Philp K Dick on Valis, Ubik and Paradox


Dick cannot accept that VALIS really exists, but yet he cannot reject it either. He is caught in a loop — if he accepts that VALIS exists, then he knows that this is a mad idea, so he must believe that he is mad, in which case VALIS does not really exist. But if he rejects the existence of VALIS, then this is a sane thing to do, so he is not mad (he has no other reason to consider himself mad), so therefore what he perceives must be taken at face value, and VALIS must be accepted to exist. This regress of doubt, self-doubt, doubt of self-doubt, doubt of doubt of self-doubt, and so forth might seem to be the least productive thought process in the world. But no, in Dick’s world things are exactly the opposite. The acceptance of this paradox becomes the paramount thing. Dick does not wish to overcome his skepticism, nor to overcome his passionate belief. “The Sophists,” he writes,

saw paradox as a way of conveying knowledge — paradox, in fact, as a way of arriving at conclusions. This is known, too, in Zen Buddhism. It sometimes causes a strange jolt or leap in someone’s mind; something happens, an abrupt comprehension, as if out of nowhere, called satori. The paradox does not tell; it points. It is a sign, not the thing pointed to. That which is pointed to must arise ex nihilo in the mind of the person. The paradox, the koan, tells him nothing; it wakes him uThis only makes sense if you assume something very strange: we are asleep but do not know it. At least not until we wake up.

According to this argument, the process of simultaneously doubting and believing in VALIS is analogous to continually repeating a Zen koan to oneself. The paradox “wakes us up.”

“Waking up” is not a phrase which Dick takes lightly. In fact Dick’s concept of “waking up” is inextricably tied to Ubik, in which people are kept half-asleep in cold-pac, while they experience realities that are only “semi-real.” And what keeps us from waking up is not merely laziness, or cosmic chance; it, like Palmer Eldritch as he appears to Chew-Z chewers, is definitely evil:

The criminal virus controls by occluding (putting us in a sort of half sleep) so that we do not see the living quality of this world, but see it as inert. Man reduced to automaton. The occlusion is self-perpetuating; it makes us unaware of it…

The process of thinking paradoxical thoughts is a pointer to something — a pointer to something which the “criminal virus” prefers us not to see. ”

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