Thursday, May 10, 2012

On "The Transmigration of Timothy Archer" by Philip K. Dick ***

Philip K. Dick's last novels were much more boldly religious. This, his very last, doesn't even bother with a science fiction plot. And probably, Dick was happy with that, since he himself had originally set out to write literary texts, or so say some of his biographers. Since his science fiction was all that would sell, he stuck to that and worked his themes into the genre. The genre is richer for it, and probably Dick was better off as a sci-fi writer. Talented, yes, as his novel Valis proves, but not terribly interesting much of the time when he was writing straight.

Timothy Archer is first of the final novels--all of them religious in  theme--that I actually found pretty good. It is about a bishop who comes to recognize certain truths about the world around him and who subsequently changes his life. It begins where it ends, with him dying in the wilderness in search of a psychotropic mushroom he believes is what Jesus' disciples were really ingesting when they took the bread and wine.

But really, it's not a novel about Bishop Timothy Archer at all but about his daughter-in-law's search for the meaning of the various lives and deaths around her: the deaths of her husband Jeff Archer (Tim's son) and of her friend Kirsten (Tim's mistress), and also of Tim.

And it's also a novel about knowledge, about spirit versus materialism. Tim Archer, strangely, rejects the teachings of Jesus in favor of believing that they are actually predated by an earlier sect, that Jesus wasn't the son of God but a person trumpeting ideas of this other tribe, the a mushroom is his body and blood that transforms via a druggy high. And yet, at the same time, it is Tim Archer's faith, that the dead, for example, can communicate with the living, that spurs him toward many of his final actions.

Angel is the materialist from start to finish (or maybe not?), as is the schizophrenic Bill (Kirsten's son; except, once again, maybe not?). Characters move between these two states of belief settling perhaps on an idea that most important of all is our compassion toward one another.

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