Philip K. Dick: Remembering Firebright
by Tessa B. Dick
CreateSpace, March, 2009 & 2010
228 pages / $15.77  Buy from Amazon

by Janice Lee
Jaded Ibis Press, 2011
144 pages / Color Ed. $39  Buy from Amazon or Jaded Ibis
B/W Ed. forthcoming Summer 2012




The last thing Philip K. Dick’s work needs is another philosopher’s commentary. After Fredric Jameson’s “synoptic” reading of Dick’s corpus and Laurence A. Rickels’ 400-plus page I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick, it might seem prudent, indeed respectful, to refrain from any further philosophical discussion of PKD. However, after spending some time with Tessa B. Dick’s “memoir” and Janice Lee’s “novel,” I am inclined to discuss a dimension of Dick’s that neither Jameson nor Rickels were able to deal with in their commentaries: namely, the particularly contemporary problem of living without myth. Anthropology tells us that peoples of the past actually believed in their myths; a mythological framework provided by the gods presumably told you how to lead your life and what your ultimate place in the universe was. Now that all of our myths have been more or less discredited by the advent of modernity, how might a viable contemporary myth cope with the disintegrating social edifice and the resulting modern subject who minimally experiences the “death of God”?

We’ll start with a strident way in – that of Daughter’s vision of “the head of a human figure with a terrifying face, full of wrath and threats” appearing to the protagonist “in the sky, on a night when the stars were shining and she stood in prayer and contemplation.” These two elements – the terrifying face of the big Other, and the lost subject in search of meaning and the miraculous – are constants in Philip K. Dick’s biography. In the late seventies, Dick recalled: “There I went, one day [in 1963], walking down the country road to my shack, looking forward to eight hours of writing, in total isolation from all other humans, and I looked up in the sky and saw a face. . . . and it was not a human face; it was a vast visage of perfect evil.”  To the psychological impact of such an encounter, Janice Lee supplies a concrete example: “At the sight of it, she feared that her heart would burst into little pieces. Therefore, overcome with terror, she instantly turned her face away and fell to the ground.  And that was the reason why her face was not terrible to others.”

The intrusion of the big Other’s face serve one epistemic function. It forces us to revisit a state of the actual world, typically one located in the distant primordial past; paradoxically, this primordial past is inextricably entangled with our autobiographical past. Thus, Philip K. Dick’s origin myths very often includes the search of a dark-haired girl and the perpetual loss of his twin sister Jane, and Janice Lee’s origin myth in Daughter includes a daughter-explorer performing an autopsy on a dead god. Perhaps because man’s pre-conscious pre-history cannot accommodate the full range of experiences and mindsets that people normally carry around in their heads, origin myths demand just such autobiographical idiosyncrasies and hence, in the face of the giant transient face, potentially invite unstable ontologies. This return of the primitive visage goes against the grain of how we normally register things, namely, as possibilities that are grounded and predictable to varying degrees as we move through space and time, responding to external cues: hence the fluidity of our everyday experiences.

For the witness of the extraterrestrial face, this everyday fluidity becomes the source of ontological uncertainty. Consequently, shortly after Dick’s encounter with the face – which he would later fictionalize as Palmer Eldritch – Phil began contemplating the age-old theological question of what God was doing before the creation of the world.  In contrast to Schelling’s unfinished Weltalter [“Ages of the World”] where he argues that prior to God being God, God was becoming God out of a pure void, Janice Lee posits that before God became God, she was a dying mother-octopus. To take a salient digression: biologists now recognize that certain of the most primitive forms of life live in the walls of volcanic hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, where the water is close to or above the boiling point. Not surprisingly Philip K. Dick came to the mythic conclusion that God herself was one of a pair of twins; picture the pale unborn vertebrate floating in a womb of slushy brine in which divine single-celled algae assimilate the carbon dioxide, phosphates, and nutrients that work up from the ocean below. In Philip K. Dick’s own words:

The changing information which we experience as World is an unfolding narrative.  It tells about the death of a woman.  This woman, who died long ago, was one of the primordial twins.  She was half of the divine syzygy.  The purpose of the narrative is the recollection of her and of her death.  The Mind does not wish to forget her. . . . the Brain consists of a permanent record of her existence, and, if read, will be understood this way.  All the information processed by the Brain – experienced by us as the arranging and rearranging of physical objects – is an attempt at this preservation of her; stones and rocks and sticks and amoebae are traces of her.

