Sunday, May 3, 2009

Prophets and Possession: PKD & Gnosticism

The amazing man known to us as Philip K. Dick was a great science fiction writer who also wrote about many different subjects about his own life. Philip Kindred Dick was born on 16 December, 1928 and died on 2 March 1982 at the age of 53. Philip K. Dick-why don't we call him PKD for this series was haunted by the lifelong trauma of his twin sister who passed away six weeks after they were born. Jane Charlotte Dick was the name of the twin sister. They were born to Dorothy Kindred Dick and Joseph Edgar Dick in Chicago. The twins were born prematurely and PKD blamed both of his parents for her loss and this intensified when they divorced when he was five years old. The theme of the "lost twin"or "phantom twin" and "twin-poled dilemmas" came out in many different ways in his work.

Besides science fiction PKD also wrote essays and many short stories. He had 36 books published in his lifetime and 121 short stories. PKD explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in his work. Other ideas he also explored were monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered states of consciousness. In his later works PKD focussed on his interest in metaphysics and theology. PKD often drew on his own real life experiences and explored drug use, paranoia and schizophrenia and transcendental experiences in such novels as A Scanner Darkly and VALIS. The novel The Man in the High Castle bridged the genres of alternate history and science fiction and won the Hugo award for the best science fiction novel of 1963. It portrayed life in the United States after it had lost to the Axis powers in World War II and the eastern half of the US was governed by Nazi Germany and the western half Imperial Japan. Flow My Tears the Policeman Said was about a celebrity who awakened in a parallel universe where no one knew who he was. This book won the John W. Campbell memorial award for the best science fiction novel of 1975. "I want to want to write about people I love and put them into a fictional world spun out of my mind, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards." "In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real." Although PKD spent most of his career as a writer in near poverty-nine of his stories have been adapted into popular movies since his death including Blade Runner (One of my all time favorite movies) the book version was called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report. In 2005 Time magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English language novels published since 1923. In 2007 PKD became the first science fiction writer to be included in the Library of Americas series.

I always thought it incredibly sad and yet somehow so ironic because of the nature of the subjects he wrote about that PKD didn't live to see Ridley Scott's Blade Runner completed. PKD died a little over three months before the movie was released in June of 1982. PKD's untimely death denied him the chance to have a taste of material wealth that would have been a great change from what he was used to-I do not believe he was at all a "thing" oriented person-but an "ideas" person-still though, what a change it would have been for a man who had been near homelessness many times. Besides a measure of material wealth I also wonder what he would have thought of the success of the movie-and other movies that were made out of his books in relation to the fact that he got people to think about some very deep topics. The nature of reality is one topic that also comes out in much of his work. I find PKD the man, his ideas and his life even more interesting than his books. He spent a great deal of his life battling mental instability, depression, paranoia, failed relationships and drug abuse. In the 1970s his California home became a crash pad for petty thieves and drug addicts-basically-lost people. This is probably because he was able to identify so well with being lost in the world. PKD married five times and had three children. Also in the 1970s his home was broken into. In a fascinating spiral of thoughts he first thought that perhaps it was a government job. This was during the Nixon years when paranoia was at an all time high. PKD was a very open, free and in many ways politically liberal man (although politics hardly defined him) who had grown up in Berkeley, California and although usually very poor in material things he was the kind of man who would give you the shirt off of his back if you were in need. He was certainly no stranger to drug use and he wondered if perhaps he had made it onto Tricky Dick's "enemies list." Then after a while he began to feel that he had burglarized his own home!

He thought that the reason he didn't remember robbing his own home was due to a blackout while on narcotics or the onset of mental illness. This incident in his life led to him writing the book, A Scanner Darkly. The title is a reference to a passage in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13, which states: "For we know in part, and we prophecy in part. But who that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I beame a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I was known." The books protagonist is required to view clips from his life on a "scanner", a holographic recorder projects. In Chapter 13 of the book, the protagonist muses that he has seen life with a scanner, but came no closer to properly perceiving his life than Saint Paul with his primitive mirror or glass. True understanding he suggests will only come when death is defeated. Many of his friends also thought he was the unhappiest man they had ever met. By far-the most interesting experiences in his relatively short life were yet to come.

