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Pinklight.LawrenceSutinWebchatr1.1 - 10 Apr 2004 - 10:02 - TWikiGuesttopic end

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>> webchat with lawrence sutin

[3]64 == Lawrence Sutin

[5]gl: You have started work on the Divine Invasions at a time when mainstream attention on things PKD-related was far from what it is today. How did your involvement with Philip K. Dick's work and life come about? What triggered your interest initially?

[3]64: I first read PKD in the mid-1970s, at the suggestion of a good friend. The first novel I read was "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch". A very good start! I had read a fair range within SF before this, but I was never an ardent SF fan. The discovery of PKD's work & my sense that it was as challenging and visionary as any so-called 'literary' fiction came about quickly as I progressed to other novels such as Ubik, Flow My Tears, and then--as they were published-- Scanner and Valis etc. In 1982, I was reading the Minneapolis local paper--something I rarely do--and I happened to see a tiny box item headlined 'Death Elsewhere'. It told of PKD's passing. Someththing went through me. I started on the book some two years later--writing a proposal.

[5]gl: Whom did you propose it to - a publisher or the Dick family?

[3]64: I first needed to find an agent. Dorothy Pittman, now dead, courageously represented the book for its own sake--she knew there were no big $$$ in it. It was a hard sell. Fortunately, we found a young editor at Harmony Books who was taken with Dick.

[5]gl: As the theme of exhibition is dick's religious experiences, I would like to start with a question regarding his attitude towards SF and religion. In 1966 -- in his essay "Will the Atomic Bomb Ever Be Perfected..." -- Dick wrote "Religion ought to never show up in SF except from a sociological standpoint... God per se as a character ruins a good SF story." Has his opinion changed after 2-3-74 or was this statement aimed at the traditional, partrichal view of God?

[3]64: When PKD began his career as an SF writer in the early 1950s, he did not consider himself religious, though he was not hostile to religion either. His view in those early years was rooted in a humanistic appreciation of everday straightforward American working people, coupled with an exploration of the philosophical underpinnings of existence--a challenging metaphysical vision. His transformation into a more overtly religious SF writer came about through the events that you are celebrating (by the way, if there is a catalogue, I'd love to see a copy). As to the relation between SF & religion, I am quite certain that PKD felt that SF was fully capable of exploring religion, despite his earlier statements to the contrary. In the Exegesis, he never questioned that his novels not only were capable of exploring religion, but had done so all along--that is, he went back and found religious significance in his earlier SF work.

[5]gl: so whereas in early works humans could achieve almost godlike powers through drugs and technology, the apparance of VALIS then turned these metaphysical speculations into transcendental ones.

[5]gl: lets get to the obvious subject of the role of drugs in 2-3-74

*[5]gl: In said essay "Will the Atomic Bomb..." Dick further recalls seeing pink and red colors while on LSD - 8 years before his VALIS encounter. Wheras Aldous Huxley was researching drugs as divine tools, Dick didnīt seem to consider his experiments with hallucinogens in the late 60s as the possible origin of his divine encounters. Did he never think of the possibility of an LSD induced flashback?

[3]64: PKD was not particularly fond of LSD. Huxley was not a major influence upon him. PKD certainly did think now and then in terms of the various vitamins and medications that he was employing during the pink light period. He also, far more rarely, considered--as is reflected to a degree in Scanner--that his visions had something to do with the damage inflected by so many years of heavy amphetamine use, such as the possibility that the pink lights etc. were stroke sympotoms. He was one to consider ALL possibilities. But LSD in particular, or a flashback, no.

[5]gl: Was PKD aware that C.G. Jung has had very similiar experiences as 2-3-74 before developing his theory of archetypes? Jung was hearing voices of greek philosophers among other experiences...

[3]64: Yes he was. PKD read Jung in the 1950s and early 1960s and I am certain from his own references that he was familiar with "Memories, Dreams and Reflections", in which Jung's account of his Gnostic visions is included. At the same time, the key period for Jung's influence upon PKD is the late 1950s & early 1960s, with archetypal figures of evil such as Palmer Eldritch emerging. But PKD did not pursue the similarities between his 2-3-74 experiences & Jung's own experiences.

