Friday, February 22, 2008

Yep, VALIS was on 'Lost' Last Night

The rumors were true. The cover of the Vintage edition of VALIS was shown briefly on 'Lost' last night. Video here.

I'm a fan of the show, and since I noticed the blog got a lot of hits last night from people Googling "Lost and VALIS" I figured I'd try to lay out some of the elements from the book that may be relevant to the show:

First off, the book is pretty complicated, so in my opinion, while it's a cool shoutout to PKD, I don't think there's any real clue in the book that would serve as a Rosetta Stone and allow us to unravel any mysteries. 'Lost' deals in questions, not answers, but so does VALIS.

VALIS, which some call 'fictionalized autobiography', pits reason and skepticism against faith, so does 'Lost.' VALIS stands for Vast, Active, Living, Intelligent, System" and was one of many names Philip K Dick gave to the what he perceived to be a superior intelligence that was trying communicate with him. Locke gives Ben the book to help him pass the time while he is being held captive.

In VALIS Dick describes the "Black Iron Prison":

"Once, in a cheap science fiction novel, Fat had come across a perfect description of the Black Iron Prison, but set in the far future. So if you superimposed the past (ancient Rome) over the present (California in the twentieth century) and superimposed the far future world of The Android Cried Me a River over that, you got the Empire, as the supra- or trans-temporal constant. Everyone who had ever lived was literally surrounded by the iron walls of the prison; they were all inside it and none of them knew it.
Philip K. Dick, Valis, London; Gollancz, 2001, pp. 54-55

Seems a bit like "Lost." Especially when viewed in conjunction with Sawyer's reading of The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Cesares, which, according to its publisher, is "set on a mysterious island, Bioy's novella is a story of suspense and exploration, as well as a wonderfully unlikely romance, in which every detail is at once crystal clear and deeply mysterious."

Wait a sec, that sounds a lot like "Lost."

VALIS also plays with the idea of recovered memories, even recovered identities.

So to boil it down, VALIS is, in part, about communication with a higher power (which of course resonates with Locke's search for Jacob); VALIS pits reason against faith (kind of like the Jack/Locke dialectic). But most importantly, if the writers of 'Lost' really want to mess with the minds of their most obsessive fans, VALIS is the perfect literary allusion, since the novel itself raises more questions than it answers.

I hope this reference introduces the book to some new people. It's one of PKD's finest works.

All you 'Lost' aficionados who've read VALIS please use the comments section to discuss...

Update: Coverage of VALIS' second appearance on March 6 here.


Damon Poole said...

Great book. Read it just about 20 years ago. Still get dizzy thinking about it. Like many PKD books it messes with your mind and leaves you questioning your own reality/sanity by the end. Cool to see that PKD is an influence on the writers.

I wonder if they are also fans of A.E. Van Vogt?

Anonymous said...

No amount of references to pkd or any other great writers will stop this show sucking hard. imho

Saints and Spinners said...

I read VALIS a long time ago, so I can't comment specifically for this post. I did want to leave a comment though, rather than just searching for "Lost/VALIS" and then leaving. I wonder if Locke's comment to Ben to read the book again because he might have missed something the first time was aimed more at the viewers who are inclined to watch episodes repeatedly for clues.

I think it's great you have a blog dedicated to PKD. I read Divine Invasion in grad school, and went on a "Dick kick" for some months after that.

Illinois Jacket said...

Here's a breakdown from J Wood who usually provides analysis of Lost episodes, he goes pretty in depth into Valis.

Palmer Eldritch said...

The next time someone says I'm 'obsessed' with PKD, I shall simply direct them to that DarkUFO site...

Anonymous said...

I nearly jumped out of my coldly rational skin when I caught sight of that book cover on Lost the other night. I only finished reading VALIS for the first time a couple of weeks ago, after about 15years away from PKD. Then it makes an appearance in my favourite (only half decent IMHO) US TV show. I thought the Lost guys had finally got inside my head (maybe there is a VALIS after all). But then I remembered a reference to Jung's concept of Synchronicity in VALIS. This is a "device" that I think the writers of Lost use quite a lot, hopefully with self-referential significance. It is also a concept that I always invoke when trying to resolve any personal dispute between boring rationality and exciting irrationality. I would recommend the same to others. SNAR.

Unknown said...

Last week's episode, "The Constant," was even more PhilDickian, what with Desmond's consciousness simultaneously existing in 1996 and 2004, just as PKD (in and out of VALIS) saw himself simultaneously existing in the present and Roman times.

Anonymous said...

Lost is fantastic and it did give me a thrill to see my favourite author and TV show appear together. It may be a stretch but could you say that the Island is a Vast Active Living Intelligence System. It's certainly active as it can move! It's living as Jacob/Smokey/the Monster actually interact with characters. And it's intelligent as it seems to act in its own best interests.