In the previous post, we looked at Philip K. Dick’s intellectual and philosophical ties to the early Gnostics. Now, culturally and politically at least, its time to look at the Gnostic in the mirror. Please read on.
Philip K. Dick’s admittedly peculiar but passionately held worldview and the gnosticism it embodies does more than explain what some call the dystopian turn in science fiction from the 1960s onward, it also gives us what has arguably become the dominant mode of understanding of fiction in our time, whether literary, artistic or cinematic. This is the idea that reality is a pernicious illusion, a repressive and authoritarian matrix generated in a dream factory we need to tear down in order to see things aright and have access to the truth. And let’s be honest: it is simply immensely pleasurable to give oneself over to the idea that one has torn aside the veil of illusion and seen the truth — “I am one of the elect, one of the few in the know, in the gnosis.”
Dick’s gnosticism also allows us to see in a new light what is the existentially toughest teaching of traditional Christianity: that sin lies within us in the form of original sin. Once we embrace gnosticism, then we can declare that wickedness does not have its source within the human heart but out there, with the corrupt archons of corporate capitalism or whomever. We are not wicked. It is the world that is wicked. This is an insight that first finds its modern voice in Rousseau before influencing a whole Heinz variety of Romanticisms, which turn on the idea of natural human goodness and childhood innocence. We adults idealize childhood because grown-up life seems such a disaster. We forget that being a child — being that powerless — is often its very own disaster.
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