In the early months of 1974 PKD experienced hallucinations, dreams, synchronicities and gnostic visions that he collectively thought of as 2-3-74 or shorthand for February/March 1974. PKD would spend the rest of his life attempting to understand the meaning of these events in a thousand page handwritten manuscript he came to call the Exegesis. Even when his fictional output slowed down he continued to work on his Exegesis every night-analyzing, sorting and interpreting through 2-3-74, as well as his published novels and short stories. Besides its function as mystical exegesis it also served as a daily diary along with self-analysis and a dream journal. Very seldom in the history of literature is their such an open window into the mind of a writer penetrating his deepest spirit and psychological space. PKD came to believe that an alien intelligence that could quite possibly be god was communicating with him through an interface called the Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS). This system took the form of a ship in outer space delivering highly concentrated doses of information to him through beams of pink light. He described it as an "invasion" of his consciousness that also "by a transcendentally rational mind" he also claimed to believe that co-existing within himself was a "plasmate." PKD believed that his "plasmate" was an early Christian who though very much alive in the first century was simultaneously interpenetrated into PKD's body and mind space. Like many of the protagonists from his own novels, PKD believed in the possibility that he was hallucinating his current life and was really living in another place and time.

In this case the Roman empire-this is the origin of the rather haunting phrase frequently found later in his writing-"The Empire Never Ended." He also experienced a series of voices that gave him information telling him things he couldn't possibly know otherwise, including a just-in-time lifesaving medical diagnosis of his newborn son whose life was saved by an emergency hernia operation. PKD was well aware of how insane this all sounded and wrote many different theories about what was happening to him in his Exegesis and why he came to believe in the veracity of his spiritual experiences. One "proof " of his sanity was his claim that crazy people don't doubt their own sanity. Those who knew him at the time living in a modest apartment in Santa Ana, California considered him an eccentric, disheveled, intense, personally unhygienic, gentle, arrogant, emotionally hairtriggered and religiously bizarre.-BUT quite possibly the most brilliant person they knew-and certainly not a delusional schizophrenic. Despite his numerous psychological problems his friends considered him to be quite sane. Four astonishing novels came out of the whole experience. Radio Free Albemuth was his first attempt to deal with VALIS through fiction. In this tale-of which two of the characters are Nicholas Brady and Ferris Fremont-there is yet a third -PKD himself! In an attempt to defeat Fremont-who is a thinly disguised Richard Nixon (would have made a perfect 43 later!) Brady and Dick embed messages in popular songs in order to oppose Fremont's plans to impose a police state. The novel is a great counter-cultural response to Watergate filled with mystical interpretations of rock music, shizphrenic delusions and alien technology. Radio Free Albemuth was PKD's most daring work and the most autobiographical.

VALIS published in 1981 was a complete re-working of his 2-3-74 experience. The protagonist who now undergoes Gnostic illumination is the paranoid schizophrenic twin of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick and is named "Horselover Fat" Philip being Greek for horselover and dick being German for thick or fat. VALIS is more solemn and serious than the previous works mentioned and includes many of the most important events of his spiritual life and is very autobiographical in nature. Here are some quotes by PKD about his actual VALIS experience: "March 18, 1974: It, from inside me, looked out and saw the world did not compute, that I-and it-had been lied to. It denied the reality, and power, and authenticity of the world, saying, 'This cannot exist, it cannot exist.' " "March 20, 1974: It seized me entirely, lifting me from the limitations of the space-time matrix; it mastered me as, at the same time, I knew that the world around me was cardboard, a fake. Through its power of perception I saw what really existed, and through its power of no-doubt decision, I acted to free myself. It took on in battle, as a champion of all human spirits in thrall, every evil, every Iron Imprisoning thing."

