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THE TRANSMOGRIFICATION OF PHILIP. DICK

THE TRANSMOGRIFICATION OF PHILIP. DICK

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Published by Norman Spinrad
My long essay on Philip K. Dick
My long essay on Philip K. Dick

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Published by: Norman Spinrad on Aug 23, 2011
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03/21/2013

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Norman Spinrad1 rue Frederic SautonParis 75004France THE TRANSMOGRIFICATION OF PHILIP K. DICKby Norman Spinrad I really didn't want to write this essay, for Philip K. Dickwas a close friend, his untimely death affected me deeply, and asidefrom a brief obituary I was cozened into writing at the time and anintroduction to one volume of his collected short stories, I havebeen unwilling and perhaps unable to write about Phil since.But this book is intended as a critical overview of the modernliterature, Phil Dick is arguably the greatest science fictionwriter who ever lived and certainly a central figure in the literaryhistory of the field, so SCIENCE FICTION IN THE REAL WORLD would notonly have a gaping void at its heart if a consideration of Dick'swork were omitted, it would do a disservice to his literary legacy.However, I will not be so disingenuous as to pretend toobjectivity; indeed it is obvious from the two opening paragraphsthat I cannot even decide upon a comfortable way of referring to mylate friend and literary comrade. I cannot help but commitinnumerable sins against conventional critical objectivity in thisessay, which perforce must be as much a personal memoir as a pieceof literary criticism.Furthermore, I freely admit that what finally moved me to breakmy grieved silence on the subject of Philip K. Dick was the growingamount of cultish rubbish written about Phil since his death, which,I believe, has done a disservice to the serious critical perceptionof the true greatness of his ouevre by obscuring its center, whichhas little to do with relatively minor works like VALIS and THEDIVINE INVASION, let alone the so-called "Exegesis."Gregg Rickman has entitled one book of interpreted interviewswith Phil THE FINAL TESTAMENT and it concentrates mainly on VALIS,THE DIVINE INVASION, Phil's experience with the so-called "pinklight" and the dybbuk of a 14th Century rabbi who supposedlydictated to him the material of the "Exegesis" upon which thesenovels were based. All too much of post-mortum examination ofDick's life and work has focused on this admittedly bizarrematerial, which R. Crumb has even turned into a comic strip.Given all this, given that Phil eventually died as the resultof a stroke, given that VALIS and THE DIVINE INVASION have a certainair of babblement to the non-believer, it was perhaps notunreasonable for Eric Rabkin to opine that the "pink light" was asymptom of an earlier and smaller stroke that unbalanced Phil'sbrain on a biological level and led to the delusionary state inwhich he unfortunately produced his last works.But both Rabkin and Rickman ignore one fact--Rickman perhapsbecause it does not fit his mystical obsession, Rabkin because itobviates his otherwise cogent explanation for what he calls Phil'sfinal insanity and what Rickman and others consider Phil'stranscendental revelation.And that fact is that neither VALIS nor THE DIVINE INVASION nor
 