And the advantage of presenting the becoming-God as decaying information on the outer reach of physiological resilience is that the image captures the unthinkable prior failed attempts to establish subsurface microbial ecosystems and ultimately embryonic life on land: Prior to the Beginning, there is in a sense only the failed Beginnings of countless twin abortions.  In Lee’s own words:

I have unearthed the corpse of an octopus in the sand.  How old is it?  The creator of the world did not fashion these things directly from himself but copied them from archetypes outside himself. . . . Is this a giant octopus, a goddess napping in the bright desert light, or a tiny pale fetus tucked and hidden away from the threats of monsters. . . . There is a god who evades deductive reasoning, absorbs your sins and grow them outwards, thick skin of blisters, sores, trailing salt and puss.  He is sweaty from the work and so sometimes is two and not one.  A two-headed god is twice as efficient, twice as horrifying, twice as loyal to his people.

In a more general sense, the permutation of the “Primordial Daughter-Mother Octopus” as master signifier may seem counterintuitive, given that virtually every hegemonic example thus far – Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, etc. – has been gendered “masculine” within the terms of ideology. Therefore, to get the most out of Janice Lee’s cosmogony, it is important to bear in mind one of Lacan’s most controversial teachings: the most fundamental contradiction of the Real is sexual difference. On the masculine side of Lacan’s matrix, a master signifier is imposed in order to establish an ideological order; however, this universal order necessarily implies an exception. For example, all Muslims are “submitted” to Allah and find their value only in relation to Allah – except Allah himself who is inherently valuable.  On the feminine side, a master signifier can never really be used to impose a totalitarian ideological order, because in the absence of an exception, the order shows itself to be intrinsically incomplete, non-totalized, or non-all.

Here is theologian Adam Kotsko on the topic: “These two logics – the masculine logic of the constitutive exception and the feminine logic of the non-all – are not symmetrical opposites.  Instead, the feminine has priority. This is because the feminine reflects the logic of the Real [reality is inherently incomplete – as quantum theory suggests]. . . . The masculine logic of the constitutive exception is secondary, representing what happens when one attempts to establish a smooth, harmonious universal order: the resulting universal is necessarily contradictory or ‘cracked’.”  This is why we will never see a viable Church of Philip K. Dick, or for that matter the Church of Janice Lee. In Lacanese: Their work is on the side of the Real, following the logic of the non-all; whereas, Christianity and Islam in its current institutional formations follow the masculine logic of the constitutive exception, faithfully on the side of the non-Real. This is particularly palpable in the case of the monotheistic master signifier – where the contradiction is that of an empty signifier representing an absolute fullness.

Of course, today’s vulgar materialist-subjects might dismiss all this scenario-mongering as sheer fantasy, as science really stands on its own two feet; whatever theological motives may have been operative in the past, each culture has its own solipsistic creation myth, the primary functions of which are to place the tribe that contrived it at the center of the universe. However, this self-understanding of humanity is peculiar to the Abrahamic religions and its humanist apologists. In contrast, had modernity been consistently oriented towards the feminine non-all, as Philip K. Dick’s cosmogony urges, we would not have conferred so much cultural value on national socialism and the pursuit of reality’s physical limits. Moreover, such a literal-mindedness to myth is to entirely miss the point. Precisely because myths are public events experienced by both believers and non-believers, social events and customs of various sorts can be made in the shadow of a myth’s sheer corporeality. Mythmakers, like Janice Lee, trigger a society’s cognitive immune system, so to speak. Here we enter the realm of self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecies but equally the space for radically revising one’s worldview while still maintaining rationality, the mark of today’s dialectical materialists, like Badiou and Zizek, who view human history as punctuated by a series of mythological interruptions that dissolves and rebuilds the symbolic order.


