Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I'm less interested in PKD than I was once, but still interested enough to wish to maintain an interpretation of his work that may actually serve it, or the fans.

First of all, the book is not about madness, drugs and death. Valis is about gnosticism, religious experience, and grieving. Unfortunately my current copy is with a friend, so I'll have to recall details from memory. The novel and its protagonist does not at all lack absence of affect, nor is that absence "evidence of psychosis." The reviewer makes the mistake of thinking that to understand the work, we must understand the person. The work has stood on its own as an entertaining and rather strange book for several years before one could look up PKD in the wikipedia. Of course Dick's personal sanity has long been questionable. Fans of the author do not hold that against him.

Sometimes an author writes something not because they think it's true but because it's meant to lead to another truth, it's a deliberate pattern of interweaving oscillations, in other words, meant to highlight relationships between and among points of interest without divulging their ultimate nature or stand-alone quality. It appears that much of the "revelations" of the book can be read that way, and not necessarily read autobiographically. PKD fans usually agree that the most autobiographical novel among his works is the Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Valis itself is given a definition by PKD that is technical, and there is also, if one reads the sci-fi criticism of the era, a technical explanation for what Dick "encountered."

One could look at Valis historically through the following lens: there is the claim in Valis that Richard Nixon is the antichrist. Why would somebody play with that idea in fiction, on one end and then turn around and attempt to revive gnosticism on the other, when the politics that helped get Nixon elected relied on a provincial outlook similar to the one expressed in the classical gnostic tradition as elaborated on by early-twentieth century scholars? Was Dick aware of that critical input, or is it just another strange and/or deliberate coincidence? It could be that "gnosticism" is a shorthand concocted by Dick in order to give a quick label to something he experienced which he could not in rational terms describe. We as readers may not know what he meant, but as long as he knew, it's ok, right? However, with the biographical information readily at hand to us today, the possibility presents itself that he did not know either, which helps add to the mystery of the exegesis and the allure of the book altogether. With this in mind, one can allow the biographical information to contribute to the mystery and to curiosity rather than impede it. I personally prefer to read with this attitude and hopefully also convey it.

Also appearing in the book is the notion of the Holographic Universe, a quantum interpretation of reality that, while always a minority view, seems to have fallen further out of favor as of late. This doesn't seem to plug in to Dick's larger teleology, either, since the postulate of Valis-as-independent-being itself by Dick remains a trouble spot for the holographic theory in general -isn't the living intelligence itself a hologram also, in other words? Isn't as well the problem of evil a hologram, not to be as stressed over by the character Kevin in the book as much as PKD has him do?

Despite this technicality, Valis is a fun story that reads quickly and usually serves to remind one of pleasant times spent in vigorous discussion over the ultimate nature of the universe at late-night social encounters among friends. This book makes a crystallization of those discussions, imagining that "it's all connected-wow," in ways which are often humorous, allowing for both pathos and insight. But even these things are not the most interesting parts of the story.