Human and Divine Redemption in Philip K. Dick's VALIS,
Eric Hale, Senior Thesis 1997
In VALIS, Philip K. Dick uses the parameters of the science fiction genre to ponder the meanings behind divine revelations. He does this through the character of Phil/Horselover Fat, a schizophrenic who is tormented by the loss of loved ones and a vision which he believes to be divine in origin. It is the redemption of this character, and how this human character reflects the divine, that becomes the central focus of the novel. The unique idea that Dick is developing is that of the divine being represented by a schizophrenic mind in a contemporary world that is slightly different than our own. Dick is asking the reader to share in his fascination with the divine by introducing a new way of thinking about it through the narrative world he creates in the novel.
A fresh way of looking at the divine is to use the anguished mind of a schizophrenic. Later in the novel, Dick will argue that the split mind of a schizophrenic is symbolic of the split in the divine, and that the reality envisioned by the mentally unstable mind may actually be a divine one. But first, it is important to understand the nature of the anguish that Phil/Fat suffers from, and how that disturbance developed.
In VALIS, there is one character represented as possessing two personas, and it is important to differentiate between the two in order to understand the quest for redemption that the character later undertakes. One half of this character is Phil, who narrates much of the story. In referring to the Phil persona, the first person is used, while the Horselover Fat persona is addressed in the third person. In addition to his own problems, Phil also describes those that befall Horselover Fat. Describing himself, he writes, "I am by profession, a science fiction writer. I deal in fantasies. My life is a fantasy." (12) Like the author, Phil is narrating his life story through the conventions of the science fiction novel, both because it is the genre he is familiar with and because it is the only genre that can encompass his work. His life is a fantasy because it is something that does not seem real, something that is not similar to the ordinary human life. Ordinary humans, Phil would argue, do not have to deal with mental illness, or theophanies that are difficult to comprehend.
What Phil is also attempting to comprehend is the nature of his "companion", Horselover Fat. On one level, he believes that he has created Horselover Fat in order to deal with the loss he has suffered. A part of him understands this, for he writes, "I am Horselover Fat, and I am writing this in the third person to gain much needed objectivity." (11) This is Phil writing, explaining that he recognizes the fact that he is two personae, but at the same time, admitting that he does not fully understand himself. In order to more completely discover another part of him, he will write this work from a distance, in the third person. The will serve to temporarily separate Phil from Fat, in order to see a clearer view of the character on the whole.
It is not just objectivity that Phil is searching for, it is also a way of dealing with loss. Another persona is created because Phil can not deal with it himself. The hope is that once Fat can deal with it, then a union between the two will occur, creating one peaceful mind. But in the meantime, loss has driven a wedge in the mind of Phil/Fat between that which does not want to deal with pain and that which is forced to deal with pain. Phil can look at anguish objectively, from a distance, but not too closely.
The anguish that Phil/Fat must first deal with is the destruction of two women who he believed that he was in love with. The year before the book opens, Phil's wife has succumbed to mental illness. When the book begins, the persona of Fat has already been created, due to a second occurrence, the mental decline and eventual suicide of his friend Gloria. The opening words of VALIS immediately introduce the reader to the character of Horselover Fat: "Horselover Fat's nervous breakdown began the day he got the phone call from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals." (9) Soon after, the reader is told that Nembutals are drugs used for the purpose of overdosing and killing one's self. Right from the beginning, then, the reader is informed that the main character of the story is mentally disturbed. With this rather disorienting opening, and the introduction a few pages later that the narrator and Fat are one, yet different, the reader should realize that the mental illness and suicide will play a major role in the novel, and at the same time, that it will be a difficult novel to comprehend, requiring a major effort on the reader's part to come to some sort of understanding. Through his use of the narrator, Phil/Fat, he is informing the reader that he/she will be asked to create his/her own understanding of what has happened in the novel, and how this could possibly be relevant to the modern world.
Soon after the reader is introduced to the nature of Phil/Fat's mental disturbance, another incident occurs that contributes to the main character's decline: Fat encounters the divine. Whether or not this was a mentally disturbed man's response to the loss of loved ones, or whether it was an isolated incident on top of what was going wrong with Phil/Fat is purposely ambiguous. The author has been purposely vague about this, for it is in the nature of the divine, he would argue, to be interpreted by each individual. I believe that Dick's point is that God invaded Phil/Fat's mind in an attempt to help the human and the divine at the same time. And it is this "divine invasion" that will almost tear Phil/Fat apart, but yet, may ultimately unite the two.
