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

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Terrible Pleasure of Ubik

What fun it is to sit with a Philip K. Dick novel and try to say what it is about! Take Solar Lottery, for example. One could say that it is about the ambiguity between order and randomness. That works if you want to sit in Plato's cave and watch shadows dancing on the wall. And if you do not impose a scientific, philosophical, or religious framework on the story? What would you say? What's that story about?

Not to know, and yet to enjoy. That point-of-view has been my favorite pleasure in reading Dick. 

But now here is EXEGESIS. What does Dick say about this story and that story in EXEGESIS? The novels Dick discusses at length in EXEGESIS are those which he uses to explicate his revelations of early 1974. The most visited novels are Ubik, Maze of Death, Three Stigmata, Valis, Flow My Tears, A Scanner Darkly, and The Divine Invasion. No floating-in-space for these novels. Each novel discussed carries a cosmic weight and intent that sets aside its literary and story-telling power. Innocence lost never to be regained. Never mind.

I like the floating-in-space read of Ubik. For me Ubik is about what happens in Ubik. It doesn't symbolize anything. Ubik isn't God. There's no character named God in the story. And gnosticism? I don't remember any characters talking about gnosticism, or the Logos, or anything else other than what is going on for them. Watching Dick in EXEGESIS wind his way through the mental maze of 2-3-74  with Ubik in tow reaffirms for me that a floating-in-space read of the novel is the way to go. His discussions of Ubik are ungrounded and without literary import, like EXEGESIS as a whole, which can only be read from a floating-in-space perspective. (That's the reason, I believe, why many people find reading EXEGESIS rather scary and why so many readers need to impose external ideas onto his stories. Floating-in-space is not a comfortable place to hang out for any length of time. Just ask Dick.)

Here, in essence, is the floating-in-space reading experience, which one can enjoy in reading almost any Dick story. In it one experiences the story as an object of gnosis, that is, an object through which one gains direct knowledge of reality, which can't be spoken. From inside the story, there is nothing to talk about. Events relate only to each other and not to things philosophical, religious, or scientific, which are mental invaders parachuting onto the landscape of the story taking its elements prisoner. Ubik is only itself. It doesn't mean anything. The singular process of something "gesturing" to itself as reality, as an object of gnosis, while at the same time acting as an object of personal experience, subject to the invasion of interpretations, generates an existential tension in Dick as he works with Ubik in EXEGESIS. His torment over this tension is painfully visceral. And, ultimately, of course, EXEGESIS, the medium of this discussion, is itself an embodiment of the same irresolvable tension, which is also the human existential dilemma--how to self-exist as a discrete being and be grounded into something at the same time. Can't be done. In this context, Ubik and EXEGESIS, as objects of gnosis, evoke the same existential terror. They only exist as themselves.

And for the reader of Ubik? It's this simple: if you experience Ubik as gnosis, you get pure, undiluted pleasure; if your experience of Ubik is modified by outside influences, your pleasure is derived. The pleasure of gnosis cannot be located in any elements of the story; in fact, it can't be located at all. It's just there. What is is. (Thus no story elements in this piece . . . ) The derived pleasure can be located in any number of elements in the story or in the outside influences, which include comparisons to other PKD works, biography, science fiction as a genre, and any intellectual frameworks.

 A spray can by any other name . . .

As Dick's approach to Ubik moves through EXEGESIS, Ubik is transformed from a piece of writing that explains his experiences into an object of gnosis. Ubik the novel and the entity Ubik become reality in his mind in the same way that it is reality in the story. Ubik reveals itself to Dick through the story Ubik and at the same time points to itself as reality. Ubik wrote Ubik using Dick as its instrument of expression, and that was the intrusion of 2-3-74.  [That process can be followed by clicking on the links below for passages in EXEGESIS.]

It's all the same with Dick. Like he says. Monster mind scratching away at its own existence without anything substantive to hang on to. It's okay to go insane over that one while toasting Ubik; and if you don't go insane? --well, there's something insane about that.

Relevant passages from EXEGESIS posted on my EXEGESIS blog:
Ubik as anything you want.
Ubik as symbolic of God on the level of trash.
Ubik outside a system of thought.
The source of Ubik is Ubik. 
Ubik the novel ex nihil.
Ubik: The Most Important Book Ever Written

Dick Experiencing the Universe as an Object of Gnosis

Saturday, May 5, 2012

EXEGESIS Qubikuitously

Originally I set out to read EXEGESIS page by page. That worked for the first part. Then I stopped. When I came back to it, I resolved to re-read the first part because I wanted to re-experience what Dick said about orthogonal time. Then I thought to start the EXEGESIS blog. I would methodically proceed through the book and post particularly interesting passages.

Bits and pieces became interesting enough to post. Lots of those. And some bigger ideas. Then I wanted to trace comments on Ubik through the EXEGESIS via the index and cite passages while I re-read Ubik with the idea of commenting on this site.

So I was reading linearly, then selectively via the index, then scanning the pages as they flew by and suddenly I had four different bookmarks peeking out the top of the volume and yellow highlighter time-slipping through my mind.

Order and entropy chasing each other  . . . qubikuitously.

When not doing Dick stuff, I am reading the New Testament. Orthogonal time on the move.

For example.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


This post serves to introduce a blog site I have set up which deals with Exegesis exclusively. The purpose of the Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis: A Reader’s Diary blog is to encourage my own involvement with this work and to encourage others to read it.

Reading Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis is an adventure undertaken by readers individually. Even from within the group-think of the collective fandom, to acknowledge where this came from in Dick’s life is to tack into the whole of his existential adventure, which is also the adventure of all of us. Not everybody wants to do that. Never mind. All are welcome to the Dickian feast. Deciding not to read Exegesis is an option, but that decision contains within it some of the essence of the book. Once you know about it, you are in it. Philip K. Dick is a mirror for all who read him. What we get depends upon the angle where we stand when looking in.

To the left on the home page of the blog, there is a brief orientation.

Getting Started
A prominent effect of Dick’s 2-3-74 experiences was the sense that some intelligence was “coming across” to him from outside of his personal existence and was educating him to a specific end. In pages 22-37 of the published Exegesis, Dick searches for a definitive explanation of what this influence is. There are two main themes (among others) in Dick’s probing of this question: first, the idea that someone from his life had passed over to “the other side,” (died) and was tutoring him from beyond the grave (specifically James Pike); the second, ascribing his tutoring to a time in the past (classical) and attributing it to a living influence from that time period. 

I recommend reading the entire section and then asking a few questions:

1. Does dick definitively eliminate any options? Why?
2. For which option does he seem to write more confidently?
3. Which passages seem minimally adorned with theorizing?
4. Does a subtle, non-verbal sense come across here? What might that be?

Have fun.

Monday, April 23, 2012

EXEGESIS: A Radically New Reality

Reading Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis is an adventure undertaken by readers individually. Even from within the group-think of the collective fandom, to acknowledge where this came from in Dick’s life is to tack into the whole of his existential adventure, which is also the adventure of all of us. Not everybody wants to do that. Never mind. All are welcome to the Dickian feast. Deciding not to read Exegesis is an option, but that decision contains within it some of the essence of the book. Once you know about it, you are in it. Philip K. Dick is a mirror for all who read him. What we get depends upon the angle where we stand when looking in.

I have read the first part of Exegesis and am seriously considering rereading it before going on. What’s the hurry? Waves of water are waves of water no matter where they are on the ocean. Nevertheless, some waves lift me out of the water into peaks of appreciation that transcend the relentless rowing this book asks of us. Which is a lofty way of saying that I read for favorite passages and surf the rest.

The passage quoted below comes from the back of the dust jacket. It is one of the passages I note with enthusiasm. In comments on one of my posts, I said to a reader that when I read Dick’s Exegesis, I sense the myth of Sisyphus pushing the giant stone up the hill only to have it fall back before reaching the top . . . endlessly. In this passage, I feel not only that Sisyphus (Dick) reaches the top of the hill but that the stone transforms into a rocket and takes off. The specifics of illuminating experiences, such as the one described here, are not permanent additions to one’s interior landscape. The fact that they occurred is.

What follows is my take on this passage. Repeat, my take. Just for fun, friends, just for fun.

One day the contents of my mind moved faster and faster until they ceased being concepts and became percepts. I did not have concepts about the world but perceived it without preconceptions or even intellectual comprehension. It then resembled the world of UBIK. As if all the contents of one’s mind, if fused, became suddenly alive, a living entity, which took off within one’s head, on its own, saw in its own superior way, without regard to what you had ever learned or seen or known. The principle of emergence, as when nonliving matter becomes living. As if information (thought concepts) when pushed to their limit became metamorphosed into something alive.

One day the contents of my mind moved faster and faster until they ceased being concepts and became percepts. No matter how feverishly one’s thoughts travel through the mind, they just cannot take the whole thing in. And sometimes the mind wants to do just that. That’s what is happening here. “I think, therefore, I am” has disappeared in favor of a radically different existence. His mind flames out and all that’s left is the experiential field without the delimiting conditions projected upon it by the mind, and without the mind to tell its story of what’s out there, what is out there?  If anything.

I did not have concepts about the world but perceived it without preconceptions or even intellectual comprehension. It then resembled the world of UBIK. Remembrance of things past “recollected in tranquility,” or as tranquil as it gets with Dick. What happened in the past is coming to the fore in terms of memory, which, of course, is based on concepts. Dick is not within the experience as he writes although writing brings knowledge of it to the forefront. Comparing this sudden transformation in reality to one of his books deeply personalizes an experience that by its nature has no personal components. The energy in these two sentences is the nadir of the paragraph’s verbal power. Dick is writing this paragraph about an experience that had no Dick within it.

As if all the contents of one’s mind, if fused, became suddenly alive, a living entity,  This sentence (continued below) expresses the radically new reality in concepts which by definition can never represent it. The infinite things of self and other are suddenly fused into a singular whole with a life of its own. Even the percepts have been fused into something that no longer has parts. There is no precedent in the human existential matrix by which this experience can be identified. The fact that this “entity” is alive has implications so staggering that all things humanly conceived or lived cease to exist.   

which took off within one’s head, on its own, saw in its own superior way, without regard to what you had ever learned or seen or known. The definition of being “alive” can be stated minimally as something that does something. The “something” of this experience has no foundation in human reality and must remain absolutely mysterious. And what that “something” does is also radically impossible to delineate. In what field does this radically different entity exist? What is the stuff of this entity? What impulse to action moves it? And where is it going when it “takes off . . .  in its own superior way?"  

The principle of emergence, as when nonliving matter becomes living. In this context, the term “living” can have no humanly recognizable definition except that “living” exists. This radical reality exists and lives in a way that cannot be known because there is nothing known around it that does not live. There is no way to avoid the raw confrontation with existence as existence. That which has become “whole” is by the nature of wholeness irreducible, despite the parts of human existence which have fused together to become this “whole.” Those parts are no longer parts. In the wholeness nothing human remains. Within the human experience, being alive has very specific parameters. Some things are alive; some things are not. In this radically different reality there is no basis for making such a distinction.

As if information (thought concepts) when pushed to their limit became metamorphosed into something alive. In this last sentence, Dick returns to the original statement of extreme transformation. That which was before no longer exists and the “something” that remains has cognition of its existence as what it is. This cognition placed beside the human cognition of itself as human can only have existence itself as a common ground. That which is something radically new becomes an increment of reality on the way to something radically unknown.

Conclusions: How does one, who is human but on the verge of no longer being human, face a challenge so ultimate in its nature? Human sensibilities suddenly becoming aware that they will be sacrificed in favor of another kind of existence. What terror can there be knowing that that which you were is becoming radically something else and that you are still there to know it? Is that moment itself the new thing?  

