Saturday, June 8, 2024

Get to Know the Fest Guest: Part 5 -- Gabriel Mckee

We're less than a week away from Dick-Fest 2024. In fact, you'll find some pretty detailed info and a schedule here, which is otherwise dedicated to our series dedicated to getting to know the presenters at this year's Fest. So, without further ado, is my interview with Gabriel Mckee: 

What are you gonna talk about at the fest?

 I'll be talking about ideas of control and freedom in the Exegesis, particularly as they relate to the concept of "astral determinism" in Hellenistic religion and philosophy-- the idea that human destiny is controlled by external forces (in particular, the stars and planets). The starting point of my talk is sections of the Exegesis where Phil is talking about the dreaded "Xerox missive," which took on a central importance in his understanding of what liberation meant. The idea of breaking free from the path that the universe has prepared for you-- metaphorized as "groove override" in the universe's eternal LP-- is an absolutely crucial one in the Exegesis, and the concrete example Phil is talking about is his reaction to the weird photocopy he got in the mail. After a career of writing about androids who think they're human, Phil found himself mired in anxiety over the idea that he was subject to some kind of external control-- but that he had pushed through and found himself experiencing a sense of freedom when he didn't look at the letter, didn't do whatever destructive thing it was that it was intended to bring about. I don't think it really matters what the true origin or content of the letter was; it's mainly important for having become a symbol through which Phil explored themes of fate/destiny/programming and freedom/choice/liberation.  I look at this through the lens of modern ideas--particularly Jay Kinney's concept of "agency panic"-- and ancient ones-- early Christian and Hellenistic texts about astrological control.

How’d you get involved in Dickdom? 

PKD was one of the first SF authors I read when I started getting into the genre toward the end of high school. A friend lent me a copy of VALIS and I was instantly obsessed. It got me interested not just in science fiction, but in religion and theology as well. I was active on the old Jazzflavor email list and ended up studying religion as an undergraduate and going on to a master's from Harvard Divinity School-- along the way writing Pink Beams of Light From the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dick (University Press of America, 2004), and the PKD-adjacent The Gospel According to Science Fiction (Westminster John Knox, 2007) shortly thereafter. When I heard that Jonathan Lethem and Pamela Jackson were working on an edited version of the Exegesis back in 2010, I knew I had to be involved-- and am grateful to Erik Davis and Rich Doyle for helping to facilitate that. 

What kind of Dick-related work are you currently involved in? 

I've just finished a major non-PKD project that I have been working on for several years: The Saucerian: The Unbelievable Life of Gray Barker, a biography of a prolific UFO book author, publisher, and showman, which is due out early next year from MIT Press. I'm contributing smaller pieces to a couple other PKD projects, including George Sieg & Michael Barros's edited volume The Esoteric Theology of Philip K. Dick (forthcoming from Lexington Books) and Keith Giles and David Agranoff's Dickapedia. I've also been an active collaborator in the Zebrapedia project since its inception, and have been talking to Rich Doyle about ways to enhance the online Exegesis interface-- I hope to have some more news to share at the Fest about coming developments there. 

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