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.