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.

From shore they well may glimpse the bottom, but not once out upon the open sea

A passage of Dante’s (Paradiso XIX 40-66) I was reminded of while reading of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, partially for the ocean metaphor and partially for the intellectual humility (whether taken in a religious sense or otherwise). Here are Charles Singleton’s prose – because it is clearest – and Robert Hollander’s verse versions (online here). The Italian is at bottom.

Then it began, “He that turned His compass round the limit of the world, and within it marked out so much both hidden and revealed, could not so imprint His power on all the universe that His word should not remain in infinite excess; and this is certified by that first proud one [Lucifer], who was the highest of all creatures and who, through not awaiting light, fell unripe; from which it is plain that every lesser nature is too scant a vessel for that Good which has no limit and measures Itself by Itself. Thus your vision, which must needs be one of the rays of the Mind with which all things are replete, cannot of its own nature be of such power that it should not perceive its origin to be far beyond all that is apparent to it. Therefore the sight that is granted to your world penetrates within the Eternal Justice as the eye into the sea; which, though from the shore it can see the bottom, in the open sea it sees it not, and none the less it is there, but the depth conceals it. There is no light unless it comes from that serene which is never clouded, else is it darkness, either shadow of the flesh or its poison.

Then it began: ‘He who with His compass
drew the boundaries of the world and then, within them,
created distinctions, both hidden and quite clear,
‘did not imprint His power so deep
throughout the universe that His Word
would not with infinite excess surpass His making.
‘In proof of this, the first and prideful being,
who was created highest of all creatures,
by not waiting for the light, plummeted unripe.
‘And thus it is clear that every lesser nature
is too small a vessel for that goodness
which has no limit, which is measured by itself alone.
‘Thus your vision, which must be
but a single ray of many in the mind
of Him of whom all things are full,
‘by its nature must not have such power
that it should not perceive its source
as lying far beyond all it can see.
‘Thus, the vision granted to your world
may make its way into eternal justice
as deep as eyes may penetrate the sea.
‘From shore they well may glimpse the bottom,
but not once out upon the open sea,
and yet it is there, hidden in the depths.
‘No light is never overcast unless it comes
from that clear sky which always shines. All others
darken in the shadow or the bane of flesh.

and the Italian:

Poi cominciò: “Colui che volse il sesto
a lo stremo del mondo, e dentro ad esso
distinse tanto occulto e manifesto,

non poté suo valor sì fare impresso
in tutto l’universo, che ‘l suo verbo
non rimanesse in infinito eccesso.

E ciò fa certo che ‘l primo superbo,
che fu la somma d’ogne creatura,
per non aspettar lume, cadde acerbo;

e quinci appar ch’ogne minor natura
è corto recettacolo a quel bene
che non ha fine e sé con sé misura.

Dunque vostra veduta, che convene
essere alcun de’ raggi de la mente
di che tutte le cose son ripiene,

non pò da sua natura esser possente
tanto, che suo principio non discerna
molto di là da quel che l’è parvente.

Però ne la giustizia sempiterna
la vista che riceve il vostro mondo,
com’ occhio per lo mare, entro s’interna;

che, ben che da la proda veggia il fondo,
in pelago nol vede; e nondimeno
èli, ma cela lui l’esser profondo.

Lume non è, se non vien dal sereno
che non si turba mai; anzi è tenèbra
od ombra de la carne o suo veleno.

We have no need of other worlds.  We need mirrors.  We don’t know what to do with other worlds.

From Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (ch. 6):

“It’s almost as if you’re purposely refusing to understand,” he groaned.  “I’ve been talking about Solaris the whole time, solely about Solaris.  If the truth is hard to swallow, it’s not my fault.  Anyhow, after what you’ve already been through, you ought to be able to hear me out!  We take off into the cosmos, ready for anything: for solitude, for hardship, for exhaustion, death.  Modesty forbids us to say so, but there are times when we think pretty well of ourselves.  And yet, if we examine it more closely, our enthusiasm turns out to be all sham.  We don’t want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos.  For us, such and such a planet is as arid as the Sahara, another as frozen as the North Pole, yet another as lush as the Amazon basin.  We are humanitarian and chivalrous; we don’t want to enslave other races, we simply want to bequeath them our values and take over their heritage in exchange.  We think of ourselves as the Knights of the Holy Contact.  This is another lie.  We are only seeking Man.  We have no need of other worlds.  We need mirrors.  We don’t know what to do with other worlds.  A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can’t accept it for what it is.  We are searching for an ideal image of our own world: we go in quest of a planet, of a civilization superior to our own but developed on the basis of a prototype of our primeval past.  At the same time, there is something inside us which we don’t like to face up to, from which we try to protect ourselves, but which nevertheless remains, since we don’t leave Earth in a state of primal innocence.  We arrive here as we are in reality, and when the page is turned and that reality is revealed to us – that part of our reality which we would prefer to pass over in silence – then we don’t like it any more.”

Marquis Chateauneuf du Pape

From Gruppenfuhrer Louis XVI in Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum – a collection of reviews of non-existent books:

Nota bene: the abundance of French names in the novel, which bear a striking similarity to the names of cognacs and wines – take, for example, the “Marquis Chateauneuf du Pape,” the master of ceremonies! – undoubtedly derives from the fact (though nowhere does the author say it) that in the brain of Taudlitz there clamor, for readily understandable reasons, far more names of liquors and liqueurs than those of the French aristocracy.

