So I Don't Write About Heroes: An Interview with Philip K. Dick
Conducted by Uwe Anton & Werner Fuchs
Transcribed by Frank C. Bertrand
[from: SF EYE, #14, Spring 1996, pp. 37-46]
This is the first English publication of the following interview. It
has been published three times in German. It was excerpted in the German
magazines Science Fiction Times and Nova, and the complete version was
published in Uwe Anton's book-length collection of PKD's fiction and non-fiction,
Kosmische Puppen und Andore Lebensformen (Heyne Publishers).
Uwe Anton is the author of some one hundred stories and short novels
and over twenty books in Germany. As well he is a prolific critic and translator.
Among his many books is a full-length study of PKD, Philip K. Dick - Entropie
und Hoffnung (Tilsner).
As you can see, Anton and Fuchs caught Dick in an open and expansive
mood. Energized by the enthusiastic response he was receiving at the convention,
Dick opened up and discussed in detail many of his most classic works.
The EYE is proud to be able to present this invaluable look into the working
processes of a crucial writer. - Stephen P. Brown, SF EYE
The prophet doesn't count in his own land,' goes a famous old saying
which has proven correct till those hot and short-lived days of 1980. In
this case, Phil Dick is the prophet and the land is the United States of
In the fall of 1977 Philip K. Dick was guest of honor at a large science
fiction convention in Metz, France. There, we had the days of Star Wars
(at the Metz festival a still untranslated version of the movie was shown
for the first time in Europe), and the local cinemas showed science fiction
movies non-stop from ten in the morning until ten in the evening - five
different movies in five different cinemas at the same time. Several big
names in science fiction could be found at the giant sofitel (the French
version of America's Holiday Inns): John Brunner, Robert Sheckley, Harlan
Ellison, Harry Harrison among others. But those days in Metz were above
all the days of Philip K. Dick. In France, as well as in Germany, Italy,
Spain, even all of Western Europe, Philip K. Dick was one of the most appreciated
of science fiction writers. Long before literary journals such as Science-Fiction
Studies, Extrapolation and Foundation gave” Dick the serious consideration
he deserved, Western Europe had discovered him as one of the most important
science fiction authors. Rather than a few selected short stories and novels,
it was his complete writings that attracted the serious critics of Europe.
And most of these writings circulate around one theme: Man's search for
reality and truth in an adverse universe full of malice and danger.
Those seven days at Metz were very hectic days. P.K. Dick was not only
accosted but besieged by numerous fans. He had to change his hotel room
secretly, for the phone rang constantly, even after midnight. But there
also were a lot of serious people taking up his time; Dick did interviews
on French radio and delivered a speech in the city hall of Metz which was
broadcast on French TV.
The following interview was conducted by Uwe Anton and Werner Fuchs.
We were able to speak with Dick several times over the course of three
days. The interview took the form of a wide ranging, diverse, general conversation,
Phil being very willing to give it, feeling that his writing was appreciated
in Germany a lot more than in the United States.
-- Uwe Anton, 1980
What do you think of Norman Spinrad's introduction to Dr. Bloodmoney?
It just simply astounded me. I was astounded that
anyone would think so highly of my writing and also he understood it so
well. It wasn't simply complimentary, like saying that I wrote very well,
it was his analysis of me as a metaphysical writer, something that I'm
just becoming aware of myself, that my writing is progressively assuming
more and more metaphysical implications. I got up in the middle of the
night and reread it, I found it so interesting, because the book that I'm
working on now, my Bantam novel in progress, is extraordinarily metaphysical.
Have you a title yet?
Well, they stuck a title on. There's an entity called
VALIS, vast active living intelligence system. The initials would be V-A-L-I-S,
so it will be called VALIS, and so that's the working title and that is
probably the title that they will use when the book is actually published.
But it's evident to me from my research that I'm
getting into more and more metaphysical areas and so I was very gratified
when I read in Norman's introduction that basically I've always been into
metaphysical areas. I'm not even sure what the word metaphysical means.
It has altered in the course of this century. Metaphysical” dates
back to the Middle Ages, I think, in its origin or meaning, which passes
over the normal concept of physical laws and include philosophies and -
Yes, theologies and things which are not easily perceivable with
the five senses.
I would define it this way. I would define something
as metaphysical as anything which, being observed by more than one person,
those observers, plural, do not agree on what they have seen or experienced.
If they agree precisely on what they've seen and experienced -
It is not metaphysical.
It's phenomena that have an elusive -
Yes, somewhat. Fluctuating perhaps. Even fluctuating
character cannot be pinned down easily, hypostatized, that is, formalized.
For instance, since I've always felt that Thomas Aquinas tried to de-metaphysicalize
theology and reduce it to a science along the lines of Aristotle and that
it was a complete failure because those areas can never be reduced to precise
definitions and precise agreements in perception. So that would be what
I might mean by metaphysical.
