– Who watches the watchmen?
– How to avoid what’s unavoidable?
– How to kill a god? (not everything that shines, shines)

These are three notes I scribbled down after re-reading Watchmen and watching the TV series. It takes me some effort to go back and remember what I meant at the time… The first is straightforward, the second comes from the comics, the third is from the TV show (third or fourth episode?). All three represent a similar kind of self-referential loop.

The second one is framed by the plot in the comics: there’s a crisis that’s brewing and reaching the tipping point. As in a simple causal system, humanity is driving toward its annihilation. How to avoid this, how to avoid the inevitable? That’s Veidt’s plan.

The third comes from a weird metaphysical story told by Laurie in a phone booth. You can interpret the story narratively, since each character in that story is meant to represent those classic Watchmen characters and their moral conundrums, but I was interested in the metaphysical workings. The grinding cogs that made it move. We’ll return to this later in this twisted commentary…

I could have probably written something wiser about this, at the time, but I forgot. The point is, at that third episode I thought that maybe Lindelof came up with something good, after all. Some good answers to tricky metaphysical problems. The potential was tangible, because of that one scene.

…Sadly this wasn’t the case.

I’ve only seen the show once, haven’t dug anything from the internet as I use to do, and when I watched it wasn’t even in the best of environments for undivided attention. This to say I might as well miss the big picture. It also applies to the comics, that I read many years ago. After a recent re-read I do think it’s impressive quality, and very, very complex, with many layers that can go entirely ignored (and it’s also a rather heavy read, not particularly enjoyable as a form of entertainment). I certainly missed a lot in it, and these days my mind goes for its own sidetracks that I only can see, but I lose track of main avenues. One that I found recently through another tangent is that Rorschach was conceived as a satire of objectivism, this also being conformed by Moore in interviews. I couldn’t even make the connection after I read it because it doesn’t make any sense, but now I understand better the angle. I did see the right-leaning extremism and absurdity. This is not the place for me to explain how I see Rorschach (not positively, for sure, but not uniquely bad either), I just wanted to point out I missed something BIG, like this link to objectivism, I’m guilty, and I might miss other stuff too.

Watchmen defies a simple treatment, it soars above. And so it can be read at different levels. Even if you pick little from it, it’s still quite significant and satisfying. There’s just one aspect that doesn’t work well, and that is also inelegant, and that’s what I wanted to write about because it’s a recurring theme here, linked to previous things I wrote about Ted Chiang and Arrival. It’s related to Alan Moore’s metaphysical (or physical) position that I think he calls Eternalism, and that imagines reality as a solid where time is experienced linearly by humans, but that is all already fixed, like strong determinism. This concept is also what links his recent monster of a book that is Jerusalem, to Watchmen.

Now… The TV show is so devout to the source material that everything it does is already in the comics, including mistakes. This means that what I see as “wrong” in the TV show was already present in the comics. And unless I’m missing some elephant in the room, it’s also conspicuously wrong. Not a tiny detail you can gloss over. I haven’t checked, but I cannot be the only one writing about it, it’s gigantly macroscopic.

I’ve written before that I don’t have any problem with the proposition of eternalism, as long some rules are followed. Moore doesn’t follow them, though. One important rule is that you can, in theory, observe time as a solid, and so perceive it in one immediate instant as Dr. Manhattan supposedly does… but only if this observer remains PASSIVE. Dr. Manhattan in the comics is NOT passive in multiple occasions, including scenes where he describes to others facts that are going to happen in the future (often just dialogues about to happen… to the dumbest character in the comics, this is quite convenient as I’ll show later). This interference creates logical holes and makes the narrative frame fall apart. Moore somewhat goes around this problem, at least at the crucial point. At the climax of the story Dr. Manhattan is confused and his ability to perceive the future is unreliable, because the teleportation of the squid monster to New York created some sort of interference (the tachyons that intrigued also Philip Dick, see one of the “recent” posts).

This idea was readily adopted in the TV show too. The reason why Dr. Manhattan can live a normal life, at least for that segment, is that he was able to create a “blind spot.” A portion of time unknown to him, unseen. Yet, as the TV show explained, he was still able to fully perceive what came before and after. He knew that story would end in tragedy, and he says as much at the beginning (to Angela, he even tells her how long it will last, the blind spot).

All this was well done because nothing in the TV show was “baseless,” all the most weird ideas were simply taken from the comics and used faithfully in a very creative way. Competent sleight of hand. Good.

The problem is that along with the cleverness they also inherited the stupidity… and then made it WORSE. That one spot where it all falls apart. Unraveling with just one tug.

Let’s move closer to this critical point. In the TV series when Dr. Manhattan meets Angela he repeats one of the tricks he showed often in the comics: he tells her that she’s the one who is going to tell him, in the future, information he shouldn’t know yet. And then she does, somewhat proving that his powers are real, after all. This is… fine. The trick is delivered through distraction, essentially. The claim is made, then the conversation goes on a while, and by the time the crucial point is reached Angela has forgotten the initial point. Nothing that happens here contradicts the thesis, the thesis being that Dr. Manhattan sees what will happen, and so none of the participants gets to “act freely”, especially in relation to the ultimate vision. When you deal with something like this it is quite convenient to write the scene so it doesn’t contradict your thesis. The problem is: a thesis is valid when it works logically, not when you sidesteps the contradictions conveniently. It means that I can easily propose, instead, a number of logical experiments that would PROVE, unambiguously, that Dr. Manhattan’s power just cannot work the way it works. These experiments are valid because there’s no logical way around them. The only way is AVOIDING them, writing scenes that do not engage with scenarios that present contradictions. But again, it’s just a convenient trick to avoid facing the fact that the thesis just doesn’t work and isn’t coherent with the premises it itself set.

