"Judging by these journals, however, what Dick thought was much more dangerous. He maintained that, in 1974, he had received a message from God telling him the modern world was a fraud, a simulacrum laid over a reality that had not changed since the first century AD. He understood, or came to understand as he wrote about his experience, that this might be a delusion, and that it might be understood as a metaphor – but, uncomfortably for modern sensibilities, only in the way that St Paul or St John the Divine might have been regarded as deluded, or that the Gospels should be read only metaphorically."Yep. Here we go. As one of my friends said, pretty soon they're gonna have to stop saying Dick was 'casting endless theories' and they'll have to start talking about what those theories consist of. And when they do, hang on, because it's going to be a wild ride. Mckie contextualizes for us:
"But in one respect, PKD is out of step with the times. The Baudrillardians are happy to have him point out that time is an illusion; that the authorities are out to get us; that God can talk through cheesy television advertisements; and that, with the endless refractions of different media playing the same message back and forth, nothing is quite as it seems. But they are happy for him to do so just as long as it is a fun metaphor making an important point but not to be taken seriously."It's the G-word folks - God, a relic that science fiction has been devoutly wishing to extinguish since the genre's inception. Indeed, Dick's religiosity later in life put him at odds with any number of science fiction writers including Ursula K LeGuin, Norman Spinrad, Kevin Jeter, Thomas Disch, and many others. While the highbrow literary atheists can tolerate Eliot, and the Fantastics put up with Tolkien and CS Lewis, Science Fiction has, as a genre, remained at odds with the theological, in fact this opposition is, in many ways, a science fictional religion in its own right. The Kids in the Hall have an amazing skit about this (watch it here and click to the 2:30 mark).
I can remember as like a twelve-year-old reading Asimov's Foundation Series in which characters say the word "Galaxy" in place of the word "God" and understanding, almost immediately, what was going on.
So the other day on Facebook, I saw that Radio Free Albemuth posted a link to Mckie's piece and almost immediately someone commented: "Wow that's such crap. Dick was incredible, but his having a stroke doesn't mean that god exists." When you think about that statement, it becomes clear, pretty quickly, that it's believing in God at all that's 'crap.' And here's where the rubber's gonna meet the road: the Exegesis is hardcore theological speculation, an endeavor that many in our current milieu feel to be pointless, and what's worse, the sign of a degraded mind.
But to take the God out of the PKD, is kinda like listening to punk rock quietly: what's the point? I'm not getting all deist on you. I actually am pretty open minded about the whole thing. Recently, I asked a class of students to raise their hands if they thought Wilbur Mercer, the savior character in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was real, and I was amazed when not a single hand went up.
PKD always gives you an out. Deities in Dick's work are almost always made manifest by the characters, rather than appearing in burning bushes or whatever. I mean there's always the chance that Horselover Fat is just a deluded idiot, a fool on a fool's errand, and so you can dismiss his devoutness as misguided. But then, like the commenter on Facebook, you have to invent some kind of physiological explanation for 2-3-74: temporal lobe epilepsy, a series of small strokes, amphetamine psychosis, etc. Sure those are possible, perhaps they are even more likely than the notion that Dick really did see God, and God really did talk to Phil Dick, but you cannot explain away Dick's enthusiasm for belief.
My impression of The Exegesis is that it signals a shift in Dick's interests as a writer. In fact, it may be the earlier composition of the novel Ubik that marks this change. Before Ubik, Dick's central pre-occupation as a writer seemed to be entropy and withdrawal, but with Ubik there is suddenly a focus on redemption and renewal, and, in The Exegesis, Ubik becomes short hand for this kind of salvation. In this way, Dick's career then comes to resemble the layout of TS Eliot's modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land, wherein Eliot first catalogs the numerous ways the landscape has been made lifeless, dull, and dead, before ending with a meditation on rejuvenation through love and empathy (yeah, it matches that closely!).
So here's my prediction: watch for a lot more reviews to focus on Dick's "endless theorizing" in part because the theories are difficult to understand, and in part because Dick's religious attitude is so thoroughly at odds with our secular reality.