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.