Dear Phil Letter #2

by Frank Bertrand
(Read Frank’s First “Dear Phil Letter“)

Dear Phil,

Your’re probably right, Phil, I am being a bit harsh on those academic
critics who focus on just your so called Valis trilogy to the detriment of,
say, The Man Who Japed, one of my personal favorites. Or, those who
try to make you into a day-glo poster-child for gnosticism or
postmodernism. But damn, what is one suppose to make of something like
this: “…Dick was transformed from an exemplary satirical visionary
into the oracular schlemihl of the postmodern condition.”
? I’m still
not sure what this means in English. Anyways, I don’t think we should ever
become resigned, nor give unquestioning allegiance, to such obfuscating
academic writing.

It seems to me these academic critics would be better off engaging in a
weekend retreat style
fireside chat about this sentence from your interview with me: “The
German Aufklärung influenced me, especially Schiller and his ideas of
freedom; I read his “Wallenstein” trilogy.” After all, you have
indicated in various interviews and letters your strong interest in German
poetry, music, philosophy, literature and history; no wonder, then, that
the German Aufklärung would have influenced you.

It’s certainly an intriguing historical/philosophical phenomena, in that it
was different from the Aufklärung in France and England. Seems that in
those countries it was a movement characterized by sensation, empiricism
and skepticism, whereas in Deutschland it was primarily thought and
idealism. German thinkers, in particular Wolff, Jacobi and Kant, questioned the
culture-ideals of the French/British Enlightenment and ended up instead seeking the
reasons for their
culture in the creative powers of the mind.

The operative word here is, of course, reason, as the Age of
Enlightenment is also known as the Age of Reason. Central to it is the
concept that human reason could and should be used to challenge tyranny,
ignorance and superstition. It was, though, a particular kind of human
reason, combined with logic, based on experience and the analysis of
observed facts. As Gotthold (not Doris!) Lessing apparently said, the real power of reason
lay not in the possession but in the acquisition of truth.
This was in contrast to the darkness of superstition
and irrationality that characterized the Middle Ages.

A good gloss on this is given by someone else you’ve alluded to in your
work, Immanuel Kant of Königsberg, Prussia. Yes, I know, we Kant let ourselves be fooled again! In the
opening paragraph of his infamous 1784 essay, “An Answer to the Question:
What is Enlightenment”
, he writes:

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his
self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s
understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is
self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack
of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere
[dare to know] “Have courage to use your understanding!” &#150

that is the motto of enlightenment.

This motto, Sapere Aude, is certainly one that anyone reading your
stories and novels should keep well in mind. As you’ve stated, Phil, in a
1981 letter, “…the conceptual dislocation – the new idea, in other
words – must…be intellectually stimulating to the reader…[so] it sets
off a chain-reaction of ramifications – ideas in the mind of the reader; it
so-to-speak unlocks the reader’s mind so that that mind, like the
author’s, begins to create.” As for the “conceptual dislocations” that
certain of your academic criitcs engage in, we can only hope that eventually
others will counteract them, eventually.

Regards ideas of freedom, Kant also writes in
this essay, “Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except
freedom. And the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely,
the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters.” He does contrast,
this public use of reason with a private one, “that which a person may
make in a civic post or office that has been entrusted to him.”

Now, I wonder how we might apply this to Ragle Gumm and Bill Black in
Time Out Of Joint. Who, would you say, exemplifies “the freedom to
use reason publicly in all matters,” and who privately? And how would Kant
view, in terms of “ideas of freedom”, what the
government therein does to Gumm in the name of winning a civil war with the

But Kant is just a precursor here, one that is not easily excerpted or
summarized in a single letter. I mention him because Johann Christoph
Friedrich von Schiller spent a good part of three years, in the early
1790s, studying Kant’s philosophy, mainly his Critique of Judgment.
And in the first of his Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education Of
(1794), Schiller writes, to the Duke of Augustenburg,”In truth, I will not keep back from you
that the assertions which follow rest chiefly upon Kantian principles.”
Just four years later the three parts of Wallenstein were first
performed at Weimar, Germany. These would be, as you know, Wallensteins
(Wallenstein’s Camp), a prologue in one act; Piccolomini,
a drama in five acts; and Wallensteins Tod (Wallenstein’s Death), a
tragedy in five acts. In this grand work we find an incisive portrayal of
Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein, the commander-in-chief of the
Holy Roman Empire’s armies during the Thirty Years’ War, as an ambitious
general driven by impulses. Perhaps you don’t know that Goethe once said
Schiller’s Wallenstein is “so great that nothing else of its kind
exists a second time,” or that Thomas Carlyle described it as the “best”
drama of the 18th century.

