Warren Ellis’ The Sunday Hangover #7

I’ve decided to expand this blog to things outside of just comics, including, but not limited to, all kinds of writing, art, movies and the very small collection of television programs I’m interested in.

The  Sunday Hangover is a column by one of my favorite comic writers, Warren Ellis, it appears on the Suicide Girls website weekly and I think it’s quite good and occasionally inspirational.  He has a new book out called Crooked Little Vein, which I intend on buying and finishing this weekend.  A review will surely be posted.  Carry on.


“The other week I made reference to “the Philip K Dick Condition.”

Philip Dick, to my mind, was the great visionary writer of the 20th Century. Alan Moore thinks it’s Lovecraft, but I think Dick contains Lovecraft, and Kafka, and in his own visions recontextualises and adds to them both. He was a visionary in both senses: he saw the future, and suffered his own instructive hallucinations.

And never doubt the power of seeing things that aren’t there. Rene Descartes, the father of modern mathematics, had his whole method explicated to him by an angel he saw in a dream. Mathematical logic as we understand it today is a hypnogogic vision.

Which is as good a way as any to understand Philip Dick and the 21st Century. What makes Philip Dick more relevant to today is not necessarily the quality of his fantasy, but the complexity of it. And him. Philip Dick was as much an anti-hero as any of his characters. He’s a counter-cultural hero whose personality was forged in the fifties, not the sixties. He was a champion of the drug culture who attempted to sell out friends and acquaintances to the FBI. He saw into people, but knew himself not at all. This is a guy who took speed every day for years, and then was told by a doctor that his liver was so fantastically efficient that it processed out any drugs in his system before they had a chance to affect his central nervous system. To which he replied, well, I guess that explains why I like to take speed before I go to bed. The only writer on earth who’d write for ninety-six hours straight and then pass out on the office floor due to the placebo effect.

He was religious, in that slightly creepy near-agnostic way that seems to affect middle-aged American science fiction writers. Whitley Strieber’s another one — before he got into the whole anal-probe stage of his career, Strieber freely admitted to having tried every religion on the shelf. He actually said out loud the words “I have experimented with worshipping the earth.” He spent a significant chunk of his life looking for something bigger to give responsibility to. As did Philip Dick, who went through various denominations of Christian church in the hunt for something. Which he found in 1974. Just as Whitley Strieber supposedly found Anal Aliens, Philip Dick found his own science-fictional epiphany. He swore blind, in fact, that a satellite was firing into his brain an information-rich pink laser from orbit.

Like many middle-aged American science fiction writers, he needed more spaceships in his life.

He wrote a million-word diary, termed his Exegesis, where he tried to understand what he perceived to be happening to him. Something was streaming data into his head. He needed to understand what. He believed — and this is hardly unique to him — that something was seriously wrong with the nature of reality, and he needed to understand that. (His problems with reality extended to considering that a chunk of history actually hadn’t happened at all. For a good piece of his later life, he thought we were all living in the early years of the first millennium. That in fact we were stuck in the emergent years of Christianity and everything we think we know is fake. Most of you will recall this notion from THE MATRIX.)

Phil Dick didn’t need a vast invisible satellite to explain away the fact that he finally started paying his bills and chasing his agent for slipped royalties. But it helped to think so. He suddenly “knew”, one day, that his son had some kind of undiagnosed physical defect and took him to get checked out. Which is either knowledge from beyond or the sudden paranoia of someone who was both a famed nutcase and drenched in amphetamines and also wrote some of the most paranoid fiction of the 20th century.

And make no mistake, Phil Dick was mental. As mad as Lovecraft, who was afraid of everything. Phil Dick used to leave notes for the FBI, informing on his friends, under his garbage cans, certain that that was where the FBI were checking. On the street, he’d be almost overwhelmed by the compulsion to surrender to passing police officers. If he were around today, he’d be holding up handpainted signs reading “I give up” to security cameras. In Britain, there are plans to erect listening posts running software coded to pick out criminal phrases and terroristic language. Trust me: as scary as it seems here, George Bush’s America doesn’t have a monopoly on the Philip K Dick condition.

I honestly think Phil Dick was hearing the same thing that Terence McKenna was hearing when he thought the mushroom was speaking to him, and which magicians hear when they enter into conversation with angels or demons. I’ll return to this another time, if I for some reason have another lucid Sunday morning soon.”

Read all of Warren Ellis’ column here


1 Response to “Warren Ellis’ The Sunday Hangover #7”

  1. 1 Dew
    August 17, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    You have so many interests in common with my husband. I keep forgetting to suggest he come read this blog. Maybe your wife will remind me!

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