Our Long Anticipated 2015 Meeting: The Tokyo Jazz Cafe

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It’s been a while since we’ve met and, since this meeting will make something of a reunion, we’ve decided to mix business with pleasure. That is, we’re taking our small group off campus to the Tokyo Jazz Cafe, in Sydney’s east. It’s a quirky little place in Bondi Junction—part Ridley Scottesque, part Berkeley—and a zone in which one may indulge in a good range of cheap food, as well as sake. From what we understand, the owners are supportive of such pseudo-intellectual coteries as ours, and the atmosphere reminds Adam of the kind of writers’s meet-ups that Dick would have attended in his early days, perhaps around the Art Music years.

Date: 7 May, 7pm. Please get in touch by 5 May if you’d like to attend so that we can book a suitably commodious table.

Venue: Tokyo Jazz Cafe, Basement Shop 2, 51-53 Spring St Bondi Junction NSW 2022.

Readings:

  1. Dick, The Exegesis, Folder 22, 9, 8 (pages 429-478). Please contact us if you need help getting ahold of a copy of this book.
  2. Ted Hand, “The Zebra Principle.”
  3. Dick, “Beyond the Door.”

These folders are getting really interesting. Lots of strange postulates regarding living information and AI. One of the good things about The Exegesis is that it’s a collection of letters and diary entries, so one can pick it up at any point.

We look forward to hearing from new and old PKD readers alike!

Chris, Adam, and Pat

Our Seventh Meeting: Exegeting and Novel Reading at the University of Sydney

wk7posterFor our November meeting (which shall be our seventh), The PKD Reading Group will venture beyond its UNSW borderlands, arriving at the University of Sydney to join literary forces with the Novel Studies Reading Group, regular Thursday residents of the Rogers Room in The John Woolley Building. It will take place at the earlier-than-usual time of 4pm on this Thursday 6 November. (See poster at left for more information and contact details).

Putting Dick’s Exegesis under myriad sets of new pink beams, we’ll be studying a few of Dick’s folders alongside Margaret Cohen’s article on the literary archive. As an inquiry–or, better, a genealogy–of that old question of what constitutes worthy literature, Cohen’s piece considers what, if anything, there is left to do “between” (quoting Peter Galison) “the zero distance allowed by the dream of an extreme empiricism and the infinite scale of a magical universalism.” Moving within this zone in order to detect what in “forgotten literary forms” we may still want to identify as “aesthetic excellence,” Cohen questions the patterns of reading by which canonicity is fabricated, and asks why we may still feel predisposed to impute “intrinsic value” to certain “archival” works. Something of a Cartesian meditation, Cohen’s article provides a broadly stirring prompt for our thinking about the archival and canonical potentialities of what is arguably Dick’s most ‘archivable’ work.

Over the past semester, the Novel Studies Group has been discussing a host of similarly catalytic material on what is often thought to be the approximately three-hundred-year practice of novel reading. Thinking about modes of deep, surface-level, and even pathological reading, the group recently bit in to Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick’s 2002 piece on paranoid and reparative reading, apprehending in Sedgwick’s recovery of  Ricouer’s night-sky vision of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, the triadic constellation that was Ricouer’s “taxonomic” study of these “suspicious” hermeneuticians. Underscoring the paranoiac affects occasioned by the practice of reading itself, reading becomes a kind of mind-writing: a mental inscription and refabrication of the original materials. A perfect capsule text for the vertiginous psychic stream along which texts are imbibed, metabolised, and reappropriated, the Exegesis also explodes and scales up the question of novelistic interpretation into multiple companion modalities, comparing the effects of this book-form narrative to computer systems, the systems of physics (Dick describes alternative timelines pulsing on tachyon time), and even to such fantastic beasts as the three-eyed lobster that appears in his 1981 novel VALIS.

Heraclitus, a name Dick mentions often in the Exegesis, once remarked that “the nature of things is in the habit of concealing itself.” A cogent motto for this month’s discussion, these words will remind us that what is crucial in Dick’s work is his attempt to wipe back, or scrub at, the surface of textuality itself, all in the hope of disinterring “the nature of things” that we are all compelled, like Dick, to envision lying beneath the words themselves. Exhibiting what it means to become sincerely auto-critical, to self-psychoanalyse, and self-diagnose, the Exegesis represents the collision of author and critic, practitioner and theorist.

The selections from the Exegesis to accompany Cohen’s piece span a range of topics, and we’ve specified that we’d like to look at the material in Folders 19, 38, and 44. These include:

  • Dick’s image of the brain as an organising principle and a ‘giant floating crap game’;
  • a few paragraphs of argument supporting Dick’s insistence that “Ubik is true”;
  • a passage of 39 points that Dick wrote in the mania of a deep hypergraphic phase (an outburst that the editors, despite it’s notable ‘exuberance,’ felt compelled to cut down into a more manageable morsel);
  • a chronology of Dick’s own fiction that he tethers to a historical study of the epochs of our ontological enslavement; and, finally,
  • a most brilliant self-interview.

Please get in touch with us on Facebook if you’d like to come along. All are welcome, and we’d love to see new readers there.

