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Abstract Concrete: THE COSMIC PUPPETS

by Barb Morning Child


When I first read THE COSMIC PUPPETS a few years ago I thought it lacked the depth of Dick's later novels. And when I was given the task of writing a critique, I wondered if I could come up with anything beyond the obvious. I read it again a few weeks ago, this time with more scrutiny. Dick had blown my mind with what I had discovered in THE WORLD JONES MADE so I knew not to take this book lightly. THE COSMIC PUPPETS proved to be a mind boggler too. Once again I had to put my mind through calisthenics to find a deeper meaning in the novel.

His first novel! I thought, this being his first book, it would contain less intellectual diversions and hidden symbolism. I was wrong. It turned out to be a philosophical maze! The story depicts the history of Western dualist thought from its origins in ancient Zoroastrianism to the modern day dielectical theories. Dick creates a story that reflects the religions and ideologies of our society, a story of our reality as it would be if the ideologies were taken literally and objectively.

Fortunately he gave us some clues. The most obvious being the names of the predominant spirits, Ormazd and Ahriman. This gives us the connection to the Zorastrian myth. I think Dick hoped that once we had acknowledged this association we'd realise the rest -- the whole story is based on the dielectic dualism of Western civilisation.

Structurally, the book is hinged on the Zoroastrian myth of two archetypal beings, one good and the other evil. The myth expresses the dual nature of human perception and includes our persistent hope for a Saviour who will abolish evil and make a heaven on Earth. The Judeo-Christian theology may have been greatly influenced by Zoroastrianism which arose in ancient Bagdad when it was a major centre of commerce. I believe Philip K. Dick felt Zoroastrianism to be the origin of dualistic theology because THE COSMIC PUPPETS, being the effigy of dualism, is rooted in this myth.

We know that Dick meant for us to compare this story with the myth because he had Dr. Meade give a brief summary of the myth when he described his interpretation and understanding of the situation in Millgate on page 132 of the Berkley edition [Berkley, pb, 06276-7, 1983]: There are two opposing spirits, Ormazd is the spirit of light and good -- the builder. Ahriman is the spirit of darkness and evil -- the wrecker. Ormazd creates and Ahriman distorts. These two entities have agreed to spend thousands of years fighting each other for control of Creation.

But, adding to what Dr. Meade said, there is a saviour in the old Zoroastrian myth called Gayomart, or the Blessed Man. Gayomart was the one who would help Ormazd destroy Ahriman. He is also the Judeo-Christian saviour, the holy one who will come and save the world, the Christ.

At some point in their struggle Ahriman rent the sky and came to earth. The sky closed and he found himself trapped in the material universe until the end of time: Ormazd, following, had cast Ahriman and his demons into a hell in the center of the earth. But it was too late, Creation was already corrupt and distorted by Ahriman. He remains, in the myth, within the material realm to continue his abominable work until the resurrection of the Final Body when all is made good once more. This myth, which is similar to the Christian Book of Revelation, is the basic plot of THE COSMIC PUPPETS.

The creation myth is shown at the beginning of the book where Mary created animals out of clay. Then Peter comes along and distorts her creation. This is how the Zoroastrian myth starts with the creator creating and the distorter distorting.

There is a daughter in the myth, but this daughter just doesn't seem to match the character of Mary in THE COSMIC PUPPETS. So I figured Dick must not have stuck too closely to the original myth. But there is another female character, Spandarmatis, who is Ormazd's wife and who has a multi-faceted role of wife, mother and daughter. Spandarmatis or Mary also represents the typical feminine attributes of nature or Mother Earth.; the regenerative force. She is the Vau or void, the instrument of creation for the god Ormazd.. Her like can be found in many myths; she is the Christian mother, the Virgin Mary and Pallas Athene, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war, the protector of heroes.

Mary is versatile. In the end she becomes fluid and everlasting. Dick gave much to this character, making her encompass all facets of the female essence. He eliminated any negative connotations completely. He was kind to woman in this book, giving her image respect.

The myth tells about the whore who lures Ahriman into the final battle with Ormazd. Unfortunately, in their appropriation of the myth, the Judeo-Christians gave the term whore a negative connotation. This led, inevitably, to woman being blamed for starting the battle between good and evil. Instead of questioning the existence of evil these short-sighted theologians stopped short at the translation of the word whore and made Eve guilty of the Fall of Man. They did not go on to acknowledge the eventual outcome of the cosmic battle which brought about the resurrection of the Final Body, the heaven on earth.