The encounter with the divine is described in vivid detail by Philip Dick. At the same. Dick defines the ambivalent feelings that Fat has towards the encounter. He writes:
After he had encountered God, Fat developed a love for him which was not normal. It is not what is usually meant in saying that someone 'loves God'. With Fat it was an actual hunger. And stranger still, he explained to us that God had injured him and he still yearned for him, like a drunk yearns for booze. God, he told us, had fired a beam of pink light directly at him, at his head, his eyes; Fat had been temporarily blinded and his head had ached for days. It was easy, he said, to describe the pink beam of light; it's exactly what you get as a phosphene after-image when a flashbulb has gone off in your face. Fat was spiritually haunted by that color. Sometimes it showed up on a TV screen. He lived for that light, that one particular color. (20)
The reader, first of all, should notice the mixed feelings that Fat has about God. These feelings are compared to an alcoholic who wants to drink despite the pain it causes. This pain is an obvious one, just as the pain God causes is palpable. The pain is that of the loss he has suffered, and this is pain created by a god who has made everything in this world. The pain of the creator god's world has been compounded for Fat by the realization that there is something beyond what he had already known. It would seem that joy would be the natural response to the discovery of true divinity. But for Fat, this joy is mixed with the feeling of being injured; injured, first of all, by the burden of the discovery. He asks, "Why me?" This question will contribute to his mental decline. In addition is the question of whether or not he actually experienced the divine. How can he be sure? This is another question that will come close to totally destroying his mind.
Phil/Fat's pain is equated with the pain caused by alcohol. The pleasure of alcoholic intoxication can be coupled with physical and emotional pain, in addition to a distortion of reality. In the same way, the divine intervention has caused both physical pain ("Fat had been temporarily blinded and his head had ached for days") and emotional scars ("Fat developed a love for him that was not normal.") Yet, despite the pain, the search for the meaning of the pink beam of light has become the central part of his life. Just as alcoholics revolve their lives around the drink, Fat has revolved his life around the pink light. And despite the ambiguous feelings caused by the pain, Fat cannot tear himself away from God. He needs the divine in his life.
The divine presence that invades Fat's life is described in rather vivid, rather odd detail. God's presence is manifested through a pink beam of light. It is not accidental that this light is pink, for it is a certain shade of pink that has not been previously known to Fat. In describing it, Phil states, "In other words, normal light did not contain that color. One time, Fat studied a color chart, a chart of the visible spectrum. The color was absent. He had seen a color which no one can see; it lay off the end." (20) The divine, then, represents nothing that is normal. The color was absent from the chart because the chart only represents that which is visible with the eye, and God would not fall into this category. In a way, God can be known, but this knowledge defies human senses.
This passage makes clear two points Dick has made in relation to his own writing. First, science fiction creates a society that "advances out of our own in some way, perhaps orthogonally, as with the alternate world story or novel." He also states, "science fiction involves that which general opinion regards as possible under the right circumstances." The society Dick is trying to create is the world of God. This is represented by a pink beam of light. In a way, this is something that the reader is familiar with, for any reader can envision light. Yet, Dick further describes that light as something that goes beyond human definition. So, readers are left with something that is based in their world, yet goes beyond it to something that cannot be confined to human vocabulary. ... If partial knowledge is offered, then total knowledge is possible. For the character, this knowledge will come with a search for the divine, coupled with divine assistance. For the science fiction reader, this will come with a creation of their own understanding coupled with assistance by the author.
Knowledge, then, made possible by the divine, is what Phil/Fat is attempting to understand. God's part of the relation as to reveal itself to Fat. This is what happened during the pink light experience, Fat claims. In turn, Fat felt that the next step for him was to keep a journal of his thoughts regarding the experience. Fat's quest for understanding the divine, then, began with his exegesis. Scattered throughout the novel are excerpts from the journal which highlight Fat's progressive struggle to understand what has happened and what continues to happen to him. Phil describes it this way:
He [Fat] started keeping a journal - had been, in fact, secretly doing so for some time: the furtive act of a deranged person. His encounter with God was all there on the pages in his - Fat's, not God's - handwriting. The term 'journal' is mine, not Fat's. His term was 'exegesis', a theological term meaning a piece of writing that explains or interprets a portion of scripture. Fat believed that the information fired at him and progressively crammed into his head in successive waves had a holy origin and hence should be regarded as a form of scripture" (22)
It was not just scripture, then, but rather, revealed scripture. At this point in the novel, Fat may be having trouble explaining what God said to him, but he seems to have no problem at all attributing his revelation to a divine source.
But the point of the exegesis is not just to explain the divine experiences in his life, it is also Fat's attempt to understand human, everyday occurrences as well. After an excerpt from Fat's exegesis that attempts to explain how the divine suffers from the loss of humanity, in turn causing humanity to suffer,(38. "From loss and grief the Mind has become deranged. Therefore we, as parts of the universe, the Brain, are partly deranged." ), Phil comments, "Obviously he [Fat] had extrapolated into cosmic proportions from his own loss of Gloria." (36) Another of Fat's entries, which deals with the loss of the female aspect of the divine, Phil again comments, this time writing, "If, in reading this, you cannot see that Fat is writing about himself, then you understand nothing." (37) Phil's argument, then, is that Fat cannot deal directly with human loss, and thus uses the divine exploration and understanding as his outlet. In both cases, he is attempting to understand something that may be impossible to comprehend. Yet, by focusing on the divine, he is escaping from the reality he is actually a part of, into one he wishes to be a part of. It is a form of denial, but it is also a step on the path to redemption. Fat is denying this world, as much as that is possible, but at the same time, he is affirming his belief that ultimate reality does not lie in this world, but instead, will come to be once complete understanding of the divine occurs.
