Cross-posted from my discussion with Evan Lampe here.
What I have in the back of my mind in commenting on P K Dick’s short stories is Deleuze and Guattari’s book on Kafka as “revolutionary”, in the sense of providing a “minor” literature as arm in the struggle against the hegemonic majority and “promethean”, in the sense of detecting, enouncing, and trying to resist the “diabolical powers” of the future knocking at our door. They claim that the attempts at escaping the stasis of capitalism that one sees in Kafka’s short stories in the form of animal-becomings fail, and that it is only in the novels that we get at least the beginnings of a liberation of desire, hidden behind an oedipal mask that is foregrounded, hence the seeming pessimism, but that this is not Kafka’s last word. Dick’s themes are different but I think the short stories are often about failed escape attempts. The later novels, that sometimes give us examples of struggling to more freedom, are more successful attempts, because his analysis has deepened.
I agree that something is lost as Dick becomes more metaphysical and less sociological. However I think that metaphysics is itself political, as do Deleuze and Guattari, Bernard Stiegler, and Paul Feyerabend (all of whom are anarchist thinkers for me). So I don’t think that the Exegesis makes the early work’s more political themes opaque, I would rather say that the early works clarify the political nature of the Exegesis. Finding the Exegesis in the early stories is a way of broadening their scope rather than an attempt at sublimating them out of the social field.
Much of the Exegesis is ridiculous, and Dick is quite conscious of that fact and sending himself up. But there is a lot of conceptual creation and analysis going on too. An important aspect of the book is that there is no final level of interpretation proposed, and that he considers science fiction’s cognitive estrangement as having an application to the real world, on a level with philosophy and religion.
I see the god who runs, the cuckoo clock, the withered apple-tree, the globe from STABILITY, the Rexorian mindswapper, etc. as unsatisfying versions of the “pink light”, envisaged agents of liberation that fail to live up to expectations. Dick’s analysis of toxic relations and encounters continues and deepens (e.g. the encounter with Gloria in VALIS) and his analysis of self-delusion, including his own, is refined. The alienating nature of metaphorical explorations of reality taken literally as veridical descriptions of reality is precisely his theme.
On the question of “post-humanism”, I think that Dick is post-post-humanist, as the story “Human Is” suggests. Dick explores the theme of post-humanism, and it would be interesting to study his work from that angle, but ultimately it is a literalisation. Given that the concept of “human” is an ideological construct used to legitimate the social order, we are all post-human and have always been. Exploring such post-humanity technologically is an exciting prospect, but a one-dimensional post-human is still one-dimensional. Lyotard makes an interesting contrast between two senses of post-human (which he calls “inhuman”), predicting the full extrapolation of the processes of complexification at work in capitalism at the expense of the other inhuman designated with the term of the “unconscious” but uncontainable in any theory of the unconscious. Technological posthumanism seems to me to provide no line of resistance to capitalism, but only to reinforce its attempt to capture all of reality inside its quantitative grid.