Of all the descriptions I have read about Dick’s experiences of early 1974, this passage represents for me the pinnacle of his transformation. From within the flux of so many mind-based experiences, however, it is easy to see how this one, so radically different from other experiences he recorded, can be lost within the popular thinking around his Exegesis. I regret that editors Jackson and Lethem did not give us a page number by which we could explore the verbal landscape in which it exists, but perhaps it is enough that out of nine thousand pages they explored, they chose this one to grace the back cover. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cracks in the Reality of Martian Time-Slip

The world of PKD’s Martian Time-Slip doesn’t get interesting until you get to the mentally dysfunctional characters—Jack Bohlen, who suffers from schizophrenia, and the child Manfred Steiner, who is severely autistic. Petty operators like Artie Kott are a dime a dozen on Earth. On Mars they rise in importance from sheer lack of population. Most of the other characters are petty in their own way and remain unchanged by their Martian environment. An astonishing fact in its own right! Never mind.

Not Norbert Steiner, though. What distinguishes Norbert Steiner from fathers on Mars is that he is okay with the idea of the UN coming into the B-G Camp for “anomalous children,” where his son Manfred resides, and killing them in a “scientific, painless, instantaneous way.” Mars is, after all, the future of mankind and they don’t want that future polluted at the outset. He can see that, at least until his inner landscape cracks under the weight of such a profound moral dysfunction and he commits suicide. Dr. Glaub, the psychiatrist who runs Camp B-G, thinks autistic children cannot connect to the world due to a “derangement in the sense of time.” Two takes on Manfred. More to come.

If you are looking for meaning in this story, mental dysfunction is the place to start.

The psychological (psychiatric) reality for human beings on Mars is clearly on display for Jack Bohlen as he repairs the teaching simulacra in the Public School, where Manfred Steiner has fled and who is undermining the reality being generated there. Under Manfred’s influence Jack is consumed by damning realizations. He sees that what has moved from Earth to Mars is a “composite-psyche” so urgent in its imperative that any deviation from that imposed reality is automatically designated “autistic.” What terrifies Jack the most is the realization that on Mars there are only two realities: the “fixed, rigid, compulsive-neurotic Public School” lorded over by the mechanistic simulacra, and the B-G Camp for “anomalous children.” On Mars there is no way back to “mankind and a shared reality.” On Mars you are either a dead mechanism or insane. In this context Norbert Steiner’s suicide makes sense.

Except this is Mars, mysterious Mars, over which the Earth-reality Jack Bohlen sees is like a dead bird hanging in the sky. Jack’s schizophrenia brings a debilitating revelation that reality on Mars comes with a huge crack in it, a crack which will show up in the transplanted human culture sooner or later. Guaranteed.

Just around the corner from this dysfunctional Earth-reality, however, are the Bleekmen, the indigenous people of Mars, who appear mysteriously at the beginning of the story and who become increasingly mysterious until their startling and incomprehensible entry at the end. The Bleekmen are the embodiment of what Jack Bohlen realizes at the public school. Mars is not Earth. In an absolute sense. Ultimately, the Bleekmen represent the fact that Earth-reality is not just insane on Mars. It’s just insane.

It is only within Earth-reality that the question arises as to the Bleekmen’s origin. Jack assumes that they are the remnants of a past civilization which built the water canals. In Mars-reality, however, they are simply present when needed. Time is not an issue for them. Nor space. Mars is not even a planet. It is a particular reality in the absolute field of existence. 

Jack Bohlen is initiated into Mars-reality when he meets a small group of Bleekmen in the desert while flying Arnie Kott to the FDR Mountains. He gives them water. They give him a “water witch” in return. A “water witch—” the young Bleekman says, they are the “authorities; they will bring you water, the source of life, any time you need.” Jack asks him why the water witch did not bring them water on their journey. “Mister,” says the Bleekman, “it helped; it brought you.” This is the first real event in the novel. The giving of the water witch opens the door for Jack Bohlen to transition from Earth-reality to Mars-reality and will bring the Bleekmen out for him whenever needed. They are the source of life on Mars.

The Bleekmen bring Jack into Mars-reality by merging his Earth-reality into Manfred Steiner’s autism. Jack already has a schizophrenic crack in his Earth-reality, which the Bleekmen exploit at the meeting between Jack, Arnie, and Manfred at Arnie’s place. Heliogabalus, an astonishingly articulate and skilled Bleekman, is Artie Kott’s servant. He is there for Jack as needed to explain what schizophrenia is and how it interfaces with Mars-reality:

“Purpose of life is unknown, and hence the way to be is [to be] hidden from the eyes of living critters. Who can say if perhaps the schizophrenics are not correct? Mister, they take a brave journey. They turn away from mere things, which one may handle and turn to practical use; they turn inward to meaning. There, the black-night-without-bottom lies, the pit. Who can say if they will return? And if so, what will they be like, having glimpsed meaning? I admire them.

As the scene at Arnie’s place repeats itself over and over, Jack is subsumed deeper into Manfred’s reality. Gubbish piles up everywhere. Jack is passing through the “pit” Heliogabalus told him about in which temporal and spatial  relationships become irrelevant and all meaning based on Earth-reality collapses. Jack eventually realizes that time and place are only constructs in an indefinable Mars-reality, which is being revealed to him through Manfred:

It almost seems to me that Manfred does more than know the future; in some way he controls it, he can make it come out the worst possible way because that’s what seems natural to him, that’s how he sees reality. It’s as if by being around him we are sinking into his reality. It’s starting to seep over us and replace our own way of viewing things, and the kind of events we’re accustomed to see come about now somehow don’t come about. It’s not natural for me to feel this way; I‘ve never had this feeling about the future before.

Jack’s soon-to-be lover, Arnie’s current lover, Doreen, is still firmly rooted in Earth-reality. She reminds Jack what a terrible disease schizophrenia is: “Schizophrenia is panic, and once you see it break out in a person, you can never forget it.” Her brother was schizophrenic. With this discussion, it is clear Jack and Doreen will never be together.

Arnie Kott’s death arrives through the Bleekmen and their absorption of Manfred into their reality. With Manfred’s assistance, Arnie travels back in time in order to manipulate events so that he can buy up the property which Leo Bohlen has already purchased. The effort fails. Arnie is killed. Jack arrives in time to hear from Arnie that his time travel occurred inside Manfred’s schizophrenia. At this point for Jack, Earth-reality is fully compromised. The Bleekmen take Manfred with them, wherever and whenever they are going.