A good example, if you like, of this area is the upcoming science
in America of those persons who work in hospital areas and have a lot to
do with people dying. They have a science on the theme of dying with life
after life and so on. These things belong to the metaphysical area. No
one has the same opinions as the other. And personal experience -
Yes, that's another element, the element of the subjective.
I could have a profound experience which included an alternate way of perceiving
reality from the normal way and I would have trouble communicating it to
you because you did not see the reality configuration the way I did, and
so the metaphysical element would creep in automatically just by the discrepancy
between our ways of perceiving the same reality.
That's a problem also of linguistics.
Yes, definitely. But, Norman pointed out that I write
from multiple viewpoints, that for me the phenomenological world consists
of nothing more than the totality of the various viewpoints perceived.
And this would make my books fundamentally metaphysical, as he himself
points out, because I do not postulate a single block universe which is
perceived by everyone.
There's a multitude of possibilities from a point of view, a sum
of indefinite possibilities. People act and realize things, experience
Hume, in his study of psychological types, said that
the intuitive type of person lives in terms of possibilities rather than
in terms of actualities. On a Rorschach test I tested out higher in use
of the intuitive faculty than anyone he'd ever tested before. So I see
reality in terms of possibility which is exactly what you are talking about.
Like this bed in front of us. I don't see it as it is so much as I see
it as it might be, it might become, its history in time - what it was,
what it is, what it will be. Then it gets transmuted, or it could be used
for, but not used for in a utilitarian sense, but used for in simply that
it could become -
To what extent do you think we two see this bed in the same way?
That's one of my metaphysical postulates, that I
don't know. That postulate we can never be sure of. You and I cannot be
in any way sure that we see things similarly. The average person in the
street if asked what philosophy is would probably reply that philosophy
is that when we talk about something being green and round and they actually
mean something different. You may mean something different -
That's the main thing within language -
That's the purpose of language. But we can never
know if the common words that we use to refer to common experiences, to
identical experiences -
In that respect one can consider the problem you had with the French
guy who wrote that introduction to Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, and
the possibility of misinterpreting your novels.
Yes, well, we touched on another topic in the interview
that I had with those people and that was my attitude toward drugs. They
said isn't there an affinity between you and Timothy Leary's attitude toward
drugs? And I said, well, actually a scrupulous reading of my novels that
deal with drugs such as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Now Wait
For Last Year, Faith of Our Fathers,” and A Maze of Death show the possibility
- again we get into the area of possibility, not certitude - that there
are really just a whole number of things happening in The Three Stigmata
and in Now Wait For Last Year. The drug is destructive, it's addictive,
it's used as a government weapon as a matter of fact.
I read an accurate, very accurate analysis
of my writing by someone, I forget who, who said that I wrote about drugs.
He said Phil Dick writes continually about drugs but he always shows the
possible dangers in their use as having an unlimiting quality, but that
they can lead into very desperate situations. He didn't say this, but it
would be like in Hansel and Gretel when they see the cottage which looks
like it's very good to eat and you sample it and immediately you are whipped
into a cage and the next minute you're whipped into an oven and that would
probably be the most accurate description of how I dealt with drugs - something
you learn but something that's very dangerous.
Now, when we got on to the business of Flow My Tears,
there's apparently in the French edition a complete misunderstanding of
what I meant. Let's assume that the editor was sincere, let's assume that
he honestly believed that I was coming out for a law and order state. I'm
not even sure that he was sincere, I have no evidence that he was sincere
Was it the same publisher who published your other books?
I haven't noticed who published it. I have a copy
but I just acquired the copy. The interviewers told me that he was extremely
right-winged, equivalent say, in Germany, to the Nazi Party. Now, if I
were to just theorize on how he might get that idea that I come out for
a law and order state it would be because Felix Buckman, who is the embodiment
of the police establishment, is treated sympathetically. But he's treated
sympathetically because he undergoes a conversion at the end to a feeling
of love for the very kind of person who he has systematically persecuted,
that is, a stranger. And the essence of police persecution, of course,
is that all citizens are strangers and somehow to be suspected of evil
intent. And he undergoes an almost religious conversion and instead of
treating the black man at the gas station as a hostile stranger about whom
he, the policeman should be suspicious, Buckman actually embraces him and
with a feeling of love.
What I was trying to show very simply was the possibility
of the police apparatus undergoing a turning point in its attitude. What
I had said in that interview was that the essence of the evil government
is that it anticipates bad conduct on the part of its citizens. Any government
which assumes that the population is going to do something evil has already
lost its franchise to govern. The tacit contract between a government and
the people governed is that the government will trust the people and the
people will trust the government. But once the government begins to mistrust
the people it is governing, it loses its mandate to rule because it is
no longer acting as a spokesman for the people, but is acting as an agent
In Flow My Tears, Buckman is typically persecutory.