In a controlled scenario, with no convenient distraction, Angela could easily contradict Dr. Manhattan’s predictions.

Yet, this isn’t totally airtight: you could still assume that Dr. Manhattan uses sleight of hand to introduce his predictions only in those limited cases where the information on the prediction doesn’t end up screwing the prediction. So, he can only tell Angela when he knows Angela will be tricked into the same behavior, and will avoid other cases where a contradiction would be triggered. This way around is still imperfect, to a very close examination, but it’s fine. Within the context of a TV series it is an acceptable compromise.

The problem is that Dr. Manhattan is conspicuously NOT PASSIVE. In the comics there’s the fact he’s confused and, in the end, he cannot do anything to prevent the main event, but in the TV series Dr. Manhattan is the main vector, not a passive observer. He’s the one who sends Veidt, Laurie and Wade away, to perform what they will perform. He is active in the timeline, acting on the basis of what he knows, manipulating events.

The real contradiction isn’t this one, but another that is quite macroscopic. On twitter, before the last episode aired, I asked Jeff Jensen: “I wonder, does Watchmen blindly embrace time paradoxes and contradictions within, as tropes and homages, or will it have something to say of its own?” He didn’t reply.

I was honestly curious because I still thought maybe they had figured out something to find an answer to this problematic core. It turned out they didn’t, and even the final scene was only a retread of The Leftovers: just tickle the audience with an ambiguous finale, open to interpretation. I’ve already seen that. On twitter I commented: “Watchmen ends the same as The Leftovers. With Lindelof still looking for answers.”

In this case “the question” isn’t whether Angela got the powers or not, that’s misdirection. The question is about the contradiction. The giant, gaping logical hole at the CORE of the whole TV series. Again, this hole was already in the comics, but in THAT case it wasn’t the pivotal point, it wasn’t the main vector. Morally, in the comics Dr. Manhattan might be worse even than Rorschach, and he does kill him. All his aloofness is a fraud and Moore certainly painted him very negatively. He’s inhuman and selfish, he gets a treatment (from the writer) that’s very similar to Rorschach himself. No one in the comics is spared, no one comes out in a positive light. They are all creeps and frauds.

This is the one point betrayed in the TV series, that is in love, instead, with at least some of its characters and wants them be GOOD. Especially Dr. Manhattan, who becomes both very human and a benevolent god. The classic trope of self sacrifice done for the loved ones.

And nope, Dr. Manhattan is still a fucking criminal, in the TV series too, despite the misdirection. And here we comes to the contradiction (and maybe me missing some elephantine detail). If I understood it correctly, the main mcguffin of the whole story is that the sheriff is killed. Why is he killed? (whodunnit and why?) Because Angela in the future sends information to the past, through Dr. Manhattan that has this power, to her grandfather. The grandfather who misunderstands the information, wrongly deduces the sheriff is a criminal, and eventually gets to kill him.

Where’s the responsibility? Well, clearly Angela’s not to blame. She was unaware of the implications and only realizes them when it’s too late. She has no power on the whole situation, no choice. But there’s still DOCTOR FUCKING MANHATTAN present on the scene. The same Dr. Manhattan who doesn’t give one fuck if one innocent is murdered for a misunderstanding (or is it guilt for sins of the fathers?). The same Dr. Manhattan who instead intervenes when it comes to save his loved ones.

The Dr. Manhattan who steps in and out the story as he sees fit, while blaming others for HIS actions. And even ending morally celebrated because he saved the day (and loved ones).

The same Dr. Manhattan who loves women and drops them like sacks of potatoes when he’s done with them, replacing them with younger, more attractive ones. Two in the comics, one in the TV series. The same Dr. Manhattan who should be above the instincts of men, and hormones. But what’s clearly a CONDEMNATION of a shitty god *in the comics*, becomes a fucking celebration of a benevolent god who loves his family in the TV series.

What a great way to fuck it all up, Mr. Lindelof.

We still haven’t got to the contradiction. When Angela tells his grandfather about the crime he himself will execute in the future, she makes it happen. Creating the worst kind of time loop. But fine, causality in a time loop gets warped, the problem is that in this specific instance it’s not just causality that goes to shit, but LOGIC TOO. Yes, Lindelof has done this in LOST too, a bad idea stays just as bad. When reiterated it just shows malice.

The is no logical way to explain this scene. It’s just outside logic. And there’s no a-logic metaphysical possibility. Moore’s eternalism isn’t made on illogical premises. It still wants to be a coherent system.

Paradoxes DO NOT EXIST. What we consider paradoxes, or contradictions, are the visible sign that we fucked the interpretation. That we got something wrong in OUR description. The contradiction is never foundational for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who cares to study philosophy (when not immediately evident).

There needs to be a source for Angela’s information. It doesn’t matter where and when, or if time goes around, but it still needs a logical trigger in order to exist. There’s nothing remotely similar to a source shown in the TV series. There’s no single explanation that can verify what happens.

I was really curious before the last episode because it was so blatant. I was expecting they had an ace up their sleeve and found some clever trick to make it work. There was nothing. Lindelof was just content enough by employing a typical sci-fi bootstrap paradox without understanding how it works (there are bootstrap paradoxes that are logical, the origin being just hidden away). Like a nice homage. He couldn’t be arsed to make sense of it, or use it intelligently. Nope, he had to make the paradox itself the pivot and main vector of the whole series, right from the first episode.