–Chris Rudge and Pat Cronin

Our October Meeting: Date changed to 9 October

poster - wk6- 9octDeparting from of our usual first-Thursday-of-the-month custom, please note that we will now be meeting on the 9th of October for our 6th meeting. See the poster at left for details. Featuring a few busts of Beethoven–and his life mask of 1812–as well as a cassette tape and recorder, the poster takes inspiration from Dick’s multiple references to Beethoven in this month’s reading, as well as Dick’s reference to the so-called “Platt Tape.” Recorded on 17 May 1979 in Santa Ana, the Platt Tape features an interview with Dick that was conducted by Charles Platt for his book, Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction. The interview itself is fantastic, offering a number of lucid biographical revelations from Dick about his Berkeley days, including a few recollections of his early reading habits, and his adoration of Proust and van Vogt, whom he seems to offer up as avatars for his diverse taste in both ‘classic’ literature and sci-fi. Conceding something of a knee-jerk disdain for literary “classics,” however, Dick explains that his reading habits were wholly epicurean:

My motivation was entirely a pleasure/pain motivation. I read what I read because I liked it. I was extremely rebellious against authority, and if something was considered a classic I didn’t read it because it was a classic. I mean, I wasn’t trying to read classics per se. I liked Proust, I liked [A.E.] van Vogt. I still like Proust and I still like [A.E.] van Vogt.

The interview is well worth a listen, and appears not to be transcribed online. Perhaps it’s transcribed in Platt’s book? Please let us know if you know.

Upcoming Conference Panel

In other news, members of the reading group Chris, Pat, and Adam, will be speaking as a panel at a conference next month at the University of Sydney. The Happiness, Joy and Pleasure conference will host our three papers, which we have grouped under the title “Hedonic Mediations: Happiness in Science and Science Fiction.” More details to come.

Meeting Viewing: ‘Beyond The Door’ (2011)

FANTUNIVJAN1954Another thing we are thinking of doing at the next meeting (if we need, or can get, a breath from The Exegesis) is watching a short film based on one of Dick’s early short stories (embedded below). Directed and edited by Matthew Mandarano in 2011, the film is based on Philip K. Dick’s 1954 short story, “Beyond The Door,” originally published in the January 1954 issue of Fantastic Universe (cover at left). “Beyond The Door” seems to have been republished in various formats since the ’50s, including in a new ebook edition this year (2014) under Harper Collins’ Harper Perennial Classics label.  

We hope to see you at the meeting! Get in touch via Facebook or by email if you have any questions or want to know more about the group.

The Simulacra: A Simulation of a Seminar

Earlier this month, two members of this reading group–Chris Rudge and Dr Adam Hulbert– gave individual seminar papers at the University of New South Wales. This was arranged by the UNSW’s School of Arts and Media for their SAM Seminars 2014 programme. The Reading Group is grateful to Collin Chua, who convened the seminar, and to the UNSW, which hosted it. Following the seminar, attendees were invited to join a special instance of the Aesthetics After Finitude reading group, where we spoke with Michael O’Rourke of Punctum Books via Skype.

For those interested, a video recording of Chris’ paper is embedded below. A written copy of the original essay from which this seminar lecture is adapted is available here.

Schizophrenia and the Essay of of Changes

In other (much belated) news, Philip K. Dick’s essay “Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes” has had what is on my count its fourth publication in On Acid: A Field Guide to Altered States, edited by John Moeller and William Rauscher (Italy: CCC Editions, 2011). Limited to a run of only 1000 editions, this softcover volume reproduces a diverse selection of short essays (and excerpts of essays) apropos acid and altered states, including work by Antonin Artaud, Timothy Leary, and William James.  Here are some photos of the volume, which is available here:

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Dick’s essay was originally published in issue 11 of the fantasy fanzine Niekas. This particular issue of the fanzine seems to have appeared on eBay a few times, but it does seem to be rarer than than some of the later issues. Niekas always had great artwork. Here’s an image of the front cover of issue 11, which appeared in March 1965:

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Some 22 years after its first publication in Niekas, “Schizophrenia” appeared in issue 14 of the Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter (PKDS Newsletter), together with Dick’s essay “Naziism and the High Castle.” (This latter essay had actually also been originally published in Niekas, but in issue no. 9.)(1964).) Edited by Paul Williams, the PKDS Newsletter 14 was published in June 1987 with artwork from ‘Ferret’ and Matt Howarth:

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41CTGAA65YLBefore it was reproduced in On Acid, “Schizophrenia” found what is perhaps its most archivable home in Lawrence Sutin’s edited collection of Dick’s essay writings (above), first published in 1995, titled The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (New York: Pantheon, 1995).

Immediately preceding “Schizophrenia” in Sutin’s edited volume is another interesting essay: Dick’s 1964 piece titled “Drugs, Hallucination, and the Quest for Reality.” This short essay was originally published in issue 11 (November 1964) of a zine called lighthouse, edited by Terry Carr. So rare are editions of lighthouse, that I am yet to see the front cover of this issue 11. Here, however, are the beautiful, minimal illustrated covers of issues 14 and 15:

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Please let us know if you are aware of any other published editions of Dick’s “Schizophrenia” essay.

