Sunday, November 13, 2016

Let's Blog VALIS! Part 5 of 14

Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

5.  In which Fat becomes a doctrinaire gnostic and Sherri turns out to be evil.

‘’You would know,’ Dr Stone said, and then he said something that no-one had ever said to Fat before. ‘You’re the authority,’ Dr Stone said.

This is the chapter in which Sherri turns out to be evil. It was kind of depressing for that reason, which is why I think I have gotten stuck here. Fat has a go at Sherri for picking and chosing which parts of the Bible she likes, but he starts off the chapter by doing the same thing himself, identifying the ‘I AM WHO I AM’ of Genesis with the blind god Samael of the Marcionites and hence making the entire Old Testament meaningless. And, since the Jesus of the Gospels and Paul of the Epistles are constantly quoting the Old Testament corpus favourably, Fat is emptying out the existing biblical canon of *all* meaning – or all non-occluded meaning. And he does this at the guidance of Dr Stone, who had seemed to be fulfilling the historical role of Pope Leo the Great (CE 440-461) in chapter four.

I think the healing in this chapter is a lie: like the healings in later chapters are lies. Dr Stone gives Fat the erroneous idea that he is the authority – that he is qualified to interpret his theophany. Correctly, he is moved to speak, as he accepts these words of Dr Stone: ‘I’ll be goddamned.’ And as soon as he leaves hospital, he unerringly seeks out his fate: ‘Fat homed in on death more rapidly and expertly than he had ever done before.’

1 John 3:1-2 which PKD quotes in this chapter as possibly the most important piece of the whole Bible was one of the readings for All Saint’s Day this year: “My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.”

And this bit a little further on is pure orthodox Christianity, about the inbreaking of the Kingdom: “Above everything else, outranking every other aspect, object, quality of his encounter, Fat had witnessed a benign power which had invaded this world. No other term fitted it: the benign power, whatever it was, had invaded this world, like a champion ready to do battle. That terrified him but it also excited his joy because he understood what it meant. Help had come. The universe might be irrational, but something rational had broken into it, like a thief in the night breaks into a sleeping household, unexpectedly in terms of places, in terms of time. Fat had seen it – not because there was anything special about him – but because it had wanted him to see it.”

So. Sherri turning out to be evil. Is this a change in the beneficently presented Sherri of the previous chapters? Or a change in Fat? Or a reflection that all characters are mutable allegorical fragments of the all and that consistent characterisation is not part of what this text is about?

Is this chapter meant to be read on a deeper level as a refutation of the gnostic doctrines presented on the surface? Is it meant, like Chapter 4, to metaphorically relate part of the history of the Church, in the classical Protestant understanding – as a conflict between the true ‘hidden’ Church of Fat and the conventional Church of Sherri, which is described as ‘Antichrist’, and as seeking death, but again and again as exhibiting all the traits of conventional Christianity of a sacramental type? 

Sherri’s priest’s name is Larry Minter.  Larry is probably from ‘Laurence’, which means ‘man from Laurentium’, which means – since Laurentium was pretty much a no-account village in modern, I mean 70 CE, times – ‘old school Latin of good Trojan blood’. And ‘Minter’, I think, means ‘someone who makes coins’. So it is a name steeped in classical traditions and the love of money, and hence a pretty good name for a Renaissance Pope in the historical/allegorical reading of this chapter.

Jim Pike seems to have started out Catholic and lost his way rather badly. He seems exactly like a character in a Robert Silverberg novel, poor guy. May God have mercy on his soul.

Today as I write this the first reading of the Mass is from the Prophet Malachi: "The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble. The day that is coming is going to burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, leaving them neither root nor stalk. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays." Those Guys who Carry the Oil-Smeared One feel rather exultant reading those words. If they were conducting a month of relentless optimism, they would have no trouble at all maintaining it.

And one more thing, slipping back to the surface reading of the text: Zebra, Fat’s name for the camoflauged alien emissary of God among us. I have always – or for the longest time, a quarter century at least – thought of the okapi whenever it is suggested that angels and demons can’t exist because we haven’t observed them with our penetrating modern ways of looking at things. 
A cute baby okapi.
 The okapi is not a small animal. But it took decades of looking for them for European researchers to see one, because okapi have good hearing and didn’t want to be seen. A fortiori, things with the intelligence, keen senses, nigh-massless bodies, and speed of movement attributed to angels and demons would only be seen if they wanted to be seen. We don't really have any evidence that such things don't exist, just a prejudice which is in conflict with the - probably equally evidence-free - prejudice of practically every society besides ours that they do.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Let's Blog VALIS! Part 4 of 14

The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.