When Jack returns home depleted from the twists and turns within his human existence, he and his wife Silvia agree to stay together after they have each had affairs. Earth-reality seems back in place. But not for long. Earth-reality for Jack has a fissure running through it so wide that only the night can fill it. In the Steiner home next door, they hear a cry. When Jack and Silvia arrive, they find the living room filled with Bleekmen, who are standing around an adult Manfred sitting in a wheelchair, who, Jack realizes, has come back from the future, which is both now and then. The Bleekmen are there for him. They want him to see Manfred as he has become, imbued with Mars-reality, but still burdened by dead, mechanistic remnants of Earth-reality, the one with pumps, hoses, and gears. Manfred is clear within himself.  He is the path for Earth-insanity through which any initiate into Mars-reality must pass. Through which Jack has just passed. Jack knows. When he heads into the night with his father to search for Manfred’s mother, he is the only real being in the colony. The Mars colony is now in his hands. How it will turn out, only the darkness knows. Where the Bleekmen travel with Manfred, only the darkness knows.

The lesson of the Bleekmen is that the only way for a human being to remain sane on Mars is to become Martian.

Martian Time-Slip was written ten years before Philip K Dick’s visionary experiences of early 1974. Thus there are no biographical or exegetical materials by which to measure its take on reality. I love VALIS. In its own right, it is an engaging book because it has such an authentic depiction of mental derangement as a path to reality. For that reason alone, it stands as a remarkable achievement. In VALIS, however, Dick’s visions, his experiences in a mental hospital, and suicide attempt, as well as his Exegesis, are there for readers to dance back and forth between while reading the novel. That exercise has become part of its literary allure. Martian Time-Slip stands on its own as a grab at reality. There’s nothing out there to hang it on to for perspective. You have to take it as it is. The fact that its reality is still cracked at the end speaks in its favor. It may well be my favorite Dick novel. No place to hang my hat except on my head.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mars Revisited

A reader not disturbed reading Martian Time-Slip, has missed something. That loss was my experience during my first read, but the book kept nagging at me and eventually I succumbed to its simmering beauty and returned to characters I had somehow come to love, despite their tortured existences and alien lives. I know Jack Bohlen. I love Jack Bohlen. I know Manfred Steiner. I am terrified by Manfred Steiner, whose absolute existence is not challenged by the misbegotten life he has lived.

When I write about PKD, I breathe the air of the world he creates. My bounty, my bane. In writing the previous post, I had sleepless nights, paced the floor, felt nausea, had headaches and soon enough felt the need to finish it off and get outside even though the clouds hung low over the house. At least they were my clouds and not the stark landscape of the Martian reality, the sands of which had begun seeping under my backdoor.

I like it that way, though. Verisimilitude is not for the intellect alone.

Having showered off the Martian sands for a quick respite, I have felt the need to revisit my landing site and tidy up the post so that it is clearer and expresses my intellectual sense of things Martian as well as the slippage in consciousness I experience when I read the story.

Anyone who chooses to read or re-read this book can search for the fissures in the storytelling. Veteran Dick readers should know by now that fissures in Dick's tales are not necessarily structural flaws but parts of a landscape upon which readers are urged to tread lightly. --John Lentz

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Crash Landing on Martian Time-Slip

Reading Martian Time-Slip is like crashing onto a planet you didn’t know was there. It’s Mars all right but not the Mars of centuries-old fantasies, or the warrior god of an ancient civilization, or the Mars of telescopic and  robotic information. It may not even be a planet. It’s probably not. But it may be real. Indeed it must be real if you really crashed, even though the something you were flying in didn’t know it was there. Never mind.

This Martian landscape only casually includes linear time, predictable cause and effect, existential integrity for individuals— the usual suspects. What it does include big time is transient realities, temporal self-looping, bear hugs between insanity and truth, the sliding of realities from one person to another, the transposition of time into existential horror. All the things that will break Earth-reality into pieces. Earth-reality and Mars-reality are incompatible. 

Predictable is safe. Unpredictable is real.

Jack Bohlen is a repairman for the colonists. On Mars things are constantly breaking down. He flies all over the colony in his helicopter fixing them. Simple really. Except Jack is schizophrenic. Now and then, his mind craps out and he suddenly sees things as an organic/mechanistic sludge of tubular whatevers that become his reality. Time stops. He freaks. Can’t handle it. He tries to sort things out on Earth where it first happens, but that doesn’t work so he emigrates to Mars. Imagine running off to Mars in order to escape relapses into schizophrenia! Of course, the Mars he thought he was running to was created by the reality-mongers on earth. They are uploading people from Earth to Mars to get rid of them. Perhaps his schizophrenia is a natural response to the way things are. 

Take Jack’s father Leo, for example. He space travels to Mars to stake out land in the FDR Mountains which he knows the UN Coop will be buying in order to construct a living complex for thousands of people. The results are predictable. Leo’s greed as a land speculator makes the whole project more expensive than the people who end up living there can afford. Eventually the colonists leave in droves and the colony collapses. Never mind. Leo is rich. Small potatoes? Right. But this vision of things carries the grand imprint of “reality.” Earth- reality, that is.

For Jack schizophrenia is a desperate, uncontrollable escape from Earth-reality represented by his father's blindness to the greater plight of human existence. His role in repairing things is not confined to material objects; he also is being drawn into Mars-reality through his connection to the autistic child Manfred Steiner and eventually puts the colonists on the road to accepting Mars not just as a different place as but as a different existential condition. That connection is driven by his relationship with Arnie Kott.

Arnie is a big shot on Mars. He is head of the Water Works Union but functions more as a vainglorious thug who thinks he can have anything he wants. Earth-style. He is the fulcrum around which the plot-reality turns. He wants to horn in on the big boys on earth by getting hold of the land Jack’s father has already staked out by co-opting an autistic boy and having Jack get him see into the past and future to make Arnie more powerful, maybe more powerful than the UN boys. But it doesn’t work out that way because Arnie did not tell Jack what he wanted to use the autistic child Manfred for and Leo’s already got the land. So Arnie makes Jack his enemy and gathers Manfred to his bosom in order to exploit his autistic condition for his petty pursuits. 

