tag: Drugs

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: Notes on 11-17-80

October-November 1980

Dick finds parallels between his 3-74 experience and his efforts to figure it out afterword with the exegesis. Both involved entropy, and in both he split apart after speeding up and reaching infinite velocity. In 3-74 the end result was that he saw Valis. During his exegesis he sped up again, fragmented into endless theories and finally encountered the infinite God on 11-17-80 as noted in the last entry. 

The journeys were similar but the outcomes different. Valis is the world but God is transcendent. 11-17-80 was the theophany he thought he experienced in 3-74. In 3-74 he didn’t connect with God but only understood that God existed and had saved him. 

He credits a little “Mary Jane” as the thing that gave him the final push that accelerated him through the exegesis. His theophany occurred when he gave up on the exegesis and “turned on.” Enlightenment only comes when you stop pursuing it. He realizes his journey didn’t begin in 1974 but in high school when he first heard the AI voice.

He remarks on the anthropomorphic nature of God in contrast to Valis. Valis is machinelike and computerlike but God (who he compares to Gandolf) has a personality much like the wise, old, loving man in a robe people have always envisioned.

Misinterpreting Valis as God was hubris and a form of blasphemy. It appeared as Ubik to him because it fed his preconceptions back to him. Dick says the exegesis was a sin. He intellectually tried to understand the world, but was eventually delivered from it after exhaustion. 

The Exegesis: Letter to Claudia Bush, February 26, 1975

Dick writes Claudia this long letter the morning after an epic drug bender. He relates questions his wife Tessa had asked him while he was ‘ripped.’She wanted to know what entity took him over during his 2-3-74 experience and he decided it was the Greek scholar Erasmus. 

He tells Claudia we spend our whole lives seeing time in its secondary axis instead of the real axis which is orthogonal. He toys with the idea that orthogonal time is cyclical and not retrograde like he previously thought. Our linear time is probably warped (which makes sense based on what Einstein told us about spacetime) and so time will eventually loop back around just like an object in orbit around a star. 

Time doesn’t really move but rather we move along time, from signal to signal, based on the plan of the Logos. 

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
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Often at the beginning of a Philip K. Dick book I think to myself ‘this has to be one of Dick’s craziest ideas’ before I remember I think that about almost all of his stories. Colonists who have been forced to emigrate to Mars occupy their time by communally taking a drug (Can-D) that lets them inhabit the minds of the Barbie and Ken-like dolls Perky Pat and Walt. While on the drug they are temporarily transported (as Perky Pat and Walt) to an Earth that mimics their carefully constructed Perky Pat layout.

Back on the real Earth the pre-cog employees at P. P. Layouts try to determine which consumer goods will be popular so that they can be minified and sent to Mars for the colonists to use in their Perky Pat environments. This balance is upset when the industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from the Proxima system with a potent new drug that he plans to market to the colonists as a more effective escape from the drudgery of Mars.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch remains my favorite PKD book even after having read them all. You might assume it was inspired by the use of LSD, but Dick claims to have not yet tried that particular drug at this point in his life. Instead, fueled by large quantities of amphetamines, he wrote this during an incredibly prolific two-year period in 1963-64 when he also wrote some of my other favorites including The Game Players of Titan, Now Wait for Last Year, The Simulacra and Clans of the Alphane Moon.

Is the world of Perky Pat the same world from The Crack in Space? Who knows, but while in the mind of Walt, one of the colonists catches Jim Briskin, everyone’s favorite newsclown (or maybe just mine), on TV.

