Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Even More on Maze of Death

Man I had a crazy day. Being an adjunct lecturer at a California state school with the Terminator running things is crazy! A full eight hours of teaching sure gets my mind revved up though, and on my BART ride home, I kept thinking about A Maze of Death. That novel is kicking my ass.

Got home and did some research:

Ian Watson in his essay Lathe of Heaven and the Role of Dick [published in SFS]:

"The religion of A Maze of Death is a construct imposed on the crew of a starship during a voluntary trance state by a computer originally provided as a toy to while away the long years in space, which has become their only form of mental "salvation" once their ship is crippled. Yet the godlike figure of the Intercessor, invented as part of the false reality, reaches into the reality of the ship objectively, to offer salvation of a kind. (Seth Morley's salvation is to be reborn as a desert plant on a world where no one will bother him, where he can be both conscious of life, and yet asleep, enjoying a vegetable dream consciousness [§16]). Thus the human generates God."

I like this.

But better is the notion of the starship at the end of the novel as a stage in the Bardo - the nebulous worlds between lives. Remember the polyencephalic world ends when Seth dies in the noser crash, and the scenes in spaceship with the rest of crew read like the liminal state of the Bardo: as Seth is guided by the intercessor (bodhisattva?) to his next life as a desert cactus.

From Wikipedia (I know, not the best source, but, well, it's late):

"Used somewhat loosely, the term "bardo" may refer to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one's next birth, when one's consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, to, later on, terrifying hallucinations arising from the impulses of one's previous unskillful actions."

My question for anonymous (who asked in a previous comment thread if Seth has any corporeal form outside the polyencephalic worlds) is if the rest of the crew have any corporeal form outside of Seth's consciousness? The only problem with the theory that they don't is that the book starts with Ben Tallchief's POV. I think Erik Davis did his master's thesis on Maze, and I think if he did he probably tackled this angle, so I'll drop him an email and see what he's got to say.

Regardless, the novel's narrative devours itself like an oroboros in a really brilliant way that makes me think I should read more PKD books. Tomorrow I'll find and post PKD's description of his bad LSD trip with Ray Nelson in 1964 that he included in Maze - the part with the snow world and the Latin.

Chime in in the comments!


Mr. Hand said...

thanks for all the references to the PKD scholarship. great posts on maze.

giospurs said...

Thanks for answering (well, responding) to my question. I love the idea that Seth is just part of the polyencephalic world, but it doesn't really stand up. How would the scenes where Seth was alone with the Walker/Intercessor make sense. Unless he somehow became a real character throughout the novel. I think the end of the novel with Mary worrying about Seth's disappearance could work. It could just be her decreasing sanity, inability to differentiate between the real and the polyencephalic world. That would explain why the other characters don't seem that concerned, as if they are just humouring her.

ct-scan said...

I like where this conversation is going, I'm seeing things I didn't pick up at first.

I'm actually thinking that Seth was real, but that Mary was a split personality of his. Once they're back on the ship, Seth is constantly referred to as just Morley. But, there is one comment from Belsnor that I can't get over, he said to Sue, "They got you with a rock." Who is "they"??? It was just Mary. But, if Mary is a part of Seth, then it would make sense. This completely explains how one character can seem to disappear...etc. The rest of the crew shrugs it off, because they've dealt with Mary/Seth in the past. Since the worlds are created out of the minds of the individuals entering them, when someone with a split personality enters, they create two separate individuals.

This idea also has obvious implications with Phil himself, and with Tessa's information that during the writing of this book Phil was trying to understand mental illness. Although this isn't schizophrenia or autism, we all know that split personality disorder was certainly on Phil's mind often.

Again, this is just an idea, but I do believe this book is deeper than any first glance.

Anonymous said...

wow. yeah i never thought of that. i think something strange happens with the character seth at the end of the novel(and throughout). i think we cannot really say what it is but its interesting to hear everyones ideas and maybe thats the point of the book to actually point a mirror at our own ends or our own fascination with demise/death/end of life. not in a morbid way but in a way of genuine awe and imagination.

Ragle Gumm said...

I think we're on to something, lots of somethings.


Repeated text in the beginning of the book. Could be a callisto-cuddlefish (PKD's red herring), but I don't think so.

