Lots of Dick – Big Essay

I finally got round to proofing (a little) my dissertation for my BA. I can’t believe I handed it in with that many dumb mistakes scattered throughout. My work ethic had died by the time I hit the third year, though my enthusiasm for this piece was great.

Looking back, I wish I’d put a lot more work into it…and it bothers me that I’m so obviously trying to be academic in my choice of words (I even cuss down SF a little at one point, just because I knew my tutor thought I was being silly by writing on a SF author).

A lot of it won’t make any sense unless you have an understanding of Freud’s conception of the Uncanny. That was what the course was about. Also I’ve placed it over the hump because it contains many spoilers for fantastic books that I love.  Most spoilt are Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and VALIS. So go out and read them first.

I’m just posting this so that people who have expressed an interest can have a look if they want to, but they don’t have to.

I wish I’d had the balls and the space in the word count to really go into a couple of the little asides that I make. The stuff about Empathy in literature especially, I could have written about for about ten times the length of the whole essay, and some of my most interesting thoughts get squashed into a paragraph.

I may end up expanding on/repeating a lot of this in later blog entries. It depends if I remember. I’m terrible at that.

I post it now because I finished reading the Divine Invasion and loved it. I’m going to talk about some of it soon (it’s already come up a couple of times), but mostly, right now I just want to quote one of my favourite moments.

There’s a scene involving the Police stopping a main character, and in a fit of honesty, he tells them the whole damn story. Everything…all of the Messiahs, all of the apocalypses, all of the divided godheads and battles of reality. It just spews out. The scene becomes almost farcical, and it’s that sense of humour that I love in Dick. Even at his most barmy part of him is aware of the ludicrosity (not a real word) of it all. But the policeman ends up believing it all, just in case.  It’s so ridiculous it just might be true.

It’s a wonderful scene…but there’s one great moment. I was reading on my doorstep so I could enjoy the sun, and I laughed very loudly and got some funny looks from the neighbours and those passing by.

Anyway, this probably won’t make any sense without the context…but basically, Herb Asher is explaining to the police officer, and disembodied voice from the speaker (the Police officer’s superior), that he wants to hear Mahler’s Second Symphony. We shall jump in:

   ‘Do you know what the Mahler Second has in it?’ Herb Asher said. ‘Do you know what it’s scored for? I’ll tell you what it’s scored for. Four flutes, all alternating with piccolos, four oboes, the third and fourth alternating with English horns, an E-flat clarinet, four clarinets, the third alternating with bass clarinet, the fourth with second E-flat clarinet, four bassoons, the third and fourth alternating with contra bassoons, ten horns, ten trumpets, four trombones-‘

   ‘Four trombones?’ the cop said.

   ‘Jesus Christ.’ the speaker sputtered.

   ‘-a tuba,’ Herb Asher continued.

And he carries on.

It can be really hard to pull of comic timing when writing. And I personally think that is absolutely spot on.

Maybe nobody else will, but I like it a lot.

Anyway, hidden away is a lot of pretentious talk about Empathy, Androids, Reality, Schizophrenics and Dick.

Enjoy if you care to.


Dick’s Doubles, Droids and Dimensions:

An Exploration of the Uncanny in the work of Philip K Dick

Deeds done in secret have a way of becoming found out

-Fortune Cookie1

Remember, though: don’t think about it, just do it. Don’t pause and be philosophical, because from a philosophical standpoint it’s dreary. For us both.

-Rachael Rosen2

When studying the uncanny, we are not so much studying an event or a process, so much as a feeling. A feeling which is near impossible to define, as Ernst Jentsch noted in his early psychological study of the effect: ‘if one wants to come closer to the essence of the uncanny, it is better not to ask what it is’3. Like most subjective feelings, it is impossible to directly describe what it is, although it somehow seems to be recognisable experience. A tacit acknowledgement of this recognition is necessary whenever discussing emotions, and is in effect a form of empathy, the ability to understand and share another person’s emotional state. Empathy, a natural and normal part of human relation is a cousin to the more clearly uncanny telepathy, which will form a key point of study in the present project. I intend to use the work of Philip K Dick, one of the most successful and powerful Science fiction writers of the Twentieth Century, to explore certain aspects of the Uncanny, most especially the telepathic/empathic nature of fiction, the confusion between the android and the human, and the doubling of identity that occurs as a result of Dick’s real life spiritual experience, and becomes especially prominent in his semi-autobiographical book VALIS.

