You are now entering the mind of Philip K. Dick.
This is a journey many fans are eager to take, and it is exciting. But it isn’t comfortable. During the first 75 pages of The Exegesis, Phil reveals both insight and insanity, delusion and delight, illusion and paranoia. Fiction like his had to have come from a mind like this. But, shit, I wouldn’t want to be him.
The Exegesis begins with PKD’s 1969 novel Ubik, and within a few sentences PKD has mentioned the Holy Spirit, and wildly, in varying states of coherence, began stirring concepts from Greek philosophy, Christianity, and science fiction into a broth far more articulately presented in his fiction.
Yet, it was strangely page turning, and I read the entire 75 pages in one sitting, unwilling to put it down and break the trance. I took seven pages of notes and felt like I’d accomplished something. (My daughter told me I was doing a really good job playing school.) But when I look at the location of my bookmark, those 75 pages appear pitiful against the bulk of the whole. I am going to read this book! I am never going to read this book! Oh pod what have I gotten myself into?
Some have theorized that PKD suffered from TLE (temporal lobe epilepsy), that this condition could explain the hallucinations he experienced during the 2-3-74 events around which The Exegesis revolves and to which we are introduced in this section. Strange things happened to this man, that much is certain, but how many of them were real? (What is reality?, Dick might counter.) Yet even he, after spending pages and pages and fucking pages expounding on the reality and meaning of his dreams, admitted “it goes to show you that you should never take your dreams too seriously.” Advice which, I think, he quickly forgot in an ecstasy of paranoia, analysis, and education—an education allegedly coming to him from VALIS, God, Asklepios, and/or Jim Pike, depending on which phase you catch him.
His own texts became holy scriptures that he combed for meaning, and it is strange and thrilling to hear him talk about his own fictional works as if they are real, as if they reveal truths about the universe hidden there by someone else. (And incredibly narcissistic.) Most authors can relate to the feeling that their text comes from elsewhere, that it is writing them and not the other way around. But no one puts it as vehemently, no one puts such an intriguing SFinal veneer on the experience as Dick.
“I seem to alter my environment by thinking about it. Maybe by writing about it and getting other people to read my writing I change reality by their reading it and expecting it to be like my books. …
“I feel I have been a lot of different people. Many people have sat at this typewriter, using my fingers. Writing my books.
“My books are forgeries. Nobody wrote them. The goddamn typewriter wrote them; it’s a magic typewriter. …my books are already there. Whatever that means” (22).
It did not escape him that his own life was becoming more and more like a P.K. Dick novel, and the parallels, if you let yourself absorb them, can be as mind bending as his novels. But it never takes long for reason to flood back to me, and for me to find myself shaking my head, glad that, though I was born shortly after he died, I am not the reincarnation of Philip K. Dick.
For those reading along: Initial impressions and reactions? I assume the more of his fiction you’ve read, the more interesting this will be…how are those just starting on his fiction holding up? Is anybody ready to jump ship on the read along?
The Gospel of John
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
The Other Side by Jim Pike
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin