Friday, April 2, 2010

#5 Nineteen Eighty-Four, #92 VALIS

Nineteen Eighty- Four:

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” 
“Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes.” 
“In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four.” 
George Orwell's classic of utopian satire is one of the most powerful novels I've ever read. In it, we read about a dystopian future in which Big Brother sees all, cameras are omnipresent and the nation is constantly at war to promote nationalism and suspicion within its borders. Terms like doublethink and Newspeak and thoughtcrime are part of the language now, and it's all thanks to this immensely influencial, chilling work.
1984 is definitely not a happy book, and some scenes are indeed quite brutal. The plot revolves around the protagonist, Winston Smith, a seemingly normal Englishman living in London around the year 1984. He works for the government making propaganda for "The Ministry of Truth".
Side note: 1984 has become increasely popular in the past years because of its prophetic nature. In Britain, the average person is apparently photographed hundreds of times in a day, most of the time, unknowingly.
The world of 1984 promotes ignorance, nationalism, slavery,  and the censorship of everything art. The population's wrath is centered towards a man, who, like Big Brother, may not even exist, a treacherous, greedy Jew named Emmanuel Goldstein. Goldstein is hated by all the people, exactly in accordance to the government propaganda. In 1984, propaganda comes from everywhere, molding the minds of all, especially the children, who are made into viciously loyal nationalists who often betray their parents' slightly heretical actions. People are convinced to do awful things, and convinced to believe obvious untruths (2+2=5).
Orwell's message throughout this novel is not one of the general good nature of humans. It is one of animalistic hate, manipulation to the highest level, and fear. 
Most of the population, the proles, basically live in fear and ignorance. Winston works fairly high up, and begins to stage an intellectual rebellion against Big Brother. He begins to have sex with a young women named Julia, who is somewhat of a rebel as well. They are eventually caught by the forces of the state, and Winston is "reeducated" in the Ministry of Love, which is, like the Ministry of Truth, the exact opposite of what its name suggests.
The forty page torture scene at the end of the novel is extremely powerful, one of the best written scenes in SF I've ever come across. 1984 may not be a very joyful novel, but it is very prophetic, grimly observant and a must-read for anyone living in this century. It's especially eye-opening if, like me, you were born when the technological age was already in full force. This is life-changing reading. 


“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.” 
“This is a mournful discovery.
1)Those who agree with you are insane
2)Those who do not agree with you are in power.”  

“The distinction between sanity and insanity is narrower than a razor’s edge, sharper than a hound’s tooth, more agile than a mule deer. It is more elusive than the merest phantom. Perhaps it does not even exist; perhaps it is a phantom.” 

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence - a series of words - that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you're lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.”  
VALIS is Philip K. Dick's most autobiographical work, and considered by many to be his last great novel. It is obvious, upon reading VALIS, that Dick was not even close to sane at the point in his life when he was writing it. Earlier in his career, around The Man in the High Castle, Dick can seem fairly level headed --undoubtedly a master author with a comparatively level attitude towards plot and characterization.
However, the many drugs Dick took eventually started taking their toll on his mind and body: VALIS is the most intimate view of an insane man I've ever read. But it's brilliant as a weird, insane sort of way. With this novel, Dick takes you inside the mind of a schizophrenic named Horselover Fat ( Horselover=Philip, Fat= Dick in German) who has apparently received information about the secrets of the universe from an entity known as God, VALIS (Vast active living intelligence system), or Zebra. This information is fired into his head via a pink laser. The story only gets stranger from there.
Dick focuses on the merits of different philosophies throughout this novel, which isn't much science fictional, besides perhaps the strange experiences of Horselover, the madman who just tries to seem so earnestly sane and normal throughout the novel. Elements of Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism, and Taoism are all addressed, debated, and rebutted in VALIS, and as a result, the novel ends up being more discourse-driven than plot-driven for most of its length.
 As one review suggested this novel is about madness, death, and delusions, yet it is truly a joy to read. The scene in which Horselover goes to see a strange movie with some friends in a prime example of this: the reader is left feeling insane and confused, not knowing what's going on. You start to feel crazy yourself as you read certain sections of the book.
 I'm not going to give away that much more of this excellent novel, because so much of it evades description. Just let Dick do the describing --I was content to sit back and be baffled while reading VALIS --oftentimes my attempts at rationalizing certain plot points had me at a complete loss. This book will really get you thinking, and I think that it is the book in which Dick really poured all of himself into; because of this, it can't really be compared to any other novel ever written...not even other PKD works. The reader can most apparently feel the author's genuine, real-life-insanity in this novel, and its a pleasure to behold simply because of how much it messes with your mind. Don't start off reading Dick's work with this book, though. Make it your fourth or fifth at least, just so you can get a feeling for his tone and style.
This could be PKD's strangest, craziest, most thought-provoking work: and I must say this even as crazy as a lot of his others are plotwise, like UBIK and Now Wait For Last Year. To clarify, the surface plot isn't actually that brazenly unorthodox in VALIS; it is simply the profile of a mentally ill man going about what is, to him, everyday life. The novel just reverberates with the insanity Horselover feels. VALIS is about how an insane man can regain his sanity, but will probably just slip back into madness again...And that the whole world is like that as well. I also saw some parallels between this novel and Silverberg's excellent Dying Inside (especially the psychedelic acid-trip section of Dying Inside which parallels the ultra-weird movie-viewing in VALIS). Read VALIS, and I guarantee that you will have a very strong opinion about it, and that it will stick in your mind long after you've closed the back cover. This quote about Dick just about sums it up: "Dick is the only author whose works literally force me to put the book down from time to time, for fear that reading one more sentence will send me to the insane asylum forever."  

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