Which take him deep into the FDR Mountains to Dirty Knobby where with Manfred in toe he slips into his recent past so that he can buy up the FDR mountains before Leo arrives on the scene thereby gaining control over everything in his Mars world including all of his petty pursuits, one of which tracks him down in earth-reality and shoots him dead right there on the Manfred-Dirty Knobby spot. In fact, when he was rummaging around in the past, Arnie made sure not to upset the cart that made this guy want to kill him in the first place. Earth-reality takes its revenge, even on Mars. Nevertheless, in the end, Arnie got one door of the Mars-reality open: “I was thinking of something Arnie said before he died,” Jack says. “I was there with him. Arnie said he wasn’t in a real world; he was in the fantasy of a schizophrenic.”  

Earth-reality has Arnie at the center of things on Mars with Jack and Manfred circling around him. In Mars-reality, Manfred is at the center of things with Jack and Arnie circling him. Then when Arnie is taken out, it’s just Manfred and Jack. Soon enough, though, there is only one.

If you crash land on Mars hard, you might crack open enough of the landscape to find Manfred Steiner, not the child Manfred whom his father abandoned and of whom his mother was afraid and whom Jack understood in his schizophrenia or the one who sent Arnie back in time or the one who drew a picture of the future fate of the UN living complex as well as his own or the one who turned upside down the public school that brainwashed the colony children into believing they still lived on earth so that those in control would not have to face the fact that Earth-reality was not simpatico with the Mars-reality and the fissures it makes in the cold density of human existence. 

Not that Manfred but the one at the end of the story, the old man surrounded by Bleekmen, the aboriginal Martians who hold him together, mind, now coherent, and mechanistic body, the one with pumps, hoses, and gears which Jack sees and the one Manfred sees and now has become when they squeeze into the deepest fissures of the Martian landscape—the Manfred come back from his reality refuge in the future into his living room of the past, now, to thank Jack for believing in him and to say goodbye to his mother who in an instant is stripped bare of her motherly veneer and rushes hysterically into the night believing that she gave birth to the monster god of Mars not knowing that Manfred now in his grotesque union of Earth and Mars realities embodies the final compassion that is only Mars' to bequeath.

In the last desperate struggle, Leo and Jack rush after Manfred’s mother knowing that if they do not bring her in from the night and have her take her first step on the real Mars, none of them will survive long enough to realize that Manfred is the madness of Mars become safe but safe only after a long journey into the dark caverns of the planet which only the Bleekmen know about and in which Manfred lives. Manfred in all his distortions is the Bleekmen’s god, their twist in reality which specifically negates the madness that is the Earth-reality crash landed in the desert of its own existence. -- John Lentz

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Handbook for Those Obsessed with PKD

I love being obsessed! Careening around the dark corners of the mind looking for the absolute. Nothing like it!

And you? Don’t know what it’s like? Try this. Imagine descending late at night down swirling stairs into your castle keep, imagine sweeping everything off a table in a dark room where ancient manuscripts, maps, reference books, travel guides, letters, novels, and poetry lie everywhere, imagine planting a blazing light inches from your face and focusing your eyeballs so intensely that they become a single eye, like a gigantic robot-eye surging with power and purpose, forgetting everything else—food, family, friends, work, science, religion, all the “isms,” drugs, alcohol, sex, money, stars and the infinitude of Blake and Whitman in a blade of grass. For fire and death and truth and madness, wouldn’t you, like Macbeth, “jump the life to come?” And the books of PKD!

I would rather have this literary madness than a sharply honed intellect that can slice a thought into a thousand pieces and architect them up like a house of cards. With notes. (God bless the soul that can walk the middle way with the Buddha! Alas, not me. I prefer the cliff!) From youth on, I have skulked like Gollum through literary obsessions—Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, William Blake, Josef Conrad, Ray Bradbury, J. R. R Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, H. P. Lovecraft, Faulkner, Dostoyevski—and now, in the white beard of my days, Philip K. Dick!

I didn’t know it was obsession until Dick came along; till then the madness was normal. Now I recognize the heat in the brain and nod secretively when I think of what the white rooms down the hall are for. I must have known when I read all of King Lear every night for six months! If not then, I do now. It’s all coming into focus . . .  down the spiral stairs . . . into the castle keep:

Imagine a room full of computers manned by individuals each controlling a human killer in a sequence of random moments so that the killer can assassinate the embodiment of perfect predictability who was chosen at random but not really. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Solar Lottery.

Imagine a guy hit by a beam of energy and sucked into the realities of those around him one at a time and foregoing a chance to ascend to heaven by merely hanging off the handle of an umbrella in order to find the truth and return to his own world which may be his alone and not so hot after all. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Eye in the Sky.  

Imagine life and death and time being so ambiguously each other that God can talk through an aerosol spray can while the world crumbles backward in time which can’t be stopped because the aerosol spray which is supposed to stop it is also crumbling back in time making it less and less possible that God can do more than spray messages on a bathroom wall. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Ubik.

Imagine a drug-saturated human monster turning the entire universe into his own likeness and it’s all okay with those being corrupted as they sit beside him and quietly chat. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

Imagine a man who is reluctantly waging nuclear war upon lunar colonies over mineral rights and redeems himself by engaging in psychotic time travel. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Time Out of Joint.

Imagine a planet where sanity is most concentrated in an autistic child and a schizophrenic handy man and where land speculators insanely try to get a leg up by having the autistic child peer into the future to see what happens to a piece of land that only the indigenous people can traverse. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Martian Time-Slip.

Imagine God flying to Earth from Mars and having a hard time getting through customs. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Divine Invasion.

Imagine a man living in a totalitarian state getting messages from God through a satellite sent to earth from a distant star which is destroyed by the nation’s arch enemy which is furtively its best friend and never mind because another satellite is on its way but won’t be there for a hundred years and meanwhile never mind—you’re dead.  What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Radio Free Albemuth.

Imagine a Christ-figure laboring up a mountain mind-linked to human beings seeking hope while being stoned by others not seeking hope and being fake and real at the same time on TV. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Imagine a moon far away being governed successfully by people beset by every kind of insanity and supported by a race of giant insects. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Clans of the Alphane Moon.

