Monday, July 16, 2007

One More Handful

Above: A microscopic view of Martian dust courtesy of NASA

Blogging The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch part 1.5

Don't freak out. I won't spend too much longer on this short squib but I had some interesting insights after my last post. Also some readers spoke up with their own brilliant ideas. PKD-Otaku contributor Patrick Clark apparently needs to have the higher ups at P.P. Layouts approve any comments he posts on this blog so he sent the following to me in an email:

The old Roman Catholic rite at Ash Wednesday used to include the admonition: “Remember man you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Perhaps this is the origin of the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” incantation. But in particular reference to Palmer Eldritch there is this curious synchronicity:
Ash Wednesday
- The Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, which is the first day of the Lenten fast.

The name dies cinerum (day of ashes) which it bears in the Roman Missal is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary and probably dates from at least the eighth century. On this day all the faithful according to ancient custom are exhorted to approach the altar before the beginning of Mass, and there the priest, dipping his thumb into ashes previously blessed, marks the forehead -- or in case of clerics upon the place of the tonsure -- of each the sign of the cross, saying the words: "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.
The Catholic Encyclopedia online
I really doubt that Phil was thinking along these lines when he chose “Palmer” as a name. I recall the name comes from a term for “one who goes on a pilgrimage.” Eldritc
h, of course, he swiped from Lovecraft. Still, it is curious how these connections form."

I can't believe I forgot perhaps the greatest dust reference in all of Literature - Hamlet's monolog in Act II scene ii:

"I have of late,--but wherefore I know not,--lost
all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed,
it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly
frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this
most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with
golden fire,--why, it appears no other thing to me than a
foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece
of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in

faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable!
in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god!
the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of
dust?" (lines 115-117)

I learned recently that the line "what is this quintessence of dust" is a good example of bathos, a term I was unfamiliar with.

I thought some more about Bulero's memo last night and I think I had a "Eureka!" moment. The squib at the beginning of the novel contextualizes the spiritual struggle that will take place in the book. This is not a mystical spiritual battle taking place in clouds with warriors with quivers full of rainbows riding unicorns (thank god, I wouldn't want to read that). Rather this is a spiritual journey rooted in the everyday. Bulero isn't a prophet, just a guy out to make a buck (a profit?). He doesn't issue fatwas or edicts; he sends out memos. What I love about PKD is that he reminds us that our greatest battles are often mundane, even banal. Spirituality isn't always about big issues. Instead, our morality is borne out in the small things we do everyday.


FCBertrandJr said...

I, for one, wouldn't read too much into this possible "spiritual" aspect of Philip K. Dick's novels. It does exist but as one of many "intellectual tools" in his mind to help try and answer his two big questions: What is reality? and, What is a human being?

And knowing of his STRONG interest in philosophy, one could argue that The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is PKD's fictionalized take on medieval scholastic philosophy's argument about essence versus accidents.

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