Friday, October 21, 2011

Criticism of McKee from Rossi's review

Rossi's criticisms of McKee (from his SFS review of "Pink Beams")

”I agree with him when he claims that “it is both a mistake and a disservice to the right variety of Dick’s religious ideas to describe his entire experience and process of interpretation ... with a single categorical designation” (29), that is, Gnosticism. But why then should we describe Dick’s body of work with the single categorical designation of “Christian”? And why should we necessarily define a center in a writer who so stubbornly and passionately challenges our notions of center and periphery, and who is definitely not (as McKee acknowledges) a systematic thinker? A system necessarily implies the demarcation of center and periphery. We are dealing with the products of a restless man who declared himself to be both “Fascistic” and Marxist (Dick, In Pursuit of Valis, Publishers’ Group West, 1991:140, 175 ). McKee is persuasive when he spots, here and elsewhere in the book, the heterogeneous threads of Dick’s intellectual texture; he is not so persuasive when he argues that the texture shows a single coherent image.
even if considered on a purely theological basis, McKee’s monograph is marred by a defect that, while not nullifying the value of the book, nevertheless bars what could be the most stimulating development of his discussion. He maintains that “Dick himself never rejected religious interpretations of his writing, and seems to have thought such interpretations more valuable than more secular, political analyses” (26). While Dick’s theological side is important to his writing—and McKee proves that it is—doesn’t it have a political component as well?... are not Dick’s theological speculations a reflection on a fallen condition that is also a political condition? The Black Iron Prison, the Demiurge, Satan, if you prefer, are ways to reflect theologically on a personal crisis ... but also to reflect on an historical moment (the repression of the counterculture of the 1960s, Nixon, Watergate, etc.)... Dick never completely abandoned secular, political concerns, and that his theological speculations should always be analyzed within their historical and political contexts. Even the 2-3-74 experience, the starting point of McKee’s discussion, can be envisioned (like many Biblical prophecies) as having a strong political component that cannot be totally obliterated by any ecstatic mysticism, no matter how huge a dose of it is present...
In fact, we should not forget that part of that purportedly mystical and religious experience was Dick’s overwhelming feeling of having actually lived in first-century Rome at the zenith of the Roman Empire (3). Could not the vision of imperial Rome and early Christian communities be a quasi-Blakean vision of contemporary political concerns about the American Empire? Obviously, we cannot reduce Dick’s theology to politics alone, yet we cannot dismiss it either. McKee seems to have done just this, and that is probably the major defect of his otherwise commendable analysis.


  1. On the first point, Umberto and I respectfully disagree. The further I've read in the Exegesis, the more I feel confirmed in my belief that Christ, for PKD, is not a theory-- like, say, Soviet scientists, Palestinian hallucinogenic mushrooms, or satellites from Albemuth-- but an assumption, like 2-3-74 itself. Part of the disagreement, I think, stems from my vagueness about what I mean by "Christian" in this context-- I imply no specific doctrines or denominational ideas, but rather simply the belief in Christ as savior-- whatever else one might think. So if Dick is to be called gnostic-- fine, but he is a *Christian* gnostic-- if a Taoist, less compellingly, then a *Christian* Taoist. (Not that I'd necessarily call him either, mind you). Back when I wrote _Pink Beams_ as well as now, I believe that Christ is a central do Dick's experience and his many understandings of it.

    On the second point, however, Umberto is 110% spot-on correct. I was definitely selling Dick's political ideas short, and I hope to someday revisit _Pink Beams_ in some capacity and correct that error. The intersection of religion and politics has been an area of increasing interest for me, both in general and in the area of PKD theology in particular. And indeed, many of my annotations on Harcourt-Brace's _Exegesis_ (out next week!) pertain to PKD's affinity with Christian anarchist thought.

  2. Oops -- for "Christ is a central do Dick's experience" above, read "Christ is central to Dick's experience".

  3. Thanks for contributing to my humble blog! I absolutely agree with you that Christ is central to Dick's experience, although I think this tends to make problematic your emphasis on Dick's eternal theory spinning and "ontological uncertainty." Either Christ was indeed central, or he was just another theory. Of course, I might argue that Gnosticism (not to mention the Neoplatonism of Plotinus, considered as a branch of philosophical theology) is central to Dick as well, and not necessarily in a way that conflicts with the Christology.