[5]gl: PKD seemed to have a very interesting and influencial relationship with his psychologists/psychiatrists - why e.g. does he use the figure of Dr. Stone, i.e. an authority figure from the medical world, as the first person to help him explicate the experience in VALIS? Why the reliance on neurological or biochemical pathology instead of religion and/or philosophy?

[3]64: PKD was taken by his mother to see psychiatrists during his childhood and early adolescence. He was diagnosed, by one of them, as schizophrenic. Others offered other diagnoses. But the sense of fear and of--to a degree--dependence, stuck with him. By dependence, I mean that a sense of his own well-being could be instilled by a figure such as Dr. Stone saying--you're not crazy. If you fear you are crazy, that's a balm.

[5]gl: Similar to Dick's protagonists, the ones of J.G. Ballard suffer from loss of reality. But while Ballards characters decline into autistic privacy (in VALIS a synonym for idiocy), Dicks are eventually saved by empathy. Can you explain us, why empathy plays such a central role in Dicks work? (He defines it as the difference between man and machine.)

[3]64: The question of 'why' is a large one. Here are some obvious factors to be considered--the death, in her infancy, of his twin sister Jane (the losses felt by twins are particularly intense, according to research), the early divorce of his parents, the coldness he felt in his mother, whom he came to hate. Empathy, for Dick, became the signal essence of humanity. That was clear to him from the start of his writing career--it showes up in the earliest stories. 2-3-74 never altered or influenced that conviction.

[5]gl: How did PKDs involvement with Gnosticism come about? Did he ever connect to any gnostic groups such as the Rosicrucians, or did he gather all his knowledge from books?

[3]64: His knowledge of Gnosticism comes very largely from books. In the early 1960s, he did befriend an interesting figure--an Episcopal priest-the Episcopal bishop of California--James A. Pike. Pike discussed with Dick the findings at Nag Hammadi. How much of the Nag Hammadi Scrolls Dick read at that time is unclear, as there were not yet complete translations in English. Jung was a key source for him in terms of knowledge of Gnosticism. Briefly, in 1974--just after the pink light experiences, PKD (by mail) joined an American Rosicrucian group, but he let it fall by the wayside. He was, by and large, more interested in Christian than Rosicrucian sources.

[5]gl: The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is a critical portrait of said James Pike and in it he created his maybe most complex psychological character. Liberal, loyal, gifted and empathic but also obsessed, confused. Can you shed some light on main differences between Bishop James Pike and Bishop Timothy Archer?

[3]64: Insofar as I am aware of the facts of Pike's life and work, the portrait in Timothy Archer is quite accurate. I believe that PKD felt free to incorporate into that novel, and into Archer's character, an interest in ideas that emerged from 2-3-74, as well as (that is, not strictly limited to) the ideas discussed by Pike and PKD in the early 1960s. Archer is a protagonist based on Pike but expressing certain of PKD's own ideas as to the influence of Gnosticism on Christianity.

[5]gl: Angel Archer, daughter-in-law of Timothy Archer the sole survivor in the novel, expresses her skepticism through Hindu arguments at a crucial point. Can this be seen as a new phase in Dicks speculations?

[3]64: PKD became very interested in Hindu metaphysics in the latter years of his life. Angel Archer indeed reflects that. The understratum of reality represented by Brahman fascinated him.

[5]gl: Having finished The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Dick went on for the last time to develop the concept of a new novel, "The Owl in Daylight", which was never written. The concept proved to be fascinating but unsolvable even for himself. While using an oxymoron in VALIS as the schizo-concept of the main character Horselover Fat/PKD ("all greeks are liars-i am greek") he thought of developing a self-authenticating statement. Can you elaborate this conception?

[3]64: Perhaps the concept of "Ditheon", which arrived in a dream, pertains to the self-authenticating issue. Ditheon--two gods, two sources, two psyches, could perceive set and ground at once--avoid the confusion of dualities (as did Hindu metaphysics). The Owl in Daylight is the occluded person whose vision is hampered by daylight--apparent reality.

