The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings

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The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick

Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings

by Philip K. Dick

Edited and with an Introduction by Lawrence Sutin

Copyright 1995 - First Vintage Books Edition

ISBN 0-679-42644-2

eVersion 4.0 / Important Formatting Notes at End - Please Read Before Converting

START Back Cover
Nonfiction/Science Fiction
"A wide-ranging selection of free-wheeling philosophical essays and journal entries; humorous, thoughtful speeches; and plot scenarios. . . . For both casual and serious Dick fans, The Shifting Realities unearths some gems." -- Boston Phoenix

Philip K. Dick was both our most brilliant science fiction writer and a visionary philosopher who chose to couch his speculations in fiction. For, as he wrote about androids and virtual reality, schizophrenic prophets and amnesiac gods, Dick was also posing fundamental questions: What is reality? What is sanity? And what is human? This unprecedented collection of Dick's literary and philosophical writings acquaints us with the astonishing range and eloquence of his lifelong inquiry.

The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick includes autobiography, critiques of science fiction, and dizzyingly provocative essays such as "The Android and the Human" and "It You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others." Readers will also find two chapters of a proposed sequel to Dick's award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle and selections from the metaphysical Exegesis that inspired his classic VALIS.

Witty, erudite, and exploding with intellectual shrapnel, this is the last testament of an American original. This collection confirms Dick's reputation as one of the foremost imaginative thinkers of the twentieth century.
END Back Cover

To Mab, for her ceaseless fascination and patience with Philip K. Dick, and to Henry, always the most attentive reader of the Exegesis.
The editor would also like to thank Douglas A. Mackey for his kind assistance in tracing prior publication data for certain of the writings inluded herein.

Part One - Autobiographical Writings

Two Fragments from the Mainstream Novel Gather Yourselves Together (1949)

"Introducing the Author" (1953)

"Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick" (1968)

"Self Portrait" (1968)

"Notes Made Late at Night by a Weary SF Writer" (1968, 1972)

"Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick" (1972)

"Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick" (1973)

"Memories Found in a Bill from a Small Animal Vet" (1976)

"The Short, Happy Life of a Science Fiction Writer" (1976)

"Strange Memories of Death" (1979, 1984)

"Philip K. Dick on Philosophy: A Brief Interview," Conducted by Frank C. Bertrand (1980, 1988)
Part Two - Writings on Science Fiction and Related Ideas

"Pessimism in Science Fiction" (1955)

"Will the Atomic Bomb Ever Be Perfected, and If So, What Becomes of Robert Heinlein?" (1966)

"The Double: Bill Symposium": Replies to "A Questionnaire for Professional SF Writers and Editors" (1969)

"That Moon Plaque" (1969)

"Who Is an SF Writer?" (1974)

"Michelson-Morley Experiment Reappraised" (1979)

"Introduction" to Dr. Bloodmoney (1979, 1985)

"Introduction" to The Golden Man (1980)

"Book Review" of The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction (1980)

"My Definition of Science Fiction" (1981)

"Prediction" by Philip K. Dick Included in The Book of Predictions (1981)

"Universe Makers. . . and Breakers" (1981)

"Headnote" for "Beyond Lies the Wub" (1981)
Part Three - Works Related to The Man in the High Castle and Its Proposed Sequel

"Naziism and The High Castle" (1964)

"Biographical Material on Hawthorne Abendsen" (1974)

The Two Completed Chapters of a Proposed Sequel to The Man in the High Castle (1964)
Part Four - Plot Proposals and Outlines

"Joe Protagoras Is Alive and Living on Earth" (1967)

"Plot Idea for Mission: Impossible" (1967)

"TV Series Idea" (1967)

"Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (1968)
Part Five - Essays and Speeches

"Drugs, Hallucination, and the Quest for Reality" (1964)

"Schizophrenia & The Book of Changes" (1965)

"The Android and the Human" (1972)

"Man, Android, and Machine" (1976)

"If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others" (1977)

"How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" (1978, 1985)

"Cosmogony and Cosmology" (1978)