He uses as pivot the most stupid of paradoxes, no question asked (hello, The Leftovers, we see the same superficial mistakes again!), and then even ends up rehabilitating Dr. Manhattan as a good guy. The one who’s truly responsible of it all.

Because in the end there is one solution to this paradox, even if it’s the one NOT intended by Lindelof (and very clearly). Dr. Manhattan is not swimming in the aquarium, he’s not “one of us”, living the same life as everyone else. He’s the fucking writer. He sits right next to Lindelof arguing what should happen next. He WILLS the plot, because he writes it, the way he wants. That’s why he’s able to step in and out. That’s why he can carefully shape scenes so that they cannot contradict the thesis. That’s why he can make Angela give his grandfather information that doesn’t exist, anywhere: because it’s Dr. Manhattan who planted that information, who wrote the scene, who made a paradox a paradox. He wrote the dialogues. He makes sure that everyone follows the script because he wrote the script and he wrote those characters. He admired Veidt and plays with dolls. And he ends up writing the story where he ends up as a hero. Because he’s full of shit.

Moore made his own mistakes with Dr. Manhattan and eternalism. But they were minor and he didn’t fuck up the overall concept at the core: that all these heroes were all fucked up, Dr. Manhattan more than everyone else. Lindelof studies and mimics everything so carefully that it’s all a labor of pure love… Only to fuck it all up.

How it is possible that a show so well put together, down to the smallest detail, doesn’t have a problem founding itself on a blatant, enormous contradiction? I don’t understand.


Edit:
and… only after writing this whole thing I realized that Dr. Manhattan, might be completely in the dark, literally, about the whole deal with the sheriff, because that whole event could be encapsulated within the blind spot of his life as a human. So he might be entirely unaware of all that happened to the sheriff, so that he didn’t know that an innocent would die. Angela understands, but then doesn’t inform Dr. Manhattan of anything. I’d have to rewatch the scene to see if the part in the future makes sense. Still… there’s the bootstrap paradox.

It is okay, but too much of a “Alan Moore senpai, please notice me!”

Annette said, “I suppose Louis Manfreti will represent the Skitz clan again this year. I always enjoy him; he has such interesting things to tell, the visions he sees of primordial things. Beasts from the earth and the sky, monsters that battle under the ground…” She sucked on a piece of hard candy thoughtfully. “Do you think the visions that Skitzes see are real, Gabe?”

“No,” Baines said, truthfully.

“Why do they ponder and talk about them all the time, then? They’re real to them, anyhow.”

“Mysticism,” Baines said scornfully.

(tired now, will revise tomorrow)

The structure of the Exegesis is a bit of a mess and, from what I know, done posthumously (the division in folders) without any discernible logical sense. So there’s no straightforward way to go in. Since I don’t have any better alternative I’ll stick with the published book, that supposedly rearranges the folders in chronological order. So my current plan is to follow the published sequence and integrate the original material where there are parts that are cut.

It starts with folder 4, at some point during 1974, and my source also starts from the same point. So I’ll go with the book.

This project is supposed to be ongoing without any planned regular frequency. I expect it to continue very, very slowly, but hopefully without huge delays. It’s just one side activity. Even if I only end up reading 1% of the whole thing, that’s fine. I only want to avoid being stuck at some point for a long time.

At the beginning I expect to spend a lot of time commenting details. As things become established and more redundant I’ll probably read a lot more and write a lot less. But for now it will be maximalist commentary.

So here we go.

—–
Ubik takes the stage and without any sort of premise Dick plunges in the deep end. We’re already into metaphysics and abstract interpretation from the first line.

He says (in Ubik) time stops but “changes” are produced. We’ll get back to this apparent contradiction. The idea is that once time, as a force, becomes weaker and stops, something happens: “the bare bones, so to speak, of the world, our world, are revealed.” And: “The press of time on everything, having been abolished, reveals many elements underlying our phenomena.”

Since I’ve read further than this, I already know that what Dick is doing here isn’t giving a metaphysical/fictional context to Ubik, but equating what happened in Ubik to his own mystical experience, that is at the core of the whole Exegesis. So everything he affirms about Ubik generally applies to what he experienced. Lets say it is being “retconned.” Ubik is used as a translator of that experience, transforming a “feeling” into rational knowledge, an understanding. That’s our context here.

One idea here is of a layer of reality. Something happens, and the curtain drops, you get a glimpse of a beyond. But Dick is sure this beyond isn’t another curtain, or at least not yet. There’s a certain philosophical foundationalism, the idea of seeing a more foundational reality. Not just another one, but one that is truer.

If time stops, this is what takes place, these changes.

Emphasis mine. Time stops, but change happens. This appears as a contradiction, since usually time is required for change to appear. Dick is only highlighting this.

Not frozen-ness, but revelation.

If we imagine the illusion of reality as a movie, then the time stopping is like a projector, the medium that builds the illusion. This still requires to step outside, otherwise you still wouldn’t notice (as Dick confirms later).

In the introduction to the other post, if you look at the top of that first image, you can see Dick presenting an idea where consciousness exists in a sort of multiverse, where it is plunged at a great speed through different lives. Memories are only built through cues, as if they are inferences. So it’s as if it is time that makes it possible to build a world as we know it. The moment time stops it’s like all the paintings (meaning) we hanged on that framework fall apart. The “bare bones”.

We can then extrapolate through what he says that “time” is a positive force. He says other things related to entropy I can’t quite get. Things cool, forms regress. How? In what way? Action, obviously related to time, is tied to “a form of heat.” Of course it isn’t possible if time stops.