Here is a direct quote from the book VALIS where PKD links his dead twin to Sophia, the sister/bride of God who experiences exile in the material world: "The changing information which we experience as world is an unfolding narrative. It tells about the death of a woman. This woman, who died long ago, was one of the primordial twins. She was half of the divine syzgy. The purpose of the narrative is the recollection of her and her death. The Mind does not wish to forget her. Thus the ratiocination of the Brain consists of a permanent record of her existence, and, if read, would be understood that way. All the information processed by the Brain-experienced by us as the arrangement and rearranging fo physical objects-is an attempt at this preservation of her, stones and rocks and sticks and amoebae are traces of her.

Now-what does all of this have to do with Gnosticism? I hope to give just a little insight today and then follow up-hopefully very soon with some more on Gnostic thought and other things also. I am not quite sure how this "series" will go quite yet-its kind of experimental-yet I think extremely important. Some of the ideas in this series have actually been kicking around in my little skull for quite awhile. I have often wondered at the apparent-and very real insanity of the world around us. Here I am not talking about the "fun" crazy stuff-but the horrific stuff in our world. I often thought of the leaders of this planet-both seen and unseen -and wondered-"Aren't some of these men and women afraid of a possible afterlife and its consequences at all? It seems to me like if I were one of these people who is on a pacemaker no less-I would sure as hell be trying to make peace with my maker if you know what I mean (guess who I am thinking of:-)! Then in 2004 I started looking at the superb and thought-provoking work Jeff Wells has done at his blog (along with many wonderful people at the Rigorous Intuition forum)-and I began to think-"Oh I get it -well kind of anyway-why some of these despicable dealers of death in this world might not be so scared of consequences upon their departure from this earth.

Then a matter of nights ago-even though I have had Jeff's book, Rigorous Intuition: What You Don't Know Can't Hurt Them since December-I gave the book yet another read through-probably my third -and after this reading during a wide awake insomniac night-I felt I had an experience of gnosis (roughly-knowing, knowledge). I think Jeff is one of the few people out there who "get it" in what is a very small club of women and men who are concerned with the direction the world is heading and most importantly WHY-it is heading in the wrong direction. I wish in American high school civics class they would cut all books out of the curriculum and have two or three as required reading-one is Howard Zinn's -"A People's History of the United States" and another is Jeff's Rigorous Intuition-and maybe I can think of one or two more about the way our "republic" really works-a "representative democracy" my hairy derriere-please scuse the French. Well once again I am tired and rambling-let me give you all a quote out of Jeff's wonderful book (ps -think non human intelligences when reading this-it is kind of where I am going with my new "series"-Donald Schrum is a man who had a bizarre encounter in 1964 with non-human "beings" and also Carl Higdon who had a bizarre encounter in 1974)from pages 299 to 300: "A wild tale, and like all such tales, impossible to verify. Yet his [Higdon's] bullet was in his pocket where he placed it, folded like a glove. And to ask But was it real? is likely to miss the point. Fungus the Bogeyman returned to a home and family after a good night's scare. To what, and to whom, do these entities return? Does the yellow man in the black uniform ever say "Honey, I'm home!" Are there factories assembling the bizarre and ungainly robots of Schrum's and many others accounts? Why is there so little standardization of craft, and why are there so many different kinds of entities? Religion and occult lore have more to say in this regard than exopolitics, because the things are manifesting themselves for us. Higdon might not have been terrorized, but he was drained, left a blubbering mess, like so many who encounter the Other, The Otherworld, too, has those who play good cop/bad cop. So long as they feed."

I thought this quote of Jeff's fit perfectly with where I am going with the Gnosticism link and thoughts of good and bad "possessions" and contact with non-human intelligences. I hope this made some sense and will try to give some links-I wanted to call it a rough draft until I could check up on a few things. Thanks again for all of your wonderful and thoughtful comments! Carl Higdon Case Donald Schrum Case

PS-puter is doing the online/offline tango-I meant to say the Gnosticism part will be in the next article -I meant to have it in this one -but ran out of time-I also hope to get caught up with all the updated blogs tomorrow also! Peace and best to anyone stopping by!


Autumnforest said...

Jeez, sometimes you feel petty when you complain about your life when it could have been like PKD. I've often wondered whether people who are considered mentally ill are simply acutely aware of alternate places/times and such. I recall when I had my first panic attack when I was about 27. I didn't know what it was but at the time I felt as though for a few minutes I had glimpsed what reality is and that normally I was diverted from experiencing the bleakness of it all by distractions and business. It was as if a veil was lifted and I could see death.

