Philip K. Dick, “The Divine Invasion” (1981)

Philip K. Dick’s The Divine Invasion is the second in the loosely joined “VALIS trilogy.”  There three novels reflect Dick’s late life obsession with religious themes., often identified with a gnostic turn in Dick’s writing.  Perhaps this is a consequence of his earlier concerns about the fragmentary nature of reality and time.  If the physical reality is uncertain and dubious, why not turn to the religious or spiritual realm for security.  I do not want to speak of this as a loss, since we do not lose Dick’s earlier works that had much more mature responses to the crisis of late capitalism.  Nevertheless, what Dick is doing in The Divine Invasion and the VALIS trilogy is an essentially different answer to late capitalism to the ones that satisfied him for most of his career.  To make it clear, for most of his career, Dick believed that human solidarity, self-sacrifice, and empathy formed the foundation to the resistance to the liquid world.  By the time of The Divine Invasion Dick is looking for a savior from outside humanity.  In this case, salvation comes from the literal second coming of Christ.  For me this is an unsatisfying turn.  It is also too common.  Millions of people facing liquid modernity have turned away from the Enlightenment, from science, from belief in human progress, from striving for justice, and from community and turned toward religious fundamentalism, new religious movements, New Ageism.  Not often this shift is combined with cynicism, fear, mistrust, and anxiety.  It is not an uncommon response to late capitalism, but one utterly doomed to fail because it does not challenge those in power.  Remember, that in most of Dick’s novels, the fungible reality was not a state of being, but the conscious product of powerful, malevolent forces.  You fight those powers in this world, not in some spiritual realm.

invasion1invasion2

The plot of The Divine Invasion covers the conception, birth and childhood of Emmanuel, the physical avatar of Yah, the God Yahweh, in exile on another planet, along with much of humanity, who are forced to flee to the colonies or join the military and face certain death.  After a virgin conception, Emmanuel’s mother and step father return to Earth.  They are nearly destroyed by the forces of the government and the mainstream Christian-Islamic-Church.  Emmanuel’s father wakes up ten years after a car wreck to find that his “son” has grown up.  The demon Belial attempts to prevent Emmanuel’s maturity but is defeated by Emmanuel’s friend Zina Pallas (actually a spiritual force in her own right).  Each entity that chooses good in a similar choice between Emmanuel and Belial will be integral in constructing a new world.  “Not as a human figure such as yourself,” he tells his father, “I am not as you see me; I am now shed my human side, that derived from my mother, Rybys.  Zina and I will united in a syzygy which is macrocosmic; we will not have a soma, which is to say, a physical body distinct from the world.  The world will be our body, and our mind will be the world’s mind.  It will also be your mind, Herbert.  And the mind of every other creature that has chosen its yetzer ha-tov, its good spirit.”  The fact that there is some participatory potential is a remnant of Dick’s older belief in the role of choosing goodness, but now it is a choice between Belial and a savior.

The church and state, the joined ruling powers in the world of The Divine Invasion, are as odious as any in the PKD universe.  The Christian-Islamic-Church is utterly corrupt.  As one chapter opens: “Cardinal Fulton Statler Harms, Chief Prelate of the vast organizational network that comprised the Christian-Islamic-Church, could not for the life of him figure our why there wasn’t a sufficient amount of money in his Special Discretionary Fund to cover his mistress’ expenses.” The government attempts to force an abortion to stop the birth of Emmanuel.  These powers seem to be in the pocket of Belial.  As you will recall, in Paradise Lost, Belial worked through the systems of power and advised Lucifer to fight his war against Heaven via the rules of Realpolitik.  This is merely a religious interpretation of claims Dick had already made throughout his work, that the state, capital, and other forms of institutional power are irredeemably corrupted.

At the same time, Dick here is willing to pass much of the good done in the world to the religious forces of good.  Elias, an apparent avatar of Elijah, says: “I was with Graf Egemont in teh Dutch wars of independence, the Thirty Years War. . .  I knew Beethoven. . . We engineered the American Revolution.”  The lesson is clear, there is a divine spark in all great libertarian efforts.  In another place, Zina reminds Belial.  “The strong should protect the weak.  The Torah says so.  It is a basic idea of the Torah; it is the basic to God’s law.  As God protects man, so man should protect the disadvantaged, even down to animals and the nobler tress.”

To sum up, The Divine Invasion takes the question at the heart of all Dick’s work: Where can we locate human solidarity, freedom, happiness, and truth when surrounded by an empire of lies and the institutions that support it?  I am not sure if Dick had abandoned his old faith in humanity by looking for an outside savior.  On this issue, I clearly find his earlier efforts more satisfying.