Dick wrote almost exclusively within the genre of Science Fiction (also known as Speculative Fiction, particularly when attempting to raise it to the level of ‘serious’ literature, though many would call this unnecessary). Therefore it is taken for granted that his novels contain such things as androids, alternate universes, telepathy and the like as part of the landscape of the narrative. Whilst viewed as an innovator by many (a notable example is The Man in the High Castle, which has been considered one of the first ‘alternate universe” type of science fiction), he generally worked with relatively traditional forms of the genre, albeit often approaching them in a unique way. One particular difference between Dick’s writing and much of his peers was that he tended to write about regular people, living in the back drop of the SF landscape. Dick’s heroes are much more likely to be blue collar workers than presidents and generals. The great and the good rarely get a look in. The effect of this is to humanise the reality which is described; future technologies become less like amazing feats of science, and more like items that fit in to a new mode of everyday living. An example of this is how the Penfield Mood Organ in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a device for controlling your moods and emotions artificially, is introduced through an early morning domestic dispute between husband and wife. In this way unusual and often impossible items can be introduced into what remains a recognisably real environment. The verisimilitude of the future world is maintained.

The question of similarity to a recognisable reality becomes very important when thinking about the boundaries of the uncanny within these settings. Freud notes that when, in his example, ghosts and spirits (for us perhaps this is androids and telepathy), are accepted within the reality of the narrative to be a normal part of life then ‘we avoid all trace of the uncanny’4. This is part of Freud’s discussion of the presence of the Uncanny in literature, and raises a question of whether we can locate Dick’s texts within ‘the world of common reality’5 or in something more similar to the realms of fantasy and fairy tale. Freud suggests that in the latter, the uncanny is impossible to find, because we never see the events as sharing enough similarity to reality to challenge our perceptions of what is possible. The fairy tale is set in a world of animism and wish fulfilment, and so the possibility of these occurrences aren’t unusual, likewise fantastic appearances of ghosts and demons is to be expected within a fantasy framework, and therefore fails to induce the same uncanny effect as finding a similar ghost or demon walking down the high street. In this way it seems that uncanny effects could only be produced by a writer if we accept his world as real, or at least a close variation on our own real world. As explained already, Dick is a master of this kind of trickery, his perspective on the world he creates is one that allows it to seem much more real than initial explanations might seem. Though it may seem strange to believe that worlds where precognition and alternate universes seem almost mundane, these phenomena are presented as such. In this way we a drawn into the fictional world, and it seems real enough for us to experience uncanny feelings in empathy with the characters; from the perspective of people for whom this world is normal, but the immediate events are not so.

The uncertainty of explanation and truth behind Dick’s worlds perhaps raises questions of whether these SF realities are to be considered, in Tzvetan Todorov’s definition, to be belonging to the realm of the Uncanny or the Marvellous. Todorov views these two genres as being categories of the fantastic as a whole with the boundary resting upon whether the events at hand are explicable or not6. The uncanny belongs, for Todorov, to the realm of ‘the supernatural explained’7, that is, it must be explained by truly possible events. Again we are troubled by wondering whether that which occurs in SF can be deemed possible or not. Modern science rarely allows the possibility of such things, but by assuming a future perspective, of a world more advanced, it is easier to accept these things as having explanations. For example, we know that no such object as the Penfield Mood Organ exists, but when its effects are described we assume that some method of control the human nervous system has been established, which is further reinforced by psuedo-science explanations, in this case Deckard’s debate between ‘dialling for a thalamic suppressant (which would abolish his mood of rage) or a thalamic stimulant (which would make him irked enough to win the argument).’8 Here the use of the recognisable term thalamic, has led to a trust in the science behind the device, the explanation is there, if only imagined so. We never think of the device as some kind of magical impossible box of tricks from an Arabian nights scenario, we recognise it as something possible and understandable. We know that it does not exist, but believe it to be possible. He we see one of the aspects of SF that distinguishes it from the more fantastical types of genre fiction; when done well, it deals with possibilities, believable possibilities, rather than simply wish-fulfilment or magic. Dick’s worlds lie within reach, remain explainable, even though really they are not. I believe Todorov would have placed them firmly in his uncanny bracket, as stories that we believe to have an explanation, even if this may not always be the case.

