Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Satanic Bible: Eldritch Reviewed

PKD-Otaku founder and all around Dick-head wunderkind Patrick Clark recently sent me these scans of Yogi Borel's 1967 review of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch from the Riverside Quarterly (click to enlarge text images):

There's lots of reviews of the book, what's special about this one? Well for one, Dick liked the review. Going the extra mile, Clark dug some relevant PKD-letters out of the kipple, including this email from PKD to Leland Sapiro (apparently another name used by the review's author Yogi Borel):

"Dear Mr. Sapiro,
I can’t thank you enough for sending me the copy of Riverside Quarterly Vol. 3 No. 1. It is a lovely magazine, and I would hesitate to call it a fanzine; it is too professional for that. Possibly I could induce you into letting me write a piece for it. Do you suppose so? Now as to the review of my book, THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH. Every review of it is different. However, the hallucination environment is always mentioned and the theological symbolism is ignored. Yours is the first really to tackle the latter. The novel is not quite a dream, or even an hallucination; it is a state entered into by the character, a stage of transformation into another level – possibly a supernatural level – and their attempts to find their way back to “sanity.” It consists of a war between Palmer Eldritch (who is absolute evil) and Leo Bulero (who is not exactly “absolute good” but rather the benign form of nonevil life with which we are daily acquainted). In a sense, the novel depicts relative good attempting to combat absolute evil – and in the end the relative good, in the form of Leo Bulero – triumphs. I think it is important to note that this man, with all his failings. Does triumph, and the record hid triumph is found no it in the body of the novel but in the paragraph coming before it, his memo dictated after his return from Mars to Earth. In a sense, that paragraph is the real novel, and the rest is autopsy, if you follow my meaning. Leo has come back to Earth and he is his old self; Eldritch did not destroy – or rather consume – him, and he at once dictates a memo in his usual manner.
You, in your review, are quite right. The whole book is a struggle between what you might call a “white” mass and a “black” mass. This is the real point, and the victory is achieved by a “small” man, a man (Leo Bulero) who is, shall we say, the mere salt of the Earth. He is not a titan. But he is determined to remain himself, to achieve victory over a curse or contamination. It is a curse, really, the Palmer Eldritch figure, the curse that hangs over all life. But there are small men who can withstand it, and that was what I tried to show. Relative good – good as we know it here in the compromised state – is able to survive even a direct assault by the power of evil. Read the paragraph which comes before the novel proper and you’ll see what I mean.

With much appreciation and thanks,
Philip K. Dick"

(Source: letter to Leland Sapiro, December 9, 1967)

In another letter Dick reveals that he believes the closure of the novel is not to be found at the end, but at the very beginning:

"Dear Mr. Sapiro,


As to the Palmer Eldritch book. The passage I refer to, which is, as you put it, “The essence of the novel,” does not lie in the final chapter but comes before the book; i.e. even before chapter one. It is a squib which goes as follows:

“I mean, after all, you have to consider we’re only made out of dust. That’s admittedly not much to go on and we shouldn’t forget that. But even considering, I mean it’s a sort of bad beginning, we’re not doing too bad. So I personally have faith that even in this lousy situation we’re faced with we can make it. You get me?

From an interoffice audio-memo circulated to Pre-Fash level consultants at Perky Pat Layouts, Inc., dictated by Leo Bulero immediately on his return from Mars.”

Now the things is, you see, the memo is in Leo’s style; it is idiosyncratic of him, and this fact – plus the content o he memo, as contrasted to the style – proves that Leo did indeed beat Palmer Eldritch…so, by reading this squib, we know that Palmer Eldritch was defeated, and Leo Bulero went on being himself. Which, when extrapolated, means that we – or if you prefer, the characters in the book – go on being themselves or ourselves or however the grammar goes in a sentence like this. But you see my point (as Leo would say).

Very cordially yours.
Philip K. Dick

(Source: letter to Leland Sapiro, December 18, 1967

My first LSD experience, by the way, confirmed my vision of Palmer Eldritch; I found myself in the hell-world, and it took almost two thousand (subjective) years for me to crawl up out of it."

While I can't thank Patrick Clark enough for tracking down these references, he also supplies some very insightful caveats about secondary texts in his email to me:

"After all, the novel itself ought to be the focus. And I’m not sure how important such reviews are but Phil himself was much taken with this particular one so possibly it carries some extra weight.

For myself I feel the further one gets from 1964 when Phil composed the work the less reliable the information becomes. Including, maybe especially, Phil’s own thoughts on the matter. I find the Exegesis material at Dave’s site, for example, pretty useless in explicating “Three Stigmata” (however fascinating it is otherwise). Too much of the Exegesis shows Phil retroactively trying to fit his oeuvre into some grand, unified whole, which I don’t believe is true."



Anonymous said...

This is a brilliant revelation to me and as thorough an explanation as ever. Just now venturing out onto the web for an elucidation of ELDRITCH, this luckily happened to be the first review/write-up of the novel I have come across since finishing it only months ago.

Thanks Again,
Edward R.

adrien said...

I agree with ER above. Thanks for sharing. I don't believe I ever noticed the prologue/memo before the novel and always thought it had an extremely dark ending.

adrien said...

One does wonder why Dick declined to show just how Leo Bulero got free of Palmer Eldritch. Was he going to write another chapter but ran out of time?

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