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The World According to Philip K.

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The World According to
Philip K. Dick
Edited by

Alexander Dunst
University of Paderborn, Germany


Stefan Schlensag
TU Dortmund University, Germany
Selection and editorial matter © Alexander Dunst and Stefan Schlensag
Individual chapters © Contributors 2015
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2015 978-1-137-41458-8
All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this
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save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the
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permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency,
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Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication
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The authors have asserted their rights to be identified as the authors of this
work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published 2015 by
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Palgrave Macmillan in the US is a division of St Martin’s Press LLC,
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ISBN 978-1-349-49032-5 ISBN 978-1-137-41459-5 (eBook)
DOI 10.1057/9781137414595
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The World According to Philip K. Dick : Future Matters / edited by Alexander
Dunst, Stefan Schlensag.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Dick, Philip K.—Criticism and interpretation. 2. Science fiction,
American—History and criticism. I. Dunst, Alexander, 1980– editor.
II. Schlensag, Stefan, editor.
PS3554.I3Z96 2015
813’.54—dc23 2014049661

Typeset by MPS Limited, Chennai, India.


List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments viii
Notes on Contributors ix

Introduction: Third Reality – On the Persistence of Philip K. Dick 1

Alexander Dunst
Part I History
1 Diagnosing Dick 13
Roger Luckhurst
2 ‘The Shock of Dysrecognition’: Biopolitical Subjects and
Drugs in Dick’s Science Fiction 30
Chris Rudge
3 Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 48
Fabienne Collignon
Part II Theory
4 Between Scanner and Object: Drugs and Ontology
in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly 69
Marcus Boon
5 From Here to California: Philip K. Dick, The Simulacra
and the Integration of ‘Germany’ 83
Laurence A. Rickels
6 Remember Tomorrow: Biopolitics of Time in the Early
Works of Philip K. Dick 100
Yari Lanci
Part III Adaptation
7 Dick without the Dick: Adaptation Studies and
Slipstream Cinema 119
Mark Bould
8 Mr Tagomi’s Planet: Philip K. Dick and Japanese
Speculative Fiction 137
Takayuki Tatsumi

vi Contents

9 On Three Comics Adaptations of Philip K. Dick 155

Stefan Schlensag
Part IV Exegesis
10 The Hymn of Philip K. Dick: Reading, Writing and
Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 173
Erik Davis
11 Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 192
Richard Doyle
12 From Exegesis to Ecology 209
James Burton

Select Bibliography 228

Index 232
List of Illustrations

9.1 Tony Parker et al, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,

Vol. 1 (Los Angeles: BOOM!, 2011), n.p. © Laura Coelho,
Christopher Dick and Isolde Hackett 161
9.2 Chris Roberson et al, Dust to Dust, no. 1 (Los Angeles:
BOOM!, 2010), n.p. © Laura Coelho, Christopher Dick
and Isolde Hackett 164
9.3 Francesco Matteuzzi and Pierluigi Ongarato, Philip K. Dick
(Padova: BeccoGiallo, 2012), 88–9, © BeccoGiallo S.r.I 168


Several of the chapters in this volume developed out of papers given

at a conference titled ‘Worlds Out of Joint: Reimagining Philip K. Dick’
and held at TU Dortmund University, Germany, in November 2012. The
editors would like to acknowledge the generous support of the German
Research Foundation (DFG) in funding the conference and thank the
staff and student helpers in Dortmund, especially Walter Grünzweig,
Angela Ronge, Jessica Sniezyk and Bianca Stöpel-Verhaaren, as well as
Damian Podlesny in Cracow, for making this event possible. We are also
grateful to our contributors for supporting this project with enthusiasm
and expertise, as well as to Julia Lünswilken for assistance in preparing
the manuscript.
The cover image of this volume shows the eye of a humanoid robot,
some may want to call it an android, modelled after Philip K. Dick. In
2006 the head was accidentally lost. Its whereabouts are still unknown.
The story of its disappearance is told by David Kleijwegt in his brilliant
documentary on Dick, The Owl in Daylight (2010). The editors hereby
thank David for the permission to use a still from his film.

Notes on Contributors

Marcus Boon is Professor of English at York University in Toronto. He

is the author of The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs (2002),
In Praise of Copying (2010), and co-author (with Timothy Morton and
Eric Cazdyn) of Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism and Critical Theory
(University of Chicago Press, forthcoming). He writes about music for
The Wire, Boing Boing, and others. He is currently working on a book
about music called Drone, or the Politics of Vibration, and a book of con-
versations with mathematician/composer Catherine Christer Hennix.
For more information see www.marcusboon.com.

Mark Bould is Reader in Film and Literature at the University of

the West of England, and co-editor of the journal Science Fiction Film
and Television. He is the author of Film Noir: From Berlin to Sin City
(2005), The Cinema of John Sayles: Lone Star (2009) and co-author of
The Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction (2011). He is co-editor
of Parietal Games: Critical Writings By and On M. John Harrison (2005),
The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (2009), Fifty Key Figures in
Science Fiction (2009), Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction (2009) and
Neo-Noir (2009). His most recent books are Solaris (2014), Africa SF
(2013) and Science Fiction: The Routledge Film Handbook (2012).

James Burton carries out interdisciplinary research in philosophy, lit-

erature and cultural/media studies, with particular interests in the roles
of fictionalizing and storytelling in culture and thought, especially in
the context of technological modernity. His forthcoming book The
Philosophy of Science Fiction (Bloomsbury) explores the contemporary
political and cultural value of Henri Bergson’s concept of fabulation,
primarily through an engagement with the science fiction of Philip
K. Dick. He has taught at Goldsmiths College, University of London,
and the universities of Kent (UK) and Klagenfurt (Austria) and is cur-
rently a fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin, where he
is working on a project titled ‘The Animation of Error’. Other research
interests include the theory of metafiction, Michel Serres’ parasitism,
philosophies of life, time and technology, and the concept of ecology.

Fabienne Collingnon is a lecturer in Contemporary Literature at the

University of Sheffield. Her research interests are the Cold War/state

x Notes on Contributors

of exception; weapons systems; theories of technology; the poetics of

space; gadget love; cyborg politics and critical theory. Her first mono-
graph, Rocket States: Atomic Weaponry and the Cultural Imagination, is out
with Bloomsbury. She has also published articles on Thomas Pynchon,
Jacques de Vaucanson and David Foster Wallace.

Erik Davis is an author, award-winning journalist and lecturer based

in San Francisco. He is the author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and
Mysticism in the Age of Information (1998), a cult classic of visionary
media studies that has been translated into five languages and will be
reissued in 2015 by North Atlantic. He also wrote The Visionary State: A
Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape (2006), and a 33 1/3 book
on Led Zeppelin’s fourth album (2005). His most recent book is Nomad
Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica (2010). His essays on music, media,
techno-culture and spirituality have appeared in dozens of books and
he has contributed to scores of publications. Davis has taught at UC
Berkeley, UC Davis, Rice University, the California Institute of Integral
Studies, and Esalen and is currently a doctoral candidate in religious
studies at Rice University.

Richard Doyle (aka ‘mobius’) has taught courses on Philip K. Dick

since 1994. Since reading the work of futurist Alvin Toffler, Doyle has
been on a scholarly and personal quest to understand the effects of
information technologies on the evolution of human culture. Since
completing a PhD at UC Berkeley and a post-doctoral fellowship at
MIT, he has received grants from the National Science Foundation
and written a trilogy of scholarly books on the effects of information
technologies on human evolution and the effects of language on con-
sciousness. His latest, Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants & The Evolution of
the Noösphere (2011), focuses on the co-evolution of humans with psy-
chedelic plants such as psilocybin, cannabis and ayahuasca. In 2014,
Professor Doyle offered a free seven-week ‘webinar’ devoted to the work
of Philip K. Dick, Radio Free Valis (available at: http://www.synchcast

Yari Lanci is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics at

Goldsmiths, University of London. His research project focuses on
current transformations of armed conflicts and their relation to new
regimes of capital accumulation. He is the author of Violence and
Vigilantism: the Case of Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ and co-editor (with
Sophie Fuggle and Martina Tazzioli) of Foucault and the History of Our
Present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
Notes on Contributors xi

Roger Luckhurst is Professor of Modern Literature at Birkbeck College,

University of London, and a leading critic in the field of science fiction
and related areas. He is the author of The Angle Between Two Walls: The
Fiction of J. G. Ballard (1997), The Invention of Telepathy (2002), Science
Fiction (2005), The Trauma Question (2008), The Mummy’s Curse: The True
History of Dark Fantasies (2012), and The Shining (2014). He is currently
writing the BFI Classic volume for Ridley Scott’s science fiction/horror
film Alien.

Laurence A. Rickels accepted the professorship in art and theory at the

Academy of Fine Arts Karlsruhe as successor to Klaus Theweleit after
teaching for thirty years at the University of California. He is the author of
Aberrations of Mourning (1988), The Case of California (1991), The Vampire
Lectures (1999) Nazi Psychoanalysis (vol. 1–3, 2002), The Devil Notebooks
(2008), Ulrike Ottinger. The Autobiography of Art Cinema (2008), and
I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick (2010). Rickels has also published numerous
essays and edited and co-edited several collections and special issues on
‘unmourning’, as he terms it, as well as on the cultural study of occult
and technical media. Rickels’s most recent study, SPECTRE, a double
reading of Ian Fleming and Melanie Klein, was published by Anti-
Oedipus Press (for more information visit www.larickels.com).

Chris Rudge is a PhD candidate and lecturer in the Department of

English at the University of Sydney, as well as a law graduate. His
research is animated by the conjunction in which practices of literary-
textual production intersect with the materiality of the human body.
His doctoral research examines twentieth-century writers Aldous
Huxley and Philip K. Dick’s uses of mind-altering drugs, experiences of
affective trauma, engagements with psychiatry and subjection to biopo-
litical power, mapping connections between these writers’ biographical
histories and their literary and prose oeuvres. Chris is also a member of
the Biopolitics of Science Research Network, based at the University of
Sydney, and the co-organizer of the Philip K. Dick Reading Group, based
at the University of NSW.

Stefan Schlensag studied English Literature/Cultural Studies, American

Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Bochum
and at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has been a lecturer
in the Department of English and American Studies at Dortmund
University since 2002 and specializes in aspects of nineteenth-century
American and English literature and contemporary film, subcultures
and popular music. He is currently doing research on writers, painters,
xii Notes on Contributors

photographers, musicians and performing artists who have their roots

in the Punk scene of the 1970s.

Takayuki Tatsumi is a literary critic and professor of American lit-

erature and Critical Theory at Keio University, Tokyo. He has authored
19 books, among which are the award-winning Cyberpunk America
(1988) and Full Metal Apache: Transactions between Cyberpunk Japan
and Avant-Pop America (2006). He co-edited the Japanese Science Fiction
issue of Science-Fiction Studies (2002) and Robot Ghosts, Wired Dreams:
Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime (2007). In 1994 he won
the 5th Pioneer Award (SFRA) with an essay in collaboration with
Larry McCaffery, ‘Towards the Theoretical Frontiers of Fiction: From
Metafiction and Cyberpunk through Avant-Pop’ (1993), and in 2001
the 21st Japan SF Grand Prize (SFWJ) with his edited anthology Japanese
SF Controversies: 1957–1997 (2000).
Introduction: Third Reality – On
the Persistence of Philip K. Dick
Alexander Dunst

In a letter dated 6 October 1972, Philip K. Dick reflects on life in

Southern California and the merits of science fiction (sf) to arrive at a
diagnosis of our historical present:

What is new in our time is that we are beginning to see the

plastic, trembling, quality of the koinos kosmos – which scares
us, its insubstantiality – and the more-than-mere-vapor quality
of the hallucination. Like [sf], a third reality is formed halfway

In this passage, Dick reprises themes and concepts that had long been
central to his writing, the distinction between idios and koinos kosmos
(or private versus shared reality) and their disruption by what initially
appeared a hallucination, but whose status Dick frequently left unde-
cided. Yet the precise role played here by sf, and its consequences, are
worth noting. Objective fact and subjective hallucination, reality and
illusion, are unsettled by a third that at once disturbs the opposition
between them and each term on its own. So far does Dick take their
questioning that mad apparition is invested with substance and inter-
subjectivity utterly deprived of it.
By the time Dick wrote this letter, such reversals were an established fea-
ture of his fiction, whether in early novels such as Solar Lottery (1955), the
drug-induced anomie of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965),
Ubik’s ‘half-life’ on the edge of death (1969), or A Scanner Darkly (1977),
in which a camera records what Bob Arctor merely seems to fantasize.
More than any other US-American author in the twentieth century
Dick questioned the boundaries between what we consider authentic
and inauthentic, human or machine, what appears to be an object and
2 The World According to Philip K. Dick

what claims existence as a subject. What we have come to mean when

we speak of Dick’s sf is thus precisely this breakdown of subject and
object as stable opposition. Yet Dick’s concept of a ‘third reality’ pre-
sents a further evolution of his writing, what he described late in his life
as the creation of a ‘fictionalizing philosopher’.2 Sf does not belong to
either individual imagination or the social in this conception. Nor does
sf merely represent a ‘third reality,’ a reality ‘both true and untrue at
any given moment,’ he tells us.3 Rather, sf is ‘formed halfway between’
the private and the social, that is to say, is constituted in the space of
their unsettling. Yet sf is not only situated in-between but rather is this
third reality itself. ‘Like [sf], a third reality,’ Dick writes. That is to say:
sf constitutes the mechanism and materiality of the disruption that
afflicts idios and koinos kosmos alike in our age.
To conceive of sf in this manner means to accord literature an agency
that cannot be reduced to its author. As Dick states in the ‘Exegesis,’
the letters and diary entries that he wrote between undergoing a series
of mystical experiences in 1974 and his premature death, at the age of
53, in 1982: ‘Many people have sat at this typewriter, using my fingers.
Writing my books.’4 Dick develops such a conception of writing, and
of information more generally, at length in the roughly 8,000 pages
that constitute the unabridged and largely unpublished length of the
‘Exegesis’. In fact, this epic journey through the final years of his life
leads him to an understanding of the universe as ‘living information’.
Dick’s inspiration may be biblical in part, but his spirituality is also very
much of his time. In his contribution to this volume, Erik Davis situ-
ates the ‘Exegesis’ in the study of alternative religion and esotericism
in post-war America before focusing on Dick’s contemporary rework-
ing of an ancient Gnostic text, the so-called Hymn of the Soul. For all
of its idiosyncrasy, Davis shows how the ‘Exegesis’ is representative
of a bohemian milieu of ‘seekers’ that combined a countercultural
canon of diverse spiritual traditions for a religious reinvention outside
of established institutions. In the ‘Exegesis,’ Dick traces his peculiar
ontology of living information to a pink light that imparted a stream
of knowledge to him at the onset of his visions, an image that retro-
spectively evokes wireless communication and the World Wide Web.5
Taking Dick’s ‘uncanny prescience about the informatic planet we were
about to become’ (p. 192) as his starting point, Richard Doyle explores
what is feels like to read Dick’s sprawling text, and how the practice
of its writing became at once a mystical journey for its author and
an investigation into the fate of the (post)human subject in an age
Intoduction 3

of ever-multiplying information and still finite attention. What does

it mean to equate the universe with information, and to conceive of
both, as Dick does, as ‘alive and living’?6 James Burton explores Dick’s
hypothesis via an ecological thinking that returns the ‘Exegesis’ to the
complex media environment from which it emerges. Observing Dick’s
experimental practice of compiling and rearranging pre-existing ideas,
experiences and objects, Burton finds precursors for his method in
Dadaist assemblages. He argues that the ‘Exegesis’ ultimately becomes
what it had set out to describe: a ‘Vast Active Living Intelligence System’
(or VALIS), the potentially extraterrestrial or god-like entity Dick saw as
the source of his experiences.
In a well-known early assessment, Fredric Jameson argued that Dick’s
fiction at times transcended modernity’s establishing dichotomy of sub-
ject and object.7 Extending Jameson’s insight, Marcus Boon’s reading of
A Scanner Darkly inquires into what Dick’s conception of psychoactive
drugs may contribute to what has become known as ‘object-oriented
ontology,’ a critical current that aims at a systematic destabilization of
such oppositions. Appearing as both external object and internal agent,
drugs are experienced without sensory mediation and therefore ques-
tion the line that separates the Kantian thing in itself from our percep-
tion of it. Boon argues that Dick’s ‘gnostic objects,’ whether they are
drugs or other commodities, not only appear fake but also expose the
illusory nature of reality itself, opening the way for the emergence of a
novel truth. Taken together, the contributions by Boon, Burton, Davis
and Doyle make for a fascinating pilgrimage through the final years of
Dick’s thought and establish the ‘Exegesis’ as a key text for understand-
ing our age, in which the digital and biological increasingly merge.8
Without precluding the discussions that follow in these essays, I want
to indicate some of the characteristics with which Dick imbues informa-
tion before returning to its subcategory of sf. Not only does informa-
tion construct order out of chaos for Dick, but, more importantly, it
also writes or reproduces itself: ‘[W]ith each copy printed it replicates
itself... In addition to replicating itself in each copy of the book, it can
also enter the head of each human who reads it. This is a life form.’9 To
say that information is alive thus means to speak of its real effects,
to place the emphasis on the practice and pragmatics of writing, and to
shift the focus from what information is to what it does. Information,
and none more so than literature, circulates and affects – it may move
us to tears, of joy or sorrow, or convince us to act where we did not, or
did so differently, before.
4 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Notwithstanding its further elaboration in the ‘Exegesis,’ the seeds of

this understanding are present in some of Dick’s much earlier writing.
As he explained in a letter to his then editor, Eleanor Dimoff, in 1960,
who despite her admiration for Dick’s storytelling powers ultimately
rejected a number of his so-called ‘realist’ or ‘mainstream’ novels at the
time: ‘I believe that my weakness is that I am too much in the hands
of my material. It is too real to me. Too convincing. Not “fictitious”
enough.’10 The stories Dick tells, which, like his characters, were fre-
quently based on his own life experience, are always more or less out
of control – are only tamed temporarily in the act of writing and in
convoluted plots that struggle to contain his exuberant imagination. As
in his later conception of ‘living information,’ Dick accords literature
an agency of its own. Except that what Dick sees as his weakness may
for us today be his strength. For if we want to understand literature,
and the sf with which Dick made his name, as that which disrupts, that
unsettles the two and creates a ‘third reality’ halfway between, we need
to take seriously his insistence that literature is not merely fictional, or,
as he writes, ‘not “fictitious” enough’. Dick’s peculiar equation of the
universe and its writing, the real and the symbolic, tells us something
about a world saturated with information but can also help us reorien-
tate the study of literature. Whatever else his fiction and non-fiction
may become in the twenty-first century, Dick’s oeuvre also writes an
ontology of literature. This ontology strains against fiction’s reduction
to meaning and textuality, resists final interpretation, and lifts literature
from the lofty realms of the imagination to place it squarely back in
our everyday lives. At a time when Google and Facebook (not to speak
of the National Security Agency (NSA)) routinely scan our communica-
tions and predictive text prefigures our thoughts, reading and writing
become part and parcel of Dick’s third reality, a reality co-constituted
by pixels and bodies. That Dick may prove to be our best guide to this
world is testified by his novels and short stories, diaries and essays, a
literature as much written by the android or cyborg as he so famously
wrote about them.
This is not to say that Dick’s claims about extraterrestrials and streams
of pink light aren’t also rather, shall we say, wacky? What is glaringly
obvious to the novice reader may sometimes fade into the background
for those of us who keep returning to him year after year. But even then
one is frequently struck by the sheer outrageousness of Dick’s writing,
and nowhere more so than in the ‘Exegesis’. One of my favorite pas-
sages in this text brings together speculation about VALIS and a very
ordinary culinary delight:
Intoduction 5

It [VALIS] had, so to speak, landed here. As with Runciter’s words in

Ubik, it was penetrating through from – this is the best formulation
of all – from behind. Reality is constructed like a ham sandwich; man
is one slice of bread, then comes the slice of ham which is the world,
then the second slice of bread which is God.11

If it’s difficult to refrain from doubting Dick’s sanity at times, we

should keep in mind that psychological assessments only take us so
far. For one, judging an author’s mental health, or lack thereof, tells us
relatively little about his fictions. As Roger Luckhurst argues, such diag-
noses also fail to understand that psychiatry does not deal in objective
facts but proposes categories that are themselves constantly evolving
and rarely in such a dramatic fashion as during Dick’s lifetime, when
psychodynamic approaches were usurped by a biomedical paradigm
that still reigns today. Rather than describing once and for all the con-
dition from which a person suffers, psychiatric labels allow people to
understand themselves in specific ways, and with new diagnoses new
avenues of action and novel self-definitions come into being. This
insight allows Luckhurst to read Dick’s life and work as a creative and
often ironic engagement with the labels that some critics have applied
to him. In fact, we may take Luckhurst’s argument a step further to say
that not only is it problematic to diagnose Dick but that the question
of his madness, for all its enduring popularity, presents critics with a
pseudo-problem. The implication in these discussions of Dick’s sanity
or insanity is that the charge of mental illness somehow devalues the
person and his work. In contrast to such moralistic judgments, which
perpetuate modernity’s ceaseless policing of the boundaries between
reason and unreason, the case should be made that Dick’s madness –
from recurring hallucinations to his at times intense paranoia and
anxiety – lies at the root of much that makes his work so insightful.
For all the personal suffering his mental troubles undoubtedly caused
him, his friends and his family, it is the profound decentering of Dick’s
psyche that produces an equally decentered view of nature, technology,
and the self. To deny or denigrate the former means to misunderstand
both the sources and the consequences of the latter.
What is true for Dick’s mental state applies equally to his drug use,
which usually has been the occasion of gossip rather than reasoned
debate. One way to circumvent such a discourse would be to leave
Dick’s life aside and to focus solely on the representation of drugs in
his writing. Yet authorial biography, Chris Rudge writes, offers a way
into a materialist history of literature, in which Dick’s drug habit and
6 The World According to Philip K. Dick

philosophy speak of the rapid expansion of America’s pharmaceutical

industry and medical psychiatry after World War II. Dick’s writing is at
once fuelled by drugs out of sheer economic necessity (primarily the
amphetamines prescribed to millions of Americans as antidepressants
since the 1950s) and acts as a literary trope that engages with the biopo-
litical configurations brought into being by them.
An author who knew very well the limits of control he exercised over
his material – in part due to the drugs that sustained what he viewed
as a form of automatic writing – Dick created stories that have often
resisted their control by others. Hollywood regularly transforms his
short stories and novels into action adventures that are even accompa-
nied by their own comic book versions, and Dick’s children have turned
his estate into a highly profitable business venture. But, as Mark Bould
and Stefan Schlensag show in essays on cinematic and comics adapta-
tions, a Dickian sensibility has now spread beyond his fictions as Dick’s
imaginative world becomes our reality. Noting that Hollywood cinema
turns Dick’s emasculated protagonists into hyper-masculine action
heroes portrayed by actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Colin
Farrell, Bould finds the true heirs to his weird tales in the ‘slipstream
cinema’ of independent film. His reading of Special (USA, 2006) and Big
Man Japan (Japan, 2007) also highlights the global resonance of Dick’s
stories in a late capitalism that leaves ‘ordinary people caught up in a
world full of weirdness beyond their control or understanding’ (p. 133).
Ever since the release of Blade Runner in 1982, Hollywood has found
another outlet for its cinematic adaptations in comic book tie-ins. Yet
these are not the only graphic takes on Dick. Stefan Schlensag traces this
little-known history through some of the masters of the so-called ninth
art, from Art Spiegelman to Moebius and Robert Crumb, and analyzes
two recent examples: the Dust to Dust series, a prequel to Do Androids
Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), and Philip K. Dick, by the Italian artists
Francesco Mateuzzi and Pierluigi Ongarato. Both combine the unique
properties of comics – and Dickian – storytelling, in which the bounda-
ries between what is seen and thought, inside and outside, remain fluid.
Thus, these comics live up to Dick’s aforementioned postulate that fic-
tion may be ‘both true and untrue at any given moment’.12
As these examples indicate, Dick’s readership has become increasingly
global. Not only have his books been translated into many languages –
into Portuguese and Japanese, Finnish and Hebrew, to mention just
a few – but they have also been reworked by different national tradi-
tions, standing as an emblem of what speculative literature may be and
do. At the same time, we know very little about how Dick has been
Intoduction 7

understood abroad, or how his fictions have been transformed in trans-

lation and have reshaped literary and cultural traditions. Much more
work needs to be done if a global history of (Dick’s) sf is to be written.
In time, Takayuki Tatsumi’s essay on Dick’s metamorphosis in, and of,
Japan may well come to function as a model for such an undertaking.
Reading Dick’s impact on leading Japanese authors alongside his own
involvement as a fan and critic in an increasingly transnational sf cul-
ture, Tatsumi shows how Dick’s novels have been an important part of
Japan’s sf landscape since its inception in the 1950s. Over the course
of half a century, Dick has been productively reinterpreted as a surreal-
ist by authors such as Yoshio Aramaki and Chiaki Kawamata, but his
androids have also spoken to Japan’s post-war reality, with its implanted
memories of US-led democracy and competitive capitalism.
This peculiar fate is, of course, not confined to Japan alone. Germany,
where I write this introduction and where the transnational links
between Austrian, German and Polish fans of a US-American sf author
provided the original impetus for both an international conference and
the production of this volume, underwent a similar integration. It is to
a decisive aspect of this integration and a further instance of the result-
ing transnational flows that Laurence Rickels turns in his contribution.
If Dick has by now become a global signifier, then so has California:
from the Bay Area where he spent most of his childhood and youth
to the suburban Los Angeles of his later years. As Erik Davis writes in a
phrase that combines, once again, the biological and the informational
codes of our technological age, Dick’s 1970s California became ‘the petri
dish of our digital age’.13 By then, Dick had already integrated the US
into Japan and Germany in the alternative history of The Man in the
High Castle (1962) and Germany into the USEA of The Simulacra. What
Rickels, himself a Californian who now makes a home in Germany,
traces through a reading of Dick’s fiction alongside D. W. Winnicott
and Melanie Klein is the psychological and cultural incorporation of
Germany and its sf into America. Wernher von Braun, Disney and NASA’s
space program are its vectors and mourning becomes the cure for the
psychopathic violence of National Socialism.
The common denominator of these forces and their analysis in this
volume can be found in the Cold War, a global yet American project
par excellence.14 As our understanding of this era continues to morph
amidst continuous rewritings, both by scholars and in the everyday
reality of the War on Terror and related states of exception, Dick’s
work has much to tell us about its cultural history and our present
condition. Fabienne Collignon’s essay on Ubik’s Cold War imaginary
8 The World According to Philip K. Dick

contributes to our understanding by taking seriously what Dick, like

Thomas Pynchon or Kurt Vonnegut, took seriously – the metaphor
that gave the era its name. The novel’s ‘half-life,’ in which the recently
deceased are preserved in cryogenic suspension between their first and
second passing, literalizes the deathly specter of the atom bomb and the
delivery system in whose development von Braun was so instrumental:
the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) stored at sub-zero tem-
peratures. Under such conditions, life becomes indistinguishable from
death, and any outside – from Cold War calculation to Ubik’s entropic
countdown – returns us to an inside. Where Collignon’s emphasis lies
on a Cold War that may or may not have ended, Yari Lanci turns to
Dick’s short stories and novels of the 1950s, with their prescient dissec-
tion of a contemporary ‘biopolitics of time’. Applying Michel Foucault
and Marx’s labour theory of value to Dick, Lanci reads his fictions of
precognition, among them ‘The Variable Man’ (1953), ‘The Golden
Man’ (1954), and The World Jones Made (1956), as a challenge to the
increasing colonization of future time and the ensuing neutralization
of political alternatives in neoliberal economies of debt and financial
As I’ve tried to show in this introduction, Dick conceived of informa-
tion, and sf in particular, as a force that intervenes, that acts and creates.
In this view, sf cannot be reduced to symbolic expression but forms a
‘third reality’ that brings together materiality and metaphors, agency
and ideas in a way that disrupts our cherished distinction of object and
subject, real and imaginary. The 12 contributions assembled here take
such a conception as their starting point for an exploration that anchors
Dick’s life and writings in the material circumstances that inform the
politics, culture and society of our time. While they span six decades
and much of the globe, these essays also concentrate on Dick’s sf and
‘The Exegesis’ at the expense of his early non-sf writings. This focus
stems from our belief that it was in sf that Dick found the resources
that his exuberant imagination demanded. Dick’s early novels, most
of which were published only posthumously, are at points funny and
observant, and will continue to provide insight to students of Dick and
post-war US culture. Yet, as Christopher Palmer has written, ‘what is
most characteristically Dickian in Dick’s fiction’ is undoubtedly his sci-
ence fiction.15
Our approach to Dick aims to forge new pathways through an oeuvre
that may be the most frequently discussed of any sf writer – in and
outside academia, within the US and possibly beyond. Introducing a
special issue of Science Fiction Studies dedicated to Dick in 1975, Darko
Suvin wrote that ‘Dick seems to be at the center of a small hurricane
Intoduction 9

of discovery and praise’ and noted: ‘in France there is already at least
one dissertation on him’.16 The field’s leading periodical ever since,
Science Fiction Studies, had only been founded in the previous year,
so that Dick’s academic reception in many ways runs concurrently
with the establishment of the subdiscipline which gave the journal its
name. Little did Suvin, one of the most astute of a first generation of
Dick scholars, know about the size to which this ‘small hurricane of
discovery and praise’ would swell, and the persistence of Philip K. Dick.
Sf, and Philip K. Dick’s place within it, has changed quite dramatically
since this time. Both have become increasingly integrated into main-
stream culture and, as a consequence, so has sf scholarship. In 2007,
the initial volume of Dick’s selected novels was published in the Library
of America, finding its place between the plays of Thornton Wilder
and Jack Kerouac’s road novels, and making him the first sf writer to
be canonized in this manner. Today, recognition of his centrality to
contemporary culture arrives with increasing frequency, sometimes in
unexpected and even sinister ways. Edward Snowden’s revelations of
the NSA’s mass surveillance also exposed plans for the facial recognition
of webcam users that were inspired by Steven Spielberg’s 2002 adapta-
tion of a Dick short story: in the words of one NSA document, ‘[T]hink
Tom Cruise in Minority Report.’.17
Dick would have been appalled, but maybe also strangely thrilled – he
was rarely a man of unalloyed emotions – by the reach of his imagina-
tion. In any case, the scale of NSA eavesdropping would have come as
no surprise to an author whose fiction shows a keen understanding of
the present, and potential future, manifestations of political control.
Biopolitical regimes thus form one of this volume’s areas of interest,
alongside ‘object-oriented ontology,’ adaptation and translation stud-
ies, Cold War culture and explorations of the ‘Exegesis’. The essays that
follow make first inroads into these aspects of Dick’s oeuvre, and it is
our hope that many more scholars and fans will follow and cross these
paths in the years to come.

1 Letter to Dorothy Kindred Dick, 6 October 1972. Box 23, Philip K. Dick
Collection, California State University, Fullerton. Quoted in: Paul Williams,
‘The True Stories of Philip K. Dick,’ Rolling Stone, 6 November 1975, 94.
2 Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan
Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 693.
10 The World According to Philip K. Dick

3 Philip K. Dick, Letter to Dorothy Kindred Dick, 6 October 1972, in The Dark
Haired Girl (Willimantic, CT: Kiesing, 1988), 96.
4 Dick, The Exegesis, 22. At 900 pages, this edition is the first representative
selection of excerpts from these diaries. The full-length, unpublished manu-
script, parts of which are now transcribed and annotated, others of which are
waiting for volunteers to continue with this work, can be accessed at: http://
zebrapedia.psu.edu. In what follows, the 2011 selections are referred to as
Exegesis, and the entire text as ‘Exegesis,’ in this volume.
5 Dick often referred to this first period of his visions as ‘2-3-74,’ for February
and March of that year.
6 Dick, The Exegesis, 805.
7 Fredric Jameson, ‘Philip K. Dick, In Memoriam,’ in Archaeologies of the
Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, 2005), 350.
8 See Donna J. Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and
Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ in Simians, Cyborgs, and
Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 164.
9 Dick, The Exegesis, 330.
10 Philip K. Dick, The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick, 1938–1971 (Grass Valley,
CA: Underwood, 1996), 58.
11 Dick, The Exegesis, 272.
12 Letter to Dorothy Kindred Dick, 6 October 1972.
13 Erik Davis, footnote, in Dick, The Exegesis, 19.
14 See Anders Stephanson, ‘Cold War Degree Zero,’ in Uncertain Empire:
American History and the Idea of the Cold War, ed. Joel Isaac and Duncan Bell
(Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012), 19–49.
15 Christopher Palmer, Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern
(Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003), 4.
16 Darko Suvin, ‘Editorial Note,’ in ‘The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick,’ spe-
cial issue of Science Fiction Studies 2, no. 1 (March 1975), 3.
17 Spencer Ackerman and James Ball, ‘Optic Nerve: Millions of Yahoo Webcam
Images Intercepted by GCHQ,’ The Guardian (28 February 2014), http://www
Part I
Diagnosing Dick
Roger Luckhurst

In an essay in The Psychologist journal in 2003 entitled ‘Beliefs About

Delusions,’ the authors introduce their discussion with two incidents
from 1981: first, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan by the
delusional John Hinckley; and secondly, a few weeks later, the publication
of Philip K. Dick’s novel VALIS. This book is described as ‘a novel based on
delusions resulting from his own psychotic breakdown’. For professional
psychologists unfamiliar with Philip K. Dick, there is a helpful dialogue
box at the foot of the opening page about the author, which explains:
‘There are multiple reasons for Dick’s bizarre beliefs, given his share of
trauma, phobias, and drug abuse, but it is likely that many of the delu-
sions he wrote about stemmed from psychotic episodes he experienced
as a sufferer and as an observer of others. This alone makes his work of
great psychological interest.’1 They also register their surprise that a pulp
science fiction (sf) author seemed to be conversant with the psychological
theories of Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria, amongst others.
Interpreting the work of Philip Dick often falls into the mode of
diagnosing the author. This is the occupational hazard of biography, of
course, which seeks authority for interpretation by positing etiologies
for texts as if they were determined solely by personal circumstances
or medical or psychological conditions. This has been exaggerated in
Dick’s case by his almost lifelong engagement with psychiatric services,
various forms of psychotherapy, and a voracious enthusiasm for mul-
tiple and often contradictory self-diagnoses. Dick’s wild epistemologi-
cal ventures were not just typically Californian: they were also always
relentlessly diagnostic. An outline of his life can be narrated by pro-
gressing from one diagnosis to another.
We know, for instance, that he was treated for phobic anxiety and
tachycardia by a Jungian psychotherapist in the 1940s, on the insistence
14 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of his mother, and given low doses of the amphetamine semoxydrine

for the same phobic condition in the 1950s. He also took psychiatric
tests when military service became a prospect, including the Minnesota
Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the questionnaire introduced in
1939 to assess personality type and psychopathology, and which had
famously diagnosed two million prospective troops as ‘neurotic’.
Dick himself listed several major breakdowns, the first at the age of
19 at the commencement of his studies at the University of California,
Berkeley. In 1965, Dick diagnosed himself as a ‘schizoid affective’ with
a ‘preschizophrenic personality’ from early childhood. His breakdown
at Berkeley was not a retreat from reality, he insisted, but rather ‘the
breaking out of reality all around him; its presence, not its absence
from his vicinity’.2 Dick claimed to his third wife, Anne, who was a
trained psychologist and the widow of a man who had died in an asy-
lum, that this was when he had first been diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Schizophrenia haunted the family: his aunt, Marion, was diagnosed as
a catatonic schizophrenic and died in 1953. Dick then had a succession
of breakdowns following the failure of his third, fourth and fifth mar-
riages. In 1963, having been menaced by the vision of a malign iron god
in the sky, Lawrence Sutin suggests that Dick was diagnosed with manic
depression. At one of his graphomaniac peaks, Dick published Martian
Time-Slip, a science fictional speculation on schizophrenic and autistic
time-sense, and Clans of the Alphane Moon, with a plot that depends on
a weird, half-satirical, half-serious use of the psychiatric nosology of
the psychoses. Dick wrote a highly informed essay on schizophrenia in
1965 and his biographer Emmanuel Carrère reads Do Androids Dream
of Electric Sheep? as an investigation of the schizoid state of suppressed
or robotic affect.3 In 1967, dosed up with Ritalin and his own impres-
sive self-administered array of creatively sourced amphetamines, Dick
ended up hospitalized as paranoid or ‘borderline psychotic’. After his
suicide attempt in May 1970, his admission to the psych wards in Marin
County General Psychiatric Hospital and Ross Psychiatric Clinic was
attributed to what we would now call Drug-Induced Psychosis, having
reached a crescendo of paranoid and persecutory complexes. In 1971,
Dick was examined in Orange County Mental Hospital and diagnosed
with manic depression. Another suicide attempt after a two-week disso-
ciative, amnesiac fugue in Vancouver in 1972 landed him in the notori-
ous X-Kalay drug rehabilitation center and then, following his return to
California, he underwent treatment for symptoms variously diagnosed
as manic depression, mood disorder, anxiety including agoraphobia,
and also a bipolar condition. Dick satirized much of this period of his
Diagnosing Dick 15

life in A Scanner Darkly, including a conspiratorial account of drug reha-

bilitation, and the shouty Zionist therapist in VALIS was based on the
real-life Dr Barry Spatz, who treated him at the time. The critical events
of ‘2-3-74,’ when Dick claimed to have a life-changing spiritual encoun-
ter with the god-like ‘Vast Active Living Information System’ (or VALIS),
which inspired his eponymous novel, occurred when Dick was on the
antipsychotic drug lithium and heavily dosed with painkillers after
dental treatment. Although Dick once commented that he ‘suffered
total psychosis in 3-74,’ he initially appeared keener to interpret these
events in a theological rather than psychiatric frame, although the latter
was never far away. The ‘Exegesis,’ his obsessive graphomaniac working
over of this experience, constantly refers to psychiatric and pharmaco-
logical frameworks. Within a month of these ‘spiritual’ events, however,
Dick was an earnest believer in the biochemical theories of the double
brain advocated and popularized by Dr Robert Ornstein, a psychologist
at the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, where Dick had previously
been institutionalized. As if reverting to the ‘double brain’ theories that
informed Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dick believed
he was occupied by other personalities or selves: fictions such as VALIS
or Radio Free Albemuth openly split the character named as ‘Philip Dick’
into two or more versions.4 He started dosing himself with massive
amounts of vitamins to stabilize his bicameral imbalances. ‘Mental
illness,’ he declared in his speech ‘The Android and the Human,’ ‘is a
biochemical phenomenon’.5
The unending self-analysis that constitutes the ‘Exegesis’ writ-
ings offer fascinating insights into the constantly shifting diagnostic
language Dick brought to bear on himself. In a section entitled ‘A
Conversation with Oneself about Drugs and Psychosis,’ Dick’s cracked
Socratic dialogue runs:

Q: Why would I seek the experience again if it was repressed contents

breaking through? ...
A: I was occluded to my own best interests. I liked being high.
Q: Oh? “high”? Does psychosis equal high?
A: Mania. I am manic depressive.
Q: & schizophrenic? One is extraverted & one is introverted. Please
A: Mixed or “borderline” psychosis.
Q: No, it was florid schizophrenia with religious coloration. Not
A: Catatonic excitement, then.
16 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Q: So the OCMH [Orange County Medical Hospital] diagnosis was

incorrect? Not manic depressive?
A: That is so. Incorrect.
Q: Why, then, was the onset one in which thought came faster &
faster? That is mania.
A: The lithium would have blocked mania. I was lithium toxic.
Q: Then it wasn’t schizophrenia; it was chemical toxicity.
A: Perhaps. A combination. Plus the orthomolecular ws [water-
soluble] vitamins.6

The dialogue suggests how tempted Dick was by the language of diag-
nosis and simultaneously how much he wished to resist it, to fight
its pseudo-objectivity, resulting in what Sigmund Freud feared would
always happen in one of his last essays: analysis interminable.7
The 8,000 pages of the ‘Exegesis’ have themselves been ascribed
to an undiagnosed case of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, one symptom of
which is visionary experiences and uncontrollable night-time grapho-
mania. Note how Dick’s biographer Lawrence Sutin latches onto this
diagnosis, as if in relief: ‘It can’t be disproven that Phil may have had
such seizures… And if he did, everything is explained.’8 Alice Flaherty
also briefly discusses Dick as a Temporal Lobe Epileptic in her book
The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative
Brain.9 Epileptic seizures might thus foreshadow Dick’s death from a
succession of strokes in 1982. This does not yet exhaust psychologi-
cal interpretations of Dick’s career, of course. Until recently, literary
critics have tended to favor psychodynamic models – those of Freud or
Jung generally – over biological or neurological explanations. Dick is
variously diagnosed as a lifelong melancholic, burdened with guilt for
surviving his dead twin sister, and left with impossible mourning or for-
ever incomplete individuation, compelled to write fictions of twinning
or multiple fragmentation. Dick’s career thus fits into a version of the
traumatic subject, an irresolvable loss driving obsessive compulsions to
repeat.10 At the height of the trauma paradigm in the early 1990s, when
it was common to hunt for secret traumas and recovering repressed
childhood memories to unlock singular careers, Gregg Rickman contro-
versially proposed that Dick had suffered childhood sexual abuse, and
thus a lifetime of symptomatic psychological disorders, a claim that was
given little credence by Dick scholars.11
More abstractly, Dick’s obsession with the loss of boundaries
between the human and machine, with the android as emblem
of dehumanization and encroaching systems of surveillance and
Diagnosing Dick 17

persecution, has suggested to critics such as Carl Freedman that we

can read Dick’s constructions of paranoia less as personal psychologi-
cal complexes than as explicit forms of social and political critique.12
These elaborate structures of paranoid knowledge might contain ker-
nels of political insight, perhaps particularly in the context of America
in the early 1970s (Fredric Jameson’s The Geopolitical Aesthetic opens
with a long study of the American conspiracy film in the Nixon era).
The authors of ‘Beliefs about Delusions’ recall the dangers of what psy-
chiatric discourse now calls the ‘Martha Mitchell Effect’. Mitchell was
declared a delusional psychotic for her elaborate conspiracy theories
about the White House. Mitchell also happened to be the wife of the
Attorney General during the Nixon administration, and her diagnosis
was somewhat adjusted following the unraveling of Nixon’s criminal
conspiracy in 1974. Paranoids sometimes really do have people out to
get them, as Thomas Pynchon elaborated at great length in Gravity’s
Rainbow (1973).
Politicizing paranoia, then, we might equate this passage of Dick’s
career as aligned with the anti-psychiatry movement, where those
diagnosed as psychotic are categorized as such only by oppressive insti-
tutions and instead re-valued as voyagers in inner space and time, as
well as shamanic truth-sayers. R. D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience sold
millions of copies in America on its publication in 1967, and marked a
shift to an explicitly sociopolitical account of schizophrenia as a prod-
uct of oppressive norms of reality and a corrosive depersonalization
directly related to the alienating effects of modern capitalism.13 From
here, it is but a short step to consider Dick’s exploration of schizoid or
schizophrenic states in his fiction either in terms of the schizanalysis
proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus (first published in
1972), or as exemplary of a putative postmodern condition. Baudrillard
intoned, in Simulation and Simulacra, that ‘today we have entered a new
form of schizophrenia with the emergence of an immanent promiscuity
and the perpetual interconnection of all information and communi-
cation networks’.14 In Fredric Jameson’s famous definitional essay on
postmodernism, psychiatric discourse on psychosis is rarely far away
from his outline of the postmodern subject, who suffers an odd ‘waning
of affect,’ the dissociated euphoric states of the ‘hysterical sublime,’ or
else a disconnected ‘series of pure and unrelated presents in time’ that
Jameson terms, referencing only the eccentric French psychoanalyst
Jacques Lacan, schizophrenic.15 Jameson was, of course, writing on Dick
from the early 1970s, and the Dickian corpus clearly helped shape his
conception of the postmodern. Subsequently, Jameson’s account of the
18 The World According to Philip K. Dick

postmodern, schizophrenic subject was at the core of Christopher

Palmer’s book on Dick, subtitled Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern.16
All of these competing diagnoses of Dick, needless to say, don’t add
up. These readings are a mass of contradictions and they surely share
something of the overproduction of theoretical frames typical of Dick’s
frenetic activity in the ‘Exegesis’. Dick himself is no help: he could
favor strongly psychodynamic Jungian explanations, then dismiss all
of those for a purely biochemical etiology of mental illness. He would
stuff himself with the latest generation of psychiatric drugs, but declare
antipsychotics to be the means by which populations were turned into
androids and the authorities suppress creativity. He might seem to
be allied to the discourse of the anti-psychiatry movement, since his
countercultural location shared their disdain for authority, yet he also
continually relied on the official diagnostic language of psychiatry in
his life and throughout his fiction, from the first to the last.
I have no ambitions to resolve these contradictions, but it is striking
that Dick’s critics have often fallen into the diagnostic mode without
reflecting that Dick’s thirty-year career was undertaken whilst psychiat-
ric discourse was undergoing almost continual revolution, not just in
nomenclature or classification, but also in foundational methodological
terms. This is a crucial thing to grasp: psychiatric discourse does not
have an objective status that might ‘translate’ the instability of Dick’s
chaotic self-diagnoses into something final or authoritative. It was
itself experiencing a series of continual transformations in the post-war
When Dick first encountered psychiatric discourse in the late 1940s
and early 1950s, psychodynamic analysis predominated, and Dick
obligingly spent his time reading volumes of Jung as they were trans-
lated into English. But then an institutional critique of psychiatry began
in the mid-1950s, focused particularly on challenging the general classi-
fication of the psychoses, and schizophrenia in particular. The category
of schizophrenia was subject to intensive re-examination from the late
1950s onward, that radical challenge to psychiatric authority reaching
into the counterculture over the next ten years. This was the start of the
so-called anti-psychiatry movement. And then, thirdly, in the 1970s,
American psychiatry underwent a biomedical transformation which
largely swept away the influence of Freud and Jung (at least in the
profession) and began to classify mental illness through the descriptive
nosology outlined in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, which was in prepara-
tion and widely debated between 1972 and its publication in 1980. The
Diagnosing Dick 19

arrival of the DSM marked the thorough marginalization of psycho-

dynamic models of mind. Since 1980, for good or ill, pharmacology
has replaced immersive psychotherapy; the bio-psycho-social model of
mental illness was replaced by what has been sardonically termed the
‘bio-bio-bio’ model of mental illness.17
It is important to know this history if you study Philip Dick,
because his work was often profoundly sensitive to these changes in
psychiatric discourse. But even more importantly, I would suggest
that Dick related to diagnostic categories rather in the manner Ian
Hacking has described in his useful short essay, ‘Making Up People’.
Hacking proposes that the emergence of novel psychiatric categories
‘creates new ways for people to be,’ that when ‘new modes of descrip-
tion come into being, new possibilities for action come into being in
consequence’.18 With a new label to define a set of behaviors, people
begin to drift towards that category, recasting the narrative of them-
selves to fit the description. This is particularly the case in the highly
suggestible, interpersonal discourse of psychiatry, where knowledge
emerges in the dialogue between patient and doctor. People do not
suffer from objective mental illnesses that are simply waiting for a
better description to come along; the diagnostic label itself makes
up the people who then fit in it. This is not to deny mental illness
happens, yet just how those symptoms are described, grouped and
diagnosed changes constantly. Hacking calls this process ‘dynamic
nominalism,’ a dynamic form of labeling because these categories
never remain static. They are not simply iatrogenic, either, that is,
imposed on patients by psychiatrists, because discourse is inherently
dialogic, and labels constantly run out of control of attempts to
contain them. Hacking’s example is telling: until 1980 no one could
suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) because the label did
not exist until its appearance in the third edition of the Diagnostic
Manual, the DSM-III. By 1990, it was claimed that up to 10 per cent of
the American population suffered from MPD, with an average number
of alter personalities standing at about 24.9. By 1994, no one suffered
MPD again because the American Psychiatric Association removed
the term from DSM-IV. The symptoms were redistributed to other
disorders or syndromes and that way of making up people faded from
diagnostic psychiatric discourse (and also from popular culture, where
it had arguably emerged in the first place).19
My sense is that Philip Dick, an enthusiastic reader of psychology
texts throughout his life, was highly susceptible to this process of
dynamic nominalism in his own life and in his fiction. His texts, both
20 The World According to Philip K. Dick

fictional and non-fictional, run constantly through a bewildering array

of diagnostic labels for various symptomatic behaviors. This is – to
emphasize the point again – not to diagnose Dick, which would merely
fall for the false belief that nominalist logic fixes things down, but to
understand the lure of the diagnostic in both Dick and his critics.
As an example, let’s turn to the label ‘schizophrenia’ and see if a closer
historical grasp of how dynamic and shifting this label was can help
open out a reading of Dick’s fiction, which engaged with this diagnos-
tic term from the early 1950s through to his last published work, The
Transmigration of Timothy Archer.
The classic psychiatric division of mental illness between the classes
of the neuroses and the psychoses was made by the German asylum
doctor, Emil Kraepelin. Kraepelin’s Compendium of Psychiatry became
the key text for twentieth-century psychiatry, going through nine edi-
tions between 1883 and 1926. Under the neuroses, Kraepelin listed
phobia, anxiety, obsessional and compulsive behavior and neurotic
depression. Kraepelin organized the psychoses under the term demen-
tia praecox, which might be literally translated as ‘senility of the
young’. He defined this as ‘a series of states, the common characteristic
of which is a peculiar destruction of the internal connections of the
psychic personality’.20 The major classes of the disease were ‘catatonia,’
‘hebephrenia’ and ‘dementia paranoides’. The use of the term demen-
tia signals that Kraepelin saw these illnesses as biological in origin and
as degenerational – that is, as organic diseases that followed prede-
termined paths of irreversible decline. This was in keeping with the
pessimistic biological determinism of Victorian degeneration theory,
which was also frequently used to describe mental illnesses and gen-
eral cultural decline.21 Although the etiology has been discredited,
Kraepelin’s categories have remained hugely influential in categorizing
the psychoses, and in the 1970s the reaction to both psychodynamic
models and anti-psychiatry is sometimes called the revenge of the
In 1911, the Swiss doctor Eugen Bleuler published Dementia Praecox,
or the Group of Schizophrenias, preferring the latter coinage over the
biological degeneration implied by the term ‘dementia’. For Bleuler,
schizophrenia did not mean the split selves of popular conception, but
rather a splitting of psychic functions, so that, as he put it, ‘one set of
complexes dominates the personality for a time, while other groups of
ideas or drives are “split off”’.23 The subcategories that Bleuler listed
here were paranoid schizophrenia, catatonic schizophrenia, and hebe-
phrenia, which was particularly associated with onset in adolescence
Diagnosing Dick 21

(from the Greek hebe, meaning ‘youth’). Hebephrenia had been coined
by Ewald Hecker in 1871, and was therefore being re-situated in this
new framework. Bleuler also significantly extended the range of the
definition to include ‘simple schizophrenia,’ a kind of latent state in
which the illness had not fully developed, but which might do so at any
time. Thus schizoid states blur the boundary of schizophrenia proper,
diffusing the condition into a wider body of the population beyond
those categorized as psychotic. The vague term schizoid had entered
usage in the United States by the 1920s.24
It was Bleuler, too, who organized symptoms into the catchy mne-
monic of the 4 As. First there were symptoms that show a loosening
of the associations in thoughts, a loss of a normal linear narrative of
the self, so that schizophrenics were said to display highly disorganized
cognitive processes and a ‘great irregularity’ in their time-associations.
Secondly, their affect was notably flat or dampened, being indifferent
to loved ones or friends, and showing the kind of deterioration into
permanent withdrawal typical of catatonic states. They could also invert
affective states, such as, for example, laughing during funerals. Thirdly,
Bleuler pointed to a profound ambivalence, by which he meant that
patients were disabled by being able to hold both positive and nega-
tive feelings and cognitions simultaneously, leaving them stranded by
conflictual meanings. Finally, Bleuler named the retreat from reality
as symptomatic of schizophrenia as autism, another of his coinages.
‘The detachment from reality,’ Bleuler said, ‘together with the relative
and absolute predominance of the inner life, we term autism.’ ‘The
external world must often appear to them as rather hostile,’ Bleuler
continued, ‘since it tends to disturb them in their fantasies.’25 Autism
today is considered a specific learning disorder with a possible genetic
or neurobiological basis, but it was only separated from schizophrenia
and the general nosology of the psychoses as late as 1979.26 The recent
trajectory of autism reminds us how extensively sets of symptoms can
be transformed into wholly different diagnostics.
In terms of the prospect for recovery or remission from these states,
it is important to realize the significance of these categories. Some diag-
nostic categories effectively doomed patients to permanent conditions,
whilst others were more mobile. The prognosis for improvement in a
patient diagnosed with schizophrenia remained very pessimistic, but
the various terms for what became manic depression – alternating per-
sonality, cyclothymia or bipolar disorder (which was coined in 1957) –
was felt to be a psychosis more amenable to management, periods of
remission or even cure. It is still the case that those diagnosed with
22 The World According to Philip K. Dick

manic depression are far more likely to have been perceived to recover or
successfully manage the illness than those diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Perhaps you are already thinking how many of these diagnostic terms
swirl around Dick’s work. In fact, isn’t it tempting to distribute Dick’s
novels across the Kraepelian taxonomy of the psychoses? Fictions of
rickety fantasy worlds, where another reality keeps poking through and
disturbing the fabric of the hallucination, might include Ragle Gumm’s
neurotic withdrawal in Time Out of Joint, a result of an anxiety disorder,
as he self-diagnoses.27 These are soon expanded and elaborated in the
full-scale competing realities, where reality testing has been entirely lost,
and could thus be diagnosed as the products of catatonic schizophre-
nia. In less full-blown cases, Dick’s protagonists are often schizoid or
named in the text as hebephrenics, displaying typical suppressed affect,
anhedonia, lack of empathy, disorganized thought and an inability to
understand social cues that leaves them terrible failures. And, finally,
there is obviously a major strand in Dick’s fiction that explores demen-
tia paranoides, forms of paranoid schizophrenia that see conspiracy as
the basis of reality, exemplified by the fear that actions are dictated by
various forms of influencing machines. Dick clearly knew the literature
on paranoia very well, including Victor Tausk’s famous 1919 essay, ‘On
the Origin of the “Influencing Machine” in Schizophrenia,’ devices that
paranoids described as having ‘marvellous powers’ that directed perse-
cution through networks of ‘invisible wires’ and machinic replacements
of loved ones.28 ‘Machine phenomena’ such as this are now considered
to be at the core of psychotic experience.29 He would also have known
the famous account of the inner life of the schizophrenic, Operators
and Things (1958), presented by Barbara O’Brien as the autobiographi-
cal account of a schizophrenic breakdown (its authenticity was later
questioned). ‘Let us say,’ O’Brien’s book begins, ‘that when you awake
tomorrow, you find standing at your bedside a man with purple scale-
skin who tells you that he has just arrived from Mars, that he is studying
the human species, and that he has selected your mind for the kind of
on-the-spot examination he wants to make.’30 This psychotic imagi-
nary, needless to say, recurs throughout Dick’s oeuvre.
This taxonomizing of the psychoses explored in Dick’s work is tempt-
ing, but it would, of course, be a mechanical thing to do, not just
because it is so reductively diagnostic, but also because the most impor-
tant thing to bear in mind is that the start of Dick’s writing career coin-
cides with a major crisis in psychiatry, and particularly in the concept
of schizophrenia. In 1956, Carl Jung gave a radio talk on schizophrenia
on the Voice of America, confessing that after fifty years of work, he had
Diagnosing Dick 23

concluded that schizophrenia remained completely resistant to person-

alistic treatments and was probably biochemical in origin. Two years
later he added that schizophrenia ‘remains alien, incomprehensible,
and incommunicable’.31 In 1960, Thomas Szasz published his notorious
essay, ‘The Myth of Mental Illness’ in the august pages of the American
Psychologist, arguing that psychiatry was merely demarcating deviations
from socially sanctioned norms.32 This was an argument that had just
been made by R. D. Laing in The Divided Self and would soon after guide
Michel Foucault’s History of Madness, first published in 1961. ‘We do
not accept “schizophrenia” as being a biochemical, neurophysiological,
psychological fact, and we regard it as a palpable error,’ Laing famously
said at the opening of the book Sanity, Madness and the Family.33 Yet
just as schizophrenia was considered as a social construction in these
anti-psychiatry polemics, prominent psychiatrists elsewhere argued that
‘schizophrenia, while its content is learned, is fundamentally a neuro-
logical disease of genetic origin.’34
In other words, the subsets of schizophrenia outlined by Kraepelin
and Bleuler are not stable categories to be used to sort and define people
or texts. These categories have proved themselves to be highly unstable.
For writers and enthusiastic self-diagnosticians such as Philip Dick they
are precisely up for grabs. It is in this spirit that we should read Dick’s
fiction alongside this extraordinary phase in the history of psychiatry:
in a dynamic way, where the fiction actively helps shape the historical
instantiations of categories like ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘hebephrenia’ rather
than being objectively defined by them.
Just as a start, let’s begin with the most obvious novels that address
this history. Clans of the Alphane Moon, published in 1964, is a fiction
actually premised on psychiatric taxonomies of mental illness. The
moon in this novel was colonized to operate as an asylum for the
clinically insane; after years of abandonment, it has produced a society
where clans divide between the Deps, the Ob-Coms, the Skitzes, the
Mans, the Heebs and the Pares, the paranoids. Here, the representa-
tive of the Skitzes is an abject creature, ‘lost in his clouded vision of an
archetypal reality’.35 He latterly misses clan-meetings because he has
sunk into irreversible catatonia. The hebephrenics are also regarded
with immense pessimism, living in disorganized slums, the equivalent
of Untouchables, trapped in adolescent immaturity, in what is at one
point called ‘a stable and permanent mal-adaptation’ (78), but which
seems to be steadily deteriorating, just as Kraepelin predicted. Dick had
perhaps read O’Brien’s taxonomy of differing kinds of schizophrenics
in Operators and Things (1958), which included a harsh definition of
24 The World According to Philip K. Dick

the hebephrenic as ‘a clown. The hebephrenic giggled and laughed,

smirked and smiled… As a group they seemed to have led sordid, cheer-
less, heavily burdened lives, containing nothing that was worth even a
smirk.’ They lived only a simple world of ‘looseness and uncoordina-
tion,’ empty of responsibility.36
In Clans, when the colony is threatened with invasion it is the man-
ics and the paranoids who have the energy to respond, but only in
ways fatally limited by their respective illnesses. Ironically, that inva-
sion is actually a probe containing the professional psychologist Mary
Rittersdorf, part of ‘Project Fifty Minutes’ sent to administer ‘corrective
therapy’ to the abandoned psychotics of the moon (32). Yet if this ele-
ment of the plot derives from official diagnostics, the unstable satire
of the novel comes from Mary’s punitive role as a wife, a psychiatrist
harboring severe psychosis focused on the hapless hero, her ineffec-
tive, suicidal and castrated husband Chuck. The biographers see this
as a barely disguised portrait of Dick’s third wife Anne, the psycholo-
gist whose first husband was committed and who was herself briefly
sectioned during her marriage to Dick. In the fantasy of Clans, Mary
Rittersdorf is brought to recognize her psychotic behavior, diagnosed as
a depressive and submits to treatment. Chuck ends the novel on a note
of psychiatric optimism, declared resolutely normal by psychiatric diag-
nostic assessments. He believes he can bring a girl from the Poly clan,
a polymorphic schizophrenic, out of her illness and into the terrain of
the normal, suspicious now of the objectivity of diagnostic categories.
Martian Time-Slip is also riven by competing conceptions of psychosis
that were available in the early 1960s. The autistic boy Manfred Steiner
is defined in the novel by explicit reference to the psychiatric theories of
the Burghölzli asylum, where Bleuler and Jung had worked, and where
existentialist theories transformed conceptions of schizophrenia in the
post-war era. Autism was still conceived inside this frame: indeed, one
character in the novel defines it as ‘a childhood form of schizophre-
nia’.37 The novel science-fictionalizes the autistic patient’s ‘derange-
ment in the sense of time,’ as the text’s psychiatrist Dr Glaub puts it,
explaining that ‘the environment around him is so accelerated that he
cannot cope with it’ (37). Manfred’s psychosis explains his precognitive
abilities. The etiology of Manfred’s condition also seems to echo Leo
Kanner’s influential theory of childhood autism, first stated in 1943 but
developed by Bruno Bettelheim in The Empty Fortress and elsewhere.
Bettelheim saw autism as a disorder resulting from the damaged emo-
tional attachments between child and conflicted parent, which could
be treated by psychotherapy. Notoriously, autism in children in the
Diagnosing Dick 25

1960s was often blamed on the so-called ‘refrigerator mother’ unable

to love her child, a diagnostic misogyny that was embraced fully in
Dick’s work. Jack Bohlen is the adult schizophrenic in the novel, appar-
ently in remission after previous psychotic episodes, but still pessimistic
about his prospects. After a terrifying hallucination of his boss, seeing
through him as a sack of bones and electrical wires, he turns diagnostic
language on himself: ‘I’m schizophrenic… I know it. Everyone knows
the symptoms; its catatonic excitement with paranoid colouring’ (67).
But Martian Time-Slip is also clearly influenced by a new generation of
Swiss psychiatry. In 1958, a collection called Existence was translated
into English, containing Ludwig Binswanger’s essay ‘The Existential
Analysis School of Thought’ and his long study of the schizophrenic
patient Ellen West. For Binswanger and others, treatment was less about
diagnosing specific disease entities and more about a holistic ‘theory
of man,’ a study of ‘the total structure of the patient’s being-in-the-
world’.38 In Binswanger’s view, psychosis was to be grasped as a process
of ‘world-building,’ and the doctor had to understand what he called
‘the world-design or designs in which the speaker lives or has lived’ –
subjective worlds that would likely have different temporal and spatial
organization from default reality. Radically, Binswanger suggested that
the psychoses should not be understood ‘negatively as abnormalities,’
but instead as ‘a new form of being-in-the-world’.39 From the late 50s
onwards the worlding of particular psychoses in Dick’s plots, and the
sense of being engulfed in the psychotic worlds projected by others, was
becoming the central idea of Dick’s fiction.
Binswanger was a clear influence on the anti-psychiatry movement,
which used the language of existentialism to mount its attack on insti-
tutional psychiatry. Laing’s first book, The Divided Self, was largely com-
posed in 1956 during his time at the Tavistock Clinic, and published in
1959. Here, in the same loosely Heideggerian language, Laing conceived
of schizophrenia as an iatrogenic effect of psychiatry itself, famously
declaring: ‘The standard psychiatric patient is a function of the standard
psychiatrist, and of the standard mental hospital.’40 In Laing the social
critique of psychosis induced by capitalist modernity came somewhat
later, but this form of critique is traceable in Dick’s Martian Time-Slip.
It is Jack Bohlen, stigmatized by his schizoid episodes in his past and
gloomy for his diagnostic prospects in the future, who comes to real-
ize the social construction of his illness: ‘the reality which the schizo-
phrenic falls away from,’ Jack muses, ‘was the reality of interpersonal
living, of life in a given culture with core values; it was not biological
life… but life which was learned’ (61–2). Anticipating Laing’s most
26 The World According to Philip K. Dick

radical assertions of the late 1960s, Jack Bohlen declares: ‘There was no
psychosis’ (68). The plot, though, cannot sustain these positions against
the institutional force of psychiatric diagnosis of the degeneration
of schizoid states: the characters are swallowed by Manfred’s autistic
world-building, and no rapprochement between society and the psy-
chotic can be conceived. Manfred must join the aliens, existing outside
the human settlements of Mars, to find a place to be.
Towards the end, Dick seemed nearly defeated by the normative
social forces that bolster psychiatric diagnostics. By the late 1970s the
anti-psychiatry revolution was in disarray and new psychopharmaco-
logical treatments were at the center of psychiatric treatment. In Dick’s
last book, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, published just after his
death in 1982, the character of Bill Lundborg lives in a liminal ter-
rain between hospital and community, a schizophrenic who is trying
to take instruction in reality orientation from his asylum doctors and
various self-help gurus. He displays many of Bleuler’s psychotic symp-
toms: bizarre associations, inappropriate affect, disabling ambivalence,
and distinct signs of autism. Indeed, a reader now might be tempted
to see Bill as a high-functioning character somewhere on the autistic
spectrum, incapable of abstract thought but highly able in local, con-
crete contexts. Until recently, this might have been called Asberger’s
Syndrome, although the latest dynamic nomination for this cluster of
symptoms, in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,
published in 2013, prefers ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’. Towards the
end of the book, though, Bill uses the term hebephrenia to describe his
condition: ‘I never grew up,’ Bill said. ‘Hebephrenia is characterized
by silliness… When you’re hebephrenic… things strike you as funny.
Kirsten’s death struck me as funny.’ To which the narrator responds:
‘Then you are indeed hebephrenic, I said to myself as I drove. Because
there was nothing funny about it.’41 Bill is then sliced through by
another personality, a self that may or not be the spirit of the dead
Timothy Archer, and Bill’s personality virtually disappears from his own
fragile psyche. Hebephrenia was seen as degenerative and irreversible by
the Victorian doctors who named it. Dick’s last mystical fictions – the
theophanic impulses of VALIS or the spiritualist frame of Timothy Archer –
used psychic splitting precisely to fend off pessimistic psychiatric
diagnosis. But the language seemed to have such authoritative sanction
that Dick, or at least his last schizoid characters, succumbed to the lure
of the diagnostic after all. There is an overwhelming sense of resignation
at the end of Timothy Archer, that the authority of psychiatric discourse,
plugged into the power of the biopolitics of medicine and what is called
Diagnosing Dick 27

its ‘recondite bullshit’ (240), will always trump counter-discourses of the

ambivalent or spiritual.
In Dick’s work, then, psychiatric and anti-psychiatric logics always
contend, and the power of official diagnostics looms in and out of
focus, but my sense is that the force of psychiatric diagnosis ultimately
often wins out. Dick’s countercultural suspicion rejects the normative
language of psychiatric labels, yet his resistance collapses whenever
some compelling new diagnostic appears. The discourse of psychiatry
lures Dick back in to self-diagnosis again and again. Given that conclu-
sion, it seems even more important to foreground just how historically
situated and socially constructed these psychiatric nosologies were,
and particularly so during Dick’s lifetime. To diagnose Dick is only to
diagnose an understanding of subjectivity that is always in the process
of making itself up, alert to the alluring promise of the next diagnos-
tic nosology appearing on the horizon, offering the promise of a final
authoritative self-definition.

