R.S. ReReads examine your favorite media: counter-culture classics, science fiction, films, T.V. and video games in search of gnostic insights and portals to the Otherworld hidden in the plain site of pop. This month we take on Philip K. Dick’s VALIS.
So here we are with chapters 6 and 7. On Monday, we’ll be covering chapters 8 and 9 and publishing the featured interview between Erik Davis and myself, in which Erik performs his own exegesis on P.K.D.’s life and work, uncovering all manner of “high weirdness” and hallucinatory literature that traverses dangerously the Chapel Perilous.
But that’s for Monday. This Friday we dive deeper into Fat’s experience of multiple timelines, phylogenic memories, Soviets in cahootz with E.T.’s and Fat’s supra-terrestrial alien future. I’ll explain.
Onto the reread!
“The machinery of divorce chewed Fat up into a single man, freeing him to go forth and abolish himself.”
Chapter 6, in which Fat gains a new therapist: Maurice. Maurice likes to bully him into “enjoying life instead of saving people.” In the beginning of the chapter, they bicker back and forth about Fat’s dedication towards Sherri. Maurice deconstructions his desire to help her, “of course she’s going to die!” He discerns that Fat wants to be there for her death, and get pulled down with her. We then quickly divulge into a theological debate. Fat rapidly alienates himself from Maurice, who will have none of the gnostic lingo. Doctor’s medicine: “I want you to go home and study the Bible. I want you to read over Genesis twice, you hear me? Two times. Carefully.”
Fat returns from his meeting and heads home to his new, fancy apartment where he lives with Sherri. Dick wittingly dubbs Sherri’s church “Jesus’ Sweatshop.” Over the few weeks Fat has lived with Sherry, he’s learned that she simply “resented every creature on Earth.” We also learn that she has the hots for Larry, her priest. This is a further layer of humiliation for Fat, who clearly wants to be filling the savior role in her life. She even wistfully, and repeatedly, recalls a brief occasion where she and Larry French-kissed each other. Woe is Fat.
We also get some jesting commentary here on Church life in which, as many readers know already from their own life, “religion is a sideline” to the social drama and gossip interred therein.
Sherri begins to wear on Fat, so he retreats to his room and starts to chizzle away large pieces of the Exegesis, refining it down into the “Tractate: Cryptica Scriptura,” or “Hidden Discourse.“
Here we are treated with a cosmogony.
Dick excerpts the tractate, in-length, at this point. It’d be unrealistic to quote it all here. Suffice to say what we have is a story we have already begun to be treated with throughout the novel. I recommend you read it carefully, yourself, and not glaze over things here. In any case, it tells the story of “The One” which was, and was not. Together. The One desired to separate, but one half — one Twin, the dark one — broke off too early and became deficient.
These two creative — deities? — were meant to work together to create the universe. To project the perfect creation. What’s interesting here is that both entities are used to create a single, holographic universe. This would be our own universe.
Since the premature twin was ailing, it started to project maddening “malfactors.” Death and illness and madness and sadness. Fat’s “Black Iron Prison.”
The original intent of the universe was to create a “teaching” spaces which would inevitably bring all its denizens into perfect isomorphism with the One (in other words, a kind of fractal-budding offshoot of the Godhead). So this is a problem. The mature Twin sends a micro-version of itself into the deficient Twin (read: Jesus). This fails, so the mature Twin prepares to rescue the souls from this projection and, with great remorse, kill its broken, sibling universe. When this is accomplished, the remaining Twin will — somehow — give birth to itself, in order to complete its initial task of being a “successful teaching machine,” and this will be the Kingdom of Heaven.
The eerie part here in the tractate is that, somehow, within time, “hyperuniverse II remains alive,” that is, outside of time it has been killed. Eternity is restored. Creation is a perfect reflection of the One. But within time, “The Empire never ended.” It hasn’t happened yet, and yet it already has. This, Fat quips, is why we have undertones of grief in this universe. We know how it will end.
Back to his problems with Sherri. She finally gets fed up and leaves Fat and their apartment. Fat convinces her to check out her cough at the doctor. Her cancer returned, the doctors say.
Fat returns to his tractates.
“ON OUR NATURE. It is proper to say: we appear to be memory coils (DNA cariers capable of experience) in a computer-like thinking system…
‘Salvation’ through gnosis — more properly anemnesis (the loss of amnesia)…”
More of this kind of talk follows. The take-away here is that ‘gnosis,’ proper — for Fat anyway — is a “disinhibiting” process. The knowledge is already part of who and what we are. The trick is removing the blocks to that knowledge. Fat himself recalls the Greeks and their sense of all knowledge as a form of remembering.