Aggie said...

Slightly off subject, but I am wondering why he "blamed his parents" for the untimely death of his twin? Premature birth is hard to predict in this day and age. Let alone their time???

wise woman said...

That was an awesome read Devin!
I've seen PK Dick mentioned many times but have never read him. The quote about his sister/Sophia was superb & seemed to embrace the whole lopsidedness of this world.
Many thanks indeed,

Your poem & image below are wonderful.
ATB as always

Sub Specie Aeternitatis said...

Nice work Devin. Dick's work has always held a fascination for me, though mostly only in second-hand form, I've only read one book of his. I think I shall have to get on to more of his work in the future. The strength and sheer brilliance of his mind sure shone through in all the sci-fi fanzine write-ups I read back in the day.

I look forward to the rest of the series.

benjibopper said...

very interesting post. PKD was a fascinating character.

as for fear of what comes next, certainly the american bigshots these days seem all too comfortable with the idea that jesus will forgive them.

Anadæ Effro said...

Thank you, Devin, for this insightful biographical piece here on Philip K Dick, a man who was clearly more than just a sci-fi novelist extraordinaire. Many new (new to me anyway) attributes to his personality can be gleaned from this article. You even prompted me to track down his Tractates Cryptica Scriptura, the Exegesis from his "VALIS". When will anyone ever tackle THAT & bring IT to the Silver Screen?

Again, great article, Devin. Thanks. Have a wonderfully accelerated week, one plagued with no more 'puter cyclothymia! LOL! My wv is unfoo. Well that's me all over, unfooing what the Foo Fighters of WW II were (maybe) chasing down. LOL!

All of the very best,
Anadæ Effro (•:-)}

Devin said...

Autumnforest-I know exactly what you mean about complaining! PKD struggled all throughout his life and still managed to PRODUCE! I had my first panic attack at 15 years of age -it was sophomore year of high school-speech class-haha-I guess this one gets a lot of folks -but it really got me -as always I appreciate your great insights and enjoy your comments so much-all the best!!

Hi Aggie-nice as always to see your comments here!! I think with PKD there were many elements in the background of the family that led him to blame his parents-I wish I had a book Harlan Ellison?? I think did or somebody who did a wonderful bio of his life that explained a lot-agree about your thoughts on premie births-especially back then-all the best to you!!

wise woman thanks as always for stopping by!! I so very much appreciate your thoughts and comments! I would be remiss on taking the compliments however-I see myself more as a "transmittal device" hows that for a sci fi name??:-) who just points out the fantastic and mind blowing work other people do-like Jeff Wells, PKD-W Blake-on and on-thanks so very much for stopping by and so glad you enjoyed it -all the best!!

Sub Specie-I very much appreciate your input here and always happy to see a comment from you-I agree about PKDs brilliance and wonderful subject matter-he gave us all so much to think about-I hope as I go along in this series I am talented enough to do it justice-not sure I will be-I am tying several lines of thought from several different people and philosophical works to tie this all in and at some point if I get people confused I hope someone will point it out-I hope to have the next post here within a week-but not promising anything-all the best!!

benjiboppper-as always I am delighted to see your comment here!! I so agree about PKD being an interesting and wonderful character-his life and travails-I find as interesting as his books and thoughts on arcane matters!!now as for Jesus forgiving the pols-I wonder if its him they look to or-CTHULU:-) there hopefully will be much more about this as the series progresses God and the fates willing-all the best!!

Anadae -I am delighted to see your comment here-and thanks so very much for the Tractates Sciptura Link-haha I am going to need that and was wondering the best place to go on the web to find it-I think like you in that sense haha-I'd love to see someone put that on the ole silver screen :-)-Very intersting WV -maybe that means we are on track! if I do not have any more episodes of puter cyclothmia today as you delightfully put it-I hope to be about and researching and looking at updated blogs and the like-best to you as always!!

foam said...

actually my son did read howard zinn's book in his civics class ..
he loved that class.
but anyway ..
what a fascinating person pkd must have been. i'm looking forward to reading more in this series ..
i think it's always fascinating when people believe they hear the voice of god .

foam said...

well ..
i left a comment a while ago and it didn't post!
what really happened is that i probably didn't hit the publish comment button ..
anyway, pkd is a fascinating character. i don't know a whole lot about him. i've always thought that the little research of done on gnosticism was pretty fascinating. looking forward to reading more.

oh, btw .. my high school son did read the howard zinn book ..

