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Dr. Alexander Dunst (Universit of Pader!orn" A #ealing $ight% The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

Philip &. Dick's last (a)or novel, pu!lished as VALIS a protagonist #orselover +at is ad(itted to an ,range -ount

ear !efore his death, in the !ook, its (ental hospital and

see(ed to confir( his turn against the counterculture. *arl

the scenes that ensue constitute the (ost detailed description of a ps chiatric institution in Dick's fiction. .et, where Dick had earlier excelled at anti/ps chiatric satire, such i(petus is conspicuousl a!sent fro( VALIS. 0nstead, the novel is at !ckoo"s #est, Dick disputes the pains to distance itself fro( countercultural critiques of ps chiatr . 0n an i(plicit reference to &en &ese 's One Flew Over the portrait of neglect and a!use painted ! continuing the re/evaluation !egun a few 1( thic novels2 and co((ends the ears earlier in A Sc$nner D$rkl%. 13

hospital for its excellent care. A si(ilar picture e(erges in relation to drugs, now the epoch of drug/taking had ended,2 the narrator opines, 1and ever one had !egun casting for a new o!session. +or us the new o!session, thanks to +at, was theolog .24 3 the (id/4567s the circu(stances of Dick's life had changed drasticall . 8ettling in su!ur!an 8outhern -alifornia he stepped !ack fro( a 8ixties co((unal life/st le edging ever closer to (ental and ph sical !reakdown. ,nl in his (id/forties Dick was !eset ! reclusive !ut see(ingl his chronic health pro!le(s and led a life that was and :arch of 456; Dick underwent sta!le, sharing a household with his fifth wife 9essa and

oung son -hristopher. 9hen, in +e!ruar

a series of visions or hallucinations% a sudden flash of pink light trans(itting a plethora of infor(ation, night/long series of ps chedelic i(ages, su!ur!an -alifornia fading to expose ancient <o(e underneath, cr ptic (essages fro( a voice Dick descri!ed as artificial intelligence. VALIS, a narrative quest for (etaph sical truth, presented a clear !reak, if not with Dick's fiction, then at least with its reputation. 0n the novel's thinl veiled account of Dick's ( stical experiences, theolog Dis(issed or si(pl recentl author.
=

supplanted countercultural

politics, a narratological hall of (irrors skewed genre fiction !e ond recognition. ignored ! the first generation of Dick scholars, (ore so(e critics have taken VALIS as a !asis to hail hi( as a -hristian 9he novel provides grounds for neither and the pu!lication of The

Exegesis of Philip K. Dick>a constant reference in VALIS and the source of its philosophical reflections>co(plicates (atters further. At 577 pages, the excerpts collected in the volu(e are disproportionatel longer than an thing Dick ever

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pu!lished in his lifeti(e,

et the co(plete diar

entries, t ped and handwritten a (uch

!etween 456; and 45?=, run to over ?.777 pages. @ Previousl , onl over such a sustained period, was availa!le to readers.

shorter edition, without an clai( to represent the develop(ent of DickAs thought :ore so even than in VALIS, DickAs theological references are highl pluralistic in the Exegesis, adding apocr phic and Bew Age -hristianit and taking in Creek and Cer(an philosoph to construct a highl to 3i!lical sources and the Cnostic tradition, da!!ling in 3uddhis(, 9aois(, and #induis(, idios ncratic religious s ste(. Bevertheless, DickAs spiritualit is ver (uch of his ti(e% as *rik Davis argues, Dick is representative of the countercultural seekers that were so nu(erous in the A(erican, and particularl DickAs discover onto/theolog is perhaps !etter -alifornian, 45D7s and A67s. ; 9hus, descri!ed as post/-hristian% a

counterculture shading ever (ore into Bew Age spiritualit , a religious self/ that circles around !ut never re(ains tied to orthodox -hristianit . across these and A!raha( 8o(ething si(ilar can !e said a!out DickAs relation to ps chiatr (ake an appearance, and Dick picks up on neurops chiatr

pages% Eungian ps choanal sis re(ains a (ainsta , the existential ps chiatrists :aslowAs hu(an potential (ove(ent. Eung, a!ove all, for(s the !asis of repeated atte(pts at self/diagnosis>the life/long ha!it of an author who was as versed in (edical )argon as his therapists. 0n the course of the Exegesis, Dick variousl explains his visions as a total collapse of his ego and a return to the collective unconscious, descri!es hi(self as suffering fro( FGsHchiIophrenia with religious and paranoid coloring>of the ecstatic t pe,F or as co(pletel cured.J 8o far, so fa(iliar, seasoned P&D readers (a respond. What e(erges the sa(e prefix as Exegesis (ost forcefull , though, is what 0 a( te(pted to descri!e ! post/ps choanal tic. Bo one therapeutic ideolog an (ore, and as for the authorit increasingl replaced ! the ideolog

DickAs religiosit . 0f his theolog is post/-hristian, then the (edical ter(inolog is do(inates the figure of the healer or anal st, he is of self/help that flourished in the 4567s. D

DickAs (ove(ent towards alternative religion and self/help highlight a stead (utation of A(ericaAs counterculture, its increasing de/politiciIation and gradual integration into a societ whose li!eral pluralis( it helped create. 0f there is little dou!t that the pu!lication of The Exegesis represents a (a)or event for an one with an interest in Dick, then what are we to (ake of it fro( a !roader literar co((onl perspectiveK 9his !egins with the title. 9he ter( exegesis text. DickAs starting point, refers to the interpretation of a hol

however, are his own ( stical experiences, and it is in seeking to understand the( that his fiction, particularl such novels as &'ik, The Three Stig($t$ of

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P$l(er El)ritch, A Sc$nner D$rkl%, and VALIS, as well as drea(s, (essages fro( the A0 voice, and his continuing hallucinations are accorded the status of scripture. 9he Exegesis is thus a sustained exercise in interpretation. .et an overdue e(phasis on this aspect runs the risk of seriousl (isrepresenting !oth entwined. +aced the i(portance of the Exegesis to its author and the challenge it poses to literar and science/fiction studies. 9he two issues are, in fact, closel with the heavil experiences Dick referred to ! notice that its pri(ar preserving the (e(or the( a da repetitive nature of the Exegesis, in constant or!it around the the short/hand =/@/6;, one cannot help !ut of function is prag(atic. As he writes% Fit is a wa

of it all, this endless rehashingL that is the real point, to

keep the (e(or >which is so cherished>alive.F6 DickAs entries, often several of covering (ultiple pages, reinvoke and ta(e the unfatho(a!le, integrate the inexplica!le into s (!olic fra(eworks. Crapho(ania undou!tedl pla s a role in all of this, !ut the en)o (ent its author gains in the writing of the Exegesis is equall palpa!le. 9his does not (ean that interpretation, DickAs quest to ascertain once and for all the (eaning of his perplexing visions, is a!sent fro( the Exegesis, far fro( it. 0ts 577 pages are a rollercoaster ride through the histor certaint . :eanwhile, DickAs epic quest for (eaning is highl forget it the da of philosoph , contradictor , to theolog , and ps chiatr , an intoxicating and so(eti(es intoxicated pursuit of casting aside one overarching interpretation as he picks up the next, onl and real, i(aginar (a (eaning constitutes onl

after. 3ut to invoke the $acanian triad of i(aginar , s (!olic, one of three registers in which

writing partakes. 0n fact, the wider significance of the Exegesis for the hu(anities !e said to lie in its conflation of the s (!olic and the real. DickAs one ele(ent of his peculiar ontolog . 9he identification of his own science fiction as scripture, as divine revelation, alread suggests as (uch !ut constitutes onl universe is infor(ation for Dick, infor(ation that asse(!les and structures the world as we perceive it. #is inspiration is in part !i!lical and he draws heavil on 9eilhard de -hardinAs theological concept of the noMsphere. ? .et, Dick also insisted that the pink light he experienced i(parted a strea( of knowledge to hi(, a vision that retrospectivel evokes wireless technologies and the world wide we!.5 Ulti(atel , Dick concludes that infor(ation is not onl pri(ar ontologicall !ut alive, ! which he (eans, so(ewhat less controversiall , that it possesses its own agenc . 0nfor(ation constructs order out of disparate o!)ectsL (oving !etween su!)ects and self/contained texts it circulates feelings and (ultiplies (eaning. 9he e(phasis on the prag(atic function of writing and its proper agenc