Le Folie Circulaire: Our 5th meeting and a Seminar

Just a brief note to advise of two upcoming events this month. Firstly, we have our regular Reading Group meeting, which will happen this Thursday 4 September from 5:30pm.  This will take us up to about half way through the Exegesis. Details are on the poster below at left.

Beaming in Circles

poster - wk5 - draft -2In this section of the volume, we start to see Dick becoming increasingly and more rigourously speculative about his 2-3-74 experience, treating the occurrence not simply as the manifestation of a pink-beam force that invades and affects him, but as a kind of circulation that moves through, with, and then away from him. The descriptions begin to have some structural affinity with what French psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Falret described as  la folie circulaire (circular madness) in his introductory conferences between 1850 and 1854 on the clinical approach in psychiatry. Falret’s classification, formally enunciated in a paper of 1854, was the forerunner to what we now describe as bipolar affective disorder, a nosological category distinguished by the alternation of manic and depressed states over long periods of time. While Dick does not, here or elsewhere in his life, appear to experience bipolar in this classical sense–nor in the modern sense of what are now shorter manic and depressed periods–it is interesting to think of the structural topology of Falret’s philosophical-psychiatric notions alongside parts of Dick’s expositions. Falret suggests that, as a result of circular madness, and the impact of this mental disease on the soul, a “novum organon” (new organ) manifested in the sufferer, which could not be dissipated by organic methods alone. Palliation, rather, Falret argues, required a kind of reverse engineering of the new organ through a moral or hypnotic means. This process is partly induced and unconscious, and partly guided and aware. Thinking along the lines of Falret, Dick’s remarks on 2-3-74 are notable for their circular structure: 

An overriding quiddity of the 2-3-74 experience is this: It’s as if certain books of mine went out from me (Unteleported Man, Ubik, Tears, etc.) and then (years) later (or weeks) came back, like in F. Brown’s “The Waveries,” in signal form: including the “bichlorides” info, like an answer to a Q which I had previously—maybe years before—posed. It was all—2-3-74—like a mind responding to my mind as I expressed it in my books.

What is interesting here is how 2-3-74 facilitates the circulation of Dick’s mind and books, which originally emanate from him, either in their composition or during the actual 2-3-74 event, and then return to him–with the pink beam, or at a later time–now transduced “in signal form.” On the return of the books’ ideas, they now seem to answer questions that Dick had posed earlier–either in the worlds of the novels themselves, or in an altogether different place and time. The information, like a ‘new organ,’ provides an additional or supplementary material beyond merely what is written in the books themselves. What causes or enables this new organ–this sense of a new “mind responding to [Dick’s original] mind” to appear? This is Dick’s crucial question in many of these pages, and a question for us to reflect on in our discussion.

SAM goes Sci-fi

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The second event of note this month is a free seminar that will happen at the University of NSW on Tuesday 9 September. Chris and Adam of the Reading Group will present seminar papers on radio/radiation and psychiatric devices in Dick’s fiction, and invite questions and discussion from those in attendance.

This is an evening seminar, and the talks should go for approximately 30-35 minutes each. Details are on the poster at left. I expect there shall be enough wine and snacks for all who attend. We’d love to see you there!

We Can Postpone Two Meetings For You Wholesale

Final Stage: The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology

Final Stage: An Anthology that features Dick’s “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts.” What makes this volume interesting is that its publisher, Carol Rinzler, edited almost all of the stories without first seeking or gaining their authors’ approval. More on this story here.

In what feels like a game of unchance, but, we can assure you, is not a war with fnools (sorry — Chris), we reluctantly will have to put off another meeting until what will be something of a September reunion. For all prospective members’ sakes, we’re looking forward to a time when the lives of those involved with this group are slightly less punctuated by deadlines; although it is by reason of these deadlines that we are getting our Dickian work done, scrivening away in our hovels.

In fact, these deadlines signal just the fact that the group is raging on precisely as it should: PhD theses, conference papers, and other manner of PKD-related projects are precisely what’s stopping us, ironically, from getting together to chat about the ampheteminergic scrivener’s works themselves. So, with our excuses out of the way, we now present our updated meeting schedule here.

UNSW Sam Seminar Series: “The Unsettling Domestic Life of Philip K Dick’s Alternate Thingyverses”

The positive and productive item of business is that Adam and Chris will be presenting extended papers, each of about 45 mins, at one of this term’s instalments of the UNSW’s SAM Seminar Series. Our papers, supplemented by what are surely to be recognised as some of the most vivid slides in the conference avocation, shall be delivered on Tuesday 9 September at UNSW, 5:00-6:30 pm, in the Robert Webster building, lecture theatre 327. All required details are here. More updates to follow!