Devin said...

foam delighted that you could stop by!! I should just take the damn comment moderation thing off-haven't had any trouble and have only deleted 3 comments-one by accident-I hope people do enjoy this series-I am not sure how fast it will be here-a little bit ago I thought I lost about 4 pages of notes-but found them luckily-otherwise I'd be really behind on it-that is cool your son read the Zinn book-it didn't occur to me until recently how much I like that book-it is easy to read understand and everything-and it paints a much truer portrait of American power than a lot of books I have read! Thanks again for stopping by and commenting-hope you enjoy your Mac:-)all the best to you!!

Devin said...

foam-or anyone else -I forgot to mention the title of a great biography of PKD that I read it is called "I Am Alive and you are dead"-A journey into the mind of Philip K Dick by Emmanuel Carrere-for some reason I kept on thinking the great Harlan Ellison wrote it and your comment just made me remember to look it up-so thanks for that and it is a great book for anyone wanting to read in great depth about his life-thanks again to everyone stopping by!!

Michael said...

Hi Devin. This was a wonderful read, and I know that PKD and VALIS have had a powerful effect on me and my compatriots, with "The Empire Never Ended" used again and again. I propose PKD had glimpsed a view beyond the global illusion (samsara) - through the scanner darkly.

VALIS seems to be drawn to people who question the reality of their experience, and like Dick, I say the world does not meet expectations, and if so... why not? I posted about a personal PKD like experience here that you might like.

Cheers, Michael

nolocontendere said...

"Blade Runner" is also one of my faves - certainly a timeless, moody classic, now fleshed out a little more after reading that Dick lost his twin sister, possibly the progenitor of his replicant invention.

Devin said...

Michael thanks so much for stopping by MFM - I really appreciate your thoughts and would love to read your experience!! thanks for the link and am glad youe enjoyed this article-all the best!!

nolocontendre-I am so glad you could stop by and give your thoughts on PKD and Blade Runner-very much appreciated!! best to you as always and I very much enjoyed your analysis of the movie and the replicants-all the best!!

Nina said...

what a sad and fascinating life he lead. it tugs at my heart to read about this man's life. the struggles with self, others, the insanity around him. the struggle to stay afloat financially. the struggle to make sense out of the nonsensical, find ones space. escaping into stories to create a world that suits his standards.

i can identify with him.

i agree with autumn about those who are considered to be mentally ill--being so sensitive as to being aware of other dimensions (i typed "away" instead of "aware" at first..hmm...maybe it really is that part of us that KNOWS we ARE away from our true natural [vibratory] state that causes these supposed "illnesses.) i also believe, due to the heightened sensitivity, the mind struggles to grasp reality and the insanity of it all, which is something i know i can lose myself in if i am not careful. i cannot tell you how many times i have had to throw up my hands and say "i just can't wrap my mind around it" and focus on something else.

i loved minority report. it is really unfortunate he was not able to live to see his success, although likely it probably wouldn't have meant nearly as much as seeing a world created to his standards.

thank you for this really interesting piece, devin. i've heard of rigorous intuition--i'll have to check it out. it (title) seems to come to me in some way now and then. looks like it's time to check into it.

Devin said...

Nina thanks so very much for your wonderful and touching comments about PKD and the other subjects you touched on. He struggled with financial issues his whole life-and as I tried to bring out in the article (not sure I did a good job with this part) it kills me that he didn't live to see Blade Runner released (and of course the others) and become such a success-the thoughts PKD had during his life are a lot of the very same thoughts that consume me-are we real? what is reality? is there another reality-behind the door in a manner of speaking? Luckily PKD left behind an enormous volume of work we can appreciate and for this we are very fortunate-I would also suggest visiting the links given by Anadae and Michael-I would also like to apologize for how slow the series is progressing-I have been having issues with exhaustion and the like and my brain just feels like cotton candy-hopefully I can move forward with it in a few days-the information going up at my other blog was written down over a week ago-that is the only reason I have new articles over there-best to you as always Nina!! and thanks again to everyone for your wonderful comments and links!!