1 V. Bell, P. Halligan, H. Ellis, ‘Beliefs About Delusions,’ The Psychologist 16,
no. 8 (2003): 418.
2 Philip Dick, ‘Schizophrenia and The Book of Changes’ (1965) in The Shifting
Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, ed.
Lawrence Sutin (New York: Vintage, 1995), 176.
3 See Emmanuel Carrère, I Am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind
of Philip K. Dick (London: Picador, 2005).
4 For a psychiatric history of the double brain, see Anne Harrington, Medicine,
Mind and the Double Brain: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).
5 Philip K. Dick, ‘The Android and the Human,’ in Shifting Realities, 200.
6 Citation from Dick, In Pursuit of VALIS: Selections from the Exegesis, ed.
Lawrence Sutin (Lancaster: Underwood Miller, 1991), 242–3. I am grateful to
Chris Rudge for bringing this Socratic dialogue to my attention.
7 Sigmund Freud, ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable,’ International Journal
of Psychoanalysis, 18 (1937): 373–405.
8 Sutin, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (London: Paladin, 1991), 231.
9 See Alice Flaherty The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and
the Creative Brain (New York: Mariner, 2005).
10 For a history of the rise of the ‘trauma paradigm,’ see Roger Luckhurst, The
Trauma Question (London: Routledge, 2008).
11 See Gregg Rickman, ‘“What Is This Sickness?”: “Schizophrenia” and We Can
Build You,’ in Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations, ed. Samuel
Umland (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995). A debate on the virtues of
28 The World According to Philip K. Dick

diagnosing Dick with Multiple Personality Disorder as a result of childhood

sexual abuse was held in the review pages of Science Fiction Studies. Istvan
Csicsery-Ronay reviewed the book in SFS 67 (Nov 1995). See http://www.
depauw.edu/sfs/review_essays/icr67.htm. Rickman responded in the Notes
section of SFS 69 (1996). See http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/notes/notes69/
12 See, for instance, Carl Freedman, ‘Towards a Theory of Paranoia: The Science
Fiction of Philip K. Dick,’ Science Fiction Studies 11, no. 1 (1984). Fredric
Jameson calls conspiracy theory ‘the beginning of wisdom’ in The Geopolitical
Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (London: Wiley, 1995), 3.
13 Umberto Rossi acknowledges that his organizing concept of ‘ontological
uncertainty’ for Dick’s oeuvre owes something to R. D. Laing’s concep-
tion of ‘ontological insecurity’ in The Divided Self. See Rossi, The Twisted
Worlds of Philip K. Dick: A Reading of Twenty Ontologically Uncertain Novels
(Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011). Christopher Palmer also describes Dick’s
work as broadly ‘anti-psychiatry’ in his discussion of Martian Time-Slip in his
Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern (Liverpool: Liverpool
University Press, 2003).
14 Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Ecstasy of Communication,’ reprinted in Postmodernism:
Critical Concepts, ed. Victor Taylor and Charles Winquist (London: Routledge,
1998), 41–8.
15 Fredric Jameson, ‘Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,’
New Left Review 143 (1984): 53–94.
16 See essays on Dick in Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called
Utopia and other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005). See also Christopher
Palmer’s Philip K. Dick for an account of the author as postmodern.
17 This is a quote from Steven Sharfstein, one-time president of the APA,
in Andrew Scull, ‘Nosologies: The Future of an illusion,’ Times Literary
Supplement (18 May 2012), 14.
18 Ian Hacking, ‘Making up People,’ in Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy,
Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, ed. T. C. Heller et al. (Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 1986), 222–36.
19 For discussion, see Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the
Sciences of Memory (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998).
20 Emil Kraepelin, Dementia Praecox and Paraphrenia, trans. M. Bareday
(Edinburgh: Livingstone, 1919), 3.
21 For the impact of degeneration theory on psychology, see, for instance,
Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder c.1848–c.1918
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
22 I have taken much of this outline from Richard P. Bentall, Madness Explained:
Psychosis and Human Nature (London: Penguin, 2003). The history of schizo-
phrenia is also usefully discussed by J. Hoenig in ‘Schizophrenia (Clinical
Section),’ in A History of Clinical Psychiatry: The Origin and History of Psychiatric
Disorders, ed. G. Berrios and R. Porter (London: Athlone, 1995), 336–48. For
popular usage, see also Kieran McMally, ‘Schizophrenia as Split Personality/
Jekyll and Hyde: The Origins of Informal Usage in the English Language,’
Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences 43, no. 1 (2007): 69–79.
23 Eugen Bleuler, Dementia Praecox, or the Group of Schizophrenias, trans.
J. Zinkin (New York: International Universities Press, 1950), 9.
Diagnosing Dick 29

24 See Kieron McMally, ’Schizophrenia,’ 73–5.

25 Bleuler, Dementia, 63 and 65.
26 For discussion of the shifting nosology around autism, see Ian Hacking,
‘What is Tom Saying to Maureen?,’ London Review of Books (11 May 2006), 3–7,
27 Dick, Time Out of Joint (London: Gollancz, 2003), 152.
28 Victor Tausk, ‘On the Origin of the “Influencing Machine” in Schizophrenia,’
Psychoanalytic Quarterly 2 (1933): 519–56.
29 See Stella Pierides, ‘Machine Phenomena,’ in Even Paranoids Have Enemies:
New Perspectives on Paranoia and Persecution, ed. J. Barker et al. (London:
Routledge, 1998).
30 Barbara O’Brien, Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic (New
York: Barnes, 1958), 1.
31 C. G. Jung, ‘Recent Thoughts on Schizophrenia,’ (1956) in The Psychogenesis
of Mental Disease, Complete Works 3, trans. R. F. C. Hull (London: RKP,
1960), 250–5. Citation from ‘Schizophrenia’ (1958), CW 3, 256–72.
32 See Thomas S. Szasz, ‘The Myth of Mental Illness,’ American Psychologist 15,
no. 2 (1960): 113–18.
33 Cited in Edgar Z. Friedenberg, Laing (London: Fontana, 1973), 8.
34 Paul Meehl, ‘Schizotaxia, Schizotypy, Schizophrenia,’ American Psychologist
17 (1962): 837. Mehl was then President of the American Psychiatric
35 Dick, Clans of the Alphane Moon (London: Granada, 1975), 12. Further refer-
ences in text.
36 O’Brien, Operators and Things, 118.
37 Dick, Martian Time-Slip (London: Gollancz, 1999), 61. Further references in
38 Citations from Rollo May, ‘The Origins and Significance of the Existential
Movement in Psychology,’ in Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and
Psychology, ed. Rollo May, Ernest Angel, Henri F. Ellenberger (Northvale, NJ:
Aronson, 1994), 5.
39 Binswanger, ‘The Existential Analysis School of Thought,’ in Existence, 201.
40 Laing, The Divided Self, 28. For a history of the anti-psychiatry movement,
see also Zbigniew Kotowicz, R. D. Laing and the Paths of Anti-Psychiatry
(London: Routledge, 1997).
41 Dick, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (London: Orion, 2011), 220–1.
‘The Shock of Dysrecognition’:
Biopolitical Subjects and Drugs in
Dick’s Science Fiction
Chris Rudge

Philip K. Dick’s reputation as a ‘drug-addled nut,’ an ‘acid-crazed vision-

ary,’ or the producer of a ‘stimulant literature’ promotes an image of
Dick as a hyper-accelerated author of an ontologically weird and tran-
scendental fiction, a fiendish hophead from whose hands spills forth a
range of intractable gnostic images and narratives.1 Such an aura, stereo-
typical as it is, has by now become so familiar to some circles of Dick’s
readership that it sometimes seems to be accepted uncritically, perhaps
offering a consoling foothold amid the corona of philosophical ques-
tion marks engendered both by Dick’s tumultuous personal biography
and his curiously unstable works.2 Characteristically, Dick ironized such
a pigeonholing avant la lettre, predicting his future critical reception in
a 1980 letter, before the publication of VALIS: ‘took drugs. Saw God.
BFD’.3 Dick’s biloquistic dismissal of his own work, articulated only two
years before his untimely death, belies what is his far from simplistic
attitude towards licit and illicit drugs and elides altogether his earnest
critical views on the orbiting fields of psychiatry and psychosis, views
that are fugitively expressed both in his fiction and his personal letters.
While Dick experimented with and wrote about a variety of drugs
throughout his life, ranging from amphetamines, psychedelics, and
antipsychotics to ‘heroic dosages’ of orthomolecular vitamins among
others,4 the inference that Dick thought that these kinds of drugs
offered only, or even any strictly positive benefits to users such as him-
self, sits uneasily alongside the gloomy, even alarmist tenor of most of
his writing on the subject.5 The roles that drugs play in Dick’s fiction –
as tropes variously of terror, malevolence, disillusionment and shrewd
parody – and his readiness to accept a variety of medical explanations
for their actions and inactions, despite his own contrary memories of
subjective experience, suggest a pointed distrust for the predictability
The Shock of Dysrecognition 31

and value of biochemical alteration generally. Likewise, Dick’s depic-

tions of the economic structures that scaffold drug-controlled societies
signal his materialist suspicion of the political, economic and cultural
structures through which both legal and illegal drugs are developed,
regulated, prohibited, and sold.
In this chapter, I elaborate on Dick as a writer on drugs, and his fic-
tion as writing on or about drugs, psychosis and related mental states.
At the very outset, it may be helpful to offer a short explanation for
the following question, which may occur to readers throughout these
pages: Why should we examine Dick’s personal drug use and not simply
the representation of drugs in his works?6 I propose to see the study of a
writer’s drug use as part of a larger pursuit in literary studies that is con-
cerned with the material circumstances of textual production, including
authorial biography. If the printing press, the typewriter, the computer,
and shifts toward electric formats have changed the ways in which lit-
erature is created, then a historicization of the modalities opened up by
psychoactive drugs in the late twentieth century may also be ‘readily
acknowledged as a matter of legitimate contention’.7 Yet, apart from a
handful of excellent volumes dedicated to the subject, appearing spo-
radically throughout the last two decades (most of which refer explic-
itly to Dick’s work), such a history has yet to be written.8 Moreover,
socio-legal changes over the last few years, such as the legalization of
cannabis under two US state law regimes, hint at the emergence of a
new epistemic moment in which the development of cultural studies
of drugs and a corresponding narco-literary studies may be crucial.9 My
own foray into this area contributes to the overall development of this
line of research, as well as to its trajectory as it relates to Dick’s works
in particular.
An important matter to stress about Dick in relation to drugs is his
singularly prodigious interlocution with psychiatry: a competency that
is apparent in his novels, but confirmed and exhibited in other mate-
rial as well, such as prose essays, letters, transcribed interviews, and
book forewords. While this archive is not explicitly addressed here, it
is notable that Dick wrote a dyad of essays on drugs and schizophrenia
during a time of unprecedented personal anxiety and prescription drug
use from 1963 to 1965, a period that will form this chapter’s periodizing
focus.10 Influenced by psychiatrists, including the existentialist Rollo
May, Dick’s theorizations of hallucinations and psychotic illness read-
ily entangle themselves with a range of more systematic elaborations
on the politics of psychiatry enunciated by the likes of Thomas Szasz,
R.D. Laing, Franco Basaglia, and even Félix Guattari.11 In his earnest
32 The World According to Philip K. Dick

and scholarly engagement with the phenomenology of consciousness,

mental states, and the origins of madness, Dick distinguishes himself
from other drug-oriented literary figures of the time, such as the Beats.12
Thus, he enables us to see him as descending from a lineage of literary
figures – Aldous Huxley, Stanislaw Witkiewicz, Antonin Artaud – whose
fictional drug narratives reveal themselves as works not simply of fic-
tion, or even of political fiction, but as belonging to the writings of
what Dick once called ‘fictionalizing philosopher[s]’.13
At the same time, Dick’s perspective on drugs was influenced by views
that were popularly expressed in the 1960s, a notion that will be clari-
fied by my study of Dick’s science fiction (sf) works, and in particular
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, as a means of critiquing the poli-
tics of psychiatry and the rapid transformation of the pharmaceutical
industry through this period.14 In the final section, I will suggest that
Dick’s own epistemological and subjective response to the question of
drug addiction (of his drug addiction) served to reify his view that both
drugs and the human bodies that used them could act unpredictably,
even when these drugs were understood as biochemically inactive or
inert. By the early 1970s, Dick came to feel that drugs could not be read-
ily repurposed for any specific, reliable use other than as a tropological
figure for the colonization of all substances by those who assert and
effect biopower in contemporary society.

2.1 Unworking the socius: drugs and writing

In contemporary philosophy, the nexus of drugs and literature is

introduced by Jacques Derrida’s scrutiny of Plato’s Phaedrus, in which
Sophocles compares Phaedrus’ written texts to a drug or pharma-
kon, as ‘alternately or simultaneously… beneficent or maleficent’.15
Emphasizing this unstable duality, Derrida conceives of writing as a
drug in itself. For Derrida, Plato is ‘bent on presenting writing as an
occult, and therefore suspect, power,’16 observing that misusers of
words, like sorcerers, were the first to be exiled from the polis in Plato’s
Laws. Unsurprisingly then, Plato’s history of the invention of writing
tells the story of writing’s prohibition. There is thus a chiasmus between
doing drugs and doing (reading or producing) texts from the moment
of writing’s inception: as dangerous powers, both are to be interdicted
by the father-king, the ruling sovereign. The connection of drugs and
rhetoric also shapes the analyses of Dale Pendell’s Pharmako series of
books, as well as Richard Doyle’s Darwin’s Pharmacy (itself an evolution-
ary theoretical appropriation of Derrida’s essay) where doing drugs,
The Shock of Dysrecognition 33

communicating and problem-solving, in language or otherwise, are

practices that are deeply implicated with one another.17 In particular,
‘psychedelic compounds have already been vectors of technoscientific
change,’ Doyle writes, suggesting their ability to ‘increase the overall
dissipation of energy in any given ecology.’18 Others, such as David
Lenson, Sadie Plant, Marcus Boon, Avital Ronell, and David Boothroyd,
have focused specifically on the relation of literary production and drug
use, while Anthony Enns, Andrew Butler, and Paul Youngquist have
variously contributed to the scholarly discourse on the relation of Dick
and drugs in particular.19
Ronell’s clearing of the way for a ‘narcoanalysis’ of literature (employ-
ing a term akin to what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘schizoanalysis’ and
‘pharmacoanalysis’) enables us to see the act of writing on and about
drugs as revelatory – politically, juridically, and philosophically.20 While
such writing may serve self-reflexively to promote the political end of
liberating these molecular compounds and their variously specific sub-
jective effects from prohibition, it also enables a new kind of knowledge
that permits these drugs at once to be known as material objects and
as syntagmatically representable affects, given to cognitive mimesis.
That literature, as Ronell argues, is in a sense always ‘on drugs and
about drugs’ can be seen in the history of its censorship proceedings,
where literature is ‘treated juridically as a drug’ because its ‘menace…
consists in its pointing to what is not there in any ordinary sense of
ontological unveiling’.21 Literature, in other words, can become a tech-
nology for transcribing molecular and ontological possibility, a sym-
bolic, second-order technic that is nonetheless an ally of the molecular
real. Citing Dick, Ronell’s study also senses the chiasmus of drug culture
and electronic culture:

If the literature of electronic culture can be located in the works of

Philip K. Dick or William Gibson, in the imaginings of cyberpunk
projection, or a reserve of virtual reality, then it is probable that elec-
tronic culture shares a crucial project with drug culture.22

The crucial project in which the literatures of electronic and drug

cultures share, the material node around which each of them orbits, has
to do with this production and (re)deployment of technics: both litera-
tures are trussed either to electronic and molecular technologies, or to
both. If we recall that drugs and electronic technologies often feature
as adjuncts to the protagonists’ lives in Dick’s novels, then these related
cultures and literatures may also be said to center on the characters’
34 The World According to Philip K. Dick

auto-deployments of tekhne iatrikes (medical and mechanical arts). These

are the subjects’ various modes and techniques of healing themselves,
remedying their ills, satiating their desires, or otherwise investing in the
material consumption of a substance, instigating the performance of a
procedure, that suits or furthers their ends – the text itself all the while
performing a similar restorative work.23
Of course, drug use is often more broadly adopted by Dick’s characters
in order to mitigate the depressed material-economic and affective con-
ditions in which they exist, and under which living as a human is itself
reason enough to be controlled through a range of invasive or subjugat-
ing devices in what Giorgio Agamben has described as ‘biological moder-
nity’: a period characterized by the ‘politicization of bare life as such’.24
It is also in such fictionalizations of our narco- or techno-economies
that we sense the ‘unworking’ (désoeuvrement) that Ronell describes as
a dis-operationalization of cultural, political, and social forces, ‘whose
contours we can begin to read’ in the literature on drugs.25 In Dick’s
sf, such an unworking is often played out within the ‘reserve of virtual
reality’ that is opened up by the disorienting and heterogeneous psy-
choscape of hallucinated drug use and drug cultures. While this narra-
tive strategy makes it possible to read Dick’s narratives as critiques of
biopolitical power, the ‘psychotrope’ of drugs also corresponds to Dick’s
own definition of sf (and the less obvious typology designated by his
‘value term’ of ‘good science fiction’), as he relayed it in a 1981 letter to
upcoming author John Betancourt.26 As Dick asserts, sf should present a
‘fictitious world’ that is nonetheless tethered or ‘orthogonal’ to our own:

There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation; that is,

the dislocation must be a conceptual one, not merely a trivial or
bizarre one – this is the essence of science fiction, the conceptual
dislocation within the society so that as a result a new society is
generated in the author’s mind, transferred to paper, and from paper
it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader’s mind, the shock of

A society riven by drug use, especially where participants and subjects

seem to have lost or acceded control, constitutes a prototypical dislo-
cation of society or ‘deterritorialization of the socius’ (as Deleuze and
Guattari put it) for Dick’s purposes, enabling him to generate this ‘con-
vulsive shock’ in his readership, and yield a new ‘ontological unveil-
ing’ at a time when drugs secured a special purchase on the American
paranoiac imaginary.28
The Shock of Dysrecognition 35

The fear that even clinically trialed prescription drugs might beget
tragic ends had already reified in 1960 when newspaper headlines in
North America panicked readers, reporting that over-the-counter medi-
cation thalidomide, a sedative drug that had been marketed as ‘remark-
ably safe’ at the end of the previous decade, was now known to cause
severe birth defects and malformations in unborn children.29 Calling
into question the expertise of the medical authorities, the pharmaceuti-
cal industry, and the Food and Drug Administation (FDA) that regulated
and oversaw the distribution of these drugs, the pharmacological panic
of the early 1960s fuelled the already incipient hysteria over drugs that
had remained, up until that point, only investigational in their appli-
cations, such as LSD, or d-lysergic acid diethylamide, which was soon
banned in most US states.30 Notwithstanding this specter of drug fear,
the use of psychopharmacological treatments for a variety of illnesses
rose dramatically during this period: as early as 1963 around 15 per cent
of Americans – some 30 million people – were on prescription drugs for
psychiatric complaints.31 Dick was himself an ardent consumer of both
licit and illicit drugs at this time, and thus an initiate to the regime of
psychopharmacological treatment in the US.32

2.2 Sf-ing the acid nightmare

In this early 1960s context of pharmacological panic, LSD (and, as

Erika Dyck notes, ‘homemade versions’ known as ‘acid,’ whose sale
had begun on the black market) generated a torrent of fear among the
US public – and not just among a general population that increasingly
associated the drug with the revolutionary ideas of the emergent coun-
terculture.33 By 1964, the Beat author William S. Burroughs, suspecting
that malevolent biopolitical forces may be at play in the distribution of
hallucinogens, urged, in his Nova Express, that offers of such drugs be
responded to in this way:

Throw back their ersatz Immortality… Flush their drug kicks down
the drain – They are poisoning and monopolizing the hallucinogenic
drugs – learn to make it without any chemical corn – All that they offer
is a screen to cover retreat from the colony they have so disgracefully
mismanaged. To cover travel arrangements so they will never have to
pay constituents they have betrayed and sold out.34

Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, published in the year fol-
lowing Burroughs’ novel, proves a capsule text both for Burroughs’
36 The World According to Philip K. Dick

description of a drug-controlled society at whose center of gravity lies

the vision and promise of an ‘ersatz Immortality,’ and the acid night-
mare imagined by a media already given to drug frights. And while
Stigmata follows on from Dick’s antipsychiatric novels Martian Time-Slip
and Clans of the Alphane Moon and continues their concern with the pol-
itics of psychiatry, it also intersects with the fuzziness of legal structures
that at once proscribe and tolerate certain questionable biomedical or
psychiatric practices.35 At the same time, Stigmata, like many of Dick’s
novels, transcodes the violence of neoliberal or late-capitalist economic
constructions, such as the duopoly, and exhibits one of the ways in
which biopower can be enforced through and by them.36
In Stigmata, it is the illegal drug Can-D that serves to structure the
economic and biopolitical societies on Earth, Mars, and throughout the
known universe, engendering a ‘shock of dysrecognition’ in a contem-
poraneous American sf readership familiar with the ‘acid panic’ of the
early 1960s.37 Can-D putatively relieves and therapizes those deported
to colonies on Mars after Earth’s temperature has risen to dangerous
levels, making its continents largely uninhabitable. Can-D is not an
official medicament, but it ensures the Martians’ continued exclusion
and subsistence in their ‘bare lives,’ enabling those who remain on
Earth – moving between buildings via ‘thermsosealed interbuilding
commute car[s]’ (10) – to prosper in professions associated with the
production of Can-D accessories. The Perky Pat doll, the layout boards,
and other various ‘units of her miniature world’ (10), are critical to the
valency of Can-D’s ritualized ‘translations’. In this trip, users share in
a hallucinated consensus-reality in which they return to Earth (San
Francisco). Each user ‘translates’ into the physical form of figurine dolls
Walt Essex or (‘Perky’) Pat Christensen, becoming ontologically consub-
stantial with the dolls’ bodies and lives within the virtual landscape of
the layout, the surface or board on which these dolls and their posses-
sions can be found, dormant, when they are not in use, as if on a child’s
playset. Deported and deterritorialized, the users, who live in hovels
and are therefore labelled hovelists, find that while the drug facilitates
a subjective distantiation and restitution from their miserable reality, it
also ensures the continuation of their ‘gloomy quasi-life of involuntary
expatriation in an unnatural environment’ (51), the specifically biologi-
cal virality of which is signaled by one of the hovels’ names: ‘Chicken
Pox Prospects’. The chewable elixir is derived from a lichen fungus,
telegraphing its similarity to psychedelic mushrooms and to LSD itself,
which is derived partly from an ergot fungus.38 Can-D’s symbolic or
virtualizing operations simulate interplanetary travel back in time,
The Shock of Dysrecognition 37

allowing users to achieve ‘an actual translation from Mars to Earth-

as-it-was’ (48). The spiritual dogmas and anti-mythologies generated
by Can-D’s users to account for their seemingly unique experiences of
‘translation’ – such that in chewing the drug users access what is politi-
cally interdicted, ‘gain something… to which [they are] normally not
entitled’ (49) – only serve to allegorize and perpetuate their subjuga-
tion to the drug’s biopolitical and economic logic within a structurally
entrenched and implicitly legitimized drug market.
In structuring their lives around this ritual, the Martian colonists sub-
sist in what Foucault calls the ‘political “double bind”’ that enforces the
‘simultaneous individualization and totalization’ of biopower.39 It is not
enough that the colonists have been deported and must putter about
in a small land, their freedom of movement restricted and totalized.
Can-D must also guarantee that the colonists generate individualized
‘trip reports,’ producing a range of striated and stratified accounts that
contend with one another. But these accounts serve only to obscure
the users’ broader and collective inculcation into a state of political
disenfranchisement, where they live out their ‘bare lives’ of exclusion.40
Can-D also acts as the Burroughsian ‘screen’ under which the chair of
P. P. Layouts, Leo Bulero, and the ‘hidden subsidiary’ (17–18) of his com-
pany (which grows, processes and distributed the drug) monopolizes,
with the state-sanctioned cooperation of Hepburn-Gilbert, the General
Secretary of the UN Narcotics Bureau, the entire biopolitical regime.
Bulero thus generates what Deleuze and Guattari identify as a ‘material-
ist psychiatry,’ ‘introducing desire into the mechanism, and introducing
production into desire’.41 Here we also see how the ‘political techniques
of power’ start to overlap and coextend with ‘technologies of the self,’
creating what Agamben calls a ‘zone of irreducible indistinction’ in which
the paradoxical effects of sovereignty on human life become invisible.42
It may be possible to understand the hovelists’ use of Can-D as a
reclamation of biopower, a collective action that facilitates its own kind
of ‘unworking’ as a reappropriation of the drug regime imposed on
them. The users’ exposure to an alternative, and relatively depoliticized,
ontological world that is ‘psychoactivated’ by Can-D’s biochemical
operations, leads them to reconceptualize the political structures that
disempower them and allows for the construction of new subject posi-
tions fortified by a knowledge of the arbitrariness of their sociopolitical
context. Here a ‘perennial philosophy’ that recognizes and authorizes
the mystical Truth that underlies Can-D’s ‘miracle’ can be adopted by
‘believers,’ who, sidestepping their material conditions, gain access to
‘the most solemn moment of which they [are] capable’ (43). However,
38 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Regan and other hovelists’ actual experience of the ‘miracle of transla-

tion’ rails against such a reading, perhaps reflecting Dick’s own skeptical
views about LSD and biochemical alteration in the tumultuous 1963–65
period.43 Can-D is, in fact, revealed to be irremediable: for so complete
are the users’ processes of translation into the figures of either Walt or
Pat that no subjective interventions are possible or even desired.
At one point when hovelist Sam Regan ‘translates’ into the persona of
Walt, we witness the outcome of his attempt to remediate the totalizing
experience of the drug. While in the character of Walt, Regan finds a
note that he has written to himself ‘in his own hand,’ presumably prior
to the translation, encouraging him to ‘make use of his time of transla-
tion,’ to enjoy his respite from the colonies and to call up his girlfriend
while he still can: ‘Call up Pat pronto!’ (51) In Regan’s hapless plan to
remediate and to interpolate the operations of Can-D we see Foucault’s
conception of the ‘[bio]political “double bind”’ at work. It is perhaps
not possible, nor is it even desirable, for Regan to ‘break through’ Can-
D’s simulacra by apprehending and then renouncing it as an artificial
‘illusion,’ and this is why the phantasmatic trace of Regan’s hand does
not encourage him to renounce the experience. Rather, the only reme-
diation of the drug that seems imaginable is Regan’s awareness of the
drug’s transience and irreality and, given this knowledge, to increase its
valency, to fully experience the jouissance of his split subjectivity (Sam/
Walt): Sam should not simply realize that he is Walt rather than Sam,
but that he is Walt-and-Sam rather than Sam.
What Stigmata reveals next is the chimerical procession of what
Jacques Alain-Miller, after Lacan, famously called ‘the suture’: that is,
the sign that ‘names the relation of the subject to the chain of its dis-
course’ and ‘figures there as the element which is lacking,’ functioning
as a ‘stand-in’ for what otherwise would appear as obvious lacunae in
the Can-D narrative.44 Even having seen the note, Sam is precluded
from appreciating the illusion of his the layout world. He cannot grasp
the illusoriness of the fact that he is Walt, that he lives in circa 1950s San
Francisco, and that ‘his shirts come from Italy, and his shoes were made
in England’ (50). In turn, Sam is also prevented from remembering the
‘other world’ (51) in which he is only Sam Regan: if the ‘dreary colonists’
hovel’ exists at all, then Sam’s memory of it is ‘remote and vitiated and
not convincing’ (51). Becoming perplexed and ‘a little depressed’ at the
sight of the note – whose irreducible excessiveness, its ‘pure presence,’
threatens to wreck his trip – Sam hastily disposes of it, dropping it in
the bathroom disposal chute. (The chute can be seen to metonymize a
portal or threshold between the worlds.) Now the note’s erasure must be
The Shock of Dysrecognition 39

hastily supplemented, and here the technic of the vidphone, on which

Sam promptly contacts Pat, enables him to substitute for the note’s dis-
appearance, and perform his role as Walt convincingly, his ‘tone as firm
and full of conviction as possible’ (52). What operates as the crucible
that fills in and sustains the Can-D narrative while it also screens out
the Martian hovel? In these operations, and throughout these affirma-
tory procedures, it is not only Can-D but the ‘suture’ that disallows
Sam to recognize the schismatic rupture that dissects his identity, that
distinguishes Walt from Sam. If, as Slavoj Žižek argues, the suture is
responsible for ‘producing the effect of self-enclosure with no need for
an exterior,’ then Can-D offers a grammar in which Sam can guarantee
that the self-enclosure of the virtualizing layout, the ‘biosociality’ of
Perky Pat, remains intact, while the reality of the hovel remains ablated,
repressed, and unnecessary.45
Of course, Stigmata does not merely draw a vector between Mars and
Earth, cordoning off the latter planet from the order of simulacrum,
immunizing it from the forces of biopolitical incursion. Integral to
the novel’s logic is its restructuration of the drug market’s political
economy. This interplanetary drug regime is not divided between a first
and a second world but is universalized when the pervasive ‘pharma’s
market’46 expands, becoming increasingly totalizing and unavoidable
as the brave new Sol system of biocontrol reaches an acme. This expan-
sion takes place following the appearance of a substance that is an
ostensible competitor to Can-D. Discovered by the novel’s eponymous
Palmer Eldritch, who has only just returned from the deep space of
Proxima Centauri, Chew-Z is a potent hallucinogen or deliriant derived
from a new form of ‘Titanian lichen’. Inaugurating a market drug
war with Bulero’s outfit, the Eldritch organization promotes its more
powerful preparation using a slogan that metonymically devalorizes
the religiosity of its opponent: ‘God promises eternal life. We Deliver
It!’ Chew-Z, in fact, delivers ‘eternal life’ to its ‘choosers’ only in the
form of terminal hallucinations, characterized by the continuous reap-
pearance, both on the bodies of others and on the user’s own body, of
three robotic symbols, which are the signifiers of Eldritch’s power: the
‘three stigmata’ constituted by his mechanical eyes, hand, and jaw. The
perpetually re-emerging and resurfacing psychoscape prompted by only
one dose of Chew-Z signals not only Dick’s prescience of the so-called
acid flashback phenomenon, only 11 cases of which had been clinically
reported by 1967, but also his recognition of a darker and more phan-
tasmatic semiotics of illusion.47 Unlike the ‘unified’ atavistic images of
human life augured by Can-D, Chew-Z’s imaginal realms feature a fully
40 The World According to Philip K. Dick

rebuilt human, defined by mechanization and phantasm: Eldritch’s

stigmata appear and disappear, seemingly at random; identities criss-
cross and coalesce, as the socius collectively transforms into a singular,
mechanized identity.
As choosers discover, there is no ‘path back’ (400) from the Chew-Z
world. The drug’s appearance not only facilitates a totalizing bio-
power, but also inaugurates a new, duopolistic economic structure. The
Can-D/Chew-Z duopoly signals the end of any hope in the novel for a
‘civilized… deployment of biotechnology’.48 Building on Baudrillard’s
writing on duopolies and the symbolic exchange (perhaps more innocu-
ously emblematized by Coke and Pepsi), Brett Levinson observes how
‘biomedicine and bioterrorism’ are wont to converge under the load
of such a doubling: ‘the terrorist enemy or the enemy of the terrorist
materialize as competitors for the same space of the bios,’ initiating a
‘simulation of war’ that is, in fact, a rendering of private economic and
political capital for ‘both sides as a means to sustain [their] duopoly’.49
In Stigmata, the invasion of Chew-Z metonymizes the ubiquity of a mar-
ket undergirded by biopower, a thematic that will be apotheosized in
Dick’s 1969 Ubik, where the central product, aptly named “Ubik” from
‘ubiquitous,’ will be, in Marx’s terms, a universal equivalent: a commod-
ity that has the ability to represent or symbolize any other product and
to represent any value.50

2.3 The Transmolecularization of Philip K. Dick

The emergent omnipresence of drugs from the 1960s and onwards –

what Nikolas Rose describes as the ‘molecularization’ of life in the
second half of the twentieth century – plays out not only in American
society as an ‘amphetamine epidemic,’ and a recurrent topos in Dick’s
novels. This presence also structures Dick’s life and career as a writer,
and particularly during a period that has been called his ‘Masterpiece
Years’ and his ‘family man period,’ between 1963 and 1965.51 Reflecting
on these years in a candid 1977 interview, Dick offers a dualistic char-
acterization of his writing praxis, evincing the all-encompassing logic
of drugs that scaffolds and sutures the binary of drugged-up and non-
drugged-up excursus. Reflecting on his work, Dick observes that it ‘falls
into two degrees, writing done under the influence of drugs, and writ-
ing done when not under the influence of drugs’. Yet, as Dick promptly
qualifies, when those psychoactive substances do not transfuse his
blood and brain, the breach is sutured by a symbolic supplement:
‘I [then] write about drugs.’52 The irremediable presence of drugs, be
The Shock of Dysrecognition 41

they either in Dick’s body or in his books, is predicated, he says, on the

market demands that contour his career as an sf author: stimulants were
required to ‘write so much’ and so much writing was required because
‘the pay rates were so low’: ‘Without amphetamines, I couldn’t have
written so much.’53 However, to a degree, Dick’s economic and utilitar-
ian account of his drug use conceals the extent to which he also felt an
immense personal pressure to support his family at the time as a new
father (the family at this time comprised Anne, her three children and
their daughter Laura), while it also obscures the psychological reasons –
the ‘major inner conflict’ – from which, as Anne notes, Dick had suf-
fered during this period: a general clinical depression for which drugs
like ‘Sparene, Stelazine, Preludin, and amphetamine, and others’ were
prescribed.54 As Nicolas Rasmussen notes, amphetamine was the ‘antide-
pressant of choice’ for family doctors in the mid-1960s.55
By this time, the correlation between the use of stimulants and the
generation of a subjective energy predisposed to an assiduous writing
practice had become common knowledge, almost certainly prompting
Dick’s utilitarian ‘molecularization’. As he remarks in his Rolling Stone
interview of 1974: ‘I believed there was a direct connection between the
amphetamines and the writing.’56 In the 1950s, pharmaceutical adver-
tisements had encouraged potential customers to ‘[r]elease the story
for analysis’ and promised the ‘spontaneous free flow of speech [that
could] be obtained by intravenous injection of Methedrine.’57 While it
may now seem clear that Dick had become dependent on these drugs
in this period, the medical understanding of physiological or behavioral
addiction at the time was slight, as was the knowledge of the origin of
psychosis. Only as the 1960s drew to a close was the theory that psy-
chiatrists like Humphry Osmond had earlier proposed for the origin
of schizophrenia – that it was caused by an antagonism of serotonin,
and that LSD, which modulated serotonin, could produce a ‘model
psychosis’ and was thus psychotomimetic – abandoned as psychiatrists
began to consider that an endogenous dopamine excess, which could be
mimicked by the use of amphetamines, presented a more cogent ‘model
psychosis’ for psychiatric study.58 Such an amphetamine psychosis,
Sutin suggests, could account for the ‘visage of perfect evil’ that Dick
apprehended in the sky in 1963, inspiring Dick’s descriptions of Palmer
Eldritch.59 But as Dick himself makes clear in a 1978 interview, neither
the novel nor the vision was catalyzed, as some critics have implied, by
LSD.60 Most likely, Dick did not use LSD until after his vision; and, even
on the very few occasions that he did, almost all accounts suggest that
he did not enjoy the experience.61
42 The World According to Philip K. Dick

By 1971, Dick was able to recognize his dependence on ampheta-

mines, telling his mother Dorothy during a phone call that he was a
drug addict.62 The day after this conversation, Dick was admitted to
Stanford University’s Hoover Pavilion Psychiatric Hospital where he
decided that he no longer needed amphetamines to write prolifically.
In a 1977 interview Dick suggests that it was relief from ‘economic pres-
sures’ that enabled him to give up stimulants. However, in two earlier
interviews, Dick recounts what is seemingly an inexplicable report from
his physical examiner, Dr Harry Bryan, a doctor whom Dick would later
describe as ‘the best psychiatrist [he] ever saw’.63 As Dick notes, Bryan
and his fellow psychiatrists,

discovered something odd about me… that when I took ampheta-

mines… they never reached my brain!… The consensus, signed by
the four doctors who’d administered the physical and psychological
tests, was that the amphetamines were not affecting me physi-
cally, they were not reaching the neural tissue, but they were being
excreted through the detoxifying process of the liver.64

Dick’s conclusion – that there was ‘nothing wrong with [him]’ – brought
him great relief. But if the test results were valid, then a question
remained: If they had never become psychoactive, had never crossed
the blood–brain barrier, then why had Dick continued to use ampheta-
mines at all? The doctors had suggested he may have been ‘taking it for
a placebo effect of some kind,’65 but Dick instead postulates his desire to
attain a ‘protective coloration’ among the drug subculture: ‘Everybody
else was taking some form of drugs, and I wouldn’t have known how
to behave if I didn’t have something to take.’66 After 1971, Dick’s new-
found belief in the Derridean indeterminacy of drugs – that their effects
on the brain may in fact be only imagined, may be only apparently real
(a thematic that had already been taken up by Stigmata’s Chew-Z) – is
reworked in A Scanner Darkly (1977) as total unpredictability or unde-
cidability. In this novel, protagonist Bob Arctor is informed by his psy-
chiatrists that the toxic drug Substance D has done things to his brain
that should ‘never happen’ and ‘may be permanent’: it has created an
‘abnormal condition the body isn’t prepared for’ (218–19).
In both his sf and life, then, Dick’s drugs become agents of dysrecog-
nition whose value lies in their signification of what is unknowable.
By virtue of the kind of pharmakonicity that Derrida attributes to
speech-acts and writing, the drug as a literary psychotrope may be
thought of as having been ‘seductive’ to Dick and his readership, and to
The Shock of Dysrecognition 43

remain ‘seductive’ to contemporary readers, precisely because this fig-

ure remains forever ‘undecidable,’ producing both real and literary dis-
and re-orientations through its ceaseless ‘detours of a signifier foreign
to it’.67 Drugs always stand in for other operations or signifiers other
than their own – religiosity, market capital, the socius in which drug
use is normalized, proscribed or imposed – so that, as Ronnell notes,
simply ‘being-on-drugs indicates that a structure is already in place,
[even] prior to the production of the materiality we call drugs’.68 And
yet, if the precise contours of such a structure are visible, these forma-
tions may represent only those ways in which the indeterminacy or
unknowability of a drug’s power has already been colonized. Regulated,
reappropriated, and revalued, drugs in Dick’s novels are co-opted by the
State as agents of a late-capitalist economic power. Here the biopolitical
sovereign must direct the use of drugs, lest any drug should be used as
an end in itself.

1 Lawrence Sutin, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (New York: Carroll
& Graf, 2005), 9. Henceforth DI; Andrew Butler, ‘LSD, Lying Ink, and Lies,
Inc.,’ Science Fiction Studies 32, no. 2 (2005): 265–80; Marcus Boon, The Road
of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2002), 189.
2 Also see Phillip Purser-Hallard, ‘The Drugs Did Work,’ The Guardian
(12 August 2006), 8.
3 Philip K. Dick, The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick, vol. 6: 1980–91, ed. Don
Heron (Novato: Underwood Miller, 2010), 27; also see Umberto Rossi, The
Twisted Worlds of Philip K. Dick: A Reading of Twenty Ontologically Uncertain
Novels (London: McFarland, 2011), 288, n. 12.
4 On Dick’s use of LSD and psychedelics see Sutin, DI, 127 and 141–2; on
amphetamines, including ‘speed’ and Semoxydrine, see Sutin, DI, 107,
123, 164–5 and 169–70; Rickman, To The High Castle: Philip K. Dick: A Life
1928–1962 (Long Beach: Valentine, 1989), 49–52; on the antipsychotic
Stelazine, Sutin, DI, 124, and Anne R. Dick, The Search for Philip K. Dick,
188–9. On Dick’s drug use generally, Perry Kinman’s obscure fanzine Rouzle,
provides an exhaustive list of the drugs Dick used according to various biog-
raphies between 1933 until 1980: see Kinman, ed. Rouzle 5, 2008.
5 See David Lenson, On Drugs (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press,
6 That this might constitute a scholarly-critical transgression is indicated by the
remarks of critics such as Andrew Butler. In his 2005 essay, Butler argues that
we should ‘try to keep his life and his work separate and not overplay Dick’s
use of drugs.’ ‘LSD, Lying Ink, and Lies, Inc.’: 265.
44 The World According to Philip K. Dick

7 On the printing press, see Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution

in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005);
Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962), 4–6. On electronic and digital
writing, see notably N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines (Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 2002) and My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects
and Literary Texts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). And see
David Boothroyd, Culture on Drugs: Narco-Cultural Studies of High Modernity
(Manchester: Manchester University Press), 9.
8 I refer here to works I have previously cited including Boothroyd’s edited
volume Culture on Drugs, Lenson’s On Drugs; Boon’s Road of Excess; as well
as Avital Ronell’s Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania (Lincoln, NE:
University of Nebraska Press, 1992); Sadie Plant’s Writing On Drugs (London:
Faber, 1999), 114 and 169; and Richard Doyle’s Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex,
Plants, and the Evolution of the Noösphere (Seattle: University of Washington
Press, 2011).
9 For a summary of these changes, see, for instance, D. Mark Anderson, et al.,
‘The Legalization of Recreational Marijuana: How Likely is the Worst Case
Scenario?,’ Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 33, no. 1 (2014): 221–31.
10 Anne Dick’s history of her and Phil’s marriage in The Search For Philip K. Dick
(San Francisco Tachyon, 2010) details this tumultuous period of Dick’s life
in the mid-1960s, culminating in Dick’s perception of a face towering over
him in the sky – what Sutin calls a ‘visage of perfect evil’. (DI, 126–7). Dick’s
essays of this period are reproduced in Lawrence Sutin, ed., The Shifting
Realities of Philip K. Dick (New York: Pantheon, 1995), 167–82.
11 Anne Dick writes that Dick became ‘overly involved with the case histo-
ries’ of those featured in Rollo May’s co-edited volume Existence: A New
Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology. The Search, 79; and see Christopher
Palmer, Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and the Postmodern (Liverpool: Liverpool
University Press, 2003), 147; Rossi, Twisted Worlds, 111, 117 and 281, n. 15.
12 Of course, writers like Burroughs also penned essays on drugs, although these
are characteristically less philosophical than Dick’s. See, for instance: William
S. Burroughs, ‘Points of Distinction Between Sedative and Consciousness-
Expanding Drugs,’ in David Solomon, ed., LSD: The Consciousness-Expanding
Drug (New York: Putnam’s, 1964), 168–73.
13 Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan
Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 693; also see Steve
Erickson’s and Simon Critchley’s separate notes on this expression.
14 On the massive increases in amphetamine production and sales in the
United States between the late 1950s and 1970, for instance, see Richard
DeGrandpre, The Cult Of Pharmacology (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,
2006), 146–8.
15 Jacques Derrida, ‘Plato’s Pharmacy,’ in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson
(London: Continuum, 2008), 75.
16 Ibid., 99.
17 Each book in Dale Pendell’s ‘Pharmako’ series is published by North Atlantic
Books, California: Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons and Herbcraft (1995);
Pharmako/Dynamis: Stimulating Plants, Potions and Herbcraft (2002), see esp.
151; and Pharmako/Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path (2005). Also see
Doyle, Darwin’s Pharmacy.
The Shock of Dysrecognition 45

18 Doyle, Darwin’s Pharmacy, 33 and 121.

19 See Youngquist, ‘Score, Scan, Schiz: Dick on Drugs,’ Cultural Critique 44
(2000): 84–110; Anthony Enns, ‘Media, Drugs and Schizophrenia in the
Works of Philip K. Dick,’ Science Fiction Studies 33, no. 1 (2006): 68–88.
20 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 248.
21 Strangely enough, in Michael Bishop’s sf book The Secret Ascension
(New York: Tor, 1987) the ‘second printing’ of Dick’s novel VALIS is censored
by the censorship board: 33. Avital Ronell, Crack Wars, 50 and 55–6.
22 Ronell, Crack Wars, 68.
23 Consider in Stigmata, for instance, the interrelation of the drug Can-D,
the E Therapy that is used by Dr Denkmal, and the computer psychiatrist,
Dr Smile. I employ the term tekhne iatrikes as it was used in ancient Greek to
refer to medicine as a ‘mechanical art’. On this, see Robert Araya’s essay ‘The
outlook of the Tekhne Iatrike and the Medical Act to the Third Millennium,’
Theoretical Medicine 17, no. 2 (1996): 163–73.
24 See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel
Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 4.
25 Ronell, Crack Wars, 68.
26 This letter is reproduced as the preface to Beyond Lies the Wub: The Collected
Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol. 6 (London: Gollancz, 1988), 9–10.
27 Dick, preface to Beyond Lies the Wub, 9–10.
28 The word ‘socius’ is Latin for a kind of social gathering. I use it throughout
this essay in place of society (which Dick uses) in order to more fully denote
what Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘social machine’: Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism
and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1983), 33 and 141.
29 Erika Dyck, Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD from Clinic to Campus (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 119.
30 Ibid, 121.
31 See Rasmussen, On Speed, 163.
32 See endnote 4, above.
33 Dyck, Psychedelic Psychiatry, 101.
34 William S. Burroughs, Nova Express (New York: Grove, 1992 [1964]) 6. (Also
discussed in Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, Acid Dreams (New York: Grove,
1985), 82.)
35 This thematic is also explored in The Simulacra (1964), where psychotherapy
has been outlawed under pressure from A.G. Chemie, a Berlin based phar-
maceutical company.
36 See notably Brett Levinson, ‘Biopolitics and Duopolies,’ Diacritics 35, no. 2
(2005): 65–75.
37 Dyck, Psychedelic Psychiatry, 101–18. The homophonic concordance and
other similarities between ‘LSD’ and Can-D’ were reified in 1971, when
a German version of the novel was published under the new title LSD-
Astronauts. See: Philip K. Dick, LSD-Astronauten, trans. Anneliese Strauss
(Frankfurt: Insel, 1971).
38 See Vladimír Křen et al., ed., Ergot: The Genus Claviceps (Amsterdam:
Harwood, 2005), 94–104.
39 Foucault, ‘The Subject and Power,’ Critical Inquiry 8, no. 4 (1982): 785.
Foucault defines biopower as ‘the set of mechanisms through which the
46 The World According to Philip K. Dick

basic biological features of the human species became the object of a politi-
cal strategy, of a general strategy of power’: Security, Territory, Population, ed.
Michael Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2009), 1. See also: Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, 9; cf. Hung-chiung Li, ‘Out
of the Biopolitical Double Bind: Universal Singularity, Singular Inversion,
and Subtractive Unworking,’ Concentric 37, no. 2 (2011): 111.
40 On the increasing usefulness of internet trip reports to medicine, instance, Paul
Dargan et al., ed., Novel Psychoactive Substances: Classification, Pharmacology,
Toxicology (Oxford: Elsevier, 2013), 61.
41 Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 22.
42 Agamben, Homo Sacer, 12 and 17; cf. Li, ‘Out of the Biopolitical Double
Bind,’ 111.
43 Anne Dick asserts that in 1963 Phil had such a ‘bad trip he never tried LSD
again’ (The Search, 124), but Sutin describes Dick’s 75 microgram acid trip
two years later, in 1965: DI, 149. Dick’s initial castigation of hallucinogens
is reformulated in his introduction to ‘Faith of Our Fathers,’ in Dangerous
Visions, vol. 2, ed. Harlan Ellison (London: Sphere, 1974), 68–9 (also see
endnote 59, below).
44 Jacques-Alain Miller, ‘Suture (elements of the logic of the signifier),’ trans.
Jacqueline Rose, Screen 18, no. 4 (1977): 26. As Slavoj Žižek observes, this is
what Deleuze alternatively calls the ‘floating signifier which is the disability
of all finite thought’. Less Than Nothing (London: Verso, 2013), 585.
45 Žižek, Less Than Nothing, 844. Paul Rabinow coined the term biosociality
in reference to the formation of social identity through geneticized knowl-
edges and practices: ‘Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to
Biosociality,’ in Essays on the Anthropology of Politics (Princeton, NJ: University
of Princeton Press, 1996), 91–111.
46 This is what Philip Mirowski nicknames the ‘Modern Globalized Regime’ of
Big Pharma in Science Mart (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011),
ch. 5.
47 This is now diagnostically described as HPPD or hallucinogen persisting per-
ception disorder in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5,
5th edn (Washington: APP, 2013), 531 [292.89]. See Edward M. Brecher,
Consumer Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs (Boston: Little Brown, 1972),
288. As Dick himself suggested in a 1974 interview, ‘nobody at the time
knew that LSD was going to produce flashbacks’. Vertex 1, no. 6 (1974): 96.
48 Levinson, ‘Biopolitics and Duopolies’: 74. Cf. Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic
Exchange and Death, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (London: Sage, 1993).
49 Levinson, ‘Duopolies,’ 74–5.
50 Fitting, ‘“Ubik”: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF,’ Science Fiction Studies
2, no. 1 (1975): 50.
51 Nikolas Rose, ‘The Politics of Life Itself,’ Theory, Culture, and Society 18, no. 6
(2001): 1–30; and see Scott Timberg, ‘Philip K. Dick’s Masterpiece Years,’ The
New York Times (23 November 2010), http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/23/
52 SF Eye, no. 14 (1996): 37–46 (emphasis mine).
53 Ibid.
54 Anne Dick, The Search, 104.
The Shock of Dysrecognition 47

55 Nicolas Rasmussen, On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine (New York:

New York University Press, 2008), 162.
56 Paul Williams, ‘The True Stories of Philip K. Dick,’ Rolling Stone, November 6,
1975, 46.
57 Ibid., fig. 24 and 147–8.
58 See, for instance, Humphry Osmond, ‘A Review of the Clinical Effects of the
Psychotomimetic Agents,’ Annals of the New York Academy of Science 66, no. 3
(1957): 418–34; Rasmussen, On Speed, 202–3; and Daria Peleg-Raibstein et al.,
‘The Amphetamine Sensitization Model of Schizophrenia: Relevance Beyond
Psychotic Symptoms?,’ Psychopharmacology 206 (2009): 603–21.
59 Sutin, Divine Invasions, 127.
60 As Dick remarks, before writing Stigmata, he had only read of the visions
caused by LSD in Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception. See Joe Vitale, ‘An
Interview with America’s Most Brilliant Science-Fiction Writer,’ The Aquarian
(11 October 1978), reproduced in PKD Otaku 4 (2002): 7–11, available at
61 Dick did, however, often express his excitement at LSD’s uses: in
‘Schizophrenia and The Book of Changes,’ Dick notes that ‘LSD has made
the discovery of [temporal distortion] available to everyone’ (see The Shifting
Realities, 177) and he is effusive at the prospect of ‘religious experience’
being ‘scientifically studied’ through LSD in the afterword to ‘Faith of Our
Fathers,’ 68–9. Also see Sutin, DI, 127 and 141–2; Rickmann, Philip K. Dick:
The Last Testament (Long Island: Valentine, 1985), 12 and 58.
62 Sutin, DI, 175.
63 Dick, The Exegesis, 21.
64 Williams, ‘The True Stories of Philip K. Dick,’ 46. Cf. Daniel DePrez,
‘An Interview with Philip K. Dick,’ Science Fiction Review 5 (1976): 6–12.
65 DePrez, ‘An Interview with Philip K. Dick’.
66 Williams, ‘True Stories,’ 47.
67 Derrida, ‘Plato’s Pharmacy,’ 76.
68 Ronell, Crack Wars, 33.
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold
War Imaginary
Fabienne Collignon

In a recent paper on the undead, Roger Luckhurst talks about the redefi-
nition of death that occurred in the 1960s, more precisely in 1968, by
way of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School, which
changed the locus of death from the heart to the brain.1 The means for
this renegotiation of death was biotechnology, the Intensive Care Unit
(ICU) and a new generation of artificial respirators, technologies of the
body or of medico-corporate systems that lengthen the time of death
at the same time that they commercialize it and commodify the body
from the inside out.2 This redefinition of death was due to the machine,
a deliberately generic term to gesture beyond this moment of the 1960s,
towards techno-culture’s extensive associations with the occult, form-
ing the missing link in ongoing processes of technologization.3 One of
the main reasons the Ad Hoc Committee proposed an alternative inter-
pretation of death was organ transplantation: the brain is the one organ
that can’t be transplanted.
What follows, in this chapter on Philip K. Dick’s Ubik (1969) – note
the date of publication, a year after the official redetermination of
death, a year after the release, also, of George Romero’s Night of the
Living Dead; further note the excessive emergence/return of the prefix
re-, with its general sense of coming back – is an investigation of ‘half-
life’ in ‘cold-pac,’ that is, ‘bins’ or transparent caskets that prolong
some sort of dead cold living between two deaths.4 This reference to
‘being’ between two deaths gestures towards the limit zones of sciences
that go beyond the laws of the earth: cryogenics, on the one hand, and
cybernetics, on the other, hitched, as they are, to space travel. Ubik, in
this vein, is a book governed by the structural relations that define both
transformations, linked to coldness, to cold transcendence. Laurence
Rickels reads half-life with reference to Freud’s analysis of mourning
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 49

and melancholia, or ‘unmourning,’ a condition of liminal being in

which ‘the deceased and the survivor’ always ‘[have] in common that
they both lost each other,’ and where it consequently is unclear to
‘decide who died on whom’.5 Effectively, Ubik, like many of Dick’s
other works, unsettles the apparently discrete dimensions between the
living and the (un)dead in that the novel situates the predominance of
its narrative in an in-between space. This space irrevocably dislodges
the bounds that separate the environment of the ‘tomb world’ and the
world of ‘full-life,’ a displacement that is never resolved: the book ends
on ‘an intuition’ defined through its chill, so often indicative of mora-
toria, storage technology, of those kept, as it were, on ice.6 Coldness
invades everything in this novel, yielding a ‘nightmarish uncertainty’
and ‘reality fluctuation’ that, as Fredric Jameson observes, recurs else-
where in Dick’s writing in which ‘presence’ is, time and again, thrown
into doubt.7
This chapter proceeds from the vantage point of a fundamental
ontological insecurity, in which death is strangely lifelike and vice
versa; it thereby focuses on what Tim Armstrong, in a different context,
calls a ‘logic of disarticulation’.8 This same logic is at work in Ubik, in
which worlds decline through the ‘momentum of [a] retrograde force’
accelerating ‘toward domination,’ a movement that is expressed as an
‘insidious, seeping’ process of ‘cooling-off’.9 The universe of the novel
is highly unstable, a comment that similarly applies to the one(s) that
exist(s) outside it, governed by paranoid fantasies of Mutually Assured
Destruction and, to refer to the book, ‘compulsive obsessive fears that
the entire world is turning into clotted milk’.10 These are the abject
coagulations of a culture that decays because of the residual charges/
discharges of, above all, the nuclear weapon, ‘baby Jesus’/savior11 and
enabling mechanism of the conflict. My argument edges, then, towards
a gathering together of the book’s cold insides and Cold War outside, in
which Ubik’s ‘inside view of entropy’12 as hypothermia (endo- and exopsy-
chically) corresponds to the tomb world overseen by the ‘all-sovereign
death-ray’13 of the atom bomb. The ensuing chapter is premised on
an interpretation alert to the Cold War as precisely that – cold – and
further occurs as a result of an engagement with death as gradation.
Half-life itself is an expression that marks out the relations between
radioactivity, decay, and the inability, to gesture back to Rickels’ point
above, to decide who is living and who is dead, particularly in the cata-
strophic light of the nuclear device. Robert Jay Lifton wrote at length
about the phenomenon of ‘death-in-life’ concerning the survivors of
the Hiroshima bomb, the psychic numbing that arose as a consequence
50 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of the hibakushas’ encounter with an overwhelming death-force.14 The

word half-life already contains (and fails to contain) the tomb world
exploded into ‘surface’ existence by the nuclear weapon, which dis-
appears full-life into disarticulation: shell-beings with ‘no substantial
The ‘event’ of the Bomb is a ‘phenomenal catastrophe’ that is at
the same time a ‘catastrophe of the phenomenal,’16 as Peter Sloterdijk
argues. This sense, though, of ‘afterlives’ and dispersed subjectivity does
not begin with the nuclear weapon but accompanies other technologies
that are nowhere near as lethal – electronic, for example, or prosthetic –
and which form the means/machines for what becomes, in 1968, this
intervention into the definition of death. In her book Liminal Lives,
Susan Squier is concerned with the development of a new ‘personhood
mingling existence and nonexistence, organic and inorganic matter,’
which comes into being through bio-medicine: in vitro tissue growth,
taken from cells after death and kept in cold storage, gland grafts,
transplant technique, all of which create this emergent personhood as
a ‘liminal’ subject, engaged in continuing ‘negotiations’ with, and past,
biological or corporeal limits.17 ‘[P]aradigmatic crises’18 like birth and
death are less definitive states, read clear opposites, but pass into each
other, behave as proceedings. This ‘logic of disarticulation,’ because
it shifts the grounds of the subject – decentered, endlessly reformed,
reforming –, exists at the heart of Dick’s work, in which the body
functions as a site of transgression and/or dissolution. This crisis of
subjectivity and presence (Jameson’s ‘nostalgia for the present’19 is also
directed at the body, the lost mythical object) generates the narrative of
Ubik. The novel, after all, is about liminal (half-)lives, whose sense of self
and reality frequently turns insectile because it is waning, breaking up.
Materials part like ‘cheap gray paper,’ as if ‘fashioned by wasps,’ prompt-
ing a gradual erosion of, or eating away at, a corporeality approaching
zero, ‘containing nothing’.20 This drawing nearer to dispersal is an expe-
rience of the second death, the point at which suffering either ends or
continues indefinitely.21
The first part of this chapter intends to situate Dick’s Ubik within
a discourse on death that in the 1960s undergoes significant change
regarding the distinctions between brain and biological death, the
various bio-medical apparatuses that ‘prolong’ life/death but, above
all, with respect to cryogenic and cybernetic disarticulations of the
‘human’. Jameson notes that ‘it is no longer only the android who
has to ask… auto-referential questions’;22 the cogito, in Dick’s work, is
always already android. Such issues form background information or
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 51

noises of interference drifting through a paper whose second part enters

half-life by way of opposing Dick to Robert C.W. Ettinger, ‘Father’ of
the ‘cryonics paradigm’.23 Ettinger’s imagination of cold storage tech-
nologies radically differs from Dick’s: his liminal beings, waiting for
a death or rebirth yet to come, occupy a technologized dream-space
that is conceptualized as a manifestation of relentless decay and
‘insubstantial uncertainty’.24 This spatiality promises a gadget-loving
future achieved through time-traveling cryopreservation techniques:
beyond that first death, a body-armored subjectivity reveals its
unassailable nature.

