The title “Go Ask VALIS” is a mash-up of:
1) “Go Ask Alice,” a popular 1971 memoir anonymously written by a teenage drug addict
2) “VALIS,” one of science-fiction author Philip K. Dick’s later works
“VALIS” starts out as this very realistic, tonal narrative about a gentleman who goes insane & is hospitalized after his good friend goes insane and kills herself. Then it suddenly becomes a sci-fi story. Then the author himself completely breaks the 4th Wall & insists that this is a real thing that happened to him, including the fantastic bits. To paraphrase author Robert Anton Wilson, “VALIS” is an account of Philip K. Dick going crazy.
If you are seeking to crack open your first PKD book, I would not recommend “VALIS” (unless you are specifically looking for weird shit). The narrative, and the reality of the fictional world, utterly collapses into something akin to a psychedelic religious treatise.
That said, “VALIS” is a document that I would describe as a “weirdness magnet.” It is a nexus-point. As with my dreams back in college, the more you train your attention upon “VALIS”…the more it begins to train its attention on you.
I didn’t read Philip K. Dick in college; you’d be surprised to learn that I had barely heard of him. No, the author I was obsessed with during those years was William Burroughs. And I first discovered Burroughs randomly on the shelves of my college library. The book was “The Ticket That Exploded,” and I think I read half of it just standing there by the metal bookrack, just completely enthralled.
I was already quite a popular and ebullient figure on the campus before I ran into WSB: so of course, I only became more attractive & sought-after by the cool kids after I decided to model my writing style upon his. I think my intro to Creative Writing professor gave me a “C” largely upon his stated hatred for said Burroughs, whose work he considered “faddish” & “garbage.”
Central to the Burroughs philosophy is the concept of words as a type of parasitic virus, capable of potentially infecting people and driving them out of their damn minds.
Now, how does the Gospel of John begin? “In the beginning was the Word.” And the word was sticky. And the word was conscious. And the word was apparently an extra-dimensional alien intelligence; which, coincidentally, was exactly how PKD considered VALIS (the entity) to be.
When you’ve encountered mistreatment and abuse in your lifetime—and you also seem to semi-regularly run into unexplained & anomalous phenomena—you are in quite a pickle.
First of all, according to the literature, persons who have experienced intense abuse in childhood often also seem to demonstrate various shamanic tendencies. And one of the explanations for that is that the abuse “drives” the psyche of the child “inward,” making them more likely to encounter & attract Weird Shit. The modern equivalent of the initiation of the Shaman, basically, in a society that largely doesn’t believe in shamanism (much less the existence of intangible things as, say, a soul).
But the child (and the adult who used to be the child) will often also want to be “believed” about the abuse. The Child wants Justice for the abuse. But any type of temporal “justice” for the abuse & mistreatment will hinge on said child/adult being a “credible” witness.
And the child’s speaking to ghosts.
When I was around 3, I had an “imaginary friend” named “EOE.” And that’s exactly how I spelled its name in my preschool scrawl: “E-O-E.”
When my mother asked me who EOE was, I responded that he was “a 12-year-old African boy.”
And my Mom was like:
Now, when I was an adult, well into my 20’s, my mother explained to me why exactly she was so freaked out by my imaginary friend (besides the obvious). Well, the immediate previous tenants of the apartment were Black, and had a son in his early adolescence (10-12) who died *in the apartment* due to an illness.
And that was my friend!
Further, there is apparently a Nigerian ancestor spirit ritual called (wait for it) the “Eyo” festival.
Which is a festival where you essentially talk to “dead people.”
Now, how did I know to look up this Nigerian ritual in connection with my old imaginary friend EOE?
Because I had a dream back in college that presented me with the strange word, “Lagos.” Which is the name of the place in Nigeria where they perform the Eyo festival honoring dead spirits…in Africa…my early childhood imaginary friend being identified (by 3-year-old me) as specifically African…the boy who lived (and died) in the apartment before me being Black and around 10-12 years old…me also specifically identifying this entity as “an African 12-year-old boy.
Now. That’s all rather very interesting, in a sort of anecdotal Fortean way.
But say now I’ve been sexually assaulted as an adult…and I want some sense of “justice”…and meanwhile I’m talking about the imaginary friend I had as a 3-year-old and the dead kid in the apartment and the Nigerian “Eyo” spirit festival…
See, right there: I’m no longer “credible,” correct?
So what do I do? I try to keep all this stuff inside of me—all the spirituality, all of the esotericism—so I can be credible. So I don’t can get “justice.”
But it doesn’t fucking WORK that way.
It doesn’t fucking work that way, because “justice” in this society is ephemeral at best, and very often dependent on other factors such as political convenience etc.
And it doesn’t fucking work that way because if you’ve received the shamanic “call” with the level of volume & insistence that I have in my 48 years…and you IGNORE this call…you’re FUCKED.
As a footnote, remember what I wrote about my Brazilian great-grandmother in Part 2; how she was a village “wise woman” who dealt with healing herbs, psychics, etc?
Now, who originally brought over to Brazil many of these shamanic/spiritual beliefs & practices ?