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shift the focus fro( what literature is to what it )oes. 3oth ask for the re$l effects of fiction and lift it fro( the loft !ack in our ever da real( of the i(agination to place it squarel of his challenge to conventional wisdo( lives. DickAs (adness is ever thing !ut unrelated to such

thinking. 9o the contrar , the profundit

(a !e seen as its direct consequence. 0n a letter to his editor at #arcourt 3race, *leanor Di(off, Dick writes as earl as 45D7% F0 !elieve that ( weakness is that 0 a( too (uch in the hands of ( (aterial. 0t is too real to (e. 9oo convincing. Bot AfictitiousA enough.F47 DickAs life and writing had long veered towards the edges of what could !e rationall understood and represented. At ti(es his fiction !rilliantl captured, at ti(es it visi!l struggled with, what was Ftoo realF>the disappearance of the soft/drink stand in Ti(e O!t of *oint and the increasing incoherence of P$l(er El)ritch (arking two extre(es. Beither was DickAs perception of a pink infor(ation !ea( in +e!ruar 456; his first hallucination. 3ut one of the fascinating aspects of the Exegesis is how it illu(inates $acanAs earl definition of ps chosis. What cannot !e integrated into the s (!olic, $acan asserted, reappears in the real. 44 +or what Dick experiences is the signifier as re$l, infor(ation whose existence he cannot dou!t !ut whose (eaning appears ineffa!le. Civen the elusiveness of (eaning, Dick focuses (uch of his theoretical energ on what infor(ation )oes, and the Exegesis !eco(es a practical exercise @/6; in what writing c$n )o. 9he relative success of the latter also (arks the distance !etween DickAs earlier and later hallucinations. As he writes% F: experiences are an outgrowth of ( to !e real G...H !ut onl Pal(er *ldritch experience G...HL 0 knew hi(

in &'ik does he !egin to appear as !enign.F 4= At ti(es, and scholarl a!sorption in his

Dick gives voice to his terror and anguish in the face of his extraordinar experiences, !ut the overall picture is one of )o task. 9he Exegesis constitutes DickAs final wrestle with the fate of the autono(ous individualF.
4@

su!)ect>what $i!eration

he

ter(s the

Fthe

prison

G...H

of

the

ato(iIed an

(eans

integration

into

larger

networks,

i(agination for which Dick variousl

appropriates technological, !iological, and of theor !ut

theological language to assert that the Findividual is not an individualF. 4; 9his is neither a s(ooth process, nor does it lead to an identifia!le !od achieve(ent of the Exegesis (a , then, !e gauged !est ! voca!ular the practice of writing provides Dick with an escape route. 9he particular returning to the of (adness, which he (ade his own like no other A(erican writer of

his ti(e. 9he re(arka!le parallels with one of ps chiatr As (ost fa(ous patients can serve as a reference% like Daniel Paul 8chre!er, the Prussian )udge whose account of his illness inspired +reudAs theor of schiIophrenia, Dick pictures

Work in Progress! Please do not reproduce, cite, or quote without the explicit written consent of the author.