4. In which Horselover Fat is confined to a lunatarium.

This chapter parallels the history of the primitive church. IMHO.
The entire time of persecution, extending long after 70 C. E., is mirrored in Fat’s experiences in the Mental Hospital of the County of Orange. 

He begins by dying – watching his heart flatline on the monitor – after trying to commit suicide by Three different means (pills, razor blade, and car engine) and being treated for stage Three digitalis poisoning, Fat is delivered into captivity. As the Church, the body of Christ, he has died with Christ and been reborn.  

 In captivity, Fat is visited only by characters from outside who have been identified as Christian: Sherri, then David. Since existence is trans-temporal, they can participate, if only vicariously, in his captivity, but Kevin, the cynical voice, does not visit him, and he is glad, for he no longer needs mockery to reinforce his delusion. In captivity Fatdoes not witness boldly: like so many of the early Christians faced with persecution, he flinches from martyrdom in the face of his interrogators, and seeks to conform himself to the things of his world. But he cannot keep from saying one true thing that he states to be true: “I thought Beth would hurt Christopher.” (Elizabeth is the name I would have had if I were a girl, by the way. Just arrogantly inserting myself into the narrative.) Suicide is not in any way a rational response to the fear that Beth would hurt Christopher. What could it mean, eschatologically? I dunno.

Strangely, when Kevin does contact Fat - not in person: he rings him up - he is not the cynical voice Fat feared, but is enthusiastic in providing his own interpretation of Fat's theophany, eagerly asserting that he has in some way made contact with the 'upper realm'. This indicate, I think, that the fact of the Incarnation is so dramatic that it calls out for some explanation from even the most cynical representatives of the world.

In captivity Fat interacts with two women who have names which show that they are the archetypes of the heroine in the  Jewish and  Graeco-Roman roots of our Western Civilisation, respectively. Debbie and Penny. Deborah and Penelope. It does not matter, I think, that their names mean ‘bee’ and ‘duck’. 

Debbie is described as a Jehovah’s witness – a witness of YHWH – and having eyes like pools of fire. She represents the Jewish contribution to the early Church’s understanding of its theophany. This is what she says to Fat: “Our Lord God has prepared for us a place to live where there will be no pain and no fear and see? The animals lie happily together, the lion and the lamb, as we shall be, all of us, friends who love on another, without suffering and death, forever and ever with our Lord Jehovah who loves us and will never abandon us, whatever we do.  ... All beasts, all men, all living creatures great and small will bask in the wamrth of Jehovah’s love, when the Kingdom arrives. You think it will be a long time, but Christ Jesus is with us today.”

Penny’s words to Fat are much briefer. She is a ‘psych tech’ – two Greek fragments – and she says:  ‘Why don’t you play cards? ... I think you should play cards.” This is the Graeco-Roman contribution to Christianity. You should have rules. You should have arbitrary rules which are independent of the content of the revelation, formed by a priori human logic, and you should manipulate symbols according to these rules. There is no profit in it, says Fat; but it is the rule of the civilisation in which the Church is captive, and he and Debbie find value in it: “they play kid’s games like Fish”. They become as little children, and their games centre on the Fish symbol which was the catalyst for Fat’s theophany and the symbol of the hidden Christians.

As for Doug – well, Douglas is ‘black water’ and Dougal is ‘black stranger’ – and with his hidden knowledge and fakir-like self-abomination he represents the influence of “Eastern Mysticism” – that current of Manichaeism that led to the gnosticism that so overshadows Horselover Fat’s intepretation of his theophany. 


“When  they all made out their lunch orders Doug wrote:


“That should read ‘prefrontal’” Doug said, and wrote in the ‘pre’.

“How do you know that?” Fat said.

“There are two ways of knowing,” Doug said. “Either knowledge arises through the sense organs and is called empirical knowledge, or it arises within your head and it’s called a priori.”

  ... this assertion of Doug's regarding the two ways of knowing is one of the great harms done by this Neo-Platonist stream in Christianity, IMHO, and the same has been asserted to me in a private communication by Prof Eamon Duffy of Cambridge University, although he traces the main part of the infection to Descartes - the mind/body dualism that has so handicapped the acceptance of religion in the modern world is bound up with this esoteric assertion that knowledge can arise within your head, in a way that is not accessible to anyone else. But we can think of these two ways of knowing as the two possible ways of knowing, one of which does not actually exist, in which case Doug's assertion is harmless.

And about this time in the story – in the clearest indication yet that in this chapter Fat is recapitulating the early history of the Church – Fat begins to inscribe on the shields he draws ‘In hoc signo vinces’, just like Constantine marked on his banners.