Imagine a man who thinks he can think an atomic war into reality and does it and survives long enough to see it all being put back together again better than before. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up?  —Philip K. Dick in Dr. Bloodmoney.

Imagine moving backward in time in order to move forward in time and having a robotic cab give you the skinny on what it all means while a war rages on in which the allies are really the enemy and the world leader keeps things going by collaborating with himself in different timelines. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Now Wait For Last Year.

Imagine suddenly waking up in a strange world where you do not exist except inside the psychedelic hallucination of the daughter of the top cop in the totalitarian state you are dreaming who cries tears of compassion at the end. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up?  —Philip K. Dick in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.

Imagine a land conquered by two totalitarian states but which may actually be governed by an ancient oracle. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in The Man in the High Castle.

Imagine a man who descends into madness as he unwittingly spies on himself through a police scanner and at the end outside the government asylum he’s committed to finds a blue flower from which the stuff that made him insane is made and now that he’s in there he’s supposed to be a spy. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in A Scanner Darkly

Imagine the daughter-in-law of an Episcopal priest who died in the desert with a couple of coke cans looking for Jesus finding freedom from all that by tricking her spiritual advisor into giving her a record of Japanese koto music. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

Imagine a reality so saturated with despair that only a perfect illusion can hold insanity at bay and then only temporarily. Again and again. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Maze of Death.

Imagine an insane man dealing satisfactorily with his affliction by splitting himself up into three people, tracking down God and finding her to be a little girl, who quickly dies, then sending a piece of himself on a journey throughout the world looking for the 5th messiah, all with the support of loyal friends and his writer self who stays at home and is up all night every night taking notes. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in VALIS.

Imagine reality wrestling endlessly with itself without resolution whipping the tail of a crazed writer who is obsessively thinking himself into oblivion. What mad dreamer could have dreamed this up? —Philip K. Dick in Exegesis.   

So you want try out obsession? Ready to take it on? There’s lots to work with in these books and it’s a ride you may never want to get off of. Like you have a choice. Pulling yourself back together, you walk back up the spiral stairs and you wonder why you never knew the sun was so bright. Want to try it out? So, let the man teach you. 

Stretch your life to the chalky edge! Ravage the world with the fire of your mind! Rub the ink off the page as you parse every phrase! Descend the secret stairs late into the night! Again and again and again.    --John Lentz

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

EXEGESIS: Stumbling Around inside the Kingdom

“What it really means—to know this—enables the hearer to achieve what is achieved: eternal life. The how is contained, as well as the what. I think that in 3-74 at the height of despair and fear and grieving I stumbled into the Kingdom, stumbled around for a while and then stumbled back out, none the wiser as to how I got there, barely aware of where I had been, and no idea as to how I stumbled out, and seeking always to find my way back ever since. . . . Now I don’t see or understand anything. At that time I could even remember back to my origins. My real origins: the stars. What am I doing here? I forget, but I knew once. Amnesia has returned; the veil has fallen, back where it was. The divine faculties are occluded as before. Obviously I didn’t accomplish it; I was given it, since don’t know how to find it again. . . .  My soul, sunk down in ignorance again. Blind and deaf. Ensnared by gross matter, limited. The long dark night of the soul is a lousy place to be.” P. 201

Saturday, March 10, 2012

VALIS: Pink Beam Ahead! (2)

There is not much plot to VALIS. Things happen; people speak. Characters flow in and out of each other, and the writer who penned the piece projects himself onto the landscape of the story without becoming someone else. The question of who is looking at what is the issue.

Each narrative layer of the story has another layer of the story as the exegesis of the single event they each have in common, which is a vision of a beam of pink light thrusting “reality” into their consciousness. Horselover Fat is narrator-Phil’s exegesis, both of whom are writer-Phil’s exegesis of this event in novel form. There is also a reader pouring over the pages that Fat and the two Phils have created. What’s that all about? Something for readers to ponder, isn’t it? For isn’t there a place stirring inside every reader recording the events in this story hoping that maybe there is pink beam of light hidden in there ready to leap off the page?

According to narrator-Phil, Horselover Fat goes through stages of appreciation of the pink beam information, including the piece of information that the universe is nothing but information and at one point concluding that this piece of information about the universe being information is not real. Narrator-Phil points out the ambiguity of this stance as only he would know: “Fat had intellectually dealt himself out of the game of madness while still enjoying its sights and sounds. In effect, he no longer claimed that what he experienced was actually there.”

Narrator-Phil isn’t fooled. Fat has just shifted gears and instead of saying it’s all in his head but still real he says that the pink beam is real because it shot into his brain from a place millions of miles away. In here, out there—who knows? If you are mad, it’s probably safer to say that something outside you has done the deed that got you there instead of saying that from someplace inside you you are making it all up. In the end, for narrator-Phil, it’s a difference that makes no difference.   

So here’s the situation: a reader, you/me/they, pouring over a piece of information (VALIS) about writer-Phil projecting into narrator-Phil his thoughts about how Horselover Fat (who, he admits is him) is experiencing this pink beam reality. Sounds like a closed loop of information, doesn’t it? From here to there and back again, round and round, and if that’s the case, what is there to know but that? Some fact. That’s what makes this text special.

People have been reading special texts for centuries. Ancient texts, texts which God wrote. If you want to belong to a particular God-club, the admission ticket is to believe that God wrote your text and that through this text you can get God to help you. People can also read their God-text for understanding and inspiration; these experiences solidify membership in the club. Then there is the possibility that while you are hovering over a piece of special text (or looking at an ancient Christian symbol), suddenly something like a beam of pink light penetrates your brain and brings you nose-to-nose with reality.

So in this text, writer-Phil is using narrator-Phil as a reality lens with which he observes Horselover Fat, who is a stand in for reality. Sane? Insane? What’s the difference? Reality looks different at different focal lengths. Just check out writer-Phil’s Exegesis. That’s not all. What does a VALIS reader get when something turns his/her reality lens hard over? Reader reading, writer-Phil writing, and narrator-Phil pondering Horselover Fat, the whole thing as a singular, reality event. Real pink beam stuff! That’s a lot of juice for a piece of writing that’s not ancient and not written by God.