He continues describing the “Logos” and the “Holy Spirit”. The Logos is essentially the fabric of the world (the world beyond the world). The wider foundation. So the Logos is also outside time, since time is only one force within reality. The Holy Spirit is a kind of force too, so it is contained, somewhat internal to the Logos. The Holy Spirit is the “last station” of time. The omega point in the direction of time, the final point of that trajectory. In Dick’s scheme, then, the Holy Spirit stands at the far right, intending that the arrow of time intuitively goes from left to right, along its conventional progress.

Due to its nature also as a kind of force, the Holy Spirit doesn’t quite wait there at the end, but “overcomes the time field and flows back against it.” So it moves in a trajectory opposite to that of time. It’s coming our way. “It is the anti-time.”

Then he makes a few distinctions. The Logos comes right from the outside (above), the Holy Spirit is instead within, also within time and “is moving: retrograde.” The “real universe” is eternity. Logically since we already established fundamental reality comes in the form of the Logos, and the Logos is placed outside time itself. Outside time is eternity. The Holy Spirit, then, behaves like tachyons, as if we are in Watchmen. In the comics it is what allowed Dr. Manhattan experience time in a weird way. Dick subscribes to this possibility of tachyons.

Up to this point everything seems to follow, somewhat. But then he says a form of equilibrium is achieved because the Logos operates in three vectors: from behind, from above, and from ahead. This also seems to follow, the force from behind is time (causal), from left to right, the force coming from ahead is the Holy Spirit, as described, and the force from above is the Logos. Well yes, it’s a bit abstract. Why above and not below? Why a direction? The Logos is supposed to be the “Atman, everywhere.” It is pervasive, the fabric itself.

*NOW* equilibrium is being lost because as time weakens there’s an increasing “retrograde teleology.” The Holy Spirit, I guess. It is inversely causal. But why the norm should be “equilibrium” if the normality is the flowing of time? It should mean that in general the force of time is at least stronger than the retrograde force of the Holy Spirit. Or time would be completely stalling, not moving forward not backwards. Here I began to think there was something missing in all this description, a kind of secret sauce. Dick is precisely describing metaphysics but it looks like hand waving if there isn’t a description of what these forces do, why they behave they way they do. Actors set up on the stage, but not causal. This is doing this, but how, why?

We get a handy example. He says it’s like some space travel from a planet to another. So you can make a distinction between three phases. The first is when you are under the force of the gravity of the planet of origin, a second phase when the gravity pull between the two is equal, and a final phase when you move into the gravitational force of the destination planet. Seen subjectively from the spaceship that is doing this journey.

Through this, the Holy Spirit, as the destination (and force with its own purpose), “corrects” and “completes.” I cannot avoid interpreting this other than Kabbalistic terms. These are spiritual terms. But it’s not simple to conform these with a more technical example (nothing has been described as incomplete or incorrect).

He then explains that when he wrote Ubik he built a world with just one difference from ours, a world without the forward moving force of time. But in the first line he actually wrote that “time ceased”, not that it was absent. In any case he points this out to make a distinction. When he wrote Ubik he simply came up with this concept of a fictional world, “now” he is instead persuaded that time has ACTUALLY “begun to weaken.” If before he thought of time as subjective perception, now he externalizes it, and makes the weakening of time an universal event. And since this is now “true”, and not a fictional conceit, then it can be experienced.

I have indeed had that experience, or a measure thereof.

In another letter, Dick writes (the part scribbled by hand):

What scares me most, Claudia, is that I can often recall the future.

As a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, the theme of Ubik eventually came to be. As if Ubik itself was informed from the future.

Flipping forward a page, taken from a letter to someone else, Dick explains he really bought into this concept of tachyons “flying in a reverse time direction.” Therefore “carrying information from the future into our present.”

“In the light of these developments, we can no longer exclude on a priori grounds the theoretical possibility of precognitive phenomena.” so forth (Harper’s, July 1974).

…He’s quoting a magazine. Bad science has always been bad science.

So, jumping back to where we left, Dick expects that “material (information) from the future leaking or bleeding back to us.” I really like this materialistic slant. Information is somewhat solid (even metaphysically), that’s actually good. And then he also describes another effect that is very Dick-ian, I like this too: “abrupt lurches back on our part to recent prior time periods, like a needle on a record being anti-skated back to a prior groove.”

The latter we would not be consciously aware of.

And that’s the part Dick does best, and conforms to my dear Blind Brain Theory. Perception is a trick, it needs information on the absence of information to know that something is missing. If we don’t have memories, then we don’t perceive change. We could wake up every day in a completely different reality and not notice anything weird. Our inferences are contextual, as he properly defined in that excerpt I mentioned above.

My doubts above were due to the fact that stepping from one boundary of reality (like a curtain) to the next requires perception. We aren’t in the objective perspective of the Logos “from above.” We are subjectively caged. So not only Dick hypothesizes that time might stop, but that somehow subjective consciousness (experience) moves on independently from time (not bound by it). As a sort of Wile E. Coyote that continues to run even if the ground is not there anymore. Isn’t time a necessary vehicle for perception? Somehow Dick believes they are on independent tracks. The absence of time doesn’t freeze perception as one would intuitively believe (see above “not frozen-ness”, it only warps it.

Yet he’s not completely outside what I’m saying, as right here he describes how he also conceives perception in the exact same way: those other “lurches through time” are not perceived, simply because we have no knowledge of them.

Highlighting that the other event, of material from the future showing up, would be instead visible. Because that material “is not by us but to us.” It’s existing information we cannot account for, but that is there. A scientific proof (in the pure sense of its existence outside subjectivity).

If you cannot experience the time skips, instead, you cannot prove them either. They simply don’t exist, that’s all. Metaphysically (but also materialistically), one is generally bound to the layer of reality he belongs to. You cannot simply shuffle the soul back and forth. Unless you use the magical sauce.

