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Dick’s The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch
By Frank C. Bertrand “The most radical change in the human condition we can imagine would be an emigration of men from earth to some other planet. Such an event, no longer totally impossible, would imply that man would have to live under man-made conditions, radically different from those the earth offers him. Neither labor nor work nor action nor, indeed, thought as we know it would then make sense any longer…. [T]he only statement we could make regarding their “nature” is that they still are conditioned beings, even though their condition is now self-made to a considerable degree.”
Hannah Arendt The Human Condition, 2nd ed. University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 10
It’s in chapter two, not one, of Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch (1965), that we meet its principal protagonist, Leo Bulero. What little factual information can be culled therein indicates that Leo, as Chairman of the Board of Directors of P.P. Layouts for over fifteen years, is the “creator and manufacturer of the Perky Pat micro-world.” This is, however, just one of two large business operations Leo controls. The other is an illicit, hidden subsidiary of P.P. Layouts that grows, processes, and distributes, to off-world colonists, the illegal drug Can-D, derived from a Titanian lichen cultivated at heavily guarded plantations on Venus. Leo characterizes this as “one of the most profitable trading operations in the Sol system.” That it is so lucrative allows him to keep his current mistress, Scotty Sinclair, at a satellite villa, called WinnieTher-Pooh Acres, some five hundred miles, at apogee, above Earth.
Curiously, the only physical description given in chapter two about Leo is, as he himself states it, “You know, because I take that E Therapy I’ve got a huge frontal lobe…” In fact, this physical feature is so evident that the slang nickname for it is “bubblehead.” It is also a trait Leo is proud, if not boastful about. “I’m practically a precog myself, I’m so advanced,” he states at one point in chapter two. He’s enabled, “expanded frontal lobe-wise,” to “instinctively” perceive/sense/intuit the intentions of others, albeit Ned Lock of the UN Narcotics Control Bureau or his employee Barney Mayerson. This is because the anterior portion of the frontal lobes (a neuroanatomical term) are associated with different emotional, social, and higher cognitive functions (psychological constructs). These so called “executive” functions include: “…initiation of goal-directed behavior, inhibition of competing actions or stimuli, planning and selection of relevant task goals, organization of behavior to solve complex problems, flexible shifting of problem-solving strategies when necessary, and monitoring and evaluation of problem-solving behavior.” We have, then, a successful, rich, businessman who is not above engaging in illegal activity, likes slender, dark Cuesta Reys cigars, and has enhanced his frontal lobes via E Therapy. His “human condition” is contextualized by a future (c. 2016) New York City with 180 degree heat that includes: private police agencies, precogs, vidphones, homeopapes, truffle skins used as money, conapt psychiatric computers, robot waiters, Can-D drug culture, and the U.N. as a governing body that has managed to populate six moons and four planets with over one million Terran expatriates via forced (draft notice) off-world immigration (all mentioned in chapter two).
It’s the bare outlines of a personality, one that seems, at least initially, more an example of E.M. Forster’s concept of “flat character,” as delineated in his seminal work Aspects Of The Novel (1927): “…they are easily remembered by the reader afterwards. They remain in his mind as unalterable for the reason that they were not changed by circumstances.” And, it’s notably different from the “little man” (“meager person,” “weak person”) Philip K. Dick has stated he likes to write about. But there is more that can be implicitly gleaned in chapter two about Leo, in particular from his interactions with Felix Blau, Hepburn-Gilbert, Barney Mayerson, Pia Jurgens, and Rondinella Fugate. In each case we learn enough more about Leo to realize that things are not what they seem, and are able to start ascertaining how best to define his personality, his “human-ness,” his human condition. As Dick writes in a 4/5/72 letter: “Actually, a person’s authentic nature is a series of shifting, variegated planes that establish themselves as he relates to different people; it is created by and appears within the framework of his interpersonal relationships.” It’s in the second paragraph that Leo reveals, “…he had other matters on his mind,” our first hint of some introspection. One of these is an UN Narcotics Bureau warship has recently captured a cargo of Can-D worth almost a million skins, near the north polar cap of Mars, in spite of a huge yearly bribe (“squeeze money”) Leo pays to the UN for immunity. With his evolved cognitive functions Leo perceives the intent of this action “without difficulty.” They want him to initiate a legal action that would end up exposing what his hidden subsidiary is doing. He surmises that his bribe is not getting to the appropriate individuals “within the complicated UN hierarchy.” But more significantly:
