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:
The 1974 White Lion hard cover ofThe Game-Players of Titan (1963), on the right, is a particularly handsome volume.
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).
Note the first edition of Eye In The Sky (ACE, 1957).
A first edition of The Man In High Castle (Putnams 1962).
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).
- 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!