THE EXEGESIS OF PHILIP K. DICK: a familial + critical guide through the thought processes of a genius

[youtube_video width=399 height=233]Exegesis[/youtube_video]

[ Tues Nov 22 11 ] 

“A great and calamitous sequence of arguments with the universe: poignant, terrifying, ludicrous, and brilliant. The Exegesis is the sort of book associated with legends and madmen, but Dick wasn’t a legend and he wasn’t mad. He lived among us, and was a genius.”—Jonathan Lethem

Based on thousands of pages of typed and handwritten notes, journal entries, letters, and story sketches, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick is the magnificent and imaginative final work of an author who dedicated his life to questioning the nature of reality and perception, the malleability of space and time, and the relationship between the human and the divine. Edited and introduced by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, this will be the definitive presentation of Dick’s brilliant, and epic, final work.

In The Exegesis, Dick documents his eight-year attempt to fathom what he called “2-3-74,” a postmodern visionary experience of the entire universe “transformed into information.” In entries that sometimes ran to hundreds of pages, Dick tried to write his way into the heart of a cosmic mystery that tested his powers of imagination and invention to the limit, adding to, revising, and discarding theory after theory, mixing in dreams and visionary experiences as they occurred, and pulling it all together in three late novels known as the VALIS trilogy. In this abridgment, Jackson and Lethem serve as guides, taking the reader through the Exegesis and establishing connections with moments in Dick’s life and work.

Both Jackson and Lethem were present at Moe’s Books in Berkeley to discuss, with Dick’s daughters Laura Leslie and Isa Dick Hackett, and journalist/Exegesis contributor Erik Davis, the process of compilation, background on Dick’s life, visions, and creative process.

Above is the entire conversation. Click “Play” to watch all, “Next” to skip forward, or the small “Insert” screen (to the right of the video time) to see thumbnails and watch them directly. Below is a basic guide to the topics discussed in each video:

  1. Owen Hill introduces the panelists
  2. Jonathan Lethem introduces Philip K. Dick and The Exegesis
  3. a) Isa Dick Hackett on the process: not to edit who Phillip K. Dick was, but… b) Pamela Jackson on “wading into” the boxes of source material: “a changing examination of the same set of ideas”
  4. Dick’s writing “creates a series of models for intellectual journeying” and how that imposes a similar structure on the team’s editorial efforts. “The exhilaration of discovery and collapse into despair” a) “A series of impulsive forays into things” b) “Collapse into stillness” c) “Returns to the source of the vision and says, Now I’m going to do this right and begin again” d) On needing a team rather than a liaison e) Erik Davis and the project’s many perspectives
  5. a) The 1,600 letters b) The relationship between this impulsive foray mode of writing and his work on short stories and novels c) “All-night bull sessions on the nature of the universe” d) “What got cut?”
  6. a) How should we read it? b) Sharing the vision with his daughters c) How he wrote d) Where he lived
  7. a) Popularity b) Philosophy c) Biography

This program was filmed by Evan Karp.


  • Listen to the conversation—and see some photos from the event—here.
  • Read the introduction by Jackson and Lethem here.
  • Find out about forthcoming events at Moe’s Books here.