"The Tagore Letter" (1981)
Part Six - Selections from the Exegesis

From the Exegesis (c. 1975-80)


This is a first-time collection, in book form, of significant nonfiction writings -- essays, journals, plot scenarios, speeches, and interviews -- by Philip K. Dick from throughout his career. These writings establish, I believe, that Dick was not only a visionary creator of speculative fiction but also an illuminating and original thinker on issues ranging from the merging of quantum physics and metaphysics; to the potential scope of virtual reality and its unforeseen personal and political consequences; to the discomforting relation between schizophrenia (and other psychiatric diagnoses) and societal "joint hallucinations"; to, not least, the challenge to primary human values posed in an age of technological distance and spiritual despair.

The bulk of these writings have either never before been published, or have appeared only in obscure and out-of-print publications. Dick saw himself first and foremost as a fiction writer, and there can be no question that it is in his stories and his novels -- both science fiction (SF) and mainstream -- that Dick's most permanent legacy resides. As for his nonfiction writings, those few essays and speeches that he published in his lifetime attracted scant attention. In certain cases, this was justified -- their style and quality were markedly uneven; indeed, the same may be said with respect to the contents of this volume, many of which -- the Exegesis entries -- Dick had no intention of publishing in his lifetime and hence no reason to revise and polish. (He may -- there is no direct evidence in his private writings to support the supposition -- have hoped that they be discovered and published after his death.)

But the lack of attention paid to Dick's nonfictional works is due to factors that go beyond unevenness of quality. To this day one finds, in SF critical circles, sharp resistance to the notion that Dick's ideas -- divorced from the immediate entertainment context of his fiction -- could possibly be worthy of serious consideration. It is as if, for these critics, to declare that certain of Dick's ideas make serious sense is to diminish his importance as the ultimate "mad" SF genius -- a patronizing role assigned him by these selfsame critics. But it is nonsensical to maintain, in the face of the plain evidence of the fictional texts themselves, not to mention his own writings on SF in this volume, that Dick's ideas and his fictional realms are divisible dualities rather than the permeable whole of a life's work. Thankfully, this kind of critical parochialism is diminishing even within the SF world. And as for the world at large, Dick is, at long last, receiving his due as a writer of both imaginative depth and intellectual power. Indeed, the story of his emergence into sudden literary "respectability" is a revelatory parable as to the fierce cultural strictures that, in America, dominate the type and degree of attention paid to an author and his works.

Philip K. Dick (1928-82), author of more than fifty volumes of novels and stories, has become, since his death, the focus of one of the most remarkable literary reappraisals of modern times. From his longtime status as a patronized "pulp" writer of "trashy" science fiction, Dick has now emerged -- in the minds of a broad range of critics and fellow artists -- as one of the most unique and visionary talents in the history of American literature.

This astonishing turnabout in recognition of Dick is evidenced both by the intensity of the praise bestowed on him and the range of voices that concur in it. Art Spiegelman, author/illustrator of Maus, has written: "What Franz Kafka was to the first half of the twentieth century, Philip K. Dick is to the second half." Ursula Le Guin, who has acknowledged Dick's strong influence on her own acclaimed SF novels, points to him as "our own homegrown Borges." Timothy Leary hails Dick as "a major twenty-first-century writer, a 'fictional philosopher' of the quantum age." Jean Baudrillard, a leader of the postmodernist critical movement in France, cites Dick as one of the greatest experimental writers of our era. New Age thinker Terrence McKenna writes of Dick the philosopher as "this incredible genius, this gentle, long-suffering, beauty-worshiping man." Dick appears on the cover of The New Republic while the critical essay within declares that "Dick's novels demand attention. . . . He is both lucid and strange, practical and paranoid." An electronic-music opera with a libretto based on the Dick novel Valis premieres to great acclaim in the Pompidou Center in Paris. The renowned Mabou Mines theater group performs a dramatic adaptation of the Dick novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said in Boston and New York. Punk and industrial rock bands take their names from Dick titles and pay homage to his books in their lyrics. Hollywood adapts a Dick novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and a story ("I Can Remember It for You Wholesale") into the movies Blade Runner and Total Recall, while an acclaimed French film adaptation of yet another novel (Confessions of a Crap-Artist) was released in America in the summer of 1993 under the title Barjo. In the past two years, Dick has been the subject of laudatory front-page features in The New York Times Book Review and the L.A. Weekly -- the opposite poles, one might say, of an overall mainstream acceptance. The headline for the L.A. Weekly feature sums up the thrust of the critical turnaround: "The Novelist of the '90s Has Been Dead Eight Years."

