tag: Dionysus

The Exegesis: VALIS as a political handbook

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
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January-April 1981

Flow My Tears contained two narratives: the political narrative and a “latent” religious one. These two parallel ideas were joined in 3-74 into a revolutionary whole that combined a sort of Marxism with Jewish millenarianism. Dick compares it to the conflict in the Old Testament book of Daniel. He poured this into VALIS, a novel he now views as political and a call to action to help usher in messianic rule. This line of thinking seems to come directly from the 1980 election and inauguration of Reagan who represents to him the Empire.

His political beliefs never changed but now they are bolstered by his religious and philosophical studies over the last seven years. All of this comes together in VALIS which gathers the politics of Flow My Tears, the theology of Deus Irae and the street view of A Scanner Darkly into a total vision.

The 60s revolution, post Nixon, failed after all the leaders in the counterculture had been killed. Dick expects a new savior that will lead the resistance against Reagan’s BIP regime. VALIS is a manifesto and the political playbook. Dick claims his vision of Christ gives him the authority to lead this political charge, and says he is coming out into the open as one of the secret true Christians who have been in hiding for so long.

Dick realizes something “obvious” after rereading Flow My Tears: it is a retelling of the Greek tragedy The Bacchae about the god Dionysus. He credits Dionysus’s “stoned magic” for enlightening him about what really happened in 3-74. He draws a line from Dionysus to Elijah to Jesus and imagines Dionysus as the Christians destroying the BIP. VALIS spells out this evolution from Dionysus to Christ and then further details Christ returning to the eleven grieving disciples. Dick didn’t understand any of this when writing the book and wonders if anyone else will figure it out.

The Exegesis: The bicameral brain

March 1977

Dick yearns for Zebra to contact him again. He returns to the night of his epic drug bender and decides Erasmus and Dionysus and Zebra are one and the same. Zebra is the rightful king of our world. Maybe if Dick’s experience did happen to others they kept it a secret. 

He reads an article in Time magazine about a book by psychologist Julian Jaynes which suggests that prior to 10,000 B.C. humans didn’t possess a consciousness but instead existed in a sort of schizophrenic state led by voices only they heard. Eventually humans evolved from this bicameral brain (left side for speech, right side for these voices) to the consciousness we know today.

Dick thinks Christ’s unachieved goal on Earth was to help restore that bicamerality. He believes in 3-74 he became temporarily bicameral, and if the gods communicated from our right brain then they are still there subconsciously guiding us. 

He imagines the mind as a computer that can retrieve any information (even that of long dead people?) if it’s given the correct signal. 

The Exegesis: Biblical parables, Gnosticism and a dream involving a Zenith TV set

Dick is curious about how much of the Biblical parables we truly understand, since the Gospel of Mark says they were designed to confuse everyone except the disciples. He thinks he figured some things out before, but now he has forgotten everything he learned. He compares Christ to Dionysus. 

Gnostics worship the female Sophia and are at odds with the patriarchal Jewish-Christian religion. Based on what he experienced he begrudgingly admits he is a Gnostic, although his is a modified version of Gnosticism. He recounts how his old ego died and he was reborn. He names the archetype which took possession of him in 3-74 the Steersman. 

Dick has a dream involving a Zenith TV set, a dark green cellophane strip and 3 lights. I struggled to understand any of it, but Dick’s interpretation is that we will know Christ when he returns. 

He once again wonders if the Holy Wisdom which visited him was gone for 2000 years before returning or was present all along. 

The Exegesis: Letter to Claudia Bush, February 25, 1975

Dick talks up his writing process in another letter to Claudia. He borrows from his own life experiences and often merges ideas from two novels into one. 

In a postscript he says he ‘commanded the entity to show itself’ to him the previous night. In a hypnagogic state he saw a dead man dressed in a fawn skin on the floor. He is convinced this is Dionysus (who is related to Zagreus in Greek mythology) and in the morning he finds confirmation, in his mind at least, when he comes across something about the followers of Dionysus wearing fawn skins. 

He attaches notes for his next novel which combines ideas from Valisystem A (which would go on to become Radio Free Ablemuth and later VALIS) and the previously mentioned To Scare the Dead. The protagonist is influenced by a telepathic signal from space to overthrow a government tyranny. In the remainder of his notes Dick brainstorms on the notion of retrograde time and how it can be worked into his story.