The Exegesis

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
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The Exegesis is a lot to process. The published book is around 900 pages, and it took me just under three years to read the whole thing. Here are my full notes.

I did my best to make sense of his monumentally complex thoughts and tried not to editorialize too much. Hopefully I didn’t do a disservice by oversimplifying anything. You might be surprised to find that the book he attaches the most significance to (even more so than VALIS) is Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said. I’m no stranger to the Bible, but I’m not sure I understand enough about the New Testament Book of Acts to make sense out of everything. I admit I don’t know enough about Gnosticism either.

Fair warning, he does often sound paranoid, especially at the beginning in his notes to Claudia Bush, and he dwells a lot on his dreams and hypnagogic visions. He also engages in a healthy amount of what I call retconning where he revisits many of his novels written before 1974 and tries to inject meaning into them that probably wasn’t there when he wrote them. He desperately wanted his entire body of work to have a single overarching theme. 

These are some of the sections that stood out the most to me.

A metal prison and the teachings of Meister Eckhart – the first reference to what will become known to Dick as the Black Iron Prison

Zebra & the noosphere – he first introduces Zebra, a name he would use regularly for the Valis entity. I believe the nickname comes from a zebra’s camouflaging stripes. 

Schizophrenia & causality

The bicameral brain

Jacob Boehme & a modified Gnosticism

A time-traveler named Thomas and a hypnagogic message – his first notes on Thomas

Hyperuniverses and our world as a hologram

Perturbations in the reality field – this is a phrase Dick will continue to use for the remainder of the exegesis

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said as living information

Dialectics, an all-controlling computer & the counterculture – his first notes about the dialectic

Zebra mimicking Ubik

The mechanics of 3-74, a different universe for everyone & reality as a library

Infinity – his theophany

VALIS disguised as outsider art

The meta-abstraction

The true identity of Angel Archer and God’s evolution

A dream about “Ditheon” – his first notes about Ditheon

Negative entropy & VALIS as the key to the 10 volume meta-novel

Three letters about the savior – his first notes about Tagore

Dick’s true feelings about Blade Runner

Notes on The Owl in Daylight

Notes on Galactic Pot-Healer

The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick

The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick
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The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick is a collection of PKD’s non-fiction writing edited by Lawrence Sutin and published by Vintage in 1995. It includes some short autobiographical pieces, some notes on SF, introductions he wrote for a few of his books, some material specific to The Man in the High Castle, some plot treatments and television ideas, some longer essays and transcripts of speeches, and some selections from the Exegesis. 

A common theme in the autobiographical writings in part one, outside of his love for writing science fiction, is how little money an SF author makes. The essays in part two deal more specifically with his thoughts on science fiction, and in the introduction to “The Golden Man” we get his infamous account of buying horse meat at the Lucky Dog Pet Store in Berkeley to feed himself and his wife because of how difficult it was to support them with a career in SF. 

Part three includes an essay on Naziism as it relates to The Man in the High Castle and two chapters (where Goring discusses The Grasshopper Lies Heavy with his men and the SS deputy Heydrich interrogates Wegener) from the sequel to that book that he never completed. 

The television proposals are a strange insight. Perhaps desperate for money he tries to break into TV with a plot outline for the 1960s TV series Mission Impossible and a detailed idea for a show about a guardian angel business that operates out of heaven and interacts with people back on Earth. 

For me the essays and speeches in part five are the highlight of the collection. The first few, where he discusses mental illness and man’s relationship to machine, predate the Exegesis. The rest come after his 1974 experience. Other than “The Tagore Letter” and “Cosmogony and Cosmology” (which is a technical and mostly dry update that he sent to his agent, for some reason, about where he was at with his exegetical thinking at the time), the remaining essays from the 1970s were for a broader audience. To me at least they seem more accessible and make a good companion to the Exegesis

The short selections from the Exegesis in part six were not included in the version published in 2011, as far as I can tell, other than “The Ultra Hidden (Cryptic) Doctrine: The Secret Meaning of the Great Systems of Theosophy of the World, Openly Revealed for the First Time” from Folder 82 which I wrote about here.

The Unteleported Man

First published in Fantastic Stories 1964

The Unteleported Man was first published in Fantastic Stories magazine in 1964. 

Rachmael ben Applebaum suspects something shady is going on at the Whale’s Mouth colony in the Fomalhaut system. A company called THL has a teleportation device that can take people from Earth to Whale’s Mouth in only fifteen minutes. Strangely it’s only a one-way trip, and Rachmael thinks the video from THL showing a paradise full of happy colonists is being faked. Rachmael owns a now-obsolete freighter company, but with the help of the police agency Lies Incorporated he plans to take his last remaining ship to the Fomalhaut system, in a trip that will take eighteen years one way, to find out for sure what is going on at Whale’s Mouth.

Ace Books asked Dick to expand this novella-length story so they could publish it as a full novel, but they turned down the second part he wrote. Instead they ended up publishing The Unteleported Man as one half of an Ace Double. The copy I read was backed with Dr. Futurity. The expanded material (Rachmael on Whale’s Mouth after being shot by an LSD-tipped dart) was inserted somewhat inelegantly into the middle of the story and eventually published as Lies, Inc. in 1983 after Dick died.  

Cast of characters

See Lies, Inc.

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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One thing I know is how widely subjective the opinions are when it comes to Philip K. Dick’s stories. It’s not a stretch though to say that this fifth and final story collection contains some of Dick’s best stories but also quite a few of his worst.

“The Electric Ant” is one of my all-time favorites. Other gems here include “Precious Artifact,” “Holy Quarrel,” “A Game of Unchance,” “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts” and “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon.”

As of this writing none of the stories in The Eye of the Sibyl have been adapted as movies or for television. 

The Alien Mind

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in The Yuba City High Times Feb 1981

Aboard his ship Jason Bedford is brought out of deep sleep to realize his cat Norman has gotten loose and knocked him off course by swatting at the control panel. He is scheduled for a delivery to Meknos III so he calls the Meknosians to explain his delay and while on the call with them gets angry enough to kill the cat for making him look stupid.

After he arrives at Meknos and makes his drop off the aliens ask him about his cat. He denies having a pet (which he flushed out the airlock) but while he is going through a decontamination procedure so he can leave the Meknosians search his ship. When he is finally on his way back to Terra he finds his deep sleep chamber is missing its power supply, his entertainment tapes have been swapped out for a cat toy and all his food has been replaced by cat kibble. 

Strangely the last short story Dick wrote was first published in The Yuba City High Times (a high school newspaper and not a marijuana enthusiast’s magazine like I first thought/hoped) after the son of an acquaintance of Dick’s wrote him and asked for a short story for the paper which Dick actually then sent over. “The Alien Mind” went on to be published in Fantasy & Science Fiction later that same year.

Cast of characters

  • Jason Bedford – intergalactic delivery man
  • the Meknosians

Strange Memories of Death

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Interzone Summer 1984

An unnamed narrator (presumably Dick in this autobiographical story) lives in an apartment building that is being converted into condos. He is the only one who has decided to buy his apartment and stay, and everyone else has moved out except his crazy, antisocial neighbor known as the Lysol Lady. 

The narrator wakes up on the last day the Lysol Lady can legally occupy her unit before getting evicted, spends the day wondering what will happen to her and then finds out the next day from the building’s sales rep that she moved out several weeks ago after the Housing Authority found her a new apartment. 

Cast of characters

  • the unnamed narrator
  • Mrs. Archer aka The Lysol Lady – the narrator’s neighbor
  • Al Newcum – sales rep for South Orange Investments