3.1 Neo-morts

Ubik begins with a visit to a moratorium in Zurich, in which ‘cold-pac

bins’ monitor the time left between the first and second/final death;
the ‘cephalic activity’ of the half-lifers decays each time they are
‘[revved] up’.25 Such subject-dispersal and ongoing death processes (as
an interval that marks off half-life from ‘[floating] out of the System,
out into the stars’) destabilize the ontology of the so-called human,
likened to an engine/battery or conceptualized as a pulse phase beating
behind an impassive face.26 The questions raised relate to difficulties
of naming this being, gradually vanishing in an ‘icy mist,’ moving out
of one order of things and into another or others, because the trajec-
tory remains, at the very least, bifurcated: the stars as destination but
conversely also a ‘bad womb’.27 As much as the half-lifers are drifting
towards some form of rebirth, their status in both tomb and full-life
world is equally uncertain. What happens in cold-pac is an intersubjec-
tivity (though not a benevolent one), a progressive growing together,
no longer forming individual entities existing apart but, instead, a hive
mind, dreaming in never quite integrated union.28 The thing to bear
in mind is that the book was published just after this crucial shift in
terms of death-defining ‘personhood’ that exists (floats) inside medico-
corporate systems. Squier discusses these liminal subjects as embryos
or fetuses, aging persons or ‘neo-morts,’29 the latter a term borrowed
from Willard Gaylin’s paper titled ‘Harvesting the Dead,’ published
in the September 1974 edition of Harper’s Magazine.30 Never mind,
for now, that even the ostensibly ‘alive’ are prosthetically enhanced,
‘revved up’ beyond their failing abilities31 – there is no ‘infinite’ abyss32
between the living and the lifeless – the issue is one of naming and
defining this ‘subject’. Gaylin’s article proceeds: ‘[w]e are… faced with
the task of deciding whether that which we have kept alive is still a
52 The World According to Philip K. Dick

human being, or, to put it another way, whether that human being
that we are maintaining should be considered “alive”’.33 To character-
ize those ‘things’ in suspension – whose legal status is, by extension,
contested – Gaylin proposes the expression ‘neo-mort’ to indicate the
potential these soft, inert, (un)dead forms might have as ‘harvests’ or
‘banks’ for future usage: in and of themselves, they offer ‘womb space’
in their death-like state.34
The half-lifers fulfill no such function in Ubik, where they might
give advice, albeit related to business decisions, yet remain unquestion-
ingly within a similar culture of storage and banking (in Switzerland)
that only the rich can afford. The moratoria are ‘bioemporia,’35 places
of commerce where the undead are, more than anything, deposits.
Even if the half-lifers differ from Gaylin’s ‘newly dead’ in that they
are not crops supporting the ‘truly living,’ bio-capitalism remains
at work, unsurprisingly given Dick’s political imagination, so attentive
to, or captured by, this perpetual moment of late consumer capitalist
culture.36 It is, as such, impossible – an indication of the ideological
prisonhouse that we find ourselves in, unable to imagine viable utopian
alternatives to the system in existence, frozen in its image – to conceive
of bodies/subjects other than through a biopolitical regime that banks
on current practices. In Dick’s case, what Jameson calls the capacity
to think the present as history so as to ‘suffer’ it as ‘hollowness,’37 the
point is not to exalt these banking procedures but to suggest a culture’s
death-love, which makes the tomb-world illimitable. Given the year
of Ubik’s publication, this moment of the late 1960s – bearing in mind
not only the Ad Hoc Committee’s death-deferral but also space age
programs – becomes especially pertinent. A desire to refuse limits is still
operational, not in terms of ethics or justice, beyond the law, as Jacques
Derrida discusses,38 but to keep capitalist dream or death-worlds in
circulation (beyond the planet).
In her book on the German chemical industry, Esther Leslie talks
about utopia as time, not place, a comment she links to Walt Disney’s
death in 1966: ‘[t]here is a rumour’ that his remains are kept in cryo-
genic suspension.39 Such conjectures, however, though not verifiable
with regards to Disney, are nonetheless informed by the ‘continuing
march of technology’40 and, more precisely, by experiments that pro-
long the death-function. These tests involve the freezing and preserving
of animal tissue that appeared in the general press from the late 1950s
onwards: the first cryonic suspension took place in 1966, a month after
Disney’s ‘death’.41 Leslie’s chapter on the ‘post-war Cold War’ focuses on
the Situationists, for which, she writes,
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 53

medical projects for life extension extend only the boredom and
misery of this life, which stretches to infinity, making it, in effect, a
living death. Bourgeois democracy and bureaucratic capitalism had
chilled human beings, turning life into a quest for survival in petri-
fied conditions.42

Her discussion further considers Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, as

if indicative of a moment of crisis, or of zone limits that are breached,
where images of coldness abound as, in Adorno’s words, ‘the basic
principle of bourgeois subjectivity’:43 frozen, careless techno-future,
total catastrophe. Leslie reads the Cold War in terms of its metaphor
only briefly – Disney as a Cold Warrior who crystallizes a US-led global
trend of freezing a particular world order into place – but the literaliza-
tion of this figure of speech warrants more development outside of her
extraordinary analysis. What happens in the 1960s is not only the pos-
sibility for revivals to come, but also the consolidation of those twin/
ned forces that Leslie identifies – capitalist-cryonic – into a triad, that
is to say, the holy trinity of capitalism, cryogenics and cybernetics.
Etymologically speaking, the word cyborg first appeared in 1960, in
an article by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline, in which they ‘[invite]
man to take an active part’44 in biological evolution just as rocket flight
became technologically feasible. They advocate a metamorphosis of
the species as opposed to fish-like, jelly-like organisms shrouded in the
‘bubble’ of the machine:

The environment with which man is now concerned is that of space.

Biologically, what are the changes necessary to allow man to live
adequately in the space environment? Artificial atmospheres encap-
sulated in some sort of enclosure constitute only temporizing, and
dangerous temporizing at that, since we place ourselves in the same
position as a fish taking a small quantity of water along with him to
live on land. The bubble all too easily bursts.45

Yet the outcome of such cybernetic transformations remains a bubble,

in that what exists beyond the scope of Clynes and Kline’s paper is the
realization of a crystal palace ‘aesthetics of immersion’46 that occurs, for
example, at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, released
in 1968: a white, translucent star-child, in luminous shell, floats towards
earth. Kubrick’s (crypto-)fascist point is an evolutionary leap articulated
through a techno-trajectory, reinstating an absorbed state of being-
in that is similarly the rationale for Dominus Blicero’s special rocket
54 The World According to Philip K. Dick

launch in the closing stages of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

This dream-like ‘spherology,’ – which Blicero imagines as a glass globe,
‘hollow and very high and far away’47 – indicates the suitability of the
gadget-loving rocket-child to sustain this type of culture in space envi-
ronments, at once areas of mythical dimensions, containment and ice-
cold survival. This is where the metaphor of the Cold War, not simply
abstract emblem of a conflict that deflects its battlefields elsewhere,
really turns material; the rocket stands in the service of a dreaming
death-world intent on preserving itself: half-life, always already dead,
living under the spell of cold-pac politics.

3.2 Space project: freezer program

If the Cold War was a figure of speech, carried out in areas ostensibly
outside the limits of the main actors’ nation states through an arms
race that perpetuated its damages remotely, its execution nonetheless
depended on the literalization of that central expression. It frequently
was exactly what its designation implies: it was cold, associated with
closed, controlled environments of low temperatures if also with ‘inde-
scribable’ topographies like the polar regions, north and south, whose
integration into Cold War strategy occurred both obtrusively and spec-
trally.48 Antarctica and Arctic behave as Cold War imaginary centers,
ground zeroes of a coming emergency, hosting, in the case of the Arctic,
lines of fantasy defense – Distance Early Warning (DEW) and Ballistic
Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). The Antarctic, conversely, func-
tioned as a rehearsal zone for overt warfare, whose target computations
were enhanced through geologic and hydrographic research conducted
as (false) experiments in cooperative internationalism. Bear in mind,
also, that the atom bomb yields a nuclear geography even before its det-
onation that is already expressed in the ‘wasteland’49 of the polar zones,
uniting with the ice-cold upshots of the nuclear weapon: Antarctica as
‘dream of annihilation,’50 as Pynchon writes in V. In Gravity’s Rainbow,
the North Pole occupies an analogous special position as the site of
anticipation and desire for total death.
An aesthetic of coolness relies, at heart, on the interpretation of the
atom bomb as deterrent – the guardian of a cold stasis – materializing
the dream of survival in cold shelter. A device of blinding heat and
light, the nuclear weapon becomes, rhetorically as well as politically, a
cooling system designed to offset eruptions of war. By the late 1950s,
the gadget is inserted into the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM),
whose technology is not only metaphorical; it articulates a political
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 55

system that operates as sub-zero insulation fantasy, already evident

when considering that the rocket’s infrastructure insists, especially with
respect to the early generation US missile force, on super-cold condi-
tions.51 Atlas and Titan missiles, both of which form part of America’s
first nuclear arsenal, required the maintenance of an unchanging cli-
matic condition; as a highly explosive, liquid-fuelled mechanism, these
rockets needed to be held in a uniform, unvarying atmosphere where
temperatures were monitored and humidity was kept at an optimal
level. The missile tanks held a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid
nitrogen either stored inside the rocket in times of alert or else in pro-
pellant terminals; liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen are cryogenic gases
chilled to the point of becoming fluids. Coolers ensured a glacial space,
a preservation of missile and world in ice: rocket installations are frosty
places – both in terms of actual environmental conditions as well as in
reference to the cool calculation of mass murder, what Jean Baudrillard
terms the ‘cryogenisation of emotions,’52 that ostensibly prevents a
whole system, frozen in a cold war, from going into meltdown.
If the rocket’s condition of sustenance is coldness, so is, as mentioned
earlier, its imagined outcome, the nuclear winter that takes dominion
after an atomic meltdown freezes the world into a ‘Deathkingdom’.53
Recall, for example, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963), in which a
substance called ‘Ice-Nine,’ developed by the ‘Father’ of the A Bomb,
‘[makes] infinite expanses of muck, marsh, swamp, creek, pools, quick-
sand, and mire as solid as [a] desk’.54 Ice-Nine emerges from a ‘seed,’ as
if such discoveries ever sprouted anything but death – ‘the seed, which
had come from God-only-knows-where, taught the atoms [a] novel way
in which to stack and lock, to crystallize, to freeze’55 – which, by the end
of the book, starts a chain reaction that ends the world in ‘winter, now
and forever’.56 The ‘seeds’ of the A bomb and offspring manifest the
Cold War as endless, planetary condition of coldness; Ice-Nine belongs
to the same ‘family’ of weapons that, maintained in freezing systems
designed to safeguard their destructive potential, find their metaphori-
cal and mythical purpose – to freeze the world in nuclear deterrence –
transposed into (tomb-world) existence. If bomb-seeds spread as, or
even generate to realize, a means of ‘defense,’ the divine/angelic device
of the nuclear missile is incorporated into this same rhetoric of protec-
tion. The rocket is never offensive unless in possession of the other; on
‘our’ side, it is always a shield, a survival machine to take us to a place
of death-less/death-like shelter: Blicero’s dream-world, closed, vacant,
ice-cold, arresting time in a techno-future that freezes existence as inter-
minably ‘balanced’ on – or already past – the brink of death.
56 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Deterrence but also the apparent departure from such conditions

depend on an aesthetics and architecture of coolness: the rocket, in
conjunction with its inclusion into ‘our’ strategies of pure defense, is a
vehicle of spectacular flight that like its twin – cryogenics – is intended
as an escape into cold-pac. Blicero’s glass sphere is one, albeit fictional,
manifestation of such a technologique, but the missile’s operational
capacity – like any technological project’s, according to Bruno Latour –
can’t be separated from fiction: technology is always literature, half
hard matter and half text or spirit.57 The ‘frozen colony’ at the end of
Pynchon’s book is a mirror-image, on the ground, of the NASA training
centers which Tom Wolfe visits in The Right Stuff (1979): at the Manned
Spacecraft Center in Houston, Wolfe remarks on an atmosphere of
‘bone-splitting chill’ that transforms astronaut trainees, NASA officials,
guests, into ‘ice sculptures,’ an ‘army of frozen people’58 in the service
of a deathly techno-sublimity. Technicized beauty is cold, but this NASA
‘coldscape’ also functions in terms of an ‘unending struggle against
time, distance, and entropy’.59 In A Fire on the Moon (1970), Norman
Mailer notes how NASA insulates itself from odor: ‘they had divorced
themselves from odor in order to dominate time, and thereby see if
they were able to deliver themselves from death’.60 Odorless, colorless,
NASA’s space voyage project is a production of (earthly) space too, a pro-
gram of atmospheric regulation and total technologization imagined to
prompt Clynes–Kline’s evolutionary process: the rise of the cyborg, ‘all
light’ or white and ‘clean’.61 The cybernetic articulation of the so-called
human also banks, as mentioned earlier, on the correlations between
the space project and, or as, freezer program.
In her article on ‘The Coldscape,’ Nicola Twilley, investigating food
processed and sold under artificial refrigeration in the US, provides
‘an introduction to a handful of the strange spatial typologies found
within the “cold chain,” that linked network of atmospheric regulation
on which our entire way of life depends’.62 These ‘strange typologies’
and global networks of temperature-controlled spaces include units
like the reefer, the cheese cave, the meat locker, the banana-ripening
room, the tank farm and the sushi coffin, all zones of precise tem-
perature control that relate to the consumption of food, crops or meat
preserved in ‘unobtrusive architecture’ working to bring about ‘an end
to decay, waste, and disease’.63 These are regions of ‘perpetual winter’64
whose mythology relates to processes of circulation in which nothing
is wasted, and nothing goes off: coldness means continuing to live, in
half-life, in a utopian space/time in which things come to a stop. This
process of halting is, to a certain extent – and at least prior to the events
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 57

that the narrative recounts – a feature of half-life in Ubik, where, for

those in cold storage, ‘intervals of cerebral activity’ form counterpoints
of diminishing intensity to a ‘floating’ that is akin to dreaming.65 In
many ways, and because the book doesn’t give any indication of the
reasons for cold storage from the vantage point of the half-lifers, this
arrested position is more organized around the wishes (and wealth) of
the survivors, the visitors, the ‘faithful,’ paying homage to the ‘quiet
sight’ of the deceased.66 Mourning, presumably, becomes easier,67 and
the waiting period relates to that limit zone between the first and sec-
ond deaths, also called rebirth in (the ‘good’ womb of) Dick’s novel.
Yet the latter is not linked to any re-emergent corporality but to a new
configuration of (inter)-subjectivity that is body-less, without any more
death: being, to refer to Donna Haraway, as light, signals.
As such, Ubik has to be seen in terms of its engagement with cyber-
netics, via cryogenics: both are dreams of ‘afterlives,’ of thresholds that
are crossed and beyond which an ‘aetherial’68 state exists, a post-‘Cold’
War culture that also forms the rationale for Robert C.W. Ettinger’s 1964
study The Prospect of Immortality, which considers the practical, legal
and ethical issues relating to cryogenics. Ettinger was the founder of the
Cryonics Institute (CI) established in 1976 and located in an industrial
subdivision of Clinton Township, Michigan, northeast of Detroit. His
book begins with the following claim: ‘[a]t very low temperatures it is
possible, right now, to preserve dead people with essentially no deterio-
ration, indefinitely.’69 Ettinger’s argument proceeds from the assump-
tion that dying is gradual and that death is a reversible process: the
book is a systematic engagement with the possible consequences of the
cryonics thesis. At the heart of his corpus exists the dream-work of body
utopia brought about by way of technology; superman arises out of a
cold womb, so that the freezer should not be ‘conceptualized within
the sphere of burial,’70 but as life extension/enhancement. ‘The tired
old man... will close his eyes’ while ‘[c]enturies may pass, but to him
there will be only a moment of sleep without dreams’;71 after awaken-
ing, ‘he’ has either already been augmented or will, in the thereafter, be
upgraded – man of ice as Übermensch.72
It is interesting to note that what Ettinger imagines is, after all, a
dream of death, non-sentience, inorganic stillness. Or to say it with
reference to Freud’s ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’: cold-pac becomes a
‘protective shield’ to keep out the reception of stimuli.73 Neither Dick’s
novel nor, for example, William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and the
Superman-Stallone vehicle Demolition Man (1993), for that matter, con-
cur with Ettinger concerning dream-less sleep. Suspended animation in
58 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Neuromancer is treated like a type of coma beyond coma (coma dépassé)

or Locked-In syndrome:

They told us we wouldn’t dream either, in that cold. They told

us we’d never feel cold, either. Madness, Molly. Lies. Of course I
dreamed. The cold let the outside in, that was it. The outside. All the
night I built this to hide us from. Just a drop, at first, one grain of
night seeping in, drawn by the cold.74

In Gibson’s novel, ‘dreams grow like slow ice,’75 but for Ettinger cryonic
storage keeps the ‘outside’ out: there is no seepage, no infiltration,
as in Ubik, where an ‘infantile, retarded entity’ feeds on self-systems
breaking up.76 Instead, in Ettinger’s imagination, the external world
is defended against. This is no traumatic space where psychoses or
demonic forces occur, but a realm of inertia, neutralization. Cryostats
are sensurround freezer facilities preserving impassive half-life in liquid
nitrogen, in a cryogenic fluid that, at –197 degrees Celsius, conserves
the body ‘essentially [indefinitely]’.77 After ‘death,’ the cooling process
is important: below ice-water temperatures cause damage to blood ves-
sels, the slow deterioration of bodily tissues due to ice crystals forming
in intercellular spaces. Protective agents like glycerol perfusions reduce
ice formation; glycerol is an anti-freeze and cryoprotectant that makes
water harden like glass, without crystal formations.78 Vitrification
prevents the formations of ice crystals in future supermen, a develop-
ment that carries its own glassy specters, the translucent whiteness
of fascist physicality: the dead – some patients/cadavers are deader
than others – are inserted into suspension units, tanks or silos whose
covering skin is fiberglass. The outside of these units is coated with
polyester fiberglass treated with fire retardant, the inside with epoxy
fiberglass that can withstand contact with liquid nitrogen.79 These are
plasticized enclosures, occupying a similarly vital position concerning
other mythologized technologies like plastic, which was equally associ-
ated with endless possibilities, the yielding of the world, in an ‘era of
plastics’ (the 1930s, mainly)80 that preceded the era of the freezer, or
of the space program.
The hereafter, ‘on the other side of the freezer,’ is, as Ettinger puts
it, ‘highly desirable’.81 Once out of liquid nitrogen storage, the undead
subject is restored, rejuvenated, ‘[revved] up’ into a world of growth.
‘Crop[s]’ of projects emerging due to cryonics ‘sprout’ the future: endless
machinery, in conjunction with cryogenics, eliminate ‘cretinism’ and
the ‘hideously deformed’ while also helping to ‘speed up the adoption
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 59

of a reasonable birth control’ and a ‘general eugenic program’.82 To

enter into the cryocapsule is to dream of, and sleepwalk into, fascist
techno-culture preserving and/or ‘enhancing’ the status quo. ‘Not only
the bodies of the frozen must be protected, but also their property;
and not only their property, but also their rights,’83 an imperative
that, had it not been clear already, speaks to the real incentives of this
formidable freezer network, that is, the cryonic-capitalist investment
in future banking and bio-capitalist regulation. Like its twin rocket
science – irrespective, even, of the necessity for hypersleep in inter-
stellar voyages – cryonics overhauls ‘men’ into cyborgs (of the
Schwarzeneggerian/Stallone model) at the hands of ‘robot surgeons’84
by bringing about changes in biological codes. Ettinger concedes to
the existence of pre-cryonic man-machines that are, nonetheless, crude
specimens, ‘bulky and inefficient,’ and whose upgrade takes place
through miniaturization that will permit, in due course, the ‘practi-
cal realisation of information storage and integrated circuits at the
molecular level’.85 Storage technologies are evidently cryobiologically
important: the question that poses itself is what happens to memory
and, by extension, what happens to the ontology of the subject in cry-
ostasis. Ettinger’s ‘prospect’ thus differs radically from Dick’s. With his
visions of ‘pudding-like kipple,’86 of worlds becoming dust, Dick writes
against the narrative of technological ‘progress’. There is no upgrade or
elevation – if anything, half-lifers experience their subjectivity increas-
ingly as bug-like, like ‘bent-legged insect[s]’.87 Ubik’s limit zone, between
two deaths, is characterized by a great inertia, a world experienced as
‘pure mass’ rather than the reducing of tensions, the total extinction of
excitement, or, in fact, of gravity, the ‘pressure of weight’.88 What fol-
lows is the ‘waning of the body,’ the transmutation/decay into insect,
the ‘feast on my body’.89 In the end, all that remains are ghosts.
According to Ettinger, however, the post-‘Cold’ (War) citizen will be
rewired in cryogenic suspension as cybernetic superman: memory is
already mechanized (cells transmit and receive messages that, in feed-
back loops, constitute their memory). What the freezing process does,
or so Ettinger imagines, is to farm out beings sculpted into techno-
fascist perfection. Inside the cryocapsule, a merging occurs: the body lies
in plastic bondage, in a liquid nitrogen embrace; this fusion of soft- and
hardware develops its own terminologies as well as corporeal modifica-
tions. In 1975, W.T. Gordon observes that the vocabulary of cryogenics
remains a lexical field that still needs to crystallize. Like other 1960s
dreams of techno-integration, advances in low temperature research
are interdisciplinary, integrating biology, physics and engineering on
60 The World According to Philip K. Dick

a fundamental level to combine into a language that is full of compounds.

Cadaver-patients lie dormant in cryo-storage units – arrangements that
are also called coffins, lockers or plants further referred to as time-
capsules;90 cryonic suspension is time travel as much as it brings
time, for the sleeping subject, to a complete standstill. Freezer program
and space project align, in more than one way: at the risk of repetition,
the cryogenic patient is also a cyborg with integrated mechanisms as
well as external hard drives for which, at a future point of awaken-
ing, the planet requires terra-forming: every inch has to yield results.
‘Empty’ lands – Antarctica and Arctic, the jungles of South America and
Africa, the deserts of Australia, Asia and the United States – are ‘waiting
to be made... productive’.91 And yet, planetary geography alone will be
unable to accommodate this Titan, a voracious force like Jory’s, in Ubik,
‘heavy, dense,’92 as if it was impossible, as Walter Benjamin remarked,
to distinguish ‘progress’ from ruin.93
If, then, the association between cryogenics and cybernetics hap-
pens in terms of shared research agendas concerning human ontology
and neo-imperial expansion, there exists yet another zone of interface:
liquid nitrogen immersion or propulsion. Liquid nitrogen enables fan-
tasies of protection, serving, as it does, not only as cooling agent for the
undead but also fuelling, to recall, the early generation missile force.
Missile and cryonic unit manifest the same techno-dream, that is, ster-
ile flights to the moon and beyond. Death colonies push out of rocket
systems and freezer programs, which are the same thing; the missile is
interpreted as the angel or mock-angel94 of that cold balance of terror.
These two related space/time projects are expounded as technologies
of survival. Both cyborg and cryo-subject are born in the womb of the
ballistic missile, which not simply stipulates possibilities of interstellar
space flight, but, more so, those of the shield: liquid nitrogen offers
dream-worlds of insulation. In this vein, Cold War cadaver-patients
go into ice-cold storage to wait for the cold world to end. When
‘[o]ur friends from the future’ revive us, the ‘freezer centered society’95
will have materialized, meaning that the world has stabilized into
immobilized perfection, a sea of tranquility, a universe locked-in/to
frozen relations.
The moratoria in Dick’s Ubik are not, strictly speaking, cryo-stats:
revival occurs elsewhere, not in this order of things, which, at any rate,
is similarly and finally unknowable. This ambiguity, with respect to
who lies in half-life and who exists, as living being, on the other side of
the glass or freezer, stays unresolved – it is as if every possible standpoint
fuses into one. There is no outside but only an endless within:
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 61

Into the manifold open wounds the cold drifted, all the way down
to the heart of things, the core which made them live. What he saw
now seemed to be a desert of ice from which stark boulders jutted.
A wind spewed across the plain which reality had become; the wind
congealed into deeper ice, and the boulders disappeared for the most
part. And darkness presented itself off at the edges of his vision; he
caught only a meager glimpse of it.
But, he thought, this is projection on my part. It isn’t the universe
which is being entombed by layers of wind, cold, darkness and ice;
all this is going on within me, and yet I seem to be outside. Strange,
he thought. Is the whole world inside me? Engulfed by my body?96

A process of entropy acts as one of icing-over: this extraordinary pas-

sage calls to mind Anna Kavan’s Ice (1967), a hallucinatory novel about
cold entombment. It also gestures towards R.D. Laing’s encounter with
a 17-year-old girl, deluded into thinking the Bomb was within her: there
is a nuclear winter going on inside me.97 Jameson argues that ‘Dick’s
work transcends the opposition between the subjective and the objec-
tive,’ which he links to our ‘scandalous’ existence under capitalism,98
but this interpretation requires specification: what is missing here is an
awareness of that triad, the cryogenic–cybernetic–capitalist order that
informs Ubik so unequivocally. It is, after all, a book about technolo-
gies of ‘survival’ – inclusive of those communication networks of the
‘afterlife,’ that is, telephone lines, amplifiers, microphones that ‘rev up’
the undead99 – clearly linked to the dream-machines and decaying, cata-
strophic half-lives of the Cold War/cold-pac as existence infiltration,
endopsychic occupation.
Despite the rhetoric of dynamic change that operates in Ettinger’s
proposal, this holy technological trinity that unites in a spell, an incan-
tation, is, of course, profoundly conservative. Glass caskets, glass globes,
cryonic units, frozen white ICBMs function as Herrschaftsinstrument
that preserve global capitalism for all time. Neo-morts in Ettinger’s
study harvest their own possessions, the trust funds protected by the
government while in cold storage; in return, the corpse’s obligations
‘will include the duty to pay taxes out of his funds and property and
submit his estate to regulation’.100 Wealth is prerequisite and outcome;
cryogenics is about making deposits for the future: deposits of cells in
cold storage banks before ‘death’ in order to be able to yield the crops
of auto-replants, the grafting of tissue back into the donor. This type
of culture is self-perpetuating in its own image, the crystalline pat-
terns of maintaining the balance of power and capital: the prospect of
62 The World According to Philip K. Dick

immortal capitalism. What Dick unfolds, without limit, in his novel

is the impossibility of an escape from this tomb-world order, terminal
culture of late, unmoving/undying capitalism that also looks beyond
the Cold War’s ostensible ‘end,’ towards the ‘autoimmunitary’101 con-
sumption of protection in security cultures. This place between two
deaths in Ubik, cold-pac storage as indicative of the world-deteriorating
capitalist–cryogenic–cybernetic triadic order, further gestures towards
the present. That is to say, this moment in/of perpetual danger,102 that
forms the state of exception which has, if anything, consolidated the
‘kenomatic’,103 inertial conditions at work in Dick’s book: politics, now,
still, as inward-turning cold-pac, suspended in an indeterminate zone.

1 Roger Luckhurst, ‘The Undead,’ Gothic Technologies: International Gothic
Association Conference, University of Surrey, 5–8 August 2013.
2 Ibid.
3 Laurence A. Rickels, The Vampire Lectures (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1999), xii.
4 Philip K. Dick, Ubik (London: Gollancz, 2000), 8 and 11. I take this notion of
being between two deaths from Jacques Lacan’s The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
(New York: Routledge, 2008), particularly from his discussion on Antigone
and her attitude towards life. Lacan writes that ‘from Antigone’s point of
view life can only be approached, can only be lived or thought about, from
the place of that limit where her life is already lost …’ (345).
5 Laurence A. Rickels, ‘Half-Life,’ Discourse, 31, no. 1-2 (2009), 121.
6 Dick, Ubik, 222 and 224.
7 Fredric Jameson, ‘After Armageddon: Character Systems in Dr. Bloodmoney,’
in Archaeologies of the Future (London and New York: Verso, 2007), 350.
8 Tim Armstrong, Modernism, Technology and the Body: A Cultural Study
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 93.
9 Dick, Ubik, 125.
10 Ibid., 134.
11 Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (London: Vintage, 2013), 551.
12 Rickels, ‘Half-Life,’ 109.
13 Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 169.
14 Robert Jay Lifton, Death in Life: The Survivors of Hiroshima (Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1971).
15 Dick, Ubik, 184.
16 Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, transl. Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran
(Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009) 59.
17 Susan Merrill Squier, Liminal Lives: Imagining the Human at the Frontiers of
Biomedicine (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 5 and 9.
18 Ibid., 9.
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 63

19 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 279–96.
20 Dick, Ubik, 184.
21 Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 362.
22 Jameson, ‘History and Salvation in Philip K. Dick,’ in Archaeologies of the
Future, 374.
23 Cryonics Institute Timeline/History, accessible via their website: http://
24 Dick, Ubik, 171.
25 Ibid., 9 and 15.
26 Ibid., 16 and 15.
27 Ibid., 15 and 17.
28 Ibid., 17. Ella talks about how ‘[a] lot of my dreams aren’t about me at all.
Sometimes I’m a man and sometimes a little boy; sometimes I’m an old fat
woman with varicose veins… and I’m in places I’ve never seen, doing things
that make no sense’.
29 Squier, Liminal Lives, 154.
30 Willard Gaylin, ‘Harvesting the Dead: The Potential for Recycling Human
Bodies,’ Harper’s, September 1974. The full text is available here: http://
31 At the beginning of the novel, as Runciter visits his (un)dead wife at the
Beloved Brethren Moratorium, the owner of the place thinks that ‘[p]rob-
ably Runciter’s body contained a dozen artiforgs, artificial organs grafted
into place in his physiological apparatus as the genuine, original ones failed.
Medical science, he conjectured, supplies the material groundwork, and
out of the authority of his mind, Runciter supplies the remainder’. Dick,
Ubik, 14.
32 Gaylin, ‘Harvesting the Dead,’ 23.
33 Ibid.
34 Ibid., 26. On this note, see also Dick’s The Crack in Space (London: Vintage,
35 Ibid.
36 Jameson, ‘Philip K. Dick, In Memoriam,’ in Archaeologies of the Future, 345.
37 Jameson ‘History and Salvation in Philip K. Dick,’ in Archaeologies of the
Future, 381.
38 Jacques Derrida, ‘The Force of Law: the Mystical Foundation of Authority,’ in
Cardozo Law Review 11 (July–August 1990): 920–1047.
39 Esther Leslie, Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (London:
Reaktion, 2005), 218.
40 Gaylin, ‘Harvesting the Dead,’ 23.
41 Leslie, Synthetic Worlds, 218 and 219.
42 Ibid., 221.
43 Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York:
Continuum, 1973), 363; qtd in Leslie, Synthetic Worlds, 224.
44 Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, ‘Cyborgs and Space,’ in The Cyborg
Handbook, ed. Chris Hables Gray (New York: Routledge, 1995), 26.
45 Ibid., 30.
46 Peter Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital (Cambridge: Polity, 2013), 169.
47 Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 857.
64 The World According to Philip K. Dick

48 I have written about this elsewhere; see ‘Atomic-Antarctic Terminal Zone,’

Textual Practice, forthcoming 2015.
49 On the discourse of ‘wasteland’ creation in the western imagination, see
John Beck, Dirty Wars: Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American
Literature (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009).
50 Thomas Pynchon, V (London: Vintage, 2000), 206.
51 This rhetoric of coldness, associated, as it is, with the doctrine of contain-
ment evidently hides, like its ostensibly ‘defensive’ weaponry, a voracious
appetite to subsume everything to a global struggle for US supremacy. See,
for example, Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of
Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).
52 Jean Baudrillard, America (London: Verso, 1988), 6.
53 Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 857.
54 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), 32.
55 Ibid., 33.
56 Ibid., 168.
57 Bruno Latour, Aramis or, The Love of Technology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1996), 222.
58 Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (New York: Bantam, 1979), 296 and 297.
59 Nicola Twilley, ‘The Coldscape,’ Cabinet Magazine 47 (Fall 2012), http://
60 Norman Mailer, A Fire on the Moon (London: Pan, 1970), 14.
61 Donna Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-
Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women:
The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 153. Also available at:
62 Twilley, ‘The Coldscape’.
63 Ibid.
64 Ibid.
65 Dick, Ubik, 10 and 16–7.
66 In the novel, only Ella’s view is alluded to, but exists as a ‘nebulous’ phe-
nomenon. Ibid., 15 and 10.
67 See Laurence A. Rickels, I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2010), 343.
68 Ibid., 344.
69 Robert C.W. Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality (Ann Arbor, MI: Ria
University Press, 2005), 69, http://www.cryonics.org/images/uploads/misc/
70 W.T. Gordon, ‘The Vocabulary of Cryonics,’ American Speech 50, no. 1-2
(1975): 133.
71 Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality, 15.
72 Übermensch or superman is a polar explorer, a figure of superhuman identity
that Nietzsche associates with ice in The Anti-Christ (1888). Thanks to Adam
Piette for brining this to my attention.
73 Sigmund Freud, ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle,’ in The Standard Edition of
the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 24 vols, Beyond the Pleasure
Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works (London: Vintage, 1953), 27.
74 William Gibson, Neuromancer (London: HarperCollins, 1995), 220.
Cold-Pac Politics: Ubik’s Cold War Imaginary 65

75 Ibid., 222.
76 Dick, Ubik, 186. With reference to self-systems without limits, see 51.
77 Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality, 20.
78 See Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality, 25–30.
79 See the Cryonics Institute website, describing their facilities: http://www.
80 Jeffrey L. Meikle, American Plastic: A Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ:
Rutgers University Press, 1997), 2.
81 Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality, 158 and 163.
82 Ibid., 69, 96 and 113.
83 Ibid., 92.
84 Ibid., 37.
85 Ibid., 52.
86 Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (New York: Ballantine
Books, 1996), 20.
87 Dick, Ubik, 186.
88 Ibid., 181.
89 Ibid., 184 and 222.
90 See Gordon, ‘The Vocabulary of Cryonics,’ 132–5.
91 Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality, 114.
92 Dick, Ubik, 172.
93 See Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ in which he
writes that ‘[t]here is no document of civilization which is not at the same
time a document of barbarism’. Illuminations (London: Fontana, 1992),
248. In The Arcades Project, the following fragment exists: ‘The concept of
progress must be grounded in the idea of catastrophe’ (Cambridge, MA:
Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2002), 473.
94 In Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon repeatedly refers to the rocket as precisely,
that: an angel (of death).
95 Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality, 158.
96 Dick, Ubik, 126.
97 R.D. Laing, The Divided Self (London: Penguin, 1990), 12.
98 Jameson, ‘After Armageddon: Character Systems in Dr. Bloodmoney,’ in
Archaeologies of the Future, 350–1.
99 On this note, see Rickels, The Vampire Lectures.
100 Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality, 94.
101 Jacques Derrida, ‘Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides,’ in Jürgen
Habermas, Jacques Derrida, and Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time
of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2003), 94.
102 This ‘moment of danger’ exists with reference to Walter Benjamin, but
without its revolutionary potential: cold-pac conformism overpowers
everything. Benjamin, Illuminations, 255.
103 Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
2005), 6.
Part II
Between Scanner and Object:
Drugs and Ontology in Philip K.
Dick’s A Scanner Darkly
Marcus Boon


In the recently published edition of Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis, in a folder

dated September–October 1978, Dick offers the following remarkable
summary of his work and its themes:

Our minds are occluded, deliberately, so that we can’t see the prison
world we’re slaves in, which is created by a powerful magician-like
evil deity, who, however, is opposed by a mysterious salvific entity
which often takes trash forms, and who will restore our lost real
memories. This entity may even be an old wino.
Drugs, communism, and sex and fake plural pathological pseudo
worlds are involved, but the pluriform salvific entity, as mysterious as
quicksilver, will save us in the end and restore us to true human state.
We will then cease to be mere reflex machines. This is the summation
of my Kerygma, spread out throughout my works.1

Drugs and counterfeiting, two of Dick’s key concerns, have a long asso-
ciation. Pharmakon in Greek means drug, remedy, poison: it contains
the dual potential for healing and for making ill, and the challenge of
discerning at which dose a particular substance would have one effect
or another; or indeed the challenge of discerning a salvific plant from
its poisonous doppelgänger. As Dale Pendell points out in his wry
recent book Pharmako/Gnosis, it is indeed a matter of ‘gnosis’ rather
than ‘logos,’ even as he gleefully entangles the two further.2 One could
say that the concept of intoxication also contains a similar duality.
In Euripides’ play The Bacchae, Pentheus refuses Dionysus, the god of

70 The World According to Philip K. Dick

intoxication, admission to the city and instead puts him in prison for
pursuing his revels. Yet Pentheus is fascinated and still desires to see the
Bacchants. Dionysus obliges him, but as Pentheus enters the Bacchants’
world he begins to see double. In an intoxicated state, he kills his own
mother, thinking that she is a lion. Pentheus falls prey to an illusion.
But intoxication is not simply an illusion. According to The Bacchae, a
play intensely concerned with the boundaries between spaces, intoxi-
cation is a necessary state, which must be given its due through being
accorded its own space and time. This spatialization is a compromise,
ontologically, since it distributes that which is immanent in such a
way that two pseudo-spaces are produced: one of intoxication and one
of sobriety.
At the beginnings of modern drug literature, Coleridge calls his ‘Kubla
Khan,’ written after taking an ‘anodyne’ of opium, ‘a vision in a dream’.3
‘Drugs’ appear conceptually in the aftermath of the Kantian revolution,
and Coleridge, one of the first to internalize the Kantian structures
of knowledge and experience, struggles to locate the event of opium
within the Kantian schema: opium, an external agent or object, appears
where it should not, internally, on the side of mind, reason, the catego-
ries. Unable to properly locate opium, he designates its place as ‘a vision
in a dream’. Or, in other words, an experience of transcendental truth
nested within an experience of physiologically grounded illusion. And
Coleridge also spatializes this event: between poetry and prose, between
Porlock and the Orient, between pleasure palace and lifeless ocean.


Even with these too brief (and somewhat random) opening remarks,
we can begin to map a complicated pharmakopoetic space of subject
and object, appearance and reality, counterfeit and ontology. The
location of drugs within this space varies historically: there is a slid-
ing scale of relations between the ontic and the ontological, which
varies according to time and place, according to the state of the user
and according to the drug. There are some drugs that have been said
to reveal the ground of Being, such as psychedelics and anesthetics,
by shaking the parameters of the subject–object relationship. In 1874,
Amsterdam, New York, based Hegelian philosopher Benjamin Blood
declared that ‘the anesthetic revelation,’ produced by the inhalation
of nitrous oxide, resolved all religious and philosophical questions
concerning ontology through a literal transcendence of the body in
anesthesia.4 But there are other drugs which work more at the ontic
Drugs and Ontology in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly 71

level, modulating the way we act in everyday life without altering its
fundamental constituents that much. Think of the use of ampheta-
mines by writers like Kerouac or Sartre, or the way in which marijuana
causes shifts in cognition. In each case, a problematic arises of real
versus imaginary; appearance versus reality; true or authentic or real
versus false or fake or counterfeit.
We should try to be specific about what constitutes the counterfeit as
opposed to the fake, the illusory, appearance, and so on. A counterfeit is
not simply an illusion or a fake. Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s work on
the counterfeit in his text Given Time, we can say that a counterfeit is
a fake that is accorded a particular economic value.5 Its realm is that of
the Symbolic rather than the Imaginary (to use Lacan’s terms), and yet
it draws attention to the insufficiency or instability of the Symbolic. The
tension between Lacan and Derrida’s work is precisely located in
the problematic of the counterfeit, and to what degree the Symbolic
can be said to be a master-code that organizes what otherwise starts to
dissolve into différance, trace and dissemination without end. The Law –
whether intellectual property law, or laws concerning fraud, or more basic
laws such as the requirement for accurate self-presentation at national
borders – is imposed to contain the proliferation of traces. The counter-
feit attains its power, conversely, through its ability to double or mimic
the equivalence or verisimilitude that is imposed or demanded by the
law and political economy.


The relation between Philip K. Dick’s writing and drugs is a vast topic.
As indicated in the astounding quote from the Exegesis with which
I began, drugs play a prominent role in Dick’s cosmology. By the time of
the Exegesis and A Scanner Darkly, both of which date to the late 1970s,
Dick had mostly disavowed drugs. For most of his career, Dick used
amphetamines to help with his prolific production of science fiction
novels. For example, in 1963–4, Dick wrote 11 novels, including some
of his most important.6 For Dick, drugs and counterfeiting are con-
nected at the most basic level of production, since the creation of
illusion-like sf texts, which are written for money on a fee-per-book
basis, is enabled by his use of amphetamines. The act of creating a text is
itself counterfeited through drug-induced production, precisely in order
that the texts produced can quickly enter a system of exchanges. One
is obliged to take drugs and thus counterfeit creativity in order to make
a living. Drugs therefore also become a pseudo-ontological substrate
72 The World According to Philip K. Dick

that literally underwrites all of the texts that Dick creates: they are
the ‘truth’ that underlies the particular narratives and texts associated
with Dick’s name during this period. But then, conversely, by writing
books which are allegories of the obligation to counterfeit, and the false
ontologies that are created when one takes drugs in order to counterfeit,
one actually tells the truth about counterfeiting. And counterfeiting has
an allure at many levels, all of which are present in A Scanner Darkly.
Counterfeiting allows one to make a living; it allows a whole political-
economic system to carry on functioning; it allows one to get laid. Part
of the beauty of Dick’s work is that he presents the pathos of counter-
feiting with such nuance.
In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, written in 1964, Dick pre-
sents a cosmological battle between two drug brands and two drugs.7
Broadly speaking, they can be said to represent ontic and ontological
positions regarding drugs. The first drug, Can-D, ‘translates’ users into
Barbie-like dolls who inhabit an imaginary utopian California. It is
taken collectively and allows users a few hours of shared fantasy in
a space that is entirely constructed by branding, somewhat akin to a
multiple-user video game. It is a cheap, pathetic illusion, but its charm
is that of sociality, a fabricated space through which human beings
living otherwise intolerable lives in colonies on Mars are able to enact
their drives and desires. It is or seeks to be an ontic illusion. The second
drug, Chew-Z, is marketed as religious. It dissolves space and time in
a much more radical way so that one can subsequently appear any-
where in time and space. As a result, the user can never entirely know
afterward whether the world they inhabit is real or an illusion. Instead
of a shared illusion, users spiral off into ontological doubt. At which
point, the entire basis of the novel and of narrative is eroded, since it
too involved the promise of a shared illusion. This doubt also affects
our ability to believe in the ontic, which turns out to be sustained by a
particular kind of ontological faith. When users take Can-D, they know
that after a period of time the drug will wear off and they will return
to normality. With Chew-Z, there are no such guarantees, and no pos-
sibility of a return to belief in such guarantees. Thus: the problem of a
counterfeit reality.


As is now well known, Dick was deeply interested in gnosticism. The

quote with which I began sets out a fundamentally gnostic position
concerning things: that this world as we know it is an illusion produced
Drugs and Ontology in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly 73

by an evil or hostile being. It is not. The true realm, the realm of God,
is beyond this realm, but human beings can receive knowledge, or gno-
sis, through revelation in this world. In this sense, the gnostic view of
everyday reality is strictly counterfeit, in that it is not merely an illusion
but a maliciously produced illusion. In Dick’s version, gnosis may come
from trash or commodified objects in our environment, whether an
aerosol spray, a drug, or a pop-cultural artifact like an sf novel. Perhaps
in gnosticism all objects are doubly counterfeit since they may contain
or trigger the spark of gnosis. But for Dick, it is precisely the most obvi-
ously ‘counterfeit’ objects in the world that have potential ontological
import, because their inauthenticity already contains a negation of
conventional notions of authenticity and, as such, they are closer
to the truth than those objects which human beings consider real or
Gnosticism offers a path to think through Dick’s relation to object-
oriented ontology, as well as other forms of speculative philosophy.
First it should be said that ‘drugs’ appear in modernity at the precise
moment of the triumph of what is now called Kant’s ‘correlationism,’
or the position that the only possible knowledge of the world is the
human subject’s knowledge of the world.8 Drugs appear as that which
troubles correlationism, since they are an external agent that exerts
its effects from and within the interior of the subject’s knowledge
production. Drugs become a kind of ‘thing in itself’ which we directly
experience without mediation of sensory intuition or the categories,
and they appear on both sides of the subject–object divide – which,
ostensibly, they should not be able to do. For this reason, as the
Latourian narrative goes, drugs also disappear because they cannot
be placed within the structures that organize modernity.9 They are
hybrids and as such must be abjected, disavowed or placed contin-
gently within categories of law, science or art. Their status as objects
is indeterminate: they appear, yet they are not; in this sense, they are
already ‘gnostic’.
Although traces of gnosticism can be found in many places in modern
philosophy, it was a student of Heidegger’s, Hans Jonas, who elaborated
a specifically existential form of gnosticism in his 1958 book The Gnostic
Religion.10 Dick knew Jonas’s work, although apparently only in the late
1970s, and refers to it in some crucial late passages of his Exegesis. In
these passages, he interprets his ‘2-3-74’ experiences, via Jonas’s reading
of Heidegger, as a moment of gnostic transformation from a condition
of ignorance in which he is merely an actor playing a role, to one of
‘Authentic Sein’ – true Being.11
74 The World According to Philip K. Dick

At the heart of the matter, at the core of my psychological and exis-

tential difficulties – that have plagued me all my life – is the fact
that, very simply, I started out misunderstanding what is going on.
My god – this is the Gnostic ontological condition of ignorance! Oh
my god! Oh god; I am back to Gnosticism; the ontological category
of ignorance, which is the basic ontological category, was reversed
for me in 2-3-74; ignorance turned into its ontological opposite:

Object-oriented ontology (OOO) has its basis in Graham Harman’s

re-reading of Heidegger in the so-called tool-being sections of Being
and Time, or sections 15 and 16. In a series of texts beginning with
his essay ‘Object Oriented Philosophy,’ through the key book Tool
Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects to the more recent The
Quadruple Object, Harman explores Heidegger’s claim that objects oscil-
late between a passive state, which he refers to as being ‘ready to hand’
and an active state, when they are ‘present at hand’.13 To use one of
Harman’s examples, we assume that the earth is ready to hand without
actually being aware of it; it is only when there is an earthquake that we
become aware of it, in the moment that it interrupts our assumptions
of stability, and so on. Most of the time objects, including the earth, are
withdrawn from attention and phenomenological presence. Heidegger,
in Harman’s words, ‘recognizes these two basic modes of being, and
only these two: entities withdraw into a silent underground while also
exposing themselves to presence’.14 In his work, Harman draws out the
consequences of this withdrawal, describing it as a fundamental and
therefore ontological aspect of objects qua objects. Harman argues that
no object is ever fully described by the relations it forms, individually
or as a total sum of relations, and that therefore what the object ‘is’
ontologically is by definition withdrawn.
The withdrawn object that Harman locates can also be read as a gnos-
tic object, in the sense that for both gnosticism and OOO the object,
at the level of ontology, is withdrawn. For myself, I do not believe
that Heidegger means to say that objects are withdrawn as objects into
their ontological status beyond relations but nevertheless as objects.
For Heidegger, when objects withdraw, they withdraw into a state of
concealment, but it is not clear that they retain their status as objects
there. In fact, both their concealment and their presence consists in
their potential for suddenly being other than the familiar object that
one thought was there – in other words, their potential for change. In
Dick’s version, what is withdrawn in terms of the ontology of the object
Drugs and Ontology in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly 75

is not its status qua object, but the recognition that it is ‘living informa-
tion’. This could mean a number of different things, however. In the
history of ideas, we might link this to a certain mathematical Platonism,
in which the fundamental concepts of mathematics, which are also the
fundamental building blocks of the phenomenal world, are ideal Forms.
But it is not clear that that is the way that Dick understood ‘living infor-
mation’. Indeed, mathematical speculation is strikingly absent from
the Exegesis. If Dick can be said to make a contribution to questions of
ontology, it requires us to understand what it means to posit the true
nature of objects as ‘living information’. Indeed, this could also be said
to be the main theme of the Exegesis. Conversely, I am interested in
exploring the ways that Dick’s ideas about ontology can illuminate the
problematic of ontology that Harman and some of the other speculative
realists have set out.
It is worth noting that this problematic is already there in ‘Gnosticism,
Existentialism and Nihilism,’ the remarkable epilogue to Jonas’s The
Gnostic Religion. Jonas shows that what existentialism and gnosticism
have in common is a denial of any transcendental guarantor of mean-
ing to the natural world – and thus any effective ontology of the object.
In fact, when Jonas does specifically explore the relation of the Gnostics
to Heideggerian existentialism, the flaw he finds in the latter emerges
out of the same ‘tool being’ section of Being and Time that is Harman’s

There is, after all, besides the existential ‘present’ of the moment,
the presence of things. Does not the co-presence with them afford a
‘present’ of a different kind? But we are told by Heidegger that things
are primarily zuhanden, that is, usable (of which even ‘useless’ is a
mode), and therefore related to the ‘project’ of existence and its ‘care’
(Sorge), therefore included in the future-past dynamics. Yet they can
also become neutralized to being merely vorhanden (‘standing before
me’), that is, indifferent objects, and the mode of Vorhandenheit is an
objective counterpart to what on the existential side is Verfallenheit,
false present. Vorhanden is what is merely and indifferently ‘extant,’
the ‘there’ of bare nature, there to be looked at outside the relevance
of the existential situation and of practical ‘concern’.15

Jonas then goes on to point out an inconsistency in both Heideggerian

and Sartrian existentialism that posits an utterly indifferent nature on
the one hand, and the possibility of ‘care’ or ‘freedom’ being emer-
gent upon the human recognition of this state. Jonas argues that the
76 The World According to Philip K. Dick

existence of this care or freedom for humans is also necessarily the

existence of these qualities in the cosmos – or, as the Gnostics claim, in
a withdrawn state beyond this cosmos that occasionally intrudes as the
spark of gnosis into this one. He concludes:

The disruption between man and total reality is at the bottom of

nihilism. The illogicality of the rupture, that is, of a dualism without
metaphysics, makes its fact no less real, nor its seeming alternative
any more acceptable: the stare at isolated selfhood, to which it con-
demns man, may wish to exchange itself for a monistic naturalism
which, along with the rupture, would abolish also the idea of man as
man. Between that Scylla and this her twin Charybdis, the modern
mind hovers. Whether a third road is open to it – one by which the
dualistic rift can be avoided and yet enough of the dualistic insight
saved to uphold the humanity of man – philosophy must find out.16

This is more or less the territory according to speculative realism. A

rejection of both the Kantian separation of human knowledge from the
thing in itself, or correlationism, and of Deleuzian monism, in favor of
a ‘speculative’ third road, such as that taken by OOO. Dick appears to
side with Heidegger and against Jonas on this issue: in other words, he
takes seriously the Heideggerian existential position as an iteration of
a fundamentally gnostic position. Yet insofar as Jonas’s third position
is not an outright rejection of gnosticism, but actually an attempt to
complicate what he sees as the nihilism of existentialism by arguing for
something similar to the ‘alien God’ that Jonas finds in the Christian
gnostics, one can argue that it is precisely ‘living information’ that
allows Dick to escape nihilism. In the Exegesis, Dick explicitly links this
idea of ‘living information’ to Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of the ‘noo-
sphere,’ the networking of human minds through/as information.

Then in a sense the 2-74 meta-abstraction was info in my mind

becoming conscious on its own. Since it’s using the info in us and
not us as biological organisms, it’s not limited to us, to human
minds, but can be (or be where) any info has collected – which
explains why I saw it outside me as objects and causal processes. This
is so close to Teilhard’s noosphere!17

And in this sense, as recently elaborated by Richard Doyle in his

book Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants and the Evolution of the Noösphere,
psychoactive substances may stand as an important model for
Drugs and Ontology in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly 77

‘living information’ and the reciprocal implication of biosphere and



Rather than pursuing the fascinating links between Dick, Jonas and
Chardin, I am interested here in looking at the way that drugs function
in Dick’s fiction as gnostic objects, in other words as vectors of ‘living
information’. One of the stronger arguments in favor of OOO has to do
with the specifically object-like nature of drugs: a thing-in-itself that is
demonstrably there on both sides of the subject–object divide, as mate-
rial encountered by the subject, as much as an internalized agent that
undeniably alters the very structure of the categories of understanding.
Philip K. Dick – like De Quincey, Baudelaire or Burroughs before him –
thought long and hard on precisely the object status of drugs. And the
most expansive treatment that he gives it is in A Scanner Darkly.19
The basic setup of A Scanner Darkly is a kind of ontological dia-
gram. There’s very little in the way of narrative. The novel consists
in describing the way various characters behave within the structure
of the diagram. And it then proposes the possibility of overturning or
erasing the diagram. The main character in the book, Bob Arctor, is an
undercover narcotics agent who is spying on a household full of drug
users, including himself. The book’s main conceit consists in Arctor’s
total anonymity: when he reports to his superiors using the name ‘Fred,’
he wears a scramble suit that effaces his identity, replacing it with a
flickering montage of millions of other faces and bodies, so that no one
can identify him. In order to gain much-needed objectivity concerning
the proceedings in the house, he installs a surveillance system, which
records everything that happens there. He is therefore able to watch his
own activities, as well as those of the other users. As the book proceeds,
a split opens up between Fred, the narcotics agent who observes, and
Bob, the addict who is observed, until, sunk in the depths of addiction
to Substance D, Fred is retired from his duties and sent to a rehab clinic
where he is assigned a new identity: Bruce.
Dick makes a characteristic move at the beginning of the novel, one
that is relevant to my topic. He describes a character, Jerry Fabin, who,
presumably in the throes of drug addiction, believes that his body is
crawling with aphids, which he needs to remove. Not only his body,
but the whole of his environment is saturated with these aphids. The
knowing reader is inclined to recognize this as a typical and known
delusion of a generic drug addict. The problem is perceptual – one of
78 The World According to Philip K. Dick

psychopathology. Fabin is seeing things that are not there because of

the effects of the drug on his system. When his roommate Charles Freck
challenges him to show him one of these aphids, Fabin catches one in
a jar and shows it to him. Freck is impressed. The reader is left confused
because what was formerly a problem of perception that can be isolated
from and contrasted to normative perception suddenly receives confir-
mation and must be entertained as being Real, or perhaps as a collective
rather than an individual delusion. A shared delusion announces the
gnostic dilemma, and drugs are its vehicle. Drugs are then a strange type
of object, since they are at once the vehicle of delusion, but also capable
of revealing the nature of delusion. What they reveal is ‘not true,’ but
at a metaphysical level, what they therefore announce/expose/bring to
light is the truth of the non-truth of that which appears, that which is
phenomenal, that which is experienced. Perhaps it is in this double sense
that drugs are ‘living information’: they offer a specific experience of a
counterfeit ontology, but they also point to the non-specificity, or con-
tagiousness, of this insight – which applies not only to drug experiences
but to all experiences insofar as they convey counterfeit ontologies.
Even though A Scanner Darkly is awash with references to specific
drugs that would be familiar to anyone casually connected to the 1970s
Bay Area counterculture, the focus of the book is something called
Substance D. This is an allegorical drug, as perhaps all drugs in fact
are, and the allegory, in Benjaminian fashion, is D for death. The drug
is a mystery: it is believed to be synthetic, man-made, and high-tech,
but nobody knows its true origins. In the middle of the novel, Dick
introduces a theory of neurocognition, which views the brain as two
separate organs that must be made to coordinate in order for proper
cognition to occur. Substance D addiction damages this coordination,
meaning that an addict is no longer able to recognize objects correctly.
Fred/Bob Arctor, when presented with a series of object recognition
tests, can only see objects in general as death: ‘Death city, Fred thought
as he studied the drawing. That is what I see: death in pluriform, not
in just the one correct form but throughout.’20 At other times, he feels
his entire environment deteriorating into ‘murk’. The kind of death
is specified further as ‘mors ontologica’. At the very end of the novel,
when Bruce-in-rehab is assigned to work on a plantation, he has a
moment of recognition: ‘That was it: I saw Substance D growing. I saw
death rising from the earth, from the ground itself, in one blue field, in
stubbled color.’21
But what of counterfeiting? Obviously identities in the novel are coun-
terfeit: Bob Arctor, the stoner, and Fred, the narcotics agent, are both
Drugs and Ontology in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly 79

in a sense counterfeit identities, the former mediated by various drugs,

the latter by the scramble suit. The East Bay counterculture, as seen
through a scanner, darkly, is a counterfeit: a bunch of people assuming
fake, hippie identities in order to get something they think they want.
Technology as ‘extensions of man,’ not to mention the narrative vehicle
of most sf, is also that which facilitates particular acts of counterfeiting.
In this sense it is the (infra)structure of the ontological illusion that
Dick seeks to free himself from in the later passages of the Exegesis men-
tioned above. This is precisely the danger that Heidegger pointed to in
his essay ‘The Question Concerning Technology,’ which also reads the
particular instrumentalized path of Euro-American technologies as pro-
ducing what amounts to a counterfeit world and ontology.22 It seems
to me – again contra Harman’s reading of Heidegger – that Heidegger
seeks precisely to displace the object status of objects in what he calls
‘the thinging of the thing’ in the famous lecture ‘The Thing’, which was
originally delivered alongside ‘The Question Concerning Technology’.23
Could one read the mysterious ‘fourfold’ that Heidegger uses to describe
the process of ‘thinging’ as related to Dick’s ‘living information’?
Conversely, could the category of ‘living information’ provide a way of
reframing the division between the technicity of objects, that is, their
‘tool being’, and their fundamental ontological withdrawal, which in
different ways both Heidegger and Harman assert?
Gnosis only occurs through ‘mors ontologica’ in A Scanner Darkly.
Only the total exhaustion of all false (counterfeit) ontological ground-
ings of both subject and object makes gnosis possible. In this sense,
Dick manages to suture the ‘psychedelic’ – that is, ‘mind manifesting’ –
properties of one group of countercultural drugs to the addictive, nega-
tional potential of another group of countercultural drugs. Rather than
valorizing the former at the expense of the latter – according to a certain
entheogen-praising discourse, psychedelics are good because they reveal
the truth; narcotics and stimulants are bad because they trap you in a
repetitive cycle that goes nowhere – it is actually Substance D’s propen-
sity for the total degradation of the humans who become addicted to
it that is the vector of the revelation of the truth of both subject and
object. Dick also makes no meaningful distinction between the actual
biochemical (‘addictive’) properties of Substance D and the ideological
construct of addiction that produces the social-legal-political-economic
situation in which narcotics agents, dealers and users speak of the drug
and mythologize it in various ways. Thus it is not simply Bob Arctor’s
physiological addiction to Substance D, and the resulting physiological
damage to his brain that reveals the truth of Substance D, but the fact
80 The World According to Philip K. Dick

that he is labeled an addict by his superiors, and sent to New-Path, a

rehab clinic, where he is renamed Bruce. There he works in the fields
where, on the last page of the novel, he realizes that the blue plants
growing in the field are in fact the source of Substance D.
His overseers’ response to his moment of revelation is ‘back to work,
Bruce’. The political economy of the counterfeit must continue. But
Bruce/Bob picks one of the blue plants and tucks it into his shoe, ‘a
present for my friends, he thought, and looked forward inside his mind,
where no one could see, to Thanksgiving’.24 Thus Substance D is trans-
formed into ‘living information,’ appropriated from the economy of the
counterfeit to that of a gift economy. For what can living information
be if not a gift – in the Derridean sense of that impossible ‘thing’ that
interrupts the relentless economization that constitutes ‘our world’.
Of course, it works both ways, and one of Dick’s characteristic moves
is for ‘living information’ to turn back into an object or a thing. This
transubstantiation is itself a kind of counterfeiting; but, paradoxically
it is a counterfeiting in which it is the truth that is inserted into some-
thing that is ostensibly a fake, rather than vice versa. In one strange
stoner conversation, Luckman describes a man who achieves TV celeb-
rity by claiming to be a world-famous impostor, but who has in fact
been faking it, merely pretending to have been an impostor. ‘He made
a lot of bread that way,’ Luckman observes.25 Drugs, too, can be coun-
terfeits in this sense. Charles Freck tries to kill himself by overdosing
on reds and 1971 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, but someone has sold
him a ‘kinky psychedelic’ that throws him out of space and time where
a transcendental alien being reads him his sins for eternity.26 Narcotics
agents present themselves as drug addicts or dealers, and then become
addicted themselves. Human subjects devolve into objects: machines,
insects, entropic murk. Yet as machines they suffer the most, bear the
most pathos, and become most capable of gnostic revelation. In a par-
ticularly gloomy passage, Fred/Bob prays that the nonhuman scanner is
able to see something that he himself can no longer see. At first it seems
that Fred is referring to his drug-addled mind, but then he shifts to a
crypto-gnostic discourse in which obscuration has been ‘continually’
operative for all human beings.27 Meanwhile, objects are increasingly
lively. And the objects called drugs can themselves become human: in a
flight of stoner fantasy, Luckman suggests that the best way to smuggle
marijuana into the US would be to

take a huge block of hash and carve it up in the shape of a man. Then
you hollow out a section and put a wind-up motor like a clockworks in
Drugs and Ontology in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly 81

it, and a little cassette tape, and you stand in line with it and then just
before it goes through customs you wind up the key and it walks up to
the customs man, who says to it, ‘Do you have anything to declare?’
and the block of hash says, “No, I don’t,” and keeps on walking.28

Things – humans and nonhumans – are enslaved by their obligation to

participate in a political-economic regime in which they must neces-
sarily present themselves as counterfeit. Their suffering consists in the
ontological gap between that which they are required to appear as and
that which they are. Street drugs, as a form of ‘trash,’ potentially offer
gnosis through the way they accelerate ‘mors ontologica,’ yet the spark
of gnosis they appear to offer may turn out to be a fake, too. Dick seems
to be proposing a ‘flat ontology’ in the sense of everything in the world
having the same ontological import or value. But the flat ontology is
also a false ontology, and in this sense Dick departs from OOO. The true
gnostic ontological dimension is revealed only through an event that
could potentially manifest through any object. It is Messianic, a gift,
capable of rendering any object other than what it now appears to be.
Thus, instead of an ‘object-oriented ontology,’ it would be more accu-
rate to speak, as is the case with both Derrida and Alain Badiou, of the
relation between event and a possible ontology. And the counterfeit qua
counterfeit appears in Dick’s work as every object’s potential for its own
suppressed or hidden truth to be revealed. The pathos of Dick’s work
lies in the way he is able to narrativize the struggle of any particular
object – human or nonhuman – to overcome its status as a counterfeit,
in search of its own hidden truth.

1 Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (New York: Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt, 2011), 407 (October 1978).
2 Dale Pendell, Pharmako/Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path (Berkeley,
CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010).
3 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Kubla Khan,’ in Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Major
Works, ed. H. J. Jackson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 109.
4 Benjamin Blood, The Anesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy
(Amsterdam, NY: privately published, 1874).
5 Jacques Derrida, Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
6 Lawrence Sutin, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (New York: Caroll &
Graf, 2005), 119–20.
82 The World According to Philip K. Dick

7 Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (Garden City, NY:
Doubleday, 1965).
8 On ‘correlationism,’ see Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the
Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008).
9 Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1993).
10 Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the
Beginnings of Christianity (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1963).
11 Dick, The Exegesis, 815.
12 Ibid., 816.
13 Graham Harman, ‘Object Oriented Philosophy’ (1999) in Towards Speculative
Realism (Ropley, UK: Zero Books, 2010); Graham Harman, Tool Being:
Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Chicago: Open Court, 2002);
Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object (Alresford, UK: Zero Books, 2011).
14 Harman, The Quadruple Object, 39.
15 Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, 337.
16 Ibid.
17 Dick, The Exegesis, 762–3.
18 Richard M. Doyle, Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants and the Evolution of the
Noösphere (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011).
19 Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977).
20 Ibid., 114.
21 Ibid., 275.
22 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans.
William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).
23 Martin Heidegger, ‘The Thing,’ in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert
Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 161–84.
24 A Scanner Darkly, 275.
25 Ibid., 197.
26 Ibid., 187–8.
27 Ibid., 185.
28 Ibid., 193.
From Here to California: Philip
K. Dick, The Simulacra and the
Integration of ‘Germany’
Laurence A. Rickels

5.1 Science fiction and the integration of ‘Germany’

Future worlds made in Germany were left unattended during the Cold
War reception of science fiction (sf). Then, beginning in the 1980s, the
Metropolis look was in our faces in films, music videos, and the redesign
of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. That Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s adapta-
tion of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, belonged to
the avant-garde of this blast from the past should come as no surprise.
Dick’s collected work inherited the metabolization of ‘Germany’ in sf,
from the establishment of ‘German’ sf – as the transformation of the
wound of gravity and grave into the wonder or miracle of take-off – to
‘Germany’ as the problem and object of integration in the post-war
future worlds of sf.1 His 1964 novel The Simulacra identifies Germany
and Mars as destinations, and the United States as the better half of
the USEA, but we never really leave California. Typically, Dick’s future
worlds, even when transposed to Mars, operate under the signifier
appeal of ‘California’. If there is a bicoastal dialectic whereby symptoms
of Nazi German provenance wash up onto the Coast, then Dick brings
it to its crisis point with the prospect of Germany’s post-war integra-
tion into the West so close to home. In Do Androids Dream of Electric
Sheep? and Ubik (published 1968 and ‘69, respectively), the difficulty
of this integration is carried forward as the ongoing social problem of
psychopathy, in which the failure to empathize and mourn tests the
limits of tolerance.
Two of Dick’s earlier novels of the 1960s, Martian Time-Slip and
The Simulacra, offer perspectives on one future world, seen now from
Mars, now from Earth. The future belongs to America or California
but with Germany and Israel as its most proximate, overlapping, even

84 The World According to Philip K. Dick

internal neighbors. While the theory behind the therapy is immersed

in German, the treatment of schizophrenia on Mars is conducted in
American at hospitals in New Israel. In the off-world, which faces incipi-
ent psychosis as its greatest risk and chronic psychosis as a new social
contingency, the autistic-schizophrenic ten-year-old Manfred, whose
family emigrated from West Germany, is the one to watch and rehabili-
tate. He suffers from premature onset of empathy and capacity for grief.
The condition that amounts to a paradoxical intervention in Dick’s
regimen of testing leaves Manfred wide open to every unconscious
thought crossing the minds around him. But what he sees via the fast-
forwarding of his time sense is the tomb world: the ongoing prospect of
entropy’s omnipresence.
Whereas on Mars schizophrenia is rampant, on Earth psychosis
retains an endopsychic privilege that is held by just one figure at a time.
In The Simulacra, concert pianist Richard Kongrosian is presented as the
identified psychotic, whose symptomatology is coextensive with Rollo
May’s 1958 edited collection Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry
and Psychology. This collection of studies by practitioners of existential
analysis first made available to the English-only readership Ludwig
Binswanger’s ‘The Case of Ellen West,’ Dick’s source for the image of
the tomb world.2 Kongrosian, himself a close reader of the literature
on psychosis, cites Minkowski, Kuhn, and Binswanger as among the
few who could help him if they were still around.3 While the obsessive
compulsive disorder he presents is modeled on Minkowski’s essay in
Existence, the diagnosis ‘anakastic,’ which Kongrosian applies as fitting
his case (60), shows that he knows von Gebsattel’s contribution as well.
What seems not to be represented at all in the case of Kongrosian is
Roland Kuhn’s study of Rudolf, who was hospitalized in Switzerland
following his attempted murder of a prostitute. In his introduction May
singles out Kuhn’s study as the best demonstration of the existential-
analytic reconstruction of a patient’s complete world, which in the case
of Rudolf conjoins killing, arrested mourning, and fetishism. My mono-
graph I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick reads the intrapsychic infrastructuring
of The Simulacra via the theorizations of psychosis presented in May’s
volume. The excavation of Kuhn’s study in the novel opens up its sup-
plemental rereading in terms of the societal problem of psychopathic
When he lost his mother at age three, Rudolf applied activity in the
missing place of affect. Thus commences the section ‘Everyday Life’
that Kuhn won from the static in the course of reconstructing Rudolf’s
From Here to California: Philip K. Dick 85

A small boy is searching the house looking for his dead mother.
After having found the body he speaks to it and touches it. Later,
after the body is lost to him through the funeral, he rummages
through the entire house… In all these instances Rudolf is acting,
behaving in a peculiarly active fashion which already reveals a
certain industry. There is nothing contemplative to be found in his
early memories.4

In the beginning was activity, productivity, even industry in lieu of

recognition of loss. When his father died, what returned was the dead
body. Rudolf, now a young man, could again manipulate and search for
signs of the life his looking sustained. Kuhn concludes that ‘it is certain
that in the night during his bizarre activities’ with the father’s corpse
Rudolf ‘did not feel like mourning’ (403). Stopped in the tracks of his
first murder attempt in 1938, Rudolf spent the war years under Kuhn’s
care reclaiming his history of delayed mourning from the narcissism of
his chaos. In time he could get out of the tight spot he was in with the
dead bodies of his parents by projecting the machinery of repair upon
his relationship to all the bodies that matter:

in various dreams... he occupied himself, mostly with the help of

complicated machines, with the body of his father or of people
unknown to him, predominantly of the female sex. In most of these
dreams he succeeded in bringing the dead back to life, a result that
gave him the feeling of indescribable happiness. (373)

As preliminary and prerequisite to a happy treatment outcome, one

that begins to feel like mourning, Kuhn from the get-go separates out
the violence from Rudolf’s psychopathic industry, which he reapplies
toward recovery. Whereas Ellen West gets bogged down in the tomb
world of her schizophrenia, ‘Rudolf stays productive and alive’ (424).
When Kongrosion uses his telekinesis as a weapon, Pembroke, the
man who would be dictator, recognizes the new application of these
powers as the psychic medium’s political act. The psychotic’s acting out
is set off by the attempt to administer treatment by Imipramine, the
medication Kuhn inadvertently discovered in the hospital setting when
an ineffective anti-psychotic showed signs of lessening depression.
Following the drug to swallow: Kuhn’s study emerges as the subtext of
Kongrosian’s switch from identified psychotic to society’s Everyman,
who activates the psychopathic violence that the USEA aims to contain
even as its sole content.
86 The World According to Philip K. Dick

During the long term of Kuhn’s treatment of Rudolf, D. W. Winnicott

was beginning to retrofit what he would rename neurotic analysis to
admit the psychopath, a psychoanalytic theorization of which only
emerges through his work. Winnicott sought to nip the budding
psychopath by intervening early in the anti-social tendencies of chil-
dren, disturbances in development prior to the advent of the capacity
for mourning, toward which he, in theory, was ushering his clients.
‘Mourning in itself,’ Winnicott advises and admits, ‘indicates maturity
in the individual,’ while ‘the immature ego cannot mourn’.5 The anti-
social tendencies in young children, which can, once consolidated and
rationalized for secondary gain, spawn the psychopath, symptomatize
deprivations in and of what Winnicott terms the child’s ‘holding envi-
ronment’ prior to the egoic maturity set for mourning, but also at an
age old enough to be beyond fateful internalization of this environmen-
tal fault line. In Winnicott’s estimation there are certain advantages to
the industry of the psychopath over the psychotic’s playing dead, or the
neurotic’s endless involution of dependency.
According to Winnicott, the child, whose grounds for stealing or act-
ing destructively are as yet unconscious, signals with each delinquent
act both the importance of his environment and the return of hope.
In ‘Delinquency as a Sign of Hope,’ Winnicott identifies the hope that
begins to emerge as the ‘hope of a return of security’.6 What returns, in
other words, is an environment the child can reality-test for its capacity
to endure and contain inner turbulence. In ‘The Antisocial Tendency,’
Winnicott looks at the anti-social relation from the side of a ‘period of
hope’: ‘Lack of hope is the basic feature of the deprived child who, of
course, is not all the time being antisocial. In the period of hope the
child manifests an antisocial tendency.’7
However, when the stealing or destructive child replaces his uncon-
scious objective with denial of the deprivation or loss, what is stolen or
destroyed becomes a thing with dangerous properties of its own, which
the child must master over and again. At this turning point the act no
longer communicates hope. Instead, ‘the secondary gains that arise
out of the skill that develops whenever an object has to be handled
in order to be mastered’ support fetishism, which Winnicott sees as
heading hope off at the impasse of denial.8 But Winnicott’s strict crite-
ria for treatability cannot cancel the new legibility he simultaneously
extended to the limit. Winnicott’s attribution of hope’s expression to
the anti-social child’s first delinquencies resonates, especially given the
importance of the environment these acts at the same time illuminate,
with a sense of hope to which the history of the word tracks back.
From Here to California: Philip K. Dick 87

Preserved to this day as the cognate verhoffen in the German language

of hunters, hope originally designated the startled response that allows
you to consider, in pulling back before a blockage in the intended path,
the alternate directions to take within a suddenly altered environment.
The moment of hope thus gives pause for thought or reality testing.
Within this extended sense of hope, the development of a fetish can be
considered not so much as blockage but as the very transit center for a
deferral process that carries the onset of integration forward as gainful
maintenance and repair.

5.2 The rocket to a Holocaust-free future

In The Simulacra, German is not the USEA’s second language but the
sacred one that supplies all key terms governing society. For this post-
war state that contains Californians and Germans in strained coopera-
tion and includes representatives of Israel in foreign policy deliberations
internal to this cohabitation, the split-level social division is between
the Ges and the Bes: the Geheimnisträger, those privy to the secret or,
literally, those who carry the secret; and the Befehlsträger, those who
carry out commands. The Ges know or carry a double secret. The two
leaders of the USEA, der Alte, as Konrad Adenauer was known, and
First Lady Nicole Thibodeaux, who is modeled on Jackie Kennedy,
are not only mere figureheads but also fakes. Der Alte is an android,
whose replacement with each new election upsets the whole balance
of power in the ensuing rivalry over the commission to build the
next one. Nicole Thibodeaux, who is long dead, has since been played
by actresses selected for their resemblance to the original. The USEA
incorporates two date marks, then – the opening season of the German
Federal Republic under Adenauer’s direction and the Kennedy presi-
dency, famous for the stamp of identification accorded West Germany
on the occasion of wounding division but also at the highpoint of the
economic miracle, or Wirtschaftswunder.
In name, the post-war miracle resonated with the miracles of trans-
formation of wounds, of lack, or loss into the wonders of German sf,
which underwent realization as the Wunderwaffen, the miracle weap-
ons of World War II. When in the 1950s these earlier miracles were
reclaimed in name for the onset of repair of the wounds of the Nazi
era, the science-factional track of exploration of the outer limits was
continued both by the Californian culture industry and by the space
race. Both tracks first came together in 1955 in two Disneyland TV
shows starring Wernher von Braun and dedicated to the Tomorrowland
88 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of interplanetary travel. NASA had been founded in the late 1950s after
the US was back in the race following setbacks that were reversed under
the new direction of von Braun. Replying to the taunts of American
reporters that Soviet advances in rocket technology rode on the backs
of captured Nazi scientists, Krushchev declared that Americans had no
excuse for their space impotence since the mastermind behind the Nazi
V-2 rockets was at their disposal.9 Unstuck by this doubling of the nega-
tive, von Braun’s post-war career began to take off until he could be
found sharing photo ops with President Kennedy, who gave NASA the
direction and funding to land on the Moon in the immediate future.
The launching of von Braun’s American career as pop culture star of
the reach for the stars internalized turbulence, as so often in the case
of idealization, although the volatility his case for mascot status had
to pack away was historically unique. The founder of the self-esteem
support franchise EST, for example, would base the new motivational
therapy on his own name change in 1960 from John Rosenberg to
Werner Erhard, the first name a tribute to von Braun, the second
to Ludwig Erhard, who was Adenauer’s minister of finance during the
economic miracle. In Werner Erhard’s words: ‘Freudians would say this
was a rejection of Jewishness and a seizure of strength.’10 On the Disney
shows von Braun’s stage fright plays to a double audience. In the stu-
dio’s recent past, while Walt Disney alone received Leni Riefenstahl in
1938 on her state visit to Hollywood to show and promote Olympia, his
own technical staff refused to project her film.
Nervous, as though he at least felt he was getting away with some-
thing or leaving something unaddressed, von Braun nevertheless works
hard to help establish in and with the Disney shows a continuity shot
of invention and industry as upbeat history. Throughout his career
von Braun demonstrated highly-focused productivity in turning over
vast sums of debt into the prospect of outer space exploration, which
promised the unification of peoples and promoted his own integra-
tion inside and out. As soon as von Braun had arrived he recognized
that in the United States a space program could be funded only upon
becoming part of popular culture. He tried his hand at sf, conceiving
and commencing what he called his ‘technical tale’ in 1946. He packed
into the fiction of a mission to Mars endless mathematical and tech-
nical calculations as the testimony given by experts to governmental
agencies from which support for the Mars voyage had to be obtained.
When his novel was turned down, von Braun turned his attention to
popular science, in which genre he published numerous projections
of future voyages based on the science and technology of the day.
From Here to California: Philip K. Dick 89

The Disney shows animate text and illustrations of some of these books
that von Braun used not only to advertise the possibilities of space
travel itself, but also to lobby for its funding in the first place.
The second Disney show folded into its official time line of imagina-
tive projections of travel to Mars the ancestral work of German sf, Kurd
Laßwitz’s 1897 novel Two Planets. Whether this was under his direc-
tion or brought about by one of the emigrés on the staff, for the first
English language edition of Laßwitz’s novel in 1971 von Braun gave as
blurb an endorsement of the continuity passing through them: ‘I shall
never forget how I devoured this novel with curiosity and excitement
as a young man... From this book the reader can obtain an inkling
of that richness of ideas at the twilight of the nineteenth century
upon which the technological and scientific progress of the twentieth
is based.’11
Laßwitz’s Two Planets projected Martians as benign figures who, like
friendly ghosts from an idealized cultural past, bring to Earth the news
of transformation of the struggle for survival of the fittest into accept-
ance of survival of the fit with technology, laying the foundation for
limitless cultural and intellectual innovation. Because Earthlings were
unable to rise above the brutal view of survival, their instructors from
Mars suffer from the prolonged contact and then contract Earth fever,
which makes them short tempered, arrogant, corrupt, even violent,
and in desperate need of treatment back home. The Martian view of
techno leisure-time as the setting for the perfectibility of our evolution-
ary legacy of intelligent life is unique in early sf. The tradition that had
prevailed, beginning with H. G. Wells’s 1898 The War of the Worlds, sees
technological progress, via the Martians, as the calamitous agency of
evolutionary regression.
While in Laßwitz’s fiction the rarefied Martians select the Germans as
the most advanced Earthlings for the experiment of elevating human-
kind to Martian or Kantian standards, in Wells’s take the Earthlings,
who can not defeat the technologically advanced vampire brains from
outer space, nevertheless prevail by dint of their own mortality, the
evolutionary milieu that guarantees survival of what Wells names in
the title of his autobiography an ordinary brain. The microbial organ-
isms that attack human bodies when they lapse into lifelessness take
the Martians for dead and set about disposing of them as corpses
while yet alive. ‘But by virtue of... natural selection of our kind we
have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without
a struggle, and to many – those that cause putrefaction in dead matter,
for instance – our living frames are altogether immune… By the toll
90 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth.’12 To

be taken for dead while alive and yet to survive is the closing image
of the ordinary human bond of relationality that Wells’s philosopher-
narrator gives as his conclusion. ‘And strangest of all is it to hold my
wife’s hand again, and to think that I have counted her, and that she
has counted me, among the dead’ (388). This surviving acknowledg-
ment of the death wish at close quarters as the intrapsychic counterpart
to the victory over the Martians did not make it into the narrative’s
conscription for total psychological warfare. As early as 1938, when
Orson Welles broadcast his radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds
as breaking news, the outer space narrative was pulled through the
passing comment by Wells’s narrator that the public reacted to the
reports of the Martian landing with less excitement than they would
have done to news of an ultimatum to Germany. That ordinary people
miraculously triumph over the unbeatable foe against all odds would
become the organizing injunction of US propaganda. Only the Death
Star foe threatens to win out of mastery, while those gathered together
as slapdash crew on the good side must win but as potential victims and
losers, never as outright winners.
What remained largely unaddressed in the post-World War II syndica-
tions of German sf, as, indeed, in the public sphere at large until some
turning point in the 1980s, an absence the nervous von Braun on Disney
TV tries to pass beyond in the pitch and toss for space exploration, was
the Holocaust. In his 2003 foreword to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-
Four Thomas Pynchon identifies the place of this absence in the work
written in 1948, the date mark the title preserves by metathesis. ‘There
is some felt reticence, as if, with so many other deep issues to worry
about, Orwell would have preferred that the world not be presented the
added inconvenience of having to think much about the Holocaust.
The novel may even have been his way of redefining a world in which
the Holocaust did not happen.’13
If Nineteen Eighty-Four passes over the Holocaust, then this motivates
a reading of the doomed future world of Newspeak as a kind of natural
history exhibit of the extinct possibility of a victorious post-war Nazi
world, a history also imagined in Dick’s Man in the High Castle. Between
the decision to begin keeping a journal and the past tense of the closing
appendix on Newspeak the project of Big Brother is struck out in the
turning of the diary page. The salient feature of Newspeak, the amal-
gamation of abbreviations and acronyms, is simultaneously the very
essence of linguistic metabolization before which the ideological goal
of language’s neutralization pulls up short and surrenders. Big Brother’s
From Here to California: Philip K. Dick 91

death sentence is issued in or by adolescence as the original occupation

or cathexis of language in the mix of buffering metabolization of the
pressures that are upon us of technologization and massification.
The original upsurge of authorship of personalized language in adoles-
cence isn’t a phase or phrase that passes. Its essence continues as jargon
in scientific and theoretical work or as the punning of news-speak.
Winnicott argued that Nazi Germany sought to harness adolescent
energy to its project of total warfare by establishing the teen as ego ideal.
By thus skipping the process of personalization of the death of parental
guidance – a process otherwise developmentally constitutive of
adolescence – the Nazis placed the teen in the position of Big Brother.
‘Rebellion no longer makes sense, and the adolescent who wins too
early is caught in his own trap, must turn dictator, and must stand up
waiting to be killed – to be killed not by a new generation of his own
children, but by siblings. Naturally, he seeks to control them.’14 Once
total war is taken out of the equation and replaced by chronic conflict
pulling up short before the prospect of nuclear destruction, the now less
likely scenario of the Nazi socius no longer speaks to teens. According to
Winnicott, the atom bomb was dropped on war as we knew it. Whereas
war had previously extended via prep work into the training and con-
taining of adolescent energy, without the ideology or rationale of future
total war, adolescence was deregulated and, following the introduction
of effective contraception, here to serve as the metabolic site of sex and
violence. As Winnicott concludes in 1963: ‘Adolescence now has to
contain itself, to contain itself in a way it has never had to do before…
So adolescence has come to stay, and along with it the violence and sex
that is inherent in it.’15
In containing itself, adolescence reaches to the border it shares with
psychopathy. Winnicott comments: ‘there is nothing more difficult
than to decide whether one is seeing a healthy boy or girl who is in the
throes of adolescence or a person who happens to be ill, psychiatrically
speaking, in the puberty age.’16 Only time will tell, just as the passage
of time or maturation is the ‘only one real cure for adolescence’.17 At
the group level, the one who begins to fit a psychopathic profile reduces
the pressure on the other group members to act out: ‘in a group of
adolescents the various extreme tendencies tend to be represented by
the more ill members of the group… Behind the ill individual whose
extreme symptom has impinged on “society” are grouped a band of
adolescent isolates. The ill one had to act for the others.’18 Adolescence
and psychopathy inhere in one another now as inoculum and expira-
tion date, now by proxy and antibody.
92 The World According to Philip K. Dick

In von Braun’s sf novel Project Mars: A Technical Tale, completed and

translated into English by 1948, but not published until 2006, the
preparations for the voyage are staged in amusement-park-like settings
that project the Disney TV show’s simulation of a voyage to Mars.
‘Even a Martian landscape was portrayed on the rolling carpet that
passed before the eyes of the pilot as he synthetically flew along.’19
In German sf, rocket flight, which takes over where the pilot leaves
off as autopilot merged with his machine in flight, contains itself as
android double, while in post-World War II sf, as already in von Braun’s
technical tale, a new android interface begins to fold out of the on-
board computers that, when supplied the right tape for the emergency
scenario, can steer the spaceship clear. In 2001. A Space Odyssey Hal’s
psychopathic forwarding of deprivation twists free, internally, from
the psychotic techno doubling of Hel, the missing mother preserved
in or as Metropolis. In contrast, the android in German sf is always
introduced as one side of a defensive split, the metabolic representa-
tion of the to-be-excluded – in the first place woman, in the same place
reproduction and death – as the objective of technologization. What
the post-war shift in sf reception adds to the mass-psychological trans-
mission of the android passing through it, is adolescence in the family
setting. Adolescence, as the time-based version of psychopathy, is the
container in which we must face the psycho as our double at close quar-
ters: there but for the good object go I. The android comes to draw the
distinction we hold fast to in this tight corner between psychopathy
and empathy.
In We Can Build You androids or simulacra are invented and two demos
built in anticipation of a Civil War re-enactment using replicants as the
future of mass entertainment. The investor, who is otherwise in the busi-
ness of outer space colonization, reroutes the invention of simulacra for
the production of simulated settings of stability to offset the psychoticiz-
ing effects of outer space isolation. Colonists on Mars can expect to share
a property line with a famnexdo – a family next door of androids. But
what rebounds from this outer rim of containment in Do Androids Dream
of Electric Sheep? is the problem android who, subject as a famnexdo mem-
ber to the very loneliness and boredom androids were built to deflect,
grows up adolescent going on psychopathic. On Mars alienated androids
take drugs, consume pre-science-factual sf, drop out of their family set-
tings, and follow their psycho-visionary leaders. Whereas German sf
explored psychotic outer space via the android dyad, the post-war sf that
introjects Germany evaluates psychopathic violence in the family and
group settings of androids as teens.
From Here to California: Philip K. Dick 93

It is possible to link the victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany, as

well as their capacity to win the immediate peace, to the promotion of
differentiating group or in-group formats in lieu of mass psychology.
While in Nazi Germany television was installed in public places that
admitted up to three hundred viewers, in the US the direction was taken
from TV to introduce as group-psychological format the circle of family
and friends that comfortably wraps around the set for optimal interac-
tion. This is reflected in publications by US psychoanalysts and military
psychologists toward the end of the war advising what were the best
conditions for the successful return home of the soldiers, which in time
would also be the conditions to be met by civilians undergoing family
systems therapy.20
Wernher von Braun got the message that the related format of team-
work could draw his Faustian striving onward. Thus a total effort is
translated as realizable via a linking up of the different agencies in the
US that would cooperate in the event of space travel. In the introduc-
tion to his 1952 The Mars Project, which contained the projected science
and math separated out from his recently abandoned sf novel, von
Braun summarized the difference between space flight as entertained in
sf and space flight as realizable now:

The central figure in these stories was usually the heroic inventor.
Surrounded by a little band of faithful followers, he secretly built a
mysteriously streamlined space vessel in a remote back yard. Then,
at the hour of midnight, he and his crew soared into the solar system
to brave untold perils – successfully of course.21

Thus von Braun summarizes Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou’s sf
Woman in the Moon as the acme of these developments, to which
should be added, to make the symptom picture of German sf more
complete, that the central figures are joined together by various aber-
rant mental states, from traumatic neurosis to psychosis, and by the
fact that they leave behind no one to mourn them. What the future
holds is teamwork: ‘Since the actual development of the long-range
liquid rocket, it has been apparent that true space travel… can only
be achieved by the coordinated might of scientists, technicians, and
organizers belonging to very nearly every branch of modern science
and industry’ (1).
Von Braun’s Project Mars: A Technical Tale commences in 1980 in
California, which is now part of a global government, established fol-
lowing the third and final world war. Not the atom bomb itself, but its
94 The World According to Philip K. Dick

launching from a satellite orbiting the moon put an end to warfare.

Because of the satellite’s role in the war, peace on Earth was at the same
time ‘the symbol of the final victory of man over space’ (104). For his
fictional encounter between Earthlings and Martians von Braun brings
together the two receptions of our future projected upon outer space,
those of Laßwitz and Wells, as the precondition for the future world’s
integration. The post-war era, whether the early 1980s or the late 1940s,
gives up war for space exploration. The explorers encounter and acquire
on Mars a ‘refined technology’ that prompted Martians a long time ago
to abandon ‘all regional concepts,’ including racial prejudice, national or
local patriotism, and nostalgia (178). ‘So integrated had their economy
become that any trouble afflicting one locality was immediately painful
to the entire planet’ (ibid.). Earth has only begun to benefit from peace.
On Mars the Earthlings learn that a long burgeoning of culture will fol-
low, but that in time the ‘inner urge to action’ that drives invention will
grow lethargic under global conditions of standardization (177). Yet the
cultural pessimism of one Martian host gives way before evidence that
the lassitude on Mars has been shaken up by contact with Earth. Now
another brand of advice can be given in response to an Earth-bound
pessimism, which the Earthling commander cites from recent terrestrial
history. In the final war mankind had come ‘so close to the abyss of
universal cultural suicide’ that ‘many Earthling thinkers… proclaimed
that technology bore an eternal curse and that naught but a return to a
simple bucolic existence of self-determination could preserve humanity
from utter self-destruction’ (203). But a Martian sage warns against the
very thought of a return to Nature. ‘There can… be no turning back
for any civilization which has once pinned its faith to the advance of
technology’ (ibid.).

5.3 Time travel and mourning

That ‘Germany is Our Problem,’ according to the title of Henry

Morgenthau’s 1945 book version of his proposal that post-war Germany
be pastoralized to insure world peace, carries forward the sense of
defenselessness in the face of unstoppable psychopathic violence. The
book opens with Corporal Adolf Hitler weeping with hysterical rage
on his hospital bed on the day Germany signs the Armistice. Then, in
no time, it’s the next sentence and 22 years later, it’s Hitler again, this
time beaming and strutting for the newsreels, jump cutting his sense
of loss with its reversal. ‘What had happened to the world’s high hopes
of peace?’ Morgenthau asks: ‘So many precautions had been taken to
From Here to California: Philip K. Dick 95

prevent the Germans from breaking out again! But something must
have been omitted.’22
Morgenthau’s intervention proved short-lived, however, when the
problem it addressed as containable became part of the proposal.
Critics in the States calculated that in the aftermath of application of
Morgenthau’s plan at least twenty million Germans would have to go.
It is this prospect of mass murder’s renewal through the sentencing
of Germany, more than the immediate shift of the total war fronts
to the new dividing line of the Cold War, which led to the project of
Germany’s integration into the post-war western world. It was indeed
the Cold War, however, that diverted the attention of the victors from
the conditions Jewish survivors brought to the peace. Under no pres-
sure from the Allies, therefore, Adenauer pushed through the policy of
restitution that the German Federal Republic negotiated in the early
1950s with Israel as one of the premier and perhaps most lasting foreign
policies of the post-war world.
It was as traumatic neurotics that a line of reception awaited survivors
of the Holocaust who qualified. This specialized area of evaluation was
up and running on a massive scale since the World War I epidemic of
shell shock. It was soldiers first in both world wars, then women, chil-
dren, and teens in the air war. That survivors of Nazi persecution were
summoned as next in line to undergo a screening process administered
according to insurance standards of suspicion gave rise to rejection of
the restitution policy as retraumatization.23 The search for an adequate
relationship of and to restitution had to find alternatives to pre-existing
models, such as that of pension evaluation for psychological casualties
of war or that of war reparations between states. It was when inter-
ruption of professional development as developmental problem under
duress was added to categories for compensation that the notion of
productivity as right was introduced, not as injunction to be produc-
tive, but as measure of deprivation. In this way restitution inadvertently,
but inevitably provided a language of valuation that perpetrators of
and heirs to psychopathic violence could recognize and use to address
deprivation and loss without laying claim to ethical cleansing. With its
introduction, restitution delivered the family value of adolescent prom-
ise from Nazi mass-psychologization to the victims to be integrated as
applicants for the correction of the recent past. That inequities in the
protection of productivity could be corrected, symbolically as Adenauer
stressed, allowed post-war Germany to inherit German history as the
history of this inalienable right. If it is true, as is generally claimed, that
the policy of restitution was intrinsic to the Wirtschaftswunder, then the
96 The World According to Philip K. Dick

recovery at the foundation of the German Federal Republic happened

not in spite of but because of the commitment to productivity as the
standard of deprivation’s measure and repair.
In The Simulacra the capacity for mourning, the undeclared but press-
ing objective of the industry of outer space transport, which, however,
is overshot by the rocket’s unimpeded progress through continuous
history, is brought closer through time travel, which, as trail-blazing
exploration and construction of alternate realities, can be seen as sf’s
own internal simulacrum. In The Simulacra, as in Martian Time-Slip,
time travel is the inner world to outer space exploration, in which, as its
external reality, it studies and contains itself. Time travel moves in the
orbit of testing and mourning in which Melanie Klein situated our all-
important relationship to the inner world. This inner world as the safety
zone of internalized good objects must take the brunt of impact of
traumatic loss that, before it can be individually addressed or redressed,
awaits the shoring up of the very foundations of this afterlife. What
the external world is good for is to provide a less phantasy-muddled
version of reality that the inner world can use as control for testing and
re-securing its reserve of posthumous relations.24
In The Simulacra, then, time travel takes over where the fetish func-
tion of outer space transport leaves off. Before it recognizes itself as
sf, time travel serves Christian and Oedipal fantasies as their essence.
Fantasies of attending one’s own development from conception onward
rehearse and repeat the ultimate fantasy, that of the death of death.
Projected upon history, time travel could re-enact the Civil War or
World War II to bring about one’s own private happy ending. But these
illusions of time travel are ultimately not supported in The Simulacra.
Bertold Goltz, an Israeli who hides out in the counterculture, though
all along he is the behind-the-scenes head of the USEA’s government,
is the media Meister of time travel. ‘He was long since back there, at
the time of his birth and onward into childhood. Guarding himself,
training himself, crooning over his child self;… Bertold Goltz had
become, in effect, his own parent’ (152). But when Pembroke takes
aim in the present and fires – Goltz simply drops dead. And when the
First Lady and the Israeli foreign minister try negotiating with Göring
a separate peace for the Jews in exchange for Nazi German victory,
the Reichsmarschall, who has been brought back from the past on a
time trip, is unable to think outside the box that claims him. When
he’s executed in the future there is not even a ripple of change in the
present. Indeed von Lessinger, who invented time travel technology at
the time of the foundation of the German-Californian state, warned
From Here to California: Philip K. Dick 97

that there was one exception to the enhanced surveillance his technol-
ogy provided. ‘I think that von Lessinger was right in his final sum-
mation: no one should go near the Third Reich. When you deal with
psychotics you’re drawn in; you become mentally ill yourself’ (43).
And yet unceasing industry goes into the attempted manipulation of
the boundary concept of Nazi Germany via von Lessinger’s time travel
technology. Hitler’s assassination is attempted many times over, and on
one occasion Hitler even receives twenty-first-century psychiatric treat-
ment. In their attempts to remove the Holocaust and lose the losses,
time travelers, who cannot but run up against the limit built into the
technology, would appear to be in reality training to abandon fantasy
and recognize the limitation of reparation and integration. In time,
then, the responsibility to and for the dead, mourning’s ethical impera-
tive, comes up from behind the limit von Lessinger programmed into
the very time travel that turns the denial.
Klein always used hope in conjunction with reparation in the span of
their joint intervention or definition: hope is hope of making repara-
tion. When less overwhelmed by destructiveness, reparation becomes
possible and the all-important process of integration takes place. And
yet, in what would be her final but never finished essay, ‘On the Sense
of Loneliness,’ Klein shows how integration must pull up short before a
‘feeling of irretrievable loss,’ as Klein puts it.25 The sense or direction of
loneliness, which guarantees the incompletion of the analytic work
of integration, harbors mourning, but as the final frontier.
At the height of the Nazi German threat to the UK, Klein undertook
the analysis of ten-year-old Richard, which, though it was condensed to
fit the span of evacuation from the air war, ended up, in Klein’s estima-
tion, the best demonstration of her analytic innovations. Narrative of a
Child Analysis, as she titled the document, is also her final completed
work, which she prepared for publication on her death bed. Here the
work of integration, reduced to its essential incompletion, requires that
at least the two wars be brought into some kind of relationship. The
war little Richard brought to session and reenacted as primal scenes
was also the external war he followed, even studied in the radio news
broadcasts and three daily newspapers. He was Jewish and knew that for
him there could be only one outcome to the war. But that didn’t stop
him from goose-stepping up and down the office and giving the Hitler
salute.26 It didn’t stop Klein from interpreting the bad Hitler Daddy
Penis inside him (158). Far more difficult and consequential than iden-
tification with Hitler was Richard’s consideration of sharing the work of
repair with the destroyed enemy. ‘This was shown, for instance, when
98 The World According to Philip K. Dick

he regretted the damage done to Berlin and Munich and, at another

occasion, when he became identified with the sunk Prinz Eugen’ (466).
Even as the untimely deadline of the analysis was approaching, Richard
remained hopeful, which Klein saw, together with his conduct of the
war inside and outside him, as proof that his relationship to the good
internal object had been re-secured. Inadvertently, the word chosen for
the West German restitution policy, Wiedergutmachung, over and above
its horribly banal promise of making it all better again, literally, and in
accordance with Klein’s Nietzschean understanding of the noble valua-
tion of the internal object, spells out the making good again of objects
of repair as preliminary to the onset of the capacity for mourning.
Those who lose as winners would turn gravity or the grave around by
the industry of their cryptofetishism. But like P. K. Dick, who decided,
as he remembered it, to major in German at high school shortly after
the United States entered World War II,27 Richard also takes win-
ning as a victim to the next level. Both tendencies are shaped toward
mourning – in The Simulacra by double exposure to the links and limits
of time travel, the inner world as sf.

1 When first presented at New York University in 2011 my ‘close reading’ of The
Simulacra opened a new line of inquiry, which my contribution to this vol-
ume documents. In the meantime this portal to the research that followed is
also the advance preview of a new book, Germany. A Science Fiction (to appear
with Anti-Oedipus Press).
2 Ludwig Binswanger, ‘The Case of Ellen West: An Anthropological-Clinical
Study,’ trans. Werner M. Mendel and Joseph Lyons, in Existence: A New
Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology, ed. Rollo May, Ernest Angel, and Henri
F. Ellenberger (New York: Basic Books, 1958), 237–364.
3 Philip K. Dick, The Simulacra (New York: Vintage Books, 2002), 63. Subsequent
page references are given in the text.
4 Roland Kuhn, ‘The Attempted Murder of a Prostitute,’ trans. Ernest Angel, in
Existence, 397. Subsequent page references are given in the text.
5 D. W. Winnicott, ‘The Psychology of Separation,’ in Deprivation and Delinquency,
ed. Clare Winnicott, Ray Shepherd, and Madeleine Davis (London: Routledge,
2000), 132.
6 D. W. Winnicott, ‘Delinquency as a Sign of Hope,’ in Home is Where We Start
From: Essays by a Psychoanalyst (New York: Norton, 1986), 95.
7 D. W. Winnicott, ‘The Antisocial Tendency,’ in Through Paediatrics to Psycho-
Analysis: Collected Papers (Hove: Brunner-Routledge, 1992), 309.
8 D. W. Winnicott, ‘Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena,’ in
Playing and Reality (Hove: Brunner-Routledge, 2002), 19.
From Here to California: Philip K. Dick 99

9 Michael J. Neufeld, Von Braun: Dreamer of Space/Engineer of War (New York:

Vintage Books, 2007), 313–15.
10 ‘Werner Erhard.’ People, vol. 29 (December 1975). Erhard would later claim
that his first name, which he had happily misspelled in the original appro-
priation, always referred to Heisenberg instead.
11 Kurd Laßwitz, Two Planets, trans. Hans H. Rudnick (Carbondale: Southern
Illinois University Press, 1971).
12 H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, in Seven Famous Novels by H. G. Wells
(New York: Knopf, 1979), 380. Subsequent page references are given in the
13 Thomas Pynchon, ‘Foreword,’ in George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
(Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace, 2003), xvii.
14 D. W. Winnicott, ‘Contemporary Concepts of Adolescent Development,’ in
Playing and Reality, 146.
15 D. W. Winnicott, ‘Struggling through the Doldrums,’ in Deprivation and
Delinquency, 151.
16 D. W. Winnicott, ‘Deductions Drawn from a Psychotherapeutic Interview
with an Adolescent,’ in Psychoanalytic Explorations, ed. Clare Winnicott, Ray
Shepherd, and Madeleine Davis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1992), 326.
17 Winnicott, ‘Struggling through the Doldrums,’ 145.
18 Winnicott, ‘Struggling through the Doldrums,’ 153.
19 Wernher von Braun, Project Mars: A Technical Tale (Burlington, Ontario:
Collector’s Guide Publishing, 2006), 104. Subsequent page references are
given in the text.
20 The research in support of the genealogical claims made throughout this
essay can be found fully presented in my Nazi Psychoanalysis (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2002).
21 Wernher von Braun, The Mars Project (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1991), 1. Subsequent page references are given in the text.
22 Henry Morgenthau, Germany is Our Problem (New York: Harper, 1945), 1.
23 The most famous criticism of the restitution policy on these grounds can be
found in Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, Die Unfähigkeit zu Trauern.
Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens (Munich: Piper, 1980).
24 Melanie Klein, ‘Mourning and Its Relation to Manic-Depressive States,’ in
Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921–1945 (New York: Free Press,
1984), 344–9.
25 Melanie Klein, ‘On the Sense of Loneliness,’ in Envy and Gratitude and Other
Works 1946–1963 (New York: Free Press, 1984), 301.
26 Melanie Klein, Narrative of a Child Analysis: The Conduct of the Psychoanalysis
of Children as seen in the Treatment of a Ten-year-old Boy (New York: Free Press,
1984), 164. Subsequent page references are given in the text.
27 Philip K. Dick, The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick. 1977–1979, ed. Don
Herron (Novato, CA.: Underwood-Miller, 1993), 117.
Remember Tomorrow: Biopolitics
of Time in the Early Works of
Philip K. Dick
Yari Lanci

From the niche of a ‘minor literature,’ as Deleuze and Guattari would

put it, the work of Philip K. Dick has become increasingly relevant as
new configurations of our unstable present unfold.1 Paradigms of dif-
fused control and security have been substantially integrated into the
majority of social environments and become part of the collective expe-
rience for millions of inhabitants in the ‘more developed countries’.
The financial crash in 2008 and the economic policies enacted by the
European Central Bank since then have also unmasked the extreme fal-
libility and ruthlessness of the current politico-economic system that
had been thought of as neutral and reliable. The present crisis has led
to the questioning of an economic rationality (pace Fukuyama) usually
perceived as heading towards the ‘end of history’ and the pacification
of globalized society.2 Philip K. Dick’s significance as a thinker lies
precisely in his ability to sense and decode the tendencies of his times,
which he would then crystallize in his narratives, projecting them onto
different possible futures through the peculiarity of science fiction’s
formal literary devices.3 Dick’s early career – from the short stories
submitted to sf and fantasy magazines at the beginning of the 1950s
to the publication of his first masterpiece Time Out of Joint (1958) – is
often overshadowed by the major novels of the 1960s and the religious
turn that followed the visions he experienced in 1974. Yet, in light of
the contemporary neoliberal regime of ‘austerity measures,’ with its
strong emphasis on rationalization to achieve (future) economic targets,
it seems timely to return to key stories Dick wrote in the 1950s, which
have been overlooked by many critical readings.
A central trait of our present, which Dick explores in these stories,
is the political and economical government of time. Sensitive to the
political climate after World War II, Dick was witness to the potential of
Biopolitics of Time in the Early Works of Philip K. Dick 101

apocalyptic violence inherent in the logic of the Cold War, a framework

of generalized anxiety about the possibility of post-atomic survival of
the human species. Ultimately, the Cold War was a war of time. Both
blocs were constantly competing for temporal (military and, conse-
quently, political) advantage over the other.4 As is often the case, time
functioned as an essential category within estimates of the enemy’s
force.5 Early in his career, Dick tried to understand how control over
time could become a weapon for the protection of an established order
and a political means for deeper and more effective social control.
This chapter looks at how Dick’s narratives of time relate to the
performative actualization of ‘scientific’ predictions under neoliberalism
and wider shifts in the accumulation of capital from Fordism to post-
Fordism. Thus, this chapter re-engages with Dick’s work without neces-
sarily bridling his short stories and novels to a distinct historical and
cultural conjuncture, such as the American 1950s and early 1960s. This
is not to undermine the significance of the specific historical moment in
which Dick wrote his stories – a significance explored by the majority of
existing readings of Dick’s oeuvre, whose perspectives and methodolo-
gies I rely upon in what follows. Yet the stories Dick published in the
first part of his career merit a careful re-evaluation in light of the present
state of affairs. Specifically, I analyze some of the ways in which Dick’s
texts function as tools to cognitively map the fluid dynamics of contem-
porary capitalism.6 Dick’s concerns were observed by Eric Rabkin, who
writes: ‘Dick does not seem to understand consciously the great extent to
which his fantastic preoccupations have their bases in economic reality.’7
My main aim is to reactivate specific aspects of Dick’s works in relation
to the overall category of time, in order to provide – as sf often does –
‘a snapshot of the structures of capital’.8 Fredric Jameson’s call for an
‘aesthetic of cognitive mapping’ was mainly related to the spatial abstrac-
tions of contemporary capitalism.9 Instead, the chapter aims at under-
standing the problem of cognitive mapping in Dick under the aegis of
time in its biopolitical dimension: the government of the past, present,
and predicted future of human lives. This is a dimension which seems
to have been neglected, especially by earlier Marxists’ work on Dick.
Dick exposes the fundamentally relational nature of power and
reveals what Michel Foucault later referred to as the biopolitical ration-
ality of government – there are many examples in Dick’s works, in
which any kind of ‘abnormal’ (alien, mutant, and so on) is subjected
to normalizing disciplinary and authoritarian political orders. In this
chapter, the Foucauldian concept of biopolitics will function in rela-
tion to its strict link with the dimension of time and the management
102 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of aleatory events. The early works of Dick analyzed here provide lucid
manifestations of such a political rationality, something that might be
termed the biopolitics of time. For Dick, time operates as the main philo-
sophical category for a critical perspective on capital and its variations.
More specifically, Dick’s sf details how a ‘monopoly’ on time implies
the idea that it is possible to act pre-emptively towards a future which,
by definition, is unknown. As Maurizio Lazzarato argues with respect to
recent developments in financial capitalism: ‘all financial innovations
have but one sole purpose: possessing the future in advance by objec-
tivizing it’.10 The discourse of speculative finance has always attempted
to ensure its monopoly on time. Thus, this chapter will ask: how does
Dick’s sf problematize this capitalist ‘enclosure’ of time? In what ways is
the future produced by and productive of power effects for the constitu-
tion of the present? In what follows, it will be argued that Dick warned
us about one of the main targets of politics today: the politico-economic
monopoly over the future as a set of choices, possibilities, and decisions.

6.1 Time and its capitalist enclosure

Time is the paradigmatic category of speculation for sf. In the depiction

of a sequence of events in a relatively distant future or by means of the
literary mechanism of time travel, Dick often deals with the problems
of temporality. In his original study of the ‘narratological laboratory’
of time travel fiction, David Wittenberg argues that time travel fiction,
with its exercises in ‘the theorization of temporality,’ can be regarded
as ‘a philosophical literature par excellence’.11 However, Dick’s fictional
experiments with time have pointedly political implications.
In order to make this point, it is necessary to begin with some pre-
liminary remarks about time as a means of social control and capitalist
exploitation, and test this framework against the grain of Dick’s stories.
The anarcho-primitivist philosopher John Zerzan lucidly advances the
view that time is not a precondition of its definition and measurement,
but rather the reverse.12 The imposition of the measurement of time is
plainly artificial and socioculturally determined. The development of
the technologies for this measurement have played a fundamental part
in the development of industrial exploitation,13 so that David Landes
can unequivocally claim that:

Time measurement was at once an… agent and catalyst in the use
of knowledge for wealth and power… The clock is a machine, a work
of artifice, a man-made planning, thinking, trying and then more of
Biopolitics of Time in the Early Works of Philip K. Dick 103

each. No one could have stumbled on it or dreamed it up. But some-

one or, rather, some people wanted very much to track the time – not
merely to know it, but to use it.14

Through a historical analysis of the emergence of the capitalist mode of

production, Marx demonstrated the ways in which time became a pow-
erful tool for the accomplishment of capital’s inner logic and drive – the
extraction of increasing quantities of surplus value. The entire Marxian
labour theory of value is based, it could be argued, on a dispositif of time,
which regulates the production of value through the exploitation of
labour power. Marx recognized that the value of what he called abstract
labour – within a previously established set of social relations, for exam-
ple industrial capitalism – was measured in units of time congealed in
the production of commodities by means of human labour. Workers’
standardized units of time within the production process are the driving
motor of capitalist reproduction and the source of their exploitation.15
Following Marx, Foucault puts forward the crucial argument that
modern society needed people to place their time at its disposal: ‘the
production apparatus had to be able to use people’s living time, their
time of existence’.16 Foucault outlines the characteristics of what he calls
a ‘disciplinary society,’ an emerging liberal capitalist society in which
different technologies of power would contribute to the formation of
an entire class of disciplined workers.17 As he puts it, ‘their time must
be transformed into labour time. That is why we find the problem of,
and the techniques of, maximum extraction of time in a whole series of
institutions.’18 Different disciplinary procedures, tracked by Foucault’s
genealogical method for the analysis of power relations, ensured that
people’s time would be caught up in capital’s accumulation process by
means of an ‘individualizing technology of power, a technology that
basically targets individuals right down to their bodies, their behav-
iors’.19 Disciplinary technologies of power aimed at an increase in the
productivity of the individuals it constantly reorganized according to
its needs.20 This is capitalism’s primary way to take possession of time:
on the one hand, by way of the disciplinary making of a subject whose
body has been adapted, throughout its life and via different institutions,
to the needs of increasing industrialization; on the other hand, within
the very production process, by the internalization of the panoptic
gaze of power, which turns the worker into ‘the principle of his own
However, the temporality this chapter focuses on is a rather distinct
time. It is a future time, and thus different from the present of the
104 The World According to Philip K. Dick

capitalist extraction of surplus value. It is a variety of time, which does

not seem to be directly calculable by Marx’s labour theory of value –
mainly because it is not applicable to the amounts of labour time spent
in the ‘hidden abode of production’ – but rather relates to the realm
of futurity.22 In ‘The Variable Man,’ a novella published in 1953, Dick
depicts a distant futuristic society, Terra, engaged in war with Proxima
Centaurus.23 The entire war operations of Terra are decided by the ‘SRB
machine,’ which displays the ratio (in a numeric form) of the probable
outcome of the war between the Terran Army and Proxima Centaurus.
The SRB machine is a statistical computer which provides cybernetic
outputs on the basis of data inserted into its system. Gathering informa-
tion that potentially relates to the ongoing war and any other signifi-
cant global events, these data are constituted by information regarding
what happens daily on the planet. Terra’s strategy and tactics depend
on the SRB readings. In contrast to Dick’s stories about precogs, time
control in ‘The Variable Man’ is not a mimetic map of future events.
The computer’s grip on time is but a partial prediction in the form of
statistical probability.
It is worth noting that the SRB machine’s attempted prediction of the
future closely resembles the kernel of economic policies in eighteenth-
century Europe, the same policies which were then crystallizing into
what we now call liberal economics. In Security, Territory, Population,
Foucault traces back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the
birth of a series of new technologies of government that he defines as
‘mechanisms of security’ (dispositifs). He contends that these security
apparatuses were part of a generalized process of rationalization aimed
at better governing the emerging liberal state. The peculiarity of the
dispositif of security lies in a different approach to the problem of con-
trolling future aleatory events. As Foucault points out in a description
of measures aiming to avert food shortages, ‘The anti-scarcity system is
basically focused on a possible event, an event that could take place,
and which one tries to prevent before it becomes reality.’24 More gen-
erally, the emerging rationality of urban government was based on
dispositifs of security that sought to anticipate the future through new
‘scientific’ discourses and calculations.25 However, since the future is
‘not exactly controllable, not precisely measured or measurable,’ these
calculations could be based only on possible, not yet actual, series of
events.26 Foucault argues that ‘the management of these series, because
they are open series that can only be controlled by an estimate of prob-
abilities, is pretty much the essential characteristic of the mechanism of
security’.27 Security, therefore, is a technology of power that shapes the
Biopolitics of Time in the Early Works of Philip K. Dick 105

present, starting from a particular construction of the future. An esti-

mate of probabilities is not a mimetic map of the future, but a version
of the future that has to be maintained through security interventions
in the present.
As Dick shows in ‘The Variable Man,’ making political choices on
the basis of a predicted future leads us to revalue the link between
time control and the capitalist production process. The anatomo-
politics described by Foucault not only relates to how workers’ labour
power is objectively uniformed to the conditions of production within
and beyond the workplace. This was only one pole of what Foucault
famously defined as ‘biopower’.28 The second pole, the biopolitics of
the population, is constituted by a series of interventions and regula-
tory controls, the dispositifs of security. The two poles are inextricably
linked. The time extracted in the production process is necessarily
related to the rational calculation of a future outcome that has to be
achieved in order for capital to ensure the reproduction of its condi-
tions of production. It is in this sense that one could define it as the
biopolitics of time. What becomes clear in Dick’s ‘The Variable Man’
is that not just war but the whole politico-economic government of
Terran society is organized around such a biopolitics of time. Dick’s
SRB machine – as well as analytical instruments like statistics and the
calculation of probabilities at the dawn of economic liberalism – allows
the evaluation of ‘collective performances not in terms of isolated
cases but, rather, large numbers and, from this starting point, it antici-
pates their evolution and regulates their course so as to perfect their
In ‘The Variable Man,’ the SRB machine stops giving accurate pre-
dictions on the outcome of war, when Thomas Cole is teleported by
mistake from the early twentieth century to Terra in 2136. Thomas Cole
is a poor but able artisan from the year 1914, one of the many handy-
men in Dick’s fiction. Cole’s wide-ranging capacity for labor prevents
the SRB machine from calculating the probabilities for Terra to win the
war. Cole is a natural repairman. He belongs to a phase of capitalism
still focused on the processes of material production, and he is not as
overspecialized as the inhabitants of Terra in the twenty-second cen-
tury. Cole’s arrival ‘throws calculation of the odds into disarray,’ since
his behavior is not predictable and, therefore, not controllable.30 Cole’s
actions escape Terra’s concern for government. Yet this term must
be read in the particular conception advanced by Foucault, when he
observed that ‘government’ refers to ‘modes of action, more or less con-
sidered or calculated, which were destined to act upon the possibilities
106 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of action of other people. To govern, in this sense, is to structure the

possible field of action of others.’31
‘The Variable Man’ is one of the first stories in which Dick shows
how the loss of the monopoly over future events poses a serious threat
to the stability of an existing social, political, and economic order.
Consequently, the Terran government goes to incredible lengths to kill
Thomas Cole, who, as a threat to computerized prediction, becomes
the unmanageable variable. Almost fifteen years after the publication
of ‘The Variable Man,’ Herbert Marcuse was poignantly critical about
the dangers of rationalizing the world’s chaotic variables by means of
science. He emphasized that ‘there is no such thing as a purely rational
scientific order; the process of technological rationality is a political
process’.32 The unmanageable variable reveals the political bias inher-
ent in the biopolitics of time insofar as the latter tries to generate that
which is by definition irreproducible. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:
if ‘the truly historical connexus of cause and effect [were to be] fully
understood, [it] would only demonstrate that the dice-game of chance
and the future could never again produce anything exactly similar to
what it produced in the past’.33

6.2 Dealing with and absorbing threats

Dick provides another example of possible threats to the monopoly on

futurity in ‘The Golden Man’ (1954).34 The main idea behind this short
story is Dick’s recurrent depiction of the struggle between humans and
mutants. More importantly for our purposes, Dick here outlines one
of his first versions of ‘precognition’. Precognition is the psionic abil-
ity that allows its bearer to have perfect knowledge of the future or, to
put it differently, in Dick’s sf, precogs have the ability to cognitively
map future series of events. Cris, the story’s protagonist, has the power
to see the near future. More specifically, he can distinctively see a few
variable outcomes from every single action he performs. His peculiar
ability allows him to avoid being captured by the special section of the
police which deals with ‘deeves,’ or deviants. Cris can always act in
advance: for him the future is a mental projection with open choices
and the closure of possible ‘maybes’. In other words, he is able to see
different possible futures and then decide which one to enact. Dick’s
take on precognition thus reinforces the view that any prediction can
be performative: predictions produce real effects.
We might interpret ‘The Golden Man’ as a narrative about humanity’s
fear of being overtaken by a further stage of evolution, personified by
Biopolitics of Time in the Early Works of Philip K. Dick 107

Cris’s heightened sex appeal, which makes him irresistible to human

women.35 Such an approach would read the story in terms of a biopoli-
tics of the population and investigate the extent to which ‘sex is situated
very precisely at the point of articulation between the individual disci-
plines of the body and the regulations of populations’.36 For example,
in one of the first works about the productiveness of coupling sf with
biopolitical analysis, Sherryl Vint discerns the fantasies of ‘biocapital’
in the speculative imaginings of sf.37 Yet the biopolitical rationality of
Dick’s story may also be articulated through its relation with temporal-
ity and attempts to govern it. Suffice here to indicate that precognition
in ‘The Golden Man’ reveals an excess of freedom that the established
order is not readily willing to transfer, or leave, to its subjects.38 To put it
more generally, time here emerges as a paradigmatic terrain of struggle
for any political system attempting to assure its continued rule.
The biopolitical government of time in ‘The Variable Man’ and ‘The
Golden Man’ appears similar to two developments we have witnessed
over the course of the last forty years. Firstly, these two short stories por-
tray one of the potential outcomes of what Ulrich Beck has called ‘risk
society,’ that is, the emergence of authoritarian technocracies ‘where
strong states use increasingly authoritarian measures to control the like-
lihood and effects of potential hazards’.39 Secondly, they closely reflect
neoliberal economics – and financial capitalism more generally – which
operates on similar assumptions. As with classical liberalism, neolib-
eralism has its foundations in statistical predictions of a future which
manifests itself performatively in the predicted form – a self-fulfilling
prophecy that Karl Popper named the ‘Oedipus effect’.40
Dick’s early fiction brings to light a politico-economic tendency to
completely control the future. Arguably, neoliberalism manages this in
two ways. On the one hand, as in Dick’s short stories, neoliberal eco-
nomics can ‘encourage and privilege certain future outcomes’ by means
of a scientific rationalization of variables.41 Foucault shows how in the
eighteenth century, economic policies would insert artificial factors –
such as subsidizing exports or taxing imports – in order to achieve a
certain privileged future outcome of the price of grain.42 After all, the
market is not as natural as liberals claimed and Adam Smith’s ‘invisible
hand’ is not only a myth but a subtle and artificial technology of power.
As Foucault remarks, ‘This conception of market mechanisms is not just
the analysis of what happens. It is at once an analysis of what happens
and a program for what should happen.’43
On the other hand, neoliberal economies control the future
through the dispositif of debt. Drawing on Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy
108 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of Morals, Lazzarato points out that the creditor–debtor relationship

constructs a kind of memory that is not a recollection of the past but a
memory of the future, the future payment. He argues that ‘the system
of debt must therefore neutralize time, that is, the risk inherent to it’.44
In his discussion of the time-neutralizing effects of debt, Lazzarato also
observes that the dispositif of debt transforms the future from being
an endless series of possible events to a system that is theoretically
deterministic through the non-neutral scientific analyses mentioned
above.45 In brief, debt ensures social control. Lazzarato continues:
‘measure, evaluation, and appraisal all arise from the question of power,
before there is any question of economics’.46 Debt deprives those sub-
jected to it of the future, and thus of choice. For debtors, the temporal
perspective suddenly becomes deterministic and linear, for debt holds
them in a vice-like grip. Moreover, as Steven Shaviro suggests, indebted-
ness becomes a generalized state in today’s network society, a technol-
ogy that allows for the continued appropriation of workers’ time and
guarantees their endless enslavement.47 Shaviro examines K.W. Jeter’s
sf novel Noir (1998) to show how the condition of the indebted is not
just related to the lifetime of individuals, but can also take place dur-
ing and after the physical death of the contractor. In Noir, in fact, ‘your
creditors will even pursue you in death, resuscitating you to work as a
zombie to discharge your debt’. Noir reveals what Shaviro perceives as
the paradigmatic functioning of a society controlled by finance, namely
an inversion of the relationship between debt and death: ‘Rather than
death resolving and cancelling debt, debt extends the moment of death
Clearly, this is not the first time that sf has indicated the ways in
which capital accumulation is secured through a series of mechanisms
that allow the biopolitical government of time before the entrance of
the worker into the labour market, during her time in the workplace,
and afterwards during her various forms of indebtedness.49 As Lucarelli
suggests, ‘contemporary capitalism is characterized by an accumulation
regime that tends to lead every specific moment of individual existence
back into the process of valorization’.50 What is striking is that Dick’s
concerns about the enclosure of time came during an era, the 1950s,
in which financial capitalism in its current configuration had yet to
appear. This would indicate that, more than a mere comparison of our
times with Dick’s imagined futures, the productiveness of reading Dick
today comes from the disclosure of the positive (that is, not in terms of
negation) workings of specific biopolitical rationalities of government
and the formation of resistant subjectivities.
Biopolitics of Time in the Early Works of Philip K. Dick 109

The analysis of the biopolitics of time in ‘The Variable Man’ and ‘The
Golden Man’ uncovers, in two akin but distinct forms, the aims of the
governmental enclosure of the future. Finance is currently the essential
tool deployed to achieve this:

Finance is a formidable instrument for controlling the temporality of

action, neutralizing possibilities, the “moving present,” “quivering
uncertainty,” and “the line where past and future meet”. It locks up
possibilities within an established framework while at the same time
projecting them into the future. For finance, the future is a mere
forecast of current domination and exploitation.51

The neutralization of possibilities is the overt political aim of govern-

mental action in many of Dick’s fictions. In a world whose political
configurations are both produced by and also affect the metamorphoses
of capitalism, Dick did not merely depict his character’s attempts to deal
with that world as it is.52 Instead, Dick allows us to conceive the totality
of a society (or mode of production) that aims to gain complete control
of future events and behaviors. Simultaneously, Dick hints at the flip
side of such a politics, namely, the potential lines of flight emerging
from a biopolitical enclosure of time.
Yet what happens when precogs are employed by these very gov-
ernments to safeguard their monopoly on the future? An example of
the government’s steadfast hold on time can be found in Dick’s short
story ‘The Minority Report’ (1956).53 In this rather confusing story –
whose themes of determinism versus free will are absent from Steven
Spielberg’s 2002 film of the same name – the police utilizes three
precogs to prevent crime by arresting people before the crime is com-
mitted. Unfortunately, in this case Dick does not succeed in clarifying
how he conceives the category of time and to what extent the future
can be enclosed in a linear development of events. What is interesting,
however, is the political use of mutants who have perfect knowledge of
the future. Once their powers are absorbed by the ruling government,
precognition becomes a political tool for social control.
Nevertheless, the ultimate threshold of government over future
time is overcome when a precognitive is in charge of political power.
This is what occurs in a remarkable novel Dick published in 1956, The
World Jones Made.54 As in ‘The Golden Man,’ in this work the Federal
Government attempts to prevent the precog Floyd Jones from endanger-
ing its regime of truth, ensured by way of ‘Hoff’s relativism’. Strangely
enough, in the novel this regime of truth is based on the assumption
110 The World According to Philip K. Dick

that no regime of truth can actually exist. Hence, Jones’s ability to see
one year into the future constitutes a tremendous threat to the theoreti-
cal foundations of his society. At first, Jones is arrested, but his absolute
knowledge of the future allows him to establish a new regime of truth
that the government has to accept despite Hoff’s relativism and, con-
sequently, he is released. Within a few months, Jones acquires absolute
political power, due to both his precognition and his instigation of hate
towards the alien race of the ‘drifters’. The World Jones Made revolves
around the themes of social conservatism, the forced imposition of
democratic values, and racial intolerance. Yet exclusion and control
only work as a corollary to the broader aim of the political regimes in
these stories, the right to the monopoly on time prediction. Thus, the
biopolitics of time guarantees and threatens political stability in the
novel. It is worth noting how Dick represents Jones both as a dangerous
autocrat and as a tragic hero. Knowing what will happen in the future
confines him to a strange Newtonian linearity. Jones’s fate stands in
contrast to the common belief that advance knowledge of the future
would be somehow liberating, an assumption that had guided ‘The
Golden Man’. As Jones remarks in the novel:

Change it [the future]? It’s totally fixed. It’s more fixed, more per-
manent, than this wall… You think I’ve some kind of emancipation.
Don’t kid yourself… the less you know about the future the better
off you are. You’ve got a nice illusion; you think you have free will.55

The World Jones Made may be read in two ways. If we return to the
comparison between prediction/precognition and the core assump-
tions of contemporary finance, the novel could be taken as Dick’s
warning against the political tendency towards a thoroughly ration-
alized control of the future, especially by means of economics. The
figure of Jones can be also understood as the paradigmatic personifica-
tion of the debtor Lazzarato writes about, for the control of the future
through debt deprives those subjected to it of the possibilities of choice
and action.

[I]f a critical threshold of uncertainty with regard to [a] future of

exploitation and domination is passed, the present, emptied of its
possibilities, collapses. The crisis is then a crisis of time from which
emerges a time of political and social creation, which finance can
only endeavor to destroy. This is exactly our present situation. The
logic of debt is stifling our possibilities for action.56
Biopolitics of Time in the Early Works of Philip K. Dick 111

Referring to The World Jones Made, Dick once stated: ‘To understand the
future totally would be to have it now. Try that, and see how it feels.
Because once the future is gone, the possibility of free, effective action
of any kind is abolished.’57 A debtor knows perfectly what the future
holds. This is the great trick of any debt-driven mechanism. Jones is in
debt to a future that he is involuntarily consuming in the present.

6.3 Subjectivation against the enclosure of time

The analysis of Dick’s narratives in this chapter has shown that he gradu-
ally drove to its utmost limits the idea of a performative prediction of
the future. In ‘The Variable Man,’ the SRB machine could provide only
a statistical probability of the occurrence of events related to the war
between Terra and Proxima Centaurus. In ‘The Golden Man’ and ‘The
Minority Report,’ in contrast, Dick used the device of precognition to
represent a thorough, but limited, cognitive map of the future – although
in the former the precog Cris avoids being captured by the police and in
the latter the governmental order uses precogs as the final tool for
the pre-emption of crime. With The World Jones Made, such a limited
advance knowledge becomes more comprehensive and now reaches one
year into the future. However, it is this very precognition that imprisons
its bearer by depriving him of any real possibility of action.
What emerges from these stories is a constant struggle for the
monopoly over a pre-emptive grasp of the future. In other words, it is
precisely what is happening in capitalist societies today. It is a strug-
gle over the choices people can make in the future; possibilities, and
potential actions which have been threatened by thirty years of neo-
liberal policies and consumed by the appropriation of time by means
of financial speculation and debt.58 In an era characterized by the loss
of the relationship between time and value,59 debt becomes one of the
key technologies to reintegrate the category of time as a means of con-
trol and subjection. In this context, the analysis of Dick’s fiction may
benefit from Judith Revel’s attempt to clarify the distinction between
Foucault’s terms of biopower and biopolitics:

While ‘biopower’ remains the term with which a new investment

of life is designated (again: not only biological but social, affective,
linguistic, etc., too) on the part of power relations, in Foucault,
‘biopolitics’ seems more tied to a prospective of resistance, of
[subjectivation], or at the same time subtraction from power and
reinvention – elsewhere – of that which exists… Far from being
112 The World According to Philip K. Dick

equivalent, the two terms actually each describe a specific side of the
same investigation: a new analysis of power on one hand, and a new
analysis of resistant subjectivities on the other.60

In his early fiction, Dick indicates that the formation of resistant sub-
jectivities should take shape around the battle over the reappropriation
of time. A time that is not only related to a life subsumed by work in
the present, but also a future life bringing possibilities from which one
can choose. Dick rarely portrays the conflict between labour and capital
in its collective – and therefore potentially revolutionary – dimension,
preferring instead a problematic sentimentality for idealistic human-
ism, nostalgically framed.61 Thomas Cole in ‘The Variable Man’ is the
first example of a type – usually characters with a ‘natural’ capacity
for material and artistic work, in contrast to others integrated within
industrial mechanical reproduction – which Dick would continue to
portray throughout his entire career.62 Nonetheless, his early works
cleverly insist on time as the privileged category for the formation of
resistant subjectivities. The closure of the future is directly political,
implicating the whole spectrum of power relations. Any variety of the
capitalist mode of production needs and must retain the monopoly
over the future. And debt – metaphorically reproduced in Dick’s use
of prediction, a time borrowed from the future – is one of the tools
that ‘negative capitalism’ has been using to expropriate subjectivities
from their very time of life. As Dan Taylor lucidly points out: ‘Negative
capitalism facilitates this increasingly sped-up capitalism through a
negation of time into an endless present.’63 An endless present, which
has replaced the future by means of ‘scientific’ estimates of potential
outcomes. Whether (and to what extent) a collective subjectivation will
be assembled against the capitalist enclosure of time remains a matter
of debate and political organization.
As a consequence, reading Dick in terms of panopticism and disci-
plinary societies, although necessary, may be limited. Foucault himself
pointed out that the disciplinary ‘diagram’ – the map of relations
between forces, as Deleuze defined it – is centripetal, for it tends to be
applied only to closed and specific spaces, whereas the security diagram
is centrifugal and is predisposed to be functional in open systems, as
we have seen with regard to the scientific discourses controlling future
aleatory events.64 However, it would be insufficient to read Foucault’s
concepts of discipline and security merely via this dichotomy of
closed versus open, or as distinct stages in the emergence of different
technologies of power. Although historically specific, these disciplinary
Biopolitics of Time in the Early Works of Philip K. Dick 113

and security diagrams cannot be used as grids of intelligibility for the

analysis of power relations without taking into account their continu-
ous interaction – an interaction which occurs both in different spatial
configurations and in contiguous time periods. Similarly, in Dick’s
works, it would be cursory to assume that dispositifs of security, such as
statistical predictions and precogs, do not make use of techniques more
prominently visible in a disciplinary setting or a juridical structure of
sovereignty. In brief, Dick’s mapping of the biopolitics of time reveal
‘the panoply of factors that today constitute the relation of forces that
pre-condition the range of potentials available to life in all its form’.65
As one character in The World Jones Made states:

Prophecy is self-contradictory. Nobody can have absolute knowledge

about the future. By definition, the future hasn’t happened. And if
knowledge existed, it would change the future – which would make
the knowledge invalid.66

Conversely, the kind of knowledge produced by contemporary capital-

ism through financial analyses has become performative, or, in other
words, it is producing humanity’s lived reality. Dick was arguably map-
ping this diagram-to-come.67 We should keep returning to his early
narratives to see what kind of mapping of contemporary capitalism
can stem from considering him a political philosopher and a cultural
theorist, rather than a clairvoyant.