Maxi Kim is the author of Une Pause, Mille Coups!


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  1. Maxi Kim reviews Daughter. | Janice Lee

      […] out this great review of my second book Daughter alongside a new Philip K. Dick […]

  2. Anonymous

      Fascinating but not a review of either…?

  3. Anonymous

      All very interesting stuff but where was the part where the books were actually reviewed?

  4. Khakjaan Wessington

      Whenever I see academic types who
      otherwise have no interest in science fiction bring up PKD, I groan.
      Your review of course demonstrates no understanding at all of the
      hobbiest culture that was the commercial sci-fi market back in the
      mid 20th century. You bring up Lacan, Islam, Zizek; all
      this fucking shit, and completely ignore obsessive compulsion, the I
      Ching, determinism versus free will, and the root of it all, a fear
      of solipsism that serves as unifying theme in Dick’s writing; in an
      attempt to ‘legitimize’ Dick to whatever degenerate and desiccated
      reading circles you’ve decided is your target audience. What rookie
      writing! This is not about Dick. This is about using a book review of
      Dick as a thin pretext to talk about your post-structuralist
      bullshit. Who the fuck do you think you are? Do you really think that
      people don’t notice? Fuck you! Seriously!

      You start off by milking 3 paragraphs
      saying that Dick was interested in God. I said that in 1 sentence and
      also managed to insert a snipe. You spend so much time trying to
      prove your judgments that your arc of reasoning is pathetically
      short. I think you haven’t even familiarized yourself with Dick’s own
      writings on himself. For example, in “Schizophrenia & The Book
      of Changes” Dick outlines that he is not motivated by what
      simpletons like you would consider to be ‘the two logics’ or really
      anything you might consider logic. He is obsessed with EPISTEMOLOGY!
      It’s a totally different matter. You don’t even need to read the
      whole damned essay, he declares it in the first paragraph: “…a
      newborn individual is more or less thrust out into the koinos kosmos
      (the shared world) immediately… a human child, at birth, still has
      years of a kind of semireal existence ahead of him: semireal in the
      sense that until he is fifteen or sixteen years old he is able to
      some degree to remain not thoroughly born…” The binary is not
      between logics, it’s between dreaming and awaking! His problems are
      all solipsistic in origin.

      You can say, “Oh, someone else did it
      better, I’d rather wank in PKD’s direction, because I have nothing
      new to add” but that’s a total cop out. You can summarize and
      pivot, but you didn’t. Jameson is a fucking blowhard, and presuming
      that just because he was thorough that he was accurate is moronic.
      You decided to start on a specious premise and then went all out. I
      am pretty damned certain you’ve never even read the guy. In addition,
      I think it’s safe to say you don’t know any of his peers, who are
      equally ‘literary,’ such as Brian Aldiss, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert
      Silverberg, Gene Wolfe, and so forth. I have no clue why you even
      decided you had something worth writing on PKD. Did you just see
      Doctor Atomic or something? What the fuck kind of thesis is ‘At the
      sight of this, PKD was so freaked out it changed his concept of God
      and reality?’ It’s almost like you’ve never read the man’s writing
      and are trying to fill your review up with other examples of your
      erudition. You want this essay to be about Abrahamic religions and
      patriarchy and Lacan and you pretty much smear your Ivy League
      scented feces all over PKD’s legacy. What initially induced rage in
      me now incites a smile. You really thought you could pull this
      horseshit off. I can just see you thinking “I’m going to fool them
      all,” because you think we’re all as stupid as your college GTF or
      something? OMFG!

      I will NOT have another academic
      motherfucker go and strip mine a genre she knows nothing about
      without challenge. My accusations are: 1) You don’t really read PKD
      or know anything about him, 2) You don’t really read any scifi, nor
      do you know anything about its literary champs, 3) You wanted to
      write some meandering bullshit and decided to tie it all together
      with PKD as the theme, because that was your impetus. 4) Therefore,
      you have committed the equivalent of academic fraud, which is why I
      spew such vitriol at you. You are rancid. I curse you. I spit at you
      from my screen. Use a different language. You’re corrupting the one I

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