Simon Critchley on Philip K. Dick

The philosopher Simon Critchley takes a shot at writing about PKD. If you’ve read the recently published Exegesis, based on Dick’s unpublished late-night attempts to understand the events of 2-3-74 (Feb/March 1974 when he underwent a series of visions) you’ll have seen some of Critchley’s footnotes.

It’s been a kind of scandal that the professional philosophy field has not engaged with Dick’s work as much as it might have. I think the recent interest is in large part thanks to Jonathan Lethem (who edited the Exegesis and got Dick on the Library of America).

Dickheads won’t learn anything factually new here, but that’s not the point. Critchley wisely doesn’t attempt to “explain” what Dick experienced (eg through drugs or illness). Rather Critchley takes up the challenge of what Dick writes as a series of ideas with implications.

Critchley writes:

There is a tension throughout “Exegesis” between a monistic view of the cosmos (where there is just one substance in the universe, which can be seen in Dick’s references to Spinoza’s idea as God as nature, Whitehead’s idea of reality as process and Hegel’s dialectic where “the true is the whole”) and a dualistic or Gnostical view of the cosmos, with two cosmic forces in conflict, one malevolent and the other benevolent. The way I read Dick, the latter view wins out. This means that the visible, phenomenal world is fallen and indeed a kind of prison cell, cage or cave.

The latter view is indeed predominant in Dick’s writings, especially after 1974, such Valis and the Divine Invasion. (In the latter a damaged savior attempts to break through to our world, but is damaged and forgetful due to the evil efforts of the malevolent tendency.) It’s interesting to note that Critchley sees it as in “tension” with the monistic worldview in Dick’s work, but maybe he means over the course of his career.

The novelty of Dick’s Gnosticism is that the divine is alleged to communicate with us through information.

This is also worth noting (the title Valis of course is the acronym vast active living intelligence system). However, in Dick’s world, the information can never quite make it through, or is degraded in some way.

Part 2 (of a 3-part series) is here.

(h/t Jon Cogburn at NewAPPS)

2 responses to “Simon Critchley on Philip K. Dick

  1. Perhaps…but didn’t Philip K. Dick write over 100 short stories, over 35 other novels besides the so called VALIS trilogy, essays, interviews, selected letters? Where is any of this in Professor Critcheley’s overview of PKD? To focus on just the so called Exegesis and/or the VALIS trilogy is doing PKD a big disservice.

  2. True enough. Perhaps Critchley should have identified his columns more clearly as being about the post-1974 PKD. On the other hand, this is published in the NYT Stone feature, short columns about various philosophical issues with popular appeal. He doesn’t claim to be providing an “overview.” According to NewAPPS, PKD issues are treated more fully in Critchley’s latest book. I tend to think that it is important that Critchley is engaging with PKD, even if long-time readers and critics may feel he is rather late to the party.

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