Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Worldly Wise Vision Quests: Philip K. Dick's Final Journey

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Worldly Wise Vision Quests: Philip K. Dick's Final Journey

Article excerpt

Dick, Philip K. The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem. Annotations edited by Erik Davis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2011. 944 pp. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-547-54925-5. $40.00.

"I am a child trying to understand adult concepts," writes Philip K. Dick in The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, which nicely describes his reader's reaction to this most unusual, unlikely, and bizarre book. If Dick's claim isn't enough, consider the fact that these words appear on page 144, which is early in the Exegesis's literary sprawl (900 pages worth, which doesn't count notes, glossary, bibliography, or index), meaning that the reader will not soon reach the end of the perplexing metaphysical journey that Dick conducts in this mammoth contribution to American letters. At the same time, calling the Exegesis a book amounts to taking the easy way out, for this collection of diary entries, philosophical treatises, literary commentaries, and religious musings is unlike any volume that the reader has encountered before or since. Its pages reside between two covers, yes, but, beyond this fact, identifying the Exegesis's precise category resembles a parlor game that never ends because the rules remain murky and the objectives remain secret.

That the Exegesis may be unclassifiable has vexed reviewers since its 2011 publication, leading to hysterical proclamations about its status, perhaps best emblematized by Charles Platt's assessment for the Sunday New York Times that, "Dick ruminates, cogitates and associates freely from one topic to the next. He mulls the content of his dreams, descends into labyrinths of metaphysical hypotheses and (ironically) wonders how he can ever use this material to create a publishable book." Do you get the joke, the innuendo, the implication? That Dick doesn't create a publishable book out of the Exegesis's riot of observations, meditations, and caterwaulings because the Exegesis isn't a proper book anyway? Platt also suggests that the Exegesis may perform a disservice to whatever reputation Dick has cobbled together since his 1982 death, having been redeemed--thanks to enthusiastic critics, Hollywood filmmakers, and tireless scholars--from execrable pulp curio into literary impresario of paranoid worlds, uncertain futures, and shadowy realms that eloquently address our hopeless postmodern condition. For Platt, the Exegesis is a misguided effort to capitalize on the fame of a deceased American novelist who, while a good fiction writer, needed, at least in this case, better editors.

This reaction, curiously or not, misses the point. The attempt to impose order on the welter of journal entries, personal letters, dream fragments, and religious analyses forming the full Exegesis--at last count, more than 8,000 mostly handwritten pages--is a fruitless task, particularly considering their provenance. On February 20, 1974, while suffering an impacted wisdom tooth, Dick visited his dentist, received sodium pentothal to relieve the pain, and returned to his Fullerton, California, apartment to await the arrival of Darvon tablets, thus triggering a psycho-spiritual crisis lasting through March of that year. Delivered by a young woman wearing a golden-fish pendant, an early Christian symbol beloved by religiously inclined members of the counterculture, Dick, taking the tablets in hand, saw this ornament begin glowing with golden light. What happened next is anyone's guess, but Dick described himself as receiving a revelation of such force that he underwent anamnesis, the process of remembering past information and incarnations that Plato famously described in the fourth century BCE and that, according to Dick's own account, forced him to rediscover knowledge that he once possessed but had forgotten. Plato discusses anamnesis in two dialogues, Meno and Phaedo, but Dick, not to be outdone, began obsessively writing about this peculiar happening, which was not confined to a single event. …

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