Dick, with the character of Mary, changes this image of woman, going beyond the biases of the predominant Western ideals. He saw that although the woman was called the whore in the Zoroastrian myth, she was a positive force for the eventual outcome of humanity. Without her Ahriman never would have been defeated, he would have remained in the material realm and continued to distort everything. In realising this, Dick removed the burden placed on women by the Judeo-Christian ideology which blamed her for the Fall. Dick set woman free from original sin and put her in a more proper perspective. Instead of giving the whore a negative connotation, he made her righteous. He made the noble and virtuous Mary play the whore when she provoked Peter into battle. Instead of woman being responsible for the downfall of humanity, she plays a significant role in its redemption.

One final point before I leave the Zoroastrian myth to go on to other philosophical ideologies depicted in THE COSMIC PUPPETS. As you have probably realised by now Ted Barton is Gayomart, the Blessed Man, Christ. But he is also something else. He is the natural man, the man who is not contaminated by the change that reified Millgate. He is man before the Fall. The non-reified man who was not present when the change or reification took place. He is free from the assumption and biases of those who are distorted.

As can be expected, Dick expressed other philosophical and sociological ideas in this work. The main theme of the book is the history of the dualist concept. The Zoroastrian myth is used as the basic skeleton of the book and expresses the dualistic ideology of Western religions. Religious dualism between good and evil is shown with the myth itself as the overall structure. The philosophical dualism, the dielectical theories, emerge with the interactions of the story. Just as our philosophical thought has expanded from its origins, the storyline changes to encompass and address the dualism of today.

There are many dualist and dialectic theorists. Dick probably studied them all. I have chosen Hegel as my reference because he is the one with whom I am most familiar. Hegel developed a method which he applied to the mind whereby consciousness in realizing itself abolishes itself by creating its own negation, and as a result passes into a higher mode of unity with its opposite. Eventually the human spirit and the world spirit, out of the act of definite negation, will evolve to a state of absolute knowledge or pure truth. Absolute knowledge is the truth of all modes of consciousness because it is only reached when the object of its knowledge and the subject of certainty are completely resolved.

The dialectic method by which an idea (thesis) is challenged by its opposite (antithesis) then reconciled into a new idea (synthesis) is applied by Hegel to both the human spirit and the world spirit. He believed the human spirit and the world spirit evolved together through a dialectical history of conflict and synthesis. In essence, this is the same as the Judeo-Christian and Zoroastrian belief in two opposing forces battling until a new and better world evolves. When consciousness realises absolute knowledge it enters the realm of pure thought, which is ultimate truth stripped of the husk of ego. Here is God in His eternal essence before the creation of nature and finite spirit.

THE COSMIC PUPPETS is symbolic of this process of dialectic history. It represents the stuggle of consciousness as it tries to transcend the objective false reality to replace it with the ideal subjective reality. Ormazd is the thesis, Ahriman the antithesis and the Millgate that Ted Barton remembers is the synthesis. The definite negation is all the action in Millgate which leads to the realisation of the pure truth when Dr. Meade transforms into the symbol of absolute knowledge, Ormazd. When Dick describes this transformation, he mentions the husk of Meade's human form left behind. Meade has transformed into the God of Light and has become the essence of absolute knowledge. And by having Ormazd take Barton up with him, he takes our consciousness into this realm of pure thought where it dangles in the ultimate creative space.

At this point, held by his heel in space, Barton experiences Christ consciousness. He is become the Hanged man, the crucified Christ. He is made aware of the sacred energy that pulses through all existence. The unconscious is now made conscious. In doing this, Dick has awakened both the human spirit and the world spirit to true consciousness. He has turned around society's values and brought equilibrium to the duality in reality. Out of the negation came the true reality as it should have been if it had not been distorted.

Dick depicts the conflict we experience between subjective and objective reality most clearly when Ted Barton first entered Millgate and found that his subjective memory was different from the Millgate he experienced in the objective reality. The characters are continually faced with this dilemma. Especially the Wanderers! They are outcast from Ahriman's distortion and spend their lives trying to bring back the memory of their objective reality. They have a lot of trouble living in the distortion, they must close their eyes to blot it out and count their steps. The Wanderers represent the thought processes of our mind. They are lost, confused and distorted. They search in a blind void for absolute knowledge, the true reality, but they just can't remember it.

