Jan 8, 2008

A Series of Fortunate Events

Philip Teaches the Ethiopian

I'm reading How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, an essay by Philip K. Dick.

It's a marvelous read, and he touches on subjects that my little gray cells are always turning around, like a Rubik's cube. He talks about the nature of reality and illusion, truth and fiction, but what really struck me were his anecdotes about times in his life when reality and myth seemed interchangeable and intertwined. He had written a scene in a novel which he later learns is similar to a scene in the bible(Acts 4:26-40), and later still he unconsciously acts out a similar scene in the real(sic) world. The scene involved a meeting on the road, a black man, a car out of gas, an all-night gas station, and an act of aid to a stranger, and as I was reading this it dawned on me that I had acted out an almost identical scene in my own life!

I was in my early twenties, and I was driving a "flame" red 1969 MG chariot (octagonal logo) at night in a torrential rain storm, when I ran out of gas on a freeway on ramp. I got out of the car and stood under my umbrella, trying to determine in which direction might be the nearest gas station, since I was in an unfamiliar town. Before I could set off, a black man rolled up in his car, and asked me if I could use some help. I took him up on it, and he proceeded to drive me to a gas station (which was a considerable distance away), buy me both gas and a canister in which to hold it (since I discovered I wasn't carrying any money) and then took me back to my car (which meant all the way back around the cloverleaf because I was stalled on the other side of the freeway). I thanked him and he told me he was happy to have helped, and drove off into the driving rain.

It wasn't until after I drove away that I realized how wonderfully fortunate I'd been, and how a potential disaster (of my own idiotic making) had been narrowly averted by the kindness of a stranger. In my case, the roles were inverted and it was the black man playing the savior - however the reflection is clear. One thing P. K. Dick didn't mention was that the man Philip baptized was a eunuch, and of course, I am a eunuch.

I think it's time I finally read VALIS. I wonder if I'm about to be baptized a second time?

Excerpt from How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later:

In 1974 the novel was published by Doubleday. One afternoon I was talking to my priest—I am an Episcopalian—and I happened to mention to him an important scene near the end of the novel in which the character Felix Buckman meets a black stranger at an all-night gas station, and they begin to talk. As I described the scene in more and more detail, my priest became progressively more agitated. At last he said, "That is a scene from the Book of Acts, from the Bible! In Acts, the person who meets the black man on the road is named Philip—your name." Father Rasch was so upset by the resemblance that he could not even locate the scene in his Bible. "Read Acts," he instructed me. "And you'll agree. It's the same down to specific details."

I went home and read the scene in Acts. Yes, Father Rasch was right; the scene in my novel was an obvious retelling of the scene in Acts... and I had never read Acts, I must admit. But again the puzzle became deeper. In Acts, the high Roman official who arrests and interrogates Saint Paul is named Felix—the same name as my character. And my character Felix Buckman is a high-ranking police general; in fact, in my novel he holds the same office as Felix in the Book of Acts: the final authority. There is a conversation in my novel which very closely resembles a conversation between Felix and Paul.

Well, I decided to try for any further resemblances. The main character in my novel is named Jason. I got an index to the Bible and looked to see if anyone named Jason appears anywhere in the Bible. I couldn't remember any. Well, a man named Jason appears once and only once in the Bible. It is in the Book of Acts. And, as if to plague me further with coincidences, in my novel Jason is fleeing from the authorities and takes refuge in a person's house, and in Acts the man named Jason shelters a fugitive from the law in his house—an exact inversion of the situation in my novel, as if the mysterious Spirit responsible for all this was having a sort of laugh about the whole thing.

Felix, Jason, and the meeting on the road with the black man who is a complete stranger. In Acts, the disciple Philip baptizes the black man, who then goes away rejoicing. In my novel, Felix Buckman reaches out to the black stranger for emotional support, because Felix Buckman's sister has just died and he is falling apart psychologically. The black man stirs up Buckman's spirits and althought Buckman does not go away rejoicing, at least his tears have stopped falling. He had been flying home, weeping over the death of his sister, and had to reach out to someone, anyone, even a total stranger. It is an encounter between two strangers on the road which changes the life of one of them—both in my novel and in Acts. And one final quirk by the mysterious Spirit at work: the name Felix is the Latin word for "happy." Which I did not know when I wrote the novel.

A careful study of my novel shows that for reasons which I cannot even begin to explain I had managed to retell several of the basic incidents from a particular book of the Bible, and even had the right names. What could explain this? That was four years ago that I discovered all this. For four years I have tried to come up with a theory and I have not. I doubt if I ever will.