This quest for ultimate understanding is something that contributes to the disintegration of Fat's mind. But at this point, Fat believes that he does not have a choice in the matter; he has been chosen by the divine, for whatever reason, to find God within and outside of himself. Why he was chosen and what he is supposed to do with the information he is given is the point of the exegesis. That is, to get out on paper where he can look at it, think about it, then develop his thoughts even further. In regards to this, Phil writes, "No wonder Fat started scratching out page after page of his exegesis. I'd have done the same. He wasn't just theory-mongering for the sake of it; he was trying to figure out what the fuck had happened to him." (106) In his rather crude way, Phil is simply stating that Fat is not writing his exegesis for fun; rather, he needs this to hold on to whatever threads of sanity he may have left.
Through the pondering of his exegesis, Fat comes to the conclusion that what is needed is to find the savior, the divine incarnated in human form. It is this savior, this representation of the divine, that Fat believes he is in need of in order to alleviate the pain in his tortured mind. This conclusion itself was one step in healing his mind. Previously, he been tortured by the question of why he was chosen to experience the pink light. He did not come to find the answer to this yet, but Fat began to feel that it was not quite important to understand why he was chosen. Instead, the search for the divine would eventually answer this, and worrying about the answer would not help. Thus, the burden of worrying was lessened in the mind of Fat. Phil explains it by writing:
This was the mission, the divine purpose, which Zebra had placed on him in March 1974: the mild yoke, the burden light. Fat, a holy man now, would become a modern day magus. All he lacked was a clue - some hint as to where to seek. Zebra would tell him, eventually; the clue would come from God. This was the whole purpose of Zebra's theophany: to send Fat on his way. (123)
First of all, Zebra is the name that Fat and Phil have given to the divine presence. It is zebra because, just as the animal blends in the wild because of its stripes, so too does the divine blend in with humanity. It is there, but it is hidden and must be searched for. Fat also now believes that the reasons will be revealed to him, and he comes to an important discovery; that placing himself in God's hands, he will be safe. The divine revelation was meant to get him started. Once this was accomplished, he would, eventually, discover the divine in the human world.
Yet, Phil and Fat are still involved in the argument as to whether or not Fat experienced the divine, or something else. In regards to the divine, Phil once again feels that Fat is confusing his personal human longings with the search for the divine. Everything Fat does is an attempt to find a meaning in humanity, not in the divine, Phil argues:
After listening to Fat disclose his sly plans to seek out the Savior - no matter how far he had to travel to find him - I realized the obvious: Fat actually was in search of the dead girl Gloria, for whose death he considered himself responsible. He had totally blended his religious life and goals with his emotional life and goals. For him 'savior' stood for 'lost friend'. He hoped to be reunited with her, but this side of the grave. If he couldn't go to her, on the other side, he would instead find her here. So although he was no longer suicidal he was still nuts. (124)
Phil, then, refuses to believe, or perhaps he is afraid to believe, that anything divine has happened to Fat (himself). Phil is the more rational side, the one looking for a known human answer to the problems that Fat is struggling with.
Because he is determined to find the savior, Phil/Fat takes Kevin (their cynical friend) up on his offer to watch a science fiction film with him. The underground film they watch is entitled Valis. It turns out to be a rather complicated film about an alternate America in which the identity of the characters, human and non-human alike, are constantly shifting. What becomes important for Phil/Fat is the way in which parts of the movie mirror the divine experience that Fat had. The same exact pink light that struck Fat also appears in Valis. In the movie, the beam of light was fired by a satellite, also entitled VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System). The meaning of this acronym is first introduced to Phil/Fat through the viewing of the movie. Upon seeing this, Fat is very disturbed, but after talking with Phil and Kevin, he is urged to seek out Eric Lampton (the writer and director of the movie) in order to gain further insights into the nature of the divine and of the savior.
More important than sending Phil/Fat on his way, however, is the technique that Dick, the author, is using by way of the film Valis. It is a science fiction film, within a science fiction novel. The ultimate encounter with the divine is revealed to Phil/Fat through a science fiction film. In the same way, Dick is attempting to inspire a search for the divine in the reader by employing science fiction techniques. Kevin is the first to become aware that the film is symbolic of the divine realities surrounding them. When talking about the nature of God in relation to VALIS, Phil and Kevin converse:
"A satellite?" I said. "A very old information firing satellite?"
Irritably, Kevin said, "They wanted to make a sci-fi flick; that's how you would handle it in a sci-fi flick if you had such an experience. You ought to know that, Phil. Isn't that so, Phil?" (152)
It would be easy to imagine Dick talking to an incredulous reader and saying, "I wanted to write a sci-fi novel; that's how you would handle it in a sci-fi novel if you had such an experience." Dick claims to have had such an experience, and this is the way he is handling it. Not only that, but it is a way of stimulating the reader, forcing that person to think about the divine in ways they may not have thought about God previously. This is one of the goals of science fiction that Dick outlined in his letter. So, divine revelation for the characters works through a science fiction film, and in a similar way, Dick is hoping that divine revelation, or at least a search, will occur for the reader through VALIS, the novel.
Beginning the Process of Healing
The temporary healing of the mind of Phil/Fat finally occurs through a meeting with the two year old child, Sophia. This child, who Fat believes is the reincarnated savior, causes the unification of two distinct personalities into one unique persona. Yet, it is not a sudden spontaneous process that restores Phil; rather, it is through dialogue and recognition that peace comes to the mind of the tormented character.
Just as the search for knowledge of the divine was a long, arduous process for Phil/Fat, so too is the ultimate redemption a process. After viewing the movie "Valis", Fat convinces Phil to contact Eric Lampton, for he is convinced that the director has knowledge of the divine savior, based on what was in the film. The final process begins, then, with a phone call to the father of Phil/Fat's savior. After agreeing to meet with Phil/Fat, Eric Lampton asks Phil who it is who received the information from VALIS. The answer that Phil gives, and the response that Lampton offers, is a key step in the process of redemption:
"The information was fired at my friend Horselover Fat."
"But that's you.' Philip' means 'Horselover' in Greek, lover of horses. 'Fat' is the German translation of 'Dick'. So you've translated you name."
I said nothing.
"Should I call you 'Horselover Fat'? Are you more comfortable that way?"
"Whatever's right," I said woodenly.
From here on, Lampton addresses Phil/Fat as Phil. This is the first instance in the book where a character other than Phil realizes and makes it explicitly clear that Phil and Fat are one person. The ease with which Lampton recognizes this, just by hearing the name over the phone, frightens Phil. Up until this point of the novel, Fat had been created to deal with the divine, while Phil remained the skeptic. Yet, when another character, the father of the savior no less, recognizes the creation of an alter ego, Phil is not sure what to do. When Lampton asks Phil what name he wishes to go by from this point on, Phil's answer is "Whatever's right". At this point, he is not sure. The recognition by another has thrown his thoughts into confusion, and has forced him to question his own identity. "Whatever's right" for Lampton, because Phil is not that sure anymore. Previously, there had been some sort of comfort in projecting the persona of Fat to the rest of the world, for that meant that he did not have to deal with loss or the divine himself. By denial of reality through the creation of a different persona, Phil felt that he had less problems to deal with. But upon the first recognition that Fat is nothing more than a projection, a translation, Phil begins to lose that sense of comfort. Phil must now begin his process of learning to deal with the divine.
Though Phil is plagued by the loss of comfort following this first conversation, Eric Lampton feels differently. He believes that his own recognition of Phil/Fat's true nature coupled with his allowance of Phil/Fat to visit his daughter, is cause enough to bring peace to the anguished mind of the narrator. Towards the end of the phone conversation, Lampton attempts to comfort Phil with this knowledge:
"Very good," Lampton said. "You'll enjoy this, you know. The suffering you've gone through is over. Do you realize that, Philip?" His tone was no longer bantering. "It is over; it really is."
"Fine," I said, my heart hammering.
"Don't be scared, Philip," Lampton said quietly.
"Okay," I said.
"You've gone through a lot. The dead girl...well, we can let that go; that is gone. Do you see?"
"Yes," I said. "I see." And I did. I hoped I did; I tried to understand; I wanted to. (169)
Lampton believes that Phil/Fat's suffering is over, due to the impending visit with the divine. Yet, Phil remains a bit confused. His heart is "hammering" due to the mixed feelings he is having, one of which is fear. What he has been both searching for and avoiding at the same time is about to happen, and Phil is not sure how to react. Fat was created as a way to deal with that which he could not understand. The divine would fall into this category. Now that he is faced with the possibility that his search will come to an end, fear invades him. He is not sure what he wants to happen, at this point.
Another feeling that possesses Phil is that of uncertainty. It is rather peculiar that he used to word "Fine" to answer Lampton's statement that his suffering was over. It was not an affirmative, yes, realizing and accepting that suffering was completely over. He is obviously a bit skeptical of that. On the other hand, he does not disbelieve Lampton by saying, "no, it is not". He instead answers with the rather neutral "fine", denoting that he hopes the man is right, but at the same time, he is not fully ready to take his word as absolute truth.
The first half of the quote deals with Phil's reaction to divine discovery. The second half concerns dealing with the death of Gloria. After Lampton encourages Phil to let go of his feelings of responsibility for the death of Gloria, Phil answers in an ambivalent way. "And I did. I hoped I did; I tried to understand; I wanted to." This phrase may concern his feelings toward divine recognition as well, but it is more relevant towards his acceptance of human suffering instead. Upon facing the discovery of Sophia, Phil's heart hammered, and a sense of fear possessed him. Yet, the tone of the sentence, "And I did..." is a bit more positive and there is not more mention of a hammering hearts there was in the previous section. He is, honestly, not sure how he feels about accepting Gloria's death. He wants very much to be free of the pain of responsibility, and this is what he hopes to accomplish. Phil has always been more concerned with the concrete than with the divine, so when human suffering can be assuaged, it is this that he recognizes more clearly, and has less fear about.