Now we come to the part of the book wher Dick addresses the philosophy of Marx, the next step in the history of dualist thought.

The resemblance to Marxism in THE COSMIC PUPPETS is apparent and may be what first raised the ears of the Thought Police and provoked them to use SS-type spying harassment on him later. But Dick was no pinko. He went far beyond that level of argument; he knew it wouldn't end there. Although he does not address the socio-economic class conflict as the dialectic force at work in our reality, he doesn't ignore the economic factor altogether. He uses it in the setting as part of the distortion.

The part of the real town that Ted Barton missed most was the park. This has significance as it is the symbol of the Garden of Eden, the paradise before the Fall. In the distorted Millgate the park was replaced by the old, rotting and deserted stores: the symbols of the old structure of capitalism. To bring back the park was an important step in bringing back the true reality. It was the first step. Dick felt we should replace the old rotting capitalist structure with something natural. And with this symbolic transformation he acknowledges the part capitalism plays in distorting reality and the importance of replacing it. But he knows that the larger conflict is between our ideal of what reality should be and the objective reality we experience.

The major similarity of THE COSMIC PUPPETS to Marxism is that what Philip K. Dick did with Zoroastrianism, Marx did with Hegel. He brought the myth into reality. Where Hegel used abstract and historical ideas to support his dialectic method, Marx appled the method to the reality of capitalist industrialisation. He turned Hegel's ideological theory from abstract concepts of spirit and thought into the experienced reality of capitalism. He brought the idea into reality. When Dick made the gods human and alive, he brought the Zoroastrian myth into the reality of the story. When the gods became real, the subjective united with the objective, the abstract became concrete. The myth now existed, was real!

This is where Dick was exceptionally creative in his scenario -- the gods existed on one level as omnipotent deities and on another level as humans, therefore we have a clear rendition of our own experiencing psyche: We all have an overwhelming feeling that there are mysterious, external omnipotent forces of good and evil controlling our reality. We also experience good and evil influences through social interaction. They appear as character traits in ourselves and in others. When we think about it we realise that our myths are reflections of our realities.

At first Ted Barton was not aware of what had happened to Millgate. He even questioned his own sanity and true identity. In the distorted reality he had died when he was a boy. It was Peter who took Ted up to his secret place where he revealed to Ted the reason for the distortion. Peter enlightened Ted to the battle between good and evil, he brought the abstract into concrete reality showing the true proportion of the conflict. This scene, on pages 58-61 of the novel, brings to mind the image of Satan tempting Christ on the mountain-top. This is where Satan revealed the truth of the world to Christ, offering the world as his kingdom, because once the truth is known you have the power to rule. Ted, like Jesus, was repulsed by what Peter showed him. He was determined to leave Peter behind. Like Christ, Ted became aware of the dimension of evil and turned away from it.

The deity Ahriman is Peter Trilling, in the book a small boy. he is afraid. He creates things that harm others. He has no self-realisation, he is just there to distort. Although he seems harmless and vulnerable he is very powerful. This character represents the existing social structure. He is the monster that nips at our heels while we are fighting to free ourselves from its domain. He is humanity not yet aware of absolute knowledge of true consciousness; the distortion he created is the false reality of false consciousness. The townspeople of Millgate whose reality is this distortion are the bourgeois who perpetuate the illusion of false consciousness.

We have come to the point where I feel I should explain the sociological conflict according to Georg Lukacs and show the profound similarity of this PKD story to Lukacs ideological theory as set forth in his book History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.

Western society experienced a dramatic reification during the Industrial Revolution. This change caused a seperation of man from nature. Because we are seperated from nature we are estranged from our natural selves and from God. We live in a false reality created by capitalism, a reality of commodities and fetishes, and a distorted idea of the meaning of life.

There are three forms of consciousness in Lukac's theory: false consciousness, class consciousness, and true consciousness. False consciousness is the conscious awareness of only the false reality and the acceptance of this false reality as being true. Those who have class consciousness realise that a contradiction in reality exists but are unaware of the solution, they cannot go beyond the false reality and instead try to work within it. Those who have true consciousness transcend the barriers of the false reality, they realise true consciousness and create a new true reality.

In the story Millgate is a place where there is an objective reality which is not the true reality because something had come along and changed it. The only hope for the characters in the story is to realise that the real Millgate had been distorted and to remember what the true town was really like. This reification of Millgate represents the change to humanity when capitalist socialisation evolved. A false reality was created and humanity faced the problem of transcending the reified reality. The only way to transcend this fasle reality is to obtain true consciousness; the awareness of the falsness of reality and the ability to realise the absolute truth.

