Wednesday, August 19, 2009
More Thoughts On Maze
Reading A Maze of Death late last night, I just about lost it when the crew of the raft encountered the gelatinous Tench beside the river. What an amazing scene! For some reason the cryptic written responses provided by the Tench reminded me of an image from the beginning of the novel I haven't been able to shake. Ben Tallchief holds the punch cards encoded with the information about his assignment,:
"Frowning, he studied the coded information, trying to decipher it. In numbers, punch-holes and letters it spelled out his new life, his world to come."
A few paragraphs later, Ben elaborates:
"He could not discover what his job would consist of. The letters, numbers and punch-holes failed to say, or perhaps it was more correct to say that he could not get them to divulge this one piece of information--a piece he would much have wanted."
I don't know why this image stuck with me, but I know why I remembered it when the Tench began responding in cryptic riddles. Wikipedia sorta gets that the Tench answers with particular hexagrams from the I Ching, but there's something more at work. The Tench conceives of language as an object, that's why it can communicate with the colonists only through the same kind the assimilation it uses to duplicate wristwatches. Language isn't information transmitted verbally, but from the Tench's perspective language has form. Isn't it interesting to compare the Tench's responses to the encoded info contained on the punch cards? In both cases the reification of language is literal, and the resulting signal loss obscures the meaning of the communication.
Here are some of the I Ching chapters that coincide with the Tench's responses:
"There are secret forces at work, leading together those who belong together. We must yield to this attraction; then we make no mistakes"
"Often a man feels an urge to unite with others, but the individuals around him have already formed themselves into a group, so that he remains isolated. He should then ally himself with a man who stands nearer to the center of the group and can help him gain admission to the closed circle"
"Every step, forward or backward, leads into danger. Escape is out of the question. The danger comes because one is too ambitious."
Notice that both the encoded information on Ben's punch-card and the Tench's prophesies concern future events. I think it's important to pay attention to how texts are working in Dick's novels. Here, we see two examples where the future seems to be laid out, set in stone, beforehand, but even so, this future is inaccessible and therefore unknowable.