The Cold War Never Ended I

*shuffles papers awkwardly after long and unexplained silence*


After he got shot with a pink laser beam from space, Philip K. Dick realized that time was an illusion created by some malign force to blind us and keep us in bondage, and that we are living within a “black iron prison” of occlusion and unable to perceive the true nature of reality. Time had in fact ceased in 70 A.D., and everything that had transpired since was just an illusion. In fact, it was still some time in the first century of the Roman Empire. This is why Dick liked to say that “the Empire never ended.”

R. Crumb, detail from “The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick”

I guess that sounds kind of weird when you just write it all down like that. I’m not really going to write any more on the nature and possible explanations for Dick’s “2-3-74” theophany, especially as it has been written about so well elsewhere. (Go read VALIS.) What interests me here is the resonance of that phrase, “the empire never ended,” and the weird kind of time-perceptual hiccup it induces. What if things we thought were history were really still present? In a sense, that happens all the time. Causality has a long reach, and we’re still dealing with fallout from the Cold War, the World Wars, the age of empire, even (more distantly) the Roman Empire. But that’s not the same thing as saying the Roman Empire never ended. The latter claim only really makes sense if (a) we are “occluded” (one of PKD’s favorite words), i.e. we have been deceived in some way so comprehensive it amounts to some kind of brainwashing or Matrix-like virtual reality long con; or (b) the power that might wish us to remain occluded has not messed with our perceptions, because it has not had to. It has simply disappeared from sight and continues its unofficial work through its official proxies—though of course to maintain the illusion of not existing, the secret sources of power must pull the odd string and kill the odd witness. The first explanation is prime PKD thematic territory; the second is the stuff of Illuminati conspiracy theories.

This kind of thinking is not very respectable for a humanities academic. I can get away with writing about it in my usual historicizing way, but if I start actually making this kind of argument myself I will revoke my scholarly immunity and find myself exiled to Cranksville, shelved in the New Age/Occult/Paranormal section of the bookstore. But what the hell, I’m going to go right ahead and make exactly this kind of argument. I’m not 100% serious, but then I’m not totally kidding, either. Think of this as what Marshall McLuhan called a probe, a thought-experiment whose usefulness we may measure not by asking “is this really true?” or even “are you kidding me?” but “is it useful for stimulating fresh thoughts and perceptions?” And in the end I want to suggest that this argument is not quite as weird as I am making it out to be at the front end. Maybe something of this idea can be assimilated to respectable thought after all. But we have to start out weird.

Actually, no, we don’t have to, but it will be more fun if we do.

So here is my thesis in occult historiography:


OK, there’s a teaser (for anyone who’s still reading, that is. Are you still reading?). This whole thing (much of which I’ve already written) is pretty long, so I’m going to post it in installments over the next few days.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
This entry was posted in Cold War, Historiography, Politics, the cold war never ended!, Weird Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Cold War Never Ended I

  1. One way or another, we all start out weird. Looking forward to reading on.

  2. Pingback: The Cold War Never Ended, II | Dial M for Musicology

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