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Dear Phil: An Epistolary Discourse #2

By Frank C. Bertrand

[ NOTE: This first appeared at the original website, created and so ably administered by Jason Koornick, in the second half of 2001. Please see Discourse #1 for an “Introduction” to the series of six that were completed]

Dear Phil,

You’re probably right, Phil, I am being a bit harsh on those academic critics who focus on just your so called VALIS trilogy to the detriment of ,say, The Man Who Japed, one of my personal favorites. Or, those who try to make you into a day-glow poster child for Gnosticism or postmodernism. But damn, what is one suppose to make of something like this: “…Dick was transformed from an exemplary satirical visionary into the oracular schlemiel of the postmodern condition”? I’m still not sure what this means in English. Anyways, I don’t think we should ever become resigned, nor give unquestioning allegiance, to such obfuscating academic writing.

It seems to me these academic critics would be better off engaging in a weekend retreat style fireside chat about this sentence from your interview with me: “The German Aufklärung influence me, especially Schiller and his ideas of freedom; I read his “Wallenstein” trilogy.” After all, you have indicated in various interviews and letters your strong interest in German poetry, music, philosophy, literature and history; no wonder, then, that the German Aufklärung would have influenced you.

It’s certainly an intriguing historical/philosophical phenomena, in that it was different from the Aufklärung in France and England. Seems that in those countries it was a movement characterized by sensation, empiricism and skepticism, whereas in Deutschland it was primarily thought and idealism. German thinkers, in particular Wolff, Jacobi and Kant, questioned the culture-ideals of the French/British Enlightenment and ended up instead seeking the reasons for their culture in the creative powers of the mind.

The operative word here is, of course, reason, as the Age of Enlightenment is also known as the Age of Reason. Central to it is the concept that human reason could and should be used to challenge tyranny, ignorance and superstition. It was, though, a particular kind of human reason, combined with logic, based on experience and the analysis of observed facts. As Gotthold (not Doris!) Lessing apparently said, the real power of reason lay not in the possession but in the acquisition of truth. This was in contrast to the darkness of superstition and irrationality that characterized the Middle Ages.

A good gloss on this is given by someone else you’ve alluded to in your work, Immanuel

Kant, of Königsberg, Prussia. Yes, I know, we Kant let ourselves be fooled again! In the opening paragraph of his infamous 1784 essay, “An Answer To The Question: What Is

Enlightenment,” he writes:

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! “Have courage to use your understanding!” – that is the motto of enlightenment.”

This motto, Sapere Aude, is certainly one that anyone reading your stories and novels should keep well in mind. As you’ve stated, Phil, in a 1981 letter, “…the conceptual dislocation – the new idea, in other words – must…be intellectually stimulating to the reader…[so] it sets off a chain-reaction of ramifications – ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader’s mind so that that mind, like the author’s, begins to create.” As for the “conceptual dislocation” that certain of your academic critics engage in, we can only hope that eventually others will counteract them, eventually.

Regards ideas of freedom, Kant also writes in this essay, “Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom. And the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters.” He does contrast, however, this public use of reason with a private one, “that which a person may make in a civic post or office that has been entrusted to him.”

Now, I wonder how we might apply this to Ragle Gumm and Bill Black in Time Out Of

Joint. Who, would you say, exemplifies “the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters,” and who privately? And how would Kant view, in terms of “ideas of freedom,” what the government therein does to Gumm in the name of winning a civil war with the


But Kant is just a precursor here, one that is not easily excerpted or summarized in a single letter. I mention him because Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller spent a good part of three years, in the early 1790s, studying Kant’s philosophy, mainly his Critique Of Judgment. And in the first of his Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education Of Man (1794), Schiller writes, to the Duke of Augustenburg, “In truth, I will not keep back

from you that the assertions which follow rest chiefly upon Kantian principles.” Just four years later the three parts of Wallenstein were first performed at Weimar, Germany. These would be, as you know, Wallensteins Lager (Wallenstein’s Camp), a prologue in one act; Piccolomini, a drama in five acts; and Wallensteins Tod (Wallenstein’s Death),

a tragedy in five acts. In this grand work we find an incisive portrayal of Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein, the commander-in-chief of the Holy Roman Empire’s armies

during the Thirty Years’ War, as an ambitious general driven by impulses. Perhaps you don’t know that Goethe once said Schiller’s Wallenstein is “so great that nothing else of its kind exists a second time,” or that Thomas Carlyle described it as the “best” drama of the 18 th century.

Coincidentally, Phil, you mention Goethe in the same interview as you did Schiller, that is, “My main sources were poets, not philosophers; Yeats and Wordsworth and the seventeenth century English metaphysical poets, Goethe, and then overt philosophers such as Spinoza and Leibnitz and Plotinus…” Even more coincidentally, Schiller and Goethe knew each other. In fact, in 1799 Schiller moved to Weimer and there he and Goethe were involved with forming, along with Heinrich Meyer, the Weimar Friends Of The Arts. And it’s in Weimar that one can find a “Goethe-Schiller” monument sculpted by Ernst Reitschel. Their friendship apparently started in 1794 via a lively correspondence and continued in person when they met at a Society For Scientific

Research symposium in Jean on July 20, 1794. In an August 23 year, Schiller writes to Goethe:


letter of the same

“Your observing mind which rests so quietly and clearly upon the things, never puts you into any danger of “going away” in which speculation as well as deliberate and merely self-relying imagination may all too easily lead….Minds of this nature seldom know how far they have come and how little they have reason to borrow from philosophy, which could only learn from them. The latter can only take apart and analyze what is given ot it, but giving itself is not the prerogative of the analyst, but of genius which under the dark but sure influence of pure reason strives towards more objective laws…”

This is a good example of Sapere Aude, Schiller might have added. As for his own pursuit of it, and your mention of his ideas of freedom, there are several essays and reflective poems written during the latter 1790s wherein Schiller develops his aesthetic, critical and philosophical thinking. In particular his essay, “Über da Erhabene” (“On The Sublime”) is notable for a detailed analysis of why “The morally cultivated man, and only he, is wholly free.”

According to Schiller such a man becomes superior to nature as a force, something he describes as “the savage bulk of nature” and “wild incoherence of nature.” But to do so requires more “clarity of thought” and “energy of volition” than we are accustomed to exercise. To help this we need to cultivate our moral and aesthetic tendencies, the former developed by understanding and the latter aroused by certain sensible objects. Of the two Schiller evidently feels the aesthetic is more important, or perhaps prominent, being comprised of feelings for the beautiful and feelings for the sublime. For it is the sublime that a majority of his essay is devoted to.

Schiller writes that “…the sublime is a mixed feeling” composed of melancholy and joyousness. More importantly, “by means of the feeling for the sublime, therefore, we

discover that the state of our minds is not necessarily determined by the state of our sensations, that the laws of nature are not necessarily our own, and that we possess a principle proper to ourselves that is independent of all sensuous affects.” In fact, “the capability of perceiving the sublime is thus one of the most splendid propensities of human nature.”

But, “…the sublime must complement the beautiful in order to make aesthetic education into a complex whole…” Without “the beautiful there would be a ceaseless quarrel between our natural and rational vocations,” while without “the sublime, beauty would make us forget our dignity.” The sublime, then, with its origin in the independent faculties of thought and volition “is worthy both of our respect and of the most perfect development because of its influence on man as moral.” It is only then that we are “…perfect citizens of nature without thereby becoming her slaves and without squandering our citizenship in the intelligible world.”

Or at least, Phil, this is what I understand Schiller to be saying. I’m sure though you’ll set me straight if I’ve misrepresented his rather closely argued thesis. It’s an intriguing one for sure, linking being wholly free with moral and aesthetic cultivation, one that I see hints of in your early novel Time Out Of Joint but even more so in Galactic Pot-Healer and The Man In The High Castle.

There’s one last thing I’d like to note from Schiller’s essay “On The Sublime,” and it caused me to wonder if you had it in mind, Phil, when you wrote Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, and that is:

“To noble minds freedom, for all its moral contradictions and physical evils, is without freedom, when the sheep patiently follow the shepherd and the autonomous will reduces itself to an obedient cog in a machine. The latter makes of man a mere product of nature’s ingenuity and her fortunate subject; but freedom makes him a citizen and co-regent of a higher system in which it is incomparably more honorable to occupy the lowest rank than to lead the procession of the physical order.”

This is as good an explanation of what happens to Deckard and Batty in that novel as I’ve yet seen. Would you agree?

Yours in kipple, Frank (FCB 7/01)