“…there was nothing he could do about it. The UN was a windowless monad over which he had no influence.” Even with his money and evolved cognitive functions, Leo lacks power over the UN government. And, of all potential metaphors he could have applied to the UN, why a “windowless monad”? Is this blatant allusion to Gottfried W. Leibniz’s (1646-1716) concept of monadology telling us something important about the UN government and/or Leo? Since the phrase “windowless monad” is Leo’s characterization of the UN, we need believe he knows something about Leibniz’s theory, in which Leibniz conceives of reality in terms of simple, unextended “substances” called monads (derived from the Greek word for “unity”). They have no parts and each is “pregnant” with all of its future states and “laden” with its past. Their internal states represent the world in its entirety and that this world actually exists. That is, the monads function as a “mirror” of the created universe. Leibniz further explains, in section 7 of Monadology (1714): “Monads just have no windows through which something can enter into or depart from them. Accidents cannot be detached, nor wander about outside of substances, as the sensible species of the Scholastics did. And so, neither substance nor accident can enter a monad from without.” Are we then to picture this UN government as an inanimate entity with no “windows” through which it can possibly receive, or supply, causal influences – substances, accidents, Leo’s bribe? Or, is there a potential alternative query to think about? Near the end of his November, 1964 essay, “Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest for Reality,” Philip K. Dick writes:
“Alienation, isolation, a sense of everything being strange, of things altering and bending – all this is the logical result [of a “destructive,” “unshared world”], until the individual, formerly a part of human culture, becomes an organic “windowless monad”.” Earlier in the same essay Dick mentions, “the cognitive processes, then, in particular the judging, reflective frontal lobe….” And he refers, it should be noted, to Leibniz twice in his March, 1965 essay, “Schizophrenia & The Book of Changes.” It would seem, then, that “frontal lobes” and “windowless monads” are relevant and important when evaluating Leo Bulero. As we learn by the end of chapter two, Leo, while he doesn’t exactly become an “organic windowless monad,” formerly part of human culture, does manifest signs of anxiety, alienation and isolation caused, in part, by an external conflict with his human condition in a technological culture, and an internal one reminiscent of existential void. This is perhaps best depicted by what Paul Tillich writes in The Protestant Era (1948): “Each single unit [monad] in lonely in itself, without any direct communication…. This is the most profound metaphysical situation in the early periods of bourgeois civilization. It fitted this situation because there was still a common world, in spite of the increasing social atomization.” The first intimation comes when Leo learns, from Felix Blau (boss of TriPlanetary Law Enforcement, a private police agency), “…of the crash on Pluto by an intersystem ship returning from Prox.” On board is Palmer Eldritch who “…appears to be alive although badly injured.” And he has “…a carefully maintained culture of a lichen, very much resembling the Titanian lichen from which Can-D is derived.” Leo’s instinctive impulse is to ask Felix if there is “…any way those lichen cultures can be destroyed?” Felix suggests the less forceful solution of buying “our way