[5]gl: "Owl in Daylight" should tell the faustian story of a interstellar exchange, a key motiv being color as language of extraterrestrials, who use the brain of a human host as an interface to enjoy terrestrial music, something they donīt know. Do you see this (or did PKD) see this as an extension of the 2-3-74 motive?

[0]64: I can't speak for PKD on this, but the transmission of information--vital information--by any means so as to avoid the entrapments of occluded consensual reality was central to all of his later works. Contacting reality, gnosis, by the most unlikely means was one of his favorite plot devices.

[5]gl: W.S. Burroughs and his cut-up method were an important influence on PKD for writing VALIS. however, in his late novel "Ghost of Chance", set in Madagascar, Burroughs mocks Christ and holds him responsible for the destruction of the ecosystem. In contrast to him, Dick sees (in the "Tagore Letter") the destruction of the ecosphere as a macrocrucifixion, developing the conviction of the pantheistic mystic Jakob Boehme, that God and nature form a unit. Anything you can tell us about those two influences?

[0]64: To my knowledge, Burroughs' cut-up method was not an influence in the writing of Valis. On the other hand, Boehme certainly was an influence, though PKD knew of his work only indirectly, through summaries in philosophical reference texts. That God was implicit in the universe, albeit veiled or concealed, was a vital insight to PKD. His metaphor of Zebra --set and ground combined--was of course drawn by the phenomenon of camouflage & protective adaptive techniques in nature--gnostic truth could be conveyed by similiar techniques.

[0]64: I might add that where Burroughs was an influence was in his conception of language as a virus, capable of occluding truth. Or revealing it.

[5]gl: In Divine Invasions you write that Edgar Barefoot is based on the famous theologist Alan Watts. Was he an influence to Dick, or is he just mocking him as it might appear?

[0]64: Mocking him lightly, I would say. PKD viewed him as a glib popularizer. A similar portrayal of Watts appears in Kerouavc's "Dharma Bums".

[5]gl: How did Dick arrive at the rather absurd idea of the Communist Party merging with the Catholic Church as a plot device for the The Divine Invasion?

[0]64: He viewed them both as organizations seeking the same end of world dominance through a commitment to a prescribed teaching. Their so-called atheist/theist distinction was of less importance to him than their shared practical ends.

[5]gl: There are rumours that the not yet released biographies of Darryl Mason and of Emanuel Carrere will focus on the assumption that Dick was abused as a child. Do you see this suspicion as relevant?

[0]64: Greg Rickman raised the same assumption. If it is true it is relevant. If it is not true it is a layer of utter distraction.

[5]gl: I agree, but do you know of any sources they use that weren't available to you?

[0]64: I am a bit confused here, as I thought Carrere's bio was already published in France--I have a copy. No, I pursued the issue and was able to find nothing but surmise. Rickman, after writing to Anne Dick about his theory, received from her a memory she had not recalled in my interviews with her, or at least a conviction on her part that it was likely so. Was that induced? And is it determinative as it is her interpretation? I don't think that child sexual abuse is the key to the PKD universe, and I know of no sources that can determine it as being so.

[5]gl: About your work and recent projects. Beside your work on Philip K. Dick you have written a biography of Aleister Crowley. Do you see relations between Crowley and Dick in any way?

[0]64: Yes I do, not that PKD was interested in Crowley--PKD had a dislike for 'the occult' so labelled. Obviously both men had life-forming experiences that shaped their spiritual outlook--2-3-74 and the reception of the Book of the Law in Cairo. They both wanted to comprehend the universe WHOLE.

[5]gl: Can you tell us something about your current projects?

[0]64: I am currently finishing a history of relations between Buddhism and the West, from roughly 500BCE to the present day, to be published by Little, Brown in 2005 or 2006.

[5]gl: Many thanks for the talk, your patience (with us and the technology) and all the best for your projects. We will document this chat (as well as our whole exhibition) on pinklight.net

[0]64: My pleasure.

questions by Georg Lauteren, Josef Linschinger, Michael Strohman, John Woj'
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