Double Back

“Consider the insertion of Philip K. Dick into Blade Runner 2049 as a metafiction, something Dick did consciously and unconsciously in his fictions. Dick’s middle name was Kindred, and ‘K’ the replicant played by Ryan Gosling is K/kindred with Dick. K’s serial number is KD6-3.7 This is precisely the kind of numerological gift that Dick would have enjoyed, and perseverated over: it leads in one direction, before the flip/flop undermines the first solution. The combination of 6 and 3, interlinked by the hyphen, gives us 9 or alphabetically ‘I.’ The 3, isolated, gives us ‘C.’ It appears as if K’s serial number will encrypt Dick’s name directly: KDIC – but then it breaks off, or loops back, anagrammatically, leaving the final digit 7 unresolved. The numeral 7 has a rich and paradoxical history in the occult, theology, literature, and pataphysics. It’s also the square root of 49, and so forth. Yet, one must double back, approach the numerology differently: K (11), D (4), and 9 are 24. Then, 3 and 7. Work the numerological equation this way: 2+4+3+7 = 16, or ‘P’. The initials PKD are encrypted in K’s serial number.


“Or, regard it another way: allow 3 + 7 to simply equal 10. 10 is ‘J.’ Therefore, the K serial number that identifies with Dick simultaneously identifies ‘J.’ Philip K. Dick’s twin sister died six weeks after birth. Her name was Jane. Dick was haunted by Jane. Twinning, and doubling are uncanny devices in Blade Runner 2049. But J is also Joi: a classic projection/introjection of Dick’s “dark-haired girl,” K’s daemon, his anima, his pre-occupation by spirit. Later, as pure emanation, Joi will occupy the persona of the doxie Mariette to experience sex with K. Then, J is Joe: the name given K by Joi when they mistakenly deduce K’s humanity. Joe K is also a ‘joke’ in that the name invokes Josef K of Kafka’s The Trial (pub. 1925), and Dick’s father, Joseph. Further, J is Joshi. Lieutenant Joshi, also referred to as Madam, is a surrogate maternal figure, who suggests the incest taboo in the family romance of the film. J is the lost and introjected sister Jane, and also Jesus, who in Dick’s complex of digressive Gnosticism is female. If this sounds like monomania on my part, then I refer you to The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011), the philosophy of the author subsequent to his religious/mystical experience of February and March 1974. Dick’s Exegesis, edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, with exceptional annotations and interventions from an array of acquaintances, academics, and authors, is a (self-)conscious presence in Blade Runner 2049. And this is the fidelity the sequel insists upon, the autodidactic philosophy which the original abjected as too weird. It is the core of the film…”

Text: James Reich, Blade Runner 2049: The Enigma and Exegesis of ‘K’

Pic: Manuscript page from Dick’s Exegesis 


A flock of ducks flew through the room

“In 1951, when I sold my first story, I had no idea that such fundamental issues could be pursued in the science fiction field. I began to pursue them unconsciously. My first story had to do with a dog who imagined that the garbagemen who came every Friday morning were stealing valuable food which the family had carefully stored away in a safe metal container. Every day, members of the family carried out paper sacks of nice ripe food, stuffed them into the metal container, shut the lid tightly—and when the container was full, these dreadful-looking creatures came and stole everything but the can.

“Finally, in the story, the dog begins to imagine that someday the garbagemen will eat the people in the house, as well as stealing their food. Of course, the dog is wrong about this. We all know that garbagemen do not eat people. But the dog’s extrapolation was in a sense logical—given the facts at his disposal. The story was about a real dog, and I used to watch him and try to get inside his head and imagine how he saw the world. Certainly, I decided, that dog sees the world quite differently than I do, or any humans do. And then I began to think, Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world, a world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. And that led me wonder, If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe, it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown of communication… and there is the real illness.

“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.”

How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later, by Philip K. Dick, 1978.

Horse lover fat


Some time over the next year a new movie, Radio Free Albemuth, starring Alanis Morissette, is due to be released. The movie is based on a novel Dick wrote before VALIS and originally entitled VALISystemA (it was published after his death as Radio Free Albemuth). The novel VALIS includes references to a science fiction movie “Valis,” which recapitulates the plotline of Radio Free Albemuth. Did Dick intend for all of these works to be intertwined? Can you help us sort the threads?

Jonathan Letham: I’m not familiar with the movie project, apart from what you’ve heard, so I can’t predict how faithful or satisfying it might be for readers of VALIS or the other related works. The novel that the movie takes as its source, Radio Free Albemuth, is an odd duck in Dick’s shelf of published works in the sense that it was actually an earlier draft of the VALIS material, submitted for publication by Dick and then reworked so completely in the writing of VALIS that it appeared to his posthumous editors as a legitimate work of its own. It has champions— some who even prefer it to VALIS. I can’t agree, myself. It seems a fairly pedestrian and cautious feint at the material—readable, perhaps, but not essential. VALIS, meanwhile, is one of Dick’s great masterpieces, so I’m awfully glad that Radio Free Albemuth was written, if only to be rejected and rewritten.

You have a new novel coming this fall, Chronic City, and many of its themes—paranoia, drug use, alternate realities—echo those of Dick more than any of your recent novels. Did editing the three Library of America volumes influence your writing—or is Dick’s influence like a centrifugal force that becomes simply irresistible at some point?

Good spotting. I’ve certainly had a very full refresher course in Philip K. Dick over these last few years, and that’s unmistakably had its effect on Chronic City, yes. Yet I think your image of a “centrifugal” influence is also right, and it feels to me that I’d been swinging back in this direction for a long while—and I’d conceived of many of the images and sequences that would become Chronic City as much as ten years ago. The odd thing about writing novels if you write them as slowly as I do (as opposed to the breakneck speed of Phil Dick) is that you often can barely remember their point of origin by the time you’ve finished them…

The Library of America interviews Jonathan Lethem about Philip K. Dick’s Later Novels