in.” Leo then asks if there’s a “…major UN ordinance against importing life forms from other systems?” He finally decides to complain directly, by vidphone call, to the UN Secretary, Hepburn-Gilbert, whom Leo characterizes as a “crafty Indian politician” whose “white teeth shone in gleeful superiority,” followed by, “that dark-skinned sneaky little unevolved politician.” And the UN itself, Leo reflects, is “Afro-Asian politics. A swamp. It’s run, staffed, directed by foreigners.” Note the word “unevolved.” Leo emphasizes his evolved frontal lobes this time by way of contrast with the UN Secretary. He also exhibits a streak of ethnocentrism, if not racism, towards Hepburn-Gilbert, while the UN, as a governing entity, is not only a windowless monad, but a swamp as well. Why, one might reasonably ask, these strong negative feelings about the UN and UN Secretary? Is Leo anti-government in general, or just against this particular UN government? While he tries to decide what to do, Leo’s given an interval of relief when his secretary indicates that Barney Mayerson would like some time with him. Barney is “his expert in the field of tomorrow’s fashions,” and has worked thirteen years for P.P. Layouts. How Leo welcomes him is revealing: “What’s eating you, Mayerson?…. Tell me what it is and I’ll hold your hand.” He made his tone withering.” Why the sarcasm, scorn and contempt? He already knows that Barney has been sleeping with his new assistant, Rondinella Fugate, and intuits that what’s caused Barney’s displeasure is she disagreed with him about his turning down ceramics offered for sale to P.P. Layouts by a pot salesman. Leo also realizes that these are Barney’s ex-wife’s pots. And he’s aware they have already been taken on, and are selling well, at
art-object shops in San Francisco, New Orleans, and on the East Coast. So, he pointedly asks Barney: “Was Miss Fugate right?” “They’ll never go over; that’s God’s truth.” Barney’s tone, however, was leaden. The wrong tone, Leo decided, for what he was saying; it was too lacking in vitality. “That’s what I forsee,” Barney said doggedly.” This excerpt gives us further evidence of Leo’s evolved cognitive functions, an ability to discern that Barney’s tone-of-voice is “too lacking in vitality,” not animated enough, and therefore his judgment about the salability of the pots is questionable. Nonetheless, Leo agrees to “…lower the fnard on her….And you’re aging; you need to keep your dignity, not have anyone disagree with you.” More intriguingly, he thinks he can help Barney to forget his ex-wife, and mitigate the differences with his assistant, by making available “…one of his discarded – but still serviceable – former mistresses.” Barney’s response is a “savage swipe of his hand,” and, “Anyhow, I’m wound up tight with Roni Fugate. One at a time is enough for any normal man.” At a minimum this tells us that Barney doesn’t consider his boss’s use and treatment of women “normal.” He has an additional problem, however, that Leo mentions, Barney’s use of a remote suitcase-like peripheral of a “conapt psychiatric computer.” He’s using it to help him fail his mental test for forced off-world immigration, in that he “can’t endure enough Freuds of stress to satisfy them,” the stress being caused by Roni’s remark and his reaction to his ex-wife’s pots. But Leo’s manifest concern is more mercenary than altruistic. If Barney ends up being “drafted” off-world, Roni is not yet ready to effectively replace him, and a potential
employee transfer from Paris isn’t of the same talent caliber as Barney. Then Leo thinks: “The UN is really getting to me. He wondered if Barney’s draft notice, coming at this particular moment, was only a coincidence or if this was another probe of his weak points. If it is, he decided, it’s a bad one. And there’s no pressure I can put on the UN to exempt him.” Leo is definitely exhibiting more excessive or irrational suspicion (paranoia?) about the UN government, an entity he can’t put pressure on, but that he perceives to be putting pressure on him. He seems to be struggling against a “windowless” bureaucracy intent on thwarting, if not defeating, him. What he does next is the most intriguing and significant of his five interpersonal encounters in chapter two, and that is having lunch with Pia Jurgens “in a secluded chamber of the Purple Fox.” She’s a new girl from the secretarial pool and a redhead. Leo likes redheads, “they were either outrageously ugly or almost supernaturally attractive.” Pia is the latter. This causes him to wonder if he can “…find a pretext by which to transfer her to Winnie-ther-Pooh Acres, “ and “…wrangle Scotty off onto Barney Mayerson.” But he quickly realizes it’s not possible because Scotty would object. She “had a will of her own, which was always dangerous in a woman.” And Barney needs to feel more insecure in order to improve his chances of failing the offworld immigration test; a notion Leo has some trouble rationalizing: “I don’t understand the modern world at all, obviously. I’m living back in the twentieth century when psychoanalysts made people less prone to stress.”
