The Exegesis

The Exegesis: Letter to Claudia Bush, July 5, 1974

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
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The glossary notes Claudia Bush was a grad student at Idaho State University who corresponded with Dick while working on her master’s thesis. 

In a letter to her Dick tells her about a dream he had that was trying to direct him to a book of some significance. All he could see in the dream was a hardbound blue book with a title that ended in the word ‘Grove.’ He eventually finds a book in his library that matches this description, a biography of Warren G. Harding called The Shadow of Blooming Grove, but it turns out to be ‘the dullest book in the world.’ In a postscript he tells Claudia to never take dreams too seriously.

The Exegesis: Letter to Peter Fitting, June 28, 1974

In a 1974 letter to the literary critic Peter Fitting (who a year later would publish the essay ‘”Ubik”: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF’) Dick talks about tachyons which he read about in an article by Arthur Koestler in the July ’74 issue of Harper’s magazine. Since (the hypothetical) tachyons travel faster than the speed of light they would travel in a reverse time direction and open up the possibility of precognition. 

He recounts how he read about vitamin megadosing to improve brain efficiency while doing research for his novel A Scanner Darkly, so he loaded up on water-soluble vitamins one night and for eight hours hallucinated a series of colored graphics that resembled abstract art. He believed later this was due to the reduction of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in his brain. 

Following all this he begins to receive messages from the sky. At first he thinks he’s picking up on some ESP experiment from the USSR but then concludes these messages are not man-made but rather a tachyon bombardment that lets him see the future. All of this is a sort of scientific explanation for what the Israelites, for instance, experienced when they imagined they were contacted by God. 

In a postscript he decides these cosmic broadcasts weren’t necessarily directed at him but they may have influenced him to write Ubik. Before sending the letter he returns to follow up on this theory that perhaps all of his books were written by him as a result of this tachyon bombardment. He could foresee the future and that’s why more and more people are telling him they feel they are living in a world that caught up to his stories. 

He ends the letter teasing an idea for a sequel to The Man in the High Castle which he never completed. You can read the first two chapters of this unfinished book in the collection of essays and other ephemera The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick edited by Lawrence Sutin.

The Exegesis: Folder 4

I’m going to have to revise my idea of bite-sized chunks… I think I can probably only handle a few pages at a time. If any of this sounds remotely interesting you should read it on your own, since these notes are just a way to keep it straight in my own mind as best I can. I’m not a scholar, so I apologize in advance if I get this all wrong.

The editors kept some of Paul Williams’s system of folder organization for the pages and pages of material. Dick has adopted the possibility that he was inspired by something to write his stories. In a section labeled ‘Folder 4’ Dick muses about the Logos and how it connects to his novel Ubik. We get a glimpse at the gnosticism (which to overly simplify it is the idea of spiritual knowledge as a path to God) which underpins what he thinks has been happening to him. 

The Logos is the Word of God (as in “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” in chapter 1 of the Gospel of John) and is a separate entity from the Holy Spirit. The Logos exists outside of time unlike the Holy Spirit which exists in time but moves in an opposite direction to the time we perceive.

Dick believes the plasmatic entity that visited him in March of ’74 was the Logos traveling back in time from the future. That seems to contradict the distinction he made between the Logos and the Holy Spirit earlier, but then he says ‘What difference does it make? It’s only a semantic quarrel.’ These pages are a dense beginning where he connects all of this loosely to the non-time world in Ubik where Runciter serves in the role of the Logos. I’m not sure what I’ve gotten myself into…

The Exegesis: Introduction

I’m not sure how this is going to go tackling the 900+ page publication of Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis. I’m planning to post notes after reading bite-sized chunks of twenty-five pages or so. Perhaps I will come to appreciate Dick’s VALIS experience in a different way. As it stands I always found it somewhat tedious and not as revelatory as Dick did. Can this doorstop of a book change my mind…? Stay tuned. 

In the introduction editors Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem give us some backstory. Dick claims to have had the following experiences in February and March of 1974 (known collectively as “2-3-74” for Feb and March of that year).

  1. He trips out after seeing the Jesus-fish necklace of a delivery girl who brought him a painkiller after a visit to the dentist for his wisdom teeth. He had been given sodium pentothal earlier in the day. 
  2. He hallucinated on two separate nights.
  3. A plasmatic entity visited him and he heard messages through his radio.

Prior to all this in 1971 someone broke into his house in San Rafael, California and blew up his file cabinet. Whoever was responsible remained a mystery. 

Some people speculated later that Dick had temporal lobe epilepsy, but at the time Dick tried to make sense of all these events through copious notes which he referred to as the ‘Exegesis.’ After he died Paul Williams, his friend and executor of his estate, attempted to organize the 8000+ mostly hand-written pages. The ‘Exegesis’ took on a mythical status among Dickheads until this version, which is the editors’ best attempt to whittle everything down to something readable, was published in 2011.