Edited on 3 Mar 2012: added the topic of the letters in a parenthetical.
Things are moving quite slowly on the FilmsFolded front. As many regular readers know, the FilmsFolded.com site has gone wonky. It is created and managed by a friend and I have no control over it at all. If it reappears, I will use it in the work. At the same time I have been working through paper and electronic files that I have been collecting to use in the essays in the FilmsFolded section here.
One of these I will post here now, largely because it is easy and because it doesn’t quite have a place in the essays I am sketching. But it is relevant in a roundabout way. Early in my career, I was lucky enough to be exposed to some very clever thinkers. Many of them were practicing what I have come to call folded narrative in some way.
One of these led me to a brief correspondence with Philip K Dick in the early 70s. LikeNash, he had already pushed his imagination so hard that he entered it. This is what I attempt, and on what I will report some day. (The folded life as found in film narrative is the connection to FilmsFolded; it is quite possible that great art can come of this.)
But the risks are all about lucidity, which a therapist may call control. When we wrote, we spoke of how to dothis.
It seemed to me that for all the clarity in his work at that time, he lacked it in maneuvering his life. So we stopped after a couple years. I may have tossed the letters because they just were not useful; maybe not. But some years later I got a form letter from him.
It seems he sent it to all his correspondents. This also was not particularly interesting to me, other than showing that he had completely lost control. A couple months later he was dead. Anyway, I recently came across this and decided to post its contents. I believe it went out to dozens of people and has already appeared in some books. I found a scanned copy on a site, exactly like mine except for the handwritten note at the top of my copy.
There is still Dick’s careful balance in being in the story and telling it, a framing that he carefully maintains by touching from time to time. There is still the higher level fold of himself and his larger mystical, fat self mirrored with a Christ imposed on our planet. The story itself is crazy; he really was hysterical for years. But even at this late stage, he knew how to tell a story.
The letter is to the editor of a then popular fanzine. I do not know if it appeared there.
The Tagore Letter, 1981
September 23, 1981
Mr. Edmund R. Meskys, Editor, Neikas, RFD 1, Box 63, Centre Harbor, N. H. 03226.
All the people who read my recent novel VALIS know that I have an alter ego named Horselover Fat who experiences divine revelations (or so he thinks; they could be merely hallucinations, as Fat’s friends believe). VALIS ends with Fat searching the world for a new savior who, as he has been told by a mysterious voice, is about to be born. He got me to write this letter as a way of telling the world — the readership of Niekas, more precisely — about it. Poor Fat! His madness is complete, now, for he supposes that in his vision he actually saw the new savior.
I asked Fat if he was sure he wanted to talk about this, since he would only be proving the pathology of his condition. He replied, “No, Phil; they’ll think it’s you.” Damn you, Fat, for putting me in this double-bind. Okay; your vision, if true, is overwhelmingly important; if spurious, well, what the hell. I will say about it that it has a curiously practical ring; it does not deal with another world but this world, and extreme is its message — extreme in the sense that if true, we are faced with a grave and urgent situation. So let ‘er rip, Fat.
The new savior was born in — or now lives in — Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He is darkskinned and either Buddhist or Hindu. He works in the rural countryside with an organization or institute practicing high-technology veterinarian medicine, mainly with large animals such as cattle (most of his staff are white). His name is Tagore something; Fat could not catch the last name: it is very long. Although Tagore is the second incarnation of Christ he is taken to be Lord Krishna by the local population. Tagore is burned and crippled; he cannot walk but must be carried. As near as Fat can make out, Tagore is dying, but he is dying voluntarily: Tagore has taken upon himself man’s sins against the ecosphere. Most of all it is the dumping of toxic wastes into the oceans of the world that shows up on Tagore’s body as serious burns. Tagore’s kerygma which is the Third Dispensation (following the Mosaic and Christian), is: the ecosphere is holy and must be preserved, protected, venerated and cherished — as a unity: not the life of individual men or individual animals but the ecosphere as a single indivisible unitary whole, a life-chain that is being destroyed, and not just temporarily but for all time.
