Well it's that time of year; the semester has started, the lines at the student bookstore wind around the building in an elaborate swirl, the panicked students trying to find space in my class are frantically emailing me, everywhere new binders and freshly sharpened pencils are unpacked and tasked with doodling, and the pile of diagnostic essays left for me to grade continues to languish.
With so little time, I have to keep the posts short.
So here's a nice little quote I ran into while currently reading The Penultimate Truth (which was unfortunately not included in either Library of America release, but people can watch an abridged version of the text at the Republican Convention this week):
In chapter twenty, as private investigator Webster Foote and his retinue of robot 'leadies' prepare to enter the room, where a Yance-man has been assassinated by a shape-shifting robot, Foote thinks to himself;
"... - clearly the door had been lovingly salvaged from some old mansion - he pondered for a moment as to the vanity of life, the fact that all flesh was grass and so forth, and then squeezed the trigger" (125).
The Biblical verse, Isiah 40:6, referenced here is not obscure at all, in fact it's one of the most quoted, but boy PKD sure doesn't make a big fuss about it. How many readers did he imagine would recognize this? It certainly is easier to find these passages now that we have Google, but how did he imagine his readers? Do you think he thought we'd look this up?
It is a relevant reference:
Isaiah 40:6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
Generally, this verse is quoted to evoke a sense of mankind's temporariness, his transitory nature. Even our greatest accomplishments are simply sudden bursts of color in a field, almost as soon to fade as they are to bloom. In another part of the book, Talbot Yancy says in a speech (written by David Lantano):
"There is a certain ancient Christian idea, which you may know, that life on Earth, or in your instance, beneath Earth, is a transition. An episode between a life that came before and an eternal, other-kind-of-life to follow. Once a pagan king in the British Isles [perhaps Penda of Mercia? any other guesses?] was converted to Christianity by the image of this life being the short flight of a nocturnal bird which has flown in through one window of a warm and lighted dining hall of a castle, for a moment above the scene of motion and talk, of tangible fellow-life; the comfort of being within a place inhabited by others. And then the bird in its flight has gone on out of the lighted dining hall, out of the castle once more, through a second window. Into the empty, black, unending night on the far side. And it will never see that lit-up, warm hall of murmur and motion and fellow-life again" (58).
Once again, I am amazed. PKD has embedded high art and true depth in another of his novels, not so that it becomes the focus, but so that the focus of the novel transcends the plot, and ends up speaking to the our greatest concerns as readers and mortals. I encourage you to read The Penultimate Truth, and think about how many layers these two quotes are operating on. It's brilliant stuff like this that makes me so grateful for the chance to study PKD's work, and ultimately, ideas like these that change the way we see the world around us.
Update: Regular reader mckie has informed me the sparrow through the window allegory is from: Bede's Ecclesiatical History, Volume II Chapter 7. The King was Edwin of Northumberland. Nice work over there with the whole "not letting history get flushed down the toilet of American consumerism and instant gratification" thing.