Philip Dick wrote an 8000 page “Exegesis” in the last decade of his life attempting to understand a series of synchronistic events that had transformed his life. His primary output was to recapitulate the Gnostic vision practiced at the core of Christianity, Sufism, Buddhism, Taoism, and other philosophies. Previous to the events of 1974, Dick knew nothing of these practices although he had used LSD and the I Ching while writing imaginal speculative fiction for many years. And he had suffered in poverty, heartbreak, and near madness. But in one moment all suffering was lifted as he experienced a revelation.
Throughout his philosophical writings Dick wavers between the monist “Spinozist-Deleuzian” pantheism of the one manifesting itself in myriad facets and the more dualistic “Platonist-Badiouian” conception of worlds being created out of an infinite unnameable. Finally Dick links these through a kind of Kantian-Hegelian feedback loop in which the ultimate ground or Urgrund becomes seduced into the games it plays as simulations. The ultimate lesson of these games is not to get caught into believing in the reality of these games – a kind of “objectivist” or “intellectualist” error. The key point is that this is an ontological error not a moral error. What is at stake here is that karma is not retribution but manifestation: you get what you put in. What you believe is true will condition your experience. This is born out in the frame of the modern scientific method which never achieves anything but the results it expected – a hypothesis confirmed or not but nevertheless within the frame predetermined. Thus the act of openess to the new or absolutely other is an act that literally “changes the world” – changes the conditions of the conditioned world.
Of course there is never just one world – or even many worlds – but an infinite multiple of worlds as Badiou describes in his mathematic ontology. Practically there are worlds within worlds overlapping and intersecting. So what is the human world – or the world of one human within that world for that matter. Dick explored alternate and parallel worlds through his science fiction until he began to experience them, and his experience brought forth the following structure. Although humans experience irreversible linear time, Dick believed that time could be made to move backwards or that we could elevate our perspective to the level beyond linear causal time. In this schema every time we experience an event – or “concrescence” as Whitehead would call it – with beginning, progression, and end, and feel unsatisfied with the outcome we relive this experience but with the subtle awareness of the failed event. This is remarkably similar to Freud’s idea of the repetition compulsion and to karma but with the subtle difference that we can tap into the repressed memory through a process of anamnesis – negation of forgetting or re-membering. This process of anamnesis which was practiced by the Gnostic Christians can be found at the source of homeopathy and psychoanalysis but it has already become obscured by the fixation on the past or symptom itself rather than practicing the PROCESS of being in the present which allows the past to reveal itself and free itself toward the future in a new way. This subtle difference was outlined in Nietzsche’s practice of the eternal return and further elaborated by Klossowski and Deleuze. Lacan also moved psychoanalysis in this direction in his late work on the purification of the symptom and the invention of the new signifier.
Dick who wrote a story called “Simulacra” had no knowledge of Nietzsche and Klossowski’s concept of this word, but Baudrillard was familiar with all of them and has popularized the idea with regard to postmodern culture. For Dick, the ultimate simulacrum was the machine-world to which humanity was enslaved by virtue of letting themselves believe in it as God, Truth, Morality, Science. Rather than recognizing ourselves as creator of manifestation, we allow ourselves to be enslaved to our creation. To break free of this, Dick posited a two step process. First, by “groove override” we can break break away from the programed track of repetition compulsion, and second, we then have the opportunity to create a “new free merit deed” by which we can rewrite the past. As Zizek has pointed out this is the radical core of Christianity (and Buddhism) which breaks the chains of the Old Testament slave morality of an eye for an eye and wipes clean the slate with absolute forgiveness or absolution. Deleuze also describes this process as the eternal recurrence of the same yet always new as opposed to the hell of exact exchange dependent on a general equivalent such as money as in capitalism. Each event is a free act in itself, unique but manifesting the one.
An amazing example of this process is demonstrated in Charlie Kaufman’s story for the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The film takes place in 4 parts.
In the first part we are in Track B of the relationship between Joel and Clementine. It opens just after they have had their memories erased of their relationship so they will no longer suffer and can move on with a “spotless mind.” Paradoxically though they are both immediately drawn to Montauk where they are destined to meet again just like the first time. Although we do not know this at this point in the viewing, this will become significant later when we realize that a “groove override” has occured and that some transpersonal morphic field has brought them together again which operates beyond the somatic-neural program. After two days of the event of falling in love (in the Badiouian sense) Part 1 of the film ends at her front door as she enters her house to get her toothbrush so she can go to his house and they can “sleep” together for the first time.
