Something Rich and Strange: P.K. Dick’s “Beyond Lies the Wub”

by Frank C. Bertrand

Sartre has written that “A fictional technique always relates back to the novelist’s metaphysics. The critic’s task is to define the latter before evaluating the former.” (Literary and Philosophical Essays. NY: Collier Books, 1962, p. 84) But, as A.W. Levi aptly points out, “The metaphysics cannot be defined before the technique is evaluated, because for the novel the definition of the metaphysics can be only an inference from the technique.” (Literature Philosophy & The Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1962, p. 167)

The verity of this proposition is exemplified by the stories and novels of Philip K. Dick. Norman Spinrad has stated that Dick is “a metaphysical novelist in a new sense” who “entertains a wide range of metaphysical systems” and “confronts ultimate metaphysical questions with the multiplex speculative viewpoint of the true science fiction writer.” (“Introduction.” Dr. Bloodmoney. Boston: Gregg Press, 1977, p. xiii) This assessment stems from the premise that “the central subject of speculative thought in Dick’s work is the possible nature of new realities, and, by a kind of shifting mosaic of a multitude of these realities, the possible overall shape of metaphysical reality itself.” (ibid., pp. xii-xiii) That is, Dick is chiefly concerned with explaining the why and how of reality, its metaphysical meanings and concomitant psychological effects. This latter aspect is a fundamental clue and means to explicating Dick’s fictional technique and inferring therefrom his metaphysics for, it is primarily via the psychological effects of his characters’ various encounters with reality that Dick manifests his concept of metaphysical reality.

Initial evidence for such a manifestation can be found in P.K. Dick’s first published short story, “Beyond Lies the Wub” (Planet Stories, July, 1952). It is a precursory microcosm of the wide range of metaphysical systems and ultimate philosophical questions Dick subsequently confronts and depicts in 115 stories and 35 SF novels. >From it can be gleaned some of Dick’s framework of metaphysical ideas and, more importantly, the manner in which literary concepts are often related to and frequently deduced from hidden but nonetheless controlling philosophical hypotheses. As S.P. Rosebaum indicates, “The discursive context of a philosophical idea may also illuminate its imaginative transmutation into something rich and strange in literature and even suggest related ideas that have less recognizably accompanied the change.” (“Introduction.” English Literature and Philosophy. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, p. 5)

Something rich and strange is indeed what Dick’s “Beyond Lies the Wub” turns into when one explores beyond its apparent story. What at first reading appears to be a tale about exploitation, anthropocentrism and “exocannibalism” becomes upon closer scrutiny a intricately woven fabric of philosophical ideas depicting issues from the meaning of human-ness to free will vs. determinism. While most of these are implicitly embedded within the story a few are explicitly available for consideration.

The most obvious occurs during a conversation between the Wub and Peterson. In discussing myth symbols mutual to the Wub and Man, the Wub finds “Odysseus a figure common to the mythology of most self-conscious races. As I interpret it, Odysseus wanders as an individual aware of himself as such. This is the idea of separation, of separation from family and country. The process of individuation.” (“Beyond Lies The Wub.” The Preserving Machine. NY: Ace, 1969, p. 131) It’s important to note that this is not said by a human character in the story but by a Martian “creature” that is described early on, by a human character, as “A huge pig. It must weigh four hundred pounds.” (ibid., p. 127) This “huge dirty pig,” though, is very respected by the Martian natives, is telepathic, and can speak english by having examined the “semantic warehouse” of one of the humans it comes in contact with. Furthermore, it characterizes itself as “Tolerant, eclectic, catholic. We live and let live. That’s how we’ve gotten along.” (ibid., p. 130) Why, then, does the Wub talk about the “process of individuation”?

To answer this consider that the process rather than the principle of individuation is mentioned. We are, therefore, not directly concerned with the principium individuationis of Medieval Scholastic Philosophy, the principle by which an individual is constituted or comes into being. Just what “process” is being alluded to is indicated by something Dick says in a 1977 interview, “My idea of a fantasy was where the archetypal elements become objectified and you have an exteriorization of what are inner contents. And I remember, I had a term I used. Inner Projection Stories. Stories where internal psychological contents were projected onto the outer world and became three-dimensional and real and concrete….I’ve read some interesting material on that — Jung was a major influence on me.” (Richard A. Lupoff. “Introduction.” A Handful of Darkness. Boston: Gregg Press, 1978, p. xiii) In a 1979 interview Dick states that “I was interested in Jung’s idea of projection — what we experience as external to us may really be projected from our unconscious….I began a series of stories in which people experienced worlds which were a projection of their own psyches. My first published story was a perfect example of this.” (Charles Platt. Dream Makers. NY: Berkley, 1980, pp. 147-148) The reason I quote Dick somewhat at length here is to contrast it with an “author’s introduction” he wrote for a 1981 reprinting of “Beyond Lies the Wub.” Therein he writes that “The idea I wanted to get down on paper had to do with the definition of ‘human’.” (“Author’s Introduction.” First Voyages. NY: Avon, 1981, p. 321)

That “Beyond Lies the Wub” has to do with the definition of “human” is more obvious than its having to do with Jung’s concept of projection. But, there is another Jungian idea that exerts influence upon and is salient to this story, the process of individuation. Jung describes this process as “in effect, the spontaneous realization of the whole man….But since everything living strives for wholeness, the inevitable onesidedness of our conscious life is continually being corrected and compensated by the universal human being in us. whose goal is the ultimate integration of conscious and unconscious, or better, the assimilation of the ego to a wider personality.” (“On The Nature Of Dreams.” Dreams. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1974, p. 78) This would seem to be what the Wub causes via its mental powers, the absorption of its ego into another (different species) personality, that of Captain Franco’s. And this urge to individuation, Jung writes, “gathers together what is scattered and multifarious, and exalts it to the original form of the One, the Primordial Man. In this way our existence as separate beings, our former ego nature, is abolished, the circle of consciousness is widened…” (Martin Bickman. The Unsounded Centre. Chapil Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1980, p. 43)

The Wub’s explanation for this is different from Jung’s. In talking about Odysseus as a mythical figure common to most self-conscious races, the Wub says that “Odysseus wanders as an individual aware of himself as such. This is the idea of separation, of separation from family and country. The process of individuation….The moment of separation is a temporary period, a brief journey of the soul. It begins, it ends. The wanderer returns to land and race…” (“Beyond Lies The Wub.” ibid., p. 131) But how is the Wub going to return to its land and race after transmigrating into Captain Franco’s body? The Wub will now indeed be separated from family and country. As it says of its former self, “it is only organic matter, now….The life essence is gone.” (ibid., p. 133)

Two words in this, “matter” and “essence”, hint at another aspect of the problem of human-ness, that of form vs. content. Throughout “Beyond Lies the Wub” the actions and words of the Wub are more “human” than those of Captain Franco. Franco is depicted as a unfeeling, harsh, pragmatic individual whereas the Wub would rather discuss questions of Philosophy and the Arts and is addicted to various forms of relaxation. But, the Wub’s form is that of a “huge dirty pig.” In transferring its “life essence” does the Wub lose its “wub-ness” and acquire “human-ness”? Is it form or content that makes one a Wub or a Man? In that “essence” is usually associated, philosophically, with universal, accidents, and form, whereas “content” is associated with existence, particular, and substance, the Wub’s actions help indicate Dick’s metaphysics. As the title of another Dick story, “Not By Its Cover” (Famous SF, Summer 1968), in which the Wub significantly figures, suggests one can “not by its form” solely judge a human, Wub, or a Phil Dick short story.

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