The Exegesis

The Exegesis: The meta-abstraction

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
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May 1981

Dick didn’t intend for Transmigration to complete his VALIS trilogy. He originally thought it would be a counterpoint to any mystical ideas in VALIS, but he surprised himself when it followed through on the themes of that book. 

At the end of Transmigration Bill thinks he is Christ, which Dick admits is crazy, except it also could indicate Christ’s return in the Parousia. He uses Angel (who he says is based on Ursula Le Guin) to illustrate that intellect can only take someone so far, as Angel rejects Christ at the end of the book. He calls the novel “a damning indictment of pure intelligence lacking faith.”

He tries to explain his “meta-abstraction.” What we perceive as reality is actually just a signifier pointing to Valis, which is the true reality. The only way actual reality makes itself known to us is by the perturbation in the reality field. He also says he can’t put any of this into words, which is probably why it doesn’t make too much sense. 

I think he is saying it’s impossible to see true reality, and what he saw in 3-74 was the real world converted into the information that we think of as reality. It was a sign pointing to a pure abstraction. He’s been trying to understand reality based only on its signifier, which is impossible. The absolute or phenomenal world is unknowable, although he is able to point to it. 

The Exegesis: Jim Pike’s influence and the literary style of The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

May 1981 

Dick now thinks that what invaded him in 3-74 was himself as an “eternal unique idea.” 

Timothy Archer is based on Dick’s friend Jim Pike, the media-savvy, liberal Bishop of California in the late 50s and early 60s. Pike claimed to have been visited by his son after his son’s death, which is mirrored in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Dick wrestles with the themes of that book: the impossibility of knowing truth and communicating truth to others. The final message of the book is that inner peace is possible, but it will not come from intellectual knowledge. 

Dick is finished with Transmigration and calls it the 3rd book of the trilogy. He claims it is the most important as it documents the Parousia (aka the second coming of Christ) and completes the story arc of VALIS and The Divine Invasion. Jim Pike returned to him just as Bill in the book was taken over by the Holy Spirit, and just how Elijah in the Old Testament passed on a part of his spirit to Elisha. 

Everything Dick wrote over the previous 35 years led to Transmigration. He declares it the best novel he has ever written, and from a literary standpoint I would agree. The narrator Angel Archer came from a particular style he was aiming for, and he ties that to the idea that information can create a unique being. He goes so far as to say that Jim Pike, through him, conjured up that character, since she understands the bishop so well. 

VALIS, Divine Invasion and Transmigration all point to the fact that the second coming is already here, although it is Jim who has been resurrected, not Christ.

The Exegesis: Understanding pure consciousness

May 1981 

This folder begins with a passage that will be included as the musings of Angel in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

Dick outlines some “obvious” points about his spiritual journey thus far. He is making progress and notes that his book VALIS is evolving into his book on Bishop Archer. He makes several references to Anokhi, which will be featured quite significantly in the upcoming novel. He turned down a big chunk of money to write the Archer book instead of a novelization of Blade Runner that was offered to him, but he doesn’t regret it.

He includes another passage that will end up in Transmigration about the origins of Satan. 

The presence of God intoxicated him and drove him mad, but he knows he must separate his understanding from the madness caused by his belief. Anokhi is the self awareness that awoke in him when he rebelled against his fate. 

The mind uses reality as a carrier of information, which when processed = Valis, but what does this mean when it comes to our consciousness? Is reality consciousness outside of us? Reality is not just a vehicle for information, but it also refers to God outside itself, impinging on it. This makes reality a sign that points to God, although I fear I’m oversimplifying what Dick is trying to say.

He recounts a mystical experience that morning when his coffee cup transformed itself into “the Grail,” a spiritual, colorful object transfigured by light.

Notes about Rachel Garret’s role in Transmigration are followed by an outline of the book’s plot progression. 

The Exegesis: A single artistic vision & notes on Bishop Archer

Early 1981

Dick again brings up his 10 volume meta-novel. If you’ve come here to find out what books are included I don’t think he ever spells it out in the Exegesis. I can make a good guess as to some (or most) of them, but Dick’s mind works in mysterious ways. 

He outlines what we should takeaway from the meta-novel:

  1. Each of us lives in a unique individual world
  2. The world is not what it purports to be
  3. This world is created by the plasmate aka Valis 
  4. We have some control over our individual worlds because they derive from us somehow

He claims everything he has written from “Roog” and “Beyond Lies the Wub” to now makes up “one vast artistic vision,” one that has become humanized as it has progressed and which he can’t be separated from.

He did not intend VALIS to be a story that explains God and the universe, but rather it’s a story about his suffering and his own personal vision. It wasn’t designed to explain the world. It’s a work of art that illuminates his struggle, and he makes it clear that it is not objective truth.

This is followed by notes on the characteristics of Bishop Tim Archer and Edgar Barefoot for his work-in-progress novel The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

The Exegesis: The mind as Valis & belief in God

Dick describes what sounds like a bipolar illness where he bounces back and forth between mania when he thinks he has figured things out and depression when he has lost his belief. 

He has been engaged in scientific research the last seven years trying to figure out what the perturbation in the reality field was in 3-74, but the whole time he’s been afraid he is insane, especially with regard to hearing the AI voice.

He has a dream about someone who lived in a void and whose mind created a world in order to keep him from going crazy. The more this person scrutinized the world the more real it appeared. The only thing letting him know the world wasn’t real was a preprogramed voice which failed to do its job due to the increasingly convincing nature of the false world.

Dick’s takeaway from the dream is that what he knows as Valis (and the binary computer) is actually his own mind creating this imprisoning world.

Now that he seems to know for sure what is going on and that he was right that the world presented to us is not the real world, he wonders what the “utility” of the delusion is. We can either see the phony world (understand it but not believe it is real) or see the world as it truly is and be unable to make sense of it. Both approaches look like mental dysfunctions to him. Is the false world a gift from God? God might be the only way out of the “solipsistic trap,” so does this whole thing lead to him? Dick is embracing belief. He can’t prove God exists (it may well be a hallucination), but he is choosing to believe that God exists beyond himself. 

The Exegesis: A return to the Palm Tree Garden

Dick’s model of reality (“a total system that perpetually chooses through a binary process of rejection that is cumulative”) is based only on his own experience. He’s not interested in any existing traditions or explanations about the nature of God. All he can concern himself with is whether it is true when it comes to what happened to him. He describes his scientific method of testing his experience against his model and iterating if it doesn’t fit. He wants and expects his experience to have changed him.

Christ is the necessary intruder that allows us to see the Palm Tree Garden, since reality never changes, only our perception of it. Perhaps because it was Easter Dick saw the garden the previous week but has lost his way back, even though he knows it exists. He felt burned out from exhaustion the night before he ended up in the spatial realm, similar to his feeling of running out of time, and then he woke in the garden world. He connects his spiritual rebirth to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 

He wonders if his concept of binary branching creates endless new realities… if so what happens to them?

He has a dream about some children called “the Spinners” who are poisoned by heavy metals on a farm and are slowly going blind. In his interpretation the Spinners are immortals who came here, lost their third eye and are no longer able to see Christ.