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.