1 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana
Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
2 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (Harmondsworth:
Penguin Books, 1992).
3 However, Dick would do this through a particular re-utilization of sf’s devices,
see Carlo Pagetti, ‘Dick and Meta-SF,’ in On Philip K. Dick: 40 Articles from
Science Fiction Studies, ed. R. D. Mullen et al. (Terre Haute, IN: SF-TH Inc,
1992), 18–25.
4 ‘We are in a theater where presentations are exchanged, in a relationship
of fear in which there are no time limits.’ Michel Foucault, ‘Society Must Be
Defended’: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–76, ed. Mauro Bertani and
Alessandro Fontana, trans. David Macey (London: Penguin Books, 2004), 92.
5 For a brilliant reading of the logic of escalation in Clausewitz, see Howard
Caygill, On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 60.
114 The World According to Philip K. Dick

6 Fredric Jameson, ‘Cognitive Mapping,’ in Marxism and the Interpretation

of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 1988), 346–60.
7 Eric S. Rabkin, ‘Irrational Expectations; Or, How Economics and the Post-
Industrial World Failed Philip K. Dick,’ in On Philip K. Dick, 180.
8 Mark Bould, ‘Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet, from Nemo to Neo,’ in Red
Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould and China Miéville
(London: Pluto, 2009), 4.
9 Fredric Jameson, ‘Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,’
New Left Review 146 (August 1984): 89.
10 Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal
Condition, trans. Joshua David Jordan (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012), 46.
11 David Wittenberg, Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative (New York:
Fordham University Press, 2013), 2.
12 John Zerzan, ‘Time and Its Discontents,’ http://www.primitivism.com/time
13 For the internalization of time discipline, see E. P. Thompson, ‘Time, Work-
Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,’ Past and Present 38, no. 1 (1967):
14 David S. Landes, Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World
(London: Viking, 2000), 11–14.
15 Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes
(London: Penguin Books, 1990), 125–31; and ibid., chap. 7.
16 Michel Foucault, ‘Truth and Juridical Forms,’ in Power: Essential Works of
Foucault 1954–1984, vol. 3, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley
(London: Penguin Books, 2002), 80.
17 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan
Sheridan (London: Penguin Books, 1991), 214–20.
18 Foucault, ‘Truth and Juridical Forms,’ 80.
19 Michel Foucault, ‘The Mesh of Power,’ trans. Christopher Chitty,
Viewpoint Magazine (12 September 2012), http://viewpointmag.com/
20 ‘The growth of a capitalist economy gave rise to the specific modality of
disciplinary power, whose general formulas, techniques of submitting forces
and bodies, in short “political anatomy”, could be operated in the most
diverse political regimes, apparatuses, or institutions.’ Foucault, Discipline
and Punish, 221; for the influence on disciplinary apparatuses by earlier
techniques in military training, see ibid., 210.
21 Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 203.
22 Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 279.
23 Philip K. Dick, ‘The Variable Man,’ in The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick,
vol. 1 (New York: Citadel Press, 1990), 163–220.
24 Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France
1977–78, ed. Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell (Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2009), 33.
25 ‘[S]cience considers the only right and true way of regarding things, that is
to say the only scientific way, as being that which sees everywhere things
that have been, things historical, and nowhere things that are.’ Friedrich
Wilhelm Nietzsche, ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,’
Biopolitics of Time in the Early Works of Philip K. Dick 115

in Untimely Meditations, ed. Daniel Breazeale, trans. R. J. Hollingdale

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 120.
26 Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 20.
27 Ibid.
28 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 140.
29 Pierre Macherey, Il Soggetto Produttivo: da Foucault a Marx, trans. Francesco
Morosato (Verona: Ombre Corte, 2013), 65 [my translation].
30 Christopher Palmer, Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern
(Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003), 92.
31 Michel Foucault, ‘The Subject and Power,’ Critical Inquiry 8, no. 4 (Summer
1982): 790.
32 Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced
Industrial Society (London: Routledge, 2002), 172.
33 Nietzsche, ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,’ 70.
34 Philip K. Dick, ‘The Golden Man,’ in The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol.
3 (New York: Citadel, 1991), 31–56.
35 Although Dick does not provide a particularly articulate explanation in ‘The
Variable Man,’ Cris’ mutant abilities are the result of high amounts of ther-
mal radiation on Earth.
36 Foucault, ‘The Mesh of Power’.
37 Sherryl Vint, ‘Introduction: Science Fiction and Biopolitics,’ Science Fiction
Film & Television 4, no. 2 (2011): 165.
38 In relation to the biopolitical normalization of mutants and individuals with
psionic abilities, see also Philip K. Dick, ‘A World of Talent,’ in The Collected
Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol. 3 (New York: Citadel Press, 1991), 321–52.
39 Mark J. Smith, ‘Practical Utopianism and Ecological Citizenship,’ in What
We Are Fighting For: Radical Collective Manifesto, ed. Federico Campagna and
Emanuele Campiglio (London: Pluto, 2012), 78.
40 ‘The idea that a prediction may have influence upon the predicted event
is a very old one. Oedipus, in the legend, killed his father whom he had
never seen before; and this was the direct result of the prophecy which had
caused his father to abandon him. This is why I suggest the name “Oedipus
effect” for the influence of the prediction upon the predicted event (or, more
generally, for the influence of an item of information upon the situation
to which the information refers), whether this influence tends to bring
about the predicted event, or whether it tends to prevent it.’ Karl R. Popper,
The Poverty of Historicism (London: Routledge, 2002), 11.
41 Greg Elmer and Andy Opel, Preempting Dissent: The Politics of an Inevitable
Future (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring, 2008), 20.
42 Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 37; and Tiziana Terranova, ‘Another
Life: The Nature of Political Economy in Foucault’s Genealogy of Biopolitics,’
Theory, Culture & Society 26, no. 6 (2009): 234–62.
43 Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 40.
44 Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man, 45.
45 Ibid., 46–7.
46 Ibid., 81.
47 Steven Shaviro, Connected, Or, What It Means to Live in the Network Society
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 159.
116 The World According to Philip K. Dick

48 Ibid., 160–1.
49 It would be interesting to check how and to what extent Dick’s stories ana-
lyzed in this chapter can relate to a post-Singularity narrative. See Steven
Shaviro, ‘The Singularity Is Here,’ in Red Planets, 103–17.
50 Stefano Lucarelli, ‘Financialization as Biopower,’ in Crisis in the Global
Economy: Financial Markets, Social Struggles, and New Political Scenarios, ed.
Andrea Fumagalli and Sandro Mezzadra, trans. Jason Francis McGimsey
(Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010), 119.
51 Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man, 71.
52 Darren Jorgensen, ‘Towards a Revolutionary Science Fiction: Althusser’s
Critique of Historicity,’ in Red Planets, 211.
53 Philip K. Dick, ‘The Minority Report,’ in The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick,
vol. 4 (New York: Citadel, 1991), 71–102.
54 Philip K. Dick, The World Jones Made (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).
55 Ibid., 39–40.
56 Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man, 71.
57 Philip K. Dick, ‘Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes,’ in The Shifting
Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, ed.
Lawrence Sutin (New York: Vintage, 1995), 181.
58 This chapter falls short of at least one decisive line of enquiry: analyzing
the exploitation of immaterial labour of (precarious) cognitive workers.
Although I’m well aware of this absence, the application of this analysis to
Dick’s texts would have necessitated another essay. For the analysis of the
regime of aleatory indeterminacy resulting from the emergence of ‘semio-
capitalism,’ see Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, After the Future, ed. Gary Genosko and
Nicholas Thoburn (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2011), 57, 90–1, 106–7 and 114–15.
59 Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993).
60 Judith Revel, ‘Biopolitica: Politica della Vita Vivente,’ quoted in Lucarelli,
‘Financialization as Biopower,’ 138.
61 Palmer, Philip K. Dick, 94–5; Jorgensen, ‘Towards a Revolutionary Science
Fiction,’ 201.
62 Antonio Caronia, Philip K. Dick: La Macchina Della Paranoia: Enciclopedia
Dickiana, X Book (Milano: Agenzia X, 2006), 101.
63 J. D. Taylor, Negative Capitalism: Cynicism in the Neoliberal Era (Alresford, UK:
Zero Books, 2013), 63.
64 Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 44–5.
65 Matthew Tiessen and Greg Elmer, ‘Neoliberal Diagrammatics and Digital
Control,’ MediaTropes 4, no. 1 (2013): ii.
66 Dick, The World Jones Made, 24.
67 After the 1950s, Dick maintained a critical stance against any enclosure of
future time. One of the main characters in Martian Time-Slip (1964) states
that: ‘We are better off not being able to look ahead… Thank God we can’t
see’. Philip K. Dick, Martian Time-Slip (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 262.
Part III
Dick without the Dick: Adaptation
Studies and Slipstream Cinema
Mark Bould

Len Wiseman’s $125 million Total Recall (US/Canada 2012) did not
fare well with mainstream film critics. It was described as an ‘unneces-
sary remake,’1 ‘a near-total redundancy,’2 ‘sanitized [and] soulless,’3 ‘an
unsubtle shoot-’em-up… set in a world that makes no sense,’4 ‘a long
succession of repetitive chase scenes, hollow explosions and… speech
balloon dialogue’5 and ‘the most ridiculous sci-fi film since Timecop’.6
Not one of the dozens of reviews I have read even notices the film’s
politics: its setting emphasizes an impoverished migrant labor force
and oppressive border controls; its plot hinges on a superpower faking
a reason to wage asymmetrical imperialist war; and it concludes with
the fall of a mighty tower that to the colonized signified imperial arro-
gance and force. However, it is not my intention to try to recuperate
Total Recall as a misunderstood, countercultural classic; Wiseman’s film
is no such thing. Rather, I will use it to help sketch out some currents
in contemporary adaptation studies before moving on to think about
Dickian films not based on Philip K. Dick sources.

7.1 We Can Adapt It For You Wholesale

Total Recall has the kind of loopy world-building logic one might
expect of a 1950s Galaxy-style dystopian satire or comic inferno. After
chemical warfare has devastated the globe, there are only two habitable
territories: the Colony, which is Australia, and the United Federation of
Britain (UFB). The Colony – or at least the port city of Fremont7 – is an
overcrowded warren that extends into ad hoc loops of grubby, gravity-
defying, brutalist architecture, with a strikingly multicultural, and
heavily Asian, population. It owes something to the look of the Total
Recall 2070 (1999) television series – both were mostly filmed in and
120 The World According to Philip K. Dick

around Toronto – and to Fred Gambino’s cover for the 1987 Penguin
edition of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), but behind all of
them lurk Lawrence G. Paull’s production design, David L. Snyder’s art
direction and Syd Mead’s ‘visual futurism’ for Blade Runner (Scott 1982).
Just as the futures envisioned in Ridley Scott’s film, William Gibson’s
Neuromancer (1984), Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992) and numer-
ous other cyberpunk texts of the 1980s and 1990s evinced American
anxieties about the economic rise of Japan and the East Asian tiger
economies, so Total Recall imagines – and, despite its orientalism, to a
certain extent undermines – the nightmare future of Australia’s racist
anti-immigration discourse,8 but treats all of its peoples of color as just
regular, if impoverished, folks.9 The UFB’s look owes rather more to
another Dick adaptation, Minority Report (Spielberg 2002), a resonance
underscored by the amount of time Colin Farrell – who, as Danny
Witwer, pursued John Anderton (Tom Cruise) through Spielberg’s
movie – spends running around in this film like Cruise did in that one.
And in Total Recall, there is a lot of running around, and fighting and
explosions, and yet more running around. Multilane maglev and mag-
netic suspension roadways, layered one above another and connected
by vehicle elevators, criss-cross the sky above London’s gargantuan but
pristine new architecture, but when Douglas Quaid/Carl Hauser (Colin
Farrell) and Melina (Jessica Biel) plunge down to the ground level far
below, in a sequence reminiscent of The Fifth Element (Besson 1997), it
is to the familiar streets of central London, complete with red buses.10 In
both the Colony and, especially, the UFB, Patrick Tatopoulous’ remark-
able production design goes beyond mere ‘retrofitting’ – the term Scott
and Mead coined to describe Blade Runner’s design principle of ‘upgrad-
ing old machinery or structures by slapping new add-ons to them’.11
Instead, as I will argue, it offers the city as palimpsest, fabricated from
layers of construction and allusion, as a metaphor for filmmaking itself.
Despite Total Recall’s several impressive set pieces and many ingen-
ious background details, perhaps the very best moment comes before it
even begins, when the production company’s credit appears, promising
an ‘Original Film’. There is an obvious irony in an adaptation/remake
being touted, however unintentionally, as ‘original’ – even more so that
Original Film is a company whose success is built on remakes, adapta-
tions, franchises and attempted franchises, from I Know What You Did
Last Summer (1997–2006) to The Fast and the Furious (2001–).12 But
there is an even greater irony in Dick scholars and fans complaining
about adaptations of his stories and novels not being faithful to their
source, not being good copies, not even being copies. I am, of course,
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema 121

not the first to note this; in fact, in doing so, I am just a copy of a copy
of a copy, perhaps stuck in half-life in a cold-pac facility somewhere in
Switzerland, picking up the notion on some spectral frequency.
For Dick scholars and fans, two things perhaps stand out as peculiar
in mainstream reviews of Total Recall: first, fleeting acknowledgements
of the story on which it is ostensibly based, ‘We Can Remember It For
You Wholesale’ (1966), that are so perfunctory as to suggest the review-
ers are even less familiar with Dick’s work than the filmmakers; and
second, frequent positive references to Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (US
1990). According to Tom Charity, ‘screenwriter Kurt Wimmer… eviscer-
ated the playful, post-modern wit that spiced Verhoeven’s proudly gory
shoot-’em-up’.13 Justin Chang complains that the new version ‘lacks
the overblown violence and grotesque vulgarity that made Verhoeven’s
vision at once so incorrigible and so vital’.14 Helen O’Hara bemoans a
script that ‘lifts all the beats from Verhoeven’s film with none of the
witty double-dealing… or its self-lampooning absurdity’.15 John Semley
describes it as ‘a redressing of Verhoeven’s movie, in sanitized, soulless
textiles spun from the sort of endless CGI spool a $200 million budget
can provide,’ and argues that frequent ‘stupid… nods to its predecessor’
compound its ‘bankruptcy of imagination with active, self-conscious
references to that very insolvency’.16
Although Wiseman does rework minor elements of the first Total
Recall (for example, a few character names, the prostitute with three
breasts, the scene in which someone tries to persuade Quaid that he is
still in the chair at Rekall hallucinating it all), in certain ways the new
Total Recall can barely be considered a remake of Verhoeven’s film. This
might seem a peculiar observation to Dick fans – who typically do not
hold the first Total Recall in as high esteem as mainstream film crit-
ics apparently do17 – since surely what is missing from the film is not
Arnold Schwarzenegger but any trace of a Dickian sensibility? However,
what is important here is the parallel that exists between two value-
communities, mainstream film reviewers and Dick scholars/fans, in
terms of their expectations and disappointment in relation to the most
recent articulation of an earlier, ‘superior’ text (even if they have differ-
ent prior texts in mind).
Adaptations and their sources are commodities bound up in the
realms of production and consumption, and thus to understand them
one must simultaneously consider the processes by which culture is
made out of capital and capital is made out of culture. In considering
such obviously commercial texts as Dick’s novels and stories, and the
films derived from them, one cannot deny – however much one might
122 The World According to Philip K. Dick

wish to acclaim the genius of Dick or Scott or even Wiseman – that

they emerge from a mode of production in which Romantic-bourgeois
notions of the author and the original are as dead as post-structuralism
could wish. The above discussion of reviews and value-communities
serves as a reminder of the ‘social worlds... in which social actors with
specific interests, agendas, histories, and social positionings voice their
aspirations and irritations, identifications and affiliations, reverences
and resentments through the media of commercial culture’.18 It is
through such activities that capital, in the form of commodity-texts,
becomes the kind of culture that can be turned back into capital.
Early Anglophone attempts to think critically about film adaptations
often came up with tripartite schemes to distinguish between different
kinds of adaptation. Geoffrey Wagner talks about: transposition, in
which the source suffers ‘the minimum of apparent interference’; com-
mentary, in which the original is ‘purposely or inadvertently altered
in some respect’; and analogy, ‘a fairly considerable departure for the
sake of making another work of art’.19 Most Dick adaptations may be
considered examples of the second sort, albeit emphasizing alteration
over meaningful commentary, with A Scanner Darkly (Linklater 2006)
closest to a transposition and Blade Runner to an analogy. Michael Klein
and Gillian Parker divide adaptations between: those which ‘attempt to
give the impression of being faithful, that is, literal translations of the
text into the language of film’; those that retain ‘the core of the struc-
ture of the narrative while significantly reinterpreting or, in some cases,
deconstructing the source text,’ and those that regard ‘the source merely
as raw material, as simply an occasion for an original work’.20 Arguably,
Screamers (Duguay 1995) and Impostor (Fleder 2001) come closest to the
first category, with A Scanner Darkly lying somewhere between it and the
second category. The third category describes most Dick adaptations,
including Blade Runner, although some might flinch at describing, say,
Paycheck (Woo 2003) or The Adjustment Bureau (Nolfi 2011) as ‘original’.
Dudley Andrew – who offers his own tripartite scheme of borrowing,
intersecting and transforming sources – argues that ‘in a strong sense
adaptation is the appropriation of meaning from a prior text’.21 This
claim is problematic for at least two reasons. First, the definition of
adaptation as ‘the appropriation of meaning’ reifies the source, pinning
it down to some supposedly fixed meaning. However, like any text, the
source is, always has been and always will be a site of multiple contested
meanings, part of an ‘an infinitely permutating intertext,’ and made
up of ‘anonymous formulae, variations of those formulae, conscious
and unconscious quotations, and conflations and inversions of other
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema 123

texts’.22 It is every bit as fragmented, fluctuating and derived as its

adaptation – one need only think of the generic states of mind derived
from pulp fiction, medical literature, pop psychology, self-help books
and so on that Deckard and his wife dial up on the Penfield Mood
Organ in the opening pages of Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric
Sheep? (1968).23 Consequently, adaptation should be understood neither
as an attempt to transcribe a text from one medium to another (as if
that were even possible), nor as necessarily being governed by some
notion of fidelity, but as a complex of negotiations, selections, suppres-
sions, emphases, divergences and variations.
The second problem with Andrew’s description of adaptation as ‘the
appropriation of meaning’ is that it involves an attempt to efface
‘the memory derived from reading the novel by another experience –
an audio-visual-verbal one – which will seem, as little as possible, to jar
with that collective memory’.24 The adaptation then might be under-
stood as a Derridean supplement, an additional version of the text
that might also take its place. The status of the supplement is always
‘undecidable’.25 It could be ‘a plenitude enriching another plenitude,’26
something Dick scholars and fans might now be prepared to concede to
Blade Runner. Or it could add only to replace, as with those reviewers for
whom Wiseman’s Total Recall does not live up to Verhoeven’s ‘original’
rather than to Dick’s story; or all those people who will never seek out
Dick’s ‘The Golden Man’ (1954) because Next (Tamahori 2007) offered
no inspiration to do so. In both instances, the supplement effaces and
replaces the original to which it adds. Ultimately, Derrida concludes,
the supplement is both of these things, accretion and substitution, in
an endless series of supplementary mediations in which the source is
created as ‘the original’ by its copies, and is never graspable, always
Sarah Cardwell argues that while adaptation, in the popular mind
and ‘according to the traditional comparative model, is the process of
adapting one original, culturally defined “standard whole” in another

It would be better to view adaptation as the gradual development of

a ‘meta-text’. This view recognizes that a later adaptation may draw
upon any earlier adaptations, as well as upon the primary source text.
Subsequent adaptations can be regarded as points on a continuum,
as part of the extended development of a singular, infinite meta-text:
a valuable story or myth that is constantly growing and developing,
being retold, reinterpreted and reassessed.28
124 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Just as Wiseman’s future London is a palimpsest, so is his movie. It

is part of a mutating metatext that not only contains Dick’s story and
Verhoeven’s films, as Cardwell might suggest, but also earlier Dick
adaptations (Blade Runner, Minority Report), other sf movies, including
The Fifth Element, Cube, the Star Wars prequels (1999–2005) and I, Robot
(Proyas 2004), action movies, such as the Bourne trilogy (2002–07) and
Banlieue 13 (Morel 2004), and so on. This is, of course, a consequence
of big-budget movies needing to attract a mass audience through offer-
ing multiple kinds of appeal. Consequently, to expect a well-budgeted
adaptation of a Dick text closely to resemble that story is a losing propo-
sition. For a taste of a Dickian sensibility, one would do better to seek
out lower budget films not actually based on anything he wrote. One
would do better to check out slipstream cinema.

7.2 Slipstream cinema

The term ‘slipstream’ was coined by Bruce Sterling in a 1989 SF Eye col-
umn to describe ‘a contemporary kind of writing which has set its face
against consensus reality’.29 It is fantastic, sometimes surreal, occasion-
ally but not rigorously speculative, neither ‘futuristic’ nor set ‘beyond
fields we know,’ and uninterested in science fictional modes of extrapo-
lation or inducing awe.30 Instead, it prefers ‘sarcastically [to] tear at the
structure of “everyday life”’ and to undermine ‘representational con-
ventions’31 by deploying metafictional or postmodernist techniques,
including ‘violat[ing] the historical record,’ and quoting and collaging
‘history, journalism, official statements [and] advertising copy’.32 It rev-
els in ontological uncertainty. It is, in short: ‘a kind of writing which
simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twen-
tieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibil-
ity.’33 Sterling identifies over one hundred writers – and certain of their
novels – as slipstream. This list includes a number of ‘genre’ sf writers
(for example, Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock), some of
whom (Thomas Disch, Carter Scholz, Lucius Shepard, Jack Womack)
are represented by ‘genre’ sf works. However, it completely and rather
mystifyingly omits Dick,34 an author who relentlessly mapped the emer-
gence of postmodernity, from the post-war consolidation of corporate
capital and television’s conquest of the suburbs to the dawning of the
neoliberal era, with its global information flows and proliferations of
virtuality. His fiction collides mainstream, low-key naturalism with pulp
enthusiasm and an appetite for otherwise incompatible discourses and
vocabularies. It rejects the extrapolative world-building of Campbellian
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema 125

sf in favor of alternative histories and multiplying realities, and privi-

leges pace, disjunction and cognitive dissonance over consistency and
rigor. It conjoins the relationship and addiction problems of a left-
behind lower middle class to the cantankerous furniture and infrastruc-
tures of genre sf, and thus foregrounds the incongruities involved in
the fate of worlds – of entire realities – resting on the shoulders of such
little people, but trusts them with the responsibility. Moreover, at the
time of Sterling’s writing, Dick was attracting popular and critical atten-
tion outside regular sf circles.
Paweł Frelik persuasively argues that slipstream should not be seen
as a body of texts ‘sharing certain… parameters’ but, like all genres
or traditions, as a discursive phenomena – one that has for a quarter-
century expressed something of sf’s shifting ‘internal politics as well as
of its changing status in the larger literary landscape’.35 Slipstream is
neither inside sf nor outside of it; rather, slipstream is a discursive object
conjured into flickering, virtual being to threaten genre borders not so
much to ensure their maintenance as to make them even appear as bor-
ders in the first place. The cultural necessity of slipstream as a category
and critical term (along with the related and overlapping interstitial,
new weird, new wave fabulism, post-genre fictions, and so on) in the
late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries can be understood in
relation to post-Fordist transformations in American publishing, which
have thoroughly destabilized the frameworks and institutions which
saw the emergence of sf as a publishing category. While it remains
unclear that this period actually saw an empirical dissolution of genre
categories, whether through hybridization or the erosion of distinctions
between genre and ‘mainstream’ fiction, it is certainly the case that
critical discourses have foregrounded such a perspective on contempo-
rary literary production.

7.3 So why evoke slipstream in relation to cinema?

Following ground-breaking work in the 1980s by Tom Gunning, André

Gaudreault and other historians and theorists concerned with the first
decade of cinema, there has been a growing recognition that films have
always interwoven narrative with spectacle. Sometimes one is privileged
over the other, sometimes they are in tension, and sometimes they sup-
port and elaborate upon each other. Recognizing that the preference
many express for character, narrative, theme, ambiguity and restraint
over action and spectacle is actually a more or less complex expression
of class position and cultural capital, cinematic spectacle is now less
126 The World According to Philip K. Dick

frequently deplored a priori. This has obvious consequences, especially

for those genres – musicals, melodrama, historical epics, horror, fantasy,
sf – in which spectacle is construed as a primary appeal. Furthermore,
as Garret Stewart argues, sf spectacle is often about future technologies
of vision, image-recording and reproduction,36 and thus sf spectacle is
nowadays often considered in terms of the self-reflexivity it involves:
however ludicrous Avatar might otherwise appear, it nonetheless
deployed the pseudo-immersivity of cutting-edge 3D technologies to
tell a story about immersive technologies. But this emphasis on self-
reflexivity also serves an older critical agenda (the insistence that sf is
‘about ideas,’ that is, concerned with reason and rationality and the
mind, rather than emotion, affect and the body) that has increasingly
come under fire as its masculinist, Eurocentric presumptions have been
critiqued. As a result, the affective dimension of sf, which can neither
be reduced to spectacle nor be so neatly separated from its cognitive
dimension, is often left unexplored. One potential tactic to move
through this problematic is to examine fresh, non-canonical groupings
of sf films, ones which do not so strongly emphasize spectacle or insist
on a radical distinction between cognition and affect.
Recent discussions of ‘lo-fi sci-fi’ – and other ‘sf films for people who
don’t like sf’ – have tended to position such films as a largely North
American phenomena, emerging in the aftermath of the early twenty-
first-century ‘mumblecore’ movement.37 However, sf films that push
genre paraphernalia into the background so as to cast human relation-
ships in strong relief have a much longer and less anglocentric history
than that. An obvious precursor is the late-capitalist ‘postfuturist sf’ of
the 1980s,38 including films such as Liquid Sky (1982), Born in Flames
(1983), Videodrome (1983), Brother from Another Planet (1984), Repo Man
(1984) and Tetsuo (1989), but one must also look to the previous dec-
ades’ arthouse and exploitation sf – to the sf films of David Cronenberg,
Jean-Luc Godard, William Klein, Robert Kramer, Chris Marker, Alain
Resnais, Andrei Tarkovsky and Hiroshi Teshigahari, among others. This
much broader canon of films might be conceptualized along the lines of
slipstream prose, and it is among them that one will undoubtedly find
the Dick without the Dick.

7.4 Slipstream superheroes

In the finest sentence ever written about Verhoeven’s Total Recall, Fred
Glass observes that: ‘Schwarzenegger, both functionally and as an iconic
signifier, may be understood as a swollen penis, throbbing his way
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema 127

through the receptive material of the narrative.’39 This highlights one

of the consequences that Hollywood’s marriage of cinematic sf to the
phallic action movie has had for adaptations of Dick’s fiction: instead
of Dick, we get a bunch of dicks. As Kim Newman rightly notes, ‘Dick’s
protagonists read like Jack Lemmon or William H. Macy, but Hollywood
tends to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tom Cruise’ – a list to which
we can add Ben Affleck, Nicolas Cage, Matt Damon, Robert Downey, Jr,
Colin Farrell, Harrison Ford, Woody Harrelson, Keanu Reeves, Gary
Sinise, Peter Weller – and to ‘push fantasies the author was rejecting’.40
The most excessive form of phallic masculinity in contemporary cinema
is probably the superhero movie; nothing could be further from Dick’s
fiction. Therefore, the remainder of this essay will consider a pair of slip-
stream superhero movies that give us more of a Dickian sensibility than
any adaptation of his work – or perhaps even all of them added together –
has done. Special (US 2006) was written and directed by Hal Haberman
and Jeremy Passmore, and Dai-Nihonjin/Big Man Japan (2007) was writ-
ten, directed by and starred Matsumoto Hitoshi, one of Japan’s most
popular comedians, the boke (dim-wit) in the manzai duo Downtown.41
Their origins – on the margins of film culture in California and
Japan – resonate with both Dick’s fiction and its popular legacy, while
respectively evoking a refusal of Hollywood and an insistence on the
transnational production of slipstream cinema. Moreover, both films
emphasize the fragility of masculine identities, battered not so much
by the women Dick would often demonize, but by the economic forces
he – more intuitively than through theory or analysis – frequently saw
as major determinants of human subjectivity and action.
Special is a low-budget indie, and it looks it. Its grainy, hand-held,
night-time images have that yellow-brown shooting-under-fluorescents
look, and its daytime sequences have a blue-gray palette that similarly
leeches light from the natural world. The film’s Los Angeles possesses
no glamour, just grim neoliberal desuetude and decline. It is often hard
to tell whether Special’s anonymous deserted streets are industrial or
Les (Michael Rapaport) is a middle-aged meter maid, who has been
beaten down by the world. His disempowering labor is shot and edited
so as to emphasize its endless seriality. He is too timid and uncertain for
his job, and he is further emasculated by a boss who, berating his good-
heartedness, comically overstates the significance of parking enforce-
ment: the fines people pay for illegally parking help to fund schools,
hospitals and soup kitchens, so when Les lets people off he is ‘helping
them to steal from terminally ill homeless children’. He continues, ‘I’ve
128 The World According to Philip K. Dick

seen this job snap a lot tougher men than you, champ,’ and he bul-
lies Les into repeating the mantra: ‘I’m important and I keep this city
running.’ Les fares no better in matters of the heart. He has a crush on
checkout girl Maggie (Alexandra Holden), but he can never quite bring
himself to talk to her; she always seems diffident about his tongue-tied
but quite obvious admiration, and it is only later revealed that she does
not speak because of her crippling stutter.
Special starts at the end of the story. Les’s voiceover explains that he
used to dream of flying, but now he has started dreaming of ordinary
things, like grocery shopping and riding on elevators. As the film cuts
back to the start of his story, and shots of the demeaning tedium of
ticketing vehicles, he explains that he signed up to take part in a drug
trial ‘on a whim’:

I’m really pretty happy with my life, well maybe happy isn’t the right
word, but I’m not unhappy. It’s more like, I once read about a mon-
ster called the Extricator that lived off people’s souls. Only the thing
was, the Extricator ate a person’s soul in their sleep over a sixteen-
year period. Like it would nibble off a crumb every night until there
wasn’t anything left, so a person had no way to realize what was
going on. They just had this vague sense that something was slowly
disappearing. I dunno, maybe I am a little depressed lately.

Eating a microwaved dinner in front of his television, he starts to float

in the air. When he tells Dr Dobson (Jack Kehler) about his new super-
powers, it is revealed to the viewer that they are a delusion. The secret
telepathic exchange Les thinks he is having with Dobson leads him to
believe that the men in black suits consulting with the scientists are
conspiring against him. In reality, they are Jonas (Paul Blackthorne) and
Theodore Exiler (Ian Bohen), the venture capitalists financing Dobson’s
designer drug that is intended ‘to suppress chemicals in the brain
responsible for self-doubt’; they are about to get very rich by selling out
to a pharmaceutical conglomerate. When Les leaves the building, he
is inundated with the thoughts of passers-by, bombarded by the banal
inner monologues of a city full of people as fragile and scared as him,
but as he is not actually telepathic these overheard thoughts can be
nothing more than projections of his own frailties.
After stopping an attempted hold-up at the convenience store – still he
and Maggie fail to talk to each other – Les quits his job and sets out to use
his powers for good. Wearing a ludicrous homemade costume, he patrols
the city in his compact, seeking out some crime, any crime, to fight. He
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema 129

lurks in convenience stores, not realizing quite how creepy he looks, and
tackles to the ground people he believes to be shoplifters. Soon, security
camera footage of his assaults leaks out onto the news. Dobson recog-
nizes the experimental drug’s logo, cut from a freebie T-shirt, adorning
the back of Les’s outfit. The Exilers set out to stop Les before any nega-
tive publicity attaches to their product, but their pursuit just fuels his
paranoia – especially when a cyborged version of himself comes back
from the future to warn him that they are using the drug to build an
army of unstoppable assassins and will destroy Les unless he joins them.
When Les’s only friends, Everett (Robert Baker) and Joey (Josh Peck),
try to convince him he does not have superpowers, he babbles ad hoc
rationalizations, all derived from pulp clichés, to explain how ‘the suits’
have blinded them to his abilities. It is a very Dickian move, this exege-
sis, and it is followed by one of those van Vogtian moments when the
rug is suddenly pulled out from under as Dobson claims never to have
met Les. The narrative rug is pulled once more: Dobson is lying as part
of the Exilers’ plan to conceal the drug’s adverse effects from potential
buyers. They even contemplate abducting Les until the fuss dies down,
certain that ‘no one would care, no one would even notice’.
Later, Les muses:

Most people never stop to think about the problems associated with
being a superhero. Instead they tend to focus on the more glamorous
aspects of our lives. They focus on the powers we have, the things we
can do that no one else can. But the unfortunate truth is that while
being different from everyone can be exciting at first, ultimately it
can get a little lonely… The truth is, with so many billions and bil-
lions of people on the planet, most of us can’t be unique or impor-
tant in any meaningful way. We go to sleep, wake up, go to work;
we eat, spend time with friends, we watch TV, maybe we even fall in
love. But we don’t have any magical powers and we don’t have any
great battles to fight, no evil forces to defeat and no mysterious men
in suits chasing after us. We just have reality, and believing anything
else is, well believing anything else is just crazy, isn’t it?

Ultimately, Les renounces his powers (or delusions), flushes the drugs
from his system, and even – possibly – gets the girl. Not knowing this,
Jonas runs Les down with his car. Les drags himself to his feet, and Jonas
runs over him again. Les gets back on his feet once more, repeating ‘You
can’t make me stop, you can’t make me stop, you can’t make me stop’.
It is a moment of such moral courage and utter human resilience that
130 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Jonas suddenly begins to realize what he himself has become. He can-

not continue his brutal assault on this insignificant little man. He sud-
denly finds empathy, that most Dickian of virtues. Just as Les abandons
the delusion of superhumanity to return to humanity, so the venture
capitalist becomes human and is redeemed.
Big Man Japan takes the form of a low-key, fly-on-the-wall documen-
tary. It follows Daisatô Masaru, a rather battered and resigned middle-
aged man. He is introduced sitting on a bus, responding to the desultory
questioning of the director (Tomoji Hasegawa), unengaged but making
an effort. He has a small, collapsible umbrella in his lap. ‘I like them,’
he explains, ‘They’re great. I like that they only get big when you need
them to.’ Later, he explains his liking for dehydrated seaweed in similar
terms: ‘It only expands and gets big when you need it to.’ He senses his
words have metaphorical significance, but it eludes him. These jokes
about phallic power are also about Daisatô’s role as Japan’s last protector
against giant monsters. The Department of Monster Protection pays him
a small monthly stipend, doubled through sponsorship deals, always
to be on call, ready and willing to be transformed into Big Man Japan.
Like Dick, Matsumoto depicts an entropic world, past its best, it
seems, and in irreversible decline at both the personal and national
levels. The first half of the film is set in autumn, and the late afternoon
sunlight typical of the mockumentary exteriors is beautiful and forlorn.
There is bare earth and fallen leaves where there should be grass. The
brightly colored plastic swing-set outside Daisatô’s cramped, run-down
house is smudged with dirt and is starting to fade. Inside, the clutter is
kept in reasonable order, but it is spreading, threatening to become kip-
ple. A cat has the run of the place; Daisatô refuses to call it a stray since
‘all living creatures are strays really,’ suggesting – without quite realizing
what he is saying – that the label applies equally well to himself. During
the interview, a rock is thrown through the kitchen window. Daisatô
does not even flinch. Later that night, after he has covered the broken
window with cardboard, another rock is thrown through it. Again, he
does not flinch.
The film gradually reveals Daisatô family history. He is the Sixth
in the line of Big Men. There used to be 20 or 30 others in the busi-
ness of protecting Japan from monsters, so Daisatô father (Motohiro
Toriki), the Fifth Big Man Japan – who ‘was a real dude’ and ‘liked to
stand out’ – kept zapping himself to become bigger and bigger, eventu-
ally electrocuting himself. He was an abusive father, encouraging the
overweight, unpopular Daisatô to overeat and trying to trigger an early
transformation in his size. Daisatô’s grandfather (Taichi Yazaki), the
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema 131

Fourth Big Man, who rescued him from the Fifth’s mistreatment and
experimentation, lives in a retirement home. He suffers from dementia,
brought on, Daisatô insists, by undergoing the transformation process
too many times because he had to continue as Japan’s protector after
the Fifth died.
Times have changed, Daisatô explains, as the camera examines an
array of the Fourth’s merchandizing:

Those were the good old days, he called the shots and lived the good
life. He’d bring in all these Geishas… Party on night after night,
apparently… He had servants, about 50 servants, I’d say… He lived
life on a different scale. I mean, say he wanted to go admire the
spring flowers, all his fans would come along. He never had to pay.
He never carried a wallet. Everyone just... paid for everything first…
I pay myself.

The security guards and old men running the three remaining transfor-
mation centers (once there were 52) complain about the degradation
of the transformation process: it is still accompanied by the complex
Ritual of Soul Insertion, conducted by a priest, but ‘it used to be more
solemn… properly observed’. And while the Fourth’s fights with mon-
sters used to be broadcast on prime-time, Daisatô’s are late, late night,
2.40–2.55 a.m., after the television shopping is over.
Daisatô’s wife (Shion Machida) has left him, taking their daughter,
Selina (Kaho Okajima). Daisatô, who had hoped for a son, wants Selina
to inherit his job, but her mother disagrees. Despite Daisatô’s claim
that he and Selina are close, he sees her only twice a year. Their day
out together at the zoo is rendered comical by Selina’s mother’s insist-
ence that Selina’s face be blurred out and her words overdubbed – by,
it transpires, a voice completely inappropriate for an eight-year-old
girl. Daisatô is unaware that his wife already considers herself divorced
and is dating a more respectable man until the director cruelly shows
him an interview with her. Daisatô has no friends, with the exception
perhaps of a nightclub hostess who is ten or more years his senior, who
celebrates with him whenever he has fought a monster in Nagoya. She
tells the director she would happily volunteer to lift some of Daisatô’s
burden, to be transformed and fight monsters herself, just to save ‘my
big man,’ but this is tipsy fondness, not innuendo.
When monsters attack Japan, the film switches visual style from
pseudo-documentary to a self-consciously cartoonish combination
of CGI and digitally manipulated footage. If Daisatô’s relationships
132 The World According to Philip K. Dick

with his wife – and with his manager, Kobori (Ua), who is clearly get-
ting richer every time we see her, though he is not – are presented as
emasculating, and his status as a Big Man compared to his father and
grandfather also constitute a kind of phallic disempowerment, the
fight sequences, with their dreamlike quality, give an insight into how
confused and disoriented Daisatô has become even as they simultane-
ously chart his further decline. Strangle Monster, for instance, embodies
a profound castration anxiety: it pulls skyscrapers out of the ground,
extends an enormous barbed ovipositor from its anus and spawns in
their wrecked foundations. It upends Big Man as if he were just another
building, before tackling an even bigger skyscraper. Evil Stare Monster is
still more obviously phallic. It uses as a weapon its giant eyeball, which
is situated on the end of a telescoping neck that emerges not from its
shoulders but from between its legs. Big Man manages to defeat it, but is
immediately attacked by Red Demon, who beats him to a pulp – which
at least improves his ratings, even if he did run away from the fight.
Big Man’s next two fights also go badly wrong. When a pair of Stink
Monsters defy him and mate in downtown Tokyo in broad daylight,
he is branded a ‘Monster Pimp’; and when he accidentally drops the
harmless Child Monster, killing it, he becomes the subject of national
outrage. He then exacerbates the situation by drunkenly refusing to face
Red Demon again, claiming that there is no one else to look after his
grandfather. As Daisatô staggers from the bar, the director warns him it
is raining outside. Daisatô proudly brandishes his collapsible umbrella.
It is the nearest thing he has to a moment of triumph.
Forced by the Ministry of Defense to transform and fight Red Demon,
Daisatô is badly beaten again. The Fourth transforms himself to come to
the aid of his cowering grandson. Red Demon knocks the Fourth uncon-
scious, and as Big Man runs away he accidentally kicks his grandfather
in the head, killing him. As Red Demon attacks Daisatô once more, we
see, from Big Man’s point of view, the monster stomping down on him.
The screen fills with white light. Whenever a monster dies, a beam of
light descends from heaven and its soul rises up into the sky, so this
viewpoint shot implies the death of the Sixth and probably last Big
Man. But then something odd happens.
At the end of his unproduced Ubik screenplay, Dick extends the
entropic decline of the diegetic world to the cinematic apparatus itself,
with the film apparently deteriorating before the projector’s lens.42
Matsumoto attempts something similar: the whitened screen cuts to a
caption blaring ‘Enjoy the rest live!’ and then to a cheap model set of
the city, in which the Super Justice family, a team of giant costumed
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema 133

heroes, face off and defeat a cheap suitmation version of Red Demon.
Hiding among buildings, a suitmation version of Big Man watches
incredulously, before reluctantly accepting the Super Justice family’s
invitation to join them. They each place a hand on top of the others’
to produce an energy beam that explodes the Red Demon, but – as
Big Man realizes – his presence contributes nothing at all to the beam.
Unsure what to do, he allows the Super Justice family to bear him aloft
as they fly off into the sky.
It is a brilliant and bizarrely awkward ending. Big Man, even in his
suitmation version, is profoundly uncomfortable in this world, with its
curious blend of the domestic and the violent, of a superhero family
and a techno-triumphalist version of the Japanese Defense Force mod-
eled on the Science Patrol from the early Japanese suitmation series,
Urutoraman: Kûsô tokusatsu shirîzu/Ultraman (1966–67). It takes us back
to the pulp origins of both the slipstream and the Dickian, but with a
metaleptic trick which points to the consolations of a pulp denouement
at the same time as disturbing it. And while it might not possess the
filmic equivalent of the literary polish often associated with slipstream,
it takes a perverse delight in playing, as Dick did, with the furniture of
genre to depict the fallen world of the commodity universe.
For all Daisatô’s puttering about in a small land, Big Man Japan might
seem less obviously Dickian than Special. In part, this is due to its imbri-
cation in and sometimes ambivalent celebration of Japanese popular
culture, but the Dickian sensibility – however much it was refined on,
derives from and might be specific to the American West Coast and to
grubby Californian landscapes such as those of Special – articulates a
shared experience of the post-war expansion and intensification of late
capitalism. Slipstream cinema is likewise a local product of negotiations
between globalizing cultural and economic forces, offering not clatter-
ing phallic action licks but ordinary people caught up in a world full of
weirdness beyond their control or understanding. Like Dick, it makes
us feel very strange.

1 Eric Wang, ‘Total Recall: A By-the-Book Reboot Gets Invigorated by its Female
Leads,’ Screen Comment, 5 August 2012, http://screencomment.com/2012/08/
2 Justin Chang, ‘Review: Total Recall,’ Variety, 2 August 2012, http://variety.
134 The World According to Philip K. Dick

3 John Semley, ‘Total Recall,’ Slant Magazine, 2 August 2012, http://www.slant-

4 Helen O’Hara, ‘Total Recall: Déjà Vu All Over Again,’ Empire, http://www.
5 Tom Charity, ‘Review: Total Recall is Instantly Forgettable,’ CNN, 4
August 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/03/showbiz/music/
6 Rob James, ‘Get Your Ass to the Original,’ Total Film, 17 August 2012, http://
7 The place name is mentioned just once, in the background of a scene. In
Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth (1985), the Nixon-like US President Fremont
makes up a subversive conspiracy so as to extend the power of his police
state, trampling civil liberties.
8 Consider, for example, the 2001 Tampa affair, the Children Overboard affair,
and the 2013 PNG Solution. On Australian immigration law, see Mary Crock
and Laurie Berg, Immigration, Refugees and Forced Migration: Law, Policy and
Practice in Australia (Sydney: The Federation Press, 2011). On the fantasy of
a white Australia, see Jennifer Rutherford, The Gauche Intruder: Freud, Lacan
and the White Australian Fantasy (Carlton South: Melbourne University Press,
9 Australian Greg Egan’s post-cyberpunk Quarantine (1992), published around
the time of Prime Minister Paul Keating’s not unproblematic efforts to
reorient Australia more strongly towards Asia, attempts something similar
with greater success. It posits the establishment of New Hong Kong on
tribal lands in northern Australia on the thirtieth anniversary of the return
of Hong Kong to Chinese rule; within 25 years, it has a greater GDP than
Australia. As Total Recall’s depiction of the UFB makes clear, however much
its Fremont might resonate in Australia, the film is more concerned with an
increasingly generalized global situation, with the so-called War on Terror
being used seemingly everywhere to justify ever more stringent racist and
classist migration controls (amid the extensive relevant literature, see Wendy
Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (New York: Zone Books (2010)). Eric
Wang’s review, one of the few to try to make sense of the film’s imagined
future, fails miserably. It suggests that the film ‘feels oddly dated’ because
the UFB ‘oppresses a Colony portrayed like a neo-Hong Kong: this would be
relevant in a strictly historical sense’ (Wang ‘Total Recall’).
10 In the Colony, gravity and momentum work more or less as one would
expect of a post-Bourne trilogy (2002–07) action movie, and in the UFB
as they do in the Transformers trilogy (2007–11) – especially in the fight
sequence that takes place among the elevator cubes that whizz perilously
around transit tunnels in homage, perhaps, to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory (1964) as much as Cube (Natali 1997). Blue-collar work-
ers from the Colony commute daily to the Federation courtesy of the Fall,
a massive elevator that plunges through the center of the Earth in just
17 minutes, at which point it is no longer clear what gravity and momentum
think they are doing. However, this absurd piece of technology is no more,
or less, absurd, merely more spectacular, than the rocket ship commute at
the start of Dick’s ‘Sales Pitch’ (1954): ‘Commute ships roared on all sides, as
Ed Morris made his way wearily home to Earth at the end of a long hard day
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema 135

at the office. The Ganymede–Terra lanes were choked with exhausted, grim-
faced businessmen; Jupiter was in opposition to Earth and the trip was a
good two hours. Every few million miles the great flow slowed to a grinding
agonized halt; signal-lights flashed as streams from Mars and Saturn fed into
the main traffic arteries.’ Philip K. Dick, ‘Sales Pitch,’ in The Father-Thing:
Volume Three of the Collected Short Stories (London: Gollancz, 1999), 223.
11 Mead qtd in Paul M. Sammon, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
(New York: HarperPrism, 1996), 79.
12 Other Original Film franchises include Urban Legend (1998–2005), Cruel
Intentions (1999–2004), Cabin By The Lake (2000–01), The Skulls (2000–04),
xXx (2002–05), S.W.A.T. (2003–11) and 21 Jump Street (2012–14), while
Prom Night (2008) and The Green Hornet (2011) revived old properties with
an (unsuccessful) eye on establishing franchises.
13 Charity, ‘Review.’
14 Chang, ‘Review.’
15 O’Hara, ‘Total Recall.’
16 Semley, ‘Total Recall.’
17 Verhoeven’s film has not always been as well regarded as the reviews of
Wiseman’s film imply. Roger Ebert was perhaps surprisingly positive about
it, but Rita Kempley famously decried it as a ‘gratuitous explosion of vain-
glory and guts,’ the ‘overall effect [of which] is like wading through hospital
waste.’ See Roger Ebert, ‘Total Recall,’ Chicago Sun-Times, 1 June 1990, http://
www.rogerebert.com/reviews/total-recall-1990; and Rita Kempley, ‘Total
Recall,’ The Washington Post, 1 June 1990, http://www.washingtonpost.com/
18 Rosemary J. Coombe, The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship,
Appropriation, and the Law (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 38.
19 Geoffrey Wagner, The Novel and the Cinema (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson
University Press, 1975), 222, 223, and 227.
20 Michael Klein and Gillian Parker, The English Novel and the Movies (New York:
Ungar, 1981), 9 and 10.
21 Dudley Andrew, Concepts in Film Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1984), 97.
22 Robert Stam, ‘Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation,’ in Film
Adaptation, ed. James Naremore (London: Athlone, 2000), 57 and 64.
23 See Mark Bould, ‘Preserving Machines: Recentering the Decentered Subject
in Blade Runner and Johnny Mnemonic,’ in Writing and Cinema, ed.
Jonathan Bignell (Harlow: Longman, 1999).
24 Brian McFarlane, Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 21.
25 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 144.
26 Ibid., 144.
27 Ibid., 200.
28 Sarah Cardwell, Adaptation Revisited: Television and the Classic Novel
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 19, 25.
29 Bruce Sterling, ‘CATSCAN: Slipstream,’ SF Eye 5 (July 1989), 78.
30 Ibid.
31 Ibid.
136 The World According to Philip K. Dick

32 Ibid., 80.
33 Ibid.
34 Other influential slipstream lists include Master List of Slipstream Books
(http://home.roadrunner.com/~lperson1/slip.html), which incorporates
Sterling’s original list, and A Working Canon of Slipstream Writing (http://
www.readercon.org/docs/slipcanon.pdf), which does include a single Dick
novel, his non-sf The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (New York: Mariner,
1982). See also Rob Latham, ‘Suggested Further Readings in Slipstream,’
Science Fiction Studies 38, no. 1 (2011): 208–19.
35 Paweł Frelik ‘Of Slipstream and Others: SF and Genre Boundary Discourses,’
Science Fiction Studies 38, no. 1 (2011): 21.
36 See Garrett Stewart, ‘The “Videology” of Science Fiction,’ in Shadows of the
Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film, ed. George E. Slusser and Eric
S. Rabkin (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), 159–207.
37 See, for example, Liam Clark, ‘21 Great Lo-Fi Sci-Fi Films You Need To
Watch’, Taste of Cinema, 29 January 2014, http://www.tasteofcinema.
38 See Vivian Sobchack, Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film
(New York: Ungar, 1991), 223–305.
39 Fred Glass, ‘Totally Recalling Arnold: Sex and Violence in the New Bad
Future,’ Film Quarterly 44, no. 1 (1990): 6.
40 Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s (London:
Bloomsbury, 2011), 452.
41 Other films of this ilk include Defendor (Stebbings 2009) and Super (Gunn
2010), but not Hancock (Berg 2008), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010),
Kick-Ass (Vaughn 2010) or Kick-Ass 2 (Wadlow 2013).
42 See Philip K. Dick, Ubik: The Screenplay (New York: Mariner, 2012), 167.
Mr Tagomi’s Planet: Philip K. Dick
and Japanese Speculative Fiction
Takayuki Tatsumi

8.1 Kim Stanley Robinson’s post-Dickian history

The year 2002 saw the publication of two works of alternate history that
are especially intriguing for those interested in Asian science fiction (sf):
Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (a scholar and fan of
Philip K. Dick) and 1421: The Year China Discovered America, by a retired
British submarine lieutenant, Gavin Menzies. Both draw on Louis
Levathes’ When China Ruled the Sea (1994), and both explore the way
China achieves world hegemony and comes to discover the New World.
Robinson covers seven centuries of alternate world history, in which
Europe is wiped out by the plague in the fourteenth century and China
surpasses Islamic and Buddhist nations in its process of modernization,
going on to discover what we now call America. Levathes documents
the way the enormous Chinese ‘treasure’ ships, under the command
of Emperor Zhu Di’s loyal eunuch admirals, especially his close friend
Zheng, not only discovered North America in 1421 but left their traces
across the world. However, what attracts me to Robinson’s novel at this
point is that he decides to borrow from Dick’s The Man in the High Castle
by featuring Mr Tagomi as an angry chandler living in the Bay Area. As
one character explains:

Tagomi-san is a good man, he doesn’t usually beat his help, I assure

you. But he’s frustrated. We can’t get the authorities to release sup-
plies of rice to feed the people stranded in the valley. The chandler is
very high in the Japanese community here, and he’s been trying for
months now. He thinks the Chinese bureaucrats, over on the island
there… are hoping that most of the people inland will starve... So,
you know, Tagomi has been trying to organize private relief, and

138 The World According to Philip K. Dick

we’ve been taking it inland on the flood. But it isn’t going well, and
it’s been expensive, and so the old man is getting testy. His poor
workers are paying for it.1 (my emphasis)

As a Japanese signifier, the name ‘Tagomi’ sounds extremely strange and

unusual. For this reason in his 1984 version of The Man in the High Castle
the Japanese translator Hisashi Asakura replaced ‘Tagomi’ with ‘Tagami’.
But in her foreword to the anthology The Future is Japanese (2012)
Masumi Washington, the editor-in-chief of Haikasoru Publishers, stated:
‘We know Tagomi doesn’t sound like an ordinary Japanese name, but
that didn’t hurt The Man in the High Castle.’2 Likewise, the forty years
that have passed since the publication of Dick’s novel have radically
transformed our sense of reality and have helped to modify the role
of Mr Tagomi. While Dick’s original Japanese character, Mr Nobusuke
Tagomi, is a member of a trade mission who acts like a hardboiled hero
typical of the Cold War era, Robinson’s version of Mr Tagomi does not
simply make a cameo appearance; rather he exhibits what I would like
to call the Planetary Unconscious peculiar to the post-9/11 era. It is
true that back in the 1960s Dick could not have believed that the Asian
dominance of which he wrote would become reality; but in the wake
of Cool Japan and the Chinese invasion, Asian soft power has attained
global influence. So, in the twenty-first century is it now possible for us
to reconsider Philip K. Dick not simply as a speculative writer but also as
a cultural bridge between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
As a long-time aficionado of sf in Japan since the 1960s heyday of New
Wave speculative fiction, who was to make a debut as a literary critic in
the 1980s, and also as a ‘comrade’ of cyberpunks who witnessed the rise
of the new sf movement in the US at the time, in this chapter I would
like to re-examine the way the literary and cultural status of Dick has
been transformed from a transnational and transhistorical perspective.

8.2 Decoding Dick’s autograph of 11 May 1974

When my friend Peter Fitting, a professor at the University of Toronto,

shared lunch with me and my wife Mari Kotani in Tokyo on 6 April
2010, he very generously presented me with a copy of the first Japanese
edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, signed by the author.
Published in English in 1966, the novel was translated by Hisashi
Asakura and published in Japan three years later by Hayakawa, the
well-known publisher of Japan’s first successful sf monthly, Hayakawa’s
Science Fiction Magazine. Peter’s copy is undoubtedly priceless, and
Mr Tagomi’s Planet 139

I was hesitant to accept such a rare book; but he offered it as a token of

our friendship. At that point, I was impressed by the trans-Pacific cycle
traced by this Japanese edition, which had first been sent to the author
as a complimentary copy, then signed and given to the author’s friend
five years later, and then 36 years later presented to me, a Japanese friend
of Dick’s friend. Let me quote in full the inscription made by Dick:

To Peter Fitting –

I think I am writing this at the Back of this Book – right?

Your friend from the past / future, Philip K. Dick, 5/11/74

What is important here is the date: 11 May 1974. Being a long-time

Dickian, I’m familiar with a conspiracy theory that had haunted Dick
since 1972. Although Dick’s countercultural sensibility appealed to the
left, he himself became deeply suspicious of a possible communist plot
against him. On 1 May 1974, he received a phone call from Fitting, who
had written an article slated to run in the special Philip K. Dick issue of
Science Fiction Studies (SFS).3 The volume featured splendid essays that
had been contributed by a number of leading sf authors, including
Stanislaw Lem, Brian Aldiss, Ian Watson, Carlo Pagetti, Darko Suvin
and others. In preparation for the special issue, Fitting had wanted to
visit Dick, accompanied by fellow sf scholars Fredric Jameson, Richard
Pinhas and Pinhas’s wife Agneta. Following a phone call by Fitting, Dick
wrote to the FBI, connecting ‘the Fitting group’ with Lem and what
he called a ‘flurry of weird mail of a Soviet type’. He believed that this
proposed visit was a prelude to a kidnapping plot. Although he ended
up welcoming the SFS members cheerfully on 15 May 1974, Dick would
later denounce them and their Marxist scholarship in a letter that he
sent to the FBI. What caused most outrage to the SFS critics, especially
following the posthumous revelation of Dick’s letters in 1991, is his let-
ter addressed to the FBI dated 2 September 1974:

I am enclosing the letterhead of Professor Darko Suvin, to go with

information and enclosures which I have sent you previously. This
is the first contact I have had with Professor Suvin. Listed with him
are three Marxists whom I sent you information about before, based
on personal dealings with them: Peter Fitting, Fredric Jameson, and
Franz Rottensteiner who is Stanislaw Lem’s official Western agent.
The text of the letter indicates the extensive influence of this publica-
140 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Jeet Heer points out in his brilliant analysis ‘Philip K. Dick versus the
Literary Critics that the critics’ who had helped establish him as the
‘Shakespeare of Science Fiction’ were totally ignorant of Dick’s duplic-
ity.5 As Paul Williams shows in his book of interviews Only Apparently
Real: The World of Philip K. Dick, his persecution complex must have
been exacerbated by the break-in and burglary the author experienced
on 17 November 1971.6
With this schizophrenic history in mind, we cannot ignore the sig-
nificance of the date 11 May 1974 which appears next to Dick’s auto-
graph in the Japanese edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? he
presented to Fitting. As I described above, Peter had phoned Dick on
1 May of that year and he visited Dick on 15 May. So, why is the
autograph dated 11 May? It is plausible either that Peter, who lived in
San Francisco, visited Dick personally before 15 May, or that Dick signed
the copy on 11 May. Either way, in the inscription Dick calls Peter his
‘friend,’ even though he considered Peter to be allied with his enemy
Lem or with the public enemy the KGB. Mocking Aristotle’s statement,
‘Friends, there are no friends,’ Friedrich Nietzsche shouted ‘Enemies,
there is no enemy!’ Reading Nietzsche’s reading of Aristotle, Jacques
Derrida finds the sage capable of playing the fool:

[T]he fool can pretend to be wiser and deeper in death’s throes than
the Greek philosopher that he has summoned to bear witness. The
face of the fool can be a mask. Behind the mask, a sage wiser than
the sage... the sage, for friendship’s sake – this is what makes him a
sage – takes on the disguise of the fool, and, for friendship’s sake,
disguises his friendship as enmity.7

This is how Derrida came to reconsider good friendship as dispropor-

tional. ‘It demands a certain rupture in reciprocity or equality, as well
as the interruption of all fusion or confusion between you and me.’8
Thus, in order to further refine the philosophy of friendship, Nietzsche
out-Aristotled Aristotle, so Derrida out-Nietzsched Nietzsche. Following
Derrida’s reading of Nietzsche, we may become convinced that the
relationship between friendship and antagonism has also been decon-
structed for Dick. If deconstruction itself is a historical product of the
Cold War, Dick’s duplicity prefigures Derrida’s approach and beauti-
fully allegorizes the McCarthyist binary opposition coinciding with the
Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–52), where free speech cannot exist
without censorship. Even in the post-9/11 and/or post-3/11 era initi-
ated by the nuclear disaster at Fukushima on 11 March 2011, whenever
Mr Tagomi’s Planet 141

and wherever war or disaster breaks out, we are immediately reminded

of the nightmare of the Cold War, where everything is easily reduced
into the binary oppositions that had caused Dick considerable torment.