Reading VALIS is like trying to get outside of something that has no outside.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

VALIS: Casting Off (1)

You can dive into this book completely innocent as I did. VALIS was my second PKD novel, after Androids. I was warned. So I dove in with my eyes shut.

Not completely, though. I knew stuff. When I got it that this book was about insanity and reality, I knew I had come home. In my heyday hanging out over the edge, I wrote books too, and people called them insane. I wrote some good stuff but most of it came out as a flashflood of uncontrolled verbiage. No artist I. Never mind.

Now if you are academically inclined and know a lot about Dick’s life, you can dive right in and enjoy the ride though the PKD post-2-3-74 landscape. There’s nothing like it. As art, it transcends the novel form and its genres by offering a deep literary pleasure that invites analysis. This is the mind-in-tact approach. It serves all PKD readers. It’s fun.  

If you go in the back door, however, Horselover Fat will greet you himself. Narrator-Phil warns us about what association with Fat requires: You cannot think about it without becoming part of it. By thinking about madness, Horselover Fat slipped by degrees into madness.

Personally, I think this book is safe. Art has a way of pulling our fat (sorry about that) out of the fire, and since PKD readers have a lot of reality-travelling under their belts, they should be able to hold on when Fat is at the helm.

Here’s what this book boils down to: You have an experience. It’s intense. It wipes out everything you think you know about yourself and the world. It busts open your mind and you know there is no way to get rid of it. Call it God, reality . . . whatever. Fat came up with several names for it, including Valis. My favorite name comes from one of Fat’s more stalwart mental efforts. Imagine he/you are standing in your front yard and suddenly from behind, you hear a thundering roar. Knowing where you are, you confront the situation realistically. It’s probably a horse. You quickly turn around and to your horror, it is not a horse. It’s a zebra!

So now there is a Zebra grazing in Fat’s backyard. Now and then it breaks into the house and gives Fat a good thrashing. Eventually the Zebra moves in permanently and now the Zebra sits on the couch in front of the TV with Phil, who still thinks it’s his house. Their conversations are interesting but mostly one-sided.

According to narrator-Phil, who has many insights into Fat, the Zebra is not what drove Fat over the edge. It got him going, as one might expect, but it was Gloria’s suicide that cut him loose and sent him on a worldwide search for the 5th messiah.

Personally, I don’t think searching for the 5th messiah makes Fat insane. After all, why not the 5th messiah? Just because billions of people have joined a handful of God-clubs around the world doesn’t mean they have a handle on the reality-thing. It just means that in tracking down reality, Fat is going it alone. That part might make it psychosis, but that’s not the whole reason narrator-Phil thinks he is insane. According to narrator-Phil, Fat tipped over the edge just as much because of his psychological baggage—dope, a fervent need to help damsels in distress, and his wife walking out on him taking his kid. Narrator-Phil says that Gloria “unfolded a panorama of total and relentless madness.” It’s easy from this to see how Fat got into trouble. Inviting suicidal Gloria into his house where a Zebra’s sitting on the couch may not have been his best move.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

VALIS Preliminaries

For the last twenty years, I have asked myself almost daily whether I’m insane. I think the verdict is in but just because I can fix food, drive a car, converse intelligibly on the phone, and write bits and pieces for blogs—that doesn’t mean I don’t send mental probes into other dimensions where cosmic beings monitor my progress in being able to download things from a place called pure existence. Or find myself at the center of the galaxy with swirling arms of stars, planets, and masses of gas, giggling in bliss despite not having a leg to stand on. Or emerging spontaneously into the reality place where a prolonged visit will shred everything I think I am, knowing I didn’t quite get back in time. Or sitting terrified in a chair while something sweeps over me that has insanity written all over it. Or feeling so depressed that any moment the cosmic demon is going to swallow me whole and take me to the edge of oblivion so that I will know what it is without having any way to back off.

I read Philip K. Dick for companionship. So I can feel his breath manifesting wisps of thought in my mind that announce a presence I can relate to rather than what my mind has to deal with inside the collective psychosis. I’ll take a high five on that one! Besides, my psychosis is a lot more interesting than anything the TV can serve up, or the checkout girl at the supermarket can dredge up when she wishes me a good day.

So when I read VALIS, there is a lot of shit coming down the pike (I’ll get to Timothy Archer later). We know there are a number of novels where Dick zeroes in on that place where the rational mind craps out, but those are wrapped up in protective storylines. VALIS is almost naked! Like the giant claws of existence are ripping the author apart, and I don’t know whether  to pop a few more pills or get down to my own nakedness and join the fray.

Here is the deal about reading VALIS.* Whoever reads it has to take a stand on one side or the other of the sanity/insanity line—if you can find one. It’s important. You can take the ramblings about esoteric writings and ancient philosophies and try to put it all together like a jigsaw puzzle and nod obligingly to Fat, thinking you and he are on the same page intellectually, or you can join Fat and let go of your mind as it revs up like a jet engine out of gear and get it firsthand that none of that stuff matters and that you are standing there like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike long after the Atlantic Ocean has passed over you.

So, for the next few blogs I will sort through some of my mental debris and hopefully come up with something intelligible to say about this book.

*The FDA will never approve this book. Check in with your doctor to see if you are sane enough to read it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

PKD’s “Stability” as a Quantum of Pure Perception

A story does not have to mean anything in order for it to give pleasure and astonishment. Philip K. Dick’s “Stability” is a perfect example. It is a mind-bending adventure in which events leap frog from one to another so that the story does not become fixed or predictable. At the end, all of the events of the story come together in a singular, multi-layered reality.

Robert Benton sits in the office of the Controller, who is an official in a totalitarian state. The Controller’s job is to keep civilization from disintegrating after it has attained its highest achievements. Stabilization is the mantra of government control. No progress, no falling back. Stasis. Anybody who might potentially upset stability is killed.

The Controller tells Benton that his invention, a time machine, has been rejected for use by the Control Board because it would endanger stability. Benton, however, says he never invented one. He doesn’t know that he has already built and used it because he is talking to the controller from a time before he built it. Nevertheless, Benton sets off to retrieve the time machine, which is being kept in a gigantic array of offices where a thousand men and women serve the machine which keeps the world in a state of stability.