Interestingly, Fat remarks that the “Fall,” was not a moral error, but an intellectual one. “Therefore we are morally innocent.” The Empire, hyperuniverse II, is responsible for making us feel guilty and sinful. We also get stuff like:
“30. The phenomenal world does not exist; it s a hypostasis of the information processed by the Mind.”
This may not sound very intriguing, but then again we should pause a moment and really consider it — this is gnostic linguistics encoded into the bit-trip language of the information age; holograms and memory coils and gnosis-as-recalled information. Inside and outside of time. Multiple dimensions. Alien symbiotes. Here we are really beginning to see a whole myth-meme set upon all the triggers of the modern, hyper-mediated postmodern psyche. Cosmogony indeed.
Fat ties a few more loose ends together in this admittedly maddening installment: “Fat’s mind was going totally.” He writes that we’re living in 103 C.E. Apostolic time, or the time of the Apostles. He traces this knowledge to the Hermeticists and Rose Cross Brotherhood. He quote Hermes’ now famous New Age and Occult maxim: “as above, so below,” and remarks: “he meant to tell us that our universe is a hologram, but he lacked the term.” Hence my point about Dick’s rewriting gnostic myth-themes for the denizen of postmodern times.
There’s a lot more here in this chapter, but the final tractate excerpt remarks — slithering back into this novel’s science fiction aspect — that the “primordial source” of world religion lies in the Dogon tribe. This ancient tribe received our, at once universal and multifaceted, cosmogony from “three-eyed invaders” from the Sirius star system.
Whew. OK. Onto chapter 7 then?
Gracefully, Dick recaps here. I can only imagine the experience of writing this book, trying to hold down all these ideas: cosmogonic, paranoid, gnostic, holographic, and on and on the list goes. All while trying to cover a story, thinly veiled as Fat when it really is Dick (and arguably more potent because of that). Dick quickly reminds us that, as the story goes so far: Zebra (A.K.A. ‘God’) invaded our world, an alien symbiote, from the star system Sirius. Home of the three-eyed folk. Fat also attributed Zebra to having “overthrown the Nixon tyranny in August 1974.” If one had a series of visionary experiences of pink gnostic light, Black Iron Prisons, and Ancient Christians, and turned on the television to see Nixon — the embodiment of demiurgic power — overthrown, one might be inclined with Fat’s analysis.
Fat is interested with Ikhnaton, an Egyptian ruler who outlawed other deities and enforced worship of a single solar god. He quotes him at length in his tractate and believes that Ikhnaton was one of these three-eyed creatures. These beings introduced Zebra. So from Ikhnaton we get Moses, Elijah, and Christ — passing along the alien symbiote through history. And, coincidentally, we receive a good overview of the evolution of religion, if only perhaps implicitly in Dick’s science fiction interpretation.
The chapter gets stranger.
Fat starts dreaming of three-eyed entities “with claws instead of hands.” They showed up again in other dreams, around March of 74, where they:
“manifested themselves as cyborg entities: wrapped up in glass bubbles staggering under masses of technological gear.”
The weirder aspect of these dreams is that Soviets were seen tinkering with the aliens’ gadgetry, repairing malfunctions. Talking with Kevin, Fat hypothesizes that the Russians may have been behind VALIS.
“You overheard a two-way transmission… between the Russians and an extra-terrestrial entity.”
We also learn that Fat, during the time of these experiences, had dangerously high blood pressure. “I tell you these things for what they are worth. They are true things; they happened.”
It’s my opinion that this is where the book unfolds into multiple personas and narratives, revealing it’s half-truth, half-fiction nature. Dick spends a few pages describing how Fat started to experience another personality after his encounter with the pink light. A different person, “With different memories, customs, tastes and habits.” He switches from wine to beer, for instance, and changes his style in clothing. He starts counting in koine Greek. Then he has a dream about a Soviet woman who would contact him whose name was Sadassa Ulna.
Sure enough a letter came from the Soviet Union, asking Fat for a photograph of himself and an example of his handwriting. Fat seemed to have precognition of these events, as he predicts another letter would come. It did, but he is too terrified to read the sheet where the name and address is located.
Interestingly, Dick cites his own real-life novel, A Scanner Darkly, admitting that he ‘ripped off’ Fat’s account with VALIS.
“For about six hours, entranced, S.A. Powers had watched thousands of Picasso paintings replace one another at flash-cut speed, and then he had been treated to Paul Klees, more than the painter had painted in his entire lifetime… but then, when Kandkinsky paintings began to harass him, he recalled that the main art museum at Leningrad specialized in just such nonobjective moderns, and he decided that the Soviets were attempting to telepathically contact him.”