He concludes this section by explaining that the event he experienced wasn’t an “intellectual inference”, it wasn’t specifically rational. It was a perception, a sort of feeling that he tried to pinpoint and rationalize after the fact. He labeled it. He “felt” it was both “alive” and “holy.” But in the way of sensations, not concepts. As if he’s trying to logically rebuild a platonic ideal abstraction into a logical recreation, as faithfully as possible. He also didn’t experience that phenomenon as appearing to him, but being it. Being the Logos. He was subjectively perceiving the Logos as the Logos would perceive itself if it had subjectivity.

More accurately, not the Logos itself, but the Holy Spirit, since he specifies it came from the future. Dick argues this, ultimately settling on the fact that the Logos and the Holy Spirit are semantic distinctions. And yet he highlights that he’s certain it came from the future. That part not being semantic, but faithful to the feeling itself. I can only wonder “how”, but that’s what Dick says.

I like how he concludes, in a sort of self-observing loop:

From within me, as part of me, it looked out and saw itself.

He both “saw and became” (the philosophical sense of being). So both in and out. Both subject and object. System and environment.

I’ll add myself: also, he either was informed from the future when writing Ubik, too, or he was able to win the Magical Belief Lottery. How probable can be that a fictional concept you imagine not only becomes somewhat plausible, but also manifests right TO YOU. Of course this is also logically possible, within a certain metaphysical frame. As long Dick was precisely chosen. That information from the future just couldn’t be framed as a spontaneous natural phenomenon… precisely happening to you. Unless you also add some form of retrocausal teleology, that we see is also part of all this.

The bottom line is that Dick describes this as a self-sustaining, let’s say self sufficient, explanation. I instead think it needs a lot of other stuff if it wants to hold up, logically. Too many missing pieces. Too vague.

I’ll conclude tying up the gap to the letter that follow and that I already mentioned, when he explains about the tachyons and the possibility of “precognitive phenomena.”

He continues saying that for several months he’s been experimenting. Because of something else he read while researching “A Scanner Darkly.” Something about the possibility that the brain can “transduce external fields” under certain special conditions. One of which was “vitamins in megadosages.”

…Of course Dick being the fool that he is put this right into practice.

I began attempting, on the basis of what I knew, to bring on both the hemispheres of my own brain using the recipe for megadoses of the water soluble vitamins

Well, thankfully they were only water soluble ones.

Water IN-soluble vitamins are those that get absorbed and then stored in the body, so taking large doses with a certain frequency can become a real health risk, exactly because they get accumulated and become toxic. It’s a very bad idea.

On the other hand water soluble ones, as the term says, simply end up being pissed away when the body absorbs too much, before they can do damage.

I guess Dick ended up going to the bathroom more frequently, with this ill informed “experiment.”

I had this project (of sort) for a very long time so I simply decided that I needed to start or it would be one of those things endlessly delayed.

One good reason for NOT doing it is that my knowledge of Philip K. Dick is rather poor, and the Exegesis is filled with interpretations of Dick’s own body of work. It’s a “meta” self-analysis of his life and everything he wrote. So the Exegesis should come AFTER you read and understood everything else, and are ready for Dick own further insight. It’s the last station. But reading all of his production, or even a meaningful portion, would be already a giant project that would be almost without end by itself (with my current realistic pacing, of course). So the Exegesis was just this long term goal that only kept moving further and further away.

The choice was simply to go straight to the deep end. A long time ago I read a number of short stories, some of which I still remember quite well. I also read Ubik but remember almost nothing about it. More recently I read “The Man in the High Castle”, and I thought it was especially good. It had a somewhat “literary” flavor, not pulpy at all, it might have been maybe a weird bias because I read it on a pristine copy of the Library of America collection.

My attention when reading the book was all on the language. I felt as if there was this other layer, separate from the story, where the lines of text had a more abstract and general meaning. Not quite there. By the end of the book it was like I was on a very private journey, as if I wasn’t sure that what I was reading was really what was expected. Now I just don’t know how accurate my experience of this book was. I was somewhat distracted, looking at other things, highlighting parts of the book and taking them out of context, to run off with concepts, away from the story and characters.

I probably understood very little of that book, in a “traditional” way.

This will inform my experience of the Exegesis. I’ve got a plan, I know what to do and how. You can take the Exegesis like the convoluted speculations of someone caught in a loop of mental illness, and that’s probably the most accurate conclusion. I don’t expect to find any sort of “revelation” in a transcendental sense, actually I’m absolutely certain of this. I’m not chasing after mystical influences. I’m not a believer and there’s zero chances of me becoming one, unless I end up losing my mind as well. I guess.

But at the same time I’m going to take the Exegesis SERIOUSLY. Because I take everything seriously. I’m not here to judge. I’m not here to “diagnose” Dick, I’m not a doctor, I know almost nothing of mental illness, so I’m not going to look for an “explanation” for what he was feeling and writing. I will treat this as a sort of mythology, and I’ll follow James Hillman’s idea of “sticking with the image” (speaking of dreams and interpretations). Taken straight form the wikipedia:

the moment you’ve defined the snake, interpreted it, you’ve lost the snake, you’ve stopped it and the person leaves the hour with a concept about my repressed sexuality or my cold black passions … and you’ve lost the snake. The task of analysis is to keep the snake there, the black snake…see, the black snake’s no longer necessary the moment it’s been interpreted, and you don’t need your dreams any more because they’ve been interpreted.