Another particularly uncanny effect produced in Dick’s fiction, one that could be contrary to this experience of his fictional worlds as being believable, is that there is often a sense of instability within what is held to be real. Freud notes that an uncanny effect can be produced by a writer who:

can keep us in the dark about the precise nature of the presuppositions on which the world he writes about is based, or he can cunningly and ingeniously avoid any definite information on the point to the last. (‘The Uncanny’ p 374)

This experience of reading is perhaps best demonstrated in reference to Ubik9, a story of death and the after life in which we follow Joe Chip’s experience of reality after a bomb kills his boss, Glen Runciter. Chip’s life goes on, but with coins appearing with Runciter’s face on, strange graffiti, apparently from the dead Runciter appears on toilet walls, and various other odd forms of communication take place. Eventually it is revealed that in fact it was Chip who died in the bomb, and has been in suspended animation, while Runciter attempts to contact his still barely living consciousness, which is held a a state of half-life. The whole book so far has been set within Chip’s interpretation of this static existence, his translation of what is in fact merely life in a glass box. The novel ends with Runciter walking out of the ‘mortuary’ in which he has been visiting Chip, and paying the attendant. As the novel closes we are faced with an unsettling response to the surprising conclusion we have already learnt of, as Runciter hands the attendant a coin with Joe Chip’s likeness on it. This apocalyptic moment is typical of Dick, he rarely resists the urge to turn a whole tale on its head at the last possible moment. The experienced Dick reader knows to expect expectations to be reversed; any explanation of events may only be temporary. Dick is familiar enough with this coin trick to pull it off at a moments notice; texts that we feel like we understand can suddenly become unreal and unreliable, producing an uncanny effect of uncertainty in where the ‘truth’ really lies within the text. In this case it can be explained away as simply a typical ‘or is it?’ punchline type effect, merely to destabilise the perceived truth and allow the reader to keep on questioning the reality of the text and, by extrapolation, the world around him. Dick was fascinated with the idea of fake realities and even, fake, fake realities, and they crop up often within his writing, and while they may take us away from the shared sense of reality previously discussed, they also only have their power because we believed in what went before. If we didn’t believe in the universe in the first place why should it unsettle when that reality is taken away from us. The uncanny lies in this shift between a false world that we have believed in, and an even falser world that we can’t comprehend.

The question of ‘what is Real?’ is central to Dick’s work, and presents us with an experience of the uncanny that can be easily explained. That which remains hidden (behind the maya of the apparent reality) comes to light. These revealed worlds can seem familiar, as they are the basis of the fake world drawn across them. However, for most people this experience is difficult to relate to. These aspects of Dick’s work, while theoretically understandable as uncanny, are only likely to really induce an uncanny effect on one who has experience of these kinds of disturbances in reality, for example, a schizophrenic, or someone who is familiar with hallucinogenic drugs. In both these cases, especially in the case of a former drug user or rehabilitated schizophrenic, this notion of other realities concealed underneath the perceived one is likely to be doubly uncanny, as the material being bought to light will be that which the conscious mind has attempted to repress. If a person takes LSD, and believes himself to have seen the truth behind the veil, comes down to reality and decides it was merely hallucination, and then goes on to read about some other truth behind the veil, then he can briefly entertain the notion that he was actually correct. Perhaps this is closer to Freud’s second notion of the uncanny, that it will appear when ‘primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed’10. We can see that in these particular groups of people there is a higher likelihood of an uncanny feeling being generated by these ideas mostly because of the familiarity and willingness to believe in these possibilities. However, the effect is still generated to a lesser extent in anybody who is drawn enough into the world that is created. If you believe in and relate to the characters you read about, then you an empathise better with the characters’ own sense of the uncanny.

