Philip K. Dick, “Counter-Clock World” (1967)

I am actually not sure how the reverse time schema (Hobart’s Phase) is supposed to work in Philip K. Dick’s Counter-Clock World.  For instance, the dead come back to life, smoking and eating are in reverse, and at the end of your life the sperm and egg separate (and this requires a sex act).  In other ways, the reverse time is institutionally enforced, as with the Library.  This is actually a reverse library.  Instead of acquiring information, they destroy it as the creators of books reach the age (in reverse-time) that they created the work.  The reason people do not die in their graves after being resurrected is that agencies called Vitarium try to predict when people will awaken, work with police to get them out of the ground, and profit from their rebirth, not unlike how funeral agencies profit from our deaths.  People do not relive their lives backward.  Indeed their lives can change, taking on new lovers or new careers.  The United States remained politically divided between races; black nationalism was victorious in this timeline.  People still talk in a linear fashion and people still seem to live with an eye to their “future”.  It seems to me that Counter-Clock World is Dick’s attempt to play with the themes of religion and resurrection, creating a universe in which a religious leader can literally return from the dead.  The reverse-time structure he uses requires a soul.


I was also reminded of Origen of Alexandria.  He believed that all of creation (including the devil and all sinners) would return to God at the end.  It seems, that given a fallen world, Dick’s Hobart Phase would provide a means for this to happen.  The fact the plot here involved the resurrection, albeit non-miraculous, of a religious leader leading to a epic religious conflict lead me to think Dick is more mindful of the resurrection of Jesus than the eschatology of an early Christian thinker.  The resurrected spiritual leader, Anarch Peak, even comes back with a spiritual message from God.  It is not clear if this is not something that all of the “old-born” experience.  Other “old-born” reference certain mystical memories from their death.  The chapter epigraphs are all religious in tone and source, suggesting again that Dick is trying to make a theological argument.  Here is a bit.  “Eidos is form.  Like Plato’s category–the absolute reality.  It exists; Plato was right.  Eidos is imprinted on passive matter; matter isn’t evil, it’s just inert, like clay.  There’s an anti-eidos, too; a form-destroying factor.  This is what people experience as evil, the decay of forms.  But the antiedos is an eidolon, a delusion; once impressed, the form is eternal–it’s just that it undergoes a constant evolution, so that we can’t perceive the form.  The way, for instance, the child disappears into the man, or, like we have now, the man swindles away into the child.  It looks like the man is gone, but actually the universal, the category, the form–it’s still there.” Dick is presenting what could be the heart of his rebellion against the liquid world of late capitalism.  This conflict can actually best be looked at through Dick’s conflict with monogamy.  On the one hand, it seems that the liquid world means flexible relationships and loose commitments and given that challenge, perhaps it is absolute loyalty that provides a means of resistance to our displacements.

Origen- An early proponent of inverse time?

Origen- An early proponent of inverse time?

Philip K. Dick was clearly conflicted about monogamy.  This marital dilemmas often are honestly retold in his novels.  The fact that he married five times tells us he had a deep personal commitment to at least the concept of monogamy, having married most (perhaps all) of the women he slept with.  Of course, these marriages did not tend to work out well for Dick.  Counter-Clock World is one of his novels that explores the nature of relationships.   A major subplot of Counter-Clock World covers the broken marriage (due to adultery) between an owner of a Vitarium, Sebastian, and Ann Fisher a philosophically-inclined associate of his.  Significant amount of ink is spent describing Ann’s attempts to convince Sebastian that his marriage is failed and that he should go to bed with her.  “I see no barrier to our relationship.  Lotta is shacking up with someone else; you’re alone.  I’m alone.  What’s the problem?  We’ve done nothing illegal; your wife is a phobic child, scared by everything–you’re making a mistake, taking her neurotic fears seriously; you ought to tell her, swim or drown. I would. ”  The woman as seducer, the mentally ill wife, and the failed marriage comes up again and again in Dick’s work.  Staying on the theme of Philip K. Dick’s relevance to our world today, I wonder if even Dick’s conflict with monogamy is not prescient.  We are still bombarded with images telling us that monogamy is natural and ideal.  Most of us will marry at some point in our lives, despite growing divorce rates.  I am convinced that many of these divorces are due to the inevitable crisis between the ideal of monogamy promoted by culture, education, and family meets a brutal reality of a liquid world.  Relationships lack permanence because we are incapable of establishing ourselves anywhere.  We change careers, like we change partners.  Forcing monogamy and marriage on such a structure seems foolish.  Dick may have been on the edge of defining this dilemma.  Dan Savage is close to making this point.

I will try to come back to this question in later posts.  I will leave you with a photo of Dick with one of his wives.  He divorced the old one before moving on, so we do not have a photo of all of them together.  Such a traditionalist.


4 responses to “Philip K. Dick, “Counter-Clock World” (1967)

  1. Pingback: Philip K. Dick, “Introduction” | Neither Kings nor Americans

  2. As in other of his 1960s stuff of course,Dick is exposing the everyday world of his literary universe,by revealing the truth of the afterlife,and “God” is becoming a reality.Religious experience is commonplace and therefore merely matter-of-fact.The Anarch Peak says something like I have seen God,do you doubt me?Religious institutions have no merit in this altered ontological climate.With the dead being resurrected,reality has gone awry.

    Peak is based on Dick’s associate,Bishop James Pike of the Diocese of California,who is remembered in this future,Californian world strangely enough,but of course this is Dick’s playful way of merging documented fact with fiction,for a masterly state of affairs.His reappearance however,of a former religious leader,whose former province was institutionalized faith,begins to spark a political rebellion,which is seen as dangerous now he has undoubted theological knowledge.

    This is a marvelous example I think,of empirical theology being the cause of ordinary political and social upheaval in a society crumbling because of the weakness in apparent scientific reality and the true tales of the afterlife from reliable eye witnesses.Is it a wonder that values such as logic and family stability vanish in the face of miraculous truth?How can marriage survive in a world where religious institution,that formally held it together,have no strength now that theology is subject to absolute truth ? Marriage it seems was only supported by orthodox faith.

    I have seen that photo of Dick and his fourth wife before.He wrote “Flow My Tears,the Policeman Said” about the time they separated,which dealt with a breakdown of formal relationships and the depiction of new,immoral ones.Dick’s new,lonely life left him unable to write for two and a half years,whereas during his former marriage,he wrote some of his best stuff,including Dadoes,”Ubik”,”Galactic Pot-Healer” and “Faith of Our Fathers.In which way was he better off?

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