Philip K. Dick Again

I just finished Lawrence Sutin’s Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989, Harmony Books).  Enjoyed every page. Instead of reviewing the entire book, I want to share two good parts.

Page 265 features a classic PKD parable mixing scientific knowledge with divine wisdom. Phil wrote this in 1979:

A new ambulance is filled with gasoline and parked. The next day it is examined. The finding is that its fuel is virtually gone and its moving parts are slightly worn. This appears to be an instance of entropy, of loss of energy and form. However, if one understands that the ambulance was used to take a dying person to a hospital where his life was saved (thus consuming fuel and somewhat wearing the moving parts of the ambulance) then one can see that through hierarchical outranking there was not only no loss but in fact a net gain. The net gain, however, can only be measured outside the closed system of the new ambulance. Each victory by God as intelligence and will is obtained by this escalation of levels of subsumation, and in no other way.

I like it. We live in a closed system. Also, back on page 246, Sutin tells of a writer named K. W. Jeter, who

called attention to the similarities between Phil’s novels and those of William S. Burroughs – such as an invading alien virus occluding human faculties (for Burroughs, the virus was language). Jeter and Phil even performed their own Burroughs-influenced “cut-up” writing experiment, scrambling texts from Roderick Thorp’s The Detective, Melville’s Moby Dick, and the New Testament Book of Acts.

Russell Galen as Renaissance Man

by Bill Ectric

I think of literary agent Russell Galen as a Renaissance Man.

Martin Torgoff calls Galen “a true lover of words and books” in the acknowledgment section of Can’t Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000.

Philip K. Dick dedicates his masterpiece VALIS, “To Russell Galen, who showed me the right way.”

Benson Bodrick writes, “My agent, Russell Galen, gave the book an early lift,” in the prologue to Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired.

One of my humanities professors told us that a “Renaissance Man” is one who places equal importance on physical, intellectual, and spiritual development.  Years later, it occurs to me that the three aforementioned books illustrate my professor’s definition.

In my zeal to categorize everything at the risk of oversimplification, I initially labeled Martin Torgoff’s Can’t Find My Way Home as physical (drugs being pleasures of the flesh), Philip K. Dick’s VALIS as intellectual (obviously), and Benson Bobrick’s Wide as the Waters as spiritual (church and Bible).

But with one turn of the transposition wheel, Can’t Find My Way Home easily clicks into the intellectual category (Harvard behaviorists compiling data from triple-blind LSD experiments); Wide As the Waters slides into the physical position (typesetting, books as art and artifact, doctrine physically enforced); and VALIS emerges in the religious slot (a Vast Active Living Intelligent System beams revelations directly into the protagonist’s mind, but is it God or is it Memorex?).

Wide as the Waters has a definite intellectual component with those prodigious multilingual scholars and the Derrida-like concept that the term literal translation might be an oxymoron. Can’t Find My Way Home has its share of the spiritual, from religious peyote ceremonies to twelve step programs and the Serenity Prayer. The physical aspect of VALIS is that the brain is still part of the body, so, while one may achieve temporary religious transcendence, we are ultimately closed systems of circling impulses. 

Maybe epiphanies glow in a fleeting nexus where the physical, intellectual, and spiritual merge and hover briefly in flux. Now, with my hippie days and my short-lived interest in going to seminary long past, I warmly recall the Zen proverb, “Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water. After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.” Profound revelations notwithstanding, I still have to go to sleep, wake up, eat breakfast, and mow the lawn.

Blues For Horselover Fat: William Gibson on Philip K. Dick

From, William Gibson says, “Remarkable the number of Phil Dick’s fans who have no desire to read any other sf. It always impressed me. ‘Well, no, I don’t read that stuff…. But do you know this guy Dick?’ How did they get on to him? Word of mouth…. He was the only product of the American genre sf scene you could give to hardened Burroughs and Pynchon fanatics without wincing a little. Because, at his best, he was truly Dread, the poplit equivalent of certain moments in rock when an improvised guitar line comes scything out at you like a snapped cable and cuts the mind-body dichotomy eight ways from Sunday…. Reading him, sometimes, I’d get this image: man typing at a kitchen table maybe, stoked on dex and twenty cups of coffee, typing fast; just making it all up, and somehow behind it all his admirable desire to drive us all, if only for a few seconds at a time, straight of our wretched minds.”


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