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

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