Monday, April 28, 2008

VALIS Discussed


I'll just admit it. I read VALIS again. The reason I hesitate to mention it is that I feel slightly guilty for not writing up some big post about my experience. It was at least my fifth time reading the novel, but it had been awhile and, in all honesty, the last time I read it I wasn't that into it. This time through the novel just completely blew me away and I ended up reading it in about four marathon sittings. Of course now I've got a book full of post-its I need to further research, but I just want to say the book was a real blast. Laugh out loud funny, and then at times, PKD took my breath away with casual phrasings that seemed within them to contain the totality of ways the world is fundamentally fucked up, distilling them down to a truly terrifyingly clear and potent poison (which in a uniquely Dickian way is also, of course, the antidote).

Like I said I didn't want to have to write some big thing about it, because I'm way too busy for long posts these days (in fact it's taken me almost three weeks just to write this one), however, a recent posting over at the excellent Gnostic info site, The Palm Tree Garden, motivated me to respond.

The article, How Many Worlds Do We Exist in Simultaneously "The Owl in Daylight" and the Life of Philip K Dick, (which can currently be found on the main page over at The Palm Tree Garden) covers (and uncovers) some recent news about the estate sanctioned bio-pic, (as well as that Pill Bullman one), and author Luke Valentine makes some interesting points about the kind of infinite regress Philip K Dick's life is becoming (I'm imagining in another fifteen years we'll see a space opera about bringing PKD's consciousness back to life so that future critics can hear his take on all these documentaries, adaptations, lawsuits, reviews, as well as his thoughts on the continuing presence of the Black Iron Prison).

Valentine writes:

"Which of the two films will capture Philip K. Dick? Dick is hard to pin down by anyone, whether moviemaker, literary critic, or avid reader. The lit crits sometimes accuse Dick of a cardinal sin in the fictional world, that of using the forbidden deux ex machina technique in the wormholes of his narrative action. Again, they miss the point. Dick's deux ex machina is a merciless mechanistic universe that eats up and spits out humans back into the worlds in which they find themselves trapped. Rather, the technique he most effectively employed is the mise en abyme, an infinite iteration, as though Dick and his protagonists are mirrors forever reflecting each other, each new iteration contained within itself smaller and smaller until Dick turns to another protagonist and the process repeats ad infinitum."

Valentine even plays backseat screenwriter and gives us this scene for the biopics:

"EXT. - FIRST CENTURY ROME - A CROWDED ROMAN MARKETPLACE - DAY. Philip K. Dick, attired as a poor Roman artisan, is frantically running from a pair of Roman soldiers. They almost apprehend him, but he pushes over a basket of fish and gets away. The Roman soldiers slip on the fish, and one of them falls in the street."

That's actually pretty good. I love the detail about the soldiers slipping on the fish. Perhaps they could speed the film up so that this scene was like one of those weird chase scenes on the Benny Hill Show. Sorry, I'm not trying to make fun of the scene, but there's something weird about imagining this. Aren't movies the ultimate Black Iron Prison, nothing but captivating illusion? PKD's mystical experiences are fascinating, and we can all imagine them in our own way but what will happen when a screenwriter and director's notion of these events is projected on a screen? Seeing a film is, in many ways, to submit to the tyranny of the director's vision.

Valentine then delves into the legal battle being fought over who owns the rights to The Owl in Daylight:

"Electric Shepherd received a letter from OverLook Press in which OverLook asserts some rights to "The Owl in Daylight", or to Gwen Lee's notes from her interviews with Dick based on their publication of "What If Our World Is Their Heaven?" Whether OverLook has any claim to movie rights is the sort of question that causes Hollywood producers and their lawyers to generate radioactive Blackberry waves, given that the story was Dick's and Lee was essentially taking notes."

Now, Valentine doesn't provide a source for any of this, so take it with a grain of salt, but it is interesting, and it becomes even more so after Valentine tackles the issue of inspiration:

"Dick's quest for identity is far more than clever artistic trickery begging for deconstruction. It belongs to a realm that transcends time and space, and though Dick found himself working with one of the great themes of his or any other day, pulling from his writer's toolbox point-of-view and perspectival techniques of the postmodern period, he was coming from and going to other directions entirely. His inspiration was more than literary. His was divine."

Well based on this it would certainly seem like OverLook is suing the wrong people, but this paragraph demands further analysis. What is inspiration? Where is it located? Was PKD inspired to write VALIS by his mystical experiences? Well it certainly seems that way, but if this inspiration was so complete why did Dick have to write Radio Free Albemuth first, only to have it rejected by his publisher?

