Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Yours sincerely, Ubik.

I always had this idea: being smart necessarily involves some kind of happiness. I don't know where I got this idea despite the contradiction it created with my very first memories - maybe I was Spinoza in another lifetime, who knows... I remember being four or five years old, and trying to tell the adults around me the vastness of the universe and how little we are compared to this immense thing about which we know close to nothing. I remember them being surprised, not because of the immensity of the universe but because I was stating this very normal fact everyone can actually figure out for themselves. So as for my own experience, being smart involved a painful boredom from the stupidity of humans. They never even came close to be stupefied before this weird universe together. That was all I asked: to be baffled together.

So obviously, I had to doubt that idea. Could being smart necessarily involve sadness instead? Of course, it kind of involves some degree of happiness down to a certain level. Spinoza is all about this. You get better and better as your understanding increases. However, as you dig deeper, layer after layer, you come to this weird layer. Philip K. Dick calls it "irrationality as the fundamental stratum of universe." It is deeply saddening. There is a very delicate balance there. That stratum is where it all happens and it is so indifferent that it hurts. You have to constantly keep yourself interested with the life side of the scales rather than the death side to stay alive.

It is kind of true, then, that being smart - and alive - involves both a saddening and a very forceful will not to be sad. It involves a constant search for something that can, in a way, be used for the life side of the scale. As a very smart person, I think Philip K. Dick felt this to his bones. He dived into the waters of sincerity - which is a term I kind of use for that fundamental stratum of irrationality as the basis of life - and although he was deeply saddened, he never gave up on what he managed to take with him from there. That was Ubik. Maybe a little more explanation is needed here.

The book "Ubik" is not really the best literary work but something happens there. Something I still can't really figure out but I feel it's important and something I am sure Dick himself didn't really understand. His intelligence was a felt one, generally just very confusing. The general plot is... well, I can't tell the whole book here. Let's just say there are some people doing some things. Ah, and there is this half-life thing going on where people continue to sort of live on after death. Living people can communicate with them for a prolonged but again limited period. The interesting thing is that you see this thing called Ubik everywhere. It appears in cheap ads at first such as "Instant Ubik has all the fresh flavor of just-brewed drip coffee. Your husband will say, Christ, Sally, I used to think your coffee was only so-so, but now, wow! Safe when taken as directed." There are many of these but they always end with something like "use only as directed." At some point, things start to degenerate, to rot, to get old and people use Ubik to heal things. I mean, time starts to rewind and if I remember right, it only goes as far back as 1930s.

(For the wonderful visual:

Why am I telling all this? Because, well, I was thinking about the significance of Ubik for me and I had written this piece on Deleuze&Guattari, Ubik and resistance a few years ago. There, I had argued that Ubik was the "dark precursor" of the resistance against capitalism. But it occurred to me that I wasn't really catching the point unless I considered time as something inter-subjective. I was thinking too abstractly. Sometimes I can't see what's in front of me because of this tendency. Anyway, everything is in-between of things, worlds, people... So, the three syntheses of time go really good with the three syntheses in the Anti-Oedipus. Here, connective synthesis goes parallel with the synthesis of the lived present (now). Disjunctive synthesis goes parallel with the synthesis of the past: there is a difference between chronological past and the past-that-never-was which is the difference between the production of recording and the record surface which is body without organs. And conjunctive synthesis with the synthesis of future.

Now, this is the production of life and of time. This is the process. The result is a nomadic subject, existing only as intensities, intense feelings. the relation between intensities. This subject can only exist as someone else, something else than itself. How does this relate with PKD and Ubik? Well, how did he come up with Ubik? What is it exactly? Something so very trashy but nevertheless healing life only when used as directed which means, too obvious for me, it is a style. It is a friendly whisper to sooth you while you're rotting in half-life, it is a "reality support" to prevent you becoming a zombie or a vampire. It is like an undercurrent even below the irrational and irreal stratum, through which you relate to others who dug deeper and deeper, who didn't stop at nothingness, who didn't surrender to nihilism, who kept on loving life and other people even when those other people were killing them with their self-destructive tendencies. It's just like he writes in Valis: "She will not allow herself to be healed because she does not understand that she is sick. This illness and madness pervades us and makes us idiots living in private, unreal worlds."  This is the madness. And this is making death weigh heavier than life at that layer where life needs some support. Here is another quote from Valis:
"All creation is a language and nothing but a language, which for some inexplicable reason we can't read outside and can't hear inside. So I say, we have become idiots. Something has happened to our intelligence. My reasoning is this: arrangement of parts of the Brain is a language. We are parts of the Brain; therefore we are language. Why, then, do we not know this? We do not even know what we are, let alone what the outer reality is of which we are parts. The origin of the word "idiot" is the word "private." Each of us has become private, and no longer shares the common thought of the Brain, except at a subliminal level. Thus our real life and purpose are conducted below our threshold of consciousness."

