Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25.5 (Philip K. Dick)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dick, Philip K.

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

Digging through all of these Philip K. Dick books got me itchin' to read some of the ones I hadn't read, so I picked this one up on Sunday afternoon and finished reading it yesterday. I tried to read Valis once before, but failed. It's part of Dick's final trilogy, which is based on a series of religious visions he experienced in 1974. What made Valis so difficult to get through the first time was that for most of the book it felt like the insane ranting of man who had just had a religious experience. It did not feel like science fiction.

It does after a while, but you need to work to get through the first half of the book. even then, it is different than other PKD books. The typical PKD book begins in one place and follows a single story line until you are convinced you understand everything you are reading. Once you get comfortable, he peels away the layers of reality to reveal that everything you thought was true was, in fact, no so.

Valis follows a similar pattern; however, it is set in the present, and it is told by a schizophrenic narrator named Philip K. Dick. Whatever questions you, the reader, may have about reality are filtered through the madness of the narrator of his alter ego Horselover Fat. At no point are you able to resolve any of the questions you may have. Neither the narrator, nor his alter ego, nor the reader, are ever sure what reality is, or if there are multiple realities occurring simultaneously, each one being lived by a different part of the same personality.

These are familiar themes in PKD's, work, but here he seems to be deconstructing himself, revealing the inner workings of his mind , almost as if to show that his narrative bag of tricks is not actually a bag of tricks, per se, but rather a kind of lens that reveals the actual cracks and disjunctions of which reality is comprised.

from Valis

Horselover Fat's nervous breakdown began the day he got the phonecall from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself. She was calling everyone she knew. By now she had fifty of them, but she needed thirty or forty more to be on the safe side.

At once Horselover Fat leaped to the conclusion that this was her way of asking for help. It had been Fat's delusion for years that he could help people. His psychiatrist once told him that to get well he would have to do two things; get off dope (which he hadn't done) and to stop trying to help people (he still tried to help people).

As a matter of fact, he had no Nembutals. He had no sleeping pills of any sort. He never did sleeping pills. He did uppers. So giving Gloria sleeping pills by which she could kill herself was beyond his power. Anyhow, he wouldn't have done it if he could.

"I have ten," he said. Because if he told her the truth she would hang up.

"Then I'll drive up to your place," Gloria said in a rational, calm voice, the same tone in which she had asked for the pills.

He realized then that she was not asking for help. She was trying to die. She was completely crazy. If she were sane she would realize that it was necessary to veil her purpose, because this way she made him guilty of complicity. For him to agree, he would need to want her dead. No motive existed for him—or anyone—to want that. Gloria was gentle and civilized, but she dropped a lot of acid. It was obvious that the acid, since he had last heard from her six months ago, had wrecked her mind.

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