Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Philip K Dick

Can you imagine what Dick himself would make of today's review of The Exegesis of Philip K Dick in the New York Times appearing on what would have been his 83rd birthday? First, what would he think about its publication? I can't help but imagine that he'd be pretty pleased with himself. What would he think about the review? Well, it's impossible to say, but it is - I think - really important to notice that this review (done by none other than Charles Platt, a writer intimately familiar with Dick's work and weirdness) fails to say anything concrete about WHAT IT IS DICK IS THEORIZING ABOUT IN THE EXEGESIS! Sorry, but it kinda bugs me. Sure Dick is wondering what the heck happened during 2-3-74, but I would argue the Exegesis is much more concerned with fairly conventional theological questions: 1) If God is real, why is there so much suffering in the world? 2) Are our minds accurately perceiving the world around us, or are our instruments of perception faulty? Are our minds clouded by the seemingly important stuff like, you know, rationality, and all of that? 3) Does God exert direct control over our lives or is he a detached, uninterested observer?

I think the review I'm waiting for will at least acknowledge that the 'endless theorizing' is broadly addressing these questions. And that Dick is taking part in what I consider almost conventional theology. Once you set these parameters, the book (and Dick's exegetical work) make a lot more sense. Charles Platt calls Dick's philosophizing 'tiresome.' I guess I would agree to the extent that it is exhausting to think about this serious stuff, and the diary-like entries make sussing out the outlines of Dick's theories all the more difficult, but you wouldn't call Spinoza's or Hume's work tiresome, or if you did, you would hedge the complaint by saying 'for the average reader' or whatever.

I, for one, am enjoying watching Dick's 900 page meditation on the nature of the Universe collide with our society's predilection for ease and convenience. I enjoy watching real religious faith, in all its complications and doubt, set against the easy faith of modern, mega-church Christianity with all its feel-good intolerance. And I really appreciate Dick's hardbound reminder that the tough questions you ask yourself are the most important, and if reading Dick's Exegesis prompts others to ask these questions, the way it has for me, the endeavor is an obvious success. Even if it wears us all out and exhausts us.


ZenWoman said...

In other words, "so VALIS contains one hell of a new theology!... a radical view of the Universe... worse than mere chaos -- it's stigmatized as insane." (Pg 454 of the Exegesis)

And, remember, the 900 page meditation is the abridged version. There's another seven thousand pages where that came from. I'll save the rest of my comments for my piece in the upcoming Otaku ;) Keep on truckin' and reading... the "E"

Mr. Hand said...

One of the modes he's working with is conventional theology, there's no doubt about that. We didn't need Gabriel McKee to argue or prove that. But PKD also anticipated many of the most exciting developments in religious studies that go beyond the modes of conventional theology.

palmer_eldritch said...

TL;DR. Sorry, Charles.

Unknown said...

Review of something never published or read. Absolutely masterful, even for Earth under Belial.

wytchcroft said...

Phil would have been pleased?
Hmm - on some level perhaps but my guess is that he would also, and immediately, feel guilty - "why is this being published now? have i betrayed the truth by putting it out there? what if i'm just serving the evil ends of *insert name of moment here*" etc.

meanwhile of course he would deny writing it to anyone who told him it was good and he would take the typical Dick devil's advocate position in discussion about it.

the worst aspect of all this exegesis release and review stuff is the lack of humour - something Phil would have pounced upon and which his friends have ruefully tried to flag up in the biogs.

no wait, the worst aspect is the false division within readers between those who 'get' the exegesis (and ergo Phil) and those who don't.
it's sad - since Dick the novelist is, uh, where exactly???

i wouldn't dismiss the exegesis nor Phil for writing it but if he had written a 900 page treatise on the I-Ching and then died in 1965, would it be required reading without which High Castle could not be understood?

i am as suspicious as you about nervy critics and the G-word but i am equally as jaundiced about notions of PKD as a Gnostic Mystic/Avatar/Saviour (anyone for Swedenborg and his Venusian Chimney Sweeps? Conan Doyle and Pheneas Speaks?).
As you point out, his religious (or theological if you prefer) thinking was essentially conventional - and conventional (from PKD especially) is, well, kinda dull.

i do marvel at the gathering effect though - ever since Sutin rated Valis over Scanner.

none of which is to knock your blog here, even by default, your extensive and generous efforts (in both research and writing) speak for themselves.

and i wouldn't be here carping into the ether otherwise!

keep on keepin' on.