He instinctively grasps, “expanded frontal lobe-wise. You can’t make healthy people sick just by giving an order.” Yet, he has the robot waiter bring a vidphone over to his table, calls his office, and informs Miss Gleason that he wants to see Rondinella Fugate in his office upon his return. Pia Jurgens overhears this conversation, and says, “I could tell Mr. Mayerson; I see him nearly every day in the – ,” which Leo misinterprets as a blackmail attempt, and laughs at. But what Pia actually meant is she finds it somewhat unusual that Leo would be “…so open in front of someone else, someone you don’t hardly know.” More important is how she expresses this, from Leo’s point-of-view: “She eyed him, and her bosom, already overextended and enticing, became even more so; it expanded with indignation.” It, not her, bosom expanded. Aside from Pia’s bosom arousing hope or desire (in Leo), and extending beyond a safe or reasonable point, why does Leo anthropomorphize her bosom? And just how can he tell that Pia’s bosom in evincing anger in response to something unjust, unworthy, or mean? What would an “indignant” bosom actually look like? That he would do so is problematic because she looks “…like the sort of woman who has active imagination,” and, “there was something about her – beyond the obvious physical, anatomical enormity – that fascinated him; he yearned to be closer to her.” To accomplish this, Leo suggests to Pia that they share some Can-D to get to know each other better, in that “the reaction you get to Can-D depends – varies with – your imaginative-type creative powers.” And no doubt with his enhanced frontal lobes, Leo’s imaginative-type creative powers are above average. He also wants to do this without a
layout, a Perky Pat micro world, because he prefers to use it isolated from outside influences. Leo also tells Miss Jurgens that “Can-D is the religion of the colonists….It provides a reason for living.” In addition we learn that unlike the “settlers on a howling, gale-swept moon, huddled at the bottom of a hovel,” who use the Perky Pat microworld as “an entrée back to the world they had been born to,” Leo: “…was damn tired of the world he had been born to and dwelt on. And even Winnie-Ther-Pooh acres, with all its quaint and not-so-quaint diversions did not fill the void.” Of interest here is how quickly Leo has forgotten Scotty Sinclair and Rondinella Fugate. Whatever well-built, good looking woman is in front of him at the moment, that is the one he fixates on, physically objectifies, dehumanizes, and longs/lusts for. And the phrase “isolated from outside influences” is reminiscent of Leibniz’s windowless monad. This reinforces the probability that Leo is as much a figurative one as is the UN government. More important, for our purpose, is the word void at the end of his rumination. Leo uses it to characterize his present human condition as he reflects that his business ventures have made life bearable for the over one million unwilling colonists, “But what the hell did he get back?….what is there of equal value for us? He asked himself, and felt melancholy….wasn’t there more in life than this?” We get, then, void and melancholy but nine sentences apart. And the intriguing implication that what Leo has done with his business ventures, along with time at the resort beaches in Antarctica, his satellite villa, and Can-D, is not giving him back reason(s) enough of “equal value” for living, to make his life bearable. He even thinks that anyone else he knows “lived this
sort of life,” engaged in “their various imitations of him,” except for Palmer Eldritch. What Eldritch found in the Prox system was “something worth the effort.” As Miss Jurgens says to Leo, “You can be sure he got a good return for ten years.” Now, in a 3/17/66 letter to Bishop James Pike, Phil Dick writes: “There is a metaphysical condition which is not either philosophical or theological, it seems to me, a sort of mood…. I personally doubt if it falls into the clinical province of the psychiatrist; it has such deep historical and cultural roots. Alienation is the word they give it now. Before that it was melancholy.” But what Leo experiences is more than a mood. There is a sense of meaninglessness and emptiness (void) in his life, what Viktor Frankl has termed “existential vacuum.” Individuals who exhibit this Frankl describes as lacking “awareness of a meaning worth living for,… haunted by the experience of inner hollowness, a void within themselves.” It is an “abyss-experience,” the antithesis of Abraham Maslow’s peak experience, one that seems to aptly identify the state of Leo’s psyche and provide contextual clues for what motivates him. He seeks meaningful “life experiences,” diversions even, that will enable him to fill his melancholic void, at least ones more significant than trying to outwit the UN government, seduce large-breasted women, or use Can-D – ones that at least equal his output of effort. Even religion doesn’t seem to provide this. As Leo and Miss Jurgens finish up their lunch with a brief discussion about Palmer Eldritch, Leo indicates, “I’d like to meet him.” Then Miss Jurgens mentions Arnoldson, who made the first trip to another star, Prox, and back. About this she says: “…I was a kid when he got back. I mean, I actually thought maybe by going that far he’d – “ She ducked her head, not meeting Leo Bulero’s gaze. “He’d find