8.3 Why Japanese readers love androids, or, Yoshio

Aramaki’s ‘Soft Clocks’

The genesis of sf translation in Japan can be located in the period

between the late 1950s and the early 1960s. After the inauguration
of the first successful sf monthly in December 1959, Hayakawa’s SF
Magazine, a number of talented authors flocked to the latter and,
expanding the market for their wares, formed the first generation of
Japanese sf writers and translators. It is notable therefore that the ear-
liest Japanese translation of a Dick novel, that is Koji Nakada’s 1959
version of Eye in the Sky, coincides with the launch of Hayakawa’s
SF Magazine. Thus, since the inception of the Japanese sf market in
the late 1950s, Dick has invariably attracted a Japanese audience. The
three that have resonated most consistently with readers in Japan
are: The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip and Do Androids
Dream of Electric Sheep? The popularity of the last one cannot be
attributed simply to its film version, Ridley Scott’s cult classic Blade
Runner (1982). As I explained in the first chapter of my book Full
Metal Apache (2006), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? contains
deeply existential moments that are essential to the construction of
the post-war Japanese cyborgian identity cultivated by the combi-
nation of the Japanese Emperor system and American democracy.9
However, it is also true that Japanese speculative authors have been
even more fascinated with Martian Time-Slip as an amalgam of sf and
At this point, let me consider a famous story by one of the major
Japanese New Wave authors, Yoshio Aramaki, who had been born
in 1933 in Otaru, Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main
islands, but who did not make his professional debut as a writer until
1970. The story is ‘Yawarakai Tokei’ (‘Soft Clocks’), which was originally
published in the April 1968 issue of the fanzine Uchûjin (Cosmic Dust)
and later revised for the February 1972 issue of Hayakawa’s SF Magazine.
I had begun reading sf during the late 1960s, when the New Wave
started to have a tremendous impact on Japanese sf writers, critics, and
especially translators. If the great Sakyô Komatsu (1931–2011) may be
compared with Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein,
then Aramaki served as the Japanese equivalent of Philip K. Dick,
142 The World According to Philip K. Dick

J.G. Ballard, and Barrington Bayley. Komatsu, who had majored in

Italian literature at Kyoto University, highlighted sf’s possibilities as a
new frontier of literature, a genre that could clarify the literary hori-
zons that post-war Japan should explore. Aramaki, who studied psy-
chology at Waseda University, made a quantum leap into inner space.
Deeply influenced by Yasutaka Tsutsui, a master of hyperfiction who
deconstructed the distinction between sf and metafiction, Aramaki
hoped that an emphasis on the surreal imagination could reinvigor-
ate even mainstream fiction. Between 1969 and 1970, he engaged in
a heated debate with Kôichi Yamano, the young writer-editor of the
first commercial sf quarterly, NW-SF (1970–82). Yamano actually shared
Aramaki’s New Wave perspective, but he couldn’t resist attacking
contemporary Japanese sf writers as mere imitators in a famous essay,
‘Japanese SF, Its Originality and Orientation’.10 Admired by a couple of
perennial candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kôbô Abe and
Yukio Mishima, Yamano’s essay elicited a number of responses, among
which Aramaki’s defense of Japanese sf stands out. This controversy
over the nature of sf and the prescriptions for its future status had such
a strong influence on me that I developed a habit of reading sf narra-
tives and criticism simultaneously.
In 1986, at ArmadilloCon in Austin, Texas, I met the cyberpunk
writer Lewis Shiner, who asked me whether I would be interested in
co-translating some Japanese sf; I immediately thought of Aramaki’s
‘Soft Clocks,’ one of the most Dickian short stories in Japan, which
had sparked controversy over the nature of sf. Shiner’s idea offered
me a rare chance to share a Japanese New Wave masterpiece with the
English-speaking world – to export something from the empire of
excessive importation. Thus, ‘Soft Clocks’ was first roughly translated
by my Cornell friend Kazuko Behrens, and then polished by Shiner
himself before being finally published in Interzone.11 The plot is simple.
The story is set on Mars in the near future, where everyone has been
infected with ‘Martian Disease,’ a form of low-grade encephalitis. This
disease also afflicts the ‘Dali of Mars,’ a surrealist, paranoid millionaire
and technophobe whose estate covers ‘an area of the Lunae Planum
about the size of Texas,’ and who is about to hold a literally surrealist
party in his garden whose theme is ‘Blackout in Daylight’.12 Modeled
on Salvador Dalí’s famous painting ‘Persistence of Memory’ (1931), the
millionaire’s garden is soft and edible, thanks to what is nicknamed
‘Flabby Engineering’. This post-nanotech reality is superbly represented
by a ‘soft clock’ the size of a dessert plate – when set on the edge of
a table, the rim of the clock would bend and droop toward the floor.
Mr Tagomi’s Planet 143

This vivid image, drawn from surrealist painting, is reminiscent of

Ballard’s telepathic architecture in ‘The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista’
(1962) and anticipates William Gibson’s description of the soft clock in
Julius Deane’s office which appears in the first chapter of Neuromancer
(1984): ‘A Dali clock hung on the wall between the bookcases, its dis-
torted face sagging to the bare concrete floor.’13 Aramaki’s narrator is a
marriage counselor trained in psychiatry who has come from Tokyo at
the request of the Dalí of Mars in order to administer psychological tests
to the suitors of his granddaughter Vivi. As the story opens, the two top
candidates for Vivi’s hand are Mr Pinkerton, a self-proclaimed artistic
descendant of Dalí, and Professor Isherwood, a rheologist (that is, a spe-
cialist in the flow of matter) promoting Flabby Engineering.
What complicates the story is that Vivi is a cyborg but does not know
it. More than three years earlier, before Vivi began studying art at col-
lege, the plane bringing the 18-year-old girl from Mars to Tokyo had
crashed, and she had only been kept alive through the replacement
of her heart, lungs, and stomach with artificial organs. ‘Knowing the
technophobic background, the surgeons had kept the information from
her. But her subconscious had evidently at least suspected the truth.’14
This is why Vivi shows symptoms of anorexia. The narrator, who has
fallen in love with her, encourages her to eat a soft clock. Mechanical
but edible, the clock should, on consumption, at once cure her of both
her anorexia and her technophobia. The Dalí of Mars has also eaten a
soft clock and become an imperialist glutton who would love not only
to conquer but also to devour the entire world. Yet his granddaughter
Vivi refuses to eat, since she views the very act of eating as shameful.

Vivi slowly brought the clock to her lips. She flushed with shame.
Her eyes filled with tears. I looked away. The clock crunched slowly
as she bit into it, like a cookie. From the corner of my eye I could
see her chewing, slowly, keeping it in the front of her mouth. She

The narrator describes the battle between grandfather and grand-

daughter: The Dalí of Mars devours, while Vivi cannot stop vomiting.
Refusal is how the granddaughter triumphs over her grandfather. Dick’s
Martian Time-Slip narrates the surrealist ways in which the autistic
child Manfred Steiner and the latent schizophrenic Jack Bohlen resist
Arnie Kott, a heartless and imperialist union boss in charge of a multi-
million-dollar water empire on Mars. In a similar manner, Aramaki’s
‘Soft Clocks’ reveals the inner space battle between a helplessly
144 The World According to Philip K. Dick

paranoiac glutton and his anorexic and technophobic granddaughter.

Following in Dick’s footsteps, Aramaki succeeds in recreating Mars as a
surrealist planet perfect for psychoanalytic exploration. Aramaki is also
famous for his bestselling book series Deep Blue Fleet (1990–96), whose
alternate history of World War II was obviously inspired by Dick’s novel
The Man in the High Castle.16
At this point, we should not ignore that whereas the Great Kanto
Earthquake of 1923 marked the advent of Japanese Modernism as rep-
resented by surrealism, the ideological failure of the country’s Leftist
movement of the 1950s and ‘60s transformed Aramaki from a would-
be writer of naturalist mainstream literature to a convert of surrealist
speculative fiction. It is noteworthy that surrealism in the Japanese
context has helped writers and artists to overcome national disasters
or catastrophes, whether physical or metaphysical, by recreating and
estranging their own reality.

8.4 From surrealism to postmodernism: Chiaki Kawamata’s

Death Sentences

In 1984, George Orwell’s symbolic year, Chiaki Kawamata published his

ambitiously surrealist and highly Dickian novel Genshi-gari. Translated
into English as Death Sentences, the Japanese title literally means ‘hunt-
ing the magic poems’ or ‘in pursuit of the magic poems’. Kawamata
was one of the most talented of the second generation of Japanese
sf authors who debuted in the 1970s, and Death Sentences attracted a
wide audience, receiving positive reviews and winning the 5th Japan
SF Grand Prize, established in 1980 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of Japan as the country’s equivalent of the Nebula Award.
Kawamata’s novel grew out of a single mysterious image of André
Breton waiting for a young poetic genius at a café in Montmartre on
2 February 1948, an image which had already served as the opening scene
of Kawamata’s archetypal short story ‘Yubi no Fuyu’ (‘Finger Winter’).17
Of course, Breton was the person who had inaugurated the surrealist
movement in Paris with the manifesto he published in 1924. Therefore,
the primal scene in chapter two of Death Sentences, in which Breton
waits for a young Asian French poet in Paris, is intriguing, for it leads
us to expect that something wonderful will happen. And indeed, glanc-
ing at the manuscript of the poet (whose name, ‘Who May,’ sounds
like the Japanese term fumei, meaning ‘anonymous’), Breton has to
acknowledge both his special talent and the supernatural wonder of
the poem. However, what Who May composes cannot help but seduce
Mr Tagomi’s Planet 145

whoever reads it into the so-called ‘Another World,’ depriving the

reader of his or her life. Who May’s poem is thus at once both alluring
and fatal. His poems ‘Another World,’ ‘Mirror,’ and ‘The Gold of Time’
haunt the reader like drugs, and make victims of a number of Dadaists
and surrealists, as well as their literary and cultural heirs: Arshile Gorky,
Paul Eluard, Francis Picabia, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, and even
Philip K. Dick.

The American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose other-

worldly descriptions were exceedingly close to surrealism, died of
a heart attack of unknown origin. Before his death he had become
obsessed with the idea of harnessing the dreadful potentiality latent
in the time-travel paradox by means of alchemical transformation
and apparently revealed that he finally got his hands on suitable
material to do so. But he died before he could actually begin such

Who May’s poems attract and murder so many addicts that a poet-
icaholic crackdown takes place around the globe. The imperative is:
throw away Who May’s poem before you read it. Nonetheless, Who
May’s poetry continues to be copied and perused by fans. Breton’s
suitcase, which contains Who May’s manuscripts, is purchased by Seito
Department Store, which plans a big exhibition on surrealism. This is
only the beginning of a magic poetic plague on a global scale, some-
thing much more horrific than anything inflicted by historical weapons
of mass destruction.
Sf fans may be puzzled to see Philip K. Dick included in the list
of Who May’s victims. What I would like to stress, however, is that
many years before writing Death Sentences in 1984, in fact, as early as
the 1970s, Kawamata had already taken for granted the intersection
between surrealism and New Wave speculative fiction. In his introduc-
tion to the reprinted Japanese edition of Martian Time-Slip, Kawamata
confesses: ‘If someone like Mephistopheles showed up and proposed
to endow me with the same genius as my literary heroes, I wouldn’t
hesitate to claim Philip K. Dick’s talent and to start to write Martian
Time-Slip by myself.’19 Originally published in 1964, Martian Time-Slip
was translated as early as 1966 and amazed its Japanese readers, includ-
ing myself, with its dense representation of the surrealistic inner space
of the autistic boy Manfred Steiner, who has the supernatural ability to
travel through time. There is little doubt that Kawamata’s encounter
with Martian Time-Slip had an impact on his own taste in sf. Here I find
146 The World According to Philip K. Dick

it useful to compare two key passages from Martian Time-Slip and Death
Sentences. First, allow me to remind readers of the alluring spell that
haunts the inner space of human beings in Martian Time-Slip:

A voice in his mind said, Gubble gubble gubble, I am gubble gubble

gubble gubble.
Stop, he said to it.
Gubble, gubble, gubble, gubble, it answered.
Dust fell on him from the walls. The room creaked with age and
dust, rotting around him. Gubble, gubble, gubble, the room said. The
Gubbler is here to gubble gubble you and make you into gubbish.
Getting unsteadily to his feet he managed to walk, step by step,
over to Arnie’s amplifier and tape recorder…
The door to the kitchen opened a crack, and an eye watched him;
he could not tell whose it was.
I have to get out of here, Jack Bohlen said to himself. Or fight it off;
I have to break this, throw it away from me or be eaten.
It is eating me up.20

Next, let me trace the way Kawamata recreates Dick’s surrealist inner
space in the ‘Another World’ of Death Sentences. The following scene
reveals how Who May’s magic poem excited and even infuriated Breton:

A fish. Dobaded. Its eyeball sliced down the middle. Sections quiver-
ing. Images reflected on the split lens are stained with blood. Dobaded.
City of mirror people mirrored there is dyed madder red. Reversal of
pressure, dobaded, and there you go! It’s taking you there…
There was no room for doubt.
Breton had experienced it. At the command of these verses, he had
been transported to the world that Who May had named “Another
World,” and then had returned...
Breton held his eyes shut tight. (Is this thing poetry?! Dobaded! No
it isn’t like poetry. It is a spell! It is a sort of... hypnotism! It is like the
use of words in hypnotism)…
(He must have made a deal. That’s how it was decided. At midnight he
had carved summoning spells on the floor and summoned the devil. And in
exchange for the secret of words, he sold his soul to the devil...)
As such thoughts crossed his mind, Breton grew angrier still, at his
own foolishness. (... in any case, dobaded... shit!)21

[my emphasis]
Mr Tagomi’s Planet 147

While the incantation ‘gubble’ invades the Martian mindscape in

Martian Time-Slip, in Death Sentences the spell ‘Dobaded’ dominates
whoever reads the magic poem and transports them literally into
another world. What Kawamata seems to have learned from Dick and
wanted to expand is the performative and even science-fictional aspect
of language itself, that is, the power of language to affect and even
transform reality. Furthermore, if you take notice of Breton’s response
to Who May’s poem, ‘And in exchange for the secret of words, he sold
his soul to the devil,’ you will probably recall Kawamata’s own obses-
sion with Dick’s novel: ‘If someone like Mephistopheles showed up
and proposed to endow me with the same genius as my literary heroes,
I wouldn’t hesitate to claim Philip K. Dick’s talent and start to write
Martian Time-Slip by myself.’
At this point, let me take the opportunity to sum up the author’s
biographical data. Kawamata was born on 4 December 1948 (the very
year Breton that was waiting for Who May in Paris!), in Otaru on
Hokkaidô. Hokkaidô had been the vast homeland of the Ainu race
since time immemorial, but was incorporated into Modern Japan fol-
lowing the Meiji Restoration in 1968 and separated into four prefec-
tures. If sf is the result of a certain kind of frontier spirit (of the kind
seen in the post-revolutionary United States), it is easy to perceive an
analogy between America as a New World and Hokkaidô as another
New World. Therefore, I do not think it is a coincidence that, in addi-
tion to Kawamata, Hokkaidô has nurtured a number of sf writers,
such as Yoshio Arakami, Fuyuki Kojima Fuyuki, Toya Tachihara and
Toh Enjo. In 1966, while still a student at Otaru Oyo High School,
Kawamata published a short story, titled ‘Fuyu ga kaette kita’ (‘Winter
has come back’), in the first issue of the fanzine Asteroid (later renamed
Planetoid). The story was quickly reprinted in Ûchûjin (Cosmic Dust),
the oldest and most authentic fanzine in Japan, edited by one of the
founding fathers of Japanese sf, Shibano Takumi (1926–2010). Thus
even as a high school kid, Kawamata was famous for being a BNF
(Big Name Fan) in Japanese sf fandom. After entering Tokyo’s Keio
University in 1968, Kawamata wrote his BA thesis on the work of
Shimao Toshio (1917–86), one of the most surrealist among Japan’s
mainstream writers.
We should also note that from the early twentieth century onwards
Kawamata’s alma mater had functioned as a literary incubator for
Japanese surrealist poets, including Nishiwaki Junzaburô, Satô Saku,
Yoshimasu Gôzô and Asabuki Ryôji, most of whom taught at Keio
as scholar-critics. Especially important was Nishiwaki Jun’zaburô, a
148 The World According to Philip K. Dick

one-time finalist for the Nobel Prize in Literature, who studied in

England between 1922 and 1925. Nishiwaki so fully imbibed the
transatlantic modernist atmosphere that upon his return he attained
a professorship in the Faculty of Letters and started playing the role of
surrealism’s ideologue by popularizing modernist poetics. The impor-
tance of surrealism for Japanese modernists explains the close associa-
tion of the former with sf in Japan, and Dick’s reception in these terms
with the translation of Martian Time-Slip.
What matters most for Kawamata is that the early 1970s, when he
was studying at Keio University, marked the beginning of the golden
age of science fiction in Japan. In 1970 when the World Expo took place
in Osaka, an International Science Fiction Symposium was convened
by Komatsu Sakyô, the dean of Japanese sf, and other first-generation
members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan. Also in
attendance were the British writers Arthur C. Clarke and Brian Aldiss,
along with Frederik Pohl from the US and Judith Merril from Canada, as
well as Vasili Zakharchenko and Eremei Parnov from the Soviet Union.
It is noteworthy that Merril returned to Japan in March 1972 and lived
for half a year in Higashi-Koganei, a suburb of western Tokyo. Merril
influenced Japanese writers by preaching the possibilities of sf as specu-
lative fiction, as represented by the New Wave experiments of Ballard
and others then in the ascendance, held discussions with representative
translators, such as Itô Norio and Asakura Hisashi, and promoted the
translation of Japanese sf into English. The translation project Merril had
begun was not completed during her lifetime, but her friends Gene Van
Troyer and Grania Davis spent 35 years compiling a Japanese sf anthol-
ogy Speculative Japan: Outstanding Tales of Japanese Science Fiction and
Fantasy.22 The publication of this volume coincided with the first World
Science Fiction Convention held in Asia, and the 65th overall, which
took place at Pacifico Yokohama.
After the genre of Japanese sf formally came into being with Ûchûjin
(1957–) and Hayakawa’s SF Magazine, writers and translators quickly and
concisely simulated the half-century history of Anglo-American sf since
the 1920s within a decade. This first generation of authors born in the
1920s and 1930s – such as the ‘Big Three’ Hoshi Shin’ichi, Komatsu
Sakyô and Tsutsui Yasutaka – succeeded in establishing not only the
genre but also a market for Japanese sf in the 1960s. The second gen-
eration, most of them ‘baby boomers,’ made their debuts in the 1970s.
This group featured a number of writers: Hori Akira, Kajio Shinji, Yokota
Jun’ya, Tanaka Kôji, Yamada Masaki, Yuko Yamao, Hagio Moto, and,
of course, Kawamata. While the first-generationfound it necessary to
Mr Tagomi’s Planet 149

imitate and reformulate Anglo-American hard sf, the second-generation

as represented by Kawamata, also imbibed the New Wave, with Ballard,
Dick and Lem as its new idols.
The originality of Kawamata’s view of sf lies in his emphasis not
on out-of-control technology, but on ‘out-of-control sensitivity’. His
manifesto references everything from literature (Lewis Carroll, William
Hope Hodgson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.L. Moore, Boris Vian, Ray
Bradbury, Ballard, Shimao Toshio, Kurahashi Yumiko) to the icons
of rock ‘n’ roll and J-Pop (Rolling Stones, Grand Funk Railroad, Free,
Zuno-Keisatsu, Yoshida Takuro and even Asaoka Megumi). Kawamata
does not distinguish between Edgar Rice Burroughs and William
Burroughs; what matters to him is the strategy for questioning exist-
ing literary discourses and redefining inner space as another world, a
world growing out of ‘nothing’ in a utopian sense. While Augustinian
theology dismissed ‘nothingness’ as a kind of evil deficiency or vacuum,
Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) re-evaluated the idea of ‘nowhere,’
anticipating the rise of ‘nonsense’ literature that subverts common
Thus, when Death Sentences won the fifth Japan SF Grand Prize,
Kawamata’s acceptance speech was highly illuminating, for it sharply
redefined the novel:

For me Death Sentences is clearly a sort of wish-fulfillment novel.

If I myself had been endowed with the poetic genius Who May
employed to invent anti-gravity words, I would not have found it
necessary to weave this narrative. In this sense, Death Sentences could
well be considered a kind of Mad Scientist Fiction.24

This statement immediately reminds us of Kawamata’s statement in 1980

about his desire to rewrite Dick’s Martian Time-Slip. In writing Death
Sentences Kawamata attempted to transcend the limit of what Dick had
I have emphasized that Death Sentences is a novel foregrounding the
surrealist movement that reappropriates Dick’s speculative imagina-
tion. However, Kawamata’s literary masterpiece can be interpreted in
other ways as well. My afterword to the Japanese paperback edition
focused on the analogy between the novel and George Orwell’s 1984,
for Death Sentences undoubtedly describes another totalitarian society
desperately censoring literary texts, which reflects the repression of
the surrealists themselves. If one recalls Kawamata’s fascination with
Bradbury, it is also possible to assume that he came up with the concept
150 The World According to Philip K. Dick

for the novel by way of Bradbury’s own homage to Orwell, Fahrenheit

451 (1953). However, when I wrote that afterword I was not aware that
the Orwellian year 1984 also saw the rise of the cyberpunk movement,
ignited by William Gibson’s Neuromancer, published that very year.
Therefore, today it is also possible to set up an analogy between Who
May’s ‘Another World,’ Kawamata’s version of inner space, and Gibson’s
cyberspace: while on the eastern side of the Pacific Rim, Kawamata
attempted to transcend the limit of Dickian inner space by creating a
post-surrealist magic reality, on the western side Gibson tried to reno-
vate the Ballardian inner space by building a pre-Internet wonderland.
What is more, in the wake of the 3/11 disaster, Who May’s magic
poems conjure the menace not only of fatal drugs but also of nuclear
catastrophe, for the original term in Japanese for the ‘magic poem’
(genshi) has the same pronunciation as the term for ‘atom’ (genshi) and
thereby evokes the atomic bomb (genshi bakudan). Just as the post-3/11
Japanese government attempts to seal nuclear leaks, this novel’s agents
try to defend against magic poetic leaks.
And yet, after re-reading Death Sentences more recently, I also feel the
need to point out the novel’s vivid description of the atmosphere prev-
alent during the early years of Pax Japonica, another name for the rise
of Japanese postmodernism.25 As Ezra Vogel predicted in his bestseller
Japan as Number One (1979), Japan achieved huge economic success in
the 1980s, and ended up expanding and exploding its bubble economy
in 1993. Note how Who May’s magic poems are imported into Japan:
Chapter 3, ‘Undiscovered Century,’ narrates the way a small press
called Kirin Publishing becomes involved with the Seito Department
Store’s exhibition ‘Undiscovered Century: A National Exhibition on
the Age of Surrealism’. The exhibition is based upon materials recov-
ered from the aforementioned trunk of Breton’s, the trunk that also
contains Who May’s manuscripts. The entire exhibition is organized
by Hakuden, one of the largest advertising agencies in Japan. All the
editors at Kirin Publishing have to do is edit the exhibition catalog.
According to Kawamata, his vivid description of a meeting that takes
place between Kirin and Hakuden in the runup to the exhibition draws
on his own experience working for the advertising agency Hakuhodon
before becoming a full-time writer. We may note that the entry on
Kirin Publishers in the project dossier distributed at the first meeting
lists one of their publications as ‘Yubi no Fuyu’ (Finger Winter), the
title of the 1977 Kawamata short story Death Sentences is based on.
Therefore, this scene of the first meeting is semi-autobiographical and
Mr Tagomi’s Planet 151

Most important is the novel’s characterization of Tsujimi Yûzô, the

owner of the Seito Group and a connoisseur of fine arts and litera-
ture, who proposed the idea of holding the exhibition on surrealism.
Kawamata claims that this businessman and his department store are
imaginary, inspired by the author’s involvement, during his time at
Hakukhodo, with the art exhibitions sponsored by Mitsukoshi, the old-
est department store in Japan. But the location of the Seito Department
Store in Ikebukuro recalls the Seibu Department Store – then in the
avant-garde of Japanese department store chains – and its former owner
Tsutsumi Seiji (1927–2013), a mainstream author who wrote under the
pen name Takashi Tsujii and whose poems and novels won numerous
literary prizes, including major awards such as the Tanizaki Prize and
the Yomiuri Prize. When the novel’s character Tsujimi Yûzô introduces
himself as a big fan of Kirin Publishers and explains why he puts ‘so
much effort into cultural ventures,’ we cannot help but recall Tsutsumi
Seiji, who wanted to foster the independence of Japanese consumers
by selling not only everyday goods but also cultural artifacts. In short,
Tsutsumi Seiji aimed to sell not only visible and tangible items but also
an intellectual atmosphere. It is at this point that Japan’s postmod-
ernism becomes a cultural phenomenon. Kawamata’s Dickian Death
Sentences was written and acclaimed within this historical context,
skillfully capturing and keenly criticizing Japan’s late capitalist and
postmodernist imagination. The novel not only describes an alternate
literary history set in motion by Who May’s magic poem, but also gives
an insight into Japan’s real contemporary history, much earlier and
much more vividly than Haruki Murakami, whose new novel 1Q84
incidentally represents another take on 1984.

8.5 Project Itoh’s ‘The Indifference Engine’ and beyond

One of the greatest achievements in cyberpunk fiction is William

Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s collaborative novel The Difference Engine
(1990). With an alternate history framework inspired by Dick’s The
Man in the High Castle and Kingsley Amis’s Alteration (1976), it earned
a double share of glory as hardcore cyberpunk and steampunk. The
Difference Engine, in turn, inspired one of Japan’s most talented young
sf writers, Project Itoh (1974–2009), who had received the thirtieth
Japan SF Grand Prize and a 2010 Philip K. Dick Award ‘Special Citation’
for his second novel Harmony (2008). Itoh has consistently named The
Difference Engine as his favorite novel, but he seemed to be mocking
Gibson and Sterling with his 2007 short story ‘The Indifference Engine,’
152 The World According to Philip K. Dick

based on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Itoh’s story deals with the trau-
matic experience of a child soldier whose brain was modified with the
help of high-tech surgery, so that he ends up looking at the world in
a slightly different way. This is the effect of the ‘indifference engine’.26
Reading Project Itoh makes us reconsider the interactions between
Dick and hardcore cyberpunk writers. Itoh redefines history in a
Foucauldian constructivist way as the effect of fake memories, a notion
borrowed from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Let us listen to the
conversation between the hero and his captain:

‘Are you saying you lied to us, Captain?’

Entoleh frowned. ‘No. They weren’t lies. What you were taught was
real history. History from the SDA [the Shelmikedmus Democratic
Alliance] perspective. In order to fight, you need history. People need
to know why they are fighting, what they are fighting for… Wars
don’t start because of history, but you do need history to start a war.
You need a pretext to fight, to find a way, however tenuous, to dif-
ferentiate yourselves from the other side.’27

It is highly plausible that we have lived a fake history, and that we are
all cyborgs who believe our fake memories to be the signifiers of real life.
This is what Dick kept telling us, what Gibson and Sterling inherited from
this master of speculative fiction, and what a contemporary Japanese
writer such as Itoh resurrected after tracing a global and multicultural
trajectory. In this sense, Mr Tagomi is not dead, or at least he is not for-
gotten. It is true that Tagomi represented the Orientalist stereotype back
in the 1960s, the heyday of the Cold War era whose binary oppositional
background made Dick’s alternate history in The Man in the High Castle
incredibly convincing. It is equally plausible that the characters around
Tagomi, just like the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,
were affected by fake memories. Though notorious for paranoia and
mendacity, Dick could well be reconsidered another Cassandra who kept
telling the truth that all our history has always already been fake.
At this point, let me return to Dick’s impact on his Japanese audi-
ence. Unstable as the post-war Japanese Emperor system remains,
its deep structure bears the imprint of a false memory of democratic
ideology; it is a system that revived the Japanese nation as one that
had already developed a consistently democratic body politic, and,
as such, it allowed the Japanese to survive the Occupation peacefully.
Corresponding beautifully to this post-war scenario, the narrative of
Mr Tagomi’s Planet 153

Blade Runner centers on the false memories with which runaway ‘rep-
licants’ must be implanted in order to pass for human beings and out-
wit the blade runners, that is, the bounty hunters who threaten their
lives. In this sense, we are all androids or replicants dominated by fake
memories. The more high-tech our society becomes, the more easily
controllable our brains. This is what I would like to call the Dickian
paradigm, which has been and will continue to be reworked not only
by Euro-American writers but also by non-Caucasian writers of specula-
tive fiction.28 Thus, Mr. Tagomi will return time and again as a planetary
memory or signifier, capable of recalling, reviving, and updating the
Dickian paradigm in the twenty-first century.

1 Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt (New York: Bantam, 2003),
2 Masumi Washington, ‘Foreword,’ in The Future is Japanese, ed. Nick Mamatas
and Masumi Washington (San Francisco: Haikasoru, 2012), 7.
3 See ‘The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick,’ special issue of Science Fiction
Studies, 2, no. 1 (March, 1975).
4 Paul Williams, ed., The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick, 1974 (Lancaster, PA:
Underwood-Miller, 1991), 235.
5 Jeet Heer, ‘Philip K. Dick versus the Literary Critics,’ in Lingua Franca (May/
June 2001) online available at http://www.jeetheer.com/culture/dick.htm.
And see Fredric Jameson, ‘Philip K. Dick, In Memoriam,’ in The Archaeologies
of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Durham, NC:
Duke University Press, 2005), 345.
6 See Paul Williams, Only Apparently Real: The World of Philip K. Dick (New York:
Arbor House, 1986).
7 Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London:
Verso, 1997), 60.
8 Ibid., 62.
9 See Takayuki Tatsumi, Full Metal Apache (Durham, NC: Duke University
Press, 2006), 15–21.
10 Yamano Kôichi, ‘Japanese SF: Its Originality and Orientation,’ trans. Kazuko
Behrens, in Science Fiction Studies 21, no. 1 (March 1994): 67–80.
11 Yoshio Aramaki, ‘Soft Clocks,’ Interzone 27 (January–February 1989): 46–53.
12 Ibid., 46.
13 William Gibson, Neuromancer (New York: Ace, 1984) 6.
14 Aramaki, ‘Soft Clocks,’ 48.
15 Ibid., 50.
16 Aramaki has been deeply indebted to Dick from the beginning of his writ-
ing career. See the following texts: Aramaki, ‘Science Fiction as a Critique
of Civilization: a Note on Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle,’ in
154 The World According to Philip K. Dick

CORE 3 (June 1965) 2–5; Aramaki, Science Fiction as the Way of Life: an
Autobiography (Sapporo: Sapporo Tokeidai Gallery, 2013).
17 Chiaki Kawamata, ‘Yubi no Fuyu’ (‘Finger Winter’) in Kiso-Tengai (December
18 Chiaki Kawamata, Death Sentences, trans. Thomas Lamarre and Kazuko
Behrens (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 100.
19 Chiaki Kawamata, ‘Introduction,’ in Martian Time-Slip, trans. by Fusa Obi
(Tokyo: Hayakawa, 1980), 339–43.
20 Philip K. Dick, Martian Time-Slip (London: Gollancz, 2007), 171–2.
21 Kawamata, Death Sentences, 47–9.
22 See Grania Davis and Gene Van Troyer, eds., Speculative Japan: Outstanding
Tales of Japanese Science Fiction and Fantasy (Hakata: Kurodahan Press, 2007).
23 Chiaki Kawamata, Yume no Kotoba Kotoba no Yume (Tokyo: Kiso-Tengai,
24 Chiaki Kawamata, ‘Acceptance Speech,’ in SF Adventure (January 1985), 13.
25 Marilyn Ivy, ‘Critical Texts, Mass Artifacts: The Consumption of Knowledge
in Postmodern Japan,’ in Postmodernism and Japan, ed. H.D. Harrotunian and
Masao Miyoshi (Durham: Duke University Press, 1989), 21–46.
26 Project Itoh, ‘The Indifference Engine,’ trans. Edwin Hawkes, in The Future is
Japanese, 86–7.
27 Ibid., 105–6.
28 See Tatsumi, Full Metal Apache.
On Three Comics Adaptations of
Philip K. Dick
Stefan Schlensag

‘Comics are a strange beast,’ to quote Warren Ellis, who adds that they
constitute ‘a source of continual argument’.1 Yet it is also true that
comics have now left behind their status as mere products of consumer
culture and successfully entered the realm of academic debate. Over
the past decade, one may legitimately speak of the emergent study of
an independent and complex medium.2 This shift towards the percep-
tion of comics as an art form sui generis has given rise to an ongoing
debate concerning the methodological issues involved in setting up
an adequate theoretical framework within which the medium may be
discussed. Notwithstanding their continuing importance, comics schol-
arship has begun to break away from its practice-based beginnings in
Scott McCloud and Will Eisner, and today embraces a great variety of
scholars who bring diverse interests and perspectives to the subject.3
Comics studies thus ranges across history and semiotics, (inter-)mediality
and reception, production and dissemination, genre and authorship.
Meanwhile, not only has the reputation of the medium changed, but
so has its market value, largely through the production and reproduc-
tion of texts (in the broad sense of the term) that are either adapted
from comics (most prominently superhero movies) or transformed into
comics. The aim of this chapter is to discuss three comics adaptations
that deal with Philip K. Dick. In doing so I shall focus on a particular
subgenre that has been referred to as ‘literary comics’.4 I will first give a
brief definition of what I understand ‘literary comics’ to be, then con-
sider how the works of Philip K. Dick have been adapted in comics form
and, finally, discuss three adaptations of Dick that can be understood
as ‘literary comics’.

156 The World According to Philip K. Dick

9.1 Towards a definition of literary comics

‘Literary comics’ are defined, simply, as a type of comics that refer-

ences literary texts.5 Even though this is a very broad definition, it
provides a basic criterion for distinguishing this group from other types
of comic books. In the current discourse, comics are more often than
not elevated to the status of literature via their critical and academic
reception as ‘graphic novels’. Examples of this trend abound, and it
will suffice to name such diverse works as Phoebe Gloeckner’s Diary of
a Teenage Girl, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Jeffrey Brown’s Little Things,
or Charles Burns’s Black Hole.6 This list could be extended ad infinitum
only to illustrate that the term ‘graphic novel’ lacks the more selective
qualities of the category ‘literary comic’ (not to speak of the ill-defined
‘lit-rat-cha’). Monika Schmitz-Emans points out that this type of com-
ics may refer to literature in very different ways: it can (i) deal directly
with a literary text; (ii) convey information about an author and focus
on a particular kind of aesthetics typical of his or her work; (iii) loosely
address questions of literary discourse and historicity (as in Moore and
O’Neil’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) by making asymmetri-
cal cross-references to a literary canon.7 Schmitz-Emans identifies the
long-running series Classics Illustrated as a possible origin of the literary
comic.8 Founded in 1941 by Albert Kanter, Classics Illustrated aimed to
adapt novels of the – mostly Anglo-American – literary canon in ways
that are said to be ‘faithful’ to the original text. In addition to this
notion of fidelity, Classics Illustrated claimed to have an educational
mission: all issues published between 1941 and 1971 had the following
exhortation printed at the end: ‘Now that you have read the Classics
Illustrated edition, don’t miss the enjoyment of the original, obtainable
at your school or public library.’9 Today such an insistence on fidel-
ity and learning might be considered endearingly old-fashioned, and
Thomas Wartenberg shows that the adaptations of Classics Illustrated
were not at all full-text adaptations with regard to the literary narratives
on which they were based.10 In his brief and brilliant essay, Wartenberg
takes a close look at the text–image relation of one example of the series
and unveils how the unique form of Classics Illustrated creates a new
form of diegesis (transcending mere notions of illustration as used in
children’s and other illustrated books) that is unique to the medium
of comics.11 Wartenberg’s analysis emphasizes the equal relationship of
text and image within the panel and shows how we are confronted with
the presence of an equivalence between two otherwise independent
codes of representation resulting from what has often been called the
On Three Comics Adaptations of Philip K. Dick 157

‘hybridity’ of comics as an art form.12 It is the way verbal and pictorial

codes are interlocked (and not superimposed) in a panel that makes com-
ics a hybrid medium, and its study unique.
In literary comics, image and/or text originate from an already exist-
ing literary text or from references to a broad literary context. Such a
characteristic raises a number of questions for adaptation studies: For
one thing, verbal language is already saturated with potential images (as
‘concepts’ or signifieds) while images in comics (lines, angles or colors)
in turn invite a verbal translation by the recipient. From this point of
view, any adaptation of a literary text for the medium of comics is a
complex transformation. It is an adaptation in which the individual
response of a single artist or, considering the frequent division of labor
in the production of comics, a group of artists, necessarily creates a
metatext involving words and images. In the case of a writer such as
Dick, whose texts have so often been adapted for the screen but not
for the medium of comics, many fans voice their disappointment with
film adaptations by decrying a lack of fidelity to the ‘original’. Comics
challenge such popular views on adaptation, which seek an impossible
identity with a source text. Compared to film, literary comics also offer
a different range of opportunities for adaptation. The film industry
imposes many restraints that limit adaptations (though these are not
my topic here) – such as the need for bankable stars (in the case of Dick:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, and Collin Farrell,
among others) to make up for high production costs – which largely do
not apply in the production of comics. Comics are not slow-running
films in the same way that airplanes aren’t fast-moving cars that also
happen to fly: in terms of production and consumption comics adhere
to their own rules, and the medium has its own history and narrative
structure. In looking at comics adaptations of Dick, it will thus prove
more interesting to focus on their creative transformation of Dick’s texts
instead of insisting on their fidelity to them.

9.2 Philip K. Dick and comics adaptations

Even though Art Spiegelman had expressed a deep interest in adapting

an essay by Dick to the medium of comics as early as 1974 and vis-
ited Dick in the same year, the history of comics adaptations of Dick’s
oeuvre remains relatively brief.13 It starts, however, in 1974 with a few
scenes from Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moon drawn by Moebius for the
French magazine Pilote.14 These sketches seemed a promising start but
remained relatively unnoticed. In 1982, Marvel’s adaptation of Blade
158 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Runner was an obvious attempt to capitalize on Ridley Scott’s movie

version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Rather than transform-
ing Dick’s novel, Marvel’s comic copied the filmic narrative and visual
style of Scott’s film with minimal effort. Marvel’s Blade Runner might
be noteworthy as an instance of adaptation, but, given my interest in
literary comics, its significance is merely genealogical and merits little
more than a footnote.15 The first work that must be seriously consid-
ered as a literary comic based on Dick is Robert Crumb’s ‘The Religious
Experience of Philip K. Dick’ (1986).16 This represents a particular vari-
ety of the literary comic, in that it is based not on one of Dick’s fictions
but on the notorious 2-3-74 episode of his life, a series of hallucinations
that would preoccupy Dick until his death. Crumb’s comic oscillates
skillfully between a realist love of details and surreal reductions and
exaggerations. Readers already familiar with the author’s life will be
inspired to discuss the genius of Dick and the details of his biography,
while the reader who is introduced to Dick through the comic (as I was)
may be affected by Crumb’s hallucinatory style and take these impres-
sions to a reading of Dick’s works.
Scott Maggin’s and Tom Lyle’s Total Recall Comic (1990), as well as
Laura and Gary Dumm’s A Scanner Darkly (2006), are again tie-ins with
major movie productions.17 There is, of course, a long tradition of
turning films into comics (and vice versa), and thus it is not too much
of a surprise that this has happened fairly often in relation to filmic
adaptations of Dick’s novels and short stories. The phenomenon does
not reflect an inherent correspondence between film and comic, but
results from the conditions of producing and reproducing commodities.
At relatively low cost, popular movies are thus turned into comics to
cover another market segment. Yet with regard to Dick a paradigm shift
occurred from 2009 onwards. Its starting point was Tony Parker’s Eisner
award-nominated Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (2009), which was
followed by David Mack and Pascal Alixe’s Philip K. Dick’s Electric Ant
(2010), Chris Roberson and Robert Adler’s Dust to Dust (2010), Vince
Moore and Cezar Razek’s Total Recall (2011), and, finally, Philip K. Dick by
Francesco Matteuzzi and Pierluigi Ongarato (2012).18 Notwithstanding
the fact that these are texts that were published as commodities for a
booming market, all of them are also indicative of an interest in the
original texts and their author. This becomes evident not only through
their creative content but also in the way they are edited. Notably all
Boom! adaptations feature essays by prominent artists in the field, such
as Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, elaborating on their per-
sonal engagement with Dick’s work. This is clearly not an echo of the
On Three Comics Adaptations of Philip K. Dick 159

old-fashioned educational mandate of Classics Illustrated but an indica-

tion of an important shift in the history of adapting Dick to comics.
In what follows, I elaborate in more detail on the aforementioned
comics by Parker, Roberson and Adler, as well as Matteuzzi and
Ongarato, since their adaptations are distinct takes on what has been
called the literary comic: Boom! Studios retained the complete text
of Androids for its comic book – a fact which calls for a consideration
of how Parker interpreted and visualized the images evoked by Dick’s
text. The Dust to Dust series by Chris Roberson and Robert Adler takes
a different approach by offering a prequel to Androids that allows for
a whole new set of liberties to be taken on the verbal and graphic lev-
els, while at the same time being limited by certain expectations on
the part of a readership familiar with Dick’s novel. Finally, Matteuzzi
and Ongarato’s Philip K. Dick engages in a game of expectations. Their
work falls into a similar category of the literary comic as Crumb’s ‘The
Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick,’ but is a much denser (as well
as longer) text that plays a continuous game of hide and seek with its
readers by drawing on a huge amount of prior knowledge of Dick’s fic-
tion, as well as the biographical details of his life. Following the argu-
ment made earlier, I have chosen these texts not due to their supposed
fidelity to Dick’s life or writings, but because each of them represents a
creative example of how literary comics employ the unique qualities of
an independent medium.

9.3 Full-text adaptation: Tony Parker’s Do Androids Dream

of Electric Sheep?

Ever since its release, Blade Runner has overshadowed Dick’s novel, at
least to the extent that the film’s title replaced that of the original on
the cover of many subsequent editions. Thus, the decision to publish
a full-text adaptation as a 24 single-issue series makes sense. As Warren
Ellis puts it in his comment for the collected hardcover edition:

I once told a fellow writer the story of Raymond Chandler being

interviewed at home by an eager young man who eventually blurted,
‘and how do you feel about Hollywood destroying your novels?’
Chandler pointed at a nearby shelf stacked with hardback copies of
his books and said, ‘Nope. Still there.’ But Androids seemed close to
being retired from memory. For years, reissues of the book bore the
title Blade Runner, I’m delighted that Boom! is making this attempt
to introduce the original novel to a new audience.19
160 The World According to Philip K. Dick

But the potential introduction of Dick to a new readership is only one

issue here. What about those already well acquainted with the novel?
Why should he or she read Dick’s novel again, only this time with
added images? But Parker’s adaptation offers a new experience to read-
ers who may be familiar with the novel but are interested in looking at
a creative adaptation. What does a project such as this demand of the
artist? First of all, it entails a close reading of the semiotic and semantic
structures of the prose narrative in order to make general decisions on
how to reorganize the literary text into a text–image relation. What
are the signified concepts in a sentence that should be represented in a
panel? What about the structure of panels? Is the narrative better repre-
sented as a series of sequential panels involving a lot of lateral lines and
movement? What, if any, role should splash pages play? As an illustra-
tor, Parker’s work is highly eclectic and has been published in well over
100 books. It includes illustrations for the sf-inspired game spin-off
Warhammer 40,000, Greg Pak’s (of Hulk fame) Dead Man’s Run, or the
mini adventure-action series Executive Assistant Assassins. In all these
works Parker uses his art to tell stories in an effective, but very controlled
manner, and hence there is something neat and uncluttered about his
outlines for Androids. The effect is that an otherwise very wordy comic
never becomes clumsy or scrambled. The steady flow is accompanied by
a color scheme that favors dark tones and leads the reader through a very
bleak-looking story-world. All in all, this is handled very convincingly
and remarkably independent of the look of Scott’s film.
I would like to discuss some of the key characteristics of Parker’s adap-
tation by looking at his two opening pages.

A turtle which explorer Captain Cook gave to the king of Tonga in

1777 died yesterday. It was nearly 200 years old.
The animal, called Tu’Imalila, died at the Royal Palace ground in
the Tongan capital of Nuku, Alofa.
The people of Tonga regarded the animal as a chief and special
keepers were appointed to look after it. It was blinded in a bush fire
a few years ago.
Tonga radio said Tu’Imalila carcass would be sent to the Auckland
museum in New Zealand. Reuters, 196620

Since not a single word of the novel is omitted, Parker adapts this intro-
ductory quotation and dedicates a full page to it (see Figure 9.1). Thus
looking at the first image of the comic, we see how the turtle appears

Figure 9.1 Tony Parker et al, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Vol. 1 (Los Angeles: BOOM!, 2011), n.p. © Laura Coelho,
Christopher Dick and Isolde Hackett
162 The World According to Philip K. Dick

out of the semantic chain of the literary text. The dark hues used by the
colorist Blond are remarkable and the deep black of the background sets
the mood for the appearance of the aged turtle. The few rays of light
seem to emerge from the drawn object itself. We look at the turtle and
out of the darkness the turtle returns the gaze, looking at us and shin-
ing in an almost transcendental fashion. Lacking a drawn frame, the
full-page image stretches out until it reaches the edges of the paper. On
the right-hand side, it merges with the first sequence of framed pan-
els that directs our gaze at Deckard. His body posture, as he crouches
on the edge of the bed, is reminiscent of the turtle that had taken up
the previous page. Thus Parker emphasizes the link between animals
and humans that already constituted a leitmotif of Dick’s novel.21 For
some of Dick’s readers the morning scene of a couple arguing might be
indicative of the author’s dark humor, but Parker’s adaptation instead
highlights emotional pain and engulfs his characters in darkness. The
comic book continues in this vein, with Parker emphasizing human
suffering throughout. His Deckard looks deeply dissatisfied, needy and
down-trodden, yet is also a man capable of killing others for money.
It is this mixture of painstaking accuracy and artistic freedom that
makes Parker’s adaptation of Dick particularly successful. By deciding
what particular image we should be confronted with, and, in particular,
how the image confronts us, Parker molds ideas evoked by the novel
into concrete images. In addition to making artistic decisions along the
semiotic axis (selecting images that might be missed in the text from
which they emerge), Parker also works on the semantic axis: how is
the sequential order of the literary text to be transformed into a flow
of panels? How are images to be juxtaposed? Each of Parker’s decisions
contributes to a ‘re-reading’ of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? via
the comic form that becomes a creative engagement with the novel.
It asks the reader to examine the fundamental semiotic and semantic
structures of narrative fiction in a way similar to that confronted by the
artist in adapting Androids to a new medium. Thus, the comic opens
up dimensions of the novel that might have been less legible in the
original text by bringing the relationship between the animal and the
human world into sharper focus.

9.4 A prequel to Dick: Chris Roberson’s and Robert Adler’s

Dust to Dust

Prequels, especially in the genres of sf, fantasy or superhero fiction, are a

common phenomenon in the comic book market and are tied into typi-
cal production cycles. But prequels also provide readers with missing
On Three Comics Adaptations of Philip K. Dick 163

information or add to already established plot lines. A prequel series

based on Dick’s Androids offers an interesting test case for an adaptation
study focusing on the literary comic since the writer and the drawing
artist both have to create a story-world that is a departure from the one
readers already know while at the same time corresponding to it in
some respects. Roberson begins his story immediately after ‘World War
Terminus’: the Earth is covered in radioactive dust, and most animals
and people have either died or developed genetic defects. In reaction,
humankind has begun to settle off-world colonies where androids are
used for (slave) labor. So far, so familiar to Dick’s readers: yet Roberson’s
androids were originally designed for combat and not for slave labor.
The androids that manage to escape from one of the colonies are intent
on making all humans extinct. It is another war veteran, named Charlie
Victor, whose task it becomes to hunt them down. Victor, however, is
himself an android. At this point, the story introduces a character called
Malcolm Reed whose task it will become to assist Victor in his pursuit.
We learn that Malcolm suffered from a lack of affect as a teenager. His
inability to experience or become aware of others’ emotions resulted
in a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Due to a genetic defect, he develops
a brain tumor in his youth. Whenever Malcolm is off his prescribed
medication, he is flooded with the emotions of the people around him.
Where in his medicated state Malcolm is reminiscent of Jack Isidore in
Dick’s novel, he is an over-emphatic funnel for the emotions of others
without it. In other words: Malcolm is a living Voight-Kampff test, and
as such he is used by Victor to hunt down the androids he is assigned
to kill.
Chris Roberson’s story revolves around the central theme of emotions
and without copying Dick’s narrative further elaborates ideas that are
already central to the original story. He adds some subplots (such as the
character of Samantha Wu – a researcher who wants to save the planet),
comments on current consumer culture (smart phones and Twitter)
and, in the manner of prequels, fills in some missing background infor-
mation (concerning, for instance, the beginnings of Mercerism). But it
is the introduction of Malcolm Reed as an android-hunting device that
distinguishes the comic book, while Robert Adler’s cartoonish but hard-
edged artwork complements Roberson’s dark plot. The loose, sketch-like
quality of Adler’s drawing style and his experimental panel layouts serve
the depiction of Reed’s emotional agony very well.
Figure 9.2 shows Malcolm on his way to the men’s room in a hospital
in which Victor believes escaped androids to be hiding. Under severe
mental pressure because of the lack of medication, Malcolm absorbs the
emotions of everyone around him and enters a hallucinatory state. The

Figure 9.2 Chris Roberson et al, Dust to Dust, no. 1 (Los Angeles: BOOM!, 2010), n.p. © Laura Coelho, Christopher Dick and Isolde
On Three Comics Adaptations of Philip K. Dick 165

subjective viewpoint of the first panel means that we share his perspec-
tive. We see what he can’t avoid seeing: fantastic snake-like creatures
that hover over an employee who smiles at Malcolm (and at us) while
pointing to the next panel. In contrast to Parker’s work, however, the
panel sequence is not always so smooth. Most pages consist of three
to four panels and Adler’s rhythm rather tends to be harsh and brittle.
When Malcolm enters the men’s room to splash water on his face, his
hallucinatory state only intensifies. He looks into the mirror and while
he sees his own mirror-image surrounded by more imaginary monsters
(this time with faces grinning at him), Adler’s line-drawing becomes
even looser. In the last panel of the sequence, in which he turns around
and looks at the reader, the monsters now suddenly absent or having
become invisible, Malcolm almost disappears. This is one of many
sequences in which Adler develops a style situated half-way between
the French ligne claire and the American underground. By adding the
post-schizophrenic Malcolm Reed to Dust to Dust, the prequel does
much more than offer the reader new plot lines. It deals with a topic
familiar to all readers of Dick: What is reality? Is that which we see
really there, and what’s the difference if it only exists in our imagina-
tion? Here Dust to Dust takes advantage of a formal characteristic comics
share with literary fiction, but not with cinema: as Thierry Groensteen
points out, comics have the ability to present the subjective and the
objective – what is real and what is thought or felt – with the same force
of conviction.22

9.5 Twinning: Francesco Matteuzzi and Pierluigi

Ongarato’s Philip K. Dick

For a literary comic that deals with the life of an author instead of
adapting an original work, the question of representing ‘reality’ is of
twofold concern. The protagonist is ‘real’ but has to be represented visu-
ally and becomes a character within a textual-graphic story-world. As
any good biographer knows, writing about an author’s life in prose form
means fictionalizing to some degree. Literary comics arguable increase
the complexity of this undertaking by adding the artist’s visual interpre-
tation. On the textual level, Crumb’s ‘The Religious Experience of Philip
K. Dick’ quotes directly from Dick’s account of his 2-3-74 visions but
adds Crumb’s own underground comics style to the narrative. Turning
to an author of meta-fiction such as Dick, whose writing is often highly
self-reflexive and questions the relationship between fiction and reality,
166 The World According to Philip K. Dick

adds yet another level to the challenge of adaptation: What does it

mean to give a precise visual form to an author who doubted the stabil-
ity of most things and whose writings are pervaded by duplications of
reality? Matteuzzi and Ongarato’s Philip K. Dick can be understood as an
attempt to tackle this question by means of the medium of comics. The
central concern of Matteuzzi’s story is Dick’s relation to his twin sister
Jane, who had died six weeks after birth. His biographer Lawrence Sutin
has drawn attention to the way in which his sister’s death might explain
an important motif of Dick’s writing:

The obsession, found in twins, with dualities – as complementary

and conflicting at once – has been termed twinning by Dr. George
Engel (“The drive is always to be two, yet unique from all others”).
This “twinning” motif found expression in a number of Phil’s sto-
ries and novels, notably Dr. Bloodmoney (1965), Flow My Tears, The
Policeman Said (1974), A Scanner Darkly (1977), VALIS (1981) and The
Divine Invasion (1981).23

Matteuzzi bases Philip K. Dick on one central assumption: what if Jane

not only permeates Dick’s novels on a metaphorical or structural level,
but actually appeared in person during his life? Thus, what has been
called ‘twinning’ becomes central to this retelling, adding a motif not
completely of Matteuzzi’s invention, but one he employs with inven-
tive liberty. Mateuzzi’s story does not aim at fidelity, but instead offers
a text that could have been written by Dick himself. The book begins
with Dick’s (fictional) suicide. The following sequences show him as
boy who – alone in his room and absorbed in sf pulp magazines –
suddenly finds himself in a conversation with Jane, who disappears
as soon as Dick’s mother enters the room. The story portrays Dick as a
loner who is very much lost in his own world. Interwoven, however,
are people and events taken from Dick’s life, including the notorious
2-3-74 episode. Ongarato’s depictions of Dick’s experience differ drasti-
cally from Crumb’s earlier underground version. His style of drawing
is reduced and restrained. Ongarato’s black-and-white sketches come
across as rather plain and he represents Dick’s mystical episodes without
Crumb’s psychedelic aesthetic. Yet Ongarato’s restrained style allows for
experiments elsewhere. He makes use of silent panels or breaks up panel
sequences by sudden and abrupt scene changes which can take place
almost anywhere on the page. The recurring motif, however, is Jane,
who appears throughout the narrative and whose grave Dick visits dur-
ing his childhood with his father.
On Three Comics Adaptations of Philip K. Dick 167

Figure 9.3 is an example of a typical sequence in the comic and show-

cases what the medium is capable of. We see Jane and Dick having an
argument. Jane blames her brother for his solipsism by saying, ‘From
what you write… and what you do… It seems you have stopped car-
ing long ago.’ Dick tries to interrupt her and finally shouts: ‘Be quiet!’
in the third panel.24 As he tries to hit her, Jane dissolves into thin air.
Ongarato uses the effect of dissolving characters and surroundings at
other stages of the narrative to highlight loneliness, dissociation and
his protagonist’s self-absorption. On the next page, we are confronted
with three entirely black panels. Thus, the panel layout gives us no
clue as to whether our eyes should move from left to right, or up and
down. Like the protagonist of the comic, who is shown to suffer from
a dissociative condition, we are lost for the brief moment it takes to
re-establish narrative flow with the help of the page’s final three panels,
whose continuing blackness offers only speech bubbles but no images.
But who is talking to whom? When a voice asks: ‘Why have we come to
the graveyard, Papa?,’ we are reminded of Dick’s earlier visits to Jane’s
grave. The following panels contradict this interpretation when the
dialogue continues: ‘And when does he wake up? Now, wake up Philip!’
and the voice of Dick’s father replies: ‘He, he will sleep forever, my lit-
tle darling.’25 The only way to read this conversation is that Jane and
Joseph Dick are talking to each other at Phil’s grave. And that is exactly
what we see a couple of pages later: the visit of Jane and her father
to Dick’s grave. Of course, we saw Dick’s suicide at the beginning of
the comic, but meanwhile the equivalence of subjective and objective
levels in comics has tricked us into believing that he is still alive. In a
very Dickian sense, the comic disrupts the distinction between reality
and imagination and exposes the reader to ontological uncertainty.
Following this first disruption, Philip K. Dick continues to question our
knowledge of Dick’s autobiography and the distinction between fact
and fiction: some pages later, we now see Dick and his father at Jane’s
grave. Thus, Matteuzzi and Ongarato indeed remain faithful to their
inspiration – in a comic book that may be more Dickian than many
graphic adaptations of his fiction.26
Adaptation raises questions on the levels of methodology, mediality
and reception. At the same time, adaptations of literature endowed
with cult status by both fans and critics frequently meet with negative
responses even before their merits are considered. But transforming
Dick’s fiction and life into comics can not only provide us with nar-
ratives that are worthwhile and challenging in their own right. Comic
adaptations may also enhance our understanding of the texts on which

Figure 9.3 Francesco Matteuzzi and Pierluigi Ongarato, Philip K. Dick (Padova: BeccoGiallo, 2012), 88–9, © BeccoGiallo S.r.I
On Three Comics Adaptations of Philip K. Dick 169

they base themselves, setting in motion a creative process that involves

artists and readers and challenges a traditional evaluation of adaptation
based on ‘fidelity’. Contrasting Parker’s full-text adaptation of Androids,
the works of Roberson/Adler and Matteuzzi/Ongarato shift our perspec-
tive from a textual source to a playful engagement with literary motifs
and biographical details. Thus, the three comics discussed in this chap-
ter present a twofold challenge: they ask Dick’s readers to reimagine his
fiction and life, and simultaneously they pose questions to a conserva-
tive understanding of adaptation studies.

1 Warren Ellis, ‘Foreword,’ in The Art of Comics: A Philosophical Approach, ed.
Aaron Meskin and Roy T. Cook (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2012), xii.
2 See for excellent introductions to comic studies: Jeet Heer and Kent
Worcester, eds., A Comic Studies Reader ( Jackson: University Press of
Mississippi, 2009); and Hannah Miodrag, Comics and Language: Reimagining
Critical Discourse on the Form (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013).
3 See, for example, Meskin and Cook, The Art of Comics; or Stephan Ditschke
et al., ed., Comics: Zur Geschichte und Theorie eines populärkulturellen Mediums
(Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009). Each of the introductory chapters in these
volumes offers an excellent overview of methodological questions concern-
ing the studies of comics in European and US-American academia.
4 I take my lead here from Monika Schmitz-Emans and Thomas E. Wartenberg‚
‘Literatur-Comics zwischen Adaptation und kreativer Transformation,’
in Comics: Zur Geschichte und Theorie eines populärkulturellen Mediums,
5 Ibid., 283.
6 Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Boston: Mariner, 2007);
Jeffrey Brown, Little Things: A Memoir in Slices (New York: Touchstone, 2008);
Charles Burns, Black Hole (New York: Pantheon, 2005); Phoebe Gloeckner,
Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures (Berkeley, CA: Frog,
7 See Schmitz-Emans, ‘Literatur-Comics,’ 283–8.
8 Ibid.
9 William Jones, Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland,
2011), 4.
10 Thomas E. Wartenberg, ‘Wordy Pictures: Theorizing the Relationship
between Image and Text in Comics,’ in The Art of Comics, 93–102.
11 Wartenberg, ‘Wordy Pictures,’ 88–95.
12 For a discussion of the hybrid nature of comics as a medium see: Robert C.
Harvey, ‘Comedy at the Junction of Word and Image: The Emergence of the
Modern Magazine Gag Cartoon Reveals the Vital Blend,’ in The Language of
Word and Image (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2001), 75–98; Aaron
170 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Meskin, ‘Why Don’t you Go and Read a Book or Something?,’ in Watchmen

as Philosophy: A Rorschach Test, ed. M.D. White (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009),
13 Spiegelman spoke of Dick as ‘the only living writer I wanted to meet’. In
Jonathan Lethem and Pamela Jackson’s introduction to The Exegesis of
Philip K. Dick we learn about a meeting that took place between Dick and
Spiegelman in 1974, but Spiegelman’s plans to adapt an essay based on the
‘Exegesis’ for the underground comics magazines Arcade or Raw were never
realized. See Jonathan Lethem and Pamela Jackson, ‘Introduction,’ in Philip
K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan
Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), xviii.
14 Moebius, ‘Clans of the Alphane Moon,’ in Pilote 743 (1974), http://pkdick
15 Archie Goodwin et al., Stan Lee Presents: A Marvel Movie Special: Blade Runner,
vol. 1 (New York: Marvel Comic Art Classic, 1982).
16 Robert Crumb, ‘The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick,’ in The Complete
Crumb Comics, vol. 16, The Mid-1980s: More Years of Valiant Struggle, (Seattle:
Fantagraphics, 2002), 19–26.
17 Scott S. Maggin et al, Total Recall Comic 1 – The Official Adaptation of the
Carolco Movie (New York: DC Comics, 1990); Philip K. Dick et al., A Scanner
Darkly: A Graphic Novel (New York: Pantheon, 2006).
18 Tony Parker et al., Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, no. 1 (Los Angeles:
BOOM!, 2009); David Mack et al., Philip K. Dick’s Electric Ant (New York:
Marvel Comics, 2010); Chris Roberson et al, Dust to Dust, vol. 1 (Los Angeles:
BOOM!, 2010), Vince Moore et al., Total Recall (Mt. Laurel, NJ: Dynamite,
2011); Francesco Matteuzzi and Pierluigi Ongarato, Philip K. Dick (Padova:
BeccoGiallo, 2012).
19 Warren Ellis, ‘On Philip K. Dick,’ in Tony Parker et al., Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep, vol. 1, March 2011 (Los Angeles: BOOM! Studios, 2011), n. p.
20 Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (London: Gollancz, 2007),
n. p.
21 See Alf Seegert, ‘Ewe, Robot,’ in Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids
Have Kindred Spirits?, ed. D. E. Wittkower (Chicago: Open Court, 2011),
39–49; Ursula K. Heise, ‘From Extinction to Electronics: Dead Frogs, Live
Dinosaurs, and Electric Sheep,’ in Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal,
ed. Cary Wolfe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 59–82.
22 Thierry Groensteen, Comics and Narration, trans. Ann Miller (Jackson:
University of Mississippi Press 2013), 131.
23 Lawrence Sutin, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (New York: Harmony,
1989), 17–8.
24 Francesco Matteuzzi and Pierluigi Ongarato, Philip K. Dick, 29 [my
25 Ibid.
26 See Mark Bould’s contribution to this volume, ‘Dick without the Dick:
Adaptation Studies and Slipstream Cinema’.
Part IV
The Hymn of Philip K. Dick:
Reading, Writing and Gnosis
in the ‘Exegesis’
Erik Davis

Popular accounts of Philip K. Dick routinely trot out his paranoia, his
drug abuse and his scandalous number of wives. But his greatest scan-
dal is arguably a sacred one: the series of extraordinary experiences he
underwent in early 1974, experiences he often described as ‘religious’
or ‘mystical’ and that, to the observer, lend themselves equally to the
languages of revelation, psychosis and science fiction (sf) fabulation.
The explicitly religious turn in Dick’s post-1974 work left many of
his early critics shaking their heads, as they discounted his ‘New Age’
concerns or worried about a descent into madness. Though Dick’s late
novels have since been richly recuperated, and a number of critics have
addressed Dick’s strictly theological concerns, the religious questions
posed through and by his fictions will remain poorly handled without
a more robust engagement with perspectives grounded in the study of
contemporary religion and esotericism.
A good example of the problem is provided by literary critic
Christopher Palmer’s discussion of Dick’s 1978 novel VALIS. The novel
features a fictionalized and semi-autobiographical account of the visions
or hallucinations Dick began experiencing in February and March of
1974, which he refers to by the short-hand ‘2-3-74’. In the conversations
between its characters, as well as the ‘Tractates’ that append the narra-
tive, VALIS explicitly engages the philosophical and esoteric discourse
that Dick compulsively produced in his ‘Exegesis’ – the enormous specu-
lative diary that he kept between 1974 and his death in 1982. Palmer
recognizes that religious discourse is part of the novel’s hydra-headed
genre collage, but his handling of it reflects an unfortunate discomfort
and a lack of familiarity with esoteric textuality and religious concerns.
He claims, for example, that the feverish, eclectic and encyclopedic
speculations produced by the character Horselover Fat (a stand-in for
174 The World According to Philip K. Dick

the Dick who produced the ‘Exegesis’) reflect a ‘retreat into textuality,’ a
movement of ‘rhapsodic postmodernist restlessness’ within which texts
only refer to other texts until all real difference is lost.1 Though Dick’s
narrative instabilities and circuits of self-reference make him in many
ways a paradigmatic ‘postmodern’ writer, scholars of esoteric traditions
would also recognize that such eccentric and highly syncretic specula-
tive systems are a leitmotif of modern metaphysical speculation. Long
before postmodernity, esoteric texts like Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled (1877)
presented dense collages of cross-cultural references and juxtapositions
of heterogeneous chunks of knowledge. For Dick, such wildly com-
parativist thinking was also grounded in the hermeneutic practices of
religious theorists like Mircae Eliade and Carl Jung, whose wide-ranging
networks of reference still refer, at least in principle, to archetypal reali-
ties beyond the text. On a more metaphysical level, Dick’s plunge into
rhapsodic webs of ‘textuality’ reflects his own fascination with sacred
semiotics in the guise of the Logos, the figure of Wisdom-Sophia, and
the Torah. Nonetheless, Palmer also complains that VALIS is not ‘textual’
enough, at least in the sense that it ‘denies textuality’ by reducing fiction
to a screen through which the reader glimpses what Palmer finds most
disturbing in the book: Dick’s own (supposed) belief in the speculative
entity VALIS that lends the novel its name.2 Like many contemporary
thinkers, Palmer feels threatened by overtly sacred concerns and, more
problematically, overly concretizes the tricky category of ‘belief’. ‘VALIS
is a wonderful novel,’ he warns us, ‘but Scientology began in sf.’3
Despite featuring similar strains of techno-gnostic speculation, Dick’s
religious concerns result in neither the systemic anthropo-technic
procedures nor the coercive social forms of Scientology. Palmer’s anal-
ogy is not only weak, but serves to warn the reader away from taking
Dick’s visionary productions too seriously. This sort of secular bias,
found in much sf criticism, will continue to plague our understand-
ing of the author unless we recognize that 2-3-74 and much of Dick’s
non-fiction are properly esoteric, if not religious phenomena that
demand a variety of extraliterary analytical approaches: the study
of altered (or altering) states of consciousness; the modern history of
gnosis and esotericism; the hermeneutic dynamics of religious reading;
and the history of countercultural spirituality in post-war America.
As a modest contribution to this effort, the following essay offers a
brief account of 2-3-74 and Dick’s ‘Exegesis’ before turning to Dick’s
occasional but significant hermeneutic use of one particular text from
Near Eastern antiquity, the so-called Hymn of the Soul. As we will see,
the Hymn helped Dick construct the narrative of his 2-3-74 visions
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 175

(including the so-called ‘Xerox missive’); elaborate his notions of anam-

nesis and the gnostic call;4 and identify, or at least name, one of the
personalities that sometimes seemed to possess him.

