The potency of the past in comic science fiction: Aristophanes and Philip K. Dick

The potency of the past in comic science fiction: Aristophanes and Philip K. Dick Abstract This article contributes to the emerging study of classical reception in science fiction (SF) by investigating the potency of the past at the intersection of SF and comedy. Although SF is a genre powerfully oriented towards the future, comedy offers a means by which meditation on the necessity of connecting with the past may enter this seemingly inhospitable environment. After considering some of SF’s generic tendencies at an abstract, theoretical level, I offer a reading of Aristophanes’ Clouds ‘as’ SF, arguing that it is not quite so hostile to ‘new’ ideas as has generally been thought, even as it affirms the validity of old ideas. Then I consider a number of references to classical antiquity and other aspects of the past in the work of Philip K. Dick, particularly the story ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’ and the novels We Can Build You, Now Wait for Last Year, Ubik, and VALIS. Connection with the past appears in a variety of forms and inspires a variety of responses in Dick’s fiction. Connection with the classical past in particular becomes especially crucial in the late novel VALIS. Comedy, science fiction, and temporality Science fiction (henceforth SF) is a genre troubled by an ambivalent relation to comedy and the comic. At best, the resemblance of Lucian’s True History to SF provides the latter with a venerable ancient heritage.1 Or there is Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide series, thoroughly comic and much beloved by SF fans. At worst, SF may feel itself to be besieged by dismissive judgements that it is unintentionally ridiculous: that not only the erotic grotesquerie of the pulps, but even the most thoughtful efforts involving aliens, time machines, galactic empires, and so forth, merit derisory laughter. The genre’s anxiety about being laughed at has eased as its importance has gained recognition. Nevertheless, despite the great volume of critical work that has now been devoted to it, and despite the deep link that the Lucianic heritage suggests, scholars have not been particularly eager to explore connections between SF and comedy. This may be due in part to an understandable reluctance to yoke one genre that has had to fight and claw for legitimacy to another that has had to do the same. This article contributes to the emerging study of classical reception in SF by investigating what I will call the potency of the past at the intersection of SF and comedy.2 SF is a genre deeply concerned with time and knowledge; as we will see, these twin concerns are inscribed at the core of the genre’s defining structural conventions. From this nexus a variety of questions arise, among which those that concern the past may not spring immediately to mind. Most well known is the futurological question: what might technoscience look like in the future, and what might it enable or compel us to become? Though this is often the question that an SF text seems to be asking, many writers and critics emphasize that a strong SF text ought to serve as an organon for understanding (or rethinking) the present, not as a crystal ball in which to see the future. However, even if that is so, the future remains a necessary concern, for an orientation towards the future, in one form or another, has long been a potent aspect of the present in Western cultural psychology (Koselleck 2004). The efflorescence of SF as a distinct, explosively popular, and increasingly respected genre tracks the post-Victorian rise of a new kind of dominant orientation towards the future that tends to regard the past as puny, distasteful, misguided, and irrelevant. The cloak of comedy (to borrow the titular phrase of Telò (2016)), I argue, offers one means by which meditation on the potency of the past may enter this seemingly inhospitable environment. By ‘the potency of the past’, I mean the necessity of connecting with the past as such: not only the ideas, but also the people, animals, places, languages, and texts of the past, in their materiality and specificity. Necessity here may indicate a range of forces, from involuntary compulsion to desire. In this article, I examine comic meditation on the potency of the past in the work of Aristophanes and Philip K. Dick.3 As we will see, the Greco-Roman past in particular is often present and vitally at stake in Dick’s fiction. Before arriving at Dick, however, I do two things. First, I develop some theory that is useful for the formal analysis of SF, and I argue that SF and comedy are structurally homologous in certain key respects. Second, I offer a reading of Aristophanes’ Clouds that will enable this play and Dick’s fiction to elucidate each other. Theory Darko Suvin’s highly influential definition of SF as the literature of ‘cognitive estrangement’ remains a useful jumping-off point for discussions of SF as a genre. Suvin derives the concept of ‘estrangement’ from Shklovsky’s ostranenie and Brecht’s Verfremdung. However, Spiegel (2008) argues that the SF phenomena Suvin wants to designate are quite unlike those that Shklovsky and Brecht designate.4 For Shklovsky, the fictional world and the world of the reader are assumed to be ontologically identical, and ostranenie refers to formal techniques of narration that enable that world to be seen in a