The first fifty pages (and to be honest, I feel the pattern will hold for the entirety of the volume) are an odd mix of borderline unhinged pronouncements (of the ‘I’m getting messages from aliens’ type) and simply examples of someone trying to figure out where thoughts, visions, and creativity come from, and trying to explain it in terms both neurophysiological and mystical. At least for me, the beginning of Exegesis is peculiar but not outrageously so. Perhaps it is because at one point I myself lived on a somewhat steady diet of mystical literature, from myth analyses to Jungian alchemical essays. Perhaps it is simply recognition that this is another human mind trying to figure out itself, though PKD’s take on it might be more peculiar than most.
Peculiarity here is mixed with a dose of self-importance, which might be inflated because most of this was not written for others’ eyes. The idea that one’s novels are predicting the future, coming true, and, in fact, forming said future is a great science fiction concept. And therein lies the Exegesis rub. Is PKD living in a PKD novel? Is he writing non-fiction for some distant future? Are his novels, upon leaving his mind and typewriter, go on to change the fabric of reality itself? He seems to believe all or some of these things.
And for those of you who are wondering whether this volume is a slog: it isn’t. It is, oddly enough, quite readable, something which a few of us in this read along pointed out. I have a feeling we are all going to come after having reached page 300 or thereabouts and renounce our words, but we’ll see. Is it worth your time? It depends. If you think you will enjoy not-intended-for-publication self-examination ramblings full of religious and philosophical references, then I think you’ll have a blast.
Nicolette at Book Punks started a rather brave and possibly unsound quest to read Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis in a span of one year, accompanied by a selection of his novels. You can see the schedule here. A few similarly courageous souls signed up for this, and I am joining the crowd a few weeks late, but early enough to catch up.
In a strange twist of fate, as these things go, I am not entirely unprepared for this journey. Once upon a time I took a rather unusual college course. It seemed to be at odds with the rest of the faculty’s offerings (this was Department of Psychology), and I still can’t easily describe what it was about or why I took it. It is still taught, by the same professor, a fact that doesn’t really surprise me, because it was one of the highest-rated courses on offer, and probably still is. On the surface, it was an attempt to explain how we view the world and the models we use to do it. What it actually consisted of was an overview of everything from neurophysiology to myths to studies on anxiety and fear to Jungian theories to alchemy to the Bible, all tied and brought together in a variety of ways, with assignments that required us to write personal narratives and readings ranging from Dostoyevsky to articles from neuroscience journals. It sounds like a hot mess, but oddly enough, it wasn’t. In fact, it’s probably the only course that stayed with me past college. Maybe we were all drinking Kool-Aid, maybe we were all rebelling against strict reductionist tendencies of the majority of the department, maybe we were genuinely interested in learning something that seemed almost mystical, or maybe the professor was rather persuasive. It was the same course that later led to burying myself in books on Jung and alchemy, and now I am reminded of it again, as it makes my diving into PKD’s Exegesis both oddly familiar and exactly the kind of thing I would want to do.