True consciousness is dificult to obtain. Most peolple are socialised to have narrow prejudices and strict biases concerning the accepted reality. Like the stalled lumber truck, the maze where Peter twisted Ted up in time, consciousness is twisted up in time. Our history and institutions hold our consciousness in a maze of time in the form of expected behaviour, customs and traditions. So time is a barrier to obtaining true consciousness. It holds consciousness inside the false reality with imposed institutions and a static social structure.

It is essential to acquire true consciousness. To do this we must transcend the limitations imposed by society and redefine the nature of reality. Social and behavioral scientists believe that the way to acquire true consciousness can be found in the non-reified man -- the natural man before the capitalist reification.

Dick shows this ideology clearly. Millgate had undergone a reification and the reality was distorted. Millgate had changed while Ted Barton was away. He had moved before the change occured and was not distorted. Barton is the non-reified man, the missing link to self-knowedge.

Since it is so dificult to obtain true consciousness, the major struggle for most people is to obtain class consciousness. Lukacs points out that the term 'class consciousness' implies a class-conditioned unconsciousness of one's own socio-economic condition. The term 'class' is a false-conscioius idea supporting the class structure. So class consciousness is tainted with false consciousness because it is a consciousness arrived at within the social structure of a false reality.

This is the level of consciousness the Wanderers express. They knew that there had been a change and that they were diferent from the distorted townspeople. But they continued to live within the fringes of the distortion as outcasts. The Wanderers have class consciousness. They are aware of the false reality but are not fully enlightened with true consciousness. They only have vague memories of how the true reality used to be. They want to control Peter rather than get rid of him completely. Conscious of the distortion, they don't know how to change it and can no longer function normally in the false reality. The Wanderer's are Marx's ghosts, they show how phantom objectivity works. The relationship between the distorted townspeople and the Wanderers is one of phantom objectivity. The Wanderers are seen as things rather than people.

Lukacs described the reified consciousness as hopelessly trapped at the two extremes of crude empiricism and abstract utopianism. A person with the consciousness of crude empiricism would be a completely passive observer moving in obedience to laws over which he has no control. To exist in a consciousness of abstract utopianism is to regard oneself as a power able to master the essentially meaningless motion of objects. Dick shows both of these types of reified consciousness in the story. Dr. Meade, the rest of the distortions, Will Christopher, and the Wanderers are crude empiricists trying to live and adjust to the distortion. Peter is the abstract utopian. He, along with his golems, rats, spiders and snakes represent the capitalists of Big Business, their politicians and their enforcers. Strangely enough, Mary too is an abstract utopian, only her power to master the motion of objects is not meaningless. This reveals a quality in the nature of abstract utopianism that Lukacs had missed.

Will Christopher represents both the will of the workers and the lumpenproletariat -- Marx's "refuse of all classes", the unemployed, the displaced and disposessed. Will used to have his own business before the change and is, then, one of the petty bourgeoisie who've lost their small businesses due to Big Business predation. He was also an electrician, a skilled worker, before the change and represents all the unemployed workers. He then becomes one of the homeless, degenerating as he tries to live in the distorted society.

Will, although a drunken bum living in a cardboard box, knows that his world is distorted and that he is too. He has class consciousness: he lives within the false reality of false consciousness. Aware of the distortion he is unable to create the true reality. He tries to reconstruct it by his labor but the distortion deteriorates all his work. He develops the Spell Remover, a device to bring back the true reality, but finds that it doesn't work. With this example Dick is telling us that our technologies are useless in effecting the complete change.

Ted Barton had to work with Will before he could bring back a substantial part of the old, non-reified reality. Together they brought back the park. The symbol of the working force and the lumpenproletariat, Will Christopher, must unite with true consciousness, Ted Barton, before it can turn back capitalism. Will had the desire to bring back the true Millgate, he just needed true consciousness to help him do it.

Ted and Will solved the materialist dilemma which questions whether the objective is or can be independent of the subjective. In THE COSMIC PUPPETS the will of humanity and true consciousness, both subjective concepts, bring back the true objective reality. The subjective thoughts of Ted and Will were in unity with the objective reality.

