Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

‘Read the Exegesis If You Must’

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Despite being a major fan of Dick’s work, I have to admit that I question whether this manuscript should have seen print at all, given its often embarrassing rambling and autodidactic fanaticism, with Dick latching onto any stray thread to spin out his cosmogonic web. I certainly find it hard to imagine that there is a widespread audience for this strange assemblage of obiter Dick-ta, even among PKD’s more hardcore followers.

What redeems the work for me, finally, is Dick’s abiding skepticism about his own revelations. Seemingly endless passages of portentous nonsense — such as a lengthy attempt to conscript Julian Jaynes’s crackpot bestseller The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mindinto the warp and woof of his own fixations — suddenly give way to agonizing reappraisals and poignant spasms of self-doubt, as when Dick admits that “I was taken over by my own S-F universe”:

The AI voice [i.e., VALIS] is a special kind of hallucination: one of wish-fulfillment and need, due to loneliness: emotional starvation and grief and ill-use. I just can’t endure life without that lonely voice guiding me, so I regress…. The AI voice is my imaginary playmate, my sister, evolved out of childhood…. I was so unhappy and afraid; like R. Crumb, so behind the 8 ball, so filled with anticipatory dread.

Well, damn it — I don’t regret it. It made a barren, fearful life meaningful and bearable….

Crazy people generally don’t know they’re crazy, and Dick’s abiding awareness of the dubious nature of his visions makes him at worst a pathetic figure, struggling heroically in these pages through madness towards sense, like the sadsack, put-upon protagonists of so many of his novels.

Rob Latham reviews the Exegesis for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm

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