Saturday, April 7, 2007

Where the Magic Happened!

Photo by Michael Rauner

On February 20th 1974, Philip K Dick had the most famous literary hallucination since Allen Ginsberg heard a disembodied William Blake reciting "Ah, Sunflower." The event started simply enough when a prescription painkiller was delivered to Dick's Orange County apartment following some grueling oral surgery. Sutin quotes Dick:

"The doorbell rang and I went out, and there stood this girl with black, black hair and large eyes very lovely and intense; I stood there staring at her, amazed, also confused, thinking I'd never seen such a beautiful girl, and why was she standing there? She handed me a package of medication [Darvon], and I tried to think what to say to her; I noticed, then, a fascinating gold necklace around her neck and I said, "What is that? It certainly is beautiful," just, you see, to find something to say to hold her there. The girl indicated the major figure in it, which was a fish. "This is a sign used by the early Christians."

Dick claimed many things about this encounter, including the contention that a pink beam of light had flashed from the necklace to his third eye at the center of his forehead. The events of that day laid the groundwork for one of Dick's greatest novels, VALIS, as well as a dismal, frenetic, and obsessional search for his own sanity that even by the time of his death eight years later was still largely uncompleted.

Dick-head extraordinaire Erik Davis included the above picture of Dick's 1974 apartment, the very doorstep where Dick stood with the dark-haired girl, in his recent book about California's unique spiritual landscape, Visionary State. Davis writes:

"In February 1974, the sight of a delivery woman's Christian fish necklace triggered a long vacation from reality that included prophetic dreams, intense synchronicities, and reception to hidden messages in Beatles songs. Time went out of joint, and once Dick saw the architecture of Rome settle over Orange County. His spirit ranged across the map, but his most consistent themes were Gnostic and Christian, and he often felt himself to be in telepathic contact with a secret follower of the early church."

In a short email interview Davis responded to a couple Dick-head questions:

TDH: How did you locate the 2.3.74 apartment?
ED: I did a web search and discovered letters he had written that featured the addresses. Actually there were two apartments about half a block apart in Fullerton: he moved sometime either in late 73 or early 74. Initially the photographer Michael Rauner shot the earlier apartment, thinking it was the 2/3/74 place. Later a hunch led me to double-check, and so we shot the real apartment where he met the delivery woman--I am glad I got it right, but Michael was bummed because the first shot was tons better!

TDH: What kind of a vibe did the place have? How did you feel standing in that doorway?
ED: Like I was checking out a cruddy early 70s SoCal apartment building. Nothing special--which to my mind is what makes them special. My book was about "sacred sites," and as a Californian Dick-head, for me the site of 2/3/74 is a kind of sacred site. But what makes it sacred is precisely the mixture with the profane, with the ordinary tacky cruddiness of the SoCal suburban landscape.

TDH: What five novels of PKD would you recommend off the top of your head?
ED: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
A Maze of Death (the odd choice, I know, but to my mind it is the most underrated of his novels)
A Scanner Darkly

Update: Reader Scott directs us to R. Crumb's rendering of the fateful drug delivery.


Scott Radtke said...

Here is the entire encounter rendered by Robert Crumb.

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