He takes an innocent man, Jason Taverner, who he knows nothing about and
merely because he knows nothing about him he systematically proceeds to
have him framed and brought to trial. Now, how anyone could interpret that
as a favorable attitude toward the police state? This would be someone
as editor, writing from the standpoint where he must approve the idea of
persecuting people about whom you know nothing seems perfectly natural
to him; that the government should, upon discovering that they know nothing
about a person, immediately begin to harass, persecute, arrest, try to
convict and hope to murder the person. Apparently, this editor felt that
was within the novel confines of the effective state. To me it somehow
smacks of an indecent form of government.
But what I'd hope to show was the vulnerability
of this type of apparatus. That within this apparatus there are individuals
who are capable of mitigating the tyrannical rule of which they are a spokesman.
Now, Buckman has already been presented as making attempts to diminish
the effect of the concentration camps. He has sought ways of assisting
the persecuted and what we have seen here is the fact that these are all
innocent human beings.
I guess if you read about a totalitarian government and you read
about one of the police officials as being human at all, you are liable
to the accusation that you are somehow defaming the apparatus or not defaming
the apparatus. I'm simply saying that within the apparatus there must exist
individuals who come to doubt the moral mandate through which they govern.
In fact it's specifically stated that Buckman had been reduced in rank
from, I believe, a commission as Marshall to a commission as General, because
of his humane attitude.
In England, a review came out that this was the
first book I'd ever written in which the establishment spokesman is created
sympathetically. This then gave rise to the mistaken idea that I had mellowed
out in my attitude toward the tyrannical, totalitarian police state. But
of course I haven't mellowed out toward that. What's happened is that in
the book one of the spokesmen of the police state has begun to mellow out
in terms of his relationship, vis-à-vis those who he normally persecutes.
And what I was trying to do was anticipate - and, I think, successfully
- the collapse of the tyrannical American State, because that tyrannical
apparatus did disintegrate in America.
What do you think is one of your best novels?
Well, the novel that I like the most is The Simulacra,
because there are more characters in it and it is more of the slice of
life thing where you have all kinds of people doing all kinds of things
and it culminates in what I regard as one of the funniest scenes of human
disaster that is imaginable.
We have two characters who are equivalent to used-car
salesmen, and their great hope is to perform before the first lady of the
White House. When they finally get their chance, their little animal, the
Papoola, bites somebody and they're ruined. Their whole career has worked
up to this point and this lovable little animal, the Papoola, who does
it bite? What does it bite? The first lady?
I think so, I can't remember.
It does something dreadful. To me it's a funny matter,
because it's a comic tragedy and a tragic comedy. That they have pinned
all their hopes on this moment and then this little animal which normally
is completely benign, suddenly takes it into its head to bite the first
What I like best in my own writing is blending humor
and tragedy together, to show that they are inseparable, like yin and yang.
They are the two forces of the universe, the dark and the white. At any
moment some grand, tragic situation is susceptible to being suddenly comic.
I remember an incident in my own life where I was
in love with this editor's wife and he got very angry at me and he forbade
her to speak to me and he wouldn't speak to me and we went for years not
speaking to each other. One day I saw them at the 1968 Worldcon. As I hadn't
seen them for years, I decided to prove my superior macho over him. He
and his wife were sitting there eating across the room from me and I got
up and I walked over with great dignity. She had a cigarette out and was
looking for matches and I brought out my Ronson lighter. I stood there
between her and her husband; he was also looking for matches. I pressed
the little wheel and it didn't light, and she burst out laughing and from
then on we renewed our friendship. But my biggest grand gesture and no
light at all.
It really seems to me that in the midst of great
tragedy, there is always the horrible possibility that something terribly
funny will happen. Then there is also the opposite, that in the middle
of great humor, that something terrible will happen. God has arranged it
in such a way that these things are unpredictable. A book which truly mirrors
life is not going to be either a tragedy or a comedy, like the new concept
of blending the two together, as opposed to say the Greek idea where you
have just tragedy. Then also you have that in the Elizabethan theater,
that tragedy was anything that ended badly and comedy was anything that
ended well. I don't know what that makes the histories, Shakespeare's histories,
because those are sort of a thing apart, but that was the old meaning of
comedy, something that ended well and tragedy was something that ended
with everybody dead, presumably stabbed.
Let me give you an example of how easily Shakespearean
tragedy can become comedy. A friend of mine and I worked this out. I think
it's in Titus Andronicus, where somebody, in revenge, takes this woman's
two children and grinds them up into meat pies. This really is a very obscure
play of Shakespeare's. But anyway, this woman has done some terrible deed.
For revenge her enemy takes her two children, slaughters them, and has
his cook grind them up and make meat pies. And then they have this banquet
where he serves these meat pies to the woman and she eats the meat pies.
Then he says, weren't they delicious and she says, yes they were. He says,
those were your two children that you ate. Well, now, this is basically
ghastly. But the way we felt this could work, could really be done, would
be this. She would be sitting there eating one of the meat pies and he
would say, what do you think of the meat pie? And she would say, it's delicious.