Phil created Fat to deal with the loss of Gloria that he suffered, but was unwilling to face. As the novel progresses, the persona of Fat developed further, by incorporating the search for the divine within the quest for redemption. Fat searched for peace through knowledge of the divine while Phil indirectly searched for peace after Gloria's death by creating the persona of Fat. At this point in the novel, when Lampton attempts to calm Phil, he is appealing to both personas. As the two personas temporarily merge, that Phil/Fat begins to conceive of the notion that true redemption of the soul can come only through a merger of divine and human recognition and forgiveness.
Phil believes that the merger of his soul will reflect the merger that must occur in the Godhead. Both Phil and the incorruptible God are attempting to come to terms with something that they have lost. For Phil, this is Gloria, and for God, it is the female aspect of itself that fell away. In ignorance and in his grief, Phil created Fat to deal with this loss and search for redemption. There is a hidden mind behind Phil and Fat that will only come to fruition when the two personas are united. So the mind is one but possessing different aspects. This also represents Phil/Fat's understanding of the divine. The Mind of God lies hidden, while searching for a union with it's lost human aspect. The phenomenal world is a creation of the ignorant creator, and once this is realized and accepted, a union may be made possible. An analogy is being made here, then. Phil as the ignorant creator and Fat as humanity, attempting to work back towards the divine. The persona and the God created by a union of these two into one is what lies hidden.
In the novel, Fat refers to the lost aspect of the divine as humanity, the phenomenal world, but more importantly for this analogy, as the female aspect of the divine. It is this female aspect that fell away and is longed for by God. This is what will make the divine complete.
Phil also believes that what will make himself complete will also contribute to divine completion. After the initial conversation with Lampton, Phil describes his feelings of fear, peace, and how these feelings have been extrapolated to divine proportions:
It was if I had been shaking all my life, from a chronic undercurrent of fear. Shaking, running, getting into trouble, losing the people I loved. Like a cartoon character instead of a persona, I realized. A corny animation from the early Thirties. In back of all I had ever done the fear had forced me on. Now the fear had died, soothed away by the news I had heard. The news, I realized suddenly, that I waited from the beginning to hear; created, in a sense, to be present when the news came, and for no other reason.
I could forget the dead girl. The universe itself, on its macrocosmic scale, could now cease to grieve. The wound had healed. (170)
Once again, Phil is describing to the reader the fear that had possessed him and was assuaged by Lampton. For his entire life, he had been losing people, and this theme came to a peak with the death of Gloria. The news he had been waiting to hear all along was that it was not his responsibility. He, as a human, could only do so much to assuage the pain of others. He had to come to realize his own human limitations. Phil had feared that he would never find this answer, find this realization, but it came to him through a promise to meet the divine. An understanding of human limitations, then, will occur when knowledge of the divine is accepted.
Phil's path to redemption continues when he begins to overcome his ignorance of human limitations. As I have said earlier, Phil is symbolic of the ignorant creator deity. Unlike some Gnostic schools of thought, Phil holds the belief that the creator was not a malevolent deity, but rather, one who created in ignorance of the incorruptible. Phil was occluded to the fact that he could not save everyone; the creator was ignorant to the fact that he was not the true God. Because of his mistake, humanity and the phenomenal world were made in his image, but they lacked the means to understand the true divine. Hence, the need for VALIS to open the eyes of humanity. Because of his misunderstanding, Phil almost destroyed his own life. Yet, the knowledge of human limitations in regards to the divine began to save him.
In addition, by seeking out the divine, Phil is helping the creator to work back towards the true divine. It is a complicated process. Each individual must recognize the divine within him/herself, then, at the same time, must realize the limitations of themselves as humans. This, in turn, helps the creator understand his own limitations. God (VALIS0 works through humanity to reunite with the creator and the rest of humanity. God works through the individual to create a whole. That is why, when Phil realizes his own human limitations, he extrapolates his individual discovery to the universal level and makes the claim that, on the "macrocosmic scale...the wound had healed." (170)
After the conversation with Lampton, Phil begins to question the ramifications of the knowledge he had just received with the other members of his group. Among these members if Fat, who has made a return appearance, while briefly hiding during the phone call with Lampton. Obviously, then, because Fat is still distinct, Lampton did not have quite as much healing power as he thought he had. This is due to the fact that he is still human. He can start other humans on the path to redemption, yet it is the divine that will succeed in fully healing an anguished mind.
This path to redemption must include Fat, along with Phil. While conversing with his group, Phil has an interesting conversation with Fat in which both of them show a bit of skepticism:
"You're not crazy, you know," I said to Fat. "Remember that. You can't use that as a cop-out."
"And he's alive? Already? He really is?"
"Lampton says so."
I said, "Probably it's true."
"You believe it."
"I think so," I said. "We'll find out." (171)
It is rather significant that Phil is telling Fat that he is not crazy. First of all, the fact that Phil is telling Fat, his alter ego, that he is not crazy is a bit funny and a bit unbelievable. In light of the nature of schizophrenia that Phil/Fat is suffering from, this statement would seem to have little validity.