A Little Something for Us Dickanauts

Our SAM series talks will follow the conference panel that members of this reading group assembled last month for the University of Sydney’s Prosaic Imaginary conference. Our talks were very well received, prompting the likes of John Plotz, one of the conference’s fantastic keynotes, to register what we are happy to interpret as his thoughtful encomia. Since that conference, both Chris and Adam have uploaded their panel papers to their respectively preferred online loci:

Dick: Ever the Variable Man

More than forty years since his passing, novel biographical memories are still being recalled about Philip K. Dick. Recently, R. Grahame Cameron shared his memory of Dick’s attendance at a Canadian science-fiction conference in Canada in 1972. One of the great lines from Cameron’s piece details Dick’s response to what seems to have been a Fluxis-style assemblage of experimental found sounds produced by Marshall McLuhan, the likes of which one might have expected to find in an edition of the great 1960s’ Aspen. The object of the audio piece was seemingly to reproduce a fragmented or pre-unified version of sonic reality–a kind of pre-conscious subject sonic ecology, enabling listeners to hear the “medium without the message” (or “the message without the medium”), as it were. As Cameron writes,

I have a phonograph record on which Marshal McLuhan put together music, bits and pieces of dialogue and assorted sound effects jumbled together that was supposed to give you some sense of McLuhan’s thoughts on how the media work, and worked us over, as he would say. Well, we started playing this for Dick because we thought it would be the sort of thing he’d enjoy, and all of a sudden he started yelling ‘Turn it off! Turn it off! It sounds like the inside of my head!’”

It’s hard to know whether to take the often self-satyrising and sardonic, but at-other-times maniacal Dick seriously here. Would the inside of Dick’s head have been so disturbingly reverberant with the likes of these sound effects at this stage of his life?  And, if so, isn’t it all the more interesting that, at this moment in which this psychoticized aurality is reproduced and compounded, that we should hear, in Dick’s panicked tones, his anxious request to turn it off?

You can expect more from us post-September. Until then, we’ll be in a retreat syndrome.

July Meeting postponed — but come to our conference panel!

Why our July meeting’s postponed

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Our schedule’s out of joint.

Our July reading meeting will be postponed until August as the core members of the PKD Reading Group will be presenting at an international conference at the University of Sydney. This allows us to spend twice as long on pages 312-444 of The Exegesis, which, as we dig deeper into the tome, seems to require these postponements, doublings, and prolongations of time.

The reading group will be presenting a three-paper panel at this conference, a novel-centered four-day affair titled “The Prosaic Imaginary: Novels and the Everyday, 1750-2000.” Reassessing the novel as “portable property” after John Plotz’s 2008 book, the conference will take up the term “prosaic” in new ways, addressing the practice of novel reading as an ‘everyday’ activity, and considering novels as texts uniquely given to an authors’ (and readers’) study of that which is ‘prosaic’ and imaginary in the material world (and their interrelations). More information about the conference, and registration for attendance to it, is best accessed through the conference’s novelnetwork.org website. We’d love to see you there.

I’ll embed our (pdf) abstract below for those interested:

Doing ‘things’ with Dick’s novels

As our abstract suggests, we’ll be sketching out a broad relation between Dick’s novels and their depiction or relation to material ‘things.’ More generally, our papers will give attending scholars and participants an overview of this reading group, Philip K. Dick’s life and career, and Dick’s own obsession with objects of all kinds. Our panel’s engagement with Dick’s psychological and ontological responses to objects is signalled by our abstract’s title: ‘Novel Objects: The Unsettling Life of Things in the Novels of Philip K. Dick.’

Dick’s obsession with his filing cabinet, which hosted a vast collection of SF magazines, and his fixation on his Magnavox amplifier and other hi-fi equipment, which he would reimagine as Palmer Eldritch’s “vidlux” eyes in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), is emblematic of Dick’s loving and epicurean treatment and collection of objects and machines in his novels and short stories. Looking at his third wife Anne’s children (“the girls”) playing with Barbie dolls on the floor (including a Ken doll) — dolls that Dick and Anne had given them for Christmas in 1963 — Dick was inspired to write his short story “The Days of Perky Pat” (later becoming The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch), which depicts a group of displaced adults playing with similar dolls and “layouts” (doll houses) on the colonies of Mars. As Dick wrote in an introductory note to the story,

‘The Days of Perky Pat’ came to me in one lightning-swift flash when I saw my children playing with Barbie dolls. Obviously these anatomically super-developed dolls were not intended for the use of children, or, more accurately, should not have been. Barbie and Ken consisted of two adults in miniature. The idea was that the purchase of countless new clothes for these dolls was necessary if Barbie and Ken were to live in the style to which they were accustomed. I had visions of Barbie coming into my bedroom at night and saying, ‘I need a mink coat.’ Or, even worse, ‘Hey, big fellow… want to take a drive to Vegas in my Jaguar XKE?’ I was afraid my wife would find me and Barbie together and my wife would shoot me.

[See: The Complete Stories of Philip K. Dick: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and Other Classic Stories (New York: Citadel Press, 1987), 366.]

The above lines (or visions) express a good-humoured, but typically anxious Dick of the early 1960s — the Dick who felt that sustaining his recent marriage to Anne involved, at least partly — and whether he was right or wrong to think so — keeping his relatively new family happy, living in ‘the style to which they had become accustomed.’ Interestingly, Dick and Anne did own a Jaguar, although it was a white 1953 MK VII Saloon — not an XKE.