God.” [emphasis in original] Leo’s internalized response is: “Leo thought, I thought so, too. And I was an adult, then. In my mid-thirties…. And, he thought, I still believe that even now. About the ten-year flight of Palmer Eldritch.” The salient word in this is, obviously, find. Are Leo and Miss Jurgens implying a God that Arnoldson and Eldritch encounter, attain, and/or experience because it is lost, or hiding? Is it an impersonal, non-interventionist Deist god? Luther’s deus absconditus “hidden in majesty,” absolute and indifferent to our concerns? Or, Pascal’s “hidden god,” whose hiding has established “the terrifying silence of infinite spaces?” In addition to these three possibilities, J. Hillis Miller has written: “Historicism, like all the other qualities of life in modern times, brings us back to the absence of God. Life in the city, the breakup of medieval symbolism, the imprisoning of man in his consciousness, the appearance of the historical sense – each of these is another way in which modern man has experienced the disappearance of God…” The importance and relevancy of this for Leo’s human condition is supported by what Dick says in his September, 1977 speech “If You Find This World Bad,” delivered at the second Festival International de la Science-Fiction de Metz, France. Therein he states, “…perhaps God created nothing but merely is. And we spend our lives within him or her or it, wondering constantly where he or she or it can be found.” Perhaps, indeed, but this does give us an additional motive, albeit a Pantheistic deity, to consider for understanding Leo’s melancholic void.
After this, Leo’s fifth and last interaction in chapter two, with Rondinella Fugate, is almost anticlimactic. She is waiting for him in his office when he gets back from lunch. And instead of pursuing why she contradicted Barney Mayerson, he wants her to use her precog ability to scan the ‘papes of another month or so into the future for specific information about Palmer Eldritch. He also offers her a slender, dark Cuesta Rey cigar, which she accepts and smokes. While she starts to foresee, Leo watches her and thinks, “…without a trace of envy, that if she was as good in bed as she looked –“ At least he’s consistent, if not predictable, in his stereotyped perception/treatment of women. After several minutes Rondinella is able to give Leo some “vague impressions” about where Eldritch is currently being kept. More ominously, she also foresees a headline stating that Eldritch is dead, and Leo is responsible for this. And she emphasizes this “possible future” is a forty percent risk, “Almost half the possibilities,” advising Leo that he shouldn’t try to contact Eldritch. Leo’s response is to peremptorily open his office door, thank Rondinella for her assistance, and expect her to leave. But she doesn’t. Instead, with her newly acquired knowledge, she tries to make a deal with Leo to become his New York Pre-Fash consultant, in place of Barney. That is, she attempts to blackmail Leo. He remembers why she was transferred from his company’s Peking office – too many wrong or erratic precog predictions – and tells her, “Let me think it over. Give me a couple of days.” Then, he reverts to his usual use for women: “You’re Mayerson’s mistress. How’d you like to give that up? I can offer you the use of an entire satellite.” Assuming, of course, that he could pry Scotty out of there.”
Rondinella rejects Leo’s offer in a telling manner: “I like Mr. Mayerson,” she said. “ And I don’t particularly care for bub –“ She caught herself. “Men who’ve evolved in those clinics.” She almost calls her boss by the slang nickname “bubblehead,” a social blunder that does not go unnoticed by Leo, as he once again opens his office door to let her out. He next places a vidphone call to where Eldritch is supposedly staying under a false name, then books passage by express ship from New York City to Ganymede. A return call, ten minutes late, informs him “Mr. Trent is not receiving calls, by doctors’ orders.” Leo now knows that Rondinella’s predictions are correct. Trent is on Ganymede, and “…in all probability he was Palmer Eldritch. It was certainly worth making the trip; the odds looked good.” Besides, “…his curiosity was aroused.” In addition to the “odds” and “curiosity,” he has “…the acute intuition that this would turn out to be what he hoped.” This all seems to energize Leo. He’s actually looking forward to the prospect of “some kind of altercation” with Eldritch, that “whatever it was that would occur between him and Palmer Eldritch had to be unique,” and it would be more than worth the effort of using his enhanced frontal lobes in a dispute with Eldrtich. The return value of such a challenge is what Leo needs to ameliorate his melancholic void.
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