The question of empathy, the cousin of the more uncanny telepathy, is especially relevant to the next part of this essay, which intends to look at Dick’s other big question: ‘What is Human?’. Within Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the answer is posited to be empathy. This is what the protagonist, Rick Deckard, uses to detect whether a given subject is human or not. This is Deckard’s job, he is a bounty hunter, charged with killing any androids (humanoid robots) that escape from the off world colonies, as the devices are illegal on Earth. In order to do this he must be able to distinguish between these incredibly lifelike robots and regular human beings. To do this he administers a test to measure empathy for other living beings. The subjects involuntary bodily reactions (capillary dilation, and eye muscle contractions, ie blushing and wincing) are measured when asked questions regarding cruelty to animals, a stimulus chosen partly because the novel is set in a world where, after war has ravaged the land, so few animals survive that they are held sacred by the predominant religion of Mercersim; a religion which values empathy above all else.

The whole novel is centred around confusion about the authenticity of characters within it. It can be hard to decide whether each individual human or animal is real or artificial. Deckard keeps the titular ‘electric sheep’ on his roof, and pretends to care for it as if he had the real status symbol of a live animal, and fools all his neighbours. His day spent hunting ‘andys’ results in several cases of mistaken identity, and also a large question of whether or not it is possible to empathise with those that he knows to be robots, and if he does, how can he kill them. Artificial and real become harder and harder to distinguish between as the novel goes on. In the director’s cut edition of Ridley Scott’s film version Blade Runner11, it is highlighted that in fact Deckard himself, from whose perspective the whole story unfolds, may be an android. This is raised in the book, but made much more prominent in the film, where a another android appears to have knowledge of Deckard’s dream of a unicorn; which could be possible only if the dream (like his memories) were implanted to convince him of his own humanity.

All of these issues and questions of humanity and artificiality bring us back to Jentsch’s identification of the primary cause of the uncanny feeling being ‘doubt as to whether an apparently living being is animate and, conversely doubt as to whether a lifeless object may not in fact be animate’12. The focus of the book is the empathy of one being to another, when the two are doubtful as to the status of the other. The reader and the characters are constantly left in ‘uncertainty as to whether he has a human person or an automaton before him’ (p13). The androids of Dick’s world are all effectively incredibly well built automata, close enough to be human as to be almost indistinguishable, with neural nets capable of imitating human thought. Certainly, these androids are more convincing than ETA Hoffman’s automaton Olympia, from The Sandman picked up by both Freud and Jentsch as a notable example of the uncanny. Where the androids are capable of realistic human speech, Olympia can utter nothing but the repeated syllables ‘Ah-ah!’13 This lack of communicative skill perhaps acts in a satirical way, pointing out how little some men of the time expected of women. Nathaniel seems to find no fault in her lack of speech, and praises her for sitting attentively as he reads to her, noting that ‘she did not sew or knit, she did not gaze out of the window, she did not feed a cage bird’14, the list goes on, adding up to a sum total of Olympia doing absolutely nothing. It seems an oddly satirical moment when it is noted that after the scandal comes to light, only then do gentlemen of the community find it necessary to ensure that their women voice opinions and care for animals and take on a life on their own. It is as though the fear of trickery leads women to achieve a certain breakthrough in terms of their place in society. This satirical note is quite interesting but not really shared with Dick’s tale.

One similarity that is present is the protagonist in both falling in love with an artificial creation. Nathaniel is deceived into loving Olympia despite her lack of verbosity and cold touch. Similarly Deckard is seduced by Rachael Rosen, a beautiful android he encounters on a visit to the manufacturers of the androids. Perhaps the uncanny is apart from this scene, simply because Deckard is totally aware of Rosen’s status as a non-human. Still, Deckard sleeps with Rosen and seems to fall in love assuring that ‘if I could legally marry you, I would.’15. A particularly odd feeling is achieved through Rosen’s discussion of her double, Pris Stratton, another android (whom Deckard is hunting) from the same production line and of the same model as herself. She says she feels something for her, and Deckard asks if it is empathy:

”Something like that. Identification; there goes I. My God; maybe that’s what’ll happen. In the confusion you’ll retire me, not her. And then she can go back to Seattle and live my life. I never felt this way before. We are machines, stamped out like bottle caps. It’s an illusion that I-I personally- really exist; I’m just representative of a type.” She shuddered

He could not help being amused; Rachael had become so mawkishly morose. “Ants don’t feel like that,” he said, “and they’re physically identical.”