A white, c. 1953 Jaguar Mark VII Saloon

Dick’s attachment to the vehicle, which he and Anne had bought in 1963 for $2,000 from the “head mechanic at British Motors” (according to her memoir), fastidiously replacing the carpet with the “best-quality royal blue plush carpeting [they] could find” (60) is expressed in the second chapter of We Can Build You, when our narrator Louis Rosen lovingly describes the model, owned by businessman Maury Frauenzimmer:

The Mark VII Saloon Model Jaguar is an ancient huge white car, a collector’s item, with fog lights, a grill like the Rolls, and naturally hand-rubbed walnut, leather seats, and many interior lights. Maury kept his priceless old 1954 Mark VII in mint condition and tuned perfectly, but we were able to go no faster than ninety miles an hour on the freeway which connects Ontario with Boise (WCBY, 8).

Anne, according to her memoir, eventually sold the Jaguar, trading it in for a Volvo — much to Dick’s chagrin (TSFPKD, 60). [For more on Dick’s cars, see David Gill’s post.]

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Shattuck Avenue in the 1940s (Image: The Berkeley Historical Society).

In the late ’40s, over a decade before Perky Pat was inscribed on the pages of Amazing Stories, Dick worked as a sales clerk at a record and hi-fi shop, University Radio and Electronics, and later at another shop, Art Music, where he sold records and repaired hi-fi equipment, nurturing his relation to material objects. (According to these entries on popturf.com, University Radio was located at 2165 Shattuck Ave and Art Music was at 2328 Telegraph Ave.) Withdrawing from UC Berkeley in 1947 due to his disapproval of the then mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corp regime (Dick claimed he refused to reassemble his rifle during the ROTC), Dick’s literary career took its first steps in the 1950s when he sold his first SF novel, Solar Lottery. All the while he had been trying to carve out a literary career, Dick had fallen back on his employment in these music and record shops. Just before he sold Solar Lottery, Dick, in 1953, briefly worked at Tupper and Reed.

[The above chronology is adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s Chronology at the back the Library of America volume. See: Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (New York: Library of America, 2007), 803-4.]

Our Curated Exhibition

Things are moving along well with our curated exhibition in concert with the University of Sydney Rare Book Library and its astonishing Science Fiction and Fantasy collection. As we telegraphed a few posts ago, we’ll be displaying a number of first and early edition Dick hardback and paperback novels, but, in addition, we also will be showing off some of the early short story magazines. Our preliminary list of those that we want to have on display follows (in no particular order):

  • “The Adjustment Team,” Orbit SF (No 3 or 4?) Sept/Oct 1953;
  • “The Turning Wheel,” Science Fiction Stories, no. 2, 1953;
  • “Beyond Lies The Wub,” Planet Stories, July 1952;
  • “Roog,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Feb 1953;
  • “The Father-Thing,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1954;
  • “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1966;
  • “The Little Black Box,” World of Tomorrow August 1964;
  •  “The Days of Perky Pat,” Amazing Stories, December, 1963;
  • “Your Appointment Will be Yesterday,” Amazing Stories, August 1966;
  • “A. Lincoln, Simulacrum,” Amazing Stories, January 1970;
  • “Beyond The Door,” Fantastic Universe, January 1954;
  • “Minority Report,” Fantastic Universe, January 1956;
  • “Paycheck,” Imagination, January 1953;
  • “The Golden Man,” IF, April 1954;
  • “Second Variety ,” Space Science Fiction, May 1953; and
  • “King of the Elves,” Beyond Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1953.

Cotton-gloved among the silver fish, our rare book librarian friends are doing the heroic work of wading through the stacks and compactor shelves for these particular items, and we cannot wait to get the exhibition up and ready. Watch this space for photos and updates over the coming weeks. If you’re interested in coming along to the Reading Group in future months, please also see the revised meeting schedule.

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Palm Tree Garden

Palm Tree Garden

PKD’s palm tree garden, which overlays the occluded black iron prison, is surely a metaphor that has its ‘roots’ in the ecological mimicry of the Californian landscape:

Although they conjure the image of Los Angeles as desert oasis, L.A.’s palm trees owe their iconic status more to Southern California’s turn-of-the-century cultural aspirations and engineering feats than to the region’s natural ecology.

— Adam

Week 4: Going Into Zebra

Week 4: Dick and his polymorphous Zebra!

Week 4 of the reading group sees us becoming-animal (as Deleuze and Guattari would say), traversing the human and metamorphosing into Zebra, which is the “nickname” Dick gives for the “mimicking entity” from which certain sacred information emanates. As Simon Critchley notes, in this section “chains of associated identifications structure the argument of the Exegesis: Zebra equals Christ, and Christ equals God; the mind’s union with Zebra is the union with God, where “you are God” (225). Not a lot, it seems, has been written on what Dick called Zebra, but, if we are to think of Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-animal as one of those “wild concepts” for which the pair are infamous, and if we are to take their work as instructive, then we might begin to think of Dick’s exploration of Zebra as an instance of becoming-animal that, for Dick, is (or was) very real–more real than even Deleuze and Guattari had had in mind. The relation between Dick and Zebra, however, is always distant, muffled, and unclear; it is, as Regan says of his Can-D experience in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, “remote and vitiated and unconvincing” (Doubleday, 1965, 51). Dick does not simply become Zebra, but he is (and all of us are) said to become the entity’s messenger: a “delegated observer,” as Bruno Latour might say. We are all doing Zebra’s work, performing the animal’s labour, but interminably we remain unaware of this process, this performativity. But Dick ponders whether he might have been exposed to Zebra’s operations, might have caught a rare glimpse of the beast itself:

