Comment on “Beyond Lies the Wub” by Philip K. Dick

This is a meditation on Philip K. Dick’s short story “Beyond Lies the Wub”. The text and an audio version of the story are available, along with an interesting discussion of the story.

“Beyond Lies the Wub” is a very interesting early short story, that is richer than may seem apparent at first glance. Mythology, religion, and philosophy form a backdrop to the story. In particular, there are references to Odysseus and to Epicureanism.

The Odysseus reference could be filled out in several ways. The Wub itself refers explicitly to the figure of wandering Odysseus as embodying the process of individuation and seems to identify with him. Further, Odysseus does not rely on brute force like Achilles, but on intelligence, cunning, ruse. This is another case where we can identify the Wub with Odysseus, as against the forceful Achilles-like Captain Franco. Further, Odysseus had the idea of the Trojan Horse, and now the Captain’s body is a Trojan Horse concealing the Wub and carrying it back to Earth. In THE ODYSSEY Ulysses’ soldiers, but not Ulysses himself, are transformed into pigs

The collective eating of the Wub feels like a Eucharist scene, given that he talked about the parable of your Saviour, so “this is my body”; especially as it was accompanied by wine.

The little introduction reads:

The slovenly wub might well have said: Many men talk like philosophers and live like fools.

This seems to contain a reference to the Epicurean philosophers, who held pleasure as the highest good. They were compared to swine by their critiques, mere gluttons. According to John Stuart Mill:

“When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable”

This is the case in the story, where Captain Franco is the true swine (all he can think of is eating the wub, he has no care for its intelligence and culture, and so he lives like a fool), despite his human body. The Wub is the philosopher despite his swine body (although he does take pleasure in eating too).

As for the name “wub”, I think it may be a “nonce word”, coined to be used for the occasion, for the nonce. It resembles Lewis Carroll’s “wabe” in Jabberwocky, which Humpty Dumpty glosses as the grass around a sundial because it “goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it”. As there is “beyond” in the title, this suggests that the wub, which originated “way behind us” in time, lies “way beyond” us in evolution and mental capacity.

Note: the idea that there is an Epicurean reference, however playful, is confirmed by the sequel “Not by its Cover”, which I have not yet read. According to the Wikipedia entry:

Wub fur, so the story suggests, continues to live after the “death” of the Wub, and as such is highly prized owing to its postmortem production of a luxurious pelt that has numerous, albeit trivial, human applications. One such application is its use as a book cover by a Mars based publisher who issues a new Latin volume of Lucretius‘ poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things).

Inspiration for this comment came from The Philip K. Dick Philosophical Podcast and the Philip K. Dick Review.

 

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