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!