What makes this posthumous triumph all the more wrenching is the knowledge that, during his lifetime, Dick could succeed in reaching a wide readership only within the "ghetto" of the (SF) genre -- a critically derided "ghetto" that effectively prevented serious consideration of his works from without. Dick wrote a number of mainstream literary novels (including the above-mentioned Confessions of a Crap-Artist), most of which have been published posthumously. But the greatest of his fictional works fall within the SF genre, which allowed Dick a conceptual and imaginative freedom that was severely crimped by the strictures of consensual reality favored by the mainstream. Even within the SF genre, Dick was considered something of an odd figure, with his penchant for plots that emphasized metaphysical speculations as opposed to "hard" science predictions. Still, the sheer vividness, dark humor, and textured detail with which Dick rendered his spiraling alternate universes and the oh so human characters who inhabited them won over a sizable number of SF readers. In a writing career that spanned three decades, Dick produced a number of stories and novels that are widely regarded as SF classics; these include Time out of Joint (1959), Martian Time-Slip (1962), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Ubik (1969), A Scanner Darkly (1977), and Valis (1981).

In 1963, Dick was awarded the highest honor that SF has to bestow: the Hugo Award for The Man in the High Castle, a novel that exemplifies Dick's trademark blending of SF plot structure (as to which the number one rule is constantly to amaze the reader) and philosophical mazemaking (with a no-holds-barred skepticism that allowed for all possibilities). Dick was fervent in his view that SF was the genre par excellence for the exploration of new and challenging concepts.

As Dick himself explained in an epistolatory interview (with critic Frank Bertrand) included herein: "Central to SF is the idea as dynamism. Events evolve out of an idea impacting on living creatures and their society. The idea must always be a novelty. . . . There is SF because the human brain craves sensory and intellectual stimulation before everything else, and the eccentric view provides unlimited stimulation, the eccentric view and the invented world."

High Castle contains a horde of stimulating ideas, beginning with the basic plot: a post-World War II world in which the Axis powers apparently have prevailed and the United States is a conquered land divided between Japan (the West) and Germany (the East). While the Japanese are relatively compassionate conquerors, the Nazis have extended their brutal methods throughout their dominions. Evil has become, under their reign, a palpable daily horror. One of the characters, a Swiss diplomat who is secretly working against the Nazis, sees them as the products of a collective psychic upheaval (described in terms that evidence Dick's indebtedness to C. G. Jung) that has obliterated the distinction between the human and the divine by reversing the sacrificial pattern of the Christian eucharist:
They [the Nazis] want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God's power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archetype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. It is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate -- confusion between him who worships and that which is worshiped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.
But beneath this apparent, horrific reality there exists -- for those who can experience it -- an alternate world in which the Allies are victorious and life has retained its capacity for goodness. To reach this alternate world is no easy matter; pain and shock may be necessary to open one's eyes, or the enlightening aid of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel-within-the-novel in High Castle that reveals the true state of affairs for those who read with intelligence, heart, and an open mind.

In 1974, perhaps the most tumultuous year -- for reasons shortly to be discussed -- in his signally tumultuous life, Dick contemplated writing a novelistic sequel to High Castle, but his inward repugnance at returning to an extended reimagining of the Nazi mentality prevented him from completing this project. The two chapters he did complete are published for the first time in this volume, as is the "Biographical Material on Hawthorne Abendsen" (1974).