Cast of characters

  • Barney Mayerson – a pre-cog. Head of pre-fash marketing at  P. P. Layouts
  • Roni Fugate – a pre-cog. Barney’s assistant and mistress
  • Leo Bulero – chairman of the board at P. P. Layouts
  • Emily Hnatt – Barney’s ex-wife
  • Richard Hnatt – Emily’s current husband
  • Palmer Eldritch – the interplan industrialist who returns from Proxima
  • Sam Regan, Mary Regan, Tod Morris, Norman Schein, Helen Morris, Fran Schein – Mars colonists
  • Allen and Charlotte Faine – disc jockeys in a Mars satellite
  • Felix Blau – head of the police agency
  • Dr. Wily Denkmal – runs an E therapy clinic in Germany

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly
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Dick wrote A Scanner Darkly based on his experiences living in the so-called ‘hermit house’ in Orange County with a rotating cast of drug dealers and users in the early ‘70s after his divorce from his fourth wife Nancy. Although he stayed away from harder drugs of the kind that inspired A Scanner Darkly’s brain-destroying Substance D (amphetamines were Dick’s drug of choice for many years before and during this time), he witnessed how drugs ruined the minds and lives of heavy users coming out of the 1960s.

Dick’s brilliant conceit for an anti-drug novel involves undercover narc Bob Arctor assigned to observe himself through holo-scanners hidden in the house where he and his doper friends live. As ‘Fred’ he watches himself while wearing a scramble suit so that his cover isn’t blown, but he also abuses more and more Substance D until he loses all sense of his identity. In the end he no longer recognizes that he is actually Bob Arctor and is sent to a clinic for barely functioning addicts.

Richard Linklater’s film based on the book is one of the best PKD adaptations. Winona Ryder was recovering from a high-profile issue with drugs at the time as was Robert Downey, Jr. who is particularly great (pre-Iron Man) as Arctor’s weaselly roommate Jim Barris. The movie perfectly captures the paranoia of Dick’s work, and A Scanner Darkly is Dick at his most paranoid. Both are hilarious (the movie is very faithful to the book) but also bleak, since Dick wants to make it clear drugs will unavoidably consume your life until there is nothing left.

Cast of characters

  • Bob Arctor aka Fred aka Bruce – an undercover narcotics agent
  • Jerry Fabin – an addict at the beginning of the book who sees (and feels) aphids everywhere before he gets sent to a Federal Clinic
  • Charles Freck – a doper in Bob’s circle of friends
  • Donna Hawthorne – Bob Arctor’s girl and the small-time dealer he’s working
  • Jim Barris – Bob’s roommate
  • Ernie Luckman – Bob’s roommate
  • Hank – Fred’s superior

Other things to know

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 (King James Version)

This Bible verse, which has inspired the titles of many works including this one, comes at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul is discussing the importance of love. ‘Glass’ here is often translated as mirror. Now we see things imperfectly, but at the end of time (or when we meet Jesus or whatever), everything will be made clear.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
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Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said breaks from the formula Dick had used in a lot of his earlier books. Instead of a down-on-his-luck everyman, Jason Taverner (blessed with strength, smarts and good looks due to a secret genetic experiment) is the host of a popular television show. After his mistress attempts to kill him, he wakes up in a world where he is no longer famous and evidently doesn’t even exist.

The mystery of how Jason ended up in a parallel universe with no identity doesn’t have a particularly satisfying conclusion, but Dick seems more concerned in this one with exploring ideas of love and grief. Ruth Rae has a long discussion with Jason about the importance of love for pets in spite of their short lives, and in a memorable sequence, the police general Felix Buckman has a nervous breakdown near the end of the book as he processes the death of Alys, who was not only his sister but also his incestuous lover.

Cast of characters

  • Jason Taverner – host of the Jason Taverner Show
  • Heather Hart – Jason’s girlfriend
  • Marilyn Mason – Jason’s mistress who tries to kill him
  • Kathy Nelson – the young girl who forges Jason’s documents
  • Inspector McNulty – Kathy’s police contact
  • Felix Buckman – Los Angeles police general
  • Alys Buckman – Buckman’s twin sister
  • Herb Maime – Buckman’s chief of staff
  • Ruth Rae – Jason’s former mistress who he meets in Las Vegas
  • Mary Anne Dominic – a potter. She helps Jason escape from the Buckman house