But the mystery had not ended there, as I had imagined. Two months ago I was walking up to the mailbox late at night to mail off a letter, and also to enjoy the sight of Saint Joseph's Church, which sits opposite my apartment building. I noticed a man loitering suspiciously by a parked car. It looked as if he was attempting to steal the car, or maybe something from it; as I returned from the mailbox, the man hid behind a tree. On impulse I walked up to him and asked, "Is anything the mattter?"

"I'm out of gas," the man said. "And I have no money."

Incredibly, because I have never done this before, I got out my wallet, took all the money from it, and handed the money to him. He then shook hands with me and asked where I lived, so that he could later pay the money back. I returned to my apartment, and then I realized that the money would do him no good, since there was no gas station within walking distance. So I returned, in my car. The man had a metal gas can in the trunk of his car, and, together, we drove in my car to an all-night gas station. Soon we were standing there, two strangers, as the pump jockey filled the metal gas can. Suddenly I realized that this was the scene in my novel—the novel written eight years before. The all-night gas station was exactly as I had envisioned it in my inner eye when I wrote the scene—the glaring white light, the pump jockey—and now I saw something which I had not seen before. The stranger who I was helping was black.

We drove back to his stalled car with the gas, shook hands, and then I returned to my apartment building. I never saw him again. He could not pay me back because I had not told him which of the many apartments was mine or what my name was. I was terribly shaken up by this experience. I had literally lived out a scene completely as it had appeared in my novel. Which is to say, I had lived out a sort of replica of the scene in Acts where Philip encounters the black man on the road.

9 comments:

FilmNoir23 said...

Great slice of life. By all means DO read Valis. I am rereading it right now myself.

aferrismoon said...

Radio Free Albemuth will prove useful as well , other aspects of Valis.
MG = Morris Garages but I like that MG = Mag, a Persian priest, acc. to some Hebrew dictionaries.
My folks had an MGB back in '67.

JB said...

This reminds me of what the 1602 version of Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four) discovered at the end of the Marvel mini-series "1602", in which the events of the Marvel Universe mysteriously took place four centuries earlier: "The fabric of our Universe is not made of elements and molecules, but of STORIES, stories that need to repeat themselves perpetually through time."

The Secret Sun said...

My favorite of the trilogy is The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Based on the life of Bishop Pike.

I find Dick's religious writings more interesting than his fiction. But when I was a kid my window to the world was Valles Newstand in Weymouth Landing- pronounced "Valis."

aferrismoon said...

Secret - I think in THE WILD BUNCH the William Holden characteris called Pike Bishop. Interesting stuff , searching for the Anki or Anuki mushroom.
ANKY in Hebrew is a word for God or I , I think, but also comes across as meaning selfish in colloquial Hebrew.
I work as an 'English teacher' , I prefer conveyor and I renamed English for the modern age as
World-Around Language Integration System.
Dick felt quite 'guilty' apparently for not accompanying the Bishop of California to the Negev.
All Dick's writings have a powerful inner effect, he breaks off from the story to go deep , I guess
MARTIAN TIMESLIP should get a nother look.

Michael said...

Thanks for the comments. There's lots of gold to be mined in Dick's essay alone, I'll be returning to it as time allows. I'll head off to Half-Price Books and see what they have on the shelf.

Viø said...

Well I'm not suprised you're writing about dick, err, I mean Dick. I just got the VALIS trilogy for x-mas, but I also have like 1,000,000 other books to read too so I probably wont get to it for a while :(

No wonder Phil thought he was contacting some extrasolar intelligence with strange 'coincidences' like that. Maybe VALIS is shooting you with pink laser beams too, Michael?

For anyone who didn't read my article: "According to Philip K. Dick, VALIS is an artificial intelligence from a network of satillites originating in Sirius that "used 'pink laser beams' to transfer information and project holograms on Earth and to facilitate communication between an extraterrestrial species and humanity."

Devin said...

Thanks for giving me the link to this wonderful article Michael-it says exactly what I am trying-and hopefully will continue to try to say about PKD and his life and books-it is so funny-until you gave me this link I had forgotten all about this incident from his life-sometimes it makes me wonder how much information we come into contact with that we actually remember-because I had always thought this was one of his most interesting life experiences and PKD had a bunch of them!! I hope people read comments and will come over here to read this-or maybe I could try to link the article you have in my next article with your permission-thanks again and best to you and Varen as always!!

Michael said...

Devin, thanks for reminding me of this article with your recent PKD story. Sometimes I forget to cherish these encounters with higher intelligence.

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