“Ants. They don’t feel period


Here Rosen’s feeling is interesting, the sense of her losing her identity, feeling estranged from herself through the knowledge that there is another identical to her. She notes that she can feel this emotion, unlike ants, which feel nothing. It is notable that in fact a single ant would be considered superior to Rosen in the post war environment, where all life is considered sacred, and so all animals are ranked above androids. It is not feelings that are considered important, it is the ability to empathise, to share in somebody else’s feelings. There is an uncanniness to the way we are expected to feel towards Rosen, the fact that we empathise with her, when we are supposed to disregard her, due to her inability to return this empathy. Deckard is shocked when he takes the empathy test and asks a question about an android dying; as soon as he mentions a female android, he notes empathy. He, like us finds himself showing empathy for a creature unable to return it16. This is what allows him to fall in love with Rosen, the fact that he is capable of this kind of empathy, unlike Nathaniel, who seems to fall into a shallow kind of love, only because he is convinced of Olympia’s humanity. Another point to note is the similarity between Rosen’s idea of how the sex will pan out between an android and a human, which is almost reminiscent of Jentsch’s call to not delve to deeply into definitions of the uncanny effect:

“I understand- hey tell me- it’s convincing if you don’t think too much about. But if you think too much , if you reflect on what you’re doing- then you can’t go on. For ahem physiological reasons.”

Bending, he kissed her bare shoulder.

“Thanks, Rick,” she said wanly. “Remember, though: don’t think about it, just do it. Don’t pause and be philosophical, because from a philosophical standpoint it’s dreary. For us both”


Possibly good general advice for any situation, sexual, android or otherwise. However, as noted, it is similar to the call to not study the uncanny too closely, for fear of destroying the effect you are attempting to look at. Hence the need for all these sideways glances at the effect itself. Looking at the uncanny requires us to detach from it ourselves, and instead imagine that we are empathising with someone else experiencing an uncanny feeling. Much like the act of reading, we have to create an imagined entity to experience the feelings we wish to look at, and empathise with that non-existent being.

For me the most powerful moment of Androids occurs right at the end, after Deckard has successfully ‘retired’ all the androids he was after in the space of one day. He takes a contemplative walk in the northern wastelands, barren since the war. After a brief religious experience Deckard returns to his car, and notices something moving outside. As he realises what it is a wave of joy pours over him, for he has found a toad , ‘Extinct for years now. The critter most precious to Mercer.'(p203) The excitement is palpable as Deckard looks forward to a reward for his discovery, a medal and a financial stipend. A certain elegiac rush of excitement at this discovery, of life in the desert, fills both Deckard and the reader. Deckard returns home with his find and shows it to his wife, who almost immediately discovers something; ‘still holding it upside down she poked at its abdomen and then, with her nail, located the tiny control panel. She flipped the panel open.'(p207) This, revelation shatters both reader and Deckard, both completely convinced of the miracle. It is an affecting part of the story, mirroring an earlier incident where John Isidore, a mentally degenerate ‘special’, who works for a fake veterinary service, which fixes malfunctioning electronic animals, fails to notice that the animal he is taking to fix is in fact genuine, and not broken, but dying. The two mis-identifications are in their own way quite harrowing for the reader, and Deckard’s experience is notable for the fact that it was something he would like to have remained hidden coming to light. The opened panel reveals a mechanical interior, the miracle of life is in fact just a highly skilled technical simulacrum. These revelations occur with such frequency throughout the novel that one becomes accustomed to the uncertainty, everything is suspect. As highlighted by the film Blade Runner (as mentioned before) there are moments in which the certainty of even Deckard’s humanity is in question, in this constant state of uncertainty and suspicion phrases like ‘Rick broke off, the conduits of his brain humming, calculating, and selecting; he altered what he had started to say’ stand out as posing important questions. The artificiality of the imagery increase suspicion and plants a seed of doubt that cannot be brushed away. This means that the whole text is overcast by a shadow of doubt, an uncertainty about the meaning of the whole text, giving the whole a certain uncanny appeal. The doubt itself becomes uncanny; everything is explained but something gnaws away at the explanation, something undermines it. The doubt remains.