What I’ll try to do with the Exegesis is… dig deeper. I want to look for deeper patterns. The deep end of the madness, the potential. The symbols, the myths. It should be a journey, not a judgement. (and yet I’ll also have to understand, how I understand)

At the same time, how can I pretend of being able to dig deeper, with what knowledge? From what privileged position? Well, that’s why this is a deliberate “eisegesis”, meaning that, as I was doing for The Man in the High Castle, this is a personal journey where I will dig in the direction I choose. Eisegesis means I’ll read into the Exegesis whatever I want to find, whatever I think I see, but without any pretense of being faithful to Dick himself, without an objective goal or insight.

Then again, I CAN read the Exegesis. Because I’m not floatsam. My own philosophical and scientific concepts of the world, and metaphysics in general, are now very well grounded, very well structured. I come to this project with a well organized mind, with a solid framework that generally helps me a lot. A kind of reliable compass that I can use to orient myself in the most alien of terrains. And I am rational and sometimes cynical, so on one side I’m certainly not putting myself on a pedestal, but I won’t do this with Dick either.

I’m not coming to the Exegesis thinking it will be an extraordinary and revelatory work of a mad genius. But I expect it being food for the mind. The life of the mind.

I was forgetting the important part:
I’ve bought, years ago now, the hardcover edition of the published portion of the Exegesis but my project doesn’t stop there. I’ve also scoured the internet for all the material I could find, including the original scans and a good total amount of stuff that isn’t part of the published book. I made a rough count of all I got and it’s a grand total of 6500 pages. According to various estimates the original whole thing should be 8000+ pages, so it certainly isn’t complete. I’ve read estimates all over the place, like the published book being only 1/10 of the total. This doesn’t seem true. A page scribbled by Dick usually just takes half a page or so, of the published book. I know the published total is about 360k words. The book itself goes from page 1 to 900, so maybe it’s closer to 1/5 or 1/6 of the total. And then I have the rest of the material. So, maybe, closer to 3/4 of the total.

The quality of the material available is all over the place. It goes from typed pages:

To somewhat readable handwriting:

To badly scanned and sketchy mess like this (and not the worst example):

Some of these have already been transcribed, but a lot of the material done overlaps with the book. I’m going to use everything, the book, the online transcriptions, and then even doing my best to extricate meaning from the handwritten pages, with variable levels of success, I guess. But I’ll try.

How to fit a large box into a smaller one?

In this issue we reach a cosmology so wide that it eventually fits down to a single character: Moira once again. I enjoyed this inversion.

Overall, this closes the sequences, but it doesn’t resolve much. The trick was quite simple, but it was unexpected, at least for me. The only problem is that it leaves the whole structure wobbly and unconvincing, but we’ll get to that point (maybe).

The only aspect resolved is the mystery of Moira’s 6th life, and the surprise (plot twist!) finding out that what we believed was the future was instead in the past. It works. Hickman trained us to think that these pieces of story, in time and space, were segments belonging to the same block. The trick was showing the last segment from a previous block, without saying what it was. Sleight of hands.

This time it is interesting because the plot twist isn’t an end to itself, but it opens a view… The key to everything is the dialogue between the High Evolutionary, uhm sorry, the Librarian, with Moira and Wolverine of the future (but the 6th future). There are signs everywhere hinting things are not as they seem. A few pages after, Wolverine kills the Librarian, but if you go at the beginning you see that this is the second attempt, and the first was easily deflected. Now, it’s not very clear if that first attempt was also made by Wolverine or some other mutant, but the scene wants to be ambiguous and tell us that the Librarian isn’t taking any risks. Wolverine might be good at what he does, but he doesn’t seem to be outside the “scope” of the Librarian. This is just one of the hints.

More importantly, the Librarian is speaking to Moira in the way silly villains sometimes do. Giving our heroes plenty of hints on how to better defeat their enemy. He is “slyly” suggesting Moira and Wolverine to kill him before he gets to the hive mind, or then it would be too late to do anything about it, since the hive mind exists outside time and space, so on a hierarchy that should be superior to Moira’s time travel quirks. Once he gets there, game over. And in fact the moment when Wolverine makes his move is the moment the Librarian is… talking over his shoulder, conspicuously offering his back.

The simplest, most straightforward interpretation is that the Librarian planned his death. It’s a deliberate move, that works quite well with the overall idea. Although this leads to wider problems outside the scope of the story and plot. But let’s stay inside, for now.

There’s a nice bit of Blind Brain Theory-like concepts here. Concepts of blindness. The first offered right away by the Librarian: “How could anyone want something they don’t know exists.” It’s the anosognosia of knowledge. You need information on the missing information to know information is missing. Same as we didn’t expect that this future segment belonged to the past.

That’s why the actual plan of the Librarian doesn’t seem to be to let Moira ad Wolverine free of preventing that future, but simply to let them BELIEVE they can. To let them believe they are ahead, they are still in control because if they kill the Librarian before he gets to the hive mind, then they both are HIDDEN to the hive mind sight (knowledge). They are the blind spot.

This seems and feels logical, because the Librarian explains why he’s full of doubts about joining the hive mind, and this is the only way to prevent a move that cannot be undone. But the position of one who’s doubtful isn’t the position of one ready for sacrifice. That’s more generally the position of one who waits.

To me, this paints a more plausible scenario where the Librarian merely persuaded Moira and Wolverine of their freedom, to be more responsible of their acts. Something like the usual trick of free will. What’s important is the illusion of it, not the actual existence. And for someone who’s about to exit the material plane, this seems quite linear. It would be instead absurd to believe Wolverine somehow surprised the Librarian, and still not quite convincing that this was merely a deliberately sacrifice without hidden layers attached.

It’s all about perception, not truth.

This is where the overall structure is in doubt. The post-human future species is all about shifting consciousness between different kind of shells. That was also their master plan with the Phalanx. Then they have this garden of Eden with a few mutants in it. The mutants inside have no knowledge of the outside, with the exception of Moira and Wolverine, who come from the outside. This is a game of hierarchies of knowledge. Moira and Wolverine are on a higher level, compared to the other mutants in the “cage” with them, but on the other hand they are on a lower level compared to the Librarian.

The Librarian is like the High Evolutionary in the sense he seems to have these “theme parks” (yes, Westworld). Why not more than one? The moment you can meddle with perception, is the moment you can meddle with reality. A game of simulations. If you are uncertain about the future, then the best option is to observe it. To observe future outcomes. And of course it works much better if those observed aren’t aware that they are being observed.

The Librarian essentially says: “We don’t want you to know we know.” Creating the premise for freedom, or agency, the perception of freedom.

But there’s also another way to interpret this, that is also quite intriguing. There’s a lot of talk about mutants being a “natural occurrence.” Or, “an evolutionary response to an environment.” As if saying that, given an environment, the mutant genes represent the most effective adaptation.

So… This goes back to what I just said about the Librarian. In that case, imagine about observing a problem without any necessary prejudice or bias. Who should win a vote, Trump or Clinton? Instead of choosing, you simply set up a simulation and observe the outcomes. There’s going to be no bias outside of the choice of the more preferable between the two ends.

But what happens instead with mutants, even within the reference given by the Librarian? The main trait of mutants is that they are oppressed. That, as Moira repeats again and again afterwards, they always lose. As an evolutionary response… it seems quite bad.

What if instead Moira’s special case isn’t about a “random” mutant power that pops up, but a specifically selected kind of power to achieve the best performance? From the evolutionary perspective that’s exactly what Moira is. A power whose specific function is to accelerate the path. Moira can essentially sample and cycle through timelines, so that she never really loses time. Mutants are oppressed and fail? Then the evolutionary response is to accelerate the process, rebooting timelines until the proper recipe is found. If Mutants faced a block, an hostile environment, the mutant power eventually finds a way. And the way was to “accelerate” by making Moira progress and reset through various cycles. It’s the perfect, ultimate adaptation so that mutants eventually break through.

Moira is the perfect mutant algorithm, the one that keeps endlessly cycling until a solution is found. It is either successful, or endless. It never accepts failure as an answer.

If humans evolved to merely extend their possibilities, through the use and integration of machines, the mutant gene was more incisive in the sense it is aimed at the mechanism itself.

But what if instead Moira was created? Because it all leads there. These evolutionary overlords pretending their hand is hidden. Playing with puppets behind the scenes.

The Librarian does his best to persuade Moira the world is all about her. There was a lingering question: what happens when Moira dies and goes back? What happens to that old timeline? It keeps going, or what? Does the world end if Moira dies? Or we’re looking at “many worlds” kind of interpretation? The Librarian explicitly states (or wants Moira to believe) that Moira “annihilates” time. She’s special in the sense she’s really an instrument of evolution. A way to endlessly cycle solutions until one is found.

So if we want to believe this, then it’s all about knowledge. If the Librarian is killed by Wolverine, and if he’s the only one aware of what Moira can do (why is he, anyway? he says he knows because he observed, but how can he observe the annihilation of time and the death of Moira…?), then no information about that will ever reach the hive mind, because there’s no parallel world where that knowledge reached its destination. Moira instead brings knowledge of the hive mind with her. So she knows something the hive mind does not: she sits higher on the hierarchy.

What’s then interesting is to notice that Moira’s answer to all this isn’t about directly going to House of X. If what we saw is her sixth life, we can go check what happens right after, and see that her attempts are rather aimless. In the seventh she goes on her own against the sentinels, but doesn’t make much progress. In the eighth she tries with Magneto, in the ninth with Apocalypse, and only in the tenth we have what we know. She tries with everyone (and Xavier again). It’s odd because the tenth life all pivots around Krakoa, and it is hinted that it was again the Librarian to suggest something about the flowers.

The Librarian pointed at the path. He played the Godgame.

That scene with Wolverine killing the Librarian looks a lot like the ending of the first season of Westworld.

At the end not much is resolved. Now they go straight into a series of #1s, and I suppose they’ll normalize the story. I doubt we’ll get relevant answers soon.

To see where it’s all going requires looking back. We now know the far future was the past, but what about the rest? In Powers of X #3 we’ve seen how Moira dies in her ninth life, the one leading to House of X. This death was required to obtain data on Nimrod’s origin. So, if we go back to Powers of X #1 we can reinterpret the time blocks so that (X0) should be essentially the tenth life of Moira, before House of X, (X1) is certainly the “current” time, and again 10th Moira. But then we know that (X2), 100 years in the future, is Moira’s 9th. Ending with Wolverine sending Moira to her 10th with information on how to prevent Nimrod (there’s a nice touch if you go back to that scene, as Moira anticipates what Wolverine is going to say, since for her it’s the second time it happens…). And now we know that (X3), 1.000 years in the future, was actually Moira’s 6th.

(but then isn’t it kind of weird that the flowers were already being used during Moira’s 9th? So Krakoa definitely isn’t something new that only comes up in 10th… so also not Xavier’s idea. Moira’s 9th is the alliance with Apocalypse that… makes sense considering his connection to the island…)

Meaning we’ve seen a whole lot of nothing about the future. Those future days came from the past.

Last week I didn’t have time to comment on Powers of X #6, so I’ll go through that one first, but keeping the two separate.