the "Exegesis" nor Gregg Rickman's book of interviews is the "FinalTestament" of Philip K. Dick.The final testament of Philip K. Dick is THE TRANSMIGRATION OFTIMOTHY ARCHER, the last novel Phil wrote, a work which isluminously lucid, eminently sane, a literary breakthrough for Philat the end of his career and in a certain sense a piss-take on thePhilip K. Dick of VALIS, THE DIVINE INVASION, and the "Exegesis."And here is where literary criticism must segue into personalmemoir, for I had a hand in the genesis of this novel, or at leastin the form that it took.I had returned to New York from Los Angeles before the "pinklight" period and had only seen Phil a few times on visits back tothe Coast. I am a lousy letter-writer when I am working and I felt,in a certain sense, that I had abandoned Phil during this difficultperiod. Had he really flipped out? Had I let him down?But on my next trip back, I visited Phil in Santa Ana, andthings seemed much the same. Phil was not barbled. He was havingthe usual troubles with his car. He had spoken to me occasionallyabout the "pink light," his possession by the dybbuk of the 14thCentury rabbi, the automatic writing of the Exegesis, et al, buteven at the time, he had discussed all this on the same level as histransmission problems or his troubles keeping his weight down, andnow he had put all that behind him and was in the process of tryingto put some totally different material together into a new novel.It seemed that a female relative of one of his wives had had anongoing secret affair with James Pike, the maverick Episcopal Bishopof California, who had eventually been relieved of his post by thehierarchy, and died in the Negev in Israel, apparently havingventured into the desert in a bad car in search of Essene sites orartifacts provisioned only with two warm bottles of Coke.Phil had come to know Pike through this connection, and wantedto write a novel about Pike's spiritual odyssey. Somehow, perhapsbecause he felt he was irrevocably typed as an sf writer, Phil hadgotten it into his head that the only way he could get such a novelpublished was to tart it up with a lot of thriller-cum-sfparaphenalia involving CIA plots, alien invasions, and the usualrazzmatazz."Jeez, Phil," I told him, "you've got a great story here, youdon't need all that crap. Why don't you just tell it straight?""You think I could get it published?"I told him I thought he could, and he decided to discuss thematter with Russell Galen, his agent and friend, whom he reallytrusted. Galen concurred, encouraged Phil to go ahead, and theresult was THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER, which I believe isone of Phil's three or four best novels, and a return to the levelof THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCHand UBIK, after too many years of floundering around with lesserwork. Certainly it is far superior to VALIS or THE DIVINE INVASION;utterly coherent, totally controlled, spiritually lucid, and filledwith loving clarity.Dick, furthermore, narrated the novel in first person--something he had never done before--he made that first personviewpoint character a woman, Angel Archer, who, in her detacheddistance from the Bishop Timothy Archer of the title, is a peculiar
 
but effective transmogrification of Phil's own peripheral positionin the story of James Pike.Timothy Archer is recognizably Pike, but, in his spiritualmaunderings, his loss of faith, and its eventual transmogrifiedrecovery after death, bears a certain resemblance to Dick himself,in his own wanderings through the quagmire of the Exegesis, VALIS,and DIVINE INVASION period into the clear white light that enabledhim to write this very book. And Angel herself, Dick's sexuallytransmogrified alter ego, emotionally distanced and spirituallycynical throughout most of the telling of THE TRANSMIGRATION OFTIMOTHY ARCHER, finds a kind of spiritual center herself at theconclusion of the novel.That THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER was Philip K. Dick'slast novel is a tragedy and a triumph.It is a tragedy because it broke bold new literary ground, interms of form, viewpoint, clarity, and control, for a writer whoalready had many great works behind him and was only in his fiftieswhen he died. Where would Philip K. Dick have gone from here?It is a triumph because it is a fitting final testament forPhilip K. Dick the writer and Phil the man--a return to the heightof his literary powers at the untimely end of his career, a returnto the true metaphysical vision and human insight of UBIK and THEMAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH andMARTIAN TIME SLIP after a long period of secondary work.And it is also somehow the purest statement of the spiritualcenter of Phil Dick's work as a writer and his being as a man, as ifPhil, like one of his own characters, knew somehow that the end wasnear, and left us this piece of clarity to give the lie to theobfuscatory cult he somehow knew was to come.There is a point in TIMOTHY ARCHER where Dick portrays thehigher spiritual sanity of Bill Lundborg, a somewhat schizoid automechanic, through a long conversation with Archer and others inwhich the Bishop discusses Christian theology while he discusses themerits and flaws of various makes of cars. And makes it work.This is worth more than the whole Exegesis and all thegobbledygook surrounding it. This is Phil's true spirit shiningthrough at the very end, and it not only works on a literary level,it is real. Even in death, Phil had the power to raise up the humanspirit in this strangely humble manner.I last spoke on the phone to Phil from New York while I waswaiting on a movie deal that was to make me more money than I hadever seen in one piece in my life and he was about to travel toEurope with his new girlfriend. He was in buoyant high spirits. Hehad seen a rough-cut of BLADE RUNNER and liked it. I was chewing myfingers to the bone waiting for Universal to pay me the buyout moneyon BUG JACK BARRON. As so many times in the past, Phil helped mesee it through.A few days later I got a summons to jury duty the next week. Afew days after that, I got my long awaited $75,000 phone call. Ihad about two hours to enjoy it. Then I got another phone calltelling me that Phil had had a massive stroke and had lapsed into aterminal coma.I had just made more money that I had ever made in my life.And Phil lay dying. And next Monday I had jury duty. What was I to

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