If someone is inspired by something does the inspiration generate something wholly new in the inspired, or does the artist, once inspired, use his own faculties to create? While Valentine seems determined to conceive of VALIS as divinely inspired, I'm left wondering about Thomas Edison's famous quote: Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

8 comments:

sclr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sclr said...

i think other than the entries i read here on total dick head(both blog entries and their responses) its one of the better articles on pkd and the forthcoming movies on his life. probably not very accurate but very entertaining. and in my opinion they get the concept of someones ideas, art, work, love and life being complicated duplicitous and larger than we can comprehend. i guess you'd have to live their life to know what was going on with them. reading pkd imo is like a zen koan and a taoist story rolled into one. it entertains, perplexes and enlightens me. i hope that the stories he wrote can do the same for more people. even if it takes a movie for them to get interested.

palmer_eldritch said...

Well, I've had enough of movies 'based on the work of Philip K Dick'. Don't get me wrong, I loved Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly, and even have a soft spot for Screamers and Impostor but films are a different art form from books (NS,S) - there's always something missing, even in the best adaptations. And as for the worst, well...

In the end I can only see them as money-making exercises aimed at the 'captive market' of PKD fans. So I'll stick to the books from now on.

Pantomime Horse said...

Valentine even plays backseat screenwriter and gives us this scene for the biopics:

"EXT. - FIRST CENTURY ROME - A CROWDED ROMAN MARKETPLACE - DAY. Philip K. Dick, attired as a poor Roman artisan, is frantically running from a pair of Roman soldiers. They almost apprehend him, but he pushes over a basket of fish and gets away. The Roman soldiers slip on the fish, and one of them falls in the street."


Valentine is relating a scene Phil experienced (in a dream IIRC) and mentioned in an interview or wrote about in the Exegesis or somewhere. I've reread Paul William's Only Apparently Real and Sutin's Divine Invasions plus read or listened to some odds and ends of PKD stuff from various other sources in the last couple weeks and recognize this as almost a verbatim PKD quote put in third person.

Think in the next couple sentences Phil finds a doorway with the Christian fish symbol over it and enters to hide from his pursuers.

Haven't read the Gnosis article yet but imagine Valentine expected readers would recognize the source.

Was PKD inspired to write VALIS by his mystical experiences? Well it certainly seems that way, but if this inspiration was so complete why did Dick have to write Radio Free Albemuth first, only to have it rejected by his publisher?

Sutin wrote quite a bit about the evolution and writing of these two works which may be of interest to you. Rickmann may have info available too--his books are in my BTRR pile but I haven't gotten to them yet expect for some index entry hunting and browsing but strongly suspect they have material relating to this.

Think I'll go read the Gnosis article now.

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Anonymous said...

I just finished reading this book. I love PKD and this book was amazing, I (thought) I understood the vast majority of the novel and it was all going well until the last 2 chapters and now I'm in total confusion. Is PKD trying to make you decide for yourself if he's just insane or if there's some truth to what he has discussed throughout the novel?

Thanks

wytchcroft said...

Having just re-read this book i'll chuck in a quick two cents (but maybe no sense knowing me, anyhoo...)
Valis is, of itself, a maddening, hilarious, flawed, tragic, stultifying and electrifying piece of work - it is both profoundly trivial and trivially profound (but isn't that the essence of PKD maybe?).

the concept of Valis is less important than its effects - (i mean Valis could just as easily be called Ubik or Chew-Z or Substance D or - gah memory fail - that thing in Pot Healer, whatever or the i-ching and it would make no difference at the end of the day) which ripple through the narrative (though centring mostly on Horselover and Phil) in tangible psychic shockwaves.

ok, well, cool - the downside maybe is that the agency at work here (Valis) is more oblique than say Drugs in Scanner and the novel thereby is an even more insular work.

It is also becoming a book that knowledgeable readers come to forearmed; there is now the exegesis, there are the biographies of Dick, there is the internet to explore Dick's gnostic preoccupations... this is (IMO) a little unfortunate since the novel itself is transformed under such high powered scrutiny (into what? a dark glass perhaps).

Taken on its own terms Valis is a pretty unique read (and re-read). And it's popularity is certainly on the rise and rightly so.

None of the characters in it emerge with much dignity left though - it must be said - and Phil's black take on women and marriage has not shifted one iota since the 50s.

avatar said...

Valis is a revelation. PKDick's experience parallels Robert Anton Wilson's receiving transmissions from Sirius and even Timothy Leary.All 3 speak of an encounter with a transcendental experience what Terence McKenna calls THE SINGULARITY

Dan
www.thephilipkdickfilmfestival.com