The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
Readers’ workshop #1
Beyond the logic of reason.
With Louis Castel and Hélène Collon
The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick has a special place in the author’s bibliography: it is a diary he kept secret for years that was not written for publication, containing notes on his visions and dreams, letters, preparatory work, and thoughts on existing and forthcoming works.
The book is the result of a huge amount of editing carried out by a number of Philip K. Dick specialists in the USA (who ultimately kept one tenth of the original notes) and—for the French edition—a painstaking translation by Hélène Collon. It is a striking testimonial to the work of a major 20th century author with an extravagant imagination and a body of work that has many layers of meaning. An insatiable builder of systems, he explains the unbroken thread of his thoughts and obsessions in these pages. These thoughts are presented in the form of a glossary at the end of the book, which lists the notions he drew from or invented, the German or Greek terms he referred to, and the founding myths, philosophers and theologians that informed his writing.
To explore this vast collection, we are organising two sessions, on 4th and 18th May, with the translator Hélène Collon, the author and actor Louis Castel, who presented a stage version of one of Philip K Dick’s lectures, and the author Pacôme Thiellement, a specialist of Philip K. Dick and pop culture.
This opening session aims to situate the publication of the Exegesis in the context of its publication in the USA, then in France; to focus on the process of moving from one language into another and the problems this poses; and the unusual place these texts have in Philip K. Dick’s output as a whole, revealing the close connections between his biography and his books.
To do this we shall be returning to the mystical event that Philip K. Dick experienced in 1974, and which formed the basis for his new cosmogony. We will also be approaching his work from the standpoint of duality, which is a major theme for him: from his twin sister who died in infancy and who always haunted him to the voice of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) whispering in his ear before he went to sleep and the presence of certain figures such as “Thomas”, Dick constantly felt the presence of others within himself, and the figure of the double often appeared in his work. An extremely sensitive soul and a brilliant manipulator, Philip K. Dick allowed his interpretative delirium (the voices he heard, for instance) to inform his abundant literary inventiveness: these systemic ravings were able to break through the illusion on which reality is founded and sweep away generally accepted rules and codes.
Dick constantly constructed systems that operated in a remarkably precise way (even when their foundations were unstable); new ones were constantly added, with a view to creating a theological cosmogony. Flying in the face of the taboos of Western culture, awash with hated materialism since the Enlightenment, Dick, who belonged to a more Protestant vein, promoted direct communication with an omniscient God and removed the boundaries between religion and rationality and between observation and spirituality. He leaned towards the notion of possession, the idea of “being controlled”, challenging our feelings that are built on sand, while remaining aware of the endless possible combinations and patterns of our thoughts, which allowed him, for instance, to fulfil his quest for meaning and the truth of permanent reality.
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Cover of the french edition of the L’Exégèse de Philip K. Dick
© Editions J’ai lu / Nouveaux Millénaires.
Whether he is staging Adamov, Philip K. Dick, Molière, Novarina, Sade, Strindberg, Chekhov or his own plays, Louis Castel tries to journey to the hidden structure of the work. He has been described as attending to the very depths of text. He likes to convey thought in theatre, preferably in a jubilatory mode. For Castel, image is produced by the word and not vice versa. He likes the different languages that theatre draws in and incorporates to give them more meaning. In this way, in keeping with his company’s name — Théatrographe, that evokes the Cinématographe — a projected or digitalised image is a recurrent motif of the company’s shows. For the 1993 Avignon (in) festival he staged “Comment construire un univers qui ne s’effondre pas deux jours plus tard” (How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later), a legendary lecture in which Philip K. Dick humorously reflects on reality, what constitutes “the authentic human being”, God and Disneyland.
Hélène Collon is a French literary translator. Her translations include works by science fiction and modern fantasy writers such as Brian Aldiss, Scott Baker, Iain M. Banks, Ray Bradbury, Christopher Priest, Robert Silverberg, Mike McQuay, Pat Murphy, Jack Finney, Jonathon Carroll, Harlan Ellison, Gregory Benford, Richard Matheson, Michael Marshall Smit and Norman Spinrad. In 1994 she was awarded the Grand Prix de l’imaginaire in the “Translation” section for L’Homme des jeux (original title: The Player of Games) by Iain M. Banks, and again in 1997 for the autobiography of Isaac Asimov. In 1992 she edited a collective publication on Philip K. Dick titled Regards sur Philip K. Dick. Between 1994 and 2000 she coordinated, in collaboration with Jacques Chambon, the translation of Dick’s entire corpus of short stories for the éditions Denoël. She also translated Lawrence Sutin’s biography of Philip K. Dick, Invasions divines (Divine Invasions), and another work by Lawrence Sutin on Philip K. Dick, Dernière conversation avant les étoiles. In 2013 she translated Philip K. Dick’s last novel, Ô Nation sans pudeur. She is currently working on the French edition of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick — the first tome was published in October 2016 with Nouveaux Millénaires, and the second tome is due for publication late 2017.