A dyspeptic dystopian’s mad secret notebooks, imposing order—at least of a kind—on a chaotic world.
“The majority of these writings…are neither familiar nor wholly lucid nor, largely, elegant,” write editors Lethem and Jackson. That’s exactly right. But it is a measure of the esteem in which the late science-fiction novelist Philip K. Dick is held in the literary world that Lethem and Jackson could be brought into this vast disorder—a project, in its own way, rather like the frankensteining of David Foster Wallace’s Pale King, and with many of the same conditions present: a vastness of notes, a hint of a complete system (in this case, partially imposed by a previous editor) and the impossibility of that completeness without much posthumous help. And that complete system is surpassing strange. Dick writes of a critical moment in 1974, “at the initial height of the ‘Holy Other’ pouring into me, when I saw the universe as it is, I saw as the active agent, a gold and red illuminated-letter like plasmatic entity from the future, arranging bits and pieces here: arranging what time drove forward.” Very well, then. That entity—perhaps, the editors whisper, a manifestation of epilepsy, though perhaps not—seems to have confirmed Dick’s suspicion, which lies at the heart of so much of his work, that the world we inhabit is an elaborate ruse and that any freedom we have is illusory: “We are being fed a spurious reality”; “one cannot sense that reality is somehow insubstantial unless somehow, unconsciously, one is comparing or contrasting that reality with a kind of hyper-reality; otherwise the intuition makes no sense.” A blend of diary, notebook, ledger, blotter and back-of-envelope scribbles, Dick’s “exegesis” of that reality ranges from sublime philosophizing (“Our sin is self-centered monocamerality”) to chronicling (among other things, Richard Nixon’s last days in office) to strange ranting. In short, it’s in perfect keeping with his body of work at large.
Fascinating and unsettling. Still, at more than 900 pages, this will test the mettle—and the stamina—of even the most devoted of Dick fans.