Yet, that aside, Phil is talking to Fat about the same point Lampton had discussed with him. Lampton attempted to convey to Phil that Fat was a mere translation of himself, and that he could and should not take comfort in that creation anymore. In a similar way, Phil is telling Fat that he can not rely on insanity anymore; instead, he must face the divine, or whatever it is that he might find, with a clear head, and not run from it. Claiming he is crazy is a "cop-out" according to Phil. It means that Fat is willing to search for God, yet when it looks as if a divine reality might actually present itself, Fat will run, afraid to face it. He is content with the search but afraid of the answer.
This passage is still more interesting, for it seems incredibly hypocritical on Phil's part to lecture Fat about avoidance. After all, Fat was created as a way for Phil to avoid confrontation with loss. Yet, by addressing Fat in this way, Phil is actually taking his denial a step further. Later in this passage, Phil still shows his skepticism by not totally expressing belief in Lampton. When asked by Fat whether or not the savior is alive, Phil answers, "Lampton says so." His other answers to similar questions from Fat are, "Probably it's true" and "I think so". None of these three answers are very affirmative, convincing answers. Instead, they are rather skeptical, highlighting the notion that, despite Lampton's conviction, Phil is not totally convinced of the reality of the divine savior. Yet, by lecturing Fat, the idea has gained at least an inkling of credibility in his mind. That is, he is telling Fat not to fear the divine, for he wants Fat to accept it if it turns out to be real. Then, once Fat has accepted the divine, Phil can work on accepting it. It is a complicated process, for the mind of Phil/Fat is a very complicated place. But because Phil has been in a state of denial for such a long period of time, he cannot directly accept the presence of something he has been skeptical of for so long. Gradual acceptance may come, but immediate acceptance will not.
Phil/Fat's Encounter With Sophia
The first encounter with Sophia is both interesting and integral to Dick's theme of redemption, for it is during this short dialogue that the personae of Phil and Fat are united into one. At first site of him, the young child automatically scolds Phil/Fat for his previous suicide attempt. From here, she proceeds to acknowledge the unified personality only. The dialogue goes:
"Your suicide attempt was a violent cruelty against yourself," she said in a clear voice. And yet she was, as Linda had said, no more than two years old: a baby, really, and yet with the eyes of an infinitely old person.
"It was Horselover Fat," I said.
Sophia said, "Phil, Kevin, and David. Three of you. There are no more."
Turning to speak to Fat - I saw no one. I saw only Eric Lampton and his wife, the dying man in the wheel chair, Kevin and David. Fat was gone. Nothing remained of him.
Horselover Fat was gone forever. As if he had never existed.
"I don't understand," I said. "You destroyed him."
"Yes," the child said.
I said, "Why?"
"To make you whole."
"Then he's in me? Alive in me?"
"Yes," Sophia said. By degrees, the anger left her face. The great dark eyes ceased to smolder.
"He was me all the time," I said.
"That is right," Sophia said. (191)
Right from the beginning, the reader learns of Sophia's incredible knowledge. There had been no previous mention to the child of Phil/Fat's earlier suicide attempts. Yet, upon seeing him, she knew of his earlier acts and scolded him for it. Her anger is at the fact that Phil/Fat attempted to kill himself in ignorance of his divine origin and potential. Earlier in the novel, Fat's counselor, Maurice, had addressed a very similar point:
"Do you believe that man is created in God's image?" Maurice said.
"Yes," Fat said.
Maurice, raising his voice, shouted, "Then isn't it an offense against God to ice yourself? Did you ever think of that?"
"I thought of that," Fat said. "I thought of that a lot." (86)
The relationship between the two passages is an interesting one, and an understanding of both is necessary in order to comprehend Dick's vision of God's relation to humans. Both Maurice and Sophia scold Fat for having attempted to take his life. Maurice's argument, however, is slightly different. He is attempting to appeal to Fat's religious interests by casting his suicide attempt in a different light, that of the divine. His argument is that since man is a reflection of God, would it not harm and offend God by killing oneself? Destroying God's image is destroying a part of God. Implied in Sophia's statement is a similar idea. She is incredibly angry at Phil/Fat upon their first encounter. She is angry that Phil/Fat would have attempted a cruelty against himself, especially considering her notion that man is ultimately divine in nature. This is similar to Maurice's argument, but with one huge difference. The rest of the conversation between Maurice and Fat highlights this difference:
"Well? And what did you decide? Let me tell you what it says in Genesis, in case you've forgotten. 'Then God said "Let us make man in our image and likeness to rule the fish in the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all-""
"Okay," Fat broke in, "but that's the creator deity, not the true God."
"What?" Maurice said.
Fat said, "That's Yaldaboath. Sometimes called Samael, the blind god. He's deranged."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Maurice said. (86)
What Fat is talking about is his belief that man was created in the image of God, but not in the image of the true, incorruptible God, for it was not this God that created the world. Instead, it was an ignorant deity (Yaldaboath, Samael) who, in a failure to realize that he was not the true God, created the universe and proclaimed himself the true God. Sophia follows this argument up by implying that, yes, Maurice is correct in assuming that Fat was insulting God by attempting to kill himself, yet, his reasoning is faulty. Instead of being created in the image of the transcendent God, humanity was made in the image of the ignorant creator. The insult of killing oneself is still directed at the true God, for the true God longs for a union with humanity, and any attempt to destroy a part of humanity is an attempt to weaken that final union. There is a part of the incorruptible in everyone, and destroying this, not the image of the creator, is damaging and insulting.
