After a lifetime’s worth of literature that explored the future, the farthest regions of space and the afterlife, a posthumous work by Philip K. Dick will take readers to a different alien terrain: the inside of the author’s mind.
Mr. Dick, who died in 1982, was best known for existential science-fiction novels like “The Man in the High Castle,” “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” He also spent years of his life wrestling with what he considered religious visions that he began experiencing in the 1970s. He recorded his reactions to and attempts at deciphering these spiritual visions in a work he called the “Exegesis,” reputed to be 8,000 pages - or longer.
Though few have read the work and fewer still have fully understood it, the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt plans to release “The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick” in two consolidated volumes edited by Jonathan Lethem and Pamela Jackson, a Philip K. Dick scholar, with the first to be released next year.
Mr. Lethem, the author of novels like “Chronic City” and “The Fortress of Solitude,” and who has written frequently on Mr. Dick, said Thursday in a telephone interview that he hesitated to describe ”Exegesis” as a work.
“The title he gave it, ‘Exegesis,’ alludes to the fact that what it really was, was a personal laboratory for philosophical inquiry,” Mr. Lethem said. “It’s not even a single manuscript, in a sense – it’s an amassing or a compilation of late-night all-night sessions of him taking on the universe, mano-a-mano, with the tools of the English language and his own paranoiac investigations.”
In 1974, after a number of novels that explored the notions of personal identity and what it means to be human, Mr. Dick had a series of experiences in which he believed he had information transmitted to his mind by a pink beam of light. He wrote about these and similar occurrences in autobiographical novels like “Valis,” but also contemplated their meanings in personal writings that were not published.
“It’s something that he talked about and created a kind of amazing aura around,” Mr. Lethem said, “so that people have an image of it as if it’s some kind of consummated effort. ‘I’m working on my exegesis.’ But what he really meant was, he was turning his brain inside-out on the page, on a nightly basis, over a period of years of his life.”
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which has also acquired the rights to 39 of Mr. Dick’s previously published works and will release them next year, plans to to release Volume 1 of “Exegesis,” which is about 350 pages, in the fall of 2011, and Volume 2, at the same length, a year later.
Mr. Lethem described the books as a chronicle of the period in which Mr. Dick “pulled himself together again, as a writer and a human being.”
“He’d been launched into outer space by the visions of the early 70s,” Mr. Lethem said, “and he was going to try to come back with the truth – and that, by definition is an impossible task.
He added: “It’s absolutely stultifying, it’s brilliant, it’s repetitive, it’s contradictory. It just might contain the secret of the universe.”
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