a person. The contents of this revelation could not be received empirically or derived a priori. They considered this special gnosis…