tag: Gnosticism

The Exegesis: Notes on Galactic Pot-Healer

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
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February 1982

Dick wanted to depict a theophany in Galactic Pot-Healer when everyone encountered the god-like alien Glimmung. Looking back on that book he realizes how little he knew at the time, since he wrote it before 3-74 and his own subsequent theophany experience. It was easy for him to write about a theophany in Divine Invasion, but while working on Pot-Healer he had reached his end creatively and spiritually. Whatever signs of psychosis that show up in Pot-Healer are there because he did not yet know God. 

Dick says “Glimmung is absurd and in fact a travesty and I knew it at the time.” He was trying to show finite creatures encountering the infinite, but he hadn’t yet experienced that himself. That attempt, within the writing, sent him out of control. It’s impossible for the human mind to generate the infinite. “The infinite must break in!”

He admits he was psychotic, but it wasn’t caused by drugs or his family or schizophrenia. It was caused by a hunger for the infinite that was only quelled by 2-3-74. 

The human mind’s endless loop of only its own thoughts causes a sort of madness in us all, since we can’t truly know the infinite or “other.” Dick’s psychosis was an awareness of this. His failure in Pot-Healer was trying to represent the infinite when it can only be known directly.  

Evidently Ursula Le Guin felt Pot-Healer was a success while VALIS showed signs of insanity. Dick points out that someone who hasn’t broken out of the prison of the self might see Pot-Healer as safe and VALIS as threatening even though it is the opposite. 

He reviews the “Tractates” that he outlined years before. He notes he now understands the system and that it was revealed to him by the AI voice and meta-abstraction, which makes all of it Gnosticism.

The Exegesis: Notes on The Owl in Daylight

December 1981

Dick sketches out ideas for what he intends to be his next novel The Owl in Daylight. He refers to the main character as Owl and imagines the book as a parody of the gnostic search for salvation through knowledge depicted in VALIS

Owl, a holy fool archetype, exists in a “construct” governed by some kind of plasma, and only Owl seems to have figured out the maze everyone is trapped in. Dick clarifies the entire book won’t be a parody. It will be “tragicomic”. It will parody Jorge Luis Borges and Kafka but not Beethoven or Dante. 

Owl interacts with the controlling plasma/computer in four stages. In the fourth stage it introduces the Ditheon psyche and Owl realizes the pointless Faustian nature of his endless quest for knowledge. By that time Owl has isolated himself and become a pathetic antiwar protestor. A subplot involves a “crippled dwarf” and a governmental eugenics program. 

Dick wonders about including a possible government agent based on Ursula Le Guin who is worried about Owl’s increasingly deranged mental health. It’s interesting he brought up Le Guin, since she had already written this type of PKD parody novel in Lathe of Heaven published ten years earlier. 

He has further insights about the war between the Empire and Christianity (except Christianity is the true Empire and the true Christians are a Celtic-Orphic mystery religion) before he ultimately decides all of it is ridiculous. 

The Exegesis: A dream about life outside the drama

November 17, 1981

Dick spends several pages interpreting a dream he had about a play where men are arguing. In the dream Dick doesn’t realize it is a play so he tries to join in the discussion only to be shut down because he has broken the rules. He compares this to his waking life where he has always felt like an outsider to any drama, someone who is not allowed to participate while also misunderstanding that everyone else is playing a role. 

He goes on to connect the dream to Gnosticism. His fears come from the condition of Geworfenheit (or throwness). He is not allowed to take part so instead he tries to understand through his exegesis. The world was alien to him, but he created a role for himself. He wonders if the world changed in order to accommodate him, although that seems impossible. Logically, he decides he was the one who changed. He is sure he could not have had a psychotic break, since the unfamiliar became the familiar instead of the other way around. 

The dream made clear to him that he has misunderstood life from the very beginning, something he calls the “Gnostic ontological condition of ignorance.” He turned that ignorance into knowledge, and the exegesis is a meta attempt to understand his understanding. The ability to figure everything out is inside him, but he has to unlock it.

According to Gnosticism cognitive estrangement exists until an outside source alerts someone to their state, after which ontological ignorance can become knowledge and their perception of the world is transformed. This can only happen when someone understands their part in relation to the whole. In Brahmanism this is “Tat tvam asi.”

After Aristotle man’s experience with the cosmos went away replaced by only a belief that it existed. This is the beginning of the cognitive estrangement. The cosmos came back when Dick experienced it in 3-74.

The Exegesis: Christ as hyper information and the 23rd letter of the Hebrew Alphabet

Fall 1981

Christ, camouflaged in the informational world of “Luke-Acts,” reveals himself throughout as the perturbation in the reality field. Dick calls him hyper information and sees Christ’s attempt to break through as an information war between God and the “official” information system. 

Christ is the missing 23rd letter of the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet that created the universe as written about in the Sefer Yetzirah. The addition of this 23rd letter, which will cause the universe to regenerate, will bring about the Messianic Age of justice and mercy.

Gnosticism explains this hyper information infiltrating the existing mechanical system. Dick describes it as a Faustian bargain (the heroic vs the tragic) and indicates it will be an important part of the novel Owl in Daylight he has just begun brainstorming. 

When “Luke-Acts” is converted from information into the world the right side of our brain experiences the overall “gestalt” while the left side interprets the latent narrative. So Christ is hidden in the gestalt and revealed when the two sides are unified. Dick compares the Bible in our reality to The Grasshopper Lies Heavy in The Man in the High Castle, as the real world existing within the world. In order to perceive this someone would need to outrun time, like he did in 3-74.

The Exegesis: Understanding Gnosticism

September 1981

Knowledge, which comes as a gift from Christ, leads to salvation. Gnosticism understands this, unlike Christianity which misses the point.

Dick claims to have truly figured out Gnosticism. Every human is damaged in a way that splits their psyche, which results in the world appearing like a foreign threat. Rejoining these two parts will heal the self and then also the world. This process is kickstarted when one half of the self recognizes its other familiar half in the unfamiliar world. Meta-abstraction is also necessary, and that can only occur when the two halves (who exist in different spatiotemporal worlds) combine their viewpoints into one. The two halves are alienated, from themselves and the world, and salvation only comes when they are rejoined together. This leads to a new world without space and time.

Dick says VALIS is not a book about Gnosticism, but rather it is literally the Gnostic salvation experience. It isn’t just drawing on Gnosticism to document our condition but is an account of someone transcending it. Dismissing it as the ravings of a madman would mean rejecting or not understanding the supernatural solution to the accepted problem.

Dick exhorts us to face the reality of our death, which is the only way to seize our own fate. This is what he did by writing in VALIS about surviving his 3-74 experience. It was his writing about it that gave him his victory over fate. Christianity is the great human revolution as it illustrates the break between the tragic (fate defeating man) and the heroic (man’s defeat of fate).

The Exegesis: The sanctity of the ecosphere

September 1981

Dick summarizes what he stated in his letters. The ecosphere is Christ, which makes it holy and something we must protect. Christ suffers every time any creature in the ecosphere dies, and Christ will withdraw from the world if we don’t stop harming the planet. Dick’s vision of the savior is the only thing keeping him from going crazy when he hears about atrocities like Agent Orange and Soviet micro-toxins. He calls his belief his own private religion based on aspects of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Gnosticism and modern science. 3-74 and his 9-81 vision are helping him accept his own eventual death and the context of his small part in the overall picture. 

He implies that Tagore, like Horselover Fat, may be another of his identities. He senses, like Tagore, that he is dying, somewhat eerily I would say, since he will die less than six months later. He finally has succeeded in his career, and instead of enjoying the money and recognition he is consumed with spreading the message of his vision. Collectively we are all responsible for protecting the ecosphere, and Dick sees it as a choice between spiritual life and physical death. 

He has a dream where he watches, on television, a white bird hunted for sport. He interprets the dream to mean all life needs to be sanctified and protected as part of the ecosphere. It is an interconnected system. If one part dies the rest cannot survive.

Dick says he had a hypnagogic vision where he mailed out Xeroxed copies of his Ed Meskys letter to 85 other people, and he imagines that could inspire a revolution. 

Trying to envision Tagore as someone or something else (Logos, Krishna, Buddha) misses the point. Tagore is Tagore.