Philip K. Dick and David Lynch: A Tale of Two Palmers

Philip K. Dick and David Lynch: A Tale of Two Palmers

Palmer Eldritch and Laura Palmer… Or more properly her father… Cosmic evil in two reducible forms, one a cyborg Belial, the other a literal daemon possessed serial killer.

David Lynch like Philip K. Dick is called unique, odd, eccentric and all the other pejorative compliments those with small reality boxes call those whose rality boxes have sides far off in the distance.

What the two men share is not so much distinctive visions as the alienation, existential ennui and an almost Lovecraftian sense of absent deities and monsters that use confusion as one of their main weapons of mass mis-instruction.

A PKD protagonist could easily wake up in Twin Peaks, only to eventually end his story driving on a Lost Highway under the influence of Can-D or Substance D…

Philip K. Dick’s gospel of the new flesh

In order to snake its way into the Black Iron Prison, “the true God” must mimic “sticks and trees and beer cans in gutters.” Dick’s God “presumes to be trash discarded, debris no longer needed,” so that “lurking, the true God literally ambushes reality and us as well.”

Here Dick suggests a kind of liberation info-theology, a set of guerrilla tactics for our saturated data age: stick to the fringes of the spectacle, pay attention to marginal or discarded information, and never let your beliefs get in the way of surprise. Dick knew well that the political and metaphysical search for secret orders of power invites the black iron prison of paranoia, but he also recognized that “Surprise is an antidote to paranoia.”

Dick the author implies that the divine virus can infect you through the process of reading and decoding the cultural hieroglyphs scattered about the world. And since the film Valis clearly emerges from the same pulp ghetto that Dick himself wrote for throughout his mostly marginal career, he sly hints that careful readers of his own trashy paperbacks, with their lurid covers and cheesy titles, may pick up far more than they bargained for.

 

Philip K. Dick explains no planes and hoax pathology

I once wrote a story about a man who was injured and taken to a hospital. When they began surgery on him, they discovered that he was an android, not a human, but that he did not know it. They had to break the news to him. Almost at once, Mr. Garson Poole discovered that his reality consisted of punched tape passing from reel to reel in his chest. Fascinated, he began to fill in some of the punched holes and add new ones. Immediately, his world changed. A flock of ducks flew through the room when he punched one new hole in the tape. Finally he cut the tape entirely, whereupon the world disappeared. However, it also disappeared for the other characters in the story… which makes no sense, if you think about it. Unless the other characters were figments of his punched-tape fantasy. Which I guess is what they were.

It was always my hope, in writing novels and stories which asked the question “What is reality?”, to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories, and still I could not figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” That’s all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven’t been able to define reality any more lucidly.

But the problem is a real one, not a mere intellectual game. Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups—and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener. Sometimes when I watch my eleven-year-old daughter watch TV, I wonder what she is being taught. The problem of miscuing; consider that. A TV program produced for adults is viewed by a small child. Half of what is said and done in the TV drama is probably misunderstood by the child. Maybe it’s all misunderstood. And the thing is, Just how authentic is the information anyhow, even if the child correctly understood it? What is the relationship between the average TV situation comedy to reality? What about the cop shows? Cars are continually swerving out of control, crashing, and catching fire. The police are always good and they always win. Do not ignore that point: The police always win. What a lesson that is. You should not fight authority, and even if you do, you will lose. The message here is, Be passive. And—cooperate. If Officer Baretta asks you for information, give it to him, because Officer Beratta is a good man and to be trusted. He loves you, and you should love him.

The Blind Unblinking Eyes Of The Black Iron Prison

What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me—into us—clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.

  • A Scanner Darkly, Chapter 11 (p. 185), Philip K. Dick