Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Let's Blog VALIS! Part 2 of 14

And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king. 


2: In which theodicy happens.

This chapter introduces Horselover Fat’s theophany, without giving a straightforward narrative of the events around it, and starts off by saying that it was mediated in two ways, by the pink beam of light and by the pot made by the high-school girl and dope dealer Stephanie.  Exactly how God slumbered in the pot is not made clear.  Then Fat and PKD go off to argue theodicy with Kevin and David. 

David is never given any very good arguments, which is a pity, because he is identified as a Catholic and I think there are good Catholic arguments to be made in answer to Fat’s questions.

viz. “Being a Catholic, David always traced everything wrong back to man’s free will. This used to annoy even me.”

Now, if I were David, I would have pointed out that this is clearly not true. It’s not all the fault of man’s free will, unless you very broadly define ‘man’ to include, in the classical understanding, many kinds of created beings who are more powerful than we are and have the capacity to misuse their free will. ‘As C. S. Lewis said,’ I would say, in an irritating way, if I were David, ‘Talking about the angel of the sphere of Jupiter: “We don’t realise how far up the ladder of created beings goes.”[1] There are things our instinct would be to worship – that would be indistinguishable to God to us unless we were great Saints – that are far less than the greatest of the angelic hierarchy. If a mere human soul can create suffering on a worldwide scale – think of Stalin – how much harm could the steward of a galactic cluster do? Misery on a scale of billions of years and millions of light years. You should be familiar with this sort of thing, PKD, with your knowledge of gnosticism, but this is fundamentally different: this is not lesser Gods creating an evil world, but created beings – incommensurable with God, who is not a thing, who is unique, who is I AM WHO I AM –created beings screwing up an intrinsically good world.

You cavil at angels? Then try this.  Those guys who carry the oil-smeared one came up with this when they were first year students at university, prompted by one of those Chick tracts about the evils of Evolution.  Without Evolution I would be unable to believe in God, they said. Because Evolution lets God off the hook in a big way.

Let’s say everything has some free will – it doesn’t have to be a lot. Rats, mosquitos, single-celled micro-organisms, electrons, quarks, neutrinos, those ‘branes’ that string theorists postulate got the cozy little thing we call ‘the universe’ started by clashing together; give them all some tiny capacity to co-operate with or reject the intrinsically good plan God invites them to be part of. It is like a big role-playing game with an unimaginably vast number of players where in playing, the players make up the rules for the players who are to come after them. So we end up with a world where not only can Stalin drag you into Siberia and kill you, and not only can the bilharzia worm bore into the wall of your bladder, an earthquake can flatten Lisbon. If everyone/thing had co-operated completely with the divine plan, the rules of the physical universe would be subtly different.  All this evil is because our free will is constrained by the accumulated actions of everyone/everything acting before us, who got it a little bit wrong. We are flawed and broken because we suffer from the original sin of All Decisions Antedating Man. Through EVEnts sin entered the world. 

That’s what I would have said, if I were David.

The name Stephanie comes from the Greek ‘στεφανος’, ‘crown’. This is the highest sephirot ‘above consciousness’ of the Kabbalah of Moshe Cordovero, keter, כתר. “Divine Will to create/Infinite Light of the Creator/the Hebrew name of God “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh-I Am that I Am”

Stephanie is a cypher, having paramount importance in the early part of the story in somehow catalysing Fat’s theophany but then mysteriously vanishing from the novel, in the same way that keter was replaced by daat in the later Kabbalah of Isaac Luria. (I love Wikipedia; it makes this sort of thing so easy...)

A crown is also the archetype of a sacramental artefact. It is an object that serves as a sign of a higher level of reality, which functions to impart power to someone, which can only be used in certain ritual ways by certain select persons. The pot Stephanie gives to Fat is a sacramental artefact: it mediates a higher level of reality. Like the EdFrank artefact of ‘The Man in the High Castle’, it reveals that what the user thought was reality is not reality, that there is another more fundamental level of reality. So those EdFrank artefacts with their mysterious ‘wu’ are the projections of Stephanie’s pot backwards in time, or this idea of sacramental artefacts is one that PKD originally employed in fiction and only later applied to his understanding of real life events.

Sherri appears in this chapter, but she is not named at first – she is just a girl the narrator once knew who was dying of cancer. This is since it is the Fat personality that knows her, not PKD, I guess. The name ‘Sherri’ comes from French ‘cheri’, beloved, so is actually the same name as David, which comes from a Hebrew root דוד meaning ‘beloved’. So the two explicitly Christian characters have the same name, but are otherwise totally opposite: Male/female, good/evil, vague/particular, laconic/verbose, lives/dies. They could embody different sides of loving-kindness, chesed, חסד, one of the primary conscious emotions in the Kabbalah of Moshe Cordovero, the sefirot which by getting out of balance with judgment, gevurah, גבורה, brought evil into the world.

I am puzzled by the rosary next to Sherri’s hospital bed here, since while she is obviously a member of a sacramental Church where Communion is the central feature of worship, we are told her priest is married so everything else points to her being an Episcopalian. I did not grow up praying the rosary but they have been praying it before Mass at the Cathedral here for October, the month of the Rosary, and there is a line in a prayer that is part of it that has been going around and in my head puzzlig me since I first heard it: “Save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.” My knee-jerk reaction to this, which I thought was orthodox, is that surely all souls are equally in need of God’s mercy? But this is an old prayer supported at the highest levels of the Church. And why mention heaven and hell separately? Why us and everyone separately? And why not the other way around: ‘Save all souls from the fires of hell and lead us to heaven.’ I think this prayer will continue to confuse me/us until I/we realise that it is pointing to the atemporality of reality, again: somehow we can all be in heaven and all in danger of the fires of hell and this can be a contingent state of affairs and at the same time a state existing in eternity.

Kevin is from Gaelic meaning something like: ‘kind/honest/handsome born’. He says that he is racially Celtic in Chapter 9. I think this is a hint at the basically good-hearted but naive nature of his position in the discourse. He only sees the superficies of everything, and is motivated by the love of a cat: he is like a faerie, a creature that does not have Man’s knowledge of Good and Evil, that is somehow less than Man. So I think  ‘honest born’ is an appropriate name for him.

And little Christopher is here, of course. The carrier of the anointed one. The vessel through which the truth of the revelation is made manifest, fulfilling the role of John the Baptist in making straight the way of the Lord in the desert, but with a name pointing also to the atemporality of the revelation: for Christopher came after Christ, and was (1 Jan 1970, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mysterii_Paschalis) ruled mythological, and removed from the calendar of the saints. In the next chapter we find out his mother’s name is Beth – and John the Baptist’s mother’s name was Elizabeth. ‘Beth’ just means ‘house’ and isn’t a biblical name, but Eli+Zabeth means either “GOD is promise” or “GOD is Seven”.

[1]:  http://ohdoubters.tumblr.com/post/103014942396: For this was great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principally blows across these fields of Arbol, known to men in old times as Jove and under that name, by fatal but not inexplicable misprision, confused with his Maker-so little did they dream by how many degrees the stair even of created being rises above him.

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