And then, Fat's escape from his captivity when he is believed, or pretended to be believed, by a man named Stone – Stone, as in “I am Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.”  The first name of Dr Stone is “Leon”, which comes from Lion, so may indicate that he is an image of Christ: “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”  (Revelation 5:5) Leon was a common name adopted by Jews in mediaeval Europe as a calque for Judah, which also means 'lion', btw.
I had thought that Dr Stone might possibly be emblematic of the sephirot yesod, יסוד ,“foundation” – which Wikipedia tells me corresponds to the Holy Spirit – but I am not so sure.

The chapter ends: “Now Fat would never depart from faith in his encounter with God. Dr.Stone had nailed it down.”

The Wikipedia article on the Bach remedies does not have an ‘instances in popular culture’ so does not mention VALIS. O tempora, o mores!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Let's Blog VALIS! Part 3 of 14

They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell

3. In which more theodicy happens. (Don’t backchat me, I know theodicy)

The theodical argument has gone on in this chapter from generalities to the particular case of Horselover Fat, basically, and more details of his theophany are made manifest. It is Sherri who does the theodical heavy lifting in this chapter, making a fairly decent argument about purpose emerging from purposelessness to which Kevin can only reply with the non-sequitur ‘eat shit’.

The ineffectiveness of the ‘New Atheists’ (same as the ‘Old Atheists’) is expressed vividly in this chapter: 
‘In my opinion, Kevin’s cynical stance had done more to ratify Fat’s madness than any other single factor... In no way, shape or form did Kevin represent a viable alternative to mental illness. His cynical grin had about it the grin of death: he grinned like a triumphant skull. Kevin lived to defeat life. It originally amazed me that Fat would put up with Kevin, but later I could see why. Every time Kevin tore down Fat’s system of delusions – mocked them and lampooned them – Fat gained strength. If mockery were the only antidote to his malady, he was palpably better off as he stood. Whacked out as he was, Fat could see this. Actually, were the truth known, Kevin could see it too. But he evidently had a feedback loop in his head that caused him to step up the attacks rather than abandon them.’

It doesn’t do any good to confidently proclaim: ‘the universe has no meaning.’ People want the universe to have meaning. If you go around convincing people that the universe has no meaning and they should just, as Tim Minchin says, be passionately committed to short-term goals, you are just white-anting your civilisation. Someone is going to come along more charismatic and convincing than you are, some false prophet out of the deserts of Berkeley or Arabia, saying, ‘of course the universe has a meaning, here it is,’ and like the poor-childlike peasants Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor lose sleep over they will gratefully turn from your nihilism to the false prophet’s visions and haul your lotus-eating arse in front of the Holy Tribunal.

Sherri does not seem to be at all evil in this chapter. So is the characterisation of Sherri whacked, or does she become evil in later chapters, or does PKD just see her as becoming evil as his mind disintegrates? I don’t know. Sherri’s strategy for trying to get Fat grounded in reality- going on and on about the T34 tank – is one I would use. Introspection is bunk. We are tiny, unimportant things. We need to focus on something outside ourselves, something particular, something complicated and beautiful that we can lose ourselves in, to be happy. Red army armour is as good as anything. The outside world is realer than you are: you are just an impressionistic epiphenomenon at the interface between a part of the universe that generates sense impressions and another part of the universe that reacts on those sense impressions.  (Yes, yes; I affirm at the same time that this epiphenomenal youness exists eternally in the mind of God and is created in His image, and that the two ways of looking at you are complementary, not contradictory.)

This: ‘If you grant the possibility of a divine entity, you cannot deny it the power of self-disclosure.’
The question then is, how do you distinguish a true theophany from a false theophany? I advise the use of the words of the Christ of the synoptic gospel, ‘by their fruits you shall know them.’ You should listen, Fat, to David, or to those guys who carry the oil-smeared one- it hit them last year. If you grant the possibility of theophanies, you have to look seriously at the recorded theophanies. You can’t dismiss one out of hand just because (let’s say) a billion people claim it is true and it has inspired heroic acts of selflessness for thousands of years; if 9/10 of the great art and architecture of your civilisation are bound up with this theophany, and if it is reinforced year by year by thousands of people all over the world claiming to experience the same theophany. Maybe your experience should be interpreted in the light of this reported theophany. What are the fruits of your experience? You should try to conform it the teaching of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. You don’t agree? Maybe that is because my argument isn’t very convincing. Or maybe, it is because you live in a time and place, Northern California in the 1970s, that is hyperindividualistic to an absurd degree, more than practically anywhere before or since, where you would rather go mad in your own new way than stay sane in someone else’s old way.