The symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum

From Philip K. Dick’s Valis (ch 14). Something the other day reminded me of this passage – which is a concise phrasing of an idea that appears throughout Dick’s later writings – and a bit of reflection today led to connecting it to what Stanislaw Lem had written about Dick as the only American sci-fi writer whose work he could respect.

Seated before my TV set I watched and waited for another message, I, one of the members of the little Rhipidon Society which still, in my mind, existed. Like the satellite in miniature in the film Valis, the microform of it run over by the taxi as if it were an empty beer can in the gutter, the symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum. Or so I told myself. Kevin had expressed this thought. The divine intrudes where you least expect it.

And now from Stanislaw Lem’s Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans (online here)

Dick employs the same materials and theatrical props as other American writers. From the warehouse which has long since become their common property, he takes the whole threadbare lot of telepaths, cosmic wars, parallel worlds, and time travel.
The peculiarities of Dick’s worlds arise especially from the fact that in them it is waking reality which undergoes profound dissociation and duplication. Sometimes the dissociating agency consists in chemical substances (of the hallucinogenic type—thus in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch); sometimes in “cold-sleep technique” (as precisely in Ubik); sometimes (as in Now Wait for Last Year) in a combination of narcotics and “parallel worlds.” The end-effect is always the same: distinguishing between waking reality and visions proves to be impossible. The technical aspect of this phenomenon is fairly inessential—it does not matter whether the splitting of reality is brought about by a new technology of chemical manipulation of the mind or, as in Ubik, by one of surgical operations. The essential point is that a world equipped with the means of splitting perceived reality into indistinguishable likenesses of itself creates practical dilemmas that are known only to the theoretical speculations of philosophy. This is a world in which, so to speak, this philosophy goes out into the street and becomes for every ordinary mortal no less of a burning question than is for us the threatened destruction of the biosphere.

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still above the staggering girl …

W.B. Yeat’s Leda and the Swan, a line of which appears in Phillip K Dick’s short story Out in the Garden (below):

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

And Dick’s story – where the duck’s name, Sir Francis, is presumably a play on Sir Francis Drake and a drake as mature male duck.

“Sweetheart,” Nye said to her, “look who’s here. You remember Tom Lindquist, don’t you?”
Peggy looked up quickly. “Tommy Lindquist!” she exclaimed. “How are you? How nice it is to see you.”
“Thanks.” Lindquist shuffled a little in pleasure. “How have you been, Peg? I see you have a friend.”
“A friend?”
“Sir Francis. That’s his name, isn’t it?”
Peggy laughed. “Oh, Sir Francis.” She reached down and smoothed the duck’s feathers. Sir Francis went on searching out spiders from the grass. “Yes, he’s a very good friend of mine. But won’t you sit down? How long are you staying?”
“He won’t be here very long,” her husband said. “He’s driving through to New York on some kind of business.”
“That’s right,” Lindquist said. “Say, you certainly have a wonderful garden here, Peggy. I remember you always wanted a nice garden, with lots of birds and flowers.”
“It is lovely,” Peggy said. “We’re out here all the time.”
“Sir Francis and myself.”
“They spend a lot of time together,” Robert Nye said. “Cigarette?” He held out his pack to Lindquist. “No?” Nye lit one for himself. “Personally, I can’t see anything in ducks, but I never was much on flowers and nature.”
“Robert stays indoors and works on his articles,” Peggy said. “Sit down, Tommy.” She picked up the duck and put him on her lap. “Sit here, beside us.”
“Oh, no,” Lindquist said. “This is fine.”
He became silent, looking down at Peggy and all the flowers, the grass, the silent duck. A faint breeze moved through the rows of iris behind the tree, purple and white iris. No one spoke. The garden was very cool and quiet. Lindquist sighed.
“What is it?” Peggy said.
“You know, all this reminds me of a poem.” Lindquist rubbed his forehead. “Something by Yeats, I think.”
“Yes, the garden is like that,” Peggy said. “Very much like poetry.”
Lindquist concentrated. “I know!” he said, laughing. “It’s you and Sir Francis, of course. You and Sir Francis sitting there. ‘Leda and the Swan’.”
Peggy frowned. “Do I—”
“The swan was Zeus,” Lindquist said. “Zeus took the shape of a swan to get near Leda while she was bathing. He—uh—made love to her in the shape of a swan. Helen of Troy was born—because of that, you see. The daughter of Zeus and Leda. How does it go … ‘A sudden blow: the great wings beating still above the staggering girl’—”
He stopped. Peggy was staring up at him, her face blazing. Suddenly she leaped up, pushing the duck from her path. She was trembling with anger.
“What is it?” Robert said. “What’s wrong?”
“How dare you!” Peggy said to Lindquist. She turned and walked off quickly.
Robert ran after her, catching hold of her arm. “But what’s the matter? What’s wrong? That’s just poetry!”
She pulled away. “Let me go.”
He had never seen her so angry. Her face had become like ivory, her eyes like two stones. “But Peg—”
She looked up at him. “Robert,” she said, “I am going to have a baby.”
She nodded. “I was going to tell you tonight. He knows.” Her lips curled. “He knows. That’s why he said it. Robert, make him leave! Please make him go!”
Nye nodded mechanically. “Sure, Peg. Sure. But—it’s true? Really true? You’re really going to have a baby?” He put his arms around her. “But that’s wonderful! Sweetheart, that’s marvelous. I never heard anything so marvelous. My golly! For heaven’s sake. It’s the most marvelous thing I ever heard.”
He led her back toward the seat, his arm around her. Suddenly his foot struck something soft, something that leaped and hissed in rage. Sir Francis waddled away, half-flying, his beak snapping in fury.
“Tom!” Robert shouted. “Listen to this. Listen to something. Can I tell him, Peg? Is it all right?”
Sir Francis hissed furiously after him, but in the excitement no one noticed him, not at all.

I can’t help recalling Bartolomeo Ammanati’s Leda and the Swan in the Bargello.

The universe is one great set of reference books from which he picks and chooses as his restless mind veers on

From Philip K Dick’s The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (somewhere in ch.9):

The son, his son, my husband, subordinated to an intellectual matter-I could never, myself, view it that way. This amounts to a depersonalization of Jeff Archer; he is converted into an instrument, a device for learning; why, he is converted into a talking book. Like all these books that Tim forever reaches for, especially in moments of crisis. Everything worth knowing can be found in a book; conversely, if Jeff is important he is important not as a person but as a book; it is books for books’ sakes then, not knowledge, even, for the sake of knowledge. The book is the reality. For Tim to love and appreciate his son, he must-as impossible as this may seem-he must regard him as a kind of book. The universe to Tim Archer is one great set of reference books from which he picks and chooses as his restless mind veers on, always seeking the new, always turning away from the old; it is the very opposite of that passage from Faust that he read; Tim has not found the moment where he says, “Stay”; it is still fleeing from him, still in motion.

A nice addition to Alberto Manguel’s ‘world as a book’ theme in Library At Night (or History of Reading?, I enjoy him but he re-uses the same material so much it’s hard to keep straight).  Though – to use Goethe against Dick’s Goethe – this restlessness itself feels much in the questing spirit of the angel’s

He who strives always to the utmost
Him we can redeem

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