The title comes from the first scene. It opens with Xavier figuring out an original use for Cerebro: send unsolicited advertisement about the new mutant nation right into the brains of everyone on the planet. That’s quite effective for propaganda.

The message itself is about stuff we already know. He says that mutant scientists produced some important new drugs made exclusively for humans (as if that doesn’t sound suspicious on its own, people these days don’t even trust vaccines, imagine having to use a “magical” drug that only mutants can produced with undisclosed formulas and tests). And that these drugs won’t be gifts, but will be used as leverage to force human nations to officially recognize Krakoa, along with a period of amnesty so that every mutant can go join the new community. The moral motivation for this holds up somewhat, as Xavier explains that mutants have been subjected to human bias, and so there’s no way to establish who’s rightly guilty or not, and this whole thing will instead be handled by the mutant nation itself with its own laws, from now on.

The “mystery for mystery’s sake” from last issue is revealed here right away. We see almost the full council. The only missing spot is whoever is going to sit with the white queen and black king. This remains unknown in House of X #6, so part of future plots. A mystery for future mystery’s sake, as once again we don’t get to see how’s that’s relevant or what are the consequences.

What then follows is Sabretooth’s “trial”, so we get to witness exactly how this mutant justice is going to be dealt with. Apparently with a lot of unjustified cruelty. The banter during this trial is quite superficial and inconclusive, but it’s understandable. Hickman does what he can with the little space he has, so he uses the various characters to establish some general concepts.

Without wasting time on that, what’s more surprising is the ominous angle. Sabretooth isn’t even allowed to properly defend himself. First Emma and then Jean reduce him to a drooling baby. There’s no agency, and with no agency no responsibility. When they let him speak again it’s as if he’s completely unaware of what happened. As if he was replaced by an actor. He cannot even grasp the kind of power around himself. The result is that it all feels like a facade, a stage. An example being made, to the reader and to the council of mutants. The final sentence he gets is horrifying. An eternity of stasis but while fully aware. Which is exactly the compete removal of agency. A cruelty without any justification because they could have simply put him to sleep. It’s viciously cruel. And deliberately made so by Hickman.

…And it all ends in a giant rave party, just to highlight the contrast.

A home.

A nation.

A whole lot of empty rhetoric, hiding the dirt under the carpet, away from the eyes. The way of human nations, I guess.

We thrive on symbols and hypocrisy, the mutants have learned well.

This issue stays on rails without any surprising twists, but that’s fine.

A few more strands of plot are being tied together, more or less following their natural development, so this time we see the domino doing its thing and nothing more.

X-Zero: is a dialogue between Xavier and Forge. It mostly goes nowhere since it leads to a convoluted explanation that amounts to “it’s magic”. Essentially the scene’s purpose is to tell us that this new version of Cerebro that can store the mind & soul of all mutants was built by Forge. Who explains that such device would have two basic requirements: infinite power, and infinite data space (storage). Both of which have been already solved by Xavier through magic. Infinite power is an antimatter engine that was found nearby, and infinite data is some “Shi’Ar logical diamonds” that they also happen to already have.

I suppose Hickman didn’t invent anything here and just fished stuff out of the expansive Marvel universe, since it’s certainly not scarce of fancy tools. So the explanations is fairly bland, but it follows the “canon”, more or less. The idea is precisely coherent with all we’ve seen: it would be silly to not use all this power and resources lying about. A smart man (Xavier) would just do that.

This time we also get a couple of cases of “mystery for mystery’s sake”. Or, mystery without origin and consequence. The first is a mention in text that Xavier has already “reset” twice his mental state to a previous version. The reason is unknown, the effect is unknown.

X-Ten: is the recruitment of the White Queen. We already know all of this, so we just get to see it happen. The only tiny spark of interest is the second case of mystery for mystery’s sake. The mutandom has now a (temporary) government based on a oligarchy. Twelve in total. But we only have names for four of those. They are split in groups of three for each “season”. The group made by Xavier and Magneto then has a “dark” spot, and the same for White Queen + Black King. Whose hidden spot was something explicitly demanded by Emma Frost, and deliberately not revealed to the reader to build that mystery for mystery’s sake.

There’s even a completely pointless diagram to demand the reader be curious about this.

There’s also another scene for this section. This time Xavier visits Namor, but Namor doesn’t feel it’s the time to join the happy fun times, yet. This should be a teaser for later.

X-1000: a jump right to the end of the timeline. No one hundred year war this time. We get to see what I expected to see. The info-dump we get, about the situation with the Phalanx, is built a bit like a cliffhanger (again), but it was just a straightforward outcome. These futuristic humans tried to build some machinic alter-egos so that the Phalanx would be more hungry to absorb these “decoys”, while ignoring the organic forms and so keeping them alive. So this was their gamble to survive the amicable absorption. But turns out that this process of absorption also requires a lot of energy, to be performed, hence the Phalanx will consume the organic forms as well to use them as fuel.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It was a dumb plan.

The more interesting part is the text infodumps that might read like the hermetic principle “as above so below”, but that isn’t so much sophisticate here.

We are simply being told that there are more hierarchies past the Phalanx, and they continue exactly as before. They repeat endlessly like fractals, without any surprise or higher purpose. Hickman’s idea is that eventually a mind gets so dense it opens a black hole, disrupting space and time. But these black holes also get interlinked a build bigger societies, and they operate just the same of cells or living organisms, competing for food and dominance. The scale changes, but the behavior repeats.

So even the X-1000 is just about “humans” being stuck somewhere within this bottomless and topless process of “eat or be eaten”.

The concept is cute, but so what?