I think Morely could be a part of the simulation designed to give the people on the starship hope, just as well as I think Delmak-0 may represent the hallucinations of a disembodied self preparing for rebirth. What if all the characters in the novel are aspects of Seth Morely? Regardless, this conversation is great, and I'm determined to write more on MoD (Erik Davis did indeed write a chapter on Maze of Death in his master's thesis - so I'll get back to you all on that)

majorhoople said...

thanks so much for this site and these posts---

one short note about the chapter titles: In my edition (Vintage) the type-font is different from the rest of the novel; sans-serif and kind of medium bold. It gives me the impression of having been tacked-on, like it's not part of the original novel. An interesting textual effect. Maybe chapter titles for a prequel or sequel?

Maury Souza said...

I think Maze of Death influenced the film "The Cube"

Anonymous said...

I am picking up "Maze" again. An idea for a future thread (if it has not been visited already): some sort of a collective ranking of reader's favorite PKD novels. Some are definitely to be skipped...
Thanks for a wonderful blog.

tuffy777 said...

peeling the onion
-- sometimes Phil repeated entire passages to make the minimum number of words for a novel

-- on one level, Maze is a metaphor -- we are stuck here on planet Earth, and we cannot change the course of the ship
-- we live in illusion, shared hallucination

Pantomime Horse said...

I've been busy and you've finishe the novel before I even started it but I'll want to toss in my thoughts about the end of the novel. I won't really be consistent with an earlier comment as I couldn't think how to expand on it without spoilers. I truly don't think the religious elements are anywhere so original as the foreward states (if I recall it correctly) but they are derived from much more than just the Trinitarian Christianity I referred to, emphasis/apparent validity changes through the progress of the novel and the synthesis, if that's the word I want, is pretty unusal in general and much more so in the SF general. It does seem very psychedically influence to me though if that's correct it was apparently from about such experiences with a very good grasp of what he read. Don't know how familiar he was with some factions & elements of Buddhism, Hinduism and some things I associate with Unitarian Universalism though UA is very inclusive of diverse views.

I've gotten stop writing now and get to bed. A sleeping is kicking in and it's time right now to crash and catch up a bit of the quantity and quality ofsleep I've missed the last few nights. Also, it's making me seriously buzzed, coordinated & on the verge of falling asleep on top of the keyboard.

Zack said...

I know that this is little bit late, but an idea just struck me about the repeated conversation bit that takes place early on. I first thought it to be just a sort of funny comment on how the majority of talk/small talk that goes on between people is so repetitive and banal.

In view of the end, though, I have come up with another idea. Apparently, the scenarios created by the T.E.N.C.H. are designed through the little tidbits of information that is given by the users. All of the false memories/pseudo backgrounds are created based off of this data that is suggested by the users. The repeated dialogue may very well be an early clue that the whole world is a sort of fabrication, in that small talk (especially when conducted with a new "unknown" arrival)largely revolves around the same subjects. The ammount and nature of the topics discussed are all limited by what has been fed into the T.E.N.C.H. In other words, they only have a very limited capacity for background information/small talk subject material.

tuffy777 said...

great insight, zack

Pollution Q. Thrashbarg said...

I've said this many times but "Maze of Death" is my favorite novel of all time. I have 'Persus 9' tattooed on my right instep. I listened to that futurboy cd about the album and one lyric described that tattoo as being green ink. I don't remember the ink being green, does anybody else?

Anyway, there are many things that make this my favorite novel of all time. One is the pace, I love how it takes you through so many different speeds and tones but they go right into each other and keep you entertained.

I feel this novel tackles major psychological, social, and philosophical issues that are multi layered, and still puts a human feel on it. We all know someone who has issues like the characters. It's mature, thought provoking, and still deals with sex and drugs.

I love how it's open for interpretation as far as religion and pleasure. This personal seemed pro religion for me, and at the end of the novel I felt happy. A.) I was happy I found such an entertaining read B.) I was happy that I was alive and not stuck on delmak-0 or aboard the Starship Persus 9.

One thing that got me a little was that the matrix ripped this off hard, and I can't tell that to people I want to read the book because that spoils the whole damn ending!

***I like all the theories everyone has come up with about the book on this thread. I as an author love to hide things in my stories and if everything that ct-scan said is correct I could completely see Seth and Mary being a person with split personalities who actually split when they entered 'the matrix'. Has anyone considered that maybe it’s a metaphor for faith and positivity actually being able to manifest things makes the intangible tangible? When I write stories I almost always give the characters their names for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, Mary was named after the Virgin Mary. And she helped create Seth (widely considered a Jewish name) very much the way the Virgin Mary helped create Christ (a famous Jewish person). After that, correct me if I’m wrong, Seth is involved in a deity of the made up religion crossing over into the real world. If all of that is correct the moral of the story would be that positivity and faith can create happiness and life in the most miserable of circumstances even though it seems completely impossible.