Funny by itself of course but it also reminded me of a story Ian Mckellen told in his one man show last year – of some actor or other playing Henry V without having memorized the list of French dead and instead relying on the list handed him by stage direction.  Unfortunately one evening the list was a blank prop and he fell to fumbling through in the exact fashion, fashioning wines and liqueurs into ad-hoc noblemen.

A Save the Human Race Foundation

From Pericalypsis in Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum:

The moderate growth of talent, its innately slow maturation, its careful weeding out, its natural selection in the purview of solicitous and discerning tastes—these are phenomena of a bygone age that died heirless. The last stimulus that still works is a mighty howl; but when more and more people howl, employing more and more powerful amplifiers, one’s eardrums will burst before the soul learns anything. The names of the geniuses of old, more and more vainly invoked, already are an empty sound; and so it is mene mene tekel upharsin, unless what Joachim Fersengeld recommends is done. There should be set up a Save the Human Race Foundation, as a sixteen-billion reserve on a gold standard, yielding an interest of four percent per annum. Out of this fund moneys should be dispensed to all creators—to inventors, scholars, engineers, painters, writers, poets, playwrights, philosophers, and designers—in the following way. He who writes nothing, designs nothing, paints nothing, neither patents nor proposes, is paid a stipend, for life, to the tune of thirty-six thousand dollars a year. He who does any of the aforementioned receives correspondingly less.

I’ve had a similar idea for a philanthropic foundation.

On the field of the battle that never was

From Stanislaw Lem’s Cyberiad – in the first sally of Trurl and Klapaucius:

Sensing that something had gone amiss, Ferocitus nodded to the twelve buglers at his right hand. Atrocitus, from the top of his hill, did likewise; the buglers put the brass to their lips and sounded the charge on either side. At this clarion signal each army totally and completely linked up. The fearsome metallic clatter of closing contacts reverberated over the future battlefield; in the place of a thousand bombardiers and grenadiers, commandos, lancers, gunners, snipers, sappers and marauders—there stood two giant beings, who gazed at one another through a million eyes across a mighty plain that lay beneath billowing clouds. There was absolute silence. That famous culmination of consciousness which the great Gargantius had predicted with mathematical precision was now reached on both sides. For beyond a certain point militarism, a purely local phenomenon, becomes civil, and this is because the Cosmos Itself is by nature wholly civilian, and indeed, the minds of both armies had assumed truly cosmic proportions! Thus, though on the outside armor still gleamed, as well as the death-dealing steel of artillery, within there surged an ocean of mutual good will, tolerance, an all-embracing benevolence, and bright reason. And so, standing on opposite hilltops, their weapons sparkling in the sun, while the drums continued to roll, the two armies smiled at one another. Trurl and Klapaucius were just then boarding their ship, since that which they had planned had come to pass: before the eyes of their mortified, infuriated rulers, both armies went off hand in hand, picking flowers beneath the fluffy white clouds, on the field of the battle that never was.

A few background touches to that idyllic voyage

From Stanislaw Lem’s More Tales of Pirx the Pilot:

The radiotelegraph operator, however, coped not by belting up but by jettisoning things: trapped in the space between ceiling, deck, and walls, he would reach into his pants pockets, throw out the first item at hand—his pockets were a storage bin of miscellaneous weights, key chains, metal clips—and allow the thrust to propel him gently in the opposite direction. An infallible method, unerring confirmation of Newton’s second law, but something of an inconvenience to his shipmates, because, once discarded, the stuff would ricochet off the walls, and the resulting whirligig of hard and potentially damaging objects might last a good while. This is just to add a few background touches to that idyllic voyage.

A powerful indictment of our vices

From Stanislaw Lem’s Memoirs of a Space Traveler: Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy in that collection’s final story, Let Us Save the Universe (An Open Letter from Ijon Tichy).  I am not a science fiction fan but Stanislaw Lem is the one author I’ve found in that genre whom I deeply enjoy.  But that in itself is due to much of his work falling more towards speculative philosophy (His Master’s Voice, Imaginary Magnitudes) and philosophy of technology (Summa Technologiae).  The pure hard sci-fi (The Invincible) does less for me and his Lucianic strain of marvel-filled satire – like Memoirs Found in a Bathtub and the below – is best kept to controlled doses.

The famous mirages of Stredogentsia owe their existence solely to man’s vicious inclinations.  At one time chillips grew on the planet in great numbers, and warmstrels were hardly ever found.  Now the latter have multiplied incredibly.  Above thickets of them, the air, heated artificially and diffracted, gives rise to mirages of taverns, which have caused the death of many a traveler from Earth.  It is said that the warmstrels are entirely to blame.  Why, then, don’t their mirages mimic schools, libraries, or health clubs? Why do they always show places where intoxicating beverages are sold? The answer is simple.  Because mutations are random, warmstrels at first created all sorts of mirages, but those that showed people libraries and adult-education classes starved to death, and only the tavern variety (Thermomendax spirituosus halucinogenes of the family Anthropophagi) survived.  This special adaptation of the warmstrels, brought about by man himself, is a powerful indictment of our vices.