We have already seen the doubling of identity caused by factory line robotics. Rachael Rosen, is just one of a type, not an individual but simply a copy; one of many. This doubling produces an uncanny effect in Deckard, when he finds himself hunting down and killing an alternative version of the android he had fallen in love with. The feeling seems to induce melancholy in Rosen herself, she cannot comprehend the idea of her self not being unique; perhaps it is the first time she feels truly artificial. The double is always uncanny; the threat of a doppelgänger, the sense of self being lost and shared with another, sometimes the need to double oneself. Dick it would seem, throughout his life felt this need. His chief biographers, Lawrence Sutin and Emmanuel Carrère, both seem to trace this back to his birth. Philip K Dick was born a twin, on December 16, 1928. Both babies, Philip and Jane, were six weeks premature and suffered from undernourishment in these early days. On January 1929 Jane died, and was buried beneath a gravestone that bore both hers and Philip’s name. A space was left blank under Phil’s name for the date of his death. Phil seemed haunted by this twin, mentioning her at several points in his literature, and, according to biographical information, regularly commenting on her in day to day life. Dick always had a missing double, whom he sometimes characterised as a ‘defiant lesbian’17, making them a brother/sister double that was doubled again when a similar pair, Felix and Alys Buckman, appear in Flow my tears, the Policeman said18.

Dick’s work often dealt in doubles and multiples. The worlds hidden behind worlds already discussed for example. In The Man in the High Castle19 Dick creates an alternate world in which the Axis powers won the second world war and now dominate America and the rest of the world. Within this vision is a double of himself, Hawthorne Abendsen, who also writes a science fiction novel, describing a world in which the Allies won the war, a version of our own world. With this the realms of reality are doubled, seen from two potential outcomes, with a crucial point of connection in the imagination of Science fiction writers Dick and Abendsen. We see their world only through Dick’s fiction, and they can only see ours through the doubled version of Abendsen’s work. We can label our reality as truth but it may simply be a doubling of someone else’s fiction.

In 1974 Dick started to receive messages from a being he felt to be God. These messages warned him of his son’s medical condition, a life threatening problem that had gone undetected. The message saved Christopher’s life. Along with this Dick started to become convinced that he had seen the reality beneath our own perception. Our world was an illusion, which briefly faded to allow Dick to see that in fact he was a secret Christian in the first century, under the rule of the Empire of Rome. The illusory world was all part of the Black Iron Prison that the Emperor created to control the world. If we could see through it we would see the bars of this prison. Dick saw this, and believed that he was shown it in order to help begin the downfall of the empire. Depending on how you read it, Dick either saw God or went mad. The main body of the hallucinations/visions were over within a couple of months, and Dick spent the rest of his life trying to interpret the meaning of what he had seen in his ‘Exegesis’, a word which means the interpretation of a divine text. Dick wrote over 8,000 pages of this work before his death in 1982; scribbling away night after night. He wrote theory after theory trying to explain what had happened. It seemed as though his life had become one of his novels.

One of the key issues for Dick was that he knew how it all sounded. He was aware of his history of mental illness and the fact that he sounded like a madman. A rational and skeptical side of him saw the insanity of the believing and possibly enlightened side of himself. The book VALIS was Dick’s first published attempt to deal with his experiences, and he appears in the novel twice. The rational science fiction writer Philip K Dick narrates, whilst Horselover Fat (Philip means Lover of Horses in Greek, and Dick means Fat in German), lived the experiences of Dick’s real life, from the perspective of the believer. Throughout the novel Dick refers to Fat as being crazy, and the two argue about the truth on more than one occasion. Dick explains near the opening of the text ‘I am Horselover Fat, and I am writing this in the third person to gain much-needed objectivity’20. The effect is remarkably uncanny, it is the impression of one split into two, a doubling of identity, the two are in conflict, both trying to solve the mystery of what happened in February and March of 1974. VALIS contains many quotes from Dick’s nightly Exegesis notes, and while it starts off entirely based in the facts of his life (many of the character’s names have changed, but direct parallels can be made to real life friends of Dick’s) it at some indefinable point starts to split from reality, and closer to the realm of science fiction you expect Dick to be writing in. However, the bifurcation of reality and fiction is hard to pinpoint and incomplete. This leads a certain amount of doubt to the narrative, one is forced to doubt the opening elements of truth, and believe the fictional elements of the ending. The line is blurred, and we are left with at least two versions of Dick’s life; the version of VALIS and the version of the biographers. While the biography is no doubt more factual, one gets a sense that the fictional account is closer to Dick’s lived experience. Emmanuel Carrère notes the break in Dick’s personality and the conflict with his self created double here:

