Sunday, August 30, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.2 (Philip K. Dick)

Dick, Philip K.
The Transmigration
of Timothy Archer


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I think I first encountered the concept of metempsychosis or "transmigration of souls" in a course on Joyce's Ulysses when I was in college:

--Show here, she said. I put a mark in it. There's a word I wanted to ask you.

She swallowed a draught of tea from her cup held by nothandle and, having wiped her fingertips smartly on the blanket, began to search the text with the hairpin till she reached the word.

--Met him what? he asked.
--Here, she said. What does that mean?

He leaned downward and read near her polished thumbnail.

--Metempsychosis?
--Yes. Who's he when he's at home?
--Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It's Greek: from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls.
--O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.


I remember that reading Ulysses was like swallowing an encyclopedia whole. Our study of each chapter went something like this:

1. Read Joyce's schema for the book so we would know to which part of the Odyssey the chapter corresponded.

2. Read that section of Odyssey, preferably in the Greek, but for those monolingual cretins (like myself), the Lattimore translation would do.

3. Read a summary of the action of the chapter in Joyce.

4. Read the chapter itself.

5. Read it a second time, this time while holding a book that listed all of the allusions.

6. Study the texts alluded to in the book.

7. Repeat for each chapter.

Which has almost nothing to do with Philip K. Dick. Or does it?

from The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

Barefoot conducts his seminars on his houseboat in Sausalito. It costs a hundred dollars to find out why we are on this Earth. You also get a sandwich, but I wasn’t hungry that day. John Lennon had just been killed and I think I know why we are on this Earth; it’s to find out that what you love the most will be taken away from you, probably due to an error in high places rather than by design.

After I parked my Honda Civic in the metered slot I sat listening to the radio. Already all the Beatles songs ever written could be heard on every frequency. Shit, I thought. I feel like I’m back in the Sixties, still married to Jefferson Archer.

“Where’s Gate Five?” I asked two hippies going by.

They didn’t answer. I wondered if they’d heard the news about John Lennon. I wondered, then, what the hell I cared about Arabic mysticism, about the Sufis and all that other stuff that Edgar Barefoot talked about on his weekly radio program on KPFA in Berkeley. The Sufis are a happy lot. They teach that the essence of God isn’t power or wisdom or love but beauty. That’s a totally new idea in the world, unknown to Jews and Christians. I am neither. I still work at the Musik Shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and I’m trying to make the payments on the house that Jeff and I bought when we were married. I got the house and Jeff got nothing. That was the story of his life.

Why would anybody in their right mind care about Arabic mysticism? I asked myself as I locked up my Honda and started toward the line of boats. Especially on a nice day.

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