Coincidentally, Phil, you mention Goethe in the same interview as you did
Schiller, that is, “My main sources were poets, not philosophers; Yeats
and Wordsworth and the seventeenth century English metaphysical poets,
Goethe, and then overt philosophers such as Spinoza and Leibnitz and
Plotinus…” Even more coincidentally, Schiller and Goethe knew each other.
In fact, in 1799 Schiller moved to Weimar and there he and Goethe were
involved with forming, along with Heinrich Meyer, the Weimar Friends Of
The Arts
. And it’s in Weimar that one can find a “Goethe-Schiller” monument
sculpted by Ernst Reitschel. Their friendship apparently started in 1794 via a lively
correspondence and continued in person when they met at a Society For
Scientific Research
symposium in Jena on July 20, 1794. In an August
23rd letter of the same year, Schiller writes to Goethe:

“Your observing mind which rests so quietly and
clearly upon the things, never puts you into any danger of “going astray”
in which speculation as well as deliberate and merely self-relying
imagination may all too easily lead….Minds of this nature seldom know
how far they have come and how little they have reason to borrow from
philosophy, which could only learn from them. The latter can only take
apart and analyze what is given to it, but giving itself is not the
prerogative of the analyst, but of genius which, under the dark but sure
influence of pure reason strives towards more objective

This is a good example of Sapere Aude, Schiller might have
added. As for his own pursuit of it, and your mention of his ideas of
freedom, there are several essays and reflective poems written during the
latter 1790s wherein Schiller develops his aesthetic, critical and
philosophical thinking. In particular his essay, “Über das Erhabene”
(On the Sublime)
is notable for a detailed analysis of why “The morally
cultivated man, and only he, is wholly free.”

According to Schiller such a man becomes superior to nature as a force,
something he describes as “the savage bulk of nature” and “wild incoherence
of nature.” But to do so requires more “clarity of thought” and “energy of
volition” than we are accustomed to exercise. To help this we need to
cultivate our moral and aesthetic tendencies, the former developed by
understanding and the latter aroused by certain sensible objects. Of the
two Schiller evidently feels the aesthetic is more important, or perhaps
prominent, being comprised of feelings for the beautiful and feelings for
the sublime. For it is the sublime that a majority of his essay is devoted

Schiller writes that “…the sublime is a mixed feeling” composed of
melancholy and joyousness. More importantly, “by means of the feeling for
the sublime, therefore, we discover that the state of our minds is not
necessarily determined by the state of our sensations, that the laws of
nature are not necessarily our own, and that we possess a principle proper
to ourselves that is independent of all sensuous affects.” In fact, “the
capability of perceiving the sublime is thus one of the most spendid
propensities of human nature.”

But, “…the sublime must complement the beautiful in order to make
aesthetic education into a complex whole…” Without “the beautiful there
would be a ceaseless quarrel between our natural and rational vocations,”
while without “the sublime, beauty would make us forget our dignity.” The
sublime, then, with its origin in the independent faculties of thought and
volition “is worthy both of our respect and of the most perfect development
because of its influence on man as moral.” It is only then that we
are”…perfect citizens of nature without thereby becoming her slaves and
without squandering our citizenship in the intelligible world.”

Or at least, Phil, this is what I understand Schiller to be saying. I’m
sure though you’ll set me straight if I’ve misrepresented his rather
closely argued thesis. It’s an intriguing one for sure, linking being
wholly free with moral and aesthetic cultivation, one that I see hints of
in your early novel Time Out Of Joint but even more so in
Galactic Pot-Healer and The Man In The High Castle.

There’s one last thing I’d like to note from Schiller’s essay “On The
Sublime,” and it caused me to wonder if you had it in mind, Phil, when you
wrote Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, and that is:

“To noble minds freedom, for all its moral contradictions
and physical evils, is without freedom, when the sheep patiently follow the
shepherd and the autonomous will reduces itself to an obedient cog in a
machine. The latter makes of man a mere product of nature’s ingenuity and
her fortunate subject; but freedom makes him a citizen and co-regent of a
higher system in which it is incomparably more honorable to occupy the
lowest rank than to lead the procession of the physical

This is as good an explantion of what happens to Deckard and Batty in that
novel as I’ve yet seen. Would you agree?

Yours in kipple,
Frank (FCB 7/01)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.