Sophia's intelligence is further highlighted in this conversation due to the description by Dick of her speaking as an adult. She has a very clear and intelligent sounding voice, due to the fact that her knowledge is greater than that of any human. She is in child (baby) form, because divine knowledge is new, once again being introduced into human society. This corresponds to the publication of the Nag Hammadi Library. Phil/Fat believes that the discovery at Nag Hammadi o of ancient Gnostic texts was the beginning of the unleashing of knowledge of the divine origin of man into the world. When this was finally published, it became available for all of humanity to read, according to Dick. The birth of Sophia, of divine wisdom that will help humanity to understand the meaning of the texts, corresponds to this date of publication. Yet, like the ideas replicated in the texts, Sophia has also been present for eternity. Phil describes the child as having "eyes of an infinitely old person." The eyes, the organ of vision the doorway to knowledge, have been around forever, because the knowledge that they view have been around forever. She may be a child in physical form, but her knowledge and experience are eternal.
Phil' immediate reaction to Sophia's anger is, as it has been throughout the novel, one of denial. He automatically blames Horselover Fat for he does not want to face the responsibility for the actions that Gloria caused him to make. He is also offering Fat to Sophia, for at this time, he is still a bit afraid to face the divine himself. By saying it was Horselover Fat's fault, he is attempting to get persuade Sophia to direct her inquiries to the persona of Fat.
And yet, through divine recognition, Phil and Fat merge. Eric Lampton had caused a partial reprieve earlier, but this one is for real. Phil no longer sees Fat because he is no longer there; he is inside his head, merged with him.
Phil rushes to judgment, however, by assuming that Fat was gone forever and that he was destroyed. Both of these assumptions are wrong. First of all, Fat will eventually return, due to unfortunate circumstances. In addition, Fat was not destroyed by Sophia, for he is a persona, one which has been a part of Phil forever. What Sophia destroyed was the notion that Fat was a different persona. A couple of lines later, as the conversation progresses, Sophia explains that her purpose was to make him whole, and upon hearing this, Phil realizes that Fat is alive in him, as he has been all along. They have always been the same, just as the creator and creation has always been the same. With divine acknowledgment, Phil (the new persona, a merger of Phil/Fat) is becoming the true person he should be, just as with the combining of creator and created, the true God will start to become what he was before the divine accident. So the purpose of the child in this passage is to unite the two personas into one by destroying the notion that they were different characters in the first place.
In a later meeting between Sophia and Phil, the child explains an important concept to the narrator; that concept of man and the living god being one:
"What you teach is the word of man. Man is holy, and the true god, the living god, is man himself. You will have no other gods but yourselves; the days in which you believed in other gods en now, they end forever." (198)
Man (humanity; Dick often fails at being gender neutral) is holy because of the link with the incorruptible. God is in alliance with man against the creator, a classic Gnostic myth brought to life within Dick's narrative. Sophia, because she is Wisdom, is aware of this, and that is why she has the authority to impart this knowledge to Phil and to give him direction. It is interesting that she chose to use the words "living god" to describe the incorruptible in relation to humanity. The creator made humanity, but it is not living in the sense that it is the divine that makes it living. Man is holy now that wisdom is alive and able to inform man of its divine potential. Living not in the sense one would usually think, but alive in God. "You will have no other gods but yourselves" because there are no other real gods. Humanity has a tie with the incorruptible and it is this tie that should be sought and strengthened. Now that wisdom has arrived, there is no need to be under the influence of an ignorant creator deity. Man should rise above the creation to realize the divine beyond this, to bask in the life of eternity with the divine source of all. That is what is meant by living, then; the spark of divine that is within humans but also lives forever. Humans are not totally alive now because the body only has a finite being. The creator, in his ignorance, failed to assure eternity. This lies only in the true God, and that is why God is truly "living" for God lives forever.
Sophia offers more insight to her character by defining herself and her goals to Phil:
"I am not a god; I am a human. I am a child, the child of my father, which is Wisdom Himself. You carry in you now the voice of authority of Wisdom; you are, therefore, Wisdom, even when you forget it. You will not forget for long. I will be there and I will remind you." (199)
This very similar to the last passage, but with a few more important points. Firs of all, Sophia is not a god, for there is only one God. She is emphasizing the notion that she is no different from Phil or Kevin, or anyone else in the world at this point. She is wisdom, but only because God granted her this. God is Wisdom Himself because God is everything, with knowledge of everything. Sophia is a child, just as everyone who has come from God is a child. There is one parent, from whom all things come, creator deity and all. Sophia emerged from God, and, according to Dick's cosmogony, the creator deity, and in turn creation, emerged from Sophia. Therefore, in a way, Sophia is attempting to atone for her earlier failure. She carries the burden of responsibility of spawning the ignorant creator. She is not the only wisdom, though, for just as she was granted wisdom by God, and given the authority to grant it to others, she thus grants authority to Phil because he has rigorously sought her out. She is not what Phil had expected, but he is not disappointed either. Because of her authority granted by God, she is now able to make Phil a possessor of wisdom. Anyone with divine knowledge, then, has wisdom, for that is what wisdom is. It is a chain reaction process, then. God grants wisdom to Sophia, who then grants it to others, all of whom then become wisdom. It is not an exclusive club, for anyone is able to join, if only they can listen. And in fact, all were one time a member, they have just forgotten. This theme of anamnesis, loss of forgetfulness, has been mentioned by Dick on other occasions. The hope is that for humanity to remember that they were once divine, and to forget the finite form they have now due to the creator's mistake. It is easy to forget when so many others have, but wisdom is there to remind humanity of its lost origin. She is, then, an endowed of knowledge and a reminder of humanity's true nature.