new light. In SF, however, the ontology of the fictional world is strange, and the dominant formal device is actually naturalization. As Spiegel puts it, ‘On a formal level, SF does not estrange the familiar, but rather makes the strange familiar’ (2008: 372). Suvin calls the primary locus of ontological strangeness in the SF text’s fictional world the novum, ‘a totalizing phenomenon or relationship deviating from the author’s and implied reader’s norm of reality’ (Suvin 1979: 64). The novum may be a strange alien being, a strange natural phenomenon (perhaps of alien origin), a strange technological device, etc. There may be more than one novum (Csicsery-Ronay 2008: 69–70). Most often the novum is imagined as an aspect of the future — say, the sociotechnological configuration of a future state of society — or as something that is encountered in the future. It may, however, affect the structure of time in ways that normal temporal categories cannot easily accommodate. One of the primary functions of scientific rhetoric in SF is to familiarize the novum. However, the novum generally is not, and frequently clearly cannot be, explained in strict accordance with facts and principles widely agreed by scientific specialists to be true. Indeed, the science in SF is often just as strange as the events it purports to explain. How, then, does it familiarize these events? One answer is that SF presupposes readers disposed to accept scientific rhetoric as a vehicle of plausibility, even when the ‘illusionary status’ of that rhetoric is thinly disguised (Csicsery-Ronay 2008: 111). The reader is expected to accept, however provisionally, that the events represented could be explained scientifically, even if the explanation actually given leaves something to be desired. SF also presupposes readers who believe that technoscience really does operate according to a dynamic of continual revolution or ‘paradigm shifts’, so that the technoscience of tomorrow really should differ radically from that of today (Csicsery-Ronay 2008: 57–59). Thus, the ontological strangeness of an SF world does not necessarily prevent it from representing, at least in some respects, a possible future. Interpretation of the SF world as a model of a possible future is a cognitive activity, but this is not primarily what Suvin means by the ‘cognitive’ in ‘cognitive estrangement’. Suvin emphasizes, instead, that even an SF text that depicts events that the reader cannot believe could ever occur or be explained scientifically — as is often the case, particularly when time travel is involved — may serve as an organon for understanding (or rethinking) the present in ways that are ‘cognitively valid’. Indeed, if it cannot do that, Suvin has no use for it (1979: 75). For Suvin, cognitive validity and science strongly overlap, as indicated by his claim that ‘[t]he novum is postulated on and validated by the post-Cartesian and post-Baconian scientific method’ (64–65). However, his primary concern is that SF should elucidate social relations in ways that accord with the methods of the social sciences, not that it should put forth potentially valid hypotheses about quantum computing or distant star systems (67–68, 71, 81). When scientific rhetoric familiarizes the novum, it neutralizes a jointly ontological and epistemological problem that might otherwise render the novum entirely unacceptable, or at least foreign to the genre of SF. If one can accept that the novum could be known scientifically, then one can accept that it could be. Regardless of how bizarre the fictional world may be, or how seemingly unlikely as a model of the future, it shares at least this minimal equation of potential scientific knowability and potential existence with the implied reader’s normal world. Fictions that reject this equation are generally classified as fantasy, which readers of SF may also enjoy but will read and interpret according to different criteria. However, the novum may at times pose very difficult epistemological problems that are central to the drama of the SF text. I do not mean merely temporary problems, which are very common, but problems that threaten the foundations of scientific rationality, remain unresolved, and constitute the text’s central interpretive questions. The enigmatic planet in Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris is perhaps the most famous novum of this kind. The characters in Lem’s novel assume that the planet can be known scientifically, but like the many scientists who have come before them (whose efforts the novel describes in great detail), they fail to do so. Ultimately, half in jest, they resort to theological explanations. Later on in this article, we will examine how Philip K. Dick’s Ubik and VALIS pose similar problems. To conclude this section, I want to posit a very abstract homology between comedy and SF. Summarizing a discussion of humour theory (designed to be applied to the work of Aristophanes), Ruffell writes that ‘jokes […] have at their core both an element of opposition (implausibility, incongruity, disjunction) and an element of motivation (overlap, plausibility)’ (Ruffell 2011: 100). SF, as we have seen, hinges on a structurally identical combination of elements. Here, the ‘element of opposition’ is the novum, and the ‘element of motivation’ consists of familiarizing devices such as scientific rhetoric. This homology warrants comparison of ancient comedy with SF, provided