It is interesting how we inadvertently (unknowingly) carry Zebra’s messages for it, piggyback on our own. It’s as if Zebra says, “As Long as you’re going in that direction, take this along, too.” I suppose a phagocyte doesn’t know anything about its job, either. In seeing these messages flying back and forth, I may have witnessed our primary function within Zebra. It certainly must be mine (225).

As Dick begins to suggest, Zebra may or may not be contiguous, coextensive, with the Universe. The “old universe” could in fact be, he posits, Zebra’s “antagonist,” such that there are two universes (or multiverses), one of which is Zebra, colliding, recombining, the one making itself out of the other .

Dick penned this section on Zebra in January or February of 1977, in the same year that VALIS was published, and only two years following Dick’s fixation on the “incoming signals” that he had then spoken of as emerging from an “observatory like place” and as forming the basis for VALIS‘s plot premise (101). Also around this time, in the 1975 folios of the Exegesis, Dick frequently alludes to a Dr. NK (Dr. Nikolai Aleksandrovic Kozyrev) whose research on time, and particularly the physics of time, clearly forcefully influenced Dick’s professedly Bergsonian views on the physical properties of temporal procession — and these might have played a role in his formulation of Zebra, which is nothing if not a material embodiment of the universe’s temporal quintessence. (See this .pdf copy of Kozyrev’s “Possibility of the Experimental Study of the Property of Time.”) It is while engaging with Dr. NK that Dick begins to become more seriously speculative about the possibility of telepathy, and the nature of the means by which the “messages” of which he speaks–that is, those that he will identify as emanations from Zebra in 1977–could be carried by and through him. As he writes to Claudia Bush in ’75, discussing Ubik‘s reliance of aspects of Dr. NK’s threorisations, and their implications for telepathy (“t-p”):

The leap in time density, the entire experience of radically rolled-back time, would be an automatic experience of any t-p receiver, would have to happen for him to receive. This surely would be more evident if it was not a person normally sensitive to t-p info transfer; someone like me who never normally got info by telepathy would experience a unique and surprising transformation in time and not understand why. Normal telepaths probably would have become accustomed to it (139).

The relation that I am roughly tracing here between Dr. NK’s temporal physics and Zebra, remains somewhat enigmatic. In one schema, it might be proposed that while time modulates its fluxions, its procession, in order for certain transmissions to occur, the source of those transmissions remains a stable, material agent, not affected by time. For Dick, such a stable agent, or actant, seems to be Zebra. In another formulation, however, Zebra may be thought of as nothing more than the material manifestation of time itself. Zebra is stable and fixed only inasmuch as time is also static. Zebra is, after all, as Dick says in 1977, hardly impactful on the material world; a

“weak “vegetable level” field, barely able to arrange matter. (Trigrams Sun and Li.) But its level (capacity to exert force) seems to be growing. To have thresholded recently. I have seen what it can do and have heard its voice.

We too, this week, will hear the voice of Zebra, and we’ll consider whether it is worthy of further work in Dick studies.

It might be worth noting here that Richard Doyle of Penn State University has put together a “distributed scholarship/crowdsourced explication” project on Dick’s Exegesis. The project has been named, significantly, Zebrapedia. From what I gather, the work is just about raring to go and the project is accessible here.

Notes on Our Goings-on

There are a few items of note to report for the group:

  • The first news item to report is that three of the group’s members–Chris Rudge, Adam Hulbert, and Pat Cronin–will be giving talks on Dick’s novels at a forthcoming international conference on novels at the University of Sydney. The conference is entitled The Prosaic Imaginary: Novels and The Everyday, 1750-2000. The conference programme is now online here, and the titles of our talks are as follows:
    • Chris Rudge, Sydney, ‘Doctored Images: Doctors and their Devices in Philip K. Dick’s 1960s novels’
    • Adam Hulbert, UNSW, ‘The Persistent Elsewhere: Radio and the Alternate Worlds of Philip K Dick’
    • Patrick Cronin, Sydney, ‘California Kipple: Everyday Trash in the novels of Philip K. Dick’

The conference will run over 4 days, from July 1-4 2014. We are speaking on 3 July at one of the two 11am parallel sessions. Our abstract submission (.pdf) is here.

  • The second very exciting item of news to report is that, in concert with the PKD Reading Group panel’s appearance at this conference, the panel will be organising a display exhibition of some of Dick’s rare books in collaboration with the University of Sydney’s Fisher Rare Book Library. Recently, myself (Chris) and Pat were able to visit Fisher Library’s uncatalogued Rare Book collection, where we were able to briefly investigate the library’s incredible science fiction and fantasy collection.

