“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.”   –  Philip K. Dick  from The Exegesis

I heard the writer  Jonathan Lethem talking about the writer Philip K. Dick and a 900 page book he co-edited which comes from thousands of pages written by PKD. The collection is called the Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. It becomes the final work of an incredibly imaginative author. It’s a big book and one I could never read all the way through. So, once again, I borrowed a copy from the library so that I could explore parts of it.

Exegesis (from the Greek, meaning “to lead out”) is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text. It is often used with religious texts and many people associate it with the exegesis of the Bible.  Today it is likely to be used to mean a critical explanation or exploration of the meaning, significance or relevance of some text.

Dick is known as a science-fiction writer and futurist who explored reality and perception, space and time, monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, altered states and the human and the divine. The Exegesis comes from 8 years of his attempts to document some visionary experiences he had in which the universe was “transformed into information.”

He tried to understand it by writing through it, and he came up with a number theories. He wrote several novels known as the VALIS trilogy that also deal with it. Co-editors Jackson and Lethem try to guide us through Dick’s actual exegesis and also make some connections with Dick’s life and other writing.

More people have encountered the imagination of Philip K. Dick through the movies that have been based on his writing like Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau and Minority Report.

Who was Philip K. Dick?

He was born December 16, 1928.  He was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose later works shifted to his personal interest in metaphysics and theology. It seems that he also used his own experiences with drugs, paranoia, schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences in books like A Scanner Darkly. (Non-readers can watch the A Scanner Darkly film version)

He published 44 novels, and approximately 121 short stories, and yet lived most of his career in near-poverty.


ichthys symbol

Here’s the strangeness. After a dental visit in February 1974 during which he was given sodium pentothal (for an impacted wisdom tooth), Dick has a life-changing experience at his front door.

He went to his front door expecting a prescription delivery and encountered a woman who was going door-to-door. She was wearing a gold Christian fish-pendant known as the ichthys and as the sun glinted off it, the reflection generated a “pink beam.” Dick ultimately concluded that this “intelligent” beam imparted wisdom and clairvoyance to him.

After that day, he began to have strange visions. At first he thought it was from his medication, but after several weeks of these visions he began to attribute them to the beam.

As an example, one  instance when the pink beam returned he learned that his infant son was ill. He took the child to the hospital and the vision and diagnosis were confirmed. Dick called these experiences “2-3-74” for February–March 1974.

You can take his visions as real paranormal experiences, or you can see them as delusional, but Dick was a believer. He describes in his writing  visions as geometric patterns and even pictures including Jesus and ancient Rome. In fact, he began to be convinced that he was living a double life. In one world he was the Philip K. Dick writer we know, and in the other he was “Thomas”, a persecuted Christian in the first century A.D.

He wrote about the change that occurred within him as the “transcendentally rational mind” which he referred to as “Zebra,” “God” and “VALIS”. His semi-autobiographical novel Radio Free Albemuth is about these experiences and they continue in The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which make up the VALIS trilogy.

Dick died on March 2, 1982, the result of a combination of recurrent strokes accompanied by heart failure. I have read articles that attribute his visions to those strokes or their precursors. I’m sure many readers of his late writing (or this post) will see it as a man gone mad.

But, perhaps, the one universal exegesis is our own attempts to arrive at some critical and rational explanation, through whatever exploration we do, in order to discover the meaning and significance of our own life.