Ted Barton as a saviour? The Wanderers mistrust of Barton brings us face to face with the problem of following a proposed Christ. Can we trust him? Many are those who trusted in false prophets and were led to death or futility. Is Ted Barton a false prophet and how do we tell? Dick points out that even Barton doesn't know. He wasn't campaigning for any god. He doesn't even know his god. All he can say for himself is that he is honestly seeking for the true Millgate and for his own identity. We do know that Barton brought back the park, he replaced the old, rotting stores with a garden of Eden. Perhaps we should judge a prophet by his deeds, by the fruit of his labor. It's like looking in a glass darkly, life is a riddle.

Mary as Mother Earth, the natural objective reality, plays a significant role in the Dickian dialectic model. Peter or Ahriman is allowed to distort reality but when he attacks Mary the battle rages forth. This attack on Mary is symbolic of the attack of industrialisation on Mother Earth. With this symbology Dick shows us an important factor in our own distorted reality: the pollution and environmental destruction caused by the modern capitalist society affects us too. Only the unity of our ideal reality with nature, the wholistic approach, will save humanity.

Mary becomes a golem. She becomes one of Peter's creatures, but she did not turn evil, she was still Mary. This point is essential: she must become one of his creatures. The golems are Peter's army. Mary, in this instance, represents empathy and love, essential motivators for humanity to take control and create a better reality. Basically Dick is telling us that the soldiers and enforcers of the false reality must become human and fight for humanity instead of against it. But to do this they need empathy and love. Mary, again symbolising the infusion of love, must save Ted Barton at the crisis of the book. Ted, the symbol of true consciousness, was just about defeated in his recreation -- even the tire iron had turned back to a ball of string -- but was saved by Mary's intervention.

The existentialist idea that we have made our own history and are responsible for our reality puts us in a position where reality can be understood as our own action. We question our reality. It sparks a new consciousness. Dick clearly understood this view of reality and made it a major theme in his other works. In THE COSMIC PUPPETS this concept comes through with his characters: their actions brought back the true reality. The unity of their thoughts and actions upon the objective reality made the true Millgate reappear.

One major definite negation in the book is the contradiction of the Wanderers. They are the proletariat, the political force that would accomplish the downfall of capitalism. They experience a different reality than the simulated reality of the distortions and contradict that reality. They are the evidence of its distortion.

According to Lukacs, the true reality can be brought about with the conscious deeds of the proletariat. But until the proletariat has achieved true consciousness and the ability to understand the crisis fully, it cannot go beyond mere criticism of the reification. The conscious acts of the Wanderers helped to return the true reality. When Ted Barton came and gave them true consciousness of their reality, he told them the truth. It was only then that the Wanderers went beyond the reified world and became a positive force.

On page 149 of the novel Dick describes an archaic, timeless process of magic called M-Kinetics. This is sympathetic magic and consists of making an accurate representation of an object and considering it to be the object itself. Any difference between them is purely logical. The Wanderers use symbolic representation and a lot of hard work keeping records of all that they can remember of Millgate before the change. Yet it is not enough, all their efforts fail. Dick points out here that academic theorizing and the scientific method will still fail. All efforts fail until Mary as the golem stimulates Ted Barton to wake up her father, Dr. Meade, to realisation of his true self.

Dr. Meade represents the intelligentsia. He knows about the change but does nothing to turn it back. He recognizes the contradiction and he tries to help the victims of the false reality, the Wanderers, but he does not want to change the social structure which created the Wanderers in the first place. He accepts the false reality because he lives comfortably within it.

Dick shows us that the intelligentsia are the most important agent of the change. He makes them the God of Light. He places human destiny in their hands. There comes a point in the story where everything is failing. Even Ted Barton, the non-reified man, was losing control of reality. They were all being defeated. Their only hope was that Dr. Meade would realise who he really was, otherwise the war was lost. Meade didn't want to become aware of his true identity because it meant his own demise. The intelligentsia do not want to realise their role in bringing about a new reality because they fear a loss of status. The catalyst that made Dr. Meade realise that he must give up the false reality was the death of Mary (Mother Earth). Then when Ted Barton confronted him with his true identity he could not deny it. When the intelligentsia are confronted with true consciousness they will no longer be able to cling to the false reality.

When the true reality was realised and the old distortion abolished, things changed to the way they would have been if the reification had not taken place. Will Christopher does not remember anything at the end of the book. Consciousness, in eliminating Ahriman or evil, has no memory of it even existing. Evil is no longer a conscious memory to us.

Continued on THE COSMIC PUPPETS 2.


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