philipkdickrecliningPhilip K. Dick was born six weeks prematurely, as one half of a set of fraternal twins, on December 16th, 1928. Dick spent his entire life searching for the "dark haired girl" he lost when his twin sister, Jane, died on their due date, January 26th, 1929.


"I was a very lonely child, and I would love to have had my sister with me, all these years."1 He blamed his mother, Dorothy, for Jane's death. A visiting nurse found both twins in failing health and rushed them to the hospital. Jane died on the way.

Dick sought to recreate his sister in fiction.

"When I was a little kid I had a fantasy sister, a make-believe sister, like all kids have make-believe friends. And my novels are my make-believe world, and they're full of my friends."1

Sometimes he felt tormented by Jane. In 1974 he saw God in a blinding flash of pink light. He spent the rest of his life, and more than a million words--in what he called his "Exegesis"--trying to make sense of the experience.

At times he harbored a lingering doubt: what if the pink light had not been God but merely Jane?

Towards the end of his life he seemed to reconcile the two views. He wrote in his Exegesis:

"Yes. It is female. It is on the other side— the postmortem world. It has been with me all my life. It is my twin sister Jane."2

Screen_shot_2012-12-16_at_1.15.29_PMOver the course of his career, Dick gave several interviews in which he recounted incidents from his past; his biographers have tracked down fragments of written statements and letters from his parents, have interviewed his friends and associates; two of his (five) ex-wives have written reminiscences; and yet the story of his life does not cohere. There are numerous lacunae, and where the narratives overlap they do not agree.

This, for example, is Dick's version of moving out of his mother's house at age nineteen:

I remember when I told my mother I was moving out. "I'll call the police," she said. "I'll see you in jail first." Naturally I asked why she felt that way. "Because if you move out and leave me," she said, "you'll wind up a homosexual." I had to go and ask why, again. "Because you're weak," she said. "Weak, weak, WEAK."3


This is his mother's version:

Here again, his account will differ from mine. It was friendly, in fact it was at my suggestion, and he came back almost every evening for a long talk-fest. I remember the yellow cat we had at the time; he couldn't understand why Philip would come in the front door, stay a couple of hours, and then leave.3

Dick himself often gave several incompatible versions of the same event.

About the infamous break-in of his house, demolition of his safe, and theft of his gun, on November 17th (or 18th, accounts differ), 1971, Paul Williams, who interviewed Dick for Rolling Stone, counted at least five different theories.1

His second wife, Kleo Mini, had this to say about his ever-shifting autobiographical narrative:

I shouldn't say it's not true. If we're talking about Philip, essentially it's true-it just didn't happen.3

More than thirty years after his death, Philip Dick's fiction is more real than his life.

PKD with cat

Dick wrote more than seventy novels and more than one-hundred and twenty short stories.

Dick craved success and recognition as a "mainstream" author, especially during the fifties when he wrote several entirely mainstream novels, all of which were rejected (one was published in his lifetime ( in the 1970s) and many more were published after his death).

Dick wrote three novels in the fifties, The Cosmic Puppets, Time Out of Joint, and The Eye in the Sky, that combined mainstream narratives with fantasy or science fiction elements.

One of the paradoxes of Dick's writing is that not only are his science fiction novels better, in general, that his "mainstream" books, but the "mainstream" sections of his fantasy and science fiction books—the essentially straight depictions of day to day life in 1950s America—are better than the comparable depictions in his entirely mainstream books.

Perhaps his best book of the fifties is The Cosmic Puppets.

Richard Barton returns to his hometown of Millgate Virgina to find that everything has changed, decayed, become weary and ancient and unrecognizable.

He searches the newspaper archives and discovers his own name: his birth is recorded in 1926, and his death, of scarlet fever, in 1935.

A menacing child informs him that having now entered Millgate, he cannot leave: a "barrier" blocks egress.

Desperate to escape, he drives his car out of town. The road had been clear on his way in, but now he discovers the barrier:

He would have expected something weird. Something vast and macabre, an ominous wall of some sort, mysterious and cosmic. A supraterrestrial layer barring the road.

But he was wrong. It was a stalled lumber truck. An ancient truck, with iron wheels and no gear shift. Round headlights, the old-fashioned brass lamps. Its load was spilled all the way across the highway. The wires had broken; the truck had careened at an angle and stopped dead, logs spilling off in all directions.4

Barton gets out of his car, determined to climb over the logs. He climbs onto one, it begin to roll and split; he jumps to another, and then another.

