Sunday, August 12, 2007

First Half of Chapter Five

Blogging The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Part Six

Analysis: This is a dense and pivotal chapter in the novel, easily deserving of two posts. In the first half of the chapter the Hnatt's show up at Denkmal's clinic for their E-therapy. I gotta say 'evolution therapy' is one of the most poorly thought-out sci-fi devices in Dick's irv. The teleological implications of e-therapy are mind-boggling.

E-therapy appears to advance a patient along a predetermined evolutionary course. The rate of change in evolution is controlled by Kresy's Gland (2007 science has yet to detect the existence of this gland but you can't prove it doesn't exist just because we haven't discovered it. Perhaps it's behind our ears, or somewhere else we seldom look). Dick's idea of evolution imagines there is a genetic end-product within us. Dick is creating a designed universe. Darwin's core idea, the one that troubled everybody the most was the mindlessness of evolution, its utter passivity. Species changed over time, but not actively. Death simply culled the weak, and the best adapted (or luckiest) remained around long enough to pass along their battle-tested genetics.

We've all been saying how prescient Dick was to write about global warming in the 60s, but he's imagining cyclic global climate change unrelated to man's carbon footprint: Richard Hnatt says, "We have to evolve to meet The Fire Age" (66). What's more, humanity is already programmed to be ready for this new environment. Denkmal's therapy simply speeds up the rate of genetic change. e-therapy depends entirely on an intelligently designed universe.

What makes this complete misread of Darwin's theory of natural selection (which is either intentional or accidental) so brilliant is that the rich in this world are capable of becoming better adapted to their environment. Dick has fused natural selection and laissez-faire capitalism. It was an economist, Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest." Denkmal's clinic is a perfect literalization of Social Darwinism.

In the abstract for his paper "Philip K. Dick, Gnosis, and Evolution" Marcus Boon writes:

"The concept of evolution is hard to extricate from that of progress, even when scientific or post-Nietzschean discourses imply that it is morally neutral, non-humanist, adirectional and so on. The notion of survival itself, one of the defining characteristics of that which evolves, is itself impossible to extricate from moral categories and valuations. In his notebooks, the German poet Novalis argues that all stages of evolution take the form of sins or transgressions: plants are the sins of stones, animals are the sins of plants and so on. In this paper, I explore the possibility of gnostic evolution. The novels of Philip K. Dick are rich with ideas that support this notion. One thinks of Dr. Willy Denkmal's Evolution Therapy clinic in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch."

But Richard Hnatt's e-therapy makes him more moral. His ethical evolution is obvious following the therapy:

"Heaven and hell, not after death but now! Depression, all mental illness, was the sinking. And the other... how was it acheived? Through empathy. Grasping another, not from the outside but from the inner. For example, had he ever really looked at Emily's pots as more than merchandise for which a market existed?" (71)

Emily doesn't appear to be as lucky as Richard at the conclusion of her E-therapy - she's devolved! And not in that cool, Devo sense. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon developed the concept of devolution about a hundred years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species.


47) Page 66 'gnoff-hide' : an PKD-invented fabric, but also the skin of an animal. May be a reference to the Nazi practice of making lampshades from the skins of concentration camp victims. Certainly implies a rather callous attitude towards life at the E-therapy clinic.

48) Page 68 'Luther and Erasmus':
Martin Luther (November 10, 1483February 18, 1546) was a German monk,[1] theologian, and church reformer. He is also considered to be the founder of Protestantism.[2] Luther's theology challenged the authority of the papacy by emphasizing the Bible as the sole source of religious authority and the church as a priesthood of all believers. According to Luther, salvation was attainable only by faith in Jesus as the messiah, a faith unmediated by the church.[3] These ideas helped to inspire the Protestant Reformation and changed the course of Western civilization.
Desiderius Erasmus (October 27, 1466/1469July 12, 1536) was a classical scholar who wrote in a "pure" Latin style. Although he remained a Roman Catholic throughout his lifetime, he was critical of what he considered the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church. Using humanist techniques he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament which raised questions that would be influential in the Reformation. He also wrote The Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, and many other works.
Both of these thinkers played a major role in the reformation and their mention here is another obvious connection between historical philosophies of the Eucharist in relation to the translation drugs Chew-Z and Can-D. (dg)

49) Page 68 'zum Beiszspiel': translates to 'For example' (jl)

50) Page 68 'Blut und': translates to 'Blood and' (dg)

51) Page 68 'Don smocks and auskommen': translates to 'don smocks and get along' (dg)

52) Page 69 'nicht Wahr': translates to 'not truly' perhaps 'is it not?'

53) Page 70 Sinanthropus: Often called the "Peking Man" sinanthropus is a member of the homo erectus family thought to have lived 250,000 - 400,000 years ago. Skeletal remains were located in the 1920s.

54) Page 71 'below lay the tomb world , the immutable cause-and-effect world of the demonic': PKD letter (10/2/70) "What Ludwig Bindswanger, the Swiss existential psychiatrist, calls "the dismal alchemy' of the tomb. Dick misspells Ludwig Binswanger's name (no d), but obviously this little-known friend of Freud and Jung's psychological theories was known to PKD. Binswanger's ideas play a prominent part in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, specifically the spiritual pilgrimage of Wilbur Mercer who after dying, descends into the tomb-world. Read more of Binswanger's ideas here. (fb and dg)


umberto rossi said...

Evolution is not always a positive force in Dick's worlds. On the contrary, the survival of the fittest in his pages quickly turns into the survival of the strongest, or the most aggressive, which in turn can be seen as the survival of the killer.

umberto rossi said...

As for the typos in Dick's novels and stories: there is a lot that should be done to "clean" the texts. They reprint the old pulp-sf editions, where editorial care was not very good, and keep reprinting the oldy typos. Which is a pity. When will they give the texts to a philologist for a critical edition? (Ah, this is wishful thinking...)

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