At this point, it seems as if the story will continue with a happy ending, with Phil of one peaceful mind and Sophia encouraging the rest of humanity to open their eyes to the divine. However, in typical Dick fashion, the story is thrown a twist when Sophia is accidentally killed. Sophia's mother, Linda Lampton, informs a rather shocked Phil of this unhappy circumstance:
"The little girl is dead," Linda Lampton said. "Sophia."
"How?" I said.
"Mini killed her. By accident. The police are here. With a laser. He was trying to-"
I hung up.
The phone rang almost at once. I picked it up and said hello.
Linda Lampton said, "Mini wanted to try to get as much information-"
"Thanks for telling me," I said. Crazily, I felt bitter anger, not sorrow.
"He was trying information transfer by laser," Linda was saying. "We're calling everyone. We don't understand; if Sophia was the Savior, how could she die?" (215)
The last question is one that plagues the characters, and one that is difficult to answer. She is able to die, I believe, because, as she said, she is a human. The universe has to play by the rules of the creator because it is his world. One of these rules is that humans are only there for a short period of time. God and Sophia must play by this rule. So while Sophia is able to impart divine wisdom, she must be born and die because by taking human form her credibility is achieved.
The way in which Sophia died is also interesting. It was an accident, but an accident through the use of advanced technology (an information transferring laser). Many science fiction writers are famous (notorious?) for their paranoia about technology, and Dick is no exception. In his version of things, technology, human's greatest creations, may be evolved so much, and become so dangerous, that it may destroy a divine savior and hinder God's realization on earth. So not only are humans a danger to themselves, but because humanity is divine in origin, humans are then, in turn, dangerous to God if they do not monitor themselves. So Dick is not just warning people of the danger they pose to each other, but he is also warning them of their potential damage even to God. The irony of what some may consider humanity's greatest use of intellect (technology) being used to harm that which created intellect is rather disconcerting.
Following the death of Sophia, life continued for Phil, but in a rather different way. For one, Fat has come back:
The world continued as it always had.
I began to think about death. Not Sophia Lampton's death but death in general and then, by degrees, my own death.
Actually, I didn't think about it. Horselover Fat did. (216)
After the death of Sophia, the world continued as it always had because it is basically an ignorant world without divine knowledge. Sophia is gone, in human form, for a time, but because she did not get much of a chance to spread her word, much of humanity is still in a state of occlusion as to her purpose and the purpose of divine and humanity in this world in general. Humanity continues on its way as the divine still struggles to make contact.
Also of note is that Horselover Fat has returned. Phil was united when imparted with divine knowledge, but now that that knowledge has been destroyed, Phil has doubts about her divine authority. Thus, he returns to his skeptical self while Fat returns to bear the burden of divine speculation. He is also charged with thinking about death, because like the death of Gloria earlier, it is something that Phil can not and does not want to face and think about because he is scared of it. His avoidance, then, returns when the divine wisdom passes from the earth.
The difference between the two personae following the death of Sophia is noted in a conversation involving Phil and Fat, regarding the nature of the divine:
"There is no 'Zebra'," I said. "It's yourself. Don't you recognize your own self? It's you and only you, projecting your unanswered wishes out, unfulfilled desires left over after Gloria did herself in. You couldn't fill the vacuum with reality so you filled it with fantasy; it was psychological compensation for a fruitless, wasted, empty, pain-filled life and I don't see why you don't finally now fucking give up; you're like Kevin's cat: you're stupid. That is the beginning and end of it. Okay?'
"You rob me of hope."
"I rob you of nothing because there is nothing." (218)
At this point, Phil is even more cynical that before he met the savior. This is because he feels suckered to a certain extent. He reluctantly believed that Sophia was what he should be looking for, and now that she is dead, he feels stupid for having been looking for her. He calls Fat stupid, but he is obviously calling himself stupid by saying this. He returns to the notion that divine was simply created by a lack of Gloria in is life. The divine in this world is not real, he will argue, but death and suffering is. So in response, things must be created in order to deal with it. These things are notions of the divine, or alternate personae. But yet, a small part of Phil still believes, or else Fat would not embark on another, wilder journey for the savior. So Sophia has had the unintended effect of driving the two personalities to extremes they had not possessed prior to their meeting. Phil becomes even more cynical while Fat travels the world in search of a new manifestation of the divine.