Horselover Fat, then, is a madman who has seen God, and Phil Dick is his rational friend. Fat glosses his visions in the Exegesis, while Phil discusses Fat’s Exegesis in drafts for his novels. Fat sees himself as a new Isaiah; Phil sees him as a paranoid schizophrenic. Phil considers himself lucid; as for Fat, if the whole world thinks he’s crazy, that’s just fine by him. He insists that nevertheless the truth is on his side, whereupon Phil shakes his head in dismay-and then everything starts all over again, the carousel turning round and round and round and round…till the end of time21

So we see that Dick and his double are opposed to each other, forever debating which of them understands the reality of the situation. Whenever one writes autobiographically one must double one’s self. The self created for explanatory purposes is not the self who lived through events, even if an honest account is maintained. It is rare however for the self to argue with the created version of events. In order to understand his life (or possibly simply in order to save face, his objectivity allows him to escape ridicule) Dick has to create the Fat double to recount the fantastic events he believes have taken place; but who believes? Dick or Fat? The doubles are perhaps neither real, perhaps neither accounts for the being that really is Philip K Dick. Dick is more than just a believer and an unbeliever, he is that which is caught in between. Doubled in each direction and ignored in himself.

An important moment in VALIS occurs when Phil, Fat, Kevin and David appear before the saviour Saint Sophia:

‘You suicide attempt [Dick had indeed attempted to take his own life] was a violent cruelty against yourself,’ she said in a clear voice. And yet she was, as Linda had said, no more than two years old: a baby, really, and yet with the eyes of an infinitely old person.

‘It was Horselover Fat,’ I said.

Sophia said ‘Phil, Kevin and David. Three of you. There are no more.’

Turning to speak to Fat – I saw no one. I saw only Eric Lampton and his wife, the dying man in the wheelchair, Kevin and David. Fat was gone. Nothing remained of him.

Horselover Fat was gone forever. As if he had never existed.

‘I don’t understand,’ I said. You destroyed him.’

‘Yes,’ the child said.

I said, Why?’

‘To make you whole.’

‘Then he’s in me? Alive in me?’

‘Yes.’ Sophia said

(VALIS p212-213)

At this point the double is destroyed, Phil is made ‘whole’. Perhaps this means that the doubting side of Dick has been won over and Fat can now reside back in the body he was borne of. Certainly it does not last, Fat becomes real again, and at the end of the book he is travelling the world searching for more saviours, occasionally phoning back to check in with his old self. For that brief time though, the conflict seems resolved. Whether this ever happened to the real Dick is unknown, certainly the events of the book are by this point almost entirely fictional; there is no account of Dick finding a child saviour, or even watching a film call VALIS, which is the clue that leads Dick and Fat to Sophia. One of the aspects of this conjoining is the fact that it is achieved entirely through words. A command from a child unites Dick and Fat together again. The split mind becomes one and the two warring parts of Dick’s personality are reconciled. The death of the double leads to a whole Phil Dick. It is made absolutely clear, even to the fictional Dick, that the two are the same, that the debate and attacks between the two were in fact all self inflicted; if Dick thinks Fat is crazy, then he thinks that he is crazy. This comes to light here, even though it is already known. The distancing fails, and the two are one again. The believer is ‘alive’ inside Dick. To quote from Dick’s Exegesis, a section that appears as an appendix to VALIS entitled Tractates Cryptica Scriptura: ‘One Mind there is; but under it two principles contend’ (p257).