hi(self as Fa wo(! for the divine,F a penetration with sacred infor(ation that !rings forth a new savior.4J $ike 8chre!er, Dick cannot question the realit of his visions !ut dou!ts ever da realit as ancient <o(e replaces ,range -ount . 0n contrast to 8chre!er, however, Dick experiences his reproductive role as a for( of enlighten(ent, nor is he distur!ed ! his strange fe(ininit . 3ut these text !ook exa(ples of schiIophrenic withdrawal and (egalo(ania give wa to so(ething less defined and (ore conte(porar >a su!)ect that does not depend on external fra(es of (eaning, that re)ects esta!lished for(s of social authorit . Writing at the historical )uncture of the late 4567s, as the political force of the 8ixties is !lunted !ut its cultural transfor(ations take hold, Dick i(agines the rise of a novel hu(anit . 9his Fnew historical t peF is defined ! an Finner truth,F a re)ection of law for what he calls a Fgodl anarch F. 9hat these thoughts of an egalitarian network, Fa positive decentraliIation of power and authorit F never sta!iliIe (a reflect the fragilit of DickAs ps che as (uch as it indicates a ps chosisF. 4D 0n the a!sence of a safe ears da ! da . 0n the gradual transition in do(inant for(s of su!)ectivit , which Eacques/Alain :iller has descri!ed as a shift towards Fordinar har!or, Dick navigates the ti(e and space of his final te(porar cure.

la!or and )o of writing, the Exegesis itself !eco(es a healing practice, an alwa s

1 2

Dick, VALIS, D7 and @=. 8ee, for instance% Eason P. Nest, The Post(o)ern +!($nis( of Philip K. Dick ($anha(, :D% 8carecrow, Eonathan $ethe( and Pa(ela Eackson, 10ntroduction,2 in Philip &. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick , ed.

=775".
@

Pa(ela Eackson and Eonatha( $ethe(, Annotations ed. *rik Davis (3oston and Bew .ork% #oughton :ifflin #arcourt =744", xv.
4

Davis, F#ow 0 $earned to $ove the *xegesis.F 9alk given at the conference FWorlds ,ut of Eoint% <e/ Dick, Exegesis, D44. 0n a footnote the editors explain the o(ission of two folders of entries ! of conspirac theories% F0n this the descri!ing

0(agining Philip &. DickF, 4J/4? Bove(!er =74=.


5

the( as consisting entirel

rese(!le a good deal of the nine/tenths of

the *xegesis that is not represented in our a!ridged editionF. Civen that its intense paranoia is one of the (ost fa(ous aspect of DickAs fiction, this decision see(s so(ewhat ar!itrar . ParanoiaAs al(ost co(plete a!sence fro( the Exegesis also suggests that it pla ed no role in his late thought >an i(pression strengthened ! a clai( to that effect (ade ! Dick earl of the text. Dick, Exegesis, =;4 and J4@.
6

on >and thus seriousl Soci$l0

skews readerl

perception and

:ichael *. 8tau!, ,$)ness Is Dick, Exegesis, D44.

ivili-$tion. /hen the Di$gnosis /$s

123451246

(-hicago

$ondon% -hicago Universit Press, =744", 4;7/4;=.


7

8
9

8ee Pierre 9eilhard de -hardin, The Pheno(enon of ,$n, intr. Eulian #uxle (Bew .ork% #arper =77?". 8ee for reflections on Dick as a prophet of the infor(ation age <ichard Do leAs afterword to the Exegesis% $etter to *leanor Di(off, 4 +e!ruar 45D7. 3ox ==, Philip &. Dick -ollection, -alifornia 8tate Universit ,

FA 8tairwa to *leusis% P&D, Perennial Philosopher,F in Dick, Exegesis, ?56/577.


10

+ullerton.
11

Eacques $acan, The Se(in$r of *$c7!es L$c$n. 8ook III. The Ps%choses 12995129: , ed. Eacques/Alain

:iller, trans. <ussell Crigg (Bew .ork and $ondon% Borton, 4556", 4@.
12 13 14 15

Dick, Exegesis, 4;5. Dick, Exegesis, ?@J. Dick, Exegesis, ?@J. Dick, Exegesis, ;54. Dick, Exegesis, 4D6/4D?L and see% Eacques/Alain :iller, 1,rdinar Ps chosis <evisited,2 Ps%cho$n$l%tic$l

16

#ote'ooks 45 (=775"% 4@5/4D6.