And he'd say, that is your son George you just started to eat. And there
the other one is your son Bob. So she'd sit there for a minute and then
she'd pick up the meat pie that was George and she'd go splat, right in
his face. And he would sit there and he'd kind of wipe off the meat pie.
And then he'd pick up the other meat pie and go splat right in her face.
So you see how ghastly, ghastly horror could become very funny.
The wife of the editor I was in love with did fun
things in the midst of normal events. I always admired her ability to do
it. She told me that it'd started when she was in grade school and the
teacher said, now, to sterilize a thermometer hold it over a warm flame.”
And she began to laugh because all flame is warm. I had a girlfriend once
who drove me to the airport and there was a sign and it said terminal parking.
Of course terminal also means death, you know, and she says, oh god, I
don't want to die. I'm only 23 years old. I refuse to park here. And it's
always seemed to me that in the midst of tragedy is something very funny,
if you could but see it and vice versa.
Now the other thought is really perhaps more unnerving,
that in the midst of what is humorous, that there could be something terrible
underneath that. Humor and something black and really awful. And of course
the greatest American comic who saw all this was Lenny Bruce.
But that's why I like the The Simulacra because
we have the desperate ambitions of two human beings. This ambition first
culminates in a titanically unexpected invitation to the White House and
then it's all ruined by this little animal biting the first lady. And the
first lady doesn't exist anyway. She's just an actress who is playing the
role of the first lady. And so the whole thing is a comedy of tragedy and
a tragedy of comedy.
The Man In The High Castle does not appeal
to me as much because he's really inhuman, that man in the high castle.
I don't think anything he does is funny at all.
Why do you think it won the Hugo?
Well, it's well written. It's a masterpiece. But
I don't particularly enjoy it. I mean I appreciate it. I admire it. But
I admire it in a detached sort of intellectual way.
Do you like the character of Mr. Tagomi particularly?
I'm very fond of him, yes.
I think in your novel Confessions Of A Crap Artist you can
find a lot of humor as well as tragedy. And in your famous novels of 1964,
The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch and Martian Time-Slip,
there is no humor at all.
There is in The Three Stigmata and Martian Time-Slip
something that I regard as funny, which nobody else apparently thinks
Let's say that Palmer Eldritch is evil to the extent
of being an evil deity. He is not just an evil man, an evil human being.
He is like a deity; he is the evil being. And he is defeated by a very
ordinary, somewhat vulgar human being. He is not defeated by some noble
human superman. I regard this as a very pleasant thing, as a very enjoyable
thing, that the evil deity is not defeated by man's finest examples; human
beings rising. The standard way that this would be handled would be if
an evil being invades the earth and some kind of Flash Gordon-like personage
emerges who is the embodiment of all that is noble in human beings. But
in my book what emerges to defeat this is some kind of bumbling, coarse,
garrulous, low-class person who you would expect to be a loan-shark or
something like that; some disreputable, virtually disreputable person.
It seems to me that science fiction has in common
with all fiction the same necessity to, in a certain way, accurately represent
life. It may deal with fantastical situations, societies, places and entities,
but that in the final analysis the people must be people. Now this is something
I may find that other writers don't agree with. I don't think Heinlein
would agree with me. For Heinlein the people are part of the fantasy.
For me the most meaningful thing that I find myself
attempting to do is to take the kind of people that I actually know, people
that I have actually experienced and met, and transpose them into extraordinary
roles, extraordinary societies. Because I don't write using a hero or an
anti-hero. I think very often I'm accused of writing my protagonist as
an anti-hero. Well, you know, what this really is when somebody says that
I write about the anti-hero, is they're confusing the genuine human being
with some kind of Camus-like nihilistic person whose values are all shot
down to hell and who doesn't really care and is bordering on apathy. And
what I'm doing is I'm just taking the people that I've worked with, that
I've had as friends, had as fellow workers and I get a tremendous sense
of satisfaction. Now, for instance, I once worked as a television salesman
and I knew a lot of salesmen and -
A solar shoe salesman?
Yes, I picked that up. Absolutely, yes. And I always
think, well, the ultimate surrealism - I mean, if you define surrealism
as the juxtaposition of two things or more that would never normally have
been juxtaposed - is to take somebody that you knew, whose lifetime ambition
was to sell the largest television set that the store carried, and put
him in a future utopia or dystopia, and pit him against this dystopia,
or place him in a position of power. I like to take employers that I've
had who've owned small stores and make them supreme rulers of entire -
Galaxies, yes. That to me is very enjoyable. Because
I still see this person as sitting at his desk, looking at a lot of invoices
for purchases that have been made, saying who authorized this? I never
authorized this purchase. We don't need this. And imagining him governing
a whole planet. And you know Gino Molanari was one of my favorites because,
as is said about him by one of the characters, he's a combination of Christ
and Mussolini. In a way that is exactly what we all are, you know, a combination
of Christ and Mussolini. The human being is fascinating to me because he
is capable of the most incredibly funny, childish, self-serving acts. I
mean, of greed and incompetence, I mean, you could not invent, fictionally,
the kind of petty, selfish things that a human being will do. And then
that same person will turn around and will balk, for example, and will
refuse to do something that is really bad.