At this point the film shifts to part two where Joel is also in his car but now weeping to the theme “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” by the Korgis (but rerecorded by Beck). Part 2 takes place in the Post-Track A period where they have just broken up and Joel is suffering. He finds out through his friends that Clementine has had her memory of the relationship erased, and after first disbelief and then rage, he finally demands the procedure for himself from the doctor. Through pills and computers and talking a kind of neuro-psychotherapeutic erasure begins to take place while he is “unconscious.” We should take note of the collaboration of the medical institution to maintain our enslavement to the repetition compulsion through its powerful technologies now developed far beyond what Foucault could have imagined.
Now we are in Part 3 where we see Track A of their relationship but in reverse order. The paradox is that in order to erase or suppress the memories, an anamnesis must take place. Joel must remember the memories in order to eradicate their “emotional core” which causes the suffering. In the midst of this process he is so overwhelmed with a jouissance beyond suffering that he wants to call off the procedure. The only problem is that he is in his mind and cannot stop the procedure taking place outside on his body which stores this Track A of experience. There is now a dialogue between Joel in the present and his memories and even with some form of Clementine. They try to hide their memories in areas of his brain where she never was such as his childhood. This part has a poignant and overwhelming effect on the viewer especially if he has experienced psychoanalysis or psychedelic/homeopathic substances which create a new dialogue among past and present. Thus although the specific memories of the past ultimately cannot be saved, Joel (and Clementine) is forever changed on a superordinate level. What is this level: the transpersonal, the morphic field, the soul? Dick says that the older time tracks persist as a presence of our own experience or awakening self to guide our present limited self in future actions. As the procedure reaches the end and the anamnesis reaches the begining of their relationship in Track A they both achieve a kind of becalmed tragedy in which the solidity of memories and the physical world begin to collapse and wash into each other – literally as the sea enters the house and the sand buries him in the car. This might remind us of the experience we have when in trying to recall where a relationship went bad, we trace it all the way to the beginning: it was always going bad because we had not yet overriden the groove of repetition and declared a new free merit deed. But now Joel literally rewrites the past by hiding memories of their relationship in other memories. While he cannot save the memories, this causes the procedure to stall long enough that the doctor must be summoned to the procedure and encounter his secretary stoned enough to confess her love for him which forces him to tell her they have a past relationship which has been erase. In her traumatized state she sends all the files to their clients exposing the procedures including those of Joel and Clementine, and this paves the way for the free merit deed.
As Track A washes out she whispers deafeningly for him to “meet me in Montauk” at the beginning again. And now as he awakes from the procedure we are in Part 4 of the film. We now see how all four parts are connected as Part 4 begins where Part 1 opened the beginning of the film. We now know that Joel’s sudden impulse – against his usual behavior – to skip work and jump on a train to Montauk is a groove override and that it was happening as the doctor and his technicians were finishing their own business fresh from his procedure. The event of the encounter with Clementine at the beginning of the film was them meeting again – despite the procedure – for we have already seen in his memory that they met a different way the first time. Now we get to see what happened when Part 1 ended at the point where she went to get her toothbrush upon only knowing each other for two days. When she enters the house she receives her file from her procedure which has been sent by the clinic secretary devastated because she had learned of her own procedure. She does not know what it is and puts the tape into Joel’s car. The tape is her talking about all the memories of what she hated about joel from Track A of their relationship. They are both confused and he feels fearful and paranoid that she is playing a joke on him and she is hurt that he does not trust her so they separate. In a state of desperation though she seeks out his house and finds him – now listening to his own tape of his negative memories of her. Now they have some sense of what is going on. Even as his words insult her for everything he hated about her he denies it in the present saying he loves her for those things. It is too much for her to hear and now she leaves. But he runs after her and tells her to wait. There are no words – no arguments here. The “wait” is the stopping of time and the stopping of the mind. The wait is the moment of openness to the outside – the unknown. The way is now cleared for the new free merit deed. When she recapitulates all his and her patterns and how they will just play them out again he says “OK” and she stunned for a moment before starting to cry and laugh. The present is now suspended and the past bleeds into the future: they are shown playing on the Montauk beach in a repetition of same but different until they fade to white. Is awareness of their symptoms enough to finally allow the new to emerge or is the acceptance, affirmation, and enjoyment of the symptoms themselves the new? Enjoy your symptom in the eternal return.