Throughout Dick’s life and work we have found traces of the uncanny. Much of it in fact points towards the wider uncanniness that is the act of writing, from the empathy effect, that leaves us empathising with beings that do not exist, and cannot return our feelings; the the doubling identity present in writing about ourself. Also there is the initial doubt in the reality of the universe, the belief that we are seeing a false version of the world. Our hypothetical schizophrenic or user of hallucinogens would certainly recognise all of these features. Maybe they would even feel the need to start a doubling of identity to protect the self from these revelations. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? There is doubt as to whether a schizophrenic would pass the empathy test of humanity, due to the ‘flattening of effect’ within emotions that a detachment from reality creates. So perhaps our schizophrenic would feel nothing uncanny about the worlds paraded before him; perhaps it would merely confirm that the world was as it should be. Perhaps it is a pointless avenue of thought to pursue. Dick’s double identity perhaps points to schizophrenia itself, and perhaps this was what created his constant questioning of what is real and what is human. He almost seemed to have an uncanny view of the world, always seeing the hidden explanations and possibilities. His analytical mind could always uncover something new, create a new way of looking that could make something appear familiar in a way it wasn’t before. His fictions are set in familiar worlds, yet full of strangeness.


  • Carrère, Emmanuel I am Alive and you are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick Trans Timothy Bent (London: Bloomsbury 2005)

  • Dick, Philip K Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Filmed as Blade Runner (London:Orion 2000)

  • Dick, Philip K Flow my tears, the Policeman said (London: Orion 2003)

  • Dick, Philip K The Man in the High Castle (London: Penguin 2001)

  • Dick, Philip K The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: selected literary and Philosophical Writings Edited by Lawrence Sutin (New York: Vintage 1995)

  • Dick, Philip K Ubik (London: Gollancz 2000)

  • Dick, Philip K VALIS (London: Orion 2003)

  • Freud, Sigmund ‘The Uncanny’ in Penguin Freud Library Volume 14: Art and Literature Trans James Strachey (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1990)

  • Hoffman, ETA Tales of Hoffman (London: Penguin 2004)

  • Jentsch, Ernst On the psychology of the Uncanny Supplied by the British Library – “The world’s knowledge” www.bl.uk

  • Scott, Ridley Blade Runner: Directors Cut (Warner Brothers 1991) original release 1982

  • Sutin, Lawrence Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K Dick (London: Harper Collins 1991)

  • Todorov, Tzvetan The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre Trans. R Howard (Case Western Univ. Press 1973)

1Dick, Philip K ‘How to bulid a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later’ in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: selected literary and Philosophical Writings Edited by Lawrence Sutin (New York: Vintage 1995) p 275- According to the speech, written but never delivered, Dick found the message during the time of the collapse of the Nixon administration, in a restaurant in the area where Nixon went to school. Dick claims to have sent the slip of paper to the White house, saying ‘”I think a mistake has been made; by accident I got Mr Nixon’s fortune. Does he have mine?”’

2Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Filmed as Blade Runner (London:Orion 2000) p165

3Jentsch, Ernst On the psychology of the Uncanny Supplied by the British Library – “The world’s knowledge” www.bl.uk p8

4‘The Uncanny’ in Penguin Freud Library Volume 14: Art and Literature Trans James Strachey (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1990) p374

5‘The Uncanny’ p374

6‘The Uncanny and the Marvellous’ in The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre Trans. R Howard (Case Western Univ. Press 1973)

7‘The Uncanny and the Marvellous’ p44

8Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? p4

9Philip K Dick Ubik (London: Gollancz 2000)

10‘The Uncanny’ p372

11Blade Runner: Directors Cut (Warner Brothers 1991) original release 1982

12On the Psychology of the Uncanny p11

13ETA Hoffman ‘The Sandman’ in Tales of Hoffman (London: Penguin 2004) p114

14‘The Sandman’ p117

15Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? p168

16Perhaps it is worth noting that a reader is always in this position when dealing with fictive characters. While a reader almost always feels something of the emotional undercurrents of a book, the characters within never react to how we feel about it. The empathy/telepathy effect in literature is always one sided.

17Lawrence Sutin Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K Dick (London: Harper Collins 1991) p173

18Philip K Dick Flow my tears, the Policeman said (London: Orion 2003)

19Philip K Dick The Man in the High Castle (London: Penguin 2001)

20Philip K Dick VALIS (London: Orion 2003) p11

21I am Alive and you are Dead: A Jounrey into the Mind of Philip K Dick Trans Timothy Bent (London: Bloomsbury 2005)


2 thoughts on “Lots of Dick – Big Essay”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s