Mike-Julie said...

Thank you for writing about PK Dick. His story is so interesting to read about. I have heard of twins feeling each others pain, he seemed to go through it all his life.

Devin said...

Hiya Mike and Julie-thanks so much for your comment! PKD did indeed never seem to get over the emotional or mental attachment to the twin sister he never knew-I would also like to take this time to apologize for the slowness of this series-although I know there are no blog rules about how fast one should go haha!! I have a million thoughts swimming in my brain with this and it might be into next week before the next post is here-god and the fates willing-as I have a busy weekend coming up and still having probs thinking "straight" :-) all the best to both of you!!

Ricardo said...

Devin I had no idea PKD was that generous. It is a tragedy that he died before his time and Blade Runner is really an amazing flick and I did enjoy the film adaptation of A Scanner Darkly.

Many of the greats suffered from some mental issues but in a strange way it made the writing better in many cases.

Devin said...

Ricardo I am delighted you could stop by and comment-i was just about to go off to bed and was happy I saw this as I may not be online much this weekend-from what I understand PKD was very generous-within his limited means of being generous-the links Michael and Anadae gave are great also-if you would like to check those out-I know whatcha mean what is it about
"suffering" and creating beautiful work??!! best to you as always and thanks so much for stopping by!!

Pisces Iscariot said...

I'm a long-time fan of PKD. You may enjoy this poem: Bring me the head of PKD which was inspired by the theft of the simulacrum head of the great man.

Leigh Russell said...

So informative, Dev. Ironic and sad too. Suffering so often seems to spark creativity - I'm thinking of Van Gogh and Mozart. Or maybe it's the other way round. Creative genuises don't fit in the conventional world because they aren't so-called 'normal'.

I wonder if you'd email to enquire why they can't dispatch my book before October when it's published in June... USA 5 months behind the rest of the world? Surely not!

Devin said...

Pisces and Leigh -thanks so much for stopping by!! That was a cool poem Pisces!! Leigh that seems to be a common theme between publishing between the UK and the USA-I have no idea why-but it was always that way with a magazine I used to buy religiously that was published there-I will see if I can get an answer-but when I ordered a book some time ago and had probs I emailed then I called-and the call patched through somewhere overseas and I could hardly understand the CSR-all the best to the both of you-thanks again for your comments!!

X. Dell said...

I have so many thoughts on Dick, and consequently of this post, that I could write for hours. But I won't.

This post really hits the major themes of his life. I remember reading about the burglary episode, the timing, and the paranoia that existed outside of himself--particularly in US Intel. Dick was friends with a minister ative in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many such people were targeted by COINTELPRO.

I've always wondered if he were merely empathizing with this friend (the speculation with respect to the government spying on him), or in some way creating, as a writer might, by exploring the various facets of himself, pushing himself onward. Surely, that's what the drugs were for.

I would have been curious to see if Dick would have liked any of the movies made from his stories. I've often said that I'd love to see a movie produced that matched the tone and nuance of Dick's visions. So ofen, they somehow turned into mindless action/violence flicks ("We Can Get It for You Wholesale"/Total Recall comes screeching to mind). At least Bladerunner captures Dick's ideology, and keeps that intact. The others, not so much. Basically, they seemed only to like his "high-concepts."

Devin said...

Thanks as always for stopping by Xdell!! Really appreciate your thoughts on COINTELPRO-I also thought your take on PKD empathizing with his friend very valuable and interesting-I so agree about the movies that is why Blade Runner is by far the best for me-I also want to apologize for my laziness as of late-I have been hit with a case of the summertime blahs like a punch to the gut-I hope to start an article tonight on drafts and have it ready to go by tomorrow-but not promising anything-as always thanks so very much for your thoughts and best to you as always!!