“Something is wrong. I don’t mean with you or me or with any person. I mean in general." --Ragle Gumm

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Horror, Beauty and PKD

In their introduction to Exegesis, editors Jackson and Lethem give us a statement by PKD which suggests to me that he had touched the foundation of his existence and that were his readers to approach this reality through his books, they might have a similarly profound realization. As Jackson and Lethem indicate, a philosophical context within a long history of thinkers is irrelevant, especially considering the images and worlds he generated in his stories and the vast amount of fevered verbiage he devoted to explicating his 2-3-74 experiences. PKD is not about understanding, which is of the mind; he is about reality, which is not. Here is the last line from Dick’s statement:

“Thus the essence of horror underlies our realization of the bedrock nature of the universe.”

This horror is not the kind that has made Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe popular. This horror comes from direct contact with the original condition of the universe. How is that possible? How could Dick make such a terrifying claim, which he says is absolute? You only know if you know, but if you are willing to ask a few questions without expecting a reliable answer from the mind, you can peek into what he is projecting into his stories and find a deeper resonance with them.

First, how do you know that you exist? Things, of course. Things of the mind, of the senses; sensations of the body; the trust we place in the elements for form and structure, the things we depend upon to give life its continuity. Could you know you exist without these “things”? You can only ask this question through the things you depend upon to verify your existence. Without those things, only existence itself can know the answer, but it can only know it in a way that does not include you, who are a composite of the things mentioned above.

Second, this reality must deal with its own condition, which does not ask but which responds to itself in the only way it can—through the generation of a universe and its things. The mind can ask why things at all? Why you? Why me?, but it cannot answer these questions, not even with words as beautifully crafted as Dick’s in this paragraph. Thus, only the naked fact of existence, “the bedrock,” as he puts it, remains, the absoluteness of which unleashes the horror that must be assuaged by the presence of things and particularly, as Dick says earlier in the paragraph, things which through human suffering must ultimately become beautiful. In the gap between the existential horror and the mind’s ability to apprehend beauty lies the issue of insanity, which for human beings is the ultimate crisis. Thus only “absolute beauty” can justify the pain of human existence as well as the horror inherent in absolute existence. This realization is not something the mind can know directly; however, the unbounded existential condition, "the bedrock," can touch the mind and reveal the absolute necessity of beauty in how we live our lives and craft our art. To live such a life and to suffer its necessities is to be real. Philip K. Dick lived a real life.

Read the whole paragraph, take it in, think about it deeply, follow it through Dick’s novels, and you will begin to unwrap your mind on the way to cognizing the absolute beauty which he struggled throughout his life to shape.