Excerpted for fun.
Dick also review’s Fat’s experience at the door with the Christian girl and the fish symbol — building on his theory that somehow, the fish “disinhibiting” Fat’s “brain blocks” and let the neural circuits fire off in a state of anamnesis.
So we have Fat adding another layer to the initial pink-light/Christian fish story: in addition to seeing two times, overlaid on one another, we are introduced to two personalities. One in ancient Rome, the other in modern-day California. “There’s something else living in me and he’s not in this century.” His name is, apparently, Thomas. Fat calls him the “master” personality.
The important thing here is that Thomas is not some reincarnation memory. He is a living personality. Fat conjectures that he may be living in two time-spaces at once, or nowhere at all: “the universe is information and we are stationary in it… the phenomenal world does not exist; it is a hypostasis of the information processed by the Mind.“
More still, “we are not individuals. We are stations in a single Mind.” Imagine that.
Thomas was an early Christian, and knew people who had known Jesus in-the-flesh. Most importantly, Thomas had gnosis. He had “figured out how to reconstitute himself after his physical death. All the early Christians knew how.” Thomas had been slumbering in this purgatory for two-thousand years, waiting for the Immortal plasmate to be dug up at Nag Hammadi.
Fat was to be “employed” by the plasmate for its “benign purposes,” that is, for invading, and “devouring” this world.
We shift gears at this point and the narrator, Dick, begins to talk about his own weird double-vision: “I have had dreams of myself in another place,” he writes. He dreams of a lake and a place that doesn’t exist in Northern Cali. It’s a well-to-do vacation house. He has a wife in this dream, gardening and watering the roses. Dick goes into vivid detail, writing in a style infused with double-vision and fluidic but pleasant aesthetic confusion.
“How can I endure the ersatz life I lead here in this plastic apartment, alone, specifically without her, the slender wife in blue jeans?”
Dick writes more about the nature of this dream, which breaks into his waking mind. “Controlled psychosis.”
“Are we all like Horselover Fat, but don’t know it?
How many worlds do we exist in simultaneously?”
He suggests that this may all be a kind of Jungian, phylogenic memory — hereditary — passed down from our ancestors.
Dick ends this chapter going back and forth about the possibilities of it all, before landing a crucial statement at the end about Fat. If this is all some kind of evolutionary memory — and if time is this non-linear thing it seems to be — then the three-eyed people are our future, Thomas is our past, and Fat is the present. All these beings existing and overlapping with each other. “Fat’s master personality may not lie in the past but ahead of us — but it expressed itself outside of him in the form of Zebra.”
That is, the god-being, VALIS, may very well be future Fat. An evolutionary telos reaching back into its own hereditary past, as Fat was reaching back to Thomas.
There is so much material here, as I’m getting used to saying. Again, the kind of “evolutionary gnosticism” I suggested in the previous installment starts really developing here. Memory coils. Multiple time-lines happening at once. Past, present and future selves all interacting with one another. VALIS, or Zebra, as the future Horselover Fat. And then, of course, the interesting alternative California landscape that Dick has waking dreams about — all these serve us up an interesting, beautiful, highly disorienting vision of the human person-as-persons. The human soul as inhabiting multiple times and bodies and even species (if Fat is indeed Zebra or even the three-eyed entities). If any of this is true and real, perhaps the veil that occludes us — “so occluded are we” — is not always an evil demiurgic thing. Perhaps, at times, it is a mercy. It’d be highly difficult getting around if I were trying to “be here now” while also in two or three other places, and times, at once. Note the remark Dick makes about Thomas having trouble with driving the car.
As Dick remarks himself: “It is not God. That is an archaic name… we need a new term, but what we are dealing with is not new.” And in many ways this is exactly what VALIS is doing as-a-whole.
Going through these mental exercises: Dick/Fat pulling himself apart, putting himself back together, moments of ecstasy and moments of agony… Strangely, I find myself immensely euphoric as the story develops. Especially right here. As if this act of breaking down and reconstructing our identities (as we sympathize with Fat, and Dick, we are doing the same to ourselves as we read) somehow re-constitutes us. Makes us shine. I for one think Dick is revealing, intentionally or not, a beautiful gnostic vision of the multi-personed being that makes up any one of us, and a being that has, as the theologian of Islamic gnosticism Henry Corbin often wrote about, “an angel up ahead” that is our celestial twin. Guiding us on. Perhaps Zebra, perhaps VALIS is Fat, up ahead.
And I’ll be seeing you all up-ahead this Monday with chapters 8 & 9.