The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Ah, yes, I dare put Philip K. Dick into the “lit” department, which is where he absoutely belongs. On a strange and almost-hurtful day a few weeks ago I found one beautiful thing in Seoul; surely enough to prevent a Gomorrah, that one beautiful thing in such a city. It was a pile of novels by Philip K. Dick, whose writing is these days much more easily gotten, at least in the nation’s capital. And so, responding to several years’ curiosity, I purchased The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and set it upon my shelf beneath such random books as The Making of a Philosopher by Colin McGinn and Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
I had intended to read the second half of the Quixote, the first half of which I read in India. But something in me shied away from such a thick tome, something of such Biblical proportions, and something else shied away from philosophistry, so when I finished plowing through a couple of volumes of Seamus Heaney’s work, gorged myself on Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future, and wearied of my slow careful travels in the verse of Rimbaud, I decided to read the Philip K. Dick novel. (One of two: Valis waits next in line, on my shelf.)

I don’t want to talk about the plot because if I do I’ll get lost in a landscape of bizarre swirling drugged paisleys knotted into one another like emphatic declarations on cosmic memory cords—that’s how absolutely bizarre this story is. What gets me, though, is that the book is profound. It actually starts out rather cheesy, a psychic waking the morning after with another psychic, and he cannot remember how her got there. But within a few chapters, you find yourself in a world that is as immanent as the world you’re living in now, and yet also as bound into the eternal, to the miraculous and the horror of the profane being suffused by the potentiall sacred; or rather, that which is either sacred or demoniacal, or worse yet which whispers the unsettling possibility that “sacred” and “demoniacal” are things we would never be able to tell apart if we were ever to encounter them.

The last Dick novel I read was A Scanner Darkly, and when I read it, I thought to myself, Okay, Philip, how many more drug-centered books can you write, man? But this book is brilliant. The drugs, the effects, all of it is just too damnably bizarre, but it says nothing that is too bizarre for me to get it. After all, so many people I know live in a world where a loving creator is invisibly omnipresent… and that narrative is so much more simple (and therefore, to me, unbelievable) than the sense of the transcendent that Dick writes about, where the transcendent is scary, totally weird, potentially (from our point of view) cold and awful and way too powerful. Some characters court this being, this deity; others set out to slay it; and the deity itself struggles as much as any other character in the novel. The poor colonists in the Martian wasteland, huddled in their drugged-stupors; the businessmen and their crude wars; the anguish in a man whose heart aches for the wife he loved and never should have left.

Yes, this novel is absolutely wonderful, worth every moment, every page that you stop at the end of, and have to reread, because you get the creeping feeling you missed something—except you haven’t. Nobody in the world can make you feel that way like old P.K. Dick can.

5 thoughts on “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

  1. hi,gord.
    it’s yaerim Lee.
    your homepage has a lot of stuff to look around.
    it’s a little bit hard to understand for me.
    it’s nice,though.

    and that picture on the top, reminds me of the
    elephant-human(?) in indian picture.
    it’s so cool.
    but, you know, I didn’t like that elephant..^^

    take care.

  2. Don’t feel bad. I only finished the first half of Don Q myself. But jeez, I’ve got to go back and re-read all my old PK Dick books. Which I’m sure will have grown and changed since I was in high school. Hominhominahomina.

  3. That’s it. Once I finish Egan’s _Schild’s Ladder_ I’ll turn back to DQ. I *must* finish it and I keep hearing these stories of people who only read the first half! No no no! I shan’t join the ranks… or at any rate, I shan’t remain in them.

  4. It’s funny – Ganesha and I were shooting the breeze the other day, slamming down some peanut coladas, and we started discussing PKD’s novels.

    Ganesha, he thinks PKD’s depth sprang from his mental illness, and that had he been sane, his works would not have the impact they do, whereas I think Dick’s innate talent as a writer would’ve come through no matter what, and any influence of mental illness was primarily thematic rather than textual.

    That Ganesha, he’s a real cool guy, but watch out for the trunk if he’s had too many drinks.

    Oh, and Don Quixote is, like Moby-Dick, worth making it through to the end. At last he was free of those damnable romances.

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