By Luc Valentine
It was not on February 3, 1974 even though Dick referred to it as “2-3-74″
It was during February and March of that year. Dick used that shorthand in his Exegesis: Apologia Pro Mea Vita, a journal he kept from then on for the rest of his life, to refer to a series of visions and overwhelmingly divine insights he had over the course of two months. Whether it was a vision is a semantic call. Dick writes
Mostly, though, what I get is a lot of information, floods of it night after night, on and on, about the religions of the Antique World–from Egypt, India, Persian, Greece and Rome. [Bishop] Jim [Pike] never loses interest in that stuff, especially the Zoroastrian religion and the Pythagorean mystery cults and the Orphic cults and the Gnostics–on and on. I’m even being given special terms in Greek, such as syntonic. I’m told to be that. In harmony with, it means. And the Logos doctrine. All this comes to me in dreams, many dreams, hundreds of dreams, on and on, forever. As soon as I close my eyes information in the form of printed matter, visual matter such as photographs, audio stuff in the form of phonograph records–it all floods over me at a high rate of print-out.
We would say today that Dick was downloading. He was downloading from the Divine.
It was not set off by a ray of sun sparkling from a drug store delivery girl’s icythus necklace
This is the most commonly believed myth about Philip K. Dick’s gnosis. His biographer, Lawrence Sutin, includes a quotation from a letter Dick wrote to Ursula Le Guin on September 23 of 1974. In it, Dick relates the delivery girl necklace story and simply writes “This is a sign used by the early Christians, she said” and then departs. Sutin marks the date of delivery as the day Dick had oral surgery and was waiting for some prescribed painkillers (Darvon, Dick noted parenthetically to Le Guin). During the surgery, sodium pentothal was administered routinely. Sutin writes, “the pain remained, though the pentathol seemed to linger.”
Tracing Dick’s “long series of visions” to this day in his early biography, Sutin established, perhaps inadvertently, that it was the pink gleam of the necklace that set off the information transmission. In fact, Dick and his wife Tessa had a glow in the dark bumper sticker of an ichthus displayed in their front window. Tessa said in a radio interview that it was the afterglow of the bumper sticker catching the light that Dick saw. Sutin mentions the bumper sticker but doesn’t connect the two directly.
It was not caused by drug use/abuse/misuse
In fact, Phil Dick was not a drug abuser or misuser or even much of a casual user of drugs, especially street drugs. This myth haunts Dick’s reputation more than most, but it’s simply not true that he was much of a drug user. Tessa, who was married to Dick during February and March of 1974 and remained friends with him long after their divorce for the rest of his life, has repeatedly emphasized that Phil was not a drug user. His prodigious body of work is sometimes attributed to Ritalin but this, too, is overstated. He was treated by several mental health professionals, some of them psychiatrists, and was prescribed medications, but nothing indicates that he went beyond the doctors’ dosages. Gwen Lee, the last writer to interview Dick shortly before the stroke, says Dick was not the drinker, either. He was sociable among friends but no drunkard. Lee says Phil would have a beer on Thursday nights while playing cards with his close friends but that she never even saw him drinking other than that and never saw him drunk at all. And one would think that his steady output as a writer would seem to accord with a life of productive sobriety.
It was not a schizophrenic hallucination
Dick wasn’t a schizophrenic. When schizophrenics hallucinate they usually know exactly what it is they think they are seeing and hearing. It scares them and they are unbalanced for that very reason. Even when looking at something actually happening, a schizophrenic delusion causes the unbalanced person to misinterpret, say, the postman talking to a neighbor, as a malevolent conspirator. But the schizophrenic thinks he knows what it is that he is seeing. He does not wonder about it, what it is and what it means, its meaning is the delusion. Dick gave careful, studied, and exhaustive thought to what he saw and heard and knew from 2-3-74 and never came up with a satisfactory conclusion. The Exegesis examines and reexamines 2-3-74 philosophically, theologically, and, yes, biologically and the great tragedy of Dick’s life is he never came to fully comprehend the awesome meaning of that which was shown to him.
The terms “schizoid” or “schizo” were ubiquitous slang words in the 60′s and 70′s. Occasionally Dick would refer to himself as “schizo” the way we refer to ourselves today as simply “crazy”. And it was a word thrown around quite differently by the psychiatry of the day than it is now. Psychiatry is a categorical practice. The DSM-IV, the fourth version of the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, is much different today, as is the practice of psychiatry. The categories for diagnosing schizophrenics, as are all others, are more detailed and subcategorized as science learns more about the human mind.
And as for paranoia, well it was the early 70′s. Richard Nixon was president. He had an enemies list and writers like Philip K. Dick were just the kind of candidates Nixon was looking to put on it. After Watergate two years earlier, the whole nation had become paranoid but, as it turns out, not without reason. In the 1970′s in America the technology was finally catching up with the Big Brother predictions of another science fiction writer, George Orwell.
It was not a “Now go forth and preach the one true word” religious vision
It was not a confirmation of Dick’s saintliness. Indeed Dick sets out a conversation he had with God in which Dick argues with God. And God, at every turn, replies simply, “Infinity”, and Dick knows he has lost the argument. God showed Phil INFINITY. What Dick did with his knowledge…his gnosis…was up to Phil.
What happened? What communicated with me? I could read and understand the secret messages…I have been placed under God’s protection. The advocate now represents me. I hear a far off quiet voice that is not a human voice; it-she-comforts me. In the dark of the night she tells me that “St. Sophia is going to be born again; she was not acceptable before.”
I saw the final days. Time fulfilled itself. We are safe now from the world, which has been overcome. I got to see God as he really is, and I saw what we are like. “We shall be like him” 1 JN 3:2
It’s time for us to stop looking in the finite world for what Dick’s gnosis was and to start figuring out what it was that God was saying to him.
Check out our other articles on Dick: