Tuesday 13 April 2021

Philip K Dick discussing the (Christian) self limitations of his character Angel Archer who was based-on Ursula Le Guin - from The Exegesis

From The Exegesis by Philip K Dick - written May 1981; section 79:1-81 (page 737) - The Exegesis was a private journal written in the last eight years of PKD's life (1974-82). Cuts are indicated by ...

Dick is discussing Angel Archer - the first person protagonist in his last novel The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (TTA), 1982 - who PKD reveals was based-on ULG. He had just finished TTA at the time of this writing, and (in this entry!) regarded it as his best ever work. 

PKD and Ursula Le Guin were both in the class of 1947 at Berkeley High School, California but did not meet until later. They corresponded and had great mutual respect as leading US writers of fantasy and science fiction. ULG had at one time stated publicly that she feared for PKD's sanity. 


What I have shown [in TTA] is what the best intellectual mind - as correctly represented by a young Berkeley intellectual woman - can do and cannot do; it can go so far... but it can go no farther - as represented by her rejection of Christ (yes, Christ!) at the end: she walks away. 

This is a penetrating analysis of the intellectual mind: what it can do (a very great deal and what it can't do (make the final leap). And she knows it

This is what the "Bishop Archer" book is about about: Angel is a pure aesthetic intellectual, able to go so far but unable to make the final leap to Christ. Thus "Berkeley" (as paradigm of the intellectual, sensitive mind) is both lauded and stigmatized...

Thus one deduces the existence of the divine by its absence: the failure of her final leap (i.e. my meta abstraction)...

Bishop Archer as Bill calls to her but she does not hear. It is not reasonable. Angel fell short, missed the mark, and this is what constitutes sin, this falling short of the mark... What we are sure of is that although Angel came close she did not [make it]; thus I demonstrate the limits of reason. 

What is needed is an orthogonal breakthrough, which I achieved (in 2-3-74 [i.e. February and March, 1974 - which led to writing the Exegesis]). 

Ursula [Le Guin] is the basis of Angel: many virtues but in the end self-limiting.

The mind "knows" in advance what is possible and what is impossible: it is intelligent, rational, educated and tender; but it is not devout. It does not know how to capitulate to the impossible and accept it as real.


Note from BGC: Here PKD diagnoses a very common problem among some of the best 'minds' of the past two centuries; and puts his finger on the reason. 


Alex said...

"The mind 'knows' in advance what is possible and what is impossible: it is intelligent, rational, educated and tender; but it is not devout. It does not know how to capitulate to the impossible and accept it as real."

This is why I see Fatima as so supremely important: because it's so directed toward the mind. One cannot be an intellectually honest thinker and conclude that there's not at least something "special" to this event, and that it requires very serious investigation.

Sorry to keep harping on Fatima, but it truly is an intellectual keystone for me, because of its epistemological status (mass-audience of direct witnesses of the supernatural happening in modern times - like Doubting Thomas x 10000, in our own temporal neighborhood).

I'm having a hard time conveying my thoughts, hopefully some of you will get what I'm getting-at :)

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Could you provide some basic background for people who have not read TTA? Are Angel Archer and Bishop Archer different people, and if so what is their relationship? In what sense does Angel reject Christ at the end?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - This is something I just wanted to put out there for two reasons.

1. I couldn't see a reference to the fact that the Angel character was based on ULG, which might interest people.

2. That I've read the TTA about three times, and found it unsatisfactory - partly because of the (to me) annoyingly 'Californian' characters and assumptions, and that it doesn't go anywhere.

Indeed, the last time I read it, I decided that the problem was exactly that Angel did Not make the choice of Christ (but stayed essentially the same as she began) - which was where the book seemed to be going, structurally.

I found it interesting that PKD did this deliberately, and regarded it as the point of the book. But PKD was very bad at ending books! It was a recurrent problem for him - he lacked the 'instinct' for it. And furthermore, this deficit was much more serious in TTA because it was essentially a 'mainstream' novel (not scifi/ fantasy); and therefore it was about the people (not ideas).

For a mainstream novel, what happens to the characters is primary - there must be some kind of shape, progress, resolution... Something like a courtship and marriage, or a coming of age. PKD could not (nobody could) write a really successful mainstream novel in which the 'point' was that the main character *failed* to make the right choice - with a 'negative' frame, the novel is reduced to the sum of its parts.

In other words, the point of the TTA novel (from PKD's POV) is the cause of its structural inadequacy.

Or, you can have a scifi novel whose main point is 'philosophical' (about ideas) but you can't (successfully) do this when its a mainstream novel of characters and relationships.

This is why philosophical type people are seldom successful mainstream novelists, but often write good scifi (e.g. Colin Wilson); and why the best/ most-effective 'pure novelists' write about people and relationships primarily - and ideas hardly matter (e.g. Barbara Pym, whose early novels I read over and over with delight - but who hardly has two 'ideas' to rub together!).