I remember once when I was working at a radio repair
shop. We got in, obviously by mistake, to repair the most expensive and
elaborate phonograph made in America, which was called a Capard. This was
a pre-World War II system, and it had an interesting way of changing records.
It would stack them up and when it had played a record it would fling the
record off the turntable into a felt-lined drawer. And when it hand flung
them all off into the felt-lined drawer, it would reach out and grab the
whole stack, flip it over, and then stick it back on the turntable. Well,
sometimes it would go completely berserk, and when it went berserk, it
was fascinating to watch because the thing was as large as a double bed
and what it would do is it would grab up a record and it would break it
in half. Well, of course, only the Capard repairman was suppose to work
Somebody brought one into our store. And we had
all these old records that we used as test records. And we just stood there
and marveled at this thing. It would play a record, and it would play it
beautifully, creating an incredibly beautiful sound, and then it would
take the record and it would smash it in half and hurl the pieces all over.
We worked and worked on it for weeks and weeks and
weeks trying to fix it. We got it to the point where it would finally break
one record out of two, and then maybe one record out of three. But then
it would revert to its old habits and break the whole stack at once. Finally
it got to the point where it would simply break the whole stack. It wouldn't
even do it single record by single record.
So we got all of the repairmen in the store; we had five repairmen,
and we got them all in together, and they all conferred, and then they
all worked on it. By then we had put in a week's work with all the repairmen.
And we got it to work perfectly.
Then we brought it back to the owner. We took our
truck, put it in the back of the truck, and just the bouncing around in
the back of the truck undid all the work. When we got there, the owner
put on a stack of his most rare records. It picked up the stack and broke
them. And then he looked at us and we looked at him and he said, well,
what's the bill? And we said there is no bill; we're not charging you.
And I thought, well, now we've lost a week's work, we've failed in our
task of repairing it, and yet we've risen to the heights of nobility -
we're not arguing that it is somehow his fault. We'd just absorbed the
complete loss ourselves. And I was very proud of the manager of our store
and I was proud of the repairmen, that we had all admitted to our own defeat,
in the face of the situation. I was only about fifteen years old and this
made a vast impression on me. This Capard epitomized an inscrutable ultra-sophisticated
universe which was in the habit of doing unexpected things.
I use this as a paradigm for our whole attitude
toward life, what you did was you worked very hard, you try to understand
and try to direct these complicated, powerful forces and at the very end
of the struggle you've made no progress at all. That upon discovering that,
you've raised to a lofty moral height, and you've accepted your fate, and
somehow went on. We didn't close the store; we didn't go out of business.
We just went on repairing phonographs. What this indicated to me was that
man has incredible limitations. Other animals have incredible limitations
too, but within the terms of those limitations, well, it's like if you
had an old automobile that you loved very much and it was really malfunctioning
and it was really getting to the point where it was unsafe to drive. You
as the owner were capable of coaxing out of this car really amazing feats.
I remember a car I had that had no brakes whatsoever
and I was willing to drive it for months with no brakes whatsoever, just
stopping it by the gears. And a car that I bought last January I took it
to the garage in September and I said, I'd like you to do a compression
test on it and see how much compression I've got in the cylinders, and
he called me up and he was stammering, it has n-n-no compression, n-n-no
compression whatsoever. And I thought, good heavens, I've driven the car
for six months with no compression whatsoever.
It seems to me that all of these things are very
illustrative of the kind of universe that we've got. What we have in the
universe is obviously badly constructed. I mean, it doesn't work well.
The entire universe and all the parts therein continually malfunction.
But the great merit of the human being is that the human being is isomorphic
with his malfunctioning universe. I mean, he too is somewhat malfunctioning.
And when he recognizes that he is a malfunctioning part in a malfunctioning
system instead of succumbing to this realization and just lying down and
saying, well, it's all hopeless, you know, there's nothing that can be
He goes on trying -
He goes on trying and this, of course, is what Faulkner
said in his marvelous Noble Prize speech, that Man will not merely endure,
he will prevail.
There is a tremendous opportunity for humor within
this context, which all goes back to what started this diatribe, my book
The Simulacra. That is why I like it so much, because these men
have devoted their entire lives, to aspire, to perform before the first
lady. That is the highest joy that this society offers. You can go to perform
before the first lady. And she's a complete fake, she's an actress, and
when they do perform their little animal screws it all up for them. And
yet they go on living. And all the other characters go on living too. And
I think that it's certain Faulkner's man will not merely endure, he will
prevail. That in the midst of the rubble, there will still be the sound
of a man's voice planning, arguing, and proposing solutions. I think Faulkner
caught the essence of what is really great about human beings, and so I
don't write about heroes.
Heroes are really marvelous. Heroes give all the
answers. Like I was watching this old Buck Rogers cartoon. There he is
among one hundred armed oriental-looking guards. And there are Buck and
Wilma. And Buck says to Wilma, when I give the signal, knock them all unconscious.
And then I will burst through the width of the doorway and fly back to
our rocket ship. To me this is very heroic, you know, very heroic. But
that's not really what human heroism consists of. I'll tell you what human
heroism consists of, what the beauty of human nature consists of.
I remember one time I had a friend who was ill,
and I was so poor I didn't have a telephone. We went to a pay phone and
we called a doctor and the answering service answered, the doctor wasn't
in. So we lost our dime and we didn't have another dime. And there were
a couple of black guys who were washing the windows of a nearby gas station,
and I went up to them and I said look, we have to call a doctor and we
have no money. They put down their tools and without a word, with this
solemn expression on their faces, every one of them searched through their
pockets and took out all the change that they had amongst them and just
handed it to us, just like that. And I thought, there is the real human
being - ask no questions, didn't say, aw, come on you're just trying to
rip us off. They believed us on faith and as a result we were able to
get the guy to a doctor.
I remember in an automobile accident that I had,
a complete stranger, a woman, taking hold of me and holding on to me and
saying, your girlfriend is not dead, she's just unconscious, you know.
I can see she's breathing, that you yourself are badly hurt. Don't move,
don't try to help her, just stay here until the ambulance comes. And three
different ambulances came. In other words, there were multiple calls. And
these were complete strangers, you know, and it seems when these things
get dated down in the great annals, the great ledgers - except perhaps
god knows, I hope so, I mean if he doesn't then we're going to have a little
argument him and me - but one of the things that should get noted, and
when I write this is the kind of thing that I try to get into my books
- is these little things.
I remember one book of mine, I don't really
remember which one, but this guy sits down at his desk in the office and
he opens his newspaper. And he reads a headline, drunken father eats own
baby. And he says, you know, the world doesn't turn out the way you expect
it. And I actually saw that headline. And then, you know, he waits a few
days, and he kind of forgets the headline and he opens the paper again
and it says man drowns in bath of slowly hardening chocolate. Found by
his brother-in-law when he did not come home for dinner that night. And
then, in the book, the character turns to his friend and says; it's really
a terrible universe. But those were two actual headlines that I actually
read in the newspaper.
So, then, most of your characters are searching for answers that
really don't fit them. What answers are you searching for?
Well, I have one search and one search only. Let
me preface it by saying that I use to search for personal happiness, fulfillment
and joy. Since all those things have been denied me, and it's obvious that
they will never happen, I also hope to make a lot of money, but that's
also been denied me. And yet by default one search which I will never give
up on and which I feel is within my power to succeed at and is to determine
once and for all, to my own satisfaction - not necessarily to the satisfaction
of anyone else, but to my own satisfaction - what is the actual nature
of reality around us as compared, as contrasted to the apparent, evident,
phenomenological reality that we perceive. I have, as you know, written
about this for 27 years, in the form of questions. I've probed the phenomenal
world looking for something behind it, which is why I took LSD. I only
took LSD three times and didn't find any answers through it, so I gave
up on that.
But within the last three and a half years,
for reasons which I do not know, I made a fantastic breakthrough to a perception
of what appears to me to be, I mean what I construe to be, the actual world,
in a sense that Plato distinguished the real world from the merely evident
world, or empirical world. But I made a fantastic breakthrough. I don't
know how I did it. I don't know what caused it. But since then I have done
nothing but attempt to develop a coherent explanation of what I saw. That
is, it is nothing that I thought, it is not an idea. It is actually a perception.
The model would be as follows. Let's say that we are all sitting in a theater
watching a live play. And for some reason, it doesn't matter what reason,
we are all so naïve that we think that the play is factually true,
that it's real, it's not a play. And we're sitting there, and we've watched
maybe two acts, and we believe that the actors are the characters that
they're performing. We believe the characters are real. Let's say it's
a play about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and there's an actor
with a beard, and he's playing Lincoln. And we really believe he's Lincoln,
you know, and this other guy is John Wilkes Boothe. And we're sitting there
and we're watching this, and we believe that it's all real. And all of
a sudden, the whole back scenery falls over flat. And now that we see stagehands,
with robes and dice and people half in costume and somebody studying their
script. Well, this is a -
Right, right. Exactly. Lights and sandbags to counterweight
the curtain. Then immediately about sixteen hundred people rush up and
push all the scenery back up on the stage and hope that the audience happened
to all be asleep at that moment.