The whole point of PKD is love. That's what he means by empathy, by agape, by eros, that which keeps us together and thus alive in the face of constant death and destruction and dissipation. He didn't want this to be his occupation. Nobody wants such a life of struggle. This cannot be a conscious effort. He just did what he had to do to endure life with what he had. He was just desperately smart. As he says himself, "He wasn't just theory-mongering for the sake of it; he was trying to figure out what the fuck had happened to him," all the while constructing universes to try to find a way out of this madness.

"How do you construct a universe that doesn't fall apart in two days?" Well, by diving into the existing universe. By diving into sincerity to connect to the world. By becoming a machine entangled with the fabric of the world. Sincerity - one cannot be sincere, it is like an atmosphere, it cannot be used as an adjective, and I know I should elaborate on that concept in another post - is always at the very beginning. It enables one to be at the very beginning, it is a kind of timeless primordial experience. Honesty which is very disturbingly confused with sincerity, comes only later, when there is a later. When it's already too late. When one no longer can become a machine with the world but with the connection broken, can only observe the world from the outside as a dead lump of meat at the very best.

Anyway... So, I wanted to say that Deleuze&Guattari are revolutionary academics with their conscious effort to show a way out for health but PKD is not less of a revolutionary in his own confused and desperate way. He named Ubik for the rest of us through his own experiences. I can go on for pages on how he deconstructs the production of recording for the benefit of the recording surface, on how his paranoia enables him to decode and detach himself, on how he envisions an inclusive and nonrestrictive society where he reattaches himself to others, on how he so accurately speculates and fictionalizes philosophy, on how he enables his reader to go along this mind boggling journey, on how wonderful was that little Sci-Fi society of 1940s and 1950s before it was cool...

But for the purposes of this little post what's important is only this: how does Ubik heal life? Well, it is Logos, it's the force of life on that irrational stratum, it is our weapon against destruction, death and nothingness. It truly belongs to us in this vast universe. It's our power to create. Yes, maybe it's the "dark precursor" of life against death. It is how forces of life communicate with each other and create together. It is that book through which a self-educated and desperately smart man continues to communicate with the people who can receive the signals. The people who have a will to heal life which is an impossible task to begin with.

By the way, I am not a Dick-head - it's how fans of PKD call themselves - because being a fan of somebody or something just doesn't belong to my constitution. I just love some people very much and like to praise them. I feel this is the only way I can resist all this stupid shit going on in the world, and not especially now. It has always been stupid. I am just trying to make more of what I love. Just getting some reality support and thus joy from Ubik right now... I will always be on the side of desperate nevertheless joyful intelligence.

Last words from PKD:
"I think Dr. Willis McNelly at the California State University at Fullerton put it best when he said that the true protagonist of an sf story or novel is an idea and not a person. If it is good sf the idea is new, it is stimulating, and, probably most important of all, it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification-ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader's mind so that that mind, like the author's, begins to create. Thus sf is creative and it inspires creativity, which mainstream fiction by-and-large does not do. We who read sf (I am speaking as a reader now, not a writer) read it because we love to experience this chain-reaction of ideas being set off in our minds by something we read, something with a new idea in it; hence the very best science fiction ultimately winds up being a collaboration between author and reader, in which both create -- and enjoy doing it: joy is the essential and final ingredient of science fiction, the joy of discovery of newness." (in a letter) May 14,1981