The demonic trinity which Tagore speaks against — and which is wounding and killing him — consists of nuclear wastes, nuclear weapons and nuclear power (reactors); they constitute the enemy which not only may destroy the ecosphere but already, as toxic wastes, are destroying it now. So again Christ acts out his role of vicarious atonement; he takes upon himself man’s sins but these sins are real, not doctrine sins. Tagore teaches that if we destroy the ecosphere much more, Holy wisdom, the Wisdom of God (represented by Tagore himself) will abandon man to his fate, and that fate is doom.
Tagore teaches that when the ecosphere is burned, God himself is burned, for the Christ has invaded the ecosphere and invisibly assimilated it to himself through transubstantiation — which is the great vision Horselover Fat has in my novel VALIS. Thus Christ and the ecosphere are either one or rapidly becoming one — much as Teilhard de Chardin describes in the THE PHENOMENON OF MAN. The ecosphere does not evolve into the Cosmic Christ, however; Christ penetrates it, which is exactly what Fat saw and which so amazed him. Thus, Christ now speaks out — not just for the salvation of mankind or certain men, “the elect” — but for the ecosphere as a whole, from the snail darter on up. This is a systems concept and was beyond their vocabulary in apostolic times; it has to do with the indivisibility of all life on this planet, as if this planet itself were alive. And Christ is both the soma (body) and psyche (the head) of that collective life. Hence the ultimate statement by Tagore — expressed by his voluntary passion and death — is, He who wounds the ecosphere literally wounds God. Thus a macro-crucifixion is taking place now, in and as our world, but we do not see it; Tagore, the new incarnation in human form of the Logos, tells us this in order to appeal to us to stop. If we continue we will lose God’s Presence and, finally, we will lose our own physical lives. The oceans especially are menaced; Tagore speaks of this most urgently. When each cannister of radioactive wastes is dumped into the ocean, a new stigma appears on Tagore’s terribly burned, seared legs. Fat was horrified by the sight of these burns, the legs of the savior drawn up in pain. Fat did not see Tagore’s face, only his tragically burned body, and yet (Fat tells me) there was an ineffable sweetness about Tagore “like music and perfume and colors,” as Fat phrased it to me. Burned as he is, wounded and dying as he is, Tagore nonetheless emits only loving beauty, absolute beauty, not relative beauty. It was a sight that Fat will never forget. I wish I could have shared it, but I had better things to do: watch TV and play electronic computer games. All that good stuff by which we fritter away our lives, while the ecosphere, wounded and in pain and in mortal danger, cries out for our help.
Cordially, Philip K. Dick, 408 E. Civic Center Dr., C-1 Box 264, Santa Ana, Calif 92701.
The standard story on Nash is that he was genetically a schizophrenic and also a brilliant mathematician. The one imposed on the other tragically, in the same way that Stephen Hawking is cursed. This was underscored by the recent movie and the inaccurate but appealing book on which it is based.
My own opinion is quite different. I did take a Nash class when at MIT, but I cannot say it informed this opinion. It was taught by one of his grad students, possibly a lover, when Nash was in the crazy lockup. The opinion instead comes from discussions with his peers, and some study of the phenomenon.
I believe he had extraordinary control over his vision, so much control that he was able to take it beyond the limits of safety we have devised over the eons. You take enormous chances with this, insight for risk. If you press and press and press, the mine will collapse at some point. I believe that this is what happened to Nash, complicated by his failure to abandon his quest and the crude electrical and chemical brain traumas the doctors applied.
It was a tragedy of imagination, and one I thought I saw underway with Dick.
We wrote about Finnegans Wake, and the notion that it is delivered to us as an unformed collection of highly sprung agents that we activate to create a book-story-narrative that is unique to each reader. We shared this idea, or came to.
We shared an interest in why this could be so and a wish to make other, layered contracts among reader, writer and the suspended stuff of the world. Already. I was using a primitive terminology of folding.