by Frank Bertrand
(Read Frank’s First “Dear Phil Letter“)
Yes, you’re quite right, it is rewarding to take the time to RE-read your work, in particular the non-fiction. I was recently doing just that with In Pursuit Of Valis: Selections From The Exegesis (1991), and in the section “On His Writing Techniques” was quite intrigued by the following, dated 1981:
“I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist; my novel & story-writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art but truth…. I think I understand the common ingredient in those whom my writing helps: they cannot or will not blunt their own intimations about the irrational, mysterious nature of reality, &, for them, my corpus of writing is one long ratiocination regarding this inexplicable reality, an investigation & presentation, analysis & response & personal history…. What I have done is extraordinarily valuable, if you can endure the strain of not knowing, & knowing you do not know….Someone must come along & play the role of Plato to my Socrates.”
What’s most notable in this, I think, is the opening phrase “I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist” and the concluding sentence: “Someone must come along & play the role of Plato to my Socrates.” And unfortunately, there hasn’t yet been anyone who has come along to play the role of Plato to your fictionalized philosophy, though a presumptive case could be made for the pioneering critical work of Bruce Gillespie in Australia.
True, there are those who mightily strive to pin various faddish academic labels on you, but these soon slide off as if made out of teflon. They obviously haven’t read the wise, incisive and apt words of Lawrence Sutin in his introduction to The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick (1995):
“…his true affinity is with the pre-Socratic thinkers, whose gnomic and evocative writings – adamant, fragmented personal visions of the universe, its nature and purpose – have resisted definitive textual analysis for more than two millennia…it is well to remember that Dick’s forte was questions, not answers; those who would see his ideas as fodder for a “cult” merely reflect their own hunger for conditioned thought.”
Now, that is something a lot of individuals seem to have a perverse penchant for in today’s drive-up window, quick and convenient culture, a “hunger for conditioned thought.” Why is that, Phil? Do they not like to think for themselves, engage in critical-thinking, or strive for informed opinions? Perhaps, as you state it, they cannot endure the strain and stress of not knowing.
Sutin’s words also remind me of something in one of your favorite books, Phil, Edward Hussey’s The Presocratics (1972). Therein, in chapter eight, he writes about “…the kinds of mistake that menace every serious attempt at a history of thought.” According to Hussey these are simple anachronism in interpretation, giving a false impression of inevitability, and being betrayed by philosophical prejudices into an unjust and uncritical treatment.
Also very relevant is what one of your intellectual heroes, C.G. Jung, writes in his essay “The Modern Spiritual Problem” (1933):
“If he [modern man] turns away from the terrifying prospect of a blind world in which building and destroying successively tip the scale, and if he then turns his gaze inward upon the recesses of his own mind, he will discover a chaos and a darkness there which he would gladly ignore.”
But isn’t this, Phil, just what your fictionalized philosophy attempts to explore and explicate, this chaos and darkness as filtered through and impacted by the “irrational, mysterious nature” of Reality (metaphysics) and “human-ness” (ontology), from the wub on up through VALIS?
That is, it seems to me you’ve always tried to do what Orwell notes in his essay “The Prevention of Literature” (1946), “…to report contemporary events truthfully, or as truthfully as is consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observer necessarily suffers,” without giving a false impression of inevitability.
In fact, I think you significantly establish the tone for your fictionalized philosophy, for your primary ideas, themes and motifs, in your very first published short story, “Beyond Lies The Wub” (Planet Stories, Vol. 5, no. 7, July 1952), one that deserves a lot closer attention than it has gotten to date. I mean, does Captain Franco really commit an act of exo-cannibalism when he eats the wub? And does the wub actually use metempsychosis to escape its predicament? (Perhaps you had Yeat’s statement in mind: “I am an immortal soul tied to the body of a dying animal.”) Or, is it more about pragmatic-utilitarianism vs. rationalistic-humanism?
More to the point, when I re-read your stories, novel and essays – and some of the esoteric “stuff” that’s been written about you – I often think of the wub’s wise admonishment to Captain Franco: “Rather you should discuss questions with me, philosophy, the arts – “, which sounds a lot like Socrates’ concept of the “philosophic life”.
I wonder, did you have Plato’s Phaedo in mind when you wrote this story? Because that work is not so much about portraying the death of Socrates as it is about his argument for the goodness of the philosophic life, for a philosopher’s life-long attempt to discover the truth about things on his own and for himself. Reads like a description of the wub, and you, doesn’t it?
Yours in Kipple,