10.1 The Acts of Phil

Dick’s earliest accounts of 2-3-74 are contained in letters he wrote over

many months later that same year. These letters suggest a long period
of gestation during which Dick organized, selected and tentatively con-
structed various versions of the extraordinary events, which he would
in turn revise in light of shifting interpretive needs and the perceived
differences of individual readers. Given Dick’s innate storytelling powers
and his propensity for what can only be called ‘bullshitting,’ no defini-
tive sequence can be reconstructed that clearly outlines the initial series
of visions, voices, paranormal events, dreams and synchronicities.5 Nor
is there any point in denying the psychopathological dimension of the
experiences, aberrations that, parsimony would dictate, derive, at least
in part, from seizures linked to the extreme hypertension that Dick was
suffering at this time of his life, and that landed him in the hospital in
April of that year. At different points, Dick felt he was receiving signals
from an alien satellite, Russian spies, the goddess Sophia and the cosmic
source he later called VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System). He
also felt that a secondary entity had in part possessed him, an entity
he identified variously with California’s controversial Episcopal Bishop
Jim Pike (whom Dick had befriended in 1964 and who died in 1969); a
form of plasmatic information called Firebright; and a second-century
Christian named Thomas. On more than one occasion, Dick saw
ancient Rome – and sometimes the Levant – peak through the ticky-
tacky landscape of Orange County. He came to believe, at least some of
the time, that he was still living in apostolic times, that the intervening
centuries of history were an illusion, and that he and all the rest of us
were trapped in a frozen block of determinism and political coercion
associated with Rome and dubbed the Black Iron Prison. Dick also heard
voices issue from unplugged radios, became convinced of a communist
plot to control or even kill him, and, while listening to the Beatles song
‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ encountered a miraculous blast of pink light
that informed him that his son Christopher was suffering from a poten-
tially fatal inguinal hernia.
The signal event in this series – the event that Dick returns to most
frequently in his later discussions and that is most firmly wedded to
popular accounts of 2-3-74 – is the ‘fish sign’ encounter. Dick first told
176 The World According to Philip K. Dick

the tale in a letter to Ursula K. Le Guin on 23 September, roughly five

months after first mentioning his recent ‘religious experience’ in an
earlier letter to her. The story begins with suffering: Dick had undergone
oral surgery to remove two impacted wisdom teeth, and the sodium
pentothal was wearing off. A call to a local pharmacy brought a delivery
woman bearing painkillers to the door. The young woman, with ‘black,
black hair,’ was wearing an ixthys pendant, and Phil asked her what the
fish image meant. She said it was a sign used by the early Christians.
Soon after, probably the same night, Dick experienced a ‘dazzling
shower of colored graphics,’ a display of abstract modernist images
that Dick had already described in earlier letters that had not included
discussion of the necklace. To Le Guin, Dick theorized that the fish sign
was a trigger or ‘disinhibiting stimuli’ that caused ‘a vast drop in GABA
fluid in the brain’.6 This physiological explanation, which is hermeneu-
tically rather thin, was doubled in Dick’s account by a noetic ascription
he characterized as a kind of Gnostic-Platonic anamnesis:

The (golden) fish sign causes you to remember. Remember what?...

Your celestial origins; this has to do with the DNA because the mem-
ory is located in the DNA... You remember your real nature... The
Gnostic Gnosis: You are here in this world in a thrown condition,
but are not of this world.7

Dick’s wife Tessa, herself not the most reliable of narrators, confirms the
essential outlines of the fish sign story, though she quibbles with details.
For example, she denies that Dick had his wisdom teeth removed. Dick’s
creative revision – or fib – makes literary sense, since the term wisdom
foreshadows the Gnostic wisdom figure Sophia who would come to play
such an important role in Dick’s speculations. The detail also reminds
us that, in Dick’s case at least, autobiography and fiction are hopelessly
Which is another way of saying that the events of 2-3-74 are hope-
lessly intertwined with the composition of the ‘Exegesis,’ as well as
VALIS. As I mentioned, Dick’s early accounts and discussions of his
experiences are contained in letters. At some point he separated the
carbons from the rest of his correspondence, creating the seeds of his
philosophical diary. During the summer of 1974, he began to include
undated personal reflections in this collection, and by 1975, his letters
had largely ceased. In 1976 he switched to hand-written entries, some-
times cranking out as many as 150 pages in a single night.8 Dick con-
tinued this prodigious output until his death, leaving behind over 8,000
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 177

pages of what is truly a monstrous text.9 Paul Williams, Dick’s original

literary executor, wrote that ‘seen from the perspective of any given
page or section it seems borderless, eternal, immeasurable, an endlessly
recurring aha! followed by new analyses, new doubts, new questions
and possibilities.’10 Dick not only set to interpreting his anomalous
experiences ad infinitum, but also used his newfound theories to
provide allegorical interpretations of his earlier novels, novels that he
recursively understood as subliminally and prophetically encoding the
truths unfurled by 2-3-74. In this way, Dick treated his own work as a
carrier of encrypted revelation, which, in a basic sense, it was: it is obvi-
ous to any student of the author, and sometimes even to Dick himself,
how much the figures, tropes and concerns of his earlier fiction prefig-
ured the structures, themes and events of 2-3-74.
The ‘Exegesis’ did not just feed on Dick’s earlier writings – it also fed
on itself. As Gabriel Mckee explains, ‘The text did not merely explain;
it provided material in need of explanation, which it then recursively,
cumulatively interpreted in new and dynamic ways.’11 To fuel his
intense hermeneutic needs, Dick also turned to a wide range of histori-
cal, religious, mythological and philosophical material. Armed with the
15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, as well as Paul Edward’s
Encyclopedia of Philosophy and his own, never cataloged library, Dick
hunted down concepts, figures and poetic fragments that allowed
him to clarify, illuminate and paradoxically sustain the enigmatic call
of his experiences through a perpetual reconstruction and reframing
of their possible meanings.12 As I mentioned above, such eclectic syn-
cretism is a hallmark of modern esoteric speculation, a strategy that
Catherine Albanese characterizes as ‘the practice of combinativeness
so cherished among religious metaphysicians’.13 For ‘seekers’ who pur-
sue their esoteric quests outside of conventional religious institutions
and established hermeneutical practices, the creative juxtaposition of
often cross-cultural texts is of central importance. Such literary seeking
also very much characterizes the bohemian and experiential strain of
religious reinvention in the post-war US, when popular scholarly texts
by Micae Eliade, Huston Smith, and Carl Jung provided readers with
comparativist templates for drawing a wide variety of texts, traditions,
gods and practices into an archetypal and seemingly transcultural ‘spir-
ituality’ known as perennialism. This current can also be characterized
in terms of sociologist Colin Campbell’s notion of the ‘cultic milieu,’
an informal and easily accessed social patchwork of texts, practices and
loose affiliations out of which more organized sects or ‘cults’ emerge.14
Dick’s relationship to this essentially ‘combinative’ milieu can be seen
178 The World According to Philip K. Dick

most clearly in his eclectic embrace of a countercultural canon that

included, alongside popular books by Eliade and Jung, touchstone texts
such as the I Ching, the Evans-Wentz Tibetan Book of the Dead, John M.
Allegro’s The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, Helen Waddell’s The Desert
Fathers, Gregory Bateson’s Steps To An Ecology of Mind, and Julian Jaynes’
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
Dick’s sometimes feverish comparative method can also be under-
stood through his own concept of ‘superimposition,’ a multivalent term
that the author variously used to describe his literary method;15 the
overlap of the various personalities he hosted; the merger of brain hemi-
spheres that supposedly staged 2-3-74; and the ‘return to Rome,’ during
which the ancient city’s appearance in and as Orange County resembled
a ‘superimposition montage’.16 In The Divine Invasion, Dick gives us a
most remarkable image of hermeneutic superimposition as a techno-
logical artifact. The ‘holoscope’ is a version of the Bible ‘expressed as
layers’ within a hologram,

each layer according to age. The total structure of Scripture formed,

then, a three-dimensional cosmos that could be viewed from any
angle and its contents read. According to the tilt of the axis of
observation, differing messages could be extracted. Thus Scripture
yielded up an infinitude of knowledge that ceaselessly changed. It
became a wondrous work of art, beautiful to the eye, and incredible
in its pulsation. Throughout it red and gold pulsed, with strands
of blue.17

The holoscope captures the paradoxically postmodern and premod-

ern dimensions of Dick’s vision of sacred hermeneutics: at once, a
Derridean technology of infinite citational and interpretive drift, and
a work of art incarnating a fecund matrix of divine mind that equally
invokes the Logos of late antiquity and the mystical Torah of medi-
eval Kabbalah. The holoscope can also be seen as a metaphor for the
‘Exegesis,’ whose meanings are revealed through superimposition and
the ‘tilting’ perspectives provided by the proper flick of the interpretive
wrist. Appropriately, the holoscope owes some of its inspiration to the
pages of the ‘Exegesis’ itself, wherein Dick records a hypnagogic vision
of a luminous red and gold tetragrammaton, associated with VALIS,
that pulses along to the repeated phrase ‘and he is alive’.18 Clearly there
are multiple strands to follow within the overwhelming hermeneutic
weave of the ‘Exegesis’. For the remainder of this essay, I want to tug out
one small but highly significant thread: a shred of ancient scripture that,
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 179

not coincidentally, mediates the event of awakening and anamnesis

through the notion of text as trigger.

10.2 Signal signs

The Hymn of the Soul is one of the names translators have given to
a numinous fable embedded in the Acts of Thomas, a third-century
pseudo-epigraphical Christian text, most likely of Syriac origin, that
gives an account of the journeys, trials and death of the apostle in the
East. The Hymn, which is an originally independent text framed as a
song Thomas sings in prison, is a fable of spiritual homecoming whose
arresting vision of the doublings, transformations and paradoxes associ-
ated with the awakening of the soul are embedded in a story with the
imaginal economy of a fairy tale. Here we may as well cite Dick’s initial
source for the Hymn: the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica,
which Dick himself cites in a 1975 letter to Claudia Bush:

The hero of the Hymn, who represents the soul of man, is born in the
Eastern (the Yonder) Kingdom; immediately after his birth, he is sent
by his parents on a pilgrimage into the world with instructions to
take a pearl from the mouth of a dragon in the sea. Instead of wear-
ing his heavenly garment, he dresses in earthly clothes, eats earthly
food, and forgets his task. Then his parents send a letter to rouse
him. As soon as he has read the letter, he awakes and remembers his
task, takes the pearl, and begins the homeward journey. On the way,
his brother (the Redeemer) comes to accompany him and leads him
back home to his father’s palace in the east.19

In the 1975 Bush letter, Dick claims that he had come across the Hymn
only within the previous few days; as soon as he read it ‘I knew I had
found the key which put together just about everything I’ve been think-
ing, learning and experiencing’.20 Such exuberant claims are found
throughout the ‘Exegesis’ – Williams’s ‘aha!’ moments, here as else-
where tied to texts. However, this does not seem to be the first mention
of the Hymn in Dick’s diary. In an earlier entry – an undated personal
account, most likely from late 1974 – Dick addresses the topic of anam-
nesis, specifically the long sleep of the ‘right brain,’ which he frames
here as a kind of collective unconscious.

The moment at which it remembers (is disinhibited by the gold fish

sign, the letter, etc.; cf. Epistle of St. Thomas) is the moment at which
180 The World According to Philip K. Dick

the Kingship of God, the Perfect Kingdom, floods back into being:
back into awareness of itself, that it is Here; and it is here Now.21

There is no extant ‘Epistle of Thomas,’ so we have every reason to

believe that Dick was referring to the Hymn, the song and ‘the letter’
embedded in the Acts of Thomas. He was therefore already familiar with
the text when he brought it to Bush’s attention – a pattern of hide-and-
seek we will re-examine in a moment.
The apocryphal Thomas planted a seed in Dick’s mind, which may
well have blossomed into the character ‘Thomas,’ one of Dick’s pre-
ferred names for the secondary personality he believed had visited him.
In VALIS, Horselover Fat explains that Thomas was a Roman who had
not known Christ personally, but who did know people who knew
him, and so awaited the parousia.22 Thomas was also what Dick called a
‘homoplasmate’: a human being who had crossbanded with the plasmate
of living information. In the novel – which we cannot forget is a fiction,
however much it draws from concepts in the ‘Exegesis’ and experiences
in Dick’s life – Thomas is able to cheat death. By performing a ritual
involving pink food and a pitcher of cool water, Fat explains, Thomas
was able to ‘engram’ himself onto the Christian fish sign so that some-
time, somehow, somewhere, his slumbering reborn identity would see
the sign and reawaken.
The likely connection between the apostle Thomas, the homoplas-
mate Thomas and the fish sign underscores the importance of the
Hymn for Dick’s understanding of 2-3-74. This intimate connection is
also suggested in Dick’s letter to Bush, where, following the citation of
the Britannica entry on the Hymn, he immediately narrates, once again,
the fish sign scene. In this telling, though, he adds a crucial detail: the
claim that he later went to the pharmacy looking for the young delivery
woman but found ‘they had no idea who she was, what her name was,
or where she had gone’.23 This enigmatic not-knowing is, in turn, linked
to Dick’s lack of knowledge about the phenomenon of anamnesis itself:
‘as I’m sure you realize I did not know, had never heard of, such mat-
ters within the human heart, or mind, or history’.24 This disavowal of
knowledge is similar to his claim to have only recently come across the
Hymn, a profession of ignorance that recurs throughout the ‘Exegesis’.
As readers of Dick’s pre-1974 letters know, he was a well-read man
with a great memory, and, like many autodidacts, he liked to show off.
Yet in the ‘Exegesis’ we often find the opposite pattern: Dick claims to
be unaware of something he clearly knows. Why? One possibility is
that, unconsciously at least, Dick yearned to recapitulate the structure
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 181

of anamnesis itself: the sudden re-emergence of knowledge ‘already’

known from a state of occlusion. While the ‘Exegesis’ is stuffed with
knowing, it is also regularly punctuated with forgetting, a forgetting
that in turn sets up a remembering or unconscious return of knowledge.
Even the primal scene of 2-3-74 is marked by this pattern. Recall that
Dick’s anamnesis was triggered by a fish-shaped necklace whose mean-
ing Dick did not (or pretended not to) know. In her memoir, Dick’s wife
Tessa, who was present at the time and claims to have signed the checks,
insists that Dick not only knew the meaning of the sign, but already had
a Christian fish bumper sticker stuck on a west-facing window.25 Dick, it
seems, plays hide-and-seek with himself, staging his ‘aha!’ moments in
advance – a hermeneutics of forgetting and remembering that performs
and inscribes the ironies of the modern gnostic intellectual, who knows
that non-knowledge is at least as important as knowledge.26
Why does Dick come to read the fish sign scene through the Hymn?
One reason, I suspect, is the operative role played in the text by the
letter, whose arrival triggers what Dick identified as Gnostic–Platonic
anamnesis in the forgetful hero. In the terms of Hans Jonas, whose
influential account of Gnosticism Dick was certainly familiar with by
the 1980s (and likely before), the letter literalizes the ‘call from with-
out,’ whereby the transmundane penetrates the enclosure of the world
and makes itself heard therein as a call’.27 Before we address this call’s
peculiar manifestation as a physical letter, we should recall that Dick’s
fiction had already played host to some remarkable examples of such
transmundane calls. In Ubik (1969), a group of commercial psychics
with ‘anti-telepath’ powers visit the moon, where one of them – their
boss Glen Runciter – is apparently killed in a bomb explosion. In the
world of the novel, which is also informed by Dick’s fascination with
the Tibetan bardo realms, the recent dead are sustained in a ‘half-life’
state that allows them to continue communicating with the living
for a limited period of time. But upon returning to earth and getting
Runciter’s corpse into cold-pac and his spirit into half-life, the remain-
ing crew are still not able to contact him. They also notice that ordinary
objects rapidly decay around them – milk sours, cigarettes instantly go
stale. They start receiving peculiar messages, apparently from Runciter.
They hear his voice yammering on the hotel phone, find his name on
a matchbox and a note from him inside a cigarette carton. As the enig-
mas mount, one character goes into the bathroom and finds, scrawled
on the wall in purple crayon, this message: ‘JUMP IN THE URINAL
ALL DEAD.’28 As their surrounding reality is increasingly marked by
182 The World According to Philip K. Dick

anomalous eruptions of entropy, the characters realize that Runciter is

right. It turns out that the whole crew are stuck in a distorted version
of half-life constructed by one of Dick’s evil demiurgic figures, a deceased
sociopathic boy who sustains himself in half-life by feeding off the
life-force of others.
Runciter’s bathroom message is a perfect example of what Dick critic
Lorenzo Di Tomasso identifies as an ‘in-breaking information vector,’29
a structural device that – through holoscopic superimposition – we can
quite clearly map onto the gnostic ‘call from without’. Moreover, the
concept of half-life allows Dick to fuse two metaphors that undergird
many classic Gnostic texts – ignorance and death – into one narrative
condition: the characters are unaware that they are dead. This condi-
tion can nonetheless be healed through a third recognizably Gnostic
metaphor: awakening. Though Dick may not have been drawing these
connections at the time he wrote Ubik, by 2-3-74, he was quick to notice
the similarities. Writing of the secondary personality he identified ini-
tially with the deceased Jim Pike, Dick notes that the Bishop ‘has been
breaking through in ways so similar to that of Runciter in Ubik that
I am beginning to conclude that I and everyone else is either dead and
he is alive, or – well, as in the novel I can’t figure it out’.30 Dick’s confu-
sion reminds us again of the fundamental indeterminacy that underlies
his ironic gnosis: a transmundane signal is received, but it has no clear
content, or no content beyond its operative form.31 Indeed, the entire
‘Exegesis’ could be described as staging ‘the conundrum of the call’: a
signal event has ruptured the reality field but the incoming message,
whose imminent reception has been announced, has instead been ter-
minally deferred. Dick is left, as it were, on the line, holding the first
link of a chain of signifiers that refuses to rest or resolve.
Jonas hits the nail on the head when he notes that ‘the call as such is
its own content, since it simply states what its being sounded will effect:
the awakening from sleep’.32 In its recursive self-reference, the call is at
once dynamically productive and semantically empty – it awakens, but
to what? This problem can be illustrated by citing the text of the letter
that the hero receives in the Hymn, remembering, of course, that Dick
himself may not have had access to a proper translation until he read
Jonas, which we can only date, with any assurance, to a time long after
his first mention of the Hymn.

From your Father, the king of kings,

and your mother, the mistress of the East,
and from your brother, our second (in authority),
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 183

to you, our son, who is in Egypt, greeting!

Up and arise from your sleep,
and listen to the words of our letter!
Call to mind that you are a son of kings!
See the slavery, whom you serve!
Remember the pearl
for which you were sent to Egypt!33

After addressing the prince, the lines that follow precisely embody
Jonas’s characterization of the call as an imperative event whose con-
tent, initially, is nothing more than the act of awakening. ‘Up and arise
from your sleep,’ the letter reads, ‘and listen to the words of our letter!’
In these lines we do not encounter signification so much as signal, or
even less, a trigger: the startling clamor of an alarm-clock, another dis-
placed imperative whose manifest content is non-referential noise. In
the case of the letter, the command to wake up does refer to meaningful
information, but in its initial moment this content is simply the motive
gesture of a chain of as-yet-realized signifiers – ‘listen to the words of
our letter’. Abruptly awakened from sleep by an alarm, there is always
a gap, a little abyss, between the noise and the cognitive crystalliza-
tion of a (hopefully) familiar self and world. Here I cannot help recall
a line from The Fall’s Mark E. Smith: ‘the only thing real is waking and
rubbing your eyes.’34
Following the recursive command, the letter immediately provides
the prince with substantive meaning, reminding him of his origins,
nature and purpose. But as if to underscore the significance of the initial
signal, the Hymn provides a second, doubled account of the encounter
between letter and prince, one that implies a curious transmedial trans-
formation. We are told that the letter flies to the prince in the likeness
of an eagle, and when it discovers him, it ‘became all speech’.

At its voice and the sound of its rustling,

I started and arose from my sleep
I took it and kissed it,
And I began and read it
And according to what was traced on my heart
Were the words of my letter written.
I remembered that I was a son of royal parents…
I remembered the pearl…35

Notice how the letter, having already switched into the audio register,
awakens the prince through rustling. Awakened by a call that may be
184 The World According to Philip K. Dick

nothing but noise, the prince starts and arises from sleep, but for a
moment is not yet informed. He is suspended in the gap of rubbing his
eyes. It is only at this point that the message reverts to a letter again, a
literal piece of writing that is kissed and read, and discovered to contain
text that is also found, metaphorically now, engraved on the heart of
the hero. This particular iteration – the signal triumph of self-reference –
in turn rewrites the prince’s identity in an act that, while resembling
conversion or metanoia, is structurally more of a return than a turn.
I suspect that Dick was partly attracted to the Hymn during his initial
wrestling with 2-3-74 because it provided an economical and apparently
clear resolution to the conundrum of the call. The contents of the letter
that rupture the prince’s world and self are extremely simple – you are a
prince and your mission is to win back the pearl. Moreover, this knowl-
edge is already within the hero, concealed by a layer of forgetfulness.
The textual mediation of the message through the prince’s own heart
and memory figures the fulfillment of the wish that arguably drives the
‘Exegesis’: that Dick might resolve the indeterminacy of his puzzling
visions, and do so in a way that accords with the literature he has
already produced. More subtly, it also invokes (and veils) the degree
to which Dick’s own previous texts were actually scripting his experi-
ences. The prince is a peculiarly Dickean redeemer: he bumbles along
in total ignorance and is awakened passively by an ‘in-breaking infor-
mation vector’; at the same time, his awakening stages the aporias of
self-reference that characterize VALIS and many other Dick texts. In his
discussion of the Hymn, Jonas identifies this peculiarly recursive hero
through the Manichean notion of the ‘redeemed redeemer,’ or salvator
salvandus, which is how Dick refers to the concept when he latches onto
it in the late folders of the ‘Exegesis’. A kind of soteriological feedback
loop, the salvator salvandus is defined by Kurt Rudolph as ‘the idea of a
redeemer who sets free the “souls,” as particles identical with his nature,
by means of the knowledge of this identity and thereby suffers the same
fate as these souls or particles of light’.36
It is important to note that, despite the manic inflation that drives so
much of the ‘Exegesis,’ Dick is generally loathe to make himself – rather
than his texts – the locus of messianic power. More typically, he casts
himself as a more or less passive relay node in a salvational network.
He is a transponder who, by performing an act in ignorance, receives
the call and passes it on, an apostle of messianic time rather than the
messiah himself. This stance accords with Dick’s deep desire to keep
his ordinary self receptive in relationship to the call, which is also why
he so often figures himself as confused, as not knowing, as just being,
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 185

like many of his characters, an ordinary schlub. Given the messianism

so evident in the ‘Exegesis,’ in which 2-3-74 and Dick’s books explode
with cosmic significance, why would Dick cling to his passivity, his
littleness? The most important reason, I suspect, is that it allows him
to critically associate the soteriological function, not with himself, but
with his writing, which he sees as knowing more – and doing more –
than he does. In this light, Jeffrey Kripal places Dick squarely within an
almost viral cultural narrative that figures the human relationship to
the supernatural or paranormal as a condition of being written. Kripal
cites a question Dick asks himself in the ‘Exegesis’: is ‘something writing
through us?’37 Elsewhere Dick provides an answer of sorts:

In my writing I seek to abolish the world – the effect of which aids

in our restoration to the Godhead… for years I did it in my writing,
and then in 2/74 I did it in real life, showing that my writing is not
fiction but a form… of revelation expressed not by me but through
me, by (St.) Sophia in her salvific work.38

It is no accident, then, that the messenger in the Hymn – the informa-

tion plasmate, in Dick’s reading – appears as a piece of writing, a letter, a
text. After all, one result of 2-3-74 was that Dick came to understand his
own work as being or containing information of soteriological import.
His apocryphal pulp novels were (or contained) transmundane letters,
animated with living data, that Dick as author was forwarding to his
readers through writing and publishing. This belief, or wager, partly
drives the endless allegorical interpretations of earlier works that Dick
offers up in the ‘Exegesis’. The most important of these works – like
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik, and A Maze of Death – tend
to be those that reflect the sort of ontological undermining we witness
in the Hymn, where the phenomenal world is radically thrown into
question or even abolished. This ontological interrogation also informs
the themes and structures of Dick’s late theological novels, which in
various ways draw the reader into his gnostic labyrinth and model the
process of Hymn-like textual triggers even as they ironically critique
the religious enthusiasm that drives, or overdrives, that process.

10.3 Letters astray

In the Manichaean or proto-Manichaean cosmology suggested by the

Hymn, a nearly unbridgeable ontological boundary exists between the
higher and lower worlds. As such, the ‘in-breaking information vector’
186 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of gnosis can never be grounded in the fallen or illusory world, which

is the world all readers and writers share. As such, the transmundane
messenger must remain perpetually alight, even furtive, known only in
traces that ghost actual signifying objects and practices. This furtiveness
might help illuminate a marvelous curiosity of the Greek version of the
Hymn, which unfortunately was not included in the Britannica para-
phrase. After the prince has rescued the pearl, he once again encounters
the divine missive.

And my letter, my awakener,

I found before me on the road;
and as with its voice it had awakened me,
(so) too with its light it was leading me.39

Here the awakening letter seems to possess a will of its own; in the
Syriac version it appears simply as a female redeemer.40 As a text,
however, it now possesses new instructions, or at least performs a new
purpose. No longer directly guided by the intentions of its authors (the
parents), it is found ‘on the road,’ almost stumbled upon, as if the awak-
ening message were best discovered – with the 42nd saying of the Gospel
of Thomas distantly in mind – while passing by. The homelessness of the
imprisoned gnostic soul is mirrored in the homelessness of the text, a
motility even better captured by a private letter, which implies relatively
informal networks of circulation and forwarding, than by a codex book
or commandments etched on a tablet. The letter’s unpredictable course
through the Hymn also recalls the 23rd Song of Solomon, where God’s
thought is described as a letter that is shot like an arrow from the heav-
ens. ‘Others saw the letter and chased it, wondering where it might land
and who might read it, who might hear it.’41 The addressee of the letter,
as Derrida never stopped telling us, is open and indeterminate; the text
enters this world, grounded in apparently clear distinctions of writer
and addressee, only by passing through the suspension of such defini-
tiveness.42 This fluid passage, in turn, lends such gnostic texts a peculiar
motility, one that exploits the ambiguities of reference to jump levels
into its readers and hearers, as if their intense mode of transcendence
lends them a paradoxically immanent power. So, when the prince’s
parents address him in the letter as ‘you,’ the reader drawn into that
indeterminate pronoun is not just the prince in the story but also the
reader or listener of the Hymn itself – not only those prisoners who hear
the song the apostle sings in The Gospel of Thomas, but those who read
the text so many centuries later.
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 187

For Dick, the motility of the transmundane message – its flight, its
self-dissimulating and -disseminating invasion of the fallen world –
means that its traces might be found literally anywhere, vibrating in a
polarity of concealment and revelation that, like the prince disguising
himself in Egypt, manifests as camouflage. In VALIS, Dick writes that
‘the true God’ must mimic ‘sticks and trees and beer cans in gutters’;
he ‘presumes to be trash discarded, debris no longer needed,’ so that
‘lurking, the true God literally ambushes reality and us as well’.43 This
notion of gutter camouflage enabled Dick to search his earlier fictions
for subliminal soteriological codes that his own younger authorial self
did not craft consciously. Of course, such exuberantly overdetermined
readings, whether directed towards texts or the jewelry of strangers, are
structurally indistinguishable from the feverish scenarios of paranoia.
For the paranoiac, there is a surfeit of meaning; anything and every-
thing in the field of signs might be amplified and conjoined into a
meaningful constellation of earth-shattering proportions. In fact, large
and tedious tracks of the ‘Exegesis,’ including much of what the editors
chose to leave out of the abridged 2011 edition, succumb to paranoia’s
claustrophobic connection machine.44 These pages often abandon the
field of philosophical or esoteric thinking to enter the feverish pulp of
modern conspiracy theory, with Russian agents, satellites, and mind-
control devices playing a particularly prominent role.
In light of the Hymn, it is of interest that the most important ‘let-
ter’ that figures in the phantasmagoria of 2-3-74 also became one of
Dick’s principle triggers for much of his conspiratorial thinking in the
‘Exegesis’. In March of 1974, Dick received a letter that, in the version
of the episode related in VALIS, had no name or return address.45 Dick,
who according to Tessa had already been anticipating a letter that
might ‘kill’ him, refused to open or read it, having Tessa do it in his
stead. Rather than a letter proper, the envelope contained photocopies
of two book reviews from a leftist newspaper, with words like decline
and stagnation underlined with blue and red pen (Dick called them
‘die messages’). In VALIS, a name and return address were included on
the back of the Xerox, but not on the envelope. Deeply fearful that the
authorities would take him for a Soviet sympathizer, especially given
the ‘Marxist’ critics and Eastern European sf writers interested in his
work, Dick eventually sent the document to the FBI, which responded
with a form letter.
Tessa Dick confirms the basic outlines of the story, though she says
that the original envelope did feature a return address – a hotel in
New York – but no name. She also noted that Dick dumped most of
188 The World According to Philip K. Dick

his subsequent flurry of letters to the FBI in the trash, figuring that if
he were indeed under surveillance, they would read them anyway.46 In
any case, Dick dubbed the entire incident ‘the Xerox missive’. During
March, while many other bizarre things were happening to him, Dick
felt intensely threatened by the letter, which he believed might have
been a loyalty-testing trap laid by the FBI or, worse, a Manchurian
Candidate-like trigger, which is why he refused to read the letter but
passed it on to Tessa. Though he did eventually read the missive, Dick
would nonetheless come to invest great ethical and even soteriological
significance in his initial refusal to read, an act he sometimes attributed
to the presence of his secondary personality Thomas, no longer seen as
a time-traveling Christian but as a U.S. Army thought-control implant
that Dick dubbed Pigspurt.
Transcending these sticky plots, with their fetid air of psychopathol-
ogy, Dick’s choice not to read the Xerox missive becomes the seed of a
compelling theory of ‘ethical balking’ developed later in the ‘Exegesis,’
an ethics of refusal that rests atop a novel cybernetic conception of
Christian freedom.47 What is important here is that the Xerox mis-
sive also helps explain the central role that the Hymn played in help-
ing Dick organize and refract the anomalous experiences of 2-3-74.
By superimposing the Hymn onto the March 1974 event through the
symbolic and operative match of the two letters, Dick worked through
his paranoid trauma to some degree by reframing it within the theo-
logical schema of an ancient text of liberation. For Dick, the fact that
one letter is read while the other is avoided is less important than the
ritual function of receiving the letter in the first place. While this differ-
ence fundamentally alters the moral source of the letter, readers of the
‘Exegesis’ will also recognize how fond Dick was of such dialectical and
binary inversions, which he often referred to as ‘flip/flops’. Moreover,
in an ‘Exegesis’ entry made years later, in 1980, he continued to affirm
the direct relationship between the two letters, and their underlying

The Xerox missive is part of the Gnostic legend of the Pearl: the let-
ter to the prince who has lost his memories… This “legend” is actu-
ally a sacred myth/rite. The letter coupled with the golden fish sign
restored my memories due to my faithful participation in this com-
plex sacred mythic rite of anamnesis and rebirth… So all this took a
Gnostic turn – the cryptic sign (golden fish), the letter reminding me
of my mission (albeit a profane Pigspurt one; the myth sanctified it,
turned a profane thing into something noumenal).48
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 189

In this account, receiving letters and responding to signs (the fish

sign) become ritual recapitulations of a larger myth, a myth whose
soteriological import is then, as it were, delivered to the ritualist as a
numinous event. If all this sounds a bit like Eliade, it should – on the
previous ‘Exegesis’ page to the entry above, Dick cites Eliade’s notion
that a mythological event unfolds illo tempore, in another kind of time.
‘Therefore if you can get (your self) into a mythological narrative you
will enter this dream time.’49 By reading the Hymn as a ritual script,
with its own protocols of reading and receiving signs, Dick attempted
to render the anomalous events of 2-3-74 not only meaningful but
redemptive – even the paranoid, ‘profane’ and traumatizing experience
of the Xerox missive becomes inverted and sanctified by its ‘flip/flop’
integration in the sacred myth/rite.
By reading within the comparativist framework provided by
Eliade, Dick was able to understand his own entrance into ‘dream
time,’ the mode of temporality he refers to throughout the ‘Exegesis’
as orthogonal time, his most complex and original metaphysical con-
cept. Orthogonal time underlies the superimposition of ancient Rome
onto Orange County, circa 1974, and is also reflected in the correspond-
ences between a more or less ‘Gnostic’ text of ancient Christianity and
the anomalous events in his own life, correspondences that Dick forged
and that I have further teased out in this essay. As Kripal points out,
‘what Eliade imagined in his comparative theorizing Dick seems to have
realized in his experience of VALIS’.50 From the perspective of religious
studies, Dick’s theological writing can thus be read in part as a creative,
existential and religious response to the comparativism that founds the
school of Eliade, which at once discovers and constructs resonating con-
stellations of concept, symbol and structure that emerge from different
times, places and modes of writing the sacred. We may be condemned
to learn about the life of the spirit and be awakened to it through books,
Eliade wrote. Dick suggests that the books themselves may be alive
as well – or at least animated by an infectious and invasive textuality
capable of rewriting us at any time.

1 Christopher Palmer, Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern
(Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003), 228–33.
2 Palmer, 235.
190 The World According to Philip K. Dick

3 Palmer, 221.
4 Throughout this chapter, I will capitalize the irredeemably squirrelly term
‘gnostic’ only when referring to specifically ancient Near Eastern sects, texts
and tendencies.
5 Lawrence Sutin’s biography Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (London:
Paladin, 1991) remains the best source for a basic chronology and account
of 2-3-74; see Sutin, 208–33. Gregg Rickman’s text Philip K. Dick: The Last
Testament (Long Beach, CA: Fragments West, 1985) remains crucial, while
Emmanuel Carrère’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind
of Philip K. Dick, transl. Timothy Bent (London: Bloomsbury, 2005) is too
fanciful to be useful to the historian. A more recent, flawed but provoca-
tive attempt to wrest greater coherence from Dick’s various accounts can be
found in Anthony Peake, A Life of Philip K. Dick (London: Arcturus, 2013).
6 Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K Dick, ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan
Lethem (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), 48–9.
7 Cited in Lawrence Sutin, Divine Invasions, 210.
8 Gabriel Mckee, Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-
Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dick (Lanham, MD: University Press of America,
2004), 6.
9 Sutin published an important selection of these materials in 1991 as In
Pursuit of Valis (Novato, CA: Underwood-Miller, 1991); a much larger but still
heavily abridged edition appeared as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.
10 Cited in ibid., 7.
11 Mckee, 6.
12 A list of proper names in the Exegesis and VALIS would include philosophers
like Parmenides, Spinoza, Heidegger, Whitehead, Hegel, and Bergson; reli-
gious thinkers or esotericists like St Paul, Sankara, Bruno, Boehme, Calvin,
Tillich, Harthshorne, and de Chardin; psychologists like Jung, Julian Jaynes,
Ludwig Binswanger, and Robert Ornstein; literary writers like William
Burroughs, Stanislaw Lem, George Herbert, and Joyce; and historians of
religion like Mircae Eliade, Hans Jonas, and Frances Yates.
13 Catherine Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 2007), 423.
14 Colin Campbell, ‘The Cultic Milieu and Secularization,’ in A Sociological
Yearbook of Religion in Britain 5, ed. Michael Hill (London: ECM Press, 1972),
15 Philip K. Dick, Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick, 1977–1979 (Grass Valley, CA:
Underwood, 1993), 16.
16 Exegesis, 375.
17 Philip K. Dick, The Divine Invasion (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
2011), 71.
18 Exegesis, 545; also see annotation on 542.
19 Exegesis, 93.
20 Ibid., 93.
21 Ibid., 62.
22 Philip K. Dick, VALIS (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 117–20.
23 Ibid., 94.
24 Ibid.
25 To author Anthony Peake, Tessa confirmed this account, though it differs
from the story she first provided in her interviews with Gregg Rickman in
Reading, Writing and Gnosis in the ‘Exegesis’ 191

the 1980s. See Anthony Peake, A Life of Philip K. Dick, 212. As a Christian
and a Californian alive in the early 1970s, Dick was likely to have known
the ixthys, which was embraced by the countercultural Jesus Movement, for
whose adherents the symbol replaced the stark rectilinear cross and invoked
an alternative Christianity that was radical and earthy. Orange County,
where Dick lived, was a hotbed of the Jesus Movement.
26 Moreover, as James Burton argues in an excellent unpublished talk he deliv-
ered at the PKD Festival held at San Francisco State in September 2012, the
great gnostic ‘secret’ that Dick both chases and conceals throughout
the ‘Exegesis’ is that, at the end of the day, he made the whole thing up.
27 Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the
Beginnings of Christianity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), 74.
28 Philip K. Dick, Four Novels of the 1960s, ed. Jonathan Lethem (New York:
Library of America, 2007), 715.
29 Lorenzo Di Tomasso, ‘Gnosticism and Dualism in the Early Fiction of Philip
K. Dick,’ Science Fiction Studies 28, no. 1 (2001): 56.
30 Pursuit, 2–3.
31 When Dick ceases to identify the personality with Pike in 1975, the ques-
tions of the afterlife that play an important role in the initial folders of the
Exegesis recede, giving way to Dick’s elaborate theories of time.
32 Jonas, 80.
33 Albertus Frederik Johannes Klijn, The Acts of Thomas: Introduction, Text, and
Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 184.
34 The Fall, ‘How I Wrote “Elastic Man,”’ Grotesque, Rough Trade LP, 1980.
35 Klijn, 184.
36 Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature And History of Gnosticism (San Francisco:
Harper, 1998), 122.
37 Jeffrey J. Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the
Paranormal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 282.
38 Pursuit, 135.
39 Klijn, 185.
40 Willis Barnstone and Marvin W. Meyer, The Gnostic Bible (Boston: Shambhala,
2003), 392, n. 7.
41 Ibid., 374.
42 To add yet another layer to our holoscopic superimposition, such mobility
recalls the famous verse from John 3:8: ‘The wind blows where it wishes, and
you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it
goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
43 Philip K. Dick, VALIS, 63.
44 Exegesis, 513, annotation.
45 See Sutin, 215–17.
46 Tessa Dick, Philip K. Dick: Remembering Firebright (S.I.: CreateSpace, 2009),
47 Exegesis, 271; plus annotation, 271.
48 Ibid., 603.
49 Ibid.
50 Ibid., annotation.
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially
Philip K. Dick1
Richard Doyle

And when the Muses came and song appeared they were ravished
with delight; and singing always, never thought of eating and drink-
ing, until at last in their forgetfulness they died. And now they live
again in the grasshoppers; and this is the return which the Muses
make to them – they neither hunger, nor thirst, but from the hour
of their birth are always singing, and never eating or drinking; and
when they die they go and inform the Muses in heaven who honour
them on earth. Plato, The Phaedrus2

For the spiritual musick is as follows.

For there is the thunder-stop, which is the voice of God direct.
For the rest of the stops are by their rhimes.
For the trumpet rhimes are sound bound, soar more and the like.
For the Shawm rhimes are lawn fawn moon boon and the like.
For the harp rhimes are sing ring string and the like.
For the cymbal rhimes are bell well toll soul and the like.
For the flute rhimes are tooth youth suit mute and the like.
Christopher Smart, Jubilate Agno3

I sought the ‘Exegesis’ for many years because I believed I was ready to
explore PKD’s epic quest that is Everest in scale. Even from a distance it
was the Big Fish, the White Whale, the Master Da Vinci Code complete
with MetaCodex, and bathed in pink light. Given PKD’s rather uncanny
prescience about the informatic planet we were about to become, the
‘Exegesis’ seemed to me like the document most likely to be the source
code for his prophecies. At the time I was studying biotechnology and
its likely future, and Dick’s work became a kind of handbook and hand
hold to me for making some sense of the concepts and patterns to be
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 193

found there even as the very definition and experience of being alive, it
was widely foretold, was about to undergo vast change. As increasingly
informatic ‘wetwares,’ living systems were understood as the inexorable
unfolding from an immaterial code, rendering humans indistinguish-
able ontologically from the machines, such as computers, that they
had apparently created. In 1954, humans discovered the double helical
structure of the replicators within us – genes – and by the late 1980s,
they had become the tail that wagged the dog of human being. In the
words of popular science writer Richard Dawkins,

Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering

robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by
tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are
in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preser-
vation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a
long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and
we are their survival machines.4

I studied Dick’s thought experiments into what it would feel like to

be transformed into information alongside the protocols of molecular
biology and its history of ‘codes’ and ‘programs’. In the thick of what
we might now recognize as the opening acts of a planetary change as
the web emerged and Twitter was in the category of ‘not yet tweeted,’
Dick’s novels, short stories, film adaptations, and finally, the ‘Exegesis,’
all helped complete the mythical and scientific gambit offered by Star
Trek’s ‘transporter beam,’ wherein through becoming transformed
into information we could overcome the limitations of space and
If Star Trek offered the ‘zipless fuck’ of space/time – first you are here,
and next you are there – on the condition of becoming apparently dem-
aterialized into a sequence of zeroes and ones, PKD pondered what it
might feel like to become information, and he experienced this ‘becom-
ing information’ in a series of episodes that would become entitled
‘VALIS,’ for the Vast Living Intelligent System that he was ‘nailed by’
in 2-3-74.5 In short, I started reading Dick because he seemed to have a
very good sense of where we were going, and that led me to his archives
and in search of his legendary vast trove of writings – what Horselover
Fat, the protagonist of Dick’s novel VALIS, called, after the Gnostics,
his ‘Tractate’. I don’t know what I expected to find there – perhaps I
had zero expectations, there was nothing to which I could compare it,
and that was precisely what was exciting about the prospect of reading
194 The World According to Philip K. Dick

through the folders. I moved to Pennsylvania in 1994 from Berkeley,

California, where I often studied with a professor down the street from
PKD’s Francisco Street house, began teaching at a Prominent State
University, and almost immediately began searching for the ‘Exegesis’.
I was certain that I was ready for it.
Obviously, this casting of PKD as a prophet of the information planet –
Terrence McKenna’s ‘Language is loose on planet three’ – is, of necessity,
an entirely retroactive story.6 It is, however, a fiction that emerges, like
many of Dick’s novels about simulation, as profoundly true. Dick read
McLuhan and Teilhard, both of the other Triplet Prophets of the Digital
Age, but they likely never heard of him. Yet what smacks of downright
prophecy from PKD is not so much the content of his fiction as it is the
feeling of reality distortion induced by reading his work as the material
world appears to become secondary to the consciousness beholding it.
To be sure, there are our Guides to Living in the 21st Century in the form
of androids who quickly hack at the very definition of what it means to
be human in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Self Surveillance Cop
Drug Fiends who dream of Hash Robots repeating that they have noth-
ing to declare as they stroll across the border while customs agents look
on in the endless self-propagating drug war of A Scanner Darkly, and the
funny, tragic and loving seekers of VALIS pondering the enormous ques-
tion mark introduced by psychedelic experience and the spiritual awak-
enings and cultural revolutions that were the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps
this question mark, with an exclamation point – ?! – now returns in
the planetary ego death of an Empire that Never Ended, as those same
seekers encounter the waves of global transformation unleashed by the
increasing informational interconnection of all things. PKD is tapping
into well-nigh shamanic powers – the power to hack at the interaction
between the world of pure consciousness and the realities that ensue
from it – and it is this feeling of being directly addressed by a bard, a
storyteller and a deeply suffering and profoundly honest finite human
being across time that the ‘Exegesis’ has for us in spades. Dick teaches
us what it can feel like to be in an infoquake (because you are in one,
get a late pass) as he offers us thought experiments for plugging into
a galactic information network, and, to paraphrase his contemporary
Hunter S. Thompson, the going gets very weird indeed.
Now, by treating my search for the ‘Exegesis’ as an epic quest, I am
giving away nothing to clichés of esoteric knowledge or secret wisdom,
because if you begin reading the ‘Exegesis,’ you will see that the quest
is practically infinite, with no short cuts or spoilers. And it’s not that
the ‘Exegesis’ was hidden even if it feels like it is, and perhaps should
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 195

remain, an open secret. For, it was hidden in plain sight, like the ‘pur-
loined letter’ for which Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story is titled.
PKD exposed, wiki-leaked, outed the existence of the ‘Exegesis’ in VALIS
when he included passages from Horselover Fat’s ‘Tractate,’ itself a fic-
tional version of the ‘Exegesis,’ or when Emmanuel, the amnesiac child
God of The Divine Invasion, is given an oracular slate that is eerily like
an iPad Wikipedia thingee or a Kindle/Nook, or whatever you are read-
ing on these daze. There was also the Underwood Press edition, which
seems to quickly go missing if you don’t post a guard.7 (A student in
town has taken mine into custody and claims to still have it, but it feels
oddly as though he’s ‘abducted’ it.) And then Lawrence Sutin, Dick’s
insightful and balanced biographer, literally gave the ‘Exegesis’ the last
word in the The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick.8 But this well-nigh
homeopathic quantity of ‘Exegesis’ text only pointed to the need to put
these slivers into their enormous and labyrinthine context by getting
our hands on the rest of it.
The ‘Exegesis’ is around 8,000 pages long. Some, true bards, claim to
have read all of it. For myself, this can only remain a quest. ‘Around
eight thousand pages’ makes the verb ‘read’ tremble and giggle and
calls for the more contemporary ‘hosted on a database,’ ‘searchable by
keyword,’ or ‘transformed into a tag cloud’. So that is what we did, at
first, forming a ‘swarm’ of scholars and fans who did their best to help
the editor, Pamela Jackson, in her absurdly epic editorial task by assem-
bling the PDFs on a wiki and working through them, one folder at a
time. Still, it is the very scale of the ‘Exegesis’ that is part of its content,
and together, our swarm, Zebrapedia.psu.edu, explored the very idea of
‘reading’ the ‘Exegesis’ and helping others to do the same.
Humbled by my own quest to fathom the ‘Exegesis,’ my goal here is
to put this text into a framework that will help readers experience for
themselves the twists and turns of this epic quest for understanding. In
fact, while the sheer quantity of text produced for the ‘Exegesis’ makes
it comparable only to Sufi Ibn Arabi’s 15,000-page modern edition of
al-Futûhât al-makkiyya (‘Meccan Openings’) as a likely single-author text,
Dick’s arguments, diagrams, summaries, breakthroughs and premature
conclusions all put him, along with Arabi, squarely within what Aldous
Huxley called ‘the Perennial Philosophy’.9 Samuel Taylor Coleridge –
whose ‘Kubla Khan’ was, like VALIS, influenced by the mystic traditions
of both West and East – describes this as ‘the criterion of a true philoso-
phy; namely, that it would at once explain and collect the fragments of
truth scattered through systems apparently the most incongruous’.10 If
the infoquake ‘smithereens’ us in the Great Deterritorialization, PKD’s
196 The World According to Philip K. Dick

unique remix of the Perennial Philosophy teaches us how he, at least,

integrated it all.
Herbert Simon, a computer scientist and a contemporary of Dick,
articulated the effects of this infoquake in a way that may help us make
sense of PKD’s pre-emptive hack of the information society through
the Perennial Philosophy. In 1971, Simon wrote: ‘What information
consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of the recipi-
ent.’11 Already, we are involved in exegesis. Simon, a polymath Nobel
Prize-winning economist with interests as wide ranging as Dick’s but
distinct from them, toys with the sheer redundancy of information, its
penchant to needlessly repeat itself. Simon points out that his point
is ‘rather obvious,’ and yet goes on to name it. And in naming it he
diagnoses the effect of this redundancy and proliferation of information
which reproduces itself like so much kipple: As the supply of informa-
tion grows – and by some accounts it doubles every two years – the
supply of subjective experience capable of being-informed remains
unchanged. While spam filters and other IT tools proliferate in order to
sort and manage the collective attention deficit that results, these tools
themselves paradoxically require yet more attention and information
to deploy...
If we ponder Simon’s straightforward and yet enigmatic fortune
cookie for the digital age – it is obvious, and yet repeats itself, and
addresses an audience with dwindling attention, itself ‘consumed’ even
by Simon’s pronouncement – something like a solution to this appar-
ent digital impasse emerges: Eliminate the recipient. If information
arrives as a kind of ‘pac man’ entity, gobbling the available attention
of a recipient, a potent defense occurs when we dissolve the recipient.
Engaged in an endless investigation of ‘2-3-74,’ PKD’s oftimes Socratic
quest yields a relentless investigation into the nature of the self. And
with Huxley, PKD finds something like a divine ground underneath
the apparent but fictional self, bathed in pink light.
So while the ‘Exegesis’ is certainly a quantitative anomaly in the tradi-
tions of American and English language philosophy and literature, the
content and character of the inquiry are almost distressingly traditional
for readers in search of a postmodern sensibility. Dick’s writing in and
out of the ‘Exegesis’ during this period is an act of courageous and absurd
synthesis of the diverse and sundry traditions that make up Huxley’s
Perennial Philosophy as well as anthropologist Michael Harner’s notion
of ‘core shamanism’.12 Both Huxley and Harner treat these core tradi-
tions as traditions of practice: One must do more than understand these
maps of reality, one must in fact intentionally experiment with them,
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 197

becoming experimented on by them. Dick’s practice was the ‘Exegesis,’

a heroic quest to bring the ineffable into language or exhaust language
in the process. In some places in the ‘Exegesis’ it would seem that PKD
arrives precisely at this sense of ‘Diamond mind,’ or what his contem-
porary William S. Burroughs languaged as ‘the end of words, the end of
what words could do’.13 Here language itself becomes exhausted by the
persistent attempt to name the unnameable. Recoiling from the failed
attempt to label What Is, the labeler is thrown back upon an inquiry
that no longer takes language as its object, but instead, finally, beholds
the subject. What the Sanskrit tradition calls ‘atma vichara’ or self-
inquiry turns the inquiring consciousness around, no longer seeking to
synthesize the fragmented multiplicity of world, and instead beholds
the inquirer herself long enough to discover her true nature: conscious-
ness. VALIS features Dick, writing in the third person about himself as
a pseudonymous ‘Horselover Fat’ until Fat, and perhaps Dick, discovers
that he is a fictional character dissolving into silence.
So too did Ibn Arabi’s epic in search of a translation of the ineffable
end finally in silence. Tibetan tantra teaches practitioners to dissolve
the very distinction between the self and the ‘yiddam,’ a Buddha image
with which one aims to identify, and through the practice of writing
thousands of pages, PKD was able to periodically dissolve himself into
language itself – what he names most consistently the Logos, the Greek
term for both ‘speech’ and ‘reason,’ which often had an ‘ecstatic’ qual-
ity to it akin to the union with the divine of Sufi Dervishes. PKD called
this the ‘AI voice’ that he heard, while Socrates famously listened to
his own – a daimon. Core shamanism, Harner writes, features practices
designed to induce this experience of ‘union with the cosmos’ wherein
the cosmos itself seems to speak.14 For PKD, the question eventually
becomes: To whom did the cosmos speak? Harner notes that:

In about 90 per cent of the world, the altered states of conscious-

ness used in shamanism are attained through consciousness-chang-
ing techniques involving a monotonous percussion sound, most
typically done with a drum, but also with sticks, rattles, and other
instruments. In perhaps 10 percent of the cultures, shamans use psy-
chedelic drugs to change their state of consciousness.15

Harner himself first learned of these techniques in his fieldwork, where

he worked with shamanic plants such as ayahuasca in order to under-
stand the worldview of his informants. Supplemental to the rattle or
song is the effect of words themselves, whether as a fragment of poetry
198 The World According to Philip K. Dick

or as a line of computer code, to shape consciousness and alter our view

and experience of reality. In this sense it might be productive to treat
the ‘Exegesis’ as something that needs to be re-enacted, simulated, in
order to be properly understood. Or treat it as a more than 8,000-page-
long icaro, one of the shamanic songs of the Upper Amazon. Singing it
at about three minutes per page would take over four hundred hours,
about ten weeks of a full-time job of the sort that a PKD character might
be trapped in, working at home from his Martian hovel, or reading it
aloud while the surveillance tapes whirr.
Putting PKD into one of the mainstream traditions of the West and
the East may be disappointing to readers who, like the characters in
some of his novels, enjoy the ecstatic paranoia of simulated worlds and
the blurred reality of uncertain authenticity. But, of course, it is among
PKD’s gifts at once to advance our desire to make sense of the fragments
of reality with which we work and move beyond the panic to the quest.
The quest that can be gleaned from the ‘Exegesis,’ though, is not to be
found by cataloging its myriad influences or a quantitative investiga-
tion of the opus, as interesting and crucial as such scholarly ventures
are. Instead we must focus on the practices of the ‘Exegesis’ in order to
see in whose chorus, for which gods, Dick’s pen danced.

11.1 A grasshopper lies heavy, or from accident to essence

Thus the reality of the external sense is necessarily connected with

that of the internal, in order to the possibility of experience in gen-
eral; that is, I am just as certainly conscious that there are things
external to me related to my sense as I am that I myself exist as
determined in time.
(Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason16)

In other words, and first and foremost, the ‘Exegesis’ was written. It was
a piece of writing, like The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel that plays a
prominent role in Dick’s award-winning  The Man in the High Castle,
itself written with the help of the I Ching. Whatever the ‘Exegesis’ is,
PKD wrote it, and like The Grasshopper Lies Heavy it is a piece of writing
juxtaposed with other pieces of writing modeling reality. The ‘Exegesis’
is thus the title of a practice whose result was the text we can now begin
to explore. If Dick wrote the ‘Exegesis,’ day after day, in entries that vary
in quantity and intensity, what did he think this writing was? If we can
explore the question what writing was for PKD, we can perhaps get a
sense of what we are in for with the ‘Exegesis’.
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 199

It may seem obvious what writing is. Or even what writing was for
Dick. We know that as a string of characters – a simple way to trans-
duce information – the ‘Exegesis’ is lengthy, calling forth comparisons
to much larger sequences of data such as the Human Genome, which
features something on the order of 30,000 ‘genes,’ about 2 per cent of
the total genomic string. But what I want to suggest is that Dick was
exploring the space of all possible writings, in a quest to see what writ-
ing was. What could be written? Who would write it?
The epic quest for reality that provides the template for so much
of PKD’s fiction could be seen to point directly at the ‘Exegesis’ as an
exploration of the nature of writing and the writer. In Ubik, for instance,
characters assemble, as we perhaps all do, to make sense of fragments
distributed over diverse entries, including bathroom graffiti and a
matchbook cover. In comparison, the ‘Exegesis’ entries that continually
arrive at and defer conclusions – I keep thinking of Dick’s title ‘I Hope
I Shall Arrive Soon’ when I read big chunks of the ‘Exegesis’ – are posi-
tively the path of breadcrumbs through the Gnostic Forest, The Island
of Informatic Metaphysics and the Effects of Reading Psychology Today,
with frequent interruptions by Yahweh. This sense of ‘Aha... but wait!’
is the veritable refrain and rhythm of Dick’s core shamanism and rattles
throughout the thousands of pages of exegesis.
But this inquiry into what could be written, of course, had a feedback
loop. Under the influence of his own writing, by putting as much of him-
self as possible into writing, Dick seems to have observed himself as an
abstraction – not in the sense of a deadened thing taken out of its context,
but in the sense that software engineers discuss ‘layers of abstraction’:
an act of metacognition or description that at once detaches from and
observes other layers of the system. In the ‘Exegesis,’ PKD observes himself
being what Douglas Hofstadter calls a ‘strange loop’: he has the insight
that works of abstraction identify something real about our world – that
the world is looped with the language we use to describe it. The Divine
Invasion features something like this in the ‘Hermetic transfom’ performed
by the child god.17 At times VALIS consists of an insight into the simul-
taneously eternal and particular nature of reality, abstract and actual,
fake and real. As a seventeenth-century English visionary, Abiezer Cope,
described this unity in diversity, ‘I clearly saw distinction, diversity, vari-
ety, and as clearly saw all swallowed up into unity.’18 In typical fashion,
PKD arrives at this abstraction via the vectors unleashed by a question:

Or is it possible that 2-74 consisted of a quantum leap in abstract-

ing from accident to essence on my part, a perception/awareness of
200 The World According to Philip K. Dick

einai underlying accidents as follows... ‘Superimposition’ of the 2


Having experienced this insight that consists of a discontinuity, a

‘quantum leap’ that resonates with Kierkegaard’s famous leap of faith,
Dick found that other insights and experiences flowed in an ‘involun-
tary chain’:

However, having made this quantum leap in mentation/perception-

of-reality, I could not halt the involuntary chain of mental hypotheses
triggered off in my brain, which (i.e., my brain) had discovered that
an ultra way of world-perception/experience/Dasein was possible –
and more accurate – and so neural circuits fired and I proceeded to
progressively further and further abstract – think/see in categories
of less spatiotemporality and more and more conceptual arrange-
ment – the xian element was only a trigger/clue; this did not have to
do with Christianity per se but with the abstraction of essentials at
the expense of accidents hence of spatiotemporal arrangement; as a
result I ascended through the realms of Neoplatonism – which makes
VALIS Plotinus’s One.20

This ‘involuntary chain of mental events’ is crucial because it captures

the way in which ‘VALIS,’ the Vast Living Intelligent System, is both
something that was very much PKD’s experience, and something that
at times seemed to happen to him. And what happened to him here,
at least, was absolutely and unmistakably one thing: Plotinus’s ‘One’
is resonant with that other proponent of the Perennial Philosophy,
Shankara, who referred to reality as ‘one without a second’.21 Despite
appearances, everything we perceive in the world, including ourselves,
has the attribute of unity. This is both a message – Monistic Newsflash:
Tomatos, Tomahtos, It’s All One! – and a feeling: the self becomes an
attribute of something immeasurably larger than itself. This insight is at
once immensely obvious and notoriously ineffable: one either perceives
the unity of all things or not, and Dick very much does. This helps
makes sense of the graphomania by which PKD writes through what
he called ‘VALIS’ as he engages the Gnostic two-step dance between a
dualist worldview – the Black Iron Prison – and a monistic One. The
experiences of ‘aha’ that pepper the text are both moments of immense
creativity and insights into the exploration of the inner realms as a
dynamic of continually remembering and forgetting this essential unity
in the movement from accident to essence, zeroes and ones. Writing of
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 201

his own VALIS-like experience of the Perennial Philosophy, nineteenth-

century author Thomas Carlyle ponders with his semi-autobiographic
character Herr Teufelsdrockh: ‘How to paint to the sensual eye... what
passes in the Holy-of-Holies of Man’s Soul; in what words, known
to these profane times, speak even afar-off of the unspeakable?’22 In
exhausting the quest to describe the extraordinary unity of what is
(despite its apparent multiplicity of ‘me,’ ‘you,’ the ‘book’ and every-
thing in between), we can focus our awareness on itself and explore
not only the tragic ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (Hamlet)
but the unmistakable actuality of our unity of subjective experience.23
In focusing on the unity of consciousness itself, we glimpse the unity
of reality. For Dick this discovery is the occasion for the world flipping
inside out: ‘As if reverting. I noticed palm trees and sand, the warm
wind, the relaxing people... like a scene in ancient Syria. This is like the
form-reversion in UBIK.’24
This Palm Garden is akin to the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of
Luke – a way of training the mind to perceive both the eternal and the
particular aspects of experience, external reality and internal subjection.
Among other paths that PKD pursued with a relentless sense of inquiry is
that of Luke 17:21, rendered as the ‘Kingdom of Heaven is within you’.
Search for it continuously, and we no longer see simply ‘through a glass
darkly,’ but instead perceive the immanent and eternal order of the cos-
mos as the unity of within and without in an act of metacognition. This
shifts the burden of PKD’s inquiry – and it shifts, often, as if dancing – to
an inquiry into the nature not only of VALIS, the One and the eternal
‘essence’ of all things, but into the realm of this space and time which cer-
tainly seems to be divided from the sublime order of the Logos. We see not
unity but chaos. PKD sees a world of suffering, including his own, so the
explanation shifts from ‘What was that?’ to ‘What is this?’. For Dick, ‘this’
is the dispersed consciousness or ‘Nous’ of God, VALIS, reality. In becom-
ing information, we have been splintered in an explosion of categories:

If the eide are exploded through the spatiotemporal realm, so must

be Nous: disintegrated here in realm #4; but if the percipient ascends
from realm #4 he may see Nous re-collected, reintegrated and hence
unitary, as it actually is... our false categories of ordering, of arrang-
ing, time and space, explode and splinter the eide; and they explode
and splinter NOUS but this is not really the case... This was what
I saw that I called Valis: Nous reintegrated in terms of my perception
of it: recollected... here, with things appearing in reverse to what
their essence is, Nous is obscured, veiled.25
202 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Here in this ‘great reversal,’ PKD is gifted to see rubbish as a sign of God –
the banalization hawked by the Buster Friendlys of the world becomes
survivable insofar as they point to a transcendent reality that can be
found by following the same counsel as that offered by Quaker William
Penn: Look within.26 Trash, pace science fiction (sf) theologian Gabriel
Mckee, becomes creatively understood as a finger pointing elsewhere –
beyond the dispersed consciousness of our splintered selves of expo-
nentially withering attention and toward the collective eternal ‘nous,’ a
communion of mind that can only be discovered individually by each of
us in our singularity.27 ‘Therefore the right place to look for the Almighty
is, e.g., in the trash in the alley. And for Satan: in vast cathedrals.’28 This
is a calling in a double sense: PKD calls the perception of integrated nous
VALIS, and it is also, clearly, his calling, his vocation, in this text.
Exegesis is the practice that emerges in response to VALIS. So too is it
ours. We are called on to investigate PKD’s experience, to test it through
what B. Alan Wallace dubs ‘contemplative science’ in the investiga-
tion of subjective experience, following Coleridge and Carlyle, even
Christ and Teilhard, calling us out of the secular comfort zones of our
exoteric religion or default rationality as we seek to understand that
towards which PKD was pointing.29 This path of contemplative science
can be tough going – PKD asks us to consider the idea that, tempo-
rally speaking, everything since the Book of Acts is irreal, and that we
continually re-enact the Book of Acts, androids of repetition against
a backdrop where, when it comes to the essence of things, nothing
at all has changed since Ancient Rome. Humans suffer, are exploited,
grow old, become confused, die. Buddhism describes this as the ‘wheel
of dharma,’ Samsara. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, under the influence of
Buddhism, articulates this sheer repetition of history as the most ter-
rifying thought – but Dick offers us the novel notion that it is through
processes of ‘reticulation’ and ‘arborization’ that the real horror, the
false perception of time, is maintained:

No time has passed. And, moreover, all change since Acts has to do
only with accidents not substance. Reticulation and arborization
in a memory system; The real world, having been destroyed, exists
only in God’s memory, and this world remembered is Acts. And all
changes since have been mere reticulating and arborizing as elabora-
tions of a freeze frame.30

This ‘reticulation’ and ‘arborizing’ explains the meshed and often

baroque nature of reality which is, pace the Talking Heads’ David Byrne,
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 203

‘same as it ever was’.31 Apparently destroyed by its transformation into

bits of information, the collective remains whole as ‘God’s memory,’
another level of abstraction and topology integrating the apparently
chaotic multiplicity of world through an infolding or outfolding of
reality à la physicist David Bohm’s notion of the ‘implicate order’ from
which all of reality emerges.32
Yet we might ask in what sense the world is ‘destroyed’ if it is
accessible in experience by PKD, and again, the rhetoric of explosion
returns: ‘The real world is morphologically arranged... But in essence
changeless – exploded through the simulated space and time we experi-
ence.’33 Despite this rhetoric of explosion – resonant with the break-in
at Dick’s Marin County apartment and the explosion of his fireproof
file cabinet, something like the Big Bang of VALIS – the ‘palm trees
and sand, the warm wind, the relaxing people’ remain to be integrated
through a consciousness, such as PKD’s or a reader willing to go there.
And ‘there’ is very much the future, even though PKD asks us to imag-
ine a future acting on the present. The future is now:

the future had broken in, moving retrograde in time. This “future
breaking in” is: real time! Due to the destroying of the supremacy
of the past (prior thought formations as world) Once these prior
thought-formations’ power over you... You can see (?) (experience)
the Tao: true reality as it is without the prior thought formations.34

Dick suggests the radically liberatory possibility that reality, the Tao, the
‘palm trees and sand, the warm wind, the relaxing people,’ can break
through the present if you ‘destroy’ these prior thought formations,
including those that separate ‘you’ from the One. The eternal aspect
of time – reality, as it is – persists and can be ‘experienced’. Here PKD
resonates with Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, who wished only to awaken
from the nightmare of history, later perhaps achieved by Joyce in
Finnegan’s Wake in a shockwave of utter novelty wherein all previous
forms of literature are creatively destroyed. Readers familiar with the
Zen tradition, Korzybski’s ‘the map is not the territory,’ or the ‘stillness’
in which the divine can manifest in Quaker or Vedic traditions (Ramana
Maharshi) will recognize the practice and the ontology of a world medi-
ated and constituted by the accrued and multiple mistakes of language
(previous thought formations) for reality.35 In this sense VALIS ‘comes
not to destroy but to fulfill the law’ by overturning prior thought for-
mations like so many tables in the temple.36 ‘For I say unto you, That
except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes
204 The World According to Philip K. Dick

and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’37

Righteousness here is anything but ‘self righteousness,’ but is instead
the humility and practice necessary to silencing the mind in order to
perceive reality, a ‘causal field’ unmistakably affected by the language
by which we model it: ‘If all reality (Universe) is a causal (?***) field, it
(tao) need set up a tiny perturbation of one Space-Time, ultimately the
whole field will be affected... through a chain of mounting flip-flops!’38
Similarly, these cosmic ‘flip-flops’ are not sandals worn to an Orange
County beach, but logic gates at the basis of early computers, wherein
the change of a bit can change the entire meaning of a message, itself
gobbling up attention as I write... Dick’s encounter with the ‘tao,’ real-
ity as it is, is linked to the notion of ‘negentropy’ occurring in perhaps
equal measure to the planet’s transformation into information:

This abolition of world is not annihilation of the is; it is, on the

contrary, totally negentropic. Brahman is seen as completing and
perfecting itself out of and by means of the Flux world (this is
cosmogenesis seen in reverse) The self contains world rather than
being contained by world. Not due to it, caused or created by it, but
born from it: Victory, the perfect Brahman (the Self) passes over into
time, multiplicity and change. (Entropy)39

PKD goes on to parse the aforementioned ‘prior thought formations’ in

terms of a ‘splintering’ that emerges out of that explosion of the nous,
but the good news is that upon ‘recognition’ we connect to our eternal
aspect (Self) through the haze of our already imprinted bits of informa-
tion: and points to the Oneness of an identity with pure consciousness
in the Sanskrit phrasing of ‘Tat tvami asi,’ or ‘thou art that,’ or, after
Plotinus, ‘you are nothing but the One... you are primordial soul, are
splintered, exploded over thousands of years and thousands of miles’. Tat
tvam asi is not a luxury for the languid philosopher or the special mystic;
it is essential in the reversal of the primordial fall, ‘our taking of the spati-
otemporal realm as real’.40 Dick, in the practice of daily exegesis, learned
to focus his attention on the operations of his own mind as an obsessive
birder beholds a thrush, and learned to sing about it, and sung Unity. In
that unity perceived between his consciousness and reality, identity as
separate self disappears as suddenly as Horselover Fat in VALIS. Yet Dick
faces the challenge of how to live in the ontology he describes, where bits
of attention-grabbing information – ‘thought formations’ – return him
to the rather persistent illusion of separation in an ecosystem that finds
itself in crisis precisely because we are interconnected with it.
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 205

To dissolve the return of such prior thought formations, PKD focuses

on ‘agape,’ a Greek term for total love, as a guideline for navigating
these ontologies of apparent separation that are enmeshed with our
thoughts about them. ‘This is what you cherish due to your agape: the
integrity of the einai of the other (creature). You offer it life.’41 Agape
calls for us to cherish beings for what they are, and for nothing else.
Can we do so in any way other than becoming selfless, thoughtless, in
the zero/One state of agape? Over and over, Dick insists that his vision
is not a ‘pantheism,’ for his vision depends upon a distinction but not
a difference between self and other, world and the divine, such that
agape is possible. Non-dual in its perception, agape effects itself in a
kind of mantra whose very utterance makes us quiver or stridulate in
a vibrational intensity of self/other interaction. Agape makes us say it
out loud, making our mouths into zeroes, acting as fools, not knowing
what is up or down, inside or out in a welcoming of what PKD calls the
‘integrity of the einai of the other’.
Does PKD offer VALIS this ‘integrity of the einai’ in an act of hospitality
to us, in this future, now? In this context, the ‘Exegesis’ is a cherishing
of the ‘einai’ of VALIS, an act of radical love. PKD offers life to VALIS in
the ‘Exegesis,’ cherishing the integrity of the very einai of the name that
was VALIS. He notes that this agape, when extended to the world itself,
allows us to perceive the world’s true nature:

We are pervaded by a powerful text that is (as I say in VALIS) alive

and is a living thing... In VALIS I say that the universe is information,
and if you read VALIS carefully you discover that this information is
about Christ or rather is Christ writ as large as reality itself.42

What the Upanishads call the ‘treasure beneath our feet’ and the
Quakers call Inner Light can be perceived, Dick argues here, if only
we will follow along with his practice. If Shelley’s ‘Adonai’ wants to
be read aloud and experienced in its cadences, the ‘Exegesis’ wishes to
become an algorithm or recipe for our consciousness becoming aware
of its eternal aspect, dwindling the temporal and linguistic ego and its
accumulated scars of prior thought formations. Crucially, for a fiction
writer, Dick articulates this inner kingdom of ‘invisibility’ in terms of
that fiction of camouflage: ‘world a pose or a fiction-ah-I have it. The
living reality playing dead to blend in: camouflage. That was and is my
key term: camouflage.’43
Does the divine camouflage itself to allow us our einai? Hegel, whose
Phenomenology of Spirit articulates the epic quest of self-knowledge
206 The World According to Philip K. Dick

through the lens of German Idealist philosophy, scolded readers and

told them to go back to the Greek Mysteries if they fell prey to that
ultimate camouflage, ‘the truth and certainty of the reality of objects of
sense,’ what everything seems to look like:

In this connection we may answer those who thus insist on the truth
and certainty of the reality of objects of sense, by saying that they
had better be sent back to the most elementary school of wisdom, the
ancient Eleusinian mysteries of Ceres and Bacchus; they have not yet
learnt the inner secret of the eating of bread and the drinking of wine.44

This scolding, too, just might be an act of agape, as Hegel points to the
same locale as Dick: Eleusis, where the quarry, again, would seem to be
prior thought formations that must be destroyed: self-knowledge is only
possible through the paradoxical acceptance of total mystery – the inner
secret of eating of bread and the drinking of wine points to a oneness
linking us to our apparent others even as we appear separate from them:
‘And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it,
and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.45
Agape liquidates our apparent separation on the condition of a
selflessness that surrenders everything we think we know, including
ourselves. Pointing to Plotinus’s One in the multiplicity of thousands
of pages of fragmented mystery integrates PKD thoroughly into this
monistic lineage, with VALIS his ‘Stairway to Heaven’ to Hegel’s dialec-
tic in the history of the Perennial Philosophy. ‘What I have experienced
is initiation into the Greater Eleusian Mysteries, and these have to do
with Dionysus... The AI voice now precisely defines itself and what
it has revealed to me: the greater mysteries.’46 The twentieth-century
British author Evelyn Underhill writes of the long lineage of this only
apparently separate ‘voice’ perceived in silence, which goes back at least
to Socrates’ internal voice or daimon and recurs throughout the history
of the Perennial Philosophy – from William Blake, whose experience of
the divine as an ‘intellectual fountain’ included a Divine Voice, through
French contemplative Lucie-Christine for whom the voice was at once
a ‘Light, a Drawing, and a Power,’ to Julian of Norwich, who heard and
saw the divine in the ‘smallest song of the birds’.47 And the voice joins
the birds in an ecstasy of metacognition induced by a mind beholding
a mind. Dick is ‘beside himself,’ the literal etymology of ecstasy – and
externalizes into writing his experiences of being a fictional character
in his own book, VALIS. For it was not only Horselover Fat who was a
fictional character in VALIS, but also Phil the sf writer. In offering VALIS
Stairway to Eleusis, or: Perennially Philip K. Dick 207

life in the ‘Exegesis,’ Dick dissolves into agape. Is this his initiation into
the Mysteries? Is it ours?