At home Benton is puzzled by the machine. When he turns it on, he is suddenly in a new world, which is not earth as he knows it. There are forests and abundant fields of grain. When he finds a small glass globe and starts to pick it up, a voice urgently tells him not to. Doing so would upset stability. The voice tells Benton that he is under the control of the glass globe and that it is evil. The voice is the guardian of the globe. Its purpose is to prevent the globe from being broken open. Ignoring the voice, Benton takes the globe back to where he left the time machine.  

Under the influence of the globe, Benton returns to the Controller, who does not recognize Benton because Benton is now in a time after he built the machine while the Controller exists in a time before. Benton is astonished to realize that time has shifted. He leaves the time machine and plans with the Controller.

The Controller and the Control Council, from somewhere in time after both visits, discuss the  detection by the stability machine of an imminent destabilizing event. The time machine!

With no idea as to what is actually transpiring (or has transpired), the Controller and the Council rush to Benton’s apartment in order to retrieve the time machine. Benton is perplexed when they ask for it. He does not have the machine because he just left it at the Controller’s office. He does, however, have the globe, which has been telling him about its plans. The Controller discovers the globe and tells everybody that there is an evil city inside it and that the globe wants to be smashed so that the city can escape.

After a struggle with the Controller, Benton smashes the globe and releases into the room the “accursed city,” which sweeps all those in it into a reality where giant machines of “raging power” have reduced humanity to “sweating, stooped, pale men, twisting in their efforts to keep the roaring furnaces of steel and power happy.”  Benton’s awareness of his former life is quickly subsumed into this devastating world.

The ending is a shock but it opens the door to multiple perceptions of the events that precede it and begs for interpretation.

From one perception, these machines are the the stability machines of the future. They are a product of the decree imposed upon civilization by the Control Council far back in time.  The use of the time machine has destabilized civilization, which has disintegrated as predicted into the scenario of the evil city.

From a second perception, stasis has been maintained but the relationship between humanity and machine has become grotesque. The stability machines are serviced as in the past, but they have assumed dominance and become the tyranny of human life.

From a third perception, the stability machines operate outside of cause and effect and are not subject to the flow of time. From here past, present, and future are conjoined. The machines themselves are the source of time and function therefore as an evil entity.

Beyond these multiple layers of perception, a single image connects the events of the story into a whole as a quantum of pure, unmediated perception. The discrete image of Benson reaching down to pick up the globe for the first time is the story’s real and only “stability,” a source point through which all the other events of the story pass regardless of what meaning or time frame is attached them. Unfortunately, human beings have no access to this transcendent reality and can, therefore, never know stability.

Beyond that, one can project an infinite number of such discrete existences . . . 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Radio Free Albemuth (1985)

Last night I finished Radio Free Albemuth and was so overwhelmed by my experience that I can safely say it has brought me my most satisfying experience of PKD.

Since Dick wrote RFA not long after the visionary experiences of early 1974, we are in this novel probably closer to the original fire that burns through everything he wrote after that.  Even though Dick probes his experiences far and wide and often erratically in his Exegesis, in RFA he presents a beautifully coherent expression of them in the context of a science fiction story that gives them value and makes the conclusion of the novel so spiritually moving. Indeed, this is the most passionate PKD novel I have read.

The visionary life of Nicholas Brady occurs in an alternate history of the U.S., c. 1978, during the fascist regime of Ferris Fremont, President of the United States and mole for the communists of the U.S.S.R. It would be easy for Nicholas Brady to be sucked into his alternative reality, but the dangers of the fascist state keep him fully engaged with preserving his life, the lives of his friends, and the life of the nation gradually being consumed by fear and hatred. The essence of the novel lies in how these two realities constitute a whole, singular event.

There are two narrators in RFA: Nicholas Brady and a science fiction author named Philip K. Dick. The Dick character listens helplessly to Brady’s experiences but cannot contribute much in the way of understanding. After all, as Brady keeps telling him, he writes science fiction. Dick tries unsuccessfully to look at Brady’s experience from an objective point of view. He accepts but does not understand. In the second part of the novel, Nicholas Brady relates his experiences as a personal narrative.

One night he suddenly finds himself downloading information from what he later learns is a satellite which has been orbiting the earth for centuries. This satellite transfers information to a select few on the earth from humanity’s home star system Albemuth. Brady refers to this entity (God) as Valis, an acronym for vast active living intelligence system. The intent of the information is to counteract the influence of “the adversary,” the dark force that surreptitiously accompanied the human race from Albemuth to the earth and is behind the rise of Ferris Fremont to the presidency.

The agents of the fascist government, called Friends of the American People (FAPers), are omnipresent in all areas of American life and are aware of the satellite, which their underground ally, the Soviet Union, eventually destroys. They are also aware of the subversive plot instigated by Nicholas Brady, who recruits musical talent for a living, and Sadassa Aramchek, a key member of the resistance group Aramchek, named after her mother. Together Brady and Aramchek formulate a plan to introduce to the public subliminal messages through song lyrics in hopes of generating resistance to the government. This plan, however, never has a chance. It has been tracked by FAPers from the its inception and is destroyed. Brady and Aramchek are executed.   

Nicholas Brady’s inner experiences constitute a cosmology much greater than what is acted upon in the story. Valis is more than the progenitor God of the human race. It is the cosmic mind, within which the cosmos exists. Brady participates in the cosmic life by receiving the downloaded information from Valis and consciously acting upon it in the greater context of earth’s spiritual history, including the immediate situation of Ferris Fremont’s presidency. His lack of success is less important than the fact that he received the information and demonstrated his understanding through his actions. That was all that was required of him.

In RFA it is easy to see Judeo-Christian influences at work; however, the science fiction element allows us to strip away the constrictions of religious cosmologies, which, because of their historical roots, cannot integrate new visions. It is this balance between known theology and science fiction elements that opens the door for the reader to jump in and celebrate all possibilities.

At the end of RFA, there is hope for the human race. Help is on its way in the form of another satellite from Albemuth, which, however, will take centuries to arrive. Meanwhile, earth will continue with its struggle against the adversary, and eventually Valis will return and restore all human beings blissfully to their root existence.