Well, this is what happened to me in regards
to the phenomenal world, that for a period of about three and a half days
it was as if the scenery had, for some reason, fallen over flat, revealing
to me the nature of the reality behind it. But the reality behind it was
so different from the phenomenal world, that I couldn't use language to
describe it. That is, I could not find words. I can't say I saw X, Y, Z
- here inserting some semantic associative. And I've taken about 300,000
words of notes on it, and done tremendous research. Because I feel if it
happened to me it must have happened to somebody else. I can't be the only
person in the entire history of human consciousness to have ever seen the
world as it really is. I've discovered, for instance, that Plotinus, the
neo-Platonist, had this experience. That some of the Sufi have had this
experience. And some of the Christian Mystics, like Origen, have had this
experience. And Driesch, the German vitalist philosopher, and Bergson.
I find indications in India, especially in the Hindu religion, in Brahmanism.
Emerson appears to have had this experience. Wordsworth appears to have
had this experience. And it doesn't resemble anything, very closely, that
I've ever read by even such people as the father of Alexandria. You know,
it's a little like Plato. That is why I gave the image of watching a play.
You can say it's similar to Plato's image of the pictures shown on the
walls of the cave.
In three and a half years of reflecting on
my experience and doing research, all I have learned is that it has something
to do with time, that apparently time is not what we think it is. It's
something else. There's a new Soviet theory about time, by Kozyrev, Dr.
Nikolai Kozyrev, the great Soviet astrophysicist. His theory is that time
has an energy, that it's the primary energy of the universe. He says time
is an energy poured into a material system and the material system is the
universe. Well, apparently what happened is I got rephased in terms of
linear time in such a way that, instead of linear time flashing by me like
the frames in a movie projector flash by, I got past the progressiveness
of linear time and saw things outside of their temporal progressions.
I think that's the main thing within the New Wave theory of simultaneous
time where everything is acting together at once on things from the past.
Yes, I think so. The linear progression in time is where it reflects a
time string and they have an inner time -
That's the main thing with Rainer Maria Rilke. In his novels I think
he invented the expression, the term, inner space. There's an interesting
guy in his novel, what's it called? A Russian guy who stays in bed all
the time because he's afraid of time. He doesn't want to let the time go
by very quickly. When we're in bed time passes very, very slowly. And so
he stays in bed all his life.
Well, I have been experimenting with - I have read
that the Linus Pauling orthomolecular formula of vitamins would speed up
and synchronize mental firing. And I was taking them, just to improve my
mental firing. All I can figure out, what could have happened, would have
been that my mental firing became so synchronized, or so fast, that I sort
of caught up with time. Let's assume time moving at the rate we call X
velocity. And that normally we move at X-Y, and that I actually achieved
X velocity so that time and I were synchronized. Time was now proceeding
past me, you see, accelerating past me, so that we were stationary in relationship
to each other, like the inner time was stationary in relationship to the
external time. And you know what's interesting about what you said? For
a period of about two days I actually perceived ghost-like, and yet almost
substantial, visual configurations of past civilizations, like Greece and
Rome. Actually seen kind like a montage, like a cinematic technique, montages
of prior time periods.
That's like a stroboscope effect.
Exactly, exactly. And at the same time, inside me,
linguistic structures, linguistic forms equivalent to those time periods
began to surface in my mind, as if there were two hemispheres held together
by a vacuum, synchronized internally, so that I would see these configurations
and I would think in the linguistic structure at the time. It was very
How did you phrase your question? What do
I, what am I hoping for? What do I want?
What do you search for?
Yes, because I think what I saw, I think if I decipher
it and I'm not sure that I'll ever be able to, but if I could, I would
really understand the answer to my years of questioning what is real. And
one of the things that I'm willing to say now, what I'm almost positive
about, because I've read a great deal about it, you know, and that is that
in some way that I don't quite understand, in fact nobody quite understands,
is that time is somehow elusive or rather our perception of it is inappropriate
and that there are other ways of perceiving time, than we normally perceive
time. And also, there'd be the other kinds of time. The speech I'm going
to give tomorrow is on orthogonal time which is not my invention. They
do think that maybe there is another form of time, maybe at right angles
to linear time, and this might account for my experience because there
seemed to be a time flow within the linear time flow, maybe in an opposite
or orthogonal direction from linear time. And it is in transformations
around us. But what was interesting, talk about metaphysical, the transformations
within orthogonal time were imperceptible to us because as soon as those
transformations occur, they seem to always have been that way.
For instance, let's take that TV set there.
Now that TV set occurs in linear time; it is brought into the room and
set down. And we perceive this occur. But orthogonal time sweeps out like
this adding each time, and then we would think this set had always been
here because it's here now, you see. What I mean, we would have the linear
coming into existence because the coming into existence is in a passing
way. That is, the moving from past to present and future is linear. But
in orthogonal time linear time occurs, strikes all of linear time simultaneously.
It strikes the past, the present and future simultaneously. It has no reference
to the way we divide up time into past, present, and future. So we would
be unaware of a transformation along the orthogonal axis. Our minds would
fill in a falsified -
Our brain works this way because we have reminiscences - we can't
concentrate on things that were. If you look totally linear you would almost
instantaneously get what was, and we were only in our direct present.
Yes, exactly, yes. Well, all we have of the facts
is just traces. We have inner traces and poor memories. On external traces,
or geological strata, we have traces. But that's secondary evidence, and
doesn't really prove as much as it would appear to prove. Which is one
reason probably why I am fascinated, why I write about characters with
false memories laid down.
One further question, about drugs. There are some rumors here in
Germany that you write only when you are under the influence of drugs.
Ah, well, my writing falls into two degrees, the
writing done under the influence of drugs and the writing I've done when
I'm not under the influence of drugs. But when I'm not under the influence
of drugs I write about drugs.
I took amphetamines for years in order to get energy to write.
I had to write so much in order to make a living because our pay rates
were so low. In five years I wrote sixteen novels, which is incredible.
I mean, nobody, I don't think anybody's ever done it before. And without
amphetamines I couldn't have written that much. But as soon as I began
to earn enough money so that I didn't have to write so many books, I stopped
taking amphetamines. So now I don't take anything like that. And I never
wrote anything under the influence of psychedelics. For instance, Palmer
Eldritch I wrote without ever having even seen psychedelic drugs.
In Germany the book was titled LSD Astronauten.
I know. Franz Rottensteiner did that.
He knows nothing about your acid. Franz Rottensteiner is a real nice
He's mad at me right now. He sent my agent a furious
letter saying that I was defaming Stanislaw Lem. And my agent said, what
are we going to do about his. And I said, don't worry, Rottensteiner was
not going to do anything to anybody.
Lem is a father figure to Rottensteiner. Lem perceived this at once,
and his relationship to him isn't that clear. But I think he is an astute
man. I don't think he takes him quite seriously.
But on the drug thing, what happened was that after
my wife Nancy left me in 1970, I was in a state of complete desolation
and despair, and suicidally depressed because I really loved her. She took
my little girl with her, who I really loved, and I didn't see my little
girl for - I saw her only once in a whole year, just for a few minutes.
I got mixed up with a lot of street people, just to have somebody to fill
the house. She left me with a four bedroom, two-bathroom house and nobody
living in it but me. So I just filled it with street people and I got mixed
up with a lot of people who were into drugs. But that was for a period
of just about a year. And then I just took amphetamines. I have never ever
taken hard drugs. But I was in a position to see what hard drugs did to
people, what drugs did to my friends.
There is terrible damage done.
Just incredible. I just couldn't believe it. I saw
things that if I hadn't seen them with my own eyes I simply wouldn't have
believed them. I know you've read A Scanner Darkly. Everything in
A Scanner Darkly I actually saw. I mean I saw even worse things
than I put in A Scanner Darkly. I saw people who were reduced to
a point where they couldn't complete a sentence, they really couldn't state
a sentence. And this was permanent, this was for the rest of their lives.
Young people. These were people maybe 18 and 19, and I just saw, you know,
it was like a vision of Hell. And I vowed to write a novel about it sometime,
and I was just…I'm just…it's just…well, I was in love with a girl who was
an addict and I didn't know she was an addict and it was just pathetic.
So I wrote A Scanner Darkly.
But, I did take amphetamines for years in
order to be able to - I was able to produce 68 final pages of copy a day.
But I write very slowly now and I take my time, because I don't have any
economic pressures. I was supporting, at one time, four children and a
wife with very expensive tastes. Like she bought a Jaguar and so forth.
I just had to write and that is the only way I could do it. And, you know,
I'd like to be able to say I could have done it without the amphetamines,
but I'm not sure I could have done it without the amphetamines, turn out
that volume of writing. So I can't really say that for me amphetamines
were a total, negative thing.
It was an aid, but it didn't influence you or your writing?
I don't think it did, no. I don't think it did. But
I certainly don't advocate the use of drugs. However, one thing that I
took that I did like was mescaline. Mescaline is fascinating, if it's good
mescaline and not bad acid, weak acid. I took mescaline once and it really
was a psychedelic - an altered state of consciousness. It put me in touch
with my deepest feelings. It put me in touch with feelings that I wasn't
aware that I had. That is, it put me in touch with myself. And it was really
Let me tell you one anecdote to show you what
people who are into drugs will do. In Marin County where I live an army
disorientation drug was stolen by the Hells Angels. The purpose of the
drug was to totally disorient you, but in such a subtle way that you didn't
know you were completely disoriented. They stole it and sold it and everybody
that took it liked it. And it just completely screws you up so you couldn't
do anything. One of the things that it did to you was you lost all of your
central vision and only had peripheral vision. So you could see a little
bit but not at all centrally, you see. The people who took it thought it
was wonderful. They were looking for more of it.
I think that tells something about the drug culture. We use to
joke about it. We'd say, god, that was terrible. Where can I get some more?
(Thanks to Frank Bertrand for contributing this article.)