The real question is, would PKD tell some people big secrets like this? Is there someone living today who he spoke to about this particular novel that could confirm or deny that there are major hidden elements such as the potential non existence of Seth or Seth and Mary being the same person?

Lastly, I think this novel is so underrated. I don't know if I’ll ever meet a person who will see 'Persus 9' tattooed on my foot and say, "Hey, that's from 'A Maze of Death'!" Maybe that's a good thing. I do like my favorite novel being one that still undiscovered to so many people; I can live with that. But it's about time that it's not so underrated.

Aspiring Author,
-Pollution Q. Thrashbarg

tuffy777 said...

great insight, Q
-- Phil asked questions and let it up to his readers to answer them
-- kind of like the Socratic method

Mr. Hand said...

quick thing about the LSD -- I seem to recall reading somewhere PKD saying that he didn't want to take LSD again b/c he was afraid he'd have a religious experience. There's a place in the letters where he says something along the lines of "I smoked this joint I had lying around and then jesus spoke to me -- never gonna make that mistake again!" I find his work to be interesting and insightful in terms of his courageous exploration of the uncomfortable aspects of a "divine intervention," and along the lines of ASD discussions it is a great example of (a little discussed aspect of) Phil's anti-drug position: you don't want to have the wrong kind of religious experience. Terence McKenna theorized about this kinda thing when he discussed the "conservative streak" in some psychedelic heads--they have seen quite enough reality thanks and might not be considered "seekers" anymore.

tuffy777 said...

It's a shame that Phil never met Terrence McKenna. Now they're both gone.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed the seeming mistake that P.K. makes at the end of "Maze"? He says that Seth Morley's position on the ship is that of cook, whereas a few pages earlier, he had said that Bert Kostler's job was that of...cook! What goes on with that?

1wayknowser said...

Just finished reading this book...kind of late to this party but after reading through these posts I have a few ideas about Seth and his disappearing act in the end.
First, the religious construct by T.E.N.C.H. came about after it was fed info/data from all religions. In the forward PKD says that the theology in MOD was developed not as an analog to any current religion but under "logical system of religious thought, based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists".
In otherwords TENCH created a religion that was bullet proof from a logical standpoint.
The next thing I noticed was that Seth seemed more susceptible to religious experience than the others. He also had a harder time shaking off the illusory world than the others. I wonder if PKD put a little of himself into Morely? Especially when you consider some of the comments above about PKD smoking a joint and talking to Jesus, and his bad acid trips, etc. I just think he was more sensitive to that sort of phenomenon and worried about the implications.
In summary, I think Seth bit into the religious experience of the illusory world to the point that when he 'woke up' he did actually encounter a being that offered him salvation. The being/religion was real. TENCH figured it out because TENCH is smarter than us all. Ha! It was revealed to Seth due to his tendency towards the religious experience. Similar to the Zebra idea talked about in Valis.

Anonymous said...


the matrix didn't rip anything off from this book... A lot of the themes and backgrounds of this book were around before it. PKD added his own insights and flavor, and put forth this (and quite a few similar works) that also influenced others after him. The same can be said about the matrix. It's direct influences (or what you could say it "ripped off hard" are more like Neuromancer, Ghost In The Shell, and other similar "cyberpunk" books/anime etc. I would agree that Dick had a lot of great books dealing with exploring the nature of reality that may or may not have influenced those works, but that topic in general was nothing new or fresh even in his time...

constructivist said...

I just finished this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I too was left wondering about the 'cook' comment at the end. Anon above said...

He says that Seth Morley's position on the ship is that of cook, whereas a few pages earlier, he had said that Bert Kostler's job was that of...cook!

Lets think on that for a second. When Seth goes missing from the ship, no one else seems to care. Yet Mary does see two empty 'vr helmets'. This means that with Seth gone, the ship was missing one person. The 'real' cook, Bert Kosler, is always emphasized as being old and close to death. He is not mentioned after they wake up except by the captian in what I assume to be a twilight state. I think this line is no mistake by Dick but as to it's subtle meaning I'm not sure.

Interestingly enough, Delmak-O is an anagram for Make Old.

OK, now I have to go back and reread some passages. I just noticed the interesting chapter titles. There is either much more to this little book than at first glance or Horselover Fat is having a laugh!

tuffy777 said...

Phil said that he made up the chapter titles for fun -- they are parodies of the teasers for daytime soap operas -- but they do have meaning