Gasping, panting for breath, Barton lay stretched out on the log, waves of relief flooding over him. Finally, he pulled himself to a sitting position. If he could go a little farther he should be able to catch hold of the truck itself. Pull himself onto it. That would be half way. He could rest . . .

He was as far away as before. No closer. For a moment he doubted his sanity; then understanding came. He had got turned around. The logs were a maze.4

Dick experienced crippling bouts of anxiety, vertigo, and agoraphobia throughout his life. He periodically felt confined by "barriers" that appeared and disappeared unpredictably. He often felt unbalanced and disoriented.


Philip K Dick: the private man. Photograph: Philippe Hupp/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Dick makes an easy subject for arm-chair psychoanalysts and cognitive neuroscientists.

His hallucinations and visions are similar to the auras of patients with temporal-lobe epilepsy. His frequent bouts of manic activity and graphomania , followed by periods of depression, suggest bipolar disorder. His persecution fantasies suggest paranoia. His frequent drug use, both licit--for health reasons--and illicit, did not help his mental clarity and create confusion in retrospect as to what, in his mental instability, was congenital, what chemically induced.

He used amphetamines regularly during the fifties and early sixties to facilitate his marathon writing sessions. (He wrote eleven novels between 1963 and 1965.)

When a doctor convinced him to quit amphetamines in the 1970s, he was shocked to discover that he didn't need them; he could still complete a novel in eight to ten days of writing with almost no sleep.

240px-Stanisaw_LemIn the early 1970s Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem wrote two essays, published in German, in which he criticized American science fiction in general, but singled out and praised Philip K. Dick. Lem considered American science fiction to be trashy, he considered Dick's writing to be trashy as well, but argued that Dick turned trash into art:

In short, Dick succeeds in changing a circus tent into a temple, and during this process the reader may experience catharsis.5

Lem tried to get Dick's works published in Poland, and the two authors corresponded briefly. But when Lem informed Dick that he would have to travel to Poland in order to collect royalty checks, Dick became suspicious, believing that he was being lured into a Soviet brainwashing trap.

In 1974 Dick wrote a letter to the FBI that included this line:

For an Iron Curtain Party group - Lem is probably a composite committee rather than an individual, since he writes in several styles and sometimes reads foreign, to him, languages and sometimes does not - to gain monopoly positions of power from which they can control opinion through criticism and pedagogic essays is a threat to our whole field of science fiction and its free exchange of views and ideas.6

Dick's last completed novel, The Transmogrification of Timothy Archer, was written from the perspective of a woman named Angel Archer. Dick Spoke with Gwen Lee--shortly before his death in 1982—about Angel:

"She's smarter than I am, she's more rational than I am, she's more educated than I am, and she has a broader vocabulary than I have, and she has— she's acquainted with source material, books, that she's read that I have not read."7

And in his Exegesis he wrote:

"I identify Angel as Jane. I identify Angel as my soul. Therefore Jane is my soul, who does the writing."2

PKD with black cat Gwen Lee

[ Photo by Gwen Lee ]


Often people claim to remember past lives; I claim to remember a different, very different, present life.8

I am being caught in a sin of the highest magnitude: using Aristotelian two-value logic: "A thing is either A or not-A." (The Law of the Excluded Middle.) Everybody knows that Aristotelian two-value logic is fucked.9

Love without guts is worthless.7



1. Only Apparently Real: The World of Philip K. Dick, by Paul Williams, (1986), Entwhistle Books, Encinitas. 

2. The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011). Edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. 

3. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin (1989). Caroll and Graff, New York.

4. The Cosmic Puppets, by Philip K. Dick (1957). Mariner Books; Reissue edition (July 17, 2012)

5. Microworlds, by Stanislaw Lem. Mariner Books (1986).

6. Stanislaw Lem web site FAQ.

7. What if Our World is Their Heaven: The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick, (2000), edited by Gwen Lee and Doris Elaine Sauter. Overlook Press, New York.

8. I am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Phiip K. Dick, By Emmanuel Carerre (1993). Metropolitan Books, New York. 

9. Valis, by Philip K. Dick (1981). Mariner Books (reissued 2011). 

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 16 December 2014
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