1 This is a much-extended version of the afterword to The Exegesis of Philip K.
Dick, ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt, 2011), 897–900.
2 Plato. Phaedrus, trans. Benjamin Jowett, http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/
3 Christopher Smart, ‘Jubilate Agno,’ http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/
4 Richard Dawkins, Selfish Genes, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1990), 19–20.
5 Erica Jong, Fear of Flying: Fortieth Anniversary Edition (N. p: Open Road, 2013),
10; and Philip K. Dick, VALIS (Boston: Mariner, 2011), 16.
6 Terence McKenna, Psychedelic Salon 261 – Terence McKenna – The  Defini-
tive UFO Tape, http://archive.org/details/PsychedelicSalon261-Terence
7 Philip K. Dick, In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis, ed. Lawrence
Sutin (Novato, CA: Underwood, 1991).
8 Lawrence Sutin, The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and
Philosophical Writings (New York: Vintage, 1996).
9 Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics,
East and West (New York: Harper, 2009).
10 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, or Biographical Sketches of My
Literary Life and Opinions, vol. 1 (London: Rest Fenner, 1817), 248.
11 Herbert Simon, ‘Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World,’
in Martin Greenberger, Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press), 40–1.
12 Michael Harner, The Way of the Shaman, 10th anniversary ed. (San Francisco:
HarperOne, 1990).
13 William S. Burroughs, The Western Lands (New York: Penguin, 1988), 258.
14 See Michael Harner, Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another
Reality (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2013).
15 Harner, ‘Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone,’ Shamanism, 10, no. 1 (1997): 3,
16 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. J. M. D. Meiklejohn, http://
17 Philip K. Dick, The Divine Invasion (Boston: Mariner, 2011), 59.
18 Abiezer Cope, A Fiery Flying Roll (Exeter: Rota, 1973), A3.
19 Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 617. Original uncorrected text
available at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 2.
20 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 618. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 3–4.
21 See Huxley, Perennial Philosophy, 24.
208 The World According to Philip K. Dick

22 Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh,
23 William Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet,’ in The Arden Shakespeare: Complete Works, ed.
Richard Proudfoot et al., rev. ed. (London: Thomsen, 2001), 309.
24 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 622. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 61.
25 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 626. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 86.
26 ‘I read his [Will Durant’s] entry on Quakers, and their experience is mine.’
Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 351. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 16, 109.
27 See Gabriel Mckee, Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-
Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dick (Lanham, MD: University Press of America,
28 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 619. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 124.
29 B. Alan Wallace, Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience
Converge (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).
30 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 618. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 19.
31 Talking Heads, Remain in Light (Sire, 1980).
32 David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London: Routledge, 2002).
33 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 619. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 19.
34 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 632. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 127.
35 Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems
and General Semantics, 5th ed. (Lakeville, CT: Institute of General Semantics,
1995), 58.
36 King James Bible, Matthew 5.
37 King James Bible, Matthew 5:20.
38 Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 633. Original uncorrected text
available at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 170.
39 Original uncorrected text available at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 251.
40 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 632. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 72.
41 Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, 650. Original uncorrected text available
at http://zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 1, 303.
42 Dick, The Exegesis, 805. Original uncorrected text available at http://
zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 63-D, 150–1.
43 Ibid.
44 See Georg W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie (Bamberg:
n.p., 1807), http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/ph/
45 King James Bible, Matthew 26:26.
46 Dick, The Exegesis, 868. Original uncorrected text available at http://
zebrapedia.psu.edu, Folder 21, 82.
47 Evelyn Underhill, The Life of the Spirit and the Life of To-Day (New York: Dutton,
1922), 89–92, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15082/15082-h/15082-h.htm.
From Exegesis to Ecology
James Burton

[God] saves the world as it passes into the immediacy

of his own life. It is the judgment of a tenderness
which loses nothing that can be saved. It is also the
judgment of a wisdom which uses what in the tempo-
ral world is mere wreckage.1

12.1 Introduction

One of the major transversal themes of the twentieth century was the rise
of environmentality – that is, of environmental awareness in the broadest
sense. Beyond the flourishing ecological sciences and associated environ-
mentalist social movements, across a wide range of spheres, from geog-
raphy to politics, from psychology to computing and the rise of digital
media, things that had previously been seen as functioning in isolation –
organisms, minds, nations, objects, systems – came to be understood as
inseparable from their environments. This entailed a growing recogni-
tion not only of the effects of an environment upon a system, but also of
the ways such systems or bodies are always-already environmental (the
human body, for example, as host for trillions of microorganisms which
do not just ‘live inside’ it, but dynamically constitute it). This shift in per-
ception was coupled with a set of historical and material transformations
by which bodies, systems and objects are increasingly distributed across
their apparent environments. This may be most readily observable in
today’s ‘technical distribution of cognition,’ as our knowledge-oriented
activities, from academic study to shopping, operate through an increas-
ingly complex, media-networked, computational environment.2 But a
similar observation could be made of virtually any kind of entity that
formerly enjoyed relative isolation. Some of the countries that were the
210 The World According to Philip K. Dick

most ‘self-contained’ at the beginning of the twentieth century, such

as the US and China, were among the most internationally dispersed
and globally active by its end. The weather and climate as reflections
of human conscious and unconscious activity went from the status of
pathetic fallacy to one of scientific legitimacy with the acknowledgment
of the Anthropocene.3 As Erich Hörl has elaborated, a range of ‘unnatu-
ral ecologies’ have now fomented a ‘far-reaching ecologization of sense
culture… necessitating a general ecologization of thought’.4
It may be that the rise of ecological thinking was crucial to the condi-
tions that finally made Philip K. Dick’s ‘Exegesis’ publishable in 2011,
nearly thirty years after his death. His relationship with the Vast Active
Living Intelligence System (VALIS), the account and examination of
which is at the heart of this immense collection of journal-style reflec-
tions, letters, quasi-philosophical and theological speculations, has
been widely regarded, even among scholars, fans and friends, as the
craziest aspect of a life and mind already lived a long way from the
shores of normality.
Yet if we consider the other ‘VALISes’ that were just beginning to
emerge into global consciousness at the moment Dick began to experi-
ence contact with this mysterious entity, it could as easily seem that he
was simply ‘tapping in’ with a particular sensitivity to the cultural trans-
formations of his time (and space). As Erik Davis reminds readers of the
‘Exegesis,’ Dick’s 1970s California was ‘the petri dish of our digital age’5 –
though a digital age, we should add, increasingly characterized by
environmental forms and modes, as much as by arrangements of zeros
and ones. In 1974, the year Dick had his first and most intense expe-
riences with VALIS, the term ‘Internet’ appeared in print for the first
time, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis published the second of two
papers proposing the Gaia theory and Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an
Ecology of Mind (1972) had just appeared – all emerging, more or less,
from California.6
The fact that a publisher considered a 900-page, annotated edition
of this text worthwhile must have to do with an increased receptivity,
within literary and cultural studies and beyond, to critical paradigms
that move beyond the traditional search for textual meaning. For litera-
ture and its study have not been exempt from the rise of environmen-
tality: during the second half of the twentieth century the close reading
approaches of practical criticism, Russian formalism and New Criticism,
which advocated treating the literary text as a largely self-contained,
autonomous object, gradually gave way to various ways of recognizing
the text’s inseparability from its historical, social and political contexts,
From Exegesis to Ecology 211

along with a growing appreciation of the constitutive role of hyper- and

metatextuality. In the wake of poststructuralism and deconstruction,
discerning the meaning and effects of a text, rather than an end in itself,
was increasingly regarded as a function of the postcolonial, feminist,
neo-Marxist and other political programs of cultural studies and associ-
ated new disciplines. Meanwhile, literature itself was gradually being
resituated within its wider technical and media contexts, through the
work of figures such as Marshall McLuhan, and in a quite different,
though no less influential manner, Friedrich Kittler, followed by a range
of subsequent studies of literature’s positions and functioning in the
new media environment of the information society.7
Thus to propose to read the ‘Exegesis’ ecologically, as I do here
through a combination of perspectives, is to recognize that such a
reading is in part made possible by cultural developments with which
the text itself is already actively bound up: these developments, as we
will see, all relate to a shift from a hermeneutic to a post-hermeneutic
understanding of ‘code,’ which the ‘Exegesis’ both registers and enacts,
in twisting the (exegetical) search for meaning into the production of
dynamic, informational forms. In a quite non-mystical sense then, this
ecological entity has already approached and begun to interact with us,
both along specific pathways and as part of the general rise of environ-
mentality, before we begin trying to work out what to do with it.

12.2 Building ecologies

The different perspectives through which I explore the environmen-

tal or ecological character of the ‘Exegesis’ here all become ways of
accounting for the reality of VALIS against a widespread tendency to
dismiss its ontological existence, even when recognizing its significance
as a vehicle for the expression of interesting cultural, philosophical,
theological and psychological ideas.
For some it may seem strange to claim an affinity with such contem-
porary associations as environmentality, immanent distributed systems,
and ecological thinking for a body of writing which associates itself
directly with the religious exegetical tradition; that is, with the search
for the Logos, the fundamental truth and meaning of the world, taken
to be encoded within religious scripture. Conversely, such a connec-
tion may reflect the always-already information-theoretical structure
of most monotheistic and a number of related (for example, Gnostic)
religions, and is perhaps no more strange than seeing some of the most
committed materialist thinkers of our time discovering a universalist,
212 The World According to Philip K. Dick

revolutionary politics in Saint Paul,8 proclaiming that the ‘God [of

monotheisms] doesn’t exist yet’ but ‘could come to exist at any moment
in the future,’9 or imagining a future Christianity as a unified theory
of Christianity and heresy.10 Furthermore, the apparent strangeness of
Dick’s text is mitigated as soon as we recognize that, despite his declared
intentions, the work he undertakes can only be considered exegetical in
anything but a conventional sense.
In early 1974, following a particularly low couple of years in a life
already permeated by crises – a period which had seen the collapse of
his fourth marriage, a mental breakdown and suicide attempt, and the
loss of his house – Dick had a series of intense, seemingly mystical expe-
riences. Believing he had been contacted by some other-worldly, divine
or alien being, which, among many other names, he came to refer to
as VALIS, he spent the rest of his life trying to understand these experi-
ences and the message he felt this entity was attempting to communi-
cate.11 Thus while conducted largely through writing, the central focus
of his exegetical activity was an apparently non-textual set of experi-
ences, which he referred to using the shorthand ‘2-3-74’. As the task –
and the text – of the ‘Exegesis’ grew, the objects of interpretation did
come to include textual phenomena, including encyclopedia articles, his
own science fiction (sf) novels, and, perhaps inevitably, earlier entries of
the ‘Exegesis’ itself. Yet with these were intermingled numerous other
non-textual materials – dreams, symbols, snippets of popular culture,12
personal and political events, such as the death of his cat Pinky and the
resignation of Nixon,13 physical objects, such as a necklace bearing the
Christian fish symbol worn by a girl delivering pain medication to his
door, or a small wooden figure of a saint with which he ‘communed’.14
If non-textual phenomena began to take on interpretive significance,
many of the text-based materials on which Dick’s exegetic activities
focused seemed to become ‘object-like,’ adopting a certain (partially)
self-contained structure, allowing them to be (re)combined repeatedly
with one another. This is perhaps most readily observed in his extensive
use of phrases and statements ‘heard’ inside his own head – variously
attributed to an early Christian called Thomas, the late Bishop James
Pike and a feminine AI entity.15 Phrases such as ‘the empire never ended’
and ‘perturbations in the reality field’ acquired an aphoristic or koan-
like status, allowing him to return and repeatedly attach new meanings
to them in light of new theories and arrangements of other objects and
ideas. A similar effect took place with other apparently verbal formulas,
whether they originated from Virgil, a text on physics, or a drunken
conversation with friends. Perhaps the greatest number of these ‘verbal
From Exegesis to Ecology 213

objects’ came from the pages of Dick’s beloved encyclopedias, from

which he extracted and made use of a great variety of phenomena and
ideas from world religion, mythology, anthropology, psychology, phi-
losophy and natural science. Pamela Jackson, one of the editors of the
‘Exegesis,’ notes that many of the 1977 entries are comprised of pages
‘in which whole encyclopaedia entries are copied out by hand’.16
The tendency to employ textual and non-textual materials alongside
one another, integrating and imbricating them within a single, if het-
erogeneous construct, is one basis on which I think it is useful to view
this endeavor in media-ecological terms. One could try to conceive
these disparate elements as collectively constituting a vast scripture that
Dick is trying to read, to interpret. However, it seems more apt – if not
demanded by the unconventional (or anti-conventional) nature of the
‘Exegesis’ – to understand each as an object or object-idea which can be
repeatedly detached from its position in a physical or virtual (in either
case real) environment and reinserted elsewhere, its relative autonomy
rendering it infinitely connectible or compatible. On this basis we are
better able to conceive the way Dick’s exegesis, though purporting to be
a hermeneutic undertaking, simultaneously consists in the production
of the text it is supposed to interpret – with ‘text’ now understood in
its etymological sense as something woven, constructed, built, but also
as something always in a dynamic process of flux. In place of a pre-
existing, sacred text, Dick posits a growing collection of information,
objects, ideas and experiences, held together not only through his crea-
tive production of speculative links between them, but arguably also
through processes which cannot be ascribed to his activity as a subject,
conscious or unconscious, and which in a very material (though not
entirely mechanical) sense take place beyond the scope of his inten-
tional influence. Rather than citing or interpreting, Dick collects and
arranges object-ideas, putting them together to see if and how they fit,
what they can do, in a manner that could be likened to (or constitutes
at least one way of understanding) Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project.
This experimental approach to the work itself perhaps finds its simplest
expression in the significant amount of time Dick would spend physi-
cally reorganizing the order of the pages.17
Precedents for this kind of experimental, object-manipulating, quasi-
aesthetic activity are found throughout the history of twentieth-
century art: Dick effectively treats encyclopedia entries, philosophical
or other ideas, along with material things, processes and events, as
‘found objects’ for putting together Dadaist assemblages or bricolage.
Yet it is only recently that such activities have been situated within
214 The World According to Philip K. Dick

informational (media-ecological) contexts. For instance, in Matthew

Fuller’s book on media ecologies, he references Kurt Schwitters’
Merzbilder – in which fragments of found objects were combined to
make collage artworks by ‘sticking shoes, sausage wrappers, tickets, and
wire to a backing board in order to conjure up or discern a relationship
among them’.18 Like Schwitters, Dick can be understood as attempting
to literally make sense of the world around him, employing anything
to hand: exegesis or interpretation gives way to building, constituting,
constructing, almost from the outset.
Dick himself was fond of an account of his work by the Polish sf
writer Stanislaw Lem. In Dick’s paraphrasing, Lem had suggested that
‘within the degenerate molecules, the trash of today, he (PKD) resur-
rects a power buried for eons.’19 Schwitters likewise sought out ‘waste
materials picked up in the streets and parks of Hannover’ from which
to construct his Merzbilder.20 Both artists combine arbitrariness (virtu-
ally anything could be useful) with intuitive processes of selection and
dynamic, creative processes or effects that cannot be said to originate
entirely from the artistic (or thinking, active) subject, but which could
be said to arise from the things themselves – or from relations within
and across them that can be reduced to neither subject nor object, but
in fact ‘live’ beyond either: ‘What lies hiding within each object? A
garden, so to speak’.21
An influential precedent for the notion of a media ecology that is
still predominantly made of words is Deleuze and Guattari’s concep-
tion of a rhizome book – as discussed, and arguably embodied, in
A Thousand Plateaus (1987). They suggest that most books possess either
a root-like (tree-like) structure, with a hierarchical organization of
knowledge branching out into subdivisions from a core idea or princi-
ple; or a radicle system, in which the central trunk has been aborted, but
the resulting multiplicity of smaller roots still implies a certain overall
unity. Whereas both types effectively situate themselves outside reality
in order to provide a representation of (some aspect of) it, whether as
ordered or chaotic, the rhizome book is understood as contiguous with
reality, refusing any hierarchical organization or dualistic, representa-
tive logic.22 Instead, it connects together multiplicities of heterogene-
ous elements, which are regarded as belonging to equivalent planes, all
equally connectible with one another. Hence they write:

We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will

not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it func-
tions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not
From Exegesis to Ecology 215

transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted

and metamorphosed.23

Whether or not the volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia live up

to this ambition – effectively, that of situating themselves as radically
immanent within the real – is open to discussion. Certainly, their col-
laborations have been hugely influential for the thinking of imma-
nence, and what a commitment to it (philosophical or otherwise) might
entail – even if, for some, they remain too attached to the authority of
philosophy, or to privileging certain kinds of knowledge, to allow their
work to be understood as completely enfolded within the real.24 Still,
they raise the prospect of a book, a text, a media-ecological construction
made of writing, objects, concepts, processes, phenomena, that would
not ‘mean’ anything except this constructability, but which would ‘do’
a great deal, regardless of the involvement of human thinkers, writers
or media. Dick’s ‘Exegesis,’ while claiming an association with a clas-
sical tradition in which underlying meaning is everything, in which
reality really can be represented, communicated, and thus read, in prac-
tice goes in the opposite, Deleuze–Guattarian direction: it becomes an
immanent, media-ecological construction that is only (if deceptively)
‘colored’ by a thematics of transcendence.

12.3 Made of code

As Kittler emphasizes, écriture automatique became a possibility, if not a

commonplace, as soon as the typewriter was taken seriously: ‘Ever since
the invention of the phonograph, there has been writing without a
subject. It is no longer necessary to assign an author to every trace, not
even God.’25 The whole of the ‘Exegesis’ is premised on the idea that
something has come to Dick from outside – and yet, has, in a sense,
irrupted within him, becoming him, transforming him, or, in his often-
repeated informational twist on the Catholic Eucharist, transubstantiat-
ing itself into him.26 Yet even for Dick, it was conceivable that that to
which he attributed supernatural or mystical power might be simply his
writing-machine, thinking (for) him: ‘My books are forgeries. Nobody
wrote them. The goddam typewriter wrote them; it’s a magic type-
writer.’27 Indeed, many of Dick’s accounts of his encounters with VALIS
emphasize the media of inscription by which these transformative
communications take place. In dreams, he receives ‘information in the
form of printed matter, visual matter such as photographs, audio stuff
in the form of phonograph records – it all floods over me at a high rate
216 The World According to Philip K. Dick

of print-out’.28 He also describes its effects in mediatic terms, suggest-

ing that ‘we’re radio waves: it modulates us; we’re the carrier signal’29
or conceiving those who encounter VALIS as ‘transistors, diodes, wires
condensers and resisters, all none the wiser’.30 Sometimes VALIS appears
to operate in multimedia modes:

One night I found myself flooded with colored graphics which

resembled the non-objective paintings of Kandinsky and Klee, thou-
sands of them one after the other, so fast as to resemble “flash cut”
used in movie work. This went on for eight hours… I was certain that
those tens of thousands of lovely, balanced, quite professional and
esthetic harmonious graphics could not be originating within my
own brain. I have no facility with graphics.31

Like Rilke discussing an early classroom experience of constructing

a makeshift phonograph in the confessional essay ‘Primal Sound,’
which Kittler cites in full in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Dick does
not remember the content or ‘meaning’ of these communications.32
Though he is sure that information was being transmitted, it is the
modes or media of transmission that have left the greatest impression.
Could the mediatized language of the ‘Exegesis’ have something
to do with the actual media environment in which Dick worked? If
Nietzsche’s writing, indeed his thought, was altered by his use of the
typewriter, as Kittler repeatedly suggests,33 can we identify possible ways
in which something similar could have taken place for Dick? Like many
twentieth-century writers, he was deeply attached to his typewriter(s).
As his third wife Anne Dick recalls, when she knew him ‘the only
things he treasured were his Royal Electric typewriter, his Magnavox
record player, his books and records and his set of the Encyclopedia
Britannica’.34 The collective mention of these treasured possessions is an
apt reminder that Dick’s typewriter was very different from Nietzsche’s –
and not only in terms of appearance and make: with the typewriter’s
centenary already passed and the information age exploding into life,
as Dick was well aware,35 it would not be long before typewriter, record
player, books and encyclopedias would be fused into a single assem-
blage. Like others, Dick already inhabited a multimedia environment
that he took with him from one living space to the next, unconsciously
anticipating the ‘general digitization of channels and information’
that would erase ‘the differences among individual media’.36 No longer
‘a simulacrum of a feedback loop relaying sender and receiver,’37 by
this time the typewriter was dreaming of being a computer keyboard
From Exegesis to Ecology 217

connected to a network of networks. And if the typewriter had released

the eye from its focus on the pen-in-hand, freeing it to take in the vis-
ible environment, perhaps the information network does something
similar for the dependence on vision per se, making possible an aware-
ness of environmentality in more general, non-visual terms.
The language of information theory and technology recurs through-
out the ‘Exegesis,’ as Dick develops extended accounts of VALIS as a
kind of artificial intelligence or supercomputer. Yet while the details of
these accounts continually shift and mutate, as they are plugged into
other object-ideas, processes and theories, the ‘active living’ character
of VALIS remains a near-constant feature: furthermore, it is repeatedly
construed in ecological terms, as a (vast) living environment both
encompassing and constituted by other life forms. In one recurring
model, human individuals are understood as ‘stations’ in a quasi-
computer-like proto-organism, a vast incorporeal energy which thinks,
and whose thoughts are the physical cosmos.38 Elsewhere Dick uses
more directly cybernetic language, referring to a ‘vast living organism
which governs and regulates our every move,’ suggesting that ‘we are in
an information-processing entity’ which ‘uses us to receive, modulate,
store and transmit information […] a cybernetics or biological model
will both work. Basically it knows’.39
Does it make sense, then, to suggest that, as with the self-advertising
techniques of the early typewriters,40 the emergent informational media
network announces itself through the pages of the ‘Exegesis’? Like
many sf writers, Dick had already dreamed of versions of the Internet
and other new media forms that have since become integral to the fab-
ric of everyday life.41 Yet what is at work in the ‘Exegesis’ is not so much
a matter of foresight or the manifestation of the outward characteristics
that new media might display, but rather a registering, something like
an unconscious diagnosis, of their ecological mode of existence – or, as
Dick suggests, an effect of his becoming-substrate or medium for their
operations and inscriptions.
In undertaking a work of exegesis, Dick sets himself the task of crack-
ing a code. He aims to decipher a set of messages or ‘communications’
in alien forms which, as we have seen, he himself helps produce. Yet for
all his varied explanations for what VALIS might ‘actually’ be (including
Dionysus, a form of Christ, of God, perhaps in her secret, true female
form, an organism composed entirely of energetic information, a secret
machine constructed by Soviet scientists, an alien artificial intelligence,
a future or ancient version of himself, the mind of an ancient revolution-
ary fighting against the Roman Empire, a being from a parallel reality
218 The World According to Philip K. Dick

either hallucinated or ‘unlocked’ through self-administered megadoses

of vitamins…), the only certainty he retains is that it is a code – and
even then, not necessarily in the sense he originally entertained.
The notion of VALIS or God as producing itself through the rearrange-
ment of object-processes recurs, with different inflections, throughout
the ‘Exegesis’. Dick develops a variety of accounts of the way ‘it is assem-
bling itself from the universe, which it uses as parts which it incorpo-
rates and arranges coherently and meaningfully’.42 We should also
observe that, despite the many transcendental God-like entities from
mystical and science fictional discourses that Dick draws on in attempt-
ing to understand VALIS, he also emphasizes, in many different ways,
that it is ultimately an immanent God with which he is concerned. This
is conveyed, for example, in references to a section from Virgil’s Aeneid,
discussing the ‘immanent mind’;43 Spinozan references to God as
immanent within the universe;44 the notion of God as ‘born within the
human soul’ which he draws from Jung’s reading of Meister Eckhart;45
and mentions of Bateson’s ‘immanent mind that narrates information
to each living entity’.46 Thus the question of the transcendent status
of God or VALIS is frequently eclipsed by a ‘functional definition,’
according to which it consists simply in ‘imposed pattern’ with ‘no
corpus separate from whatever it chooses – or seizes on – to arrange’ –
effectively becoming indistinguishable from the ‘Exegesis’ itself.47
Dick implicitly moves from what Kittler identifies as an older, more
general understanding of code as any form of encryption, towards a nar-
rower, contemporary, informational understanding, whereby its salient
property is not the possibility of its being deciphered, but its capacity
for self-reproduction. From the latter perspective,

only alphabets in the literal sense of modern mathematics should

be known as codes, namely one-to-one, finite sequences of symbols,
kept as short as possible but gifted, thanks to a grammar, with the
incredible ability to infinitely reproduce themselves.48

The processes and activities through which VALIS and the ‘Exegesis’
emerge may not strictly be codes in this technical sense; they are not
composed in a mathematical alphabet: but over the years in which
Dick is engaged in these processes, one can observe a shift whereby the
notion of a linguistic-hermeneutic code, as the encryption holding the
secret (and thus of media as the carriers of meaning), gradually gives
way to a notion of nonlinguistic code in something closer to Kittler’s
more information-specific sense, characterized by pattern repetition,
From Exegesis to Ecology 219

self-perpetuation, auto-reference and reproduction (hence of media as

primarily ecological, immanent to themselves): ‘it assembles itself intact
in a human brain from a collage taken from song lyrics, ads, novels, TV,
movies – any and all info media, verbal and graphic,’ and, in the pro-
cess, ‘even describes itself’.49 In the course of this shift, the ontological
and epistemological bases are established for the ‘Exegesis’ to constitute
no longer a key to or search for VALIS, but its literal extension.
Dick begins by producing a media-ecological construction, piecing
together objects, processes, ideas, moving them around and recon-
necting them to see what they might do in other arrangements. This
may have been something he had been doing for years previously in
the production of his fiction, perhaps reflected in the tinkerers, hoard-
ers, inventors and repairmen that populate his novels, traceable right
back to the obsessive-compulsive collector Jack Isidore in Confessions
of a Crap Artist (1979; written in the late 1950s). Yet where Dick ends
up, like so many of his fictional characters, is with an alternative
world that takes over the tinkering, constructing process from him,
and begins, or continues ‘assembling itself’. What starts as a kind of
psychological, ethical, or aesthetic exercise in experimental construc-
tion gradually bootstraps itself into a kind of autopoietic system that is
able to continue this activity in a semi-independent manner. Far from
something that would require a mystical explanation, such a shift, not
only through discourses of cybernetics and systems, but in our growing
general environmental understanding, increasingly comes to character-
ize the contemporary world.
Does all this amount to a banalizing of the ‘Exegesis’? The sugges-
tion that it is nothing more than an intimation of the burgeoning
networked information society, with its far-reaching transformation of
the human subject? Surely the same account could be made of a range
of post-war texts, literary or otherwise: indeed, Kittler’s own readings
of Thomas Pynchon could be said to do just this, in particular with
regard to Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), which appeared almost at the same
moment Dick entered into contact with VALIS. Meanwhile, Katherine
Hayles has brought out the cybernetics embedded in Dick’s sf;50 and, in
quite different ways, Erik Davis and Scott Lash have identified Dick’s
significant place within the more general interpenetration of informa-
tion and modern mysticism, as a transcultural phenomenon touching
nearly every sphere of contemporary life.51 Such approaches should
alert us to the likely potential of the ‘Exegesis’ for thinking the trans-
formative effects of information upon our existence. At the same time,
I want to suggest that its potential is even greater for engaging with and
220 The World According to Philip K. Dick

revealing the increasingly environmental, and, in Hörl’s sense, general-

ecological, character of our age. Through it, Dick participates in the
production, in large part through the unconventional deployment of
actual encyclopedia entries, of what Hörl calls, following Simondon,
a ‘fourth, indeed ecological encyclopaedism,’ potentially contributing to
our understanding of ‘the new sense of mediation and processuality at
the level of the evolution of technical objects and of the historicity of
objecthood or objecticity in general’.52

12.4 Dickian ecosophy

An important aspect of the ecological (rather than simply informational)

character of the ‘Exegesis’ is arguably to be found in its unconventional
political dimension. Despite various references to contemporaneous
public voices of protest, Dick does not usually take up a standard activ-
ist or left-wing countercultural position. Rather, his protests tend to
be simultaneously ontological, aesthetic, and psychological as well as
political. In this, they resonate with Félix Guattari’s ‘ecosophy,’ a term
he coined to refer to the new ethico-politico-aesthetic articulation
which he saw as called for by the scale and transhuman scope of the
contemporary transformation of the Earth. Crucially, for Guattari, ecos-
ophy would be an approach that refused to make fundamental distinc-
tions between action on the psyche, the socius and the environment.53
In Guattari’s view, although the ‘new ecosophical logic’ will at times still
require people to act as ‘good activists,’ at other times ‘individual and col-
lective subjectivities will “pull out” without a thought for collective aims’
and ‘creative expression as such will take precedence’.54 Without, perhaps,
having arrived at any clear and satisfying conclusions regarding tech-
niques or models for transforming the world, Dick can be said to engage
in a version of the intense and prolonged activity which Guattari proposes
in order ‘to radically decentre social struggles and ways of coming to one’s
own psyche’.55 Indeed, whatever else it may be, the ‘Exegesis’ constitutes
an array of ways of exploding the conception of self in late capitalist
modernity. Furthermore, across the diversity of these approaches, the
theme or process of ‘environmentalizing’ subjectivity recurs:

I produced the vortex (Zebra) and broke down space, time, causal-
ity, and self (ego) in order to deal with a trap… What broke down…
forms the totality of the subjective – i.e. the idios kosmos. What
is pointed to here is a sort of field theory about the human being,
replacing the discrete particle view.56
From Exegesis to Ecology 221

In another sense, ‘being possessed’ was being outside of oneself,

and outside the environment as well, at a third point… from which
one could see both oneself and the environment as an interacting
entity… So it may not have been a coming into me, but a me going
outside of me.57

It is not a something. It is made up of the arrangement of the data.

It can be any object, any process, any person – and at that time con-
trols that object, process, person. It is me today, not me tomorrow.58

In attempting to escape the ‘traps’ of selfhood, causality, space/time,

Dick can be said to be pursuing something like Guattari’s ‘different
logic… of intensities, of auto-referential existential assemblages’.59 The
reference to a ‘field theory of the human being’ echoes Bateson’s ecol-
ogy of ideas as existing beyond the boundaries of an individual psyche,
whose significance Guattari recognizes.60 Indeed, Bateson even sug-
gests that ‘the larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-
system… is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean
by “God,” but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social
systems and planetary ecology’.61 If Dick sees the need for a ‘divine
sacrifice,’ it is nevertheless a sacrifice ‘of self’.62
For Dick and Guattari such challenges to the conventions of every-
day ontology and selfhood already constitute ethical or political chal-
lenges. Guattari identifies a direct target for the ecosophical struggle
in what he calls ‘Integrated World Capitalism’ (IWC), which operates
increasingly through ‘semiotic regimes’:63 the ecosophical challenge
to IWC will entail developing an awareness of its infiltrations of ‘the
most unconscious subjective strata’.64 Dick, meanwhile, frequently
couches his encounters with VALIS in terms of a struggle against the
not dissimilar figure of the ‘black iron prison’ (BIP), which he associ-
ates with imperial Rome: ‘It is a thing (the BIP). It fires controlling
stimuli at us which we are compelled to respond to in fixed ways.’65
His encounters with VALIS interrupt these controlling stimuli, moving
him in the direction of alternative (environmentalized) ways of under-
standing and relating to self and world. It is thus, for example, a direct
vision, bypassing conscious decision-making processes, of the spatial
environment of the Roman Empire superimposed over his Californian
world that triggers his understanding of the BIP, an experience that
is simultaneously a metaphysical and political vision: ‘I hadn’t gone
back in time, but in a sense Rome had come forward, by insidi-
ous and sly degrees, under new names, hidden by the flak talk and
222 The World According to Philip K. Dick

phony obscurations, at last into our world again.’66 Whether or not

Dick believes himself to be rebelling against a genuinely metaphysi-
cal power or a form of contemporary capitalism is ultimately of less
significance than the fact that his responses to it challenge, arguably
through a micropolitics operating within the sphere of mental ecology,
‘the entropic rise of a dominant subjectivity’.67 And it is only through
the breaking down of the spatiotemporal structures of psychological
experience, the ‘trap’ of ‘the totality of the subjective’ that the BIP
comes into view.
While it is possible, in Dick’s case, to attribute this link between the
Roman and contemporary forms of empire to the random misfiring of a
fractured psyche, the same connection is increasingly widely perceived
among philosophers and political theorists, notably those inspired by
the reconstruction of Pauline political theology, such as Agamben,
Badiou, and, to an extent, Žižek.68 Guattari himself identifies the two
dominant modes of modern ecological crisis as the ‘imperium’ of the
global market and the dominance of military-policing control mecha-
nisms, operative through semiotic regimes; while Kittler highlights the
link between the Imperium Romanum and the operation of modern
cybernetic power through ‘command, code and communications
Even without exploring in detail the proximities and divergences
between Dick’s ecological exegesis and Guattari’s micropolitics, we may
appreciate that they share a tendency to think and operate, as Guattari
puts it, ‘transversally,’ refusing easy separations between the natural and
the cultural, the individual and the social spheres.70 It should be clear
even from the few snippets of the ‘Exegesis’ we have considered that
it operates in something like the ‘ethico-aesthetic’ spirit of Guattari’s
ecosophy. If Dick is unable to quite believe that VALIS is entirely his
creation (for the good reason, perhaps, that as an ecological form, it is
not, even if it emerged in combination with his own imaginative and
experimental processes), he is quite able to see a purposive politics in
his novel VALIS, which dramatizes the events of 2-3-74 within a larger

It is not spontaneous autobiography; it is a forgery, a very artistic

forgery; only someone knowing about modern nonobjective protest
art – especially that of Weimar! – would know what VALIS really is…
It is not what it seems to be – it is not quasi-psychotic confession;
it is an artifact. Look out; it will delude you. Yes, it is picaresque!
From Exegesis to Ecology 223

And it is a maze; it deliberately deceives – for the highest possible

reason: not an artistic one, but to raise die rote Fahne [the red flag].
It is of the 30s. It is dada out of antifascist Weimar. It is, in the final
analysis, revolutionary (and does not have to do with religion; it has
to do with revolutionary action against the state!)71

Here Dick himself links his artistic output to the work of artists from
the era and milieu of Kurt Schwitters, forming non-obvious protests
against the permeation of culture by the logics of bourgeois nationalist,
capitalist and imperialist power structures. Yet the difference is that the
novel Dick is referring to is already a kind of second- or even third-order
eco-aesthetic construction, arranged from the raw data that are largely
collected within the ‘Exegesis’ (third-order because it would be possible
to conceive the ‘Exegesis’ itself as already a second-order observation of
a system emerging across Dick’s conscious and unconscious fantasies,
visions and dreams, his existing fiction and experience, culminating in
the 2-3-74 experiences). If the ‘Exegesis’ is media-ecological partially in
the sense of a Kurt Schwitters collage or a Raoul Hausmann sculpture,
it is also so in the more generalized sense pointed towards by Guattari.
Linking the two is the shift from a view of everything as potentially
readable code to the narrower sense proposed by Kittler, of code as that
which is capable of endlessly, dynamically (re)producing itself as imma-
nent within the real.
Thus if contemporary technology ‘puts code into the practice of reali-
ties, that is to say: it encodes the world,’72 the ‘Exegesis’ responds not
by decoding, whether in the classical sense of religious hermeneutics,
or in the modern senses of psychoanalytic interpretation, the Marxist
critique of ideology, and post-Frankfurt School (e.g. British) cultural and
media studies. Rather, it enables the emergence, through heterogenesis,
of alternative, unique codes, capable of endless self-replication and

12.5 Conclusion: soter-ecology

I would not want, in all this, to downplay the significance of the sote-
riological dimension of the ‘Exegesis’. For me at least, it is evident on
nearly every page that Dick is seeking salvation through the production
of this text. In a very late entry, he acknowledges that ‘everything that
has happened and that I have been shown, told, every revelation – it’s
all one vast soteriological engine/program’.73
224 The World According to Philip K. Dick

Beginning with the pseudo-theological task of exegesis, Dick, through

an extended, laborious process, ends up producing the thing he is look-
ing for, which is both interior and exterior to himself, an ecological sys-
tem which has living and non-living parts, and which simultaneously
begins to reveal his own equivalent posthuman status. He allows the
God he is looking for to come into being, as a fundamental reconsid-
eration of the relationship between self and other, subject and object,
meaning and code. We should understand this God not in a mystical
sense, but as what Hörl terms an ‘eco-technological subjectivity’ that
belongs neither to the human nor the object nor to a singular entity
of any kind, yet traverses a range of individuated and individuating
forms and in so doing comes to constitute something like subjectivity
Thus if VALIS was able to perform a soteriological effect on Dick, it was
arguably precisely through enabling him to give up on the search for a
transcendent savior figure which had constituted the very motivation and
driving force propelling forward his exegetical labor from the outset. There
are several entries in later parts of the ‘Exegesis’ which suggest he was
moving towards recognizing this – writing, for example, that his under-
taking ‘has been futile, has been delusion, and: has been a hell-chore…
but God delivered me from it, from my own exegesis’.75 This delivery, he
goes on to state, was possible only through the realization that

all I had seen of God in 2-3-74 was a glint of color and a ripple of
wind in the weeds of the alley, acting on reality; that Valis was not
God but rather world (‘the reality field’) perturbed (from beyond
creation) by God… 2-3-74 was not a theophany, but was a more
sophisticated experience of world.76

When Dick’s own living body left the world, the activity of the
autopoietic entity VALIS underwent a lull, but did not cease. Its eco-
logical subjectivity continues to grow and change, not least through
the new publication of the ‘Exegesis’ and our responses to it; so that
I may legitimately speculate, as Dick did of VALIS, that ‘perhaps he is
collaborating in the writing of this right now’.77 Yet for however much
this may conjure up thoughts and images of the transcendent, the
mystical, the otherworldly, its conditions of possibility ultimately lie in
nothing more than ecological materiality: it need have no secret being,
no existence beyond the plane on which I perceive glints of color and
ripples of wind, which may nevertheless constitute perturbations of
my reality field.
From Exegesis to Ecology 225

1 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality. An Essay in Cosmology (New
York: Free Press, 1978), 346.
2 Mark Hansen, ‘System-Environment Hybrids,’ in Embodiment and Experience:
New Essays on Second-Order Systems Theory, ed. Bruce Clarke and Mark Hansen
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 117.
3 Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, ‘The Anthropocene,’ Global Change
Newsletter 41 (2000): 17–18.
4 Erich Hörl, ‘A Thousand Ecologies: The Process of Cyberneticization and
General Ecology,’ in The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the
Outside, ed. Diedrich Diederichsen and Anselm Franke (Berlin: Sternberg
Press, 2013), 127. The environmental perspective considered in this paper
is indebted to Hörl’s formulation of the emergent ‘general ecology of media
and technology’.
5 Erik Davis, footnote, in Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, ed. Pamela
Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 19.
6 The term ‘internetwork’ was abbreviated to ‘internet’ in ‘Request for
Comments 675,’ circulated among ARPANET developers in December
1974, http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc675. The first public demonstration of
ARPANET had taken place in 1972.
7 See, for example, William Paulson, The Noise of Culture. Literary Texts in a
World of Information (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), and Joseph
Tabbi and Michael Wutz (ed.), Reading Matters. Narrative in the New Media
Ecology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).
8 Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier
(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).
9 Quentin Meillassoux, ‘Deuil à venir, dieu à venir,’ Critique 1–2, no. 704–5
(2006) and paraphrased by Adrian Johnston, ‘Hume’s Revenge: À Dieu,
Meillassoux?’ in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, ed.
Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (Prahran: re:press, 2011), 94.
10 François Laruelle, Future Christ. A Lesson in Heresy, trans. Anthony Paul Smith
(London: Bloomsbury, 2011), 28.
11 Though I have generally referred to it here by its best-known moniker VALIS,
Dick applied a variety of names (such as Zebra and Firebright) to the putative
entity, mind or system with which he believed himself to be in communica-
tion, as well as associating it with numerous figures from existing mythology
(Brahman, Christ, Dionysos, Asklepios) and emerging from his own visions
(Thomas, Sophia, the ‘AI voice’).
12 Dick, Exegesis 418.
13 Ibid., 127; 48 and 353.
14 Ibid., 48–9 and 110.
15 Ibid., 299; 22–3 and 204.
16 Pamela Jackson, footnote, in Dick, Exegesis, 234.
17 Ibid., 134.
18 Matthew Fuller, Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), 1.
19 Dick, Exegesis, 35; cf. 326.
226 The World According to Philip K. Dick

20 Grove Art Online, s.v. ‘Kurt Schwitters,’ by Richard Humphreys, http://www

.oxfordartonline.com/. accessed January 2014.
21 Dick, Exegesis, 112.
22 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1987), 3–25.
23 Ibid., 4.
24 This is the concern raised, all the more notably for his seeming affinity
with their project, by François Laruelle in ‘I, the Philosopher, am Lying,’
in The Non-Philosophy Project: Essays by François Laruelle, ed. Gabriel Alkon
and Boris Gunjevic (New York: Telos, 2012), 40–74. As John Mullarkey puts
it, from a non-philosophical perspective, ‘even though Deleuze embraces
multiplicity and a variety of kinds of thought (artistic and scientific as well
as philosophical)’ he reserves the status of ‘highest thought’ for ‘(Deleuzian)
philosophy alone – he explains the Real’; John Mullarkey, ‘Introduction: The
Non-Philosophical Inversion: Laruelle’s Knowledge Without Domination,’
in Laruelle and Non-Philosophy, ed. John Mullarkey and Anthony Paul Smith
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 3.
25 Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-
Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 44.
26 Dick, Exegesis, 155 and cf. 32: ‘it is becoming me; or rather, to be more accu-
rate, it is shaping me so that I am becoming it.’
27 Dick, Exegesis, 22.
28 Ibid., 24 and cf. 37.
29 Ibid., 330.
30 Ibid., 387.
31 Ibid., 7.
32 Kittler, Gramophone, 38–42.
33 Ibid., 200 and 203.
34 Anne R. Dick, The Search for Philip K. Dick (San Francisco: Tachyon, 2010), 33.
35 See, for example, Dick’s essays ‘The Android and the Human’ (1972) and
‘Man, Android and Machine’ (1976) in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick,
ed. Lawrence Sutin (New York: Vintage, 1995).
36 Kittler, Gramophone, 1.
37 Ibid., 37.
38 Dick, Exegesis, 269 and cf. 278.
39 Ibid., 279 and 386.
40 Kittler cites Mark Twain’s typed letter to Remington, the manufacturers of
his typewriter, in which he complains that every time he sends someone a
letter written with his new Model 1 machine, people write back to enquire
about it (Gramophone, 192–3). See also the image of a typewriter ‘advertising
itself’ (205).
41 Apart from the widespread use of ‘vidphones’ and the like in Dick’s sf,
we might consider an example such as ‘the Game’ in Galactic Pot-Healer
(1969), which seems to anticipate functions equivalent to email, multime-
dia Internet telephony and automated translation services. As early as 1911,
Hugo Gernsback’s Ralph 124C41+ (Rockwell, MD: Wildside, 2008) depicted
characters engaging in audio-visual, real-time communication over an inter-
national communications network.
42 Dick, Exegesis, 462; cf. 70; 122 and 138.
From Exegesis to Ecology 227

43 Ibid., 50.
44 Ibid., 121.
45 Ibid., 182.
46 Ibid., 337.
47 Ibid., 463.
48 Friedrich Kittler, ‘Code, or, How You Can Write Something Differently,’ in
Software Studies. A Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
2008), 45.
49 Dick, Exegesis, 418.
50 N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,
Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1999).
51 Erik Davis, Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information
(New York: Harmony, 1998); Scott Lash, ‘Information Theology: Philip
K. Dick’s Will to Knowledge,’ in Intensive Culture (London: Sage, 2010),
52 Hörl, ‘A Thousand Ecologies,’ 123.
53 Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton
(London: Athlone, 2000), 41.
54 Ibid., 52.
55 Ibid.
56 Dick, Exegesis, 456.
57 Ibid., 154–5.
58 Ibid., 373.
59 Guattari, Three Ecologies, 44.
60 Ibid., 54.
61 Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology,
Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (Chicago: Chicago University Press,
2000), 466.
62 Ibid., 317.
63 Guattari, Three Ecologies, 48.
64 Ibid., 50.
65 Dick, Exegesis, 328.
66 Ibid., 59.
67 Guattari, Three Ecologies, 68.
68 For an exploration of the ways Dick’s challenge to the Black Iron Prison can
be considered a struggle against key features of contemporary global capital-
ism, especially as understood through Pauline political theology, see James
Burton, ‘Machines Making Gods: Philip K. Dick, Henri Bergson and Saint
Paul,’ Theory, Culture & Society 25, nos. 7–8 (2008), 262–84.
69 Kittler, ‘Code,’ 42.
70 Ibid., 43.
71 Dick, Exegesis, 662.
72 Kittler, ‘Code’, 45.
73 Ibid., 888.
74 Erich Hörl, ‘Die technologische Bedingung. Zur Einführung,’ in Die technolo-
gische Bedingung. Beiträge zur Beschreibung der technischen Welt, ed. Erich Hörl
(Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2011), 21.
75 Dick, Exegesis, 643.
76 Ibid., 644.
77 Ibid., 25.
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‘2-3-74,’ 15, 73, 74, 158, 173–8, 180–2, Clans of the Alphane Moon, 14, 36, 157
184, 185, 187–9, 196, 212, 222–4 Classics Illustrated, 156, 159
2001. A Space Odyssey, 53, 92 Cold War, 7–9, 49–61, 83, 95, 101,
138, 140, 141, 152
Acts of Thomas, 179, 180 Coleridge, Samuel T., 70, 195, 202
adaptation, 119–27, 157–63, 166–9 comics, 6, 155–9, 165–9
adaptation studies, 119, 157, 169 Confessions of a Crap Artist, 219
Adler, Robert, 158, 159, 162–5 countercultural, 2, 18, 27, 79, 119,
android, 4, 16, 50, 87, 92, 163 139, 174, 178, 191, 220
Anti-Oedipus, 17 counterculture, 18, 35, 78, 79, 96
apocryphal, 180, 185 Crumb, Robert, 6, 158, 159, 165, 166
Aramaki, Yoshio, 7, 141–4 cultural history, 7

Badiou, Alain, 81, 222 Davis, Erik, 2, 3, 7, 210, 219

Ballard, J. G., 124, 142, 143, 148, 149 de Chardin, Teilhard, 76, 190
Bateson, Gregory, 178, 210, 221 Deleuze, Gilles, 17, 33, 34, 37, 100,
Baudrillard, Jean, 17, 40, 55 112, 214, 215
Bay Area, 7, 78, 137 dementia paranoides, 20, 22
Benjamin, Walter, 60, 70 DeQuincey, Thomas, 77
Bettelheim, Bruno, 24 Derrida, Jacques, 32, 42, 52, 81, 123,
Bible, The, 178 140, 171, 186
Big Man Japan, 6, 127, 130, 133 Dick, Tessa, 187
biocapital, 107 Disney, Walt, 7, 52, 53, 88–90, 92
biopolitical, 6, 34–7, 39, 43, 52, dispositif, 103–8
101, 107–9 Divine Invasion, The, 166, 178, 195, 199
biopolitics, 8, 26, 101–11 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 6,
biotechnology, 40, 48, 192 14, 83, 92, 123, 138, 140, 141, 152,
Blade Runner, 6, 83, 120, 122–4, 141, 158, 159, 162
153, 158, 159 Doyle, Richard, 2, 3, 33, 76
Bleuler, Eugen, 20–6 Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along
Blood, Benjamin, 70 after the Bomb, 62, 65, 166
Bryan, Harry, 42 drugs, 3–5, 15, 30–5, 40–3, 69–81, 92, 129
Burroughs, William S., 35, 77, DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
149, 197 of Mental Disorders), 19
Bush, Claudia, 179, 180
ecology, 33, 214, 221–3
California, 1, 7, 14, 72, 83, 87, 93, Eliade, Mircae, 174, 177, 178, 189
194, 210 Encyclopedia Britannica, 177, 179, 216
Chew-Z, 39, 40, 42, 72 esotericism, 2, 173, 174
Christian, 76, 96, 175, 179, 180, 181, Ettinger, Robert C. W., 51, 57–9
188, 191, 212 ‘Exegesis’ (The Exegesis of Philip K.
Christianity, 189, 191, 200, 212 Dick), 2–9, 15–18, 69–79, 173–89,
cinema, 6, 124–7, 133, 165 192–207, 210–24

Index 233

Foucault, Michel, 8, 23, 37, 38, 101–7, LSD, 35–8, 41

111, 112 Luckhurst, Roger, 5, 48
Freud, Sigmund, 16, 18, 48, 57
Mailer, Norman, 56
Germany, 7, 83–97 Man in the High Castle, The, 7, 120,
Gibson, William, 33, 150–2 137, 138, 141, 144, 151–3, 198
gnosis, 69, 73, 76, 79, 81, 174, 186 Marcuse, Herbert, 106
gnostic, 2, 73–5, 176, 181, 182, 188, Martian Time-Slip, 14, 24, 25, 29, 36,
189, 199, 200, 211 83, 96, 116, 141–9
gnosticism, 73–5, 181 Marx, Karl, 8, 40, 103, 104, 114
‘Golden Man, The,’ 8, 106, 107, 109–11, Marxist, 101, 139, 187, 211, 223
115, 123 Matteuzzi, Francesco, 158, 159, 165–9
Gospel of Thomas, The, 186 Maze of Death, A 185
graphic novel, 156 McLuhan, Marshall, 194, 211
Guattari, Félix, 17, 31, 33, 34, 37, 100, Meister Eckhart, 218
220–3 ‘Minority Report, The’ (short story),
109, 111
Harman, Graham, 74–9 Minority Report (film), 9, 120, 124
hebephrenia, 20, 23, 26 mourning, 7, 16, 48, 84–6, 94–8
Hegel, Georg W. F., 190, 205, 206 Multiple Personality Disorder, 19, 28
Heidegger, Martin, 73–6, 79
Heinlein, Robert A., 141 neoliberal, 8, 36, 100, 107, 111,
Horselover Fat, 173, 180, 193, 197, 124, 127
204, 206 neoliberalism, 101, 107
humanism, 112 Neuromancer, 57, 58, 120, 143, 150
Huxley, Aldous, 32, 195, 196 New Age, 173
Hymn of the Soul, The, 2, 174, 179 New Wave, 138, 141, 142, 145–9
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 106, 107, 140,
I Ching, 178, 198 202, 216
internet, 150, 210, 217 Nineteen Eighty-Four (novel), 90
Noösphere, 44, 76, 82
Jameson, Fredric, 3, 17, 49, 50–2, 61,
101, 114, 139 Ongarato, Pierluigi, 158, 159, 166–9
Jung, Carl G., 16–8, 22–4, 29, 174, ontology, 2–4, 9, 51, 59, 60, 70,
177, 178 73–81, 203, 204, 221
Orwell, George, 90, 144, 149, 150
Kant, Immanuel, 198
Kawamata, Chiaki, 7, 144–51 paranoia, 5, 17, 22, 129, 152, 173,
Kittler, Friedrich, 211, 215–23 187, 198
Kubrick, Stanley, 53 Parker, Tony, 122, 135, 159–62
Perky Pat, 36
Lacan, Jacques, 17, 38, 71 Phaedrus, The, 32, 192
Laing, R. D., 17, 23, 25, 29, 31, 61 pharmakon, 69
Lang, Fritz, 93 philosophy, 6, 32, 37, 73, 76, 140,
Laßwitz, Kurd, 89, 94 195, 196, 206, 213, 215
Latour, Bruno, 56 Pike, Jim, 175, 182, 191, 212
Le Guin, Ursula K., 176 Plato, 32, 192, 207
Lem, Stanislaw, 139, 140, Popper, Karl, 107, 115
149, 214 posthuman, 224
234 Index

postmodern, 17, 18, 174, 178, 196 television, 93, 119, 128, 131
postmodernism, 17, 144, 150, 151 Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, The,
Project Itoh, 151, 152 1, 32, 35, 72, 185
Project Mars: A Technical Tale, 92, 93, 99 Thousand Plateaus, A, 214
psychopathology, 14, 78, 188 Tibetan Book of the Dead, 178
psychosis, 15, 17, 21, 24–6, 30, 31, 41, Time Out of Joint, 22, 100
84, 93, 173 Tomorrowland, 83, 87
Pynchon, Thomas, 8, 17, 54, 56, Total Recall, 119–21, 123, 126, 158
90, 219 Transmigration of Timothy Archer, The,
20, 26
Radio Free Albemuth, 15 Two Planets, 89
religion, 2, 173, 190, 202, 213, 223
Rickels, Laurence, 7, 48, 49 Ubik, 1, 7, 8, 40, 48–52, 57–62, 83,
Rickman, Gregg, 16 132, 181, 182, 185, 199, 201
Roberson, Chris, 158–65
Robinson, Kim Stanley, 137, 138 VALIS (novel), 13, 15, 26, 30, 173,
Ronell, Avital, 33, 34 174, 176, 180, 184, 187, 193–5, 197,
199, 204–6
Scanner Darkly, A (novel), 1, 3, 15, 42, VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence
71–81, 194 System), 3–5, 15, 174, 175, 178, 189,
Scanner Darkly, A (film), 122, 158 193, 195, 197, 199, 200–7, 210–24
schizophrenia, 14–18, 20–5, 28, 31, ‘Variable Man, The,’ 8, 104–11
41, 84, 85, 163 Verhoeven, Paul, 121, 123, 124, 126
Schwarzenegger, Arnold, 6, 121, 126, von Braun, Wernher, 7, 8, 87–94
127, 157 Vonnegut, Kurt, 8
Schwitters, Kurt, 214, 223
Scott, Ridley, 83, 120, 122, 141, 158, 160 War of the Worlds, The, 89, 90
Simulacra, The, 7, 45, 83, 84, 87, 96 We Can Build You, 92
slipstream, 6, 124–7 ‘We Can Remember It For You
Sloterdijk, Peter, 50 Wholesale,’ 121
Solar Lottery, 1 Wells, Herbert G., 89, 94
Special, 6, 127, 128, 133 Williams, Paul, 140, 177
Spiegelman, Art, 6, 157 Winnicott, Donald. W., 7, 86, 91
Spinoza, Baruch, 190 Wiseman, Len, 121, 122
Star Trek, 193 World Jones Made, The, 8, 109–11, 113
Sterling, Bruce, 124, 125, 151, 152 World War II, 6, 87, 90, 92, 96, 98,
Substance D, 42, 77–80 100, 144