The collection truly is unbelievable, having benefited from the massively valuable and extensive bequested collection of Ron Graham, which contains, for instance, almost complete holdings (up to 1979) of the commercially published American, English and Australian science fiction magazines, including such long-running titles titles as Amazing and Astounding, among many other precious artefacts. Almost as extensive are the bequested collections of the late science fiction writer A. Bertram Chandler, who donated his science fiction collection, his own works, and a variety of memorabilia in 1984, and Colin Steele, who has donated his significant private collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and periodicals to the library, which Steele had built up over decades in Sydney and London.

Given the size and status of the collection, the Philip K. Dick Reading Group will display some of the rare volumes of Dick’s novels in concert with the Prosaic Imaginary conference. We are thinking about making a few props: an UBIK spray can, Barbie dolls (Perky ‘Pat’ Christensen from The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch), etc. to sit alongside the books in the display. We’ll be setting up explanatory boards for each work, and have some high quality photos of Dick in the display cabinets too. Images of the library’s haul of Dick’s novels and stories are below (and thanks to Pat Cronin for capturing these images). I will caption these photos with further descriptions of the editions and the contents as soon as I can:

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The 1974 White Lion hard cover ofThe Game-Players of Titan (1963), on the right, is a particularly handsome volume.

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Notable first editions here include: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (Doubleday, 1965); A Scanner Darkly (Doubleday 1977); UBIK (Doubleday 1969); Deus Irae (Doubleday 1976); The Divine Invasion (Timescape, 1981); and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (Timescape, 1982).

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Note the first edition of Eye In The Sky (ACE, 1957).

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A first edition of The Man In High Castle (Putnams 1962).

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The collection titled PLANET OF DOOM, bottom right, containing Dick’s short story “Retreat From Rigel,” and published by Sydney press Jubilee in 1958, is apparently one of only two of these housed in collected editions in the world (the other is in New Zealand).

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  • Last, but not least, Chris (me) will have a chapter appearing in an upcoming volume on Philip K. Dick, which sounds fantastic, starring some of the brightest and most respected Dick and science fiction scholars out there: Laurence Rickels, Richard Doyle, Erik Davis, Roger Luckhurst, Mark Bould, Marcus Boon, and others. Chris’ chapter is about biopolitical subjects and drugs in Dick’s science fiction, and most specifically The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. The volume, titled Future Matters: The Persistence of Philip K. Dick, looks set to be released by Palgrave Macmillan in early 2015.

That’s all the news for now. Stay tuned, and we look forward to seeing new faces at the reading group!

Week 3: Letters to Humans, Correspondences with Cats

Our poster for Week 3 of the Exegesis readings, featuring Dick's "big blue cat."

Our poster for Week 3 of the Exegesis readings, featuring Dick’s “big blue cat.”

As we move into week 3 of the reading group we begin to move beyond the letters that we’ve encountered in the first hundred-odd pages of the Exegesis and onward to some intriguing autobiographical matter. This month’s poster (left) features a cat: one with whom Dick seems to be in a kind of psychological or telepathic dialogue. Dick, as is well known, owned a number of cats throughout his life. These ever-present feline friends are more than simply pets, however; they seem to play a role in determining not only Dick’s affective state and authorial experience, but also his ontological philosophy.  It was precisely when Dick’s “big blue cat” ran away that he felt the need to begin ‘rattling on,’ in a letter, to Claudia Bush. As he wrote to Bush at the end of November in 1974,

Can I rattle on some more at you? Especially since the big cat we got ran away as soon as we let him out? Thank you.

At one point in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Anne Hawthorne and Barney Mayerson discuss the possibility that Palmer Eldritch is a kind of deity.  Anne, who is inclined to theology, describes Eldritch as a “being superior to ourselves,” a “creature fashioned by something higher than itself, as we were; God wasn’t fashioned and He isn’t puzzled.” In the midst of this, Anne then interjects with her “cat joke,” which is perhaps worth quoting in its entirety here:

But–let me tell you my cat joke. It’s very short and simple. A hostess is giving a dinner party and she’s got a lovely five-pound T-bone steak sitting on the sideboard in the kitchen waiting to be cooked while she chats with the guests in the living room–has a few drinks and whatnot. But then she excuses herself to go into the kitchen to cook the steak–and it’s gone. And there’s the family cat, in the corner, sedately washing its face.”

“The cat got the steak,” Barney said.

“Did it? The guests are called in; they argue about it. The steak is gone, all five pounds of it; there sits the cat, looking well-fed and cheerful. ‘Weigh the cat,’ someone says. They’ve had a few drinks; it looks like a good idea. So they go into the bathroom and weigh the cat on the scales. It reads exactly five pounds. They all perceive this reading and one guest says, ‘Okay, that’s it. There’s the steak.’ They’re satisfied that they know what happened, now; they’ve got empirical proof. Then a qualm comes to one of them and he says, puzzled, ‘But where’s the cat?'”

“I heard that joke before,” Barney said. “And anyhow I don’t see its application.”

