I’m participating in the Philip K. Dick-of-the-month-club and Exegesis support group along with some other book nerds in the blogosphere, having decided that it was a good idea to solider through Dick’s Exegesis en masse rather than in isolation—throwing bloggers over-the-top to wade through the trenches of Dick’s mind, dodging the paranoid shrapnel of Dick’s most surreal ideas, and his bizarre analysis of the most alien of authors… himself. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Previous posts in this series:
So far, I am around 156 pages or 16% into the Exegesis. It doesn’t look like anyone else has posted anything PKD-related this month, so I’ll get the group started.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m fighting off a head cold, so gathering the focus to read anything without pictures has been challenging at best, but the second set of 75 pages was an uphill slog. This isn’t to say that there are fascinating moments. But as Dick begins to move on from exploring the visions he’s had, he spends more and more time attempting to rationalize and understand them using Psychology Today, Christian Gnosticism, Greek mythology, and pure speculation. And there’s plenty of mind-bending answers he discovers, explaining them with all the certainty of a crazy person.
His base ideas revolve around the flow of consciousness and its relation to Time and God, the eternal factors; by now he thinks that a divine being—the Logos or Ubik—is sending out telepathic messages, and he sees himself as having accidentally unlocked the secret to receiving them… and is working on the interpretation. “Each of us is a vast storage drum of taped information which we purposefully modify, each of us differently,” he explains, part of his idea of the brain acting as a filter or transmitter for ideas—something postulated by William James, Henri Bergson, and Aldous Huxley, among others, though I don’t think theirs included “ideas are generated by the divine and sent backward in time.” And there’s some attempt to analyze elements of his past fiction’s exploration of what is real, what is consciousness, and what is merely a cardboard cutout imitation, tying that back to his current theories as examples of the thoughts sent to him by God.
Still, some of his notes make it too easy to simply label Dick as crazy; the certainty of which he talks about “spatial time” and a divine being sending its thoughts to us backward through time remind me of the Time Cube crank website. In one dream, he relieves a past life as a Christian hunted in Rome; in another, out of the word “Jesus” springs the word “Zagreus,” name of a god associated with Dionysus, and out of that comes “Zeus,” forming a new trinity of this divine being in Dick’s head. I’m particularly curious what Claudia Bush thought when she received these letters… some of them are hard to follow, and others simply look mad.
One of those “my-god-he-must-be-crazy” elements is his obituary for Anthony Boucher. The first editor of F&SF, long-standing mystery critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times, and a great writer in his own right, Boucher’s early death from lung cancer at the age of 57 was a heavy blow to the literary world. Dick expresses his condolences in a surreal piece he first submitted to a magazine of Sufi mysticism, included here from a version mailed to Boucher’s widow. It also deals with some elements of the Exegesis and Dick’s ongoing struggles; while it starts off well by quoting Ted Sturgeon, and goes on to compare real life to an early story of Dick’s that Boucher bought (“Roog”), but breaks down somewhere in the middle when Dick starts talking about a cat he adopted that also died of cancer, which he realizes was the reincarnation of Tony Boucher. To be honest, if someone sent me that obituary I’m not sure what I’d think; it’s not hard to see how Dick got his reputation as an addict even though he’s not supposed to have taken drugs more than two or three times.
Of interest to PKD fans, there’s references to his work-in-progress To Scare the Dead (the unwritten sequel to The Man in the High Castle) including a long note on plot elements, along with his plot notes for VALISystem A. These offer some aggregated notes and thoughts he had come up with before even putting pen to paper, less a plot “structure” and more a general outline with some ideas he wanted to include. I’ve always been interested in how writers plan their works, and so it’s fascinating to see the ideas Dick came up with before he really started writing them—he provides a general outline, various thoughts on the plot and how it should develop, an interesting contrast with what it turned out as: VALISystem A was published posthumously as Radio Free Albemuth. Both novels incorporate themes Dick was working through in his Exegesis; To Scare The Dead has a protagonist who discovers the hemispheres of his brain are going different directions in time, while Radio Free Albemuth… well, that’s for another post.