Dick himself would come to hope, in the final decade of his writing life, that his own novels and stories could fulfill a role analogous to that of Abendsen for his readers: to alert them that the consensual reality that grimly governed their daily lives (the "Black Iron Prison," as Dick would come to call it in his philosophical journal, the Exegesis) might not be as impregnable as it seemed. This is not to say that Dick saw himself as a prophet or as one possessing an undeniable Truth of life (though Dick could sound -- temporarily -- convinced while exploring the possibilities of an idea that intrigued him.) On the contrary, Dick could be a relentless critic of his own theories and beliefs. He was also quite willing to satirize himself broadly (as the would-be mystic Horselover Fat) and his penchant for "wild" speculations in his autobiographical novel Valis (1981): "Fat must have come up with more theories than there are stars in the universe. Every day he developed a new one, more cunning, more exciting and more fucked." In his philosophical writings, Dick would don, dwell within, and then discard one theory after another -- as so many imaginative masks or personae -- in his quest to unravel the mysteries of his two great themes: What is human? What is real? What makes Dick such a unique voice, both in his fiction and -- equally -- in the nonfiction writings collected in this book, was not the answers he reached (for he held to none), but rather the imaginative range and depth of his questioning, and the joy and brilliance and wild nerve with which he pursued it.

Philosophical issues were always at the heart of Dick's subject matter as a writer. He sold his first SF story back in 1951, at age twenty-two. Even by then, his course was set: He would explore the basic mysteries of existence and of human character. In Michael in the 'Fifties, an unpublished novel by Kleo Mini (Dick's second wife, to whom he was married for most of the fifties decade), the psychological makeup of the title character is based loosely on Dick and displays the same intense scrutiny of existence that Mini remembers in her husband at the very start of his SF writing career. Here is a dialogue between Michael and wife Kate, based to some extent on Mini herself. Kate speaks first:
"I think you [Michael] -- sometimes -- want to pull away from the world. Away from me, away from everything I think of as real. Away from your house and your car and your cat. Sometimes you're very far away from all of us. And sometimes I think I'm like a string that brings you back to earth, holds you down to the earth."

She was right, he thought. She was real, as real as the crab grass and the kitchen table.

"Where is it you go, Michael?"

"I don't want to go anywhere, Kate. But I think there are different kinds of reality. And the car and the house and the cat are not all there is. Living like we do -- on the edge, in a way -- we're always so busy scraping along, trying to get by, that it keeps us, it keeps me from dealing with the other reality, the meaning of everything."*
* I would like to thank Kleo Mini for permission to quote from Michael in the 'Fifties, which offers a valuable portrait not only of Dick but also of the Berkeley milieu in which he came of age.
In his interview with Bertrand, Dick offered a summary of his early philosophical influences:
I first became interested in philosophy in high school when I realized one day that all space is the same size; it is only the material boundaries encompassing it that differ. After that there came to me the realization (which I found later in Hume) that causality is a perception in the observer and not a datum of external reality. In college I was given Plato to read and thereupon became aware of the possible existence of a metaphysical realm beyond or above the sensory world. I came to understand that the human mind could conceive of a realm of which the empirical world was epiphenomenal. Finally I came to believe that in a certain sense the empirical world was not truly real, at least not as real as the archetypal realm beyond it. At this point I despaired of the veracity of sense-data. Hence in novel after novel that I write I question the reality of the world that the characters' percept-systems report.
This condensed history of philosophical influences tells only part of the story of Dick's development as a writer. There are, to be sure, a good number of philosophical and spiritual perspectives that mattered greatly to Dick but are not listed above. But a more basic factor was the difficult childhood Dick endured, which included the early divorce of his parents, frequent Depression era cross-country moves with his financially strapped and emotionally distant mother, and bouts of vertigo and agoraphobia that interfered with Dick's schooling and friendships and caused his mother to have him examined by at least two psychiatrists. One of these psychiatrists speculated that Dick might be suffering from schizophrenia -- a diagnostic possibility that severely frightened the boy and would haunt the grown man all his life.

Throughout Dick's speculations, there is the underlying sense of a dark pain and of shattering experiences that had left him grappling for his place in the shared world (
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