Anne said, “That joke poses the finest distillation of the problem of ontology ever invented. If you ponder it long enough–”

“Hell,” he said angrily, “it’s five pounds of cat; it’s nonsense–there’s no steak if the scale shows five pounds.”

“Remember the wine and the wafer,” Anne said quietly.

He stared at her. The idea, for a moment, seemed to come through.

“Yes,” she said. “The cat was not the steak. But — the cat might be a manifestation which the steak was taking at that moment.”

Stigmata is a novel preoccupied with the doctrine(s) of transubstantiation and consubstantiation, and this obsession is ‘fleshed out’ in a number of ways and in a range of different settings throughout the book. (The primary conceit or allegory through which the novel illustrates the metaphysical notion is in the process by which users of the drug Can-D (the sacrament) can merge with the Perky Pat dolls–Walt Essex and Perky Pat–to become, body and blood, the living flesh of these static dolls.)

Dust jacket to the first edition (1965, Doubleday) of Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

Dust jacket to the first edition (1965, Doubleday) of Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

In the joke above, it is the figure of the cat (this “five pounds of cat”) that Dick mobilises, through Anne Hawthorne, to point to the way in which the doctrine seems to remain antithetical to the very “empirical proof” that is attested to demonstrate it. In the joke, the figure of the cat takes on a supernatural power; its body disappears as it takes on, integrates, incorporates, the material remains of another animal: the cut of steak from a bovine. (Never mind the fact that the joke seems to presume that the cat also eats the bone.) But (we may wonder), does Dick simply use the figure of the cat here to tell this (Anne’s) joke–to propel Stigmata–or does he, like Jacques Derrida in his essay “The Animal That Therefore I Am,” speak of a “real cat”? As Derrida explains, representations of cats in literature, of course, are manifold:

I must make it clear from the start, the cat I am talking about is a real cat, truly, believe me, a little cat. It isn’t the figure of a cat. It doesn’t silently enter the room as an allegory for all the cats on the earth, the felines that traverse myths and religions, literature and fables. There are so many of them (374).

In the Exegesis, Dick draws a close connection between his real cats, real people, and his literary “guide” who that taught him “to write” (128). After briefly discussing his close relationship with editor Tony  Boucher, Dick tangentially turns his thoughts to the life and death of his cat, Pinky, who, we learn, is a kind of reincarnation of Boucher:

However, Tony is still alive, I discovered last year. My cat had begun to behave in an odd way, keeping watch over me in a quiet fashion, and I saw that he had changed. This was after he ran away and came back, wild and dirty, crapping on the rug in fear; we took him to the vet and the vet calmed him down and healed him. After that Pinky had what I call a spiritual quality, except that he wouldn’t eat meat. He would tremble whenever we tried to feed it to him. For five months he’d been lost, living in the gutter, seeing god knows what; I wish I knew. Anyhow when he was changed—in the twinkling of an eye; that is, while at the vet—he wouldn’t ever do anything cruel. Yet I knew Pinky was afraid, because once I almost shut the refrigerator door on him and he did a 3 cushion bank shot of himself off the walls to escape, and clocked a velocity unusual for a pink sheep thing that usually just sat and gazed ahead. Pinky had trouble breathing because of his heavy fur and what they call hairballs. Tony had asthma terribly and needed it [the air] cold. Pinky would sit by the door to get the cold air from under the crack, and struggle to breathe. I will not write a teaser article here; Pinky died of cancer suddenly; he was three years old; very young for a cat. It was totally unexpected. The vet diagnosed it as something else.

I hadn’t realized Pinky was Tony Boucher, served up by the universe again, until I had this dream about Tony the Tiger—the cereal box character who offers you cocoa puffs” (127).

Here we see a condensation (as Freud might say) of Tony Boucher, Pinky the cat, and Tony the tiger. Tessa (Dick’s fifth wife), Dick notes, had brought Pinky over to him when he had been sick in 1972 and 1973 with pneumonia. (128) Dick felt that Pinky was trying to figure out what part of his body was sick, that the cat was able to perceive his illness, and that, ultimately, that perhaps Pinky died in his place: “I recovered by he did not. That was my friend” (128). Much later in the Exegesis, Dick will see Pinky “in the archetypal role of the humiliated, dying savior” (288): “Pinky was Christ,” Dick realises, “because Pinky was mocked, humiliated, kicked and killed” (301).

All in all, Dick’s relationship with his cats serves as an energising prompt to this month’s discussion of pages 104-208 of the Exegesis; in these pageswe are given more details about Dick’s relationship with his cats than in any other part of the published work. The phenomenon that Jonathan Lethem and Pamela Jackson note in the introduction–the fact that “a cat dies and the room is filled with memorial light”–is not the end of Dick’s “strange experiences” after Pinky’s death. In a perverse reconfiguration of the joke from Stigmata, on the night of Pinky’s death, a hand that is placed on Dick’s shoulder “firmly” to console him, while he mourns in the bathroom, turns out to belong to no one, to be a phantasm. Here the material reality (or at least the phenomenal, sensorial aspects of it) have no origin, what is thought to be material disappears into nothingness. In material experience there is a trace of what has disappeared, but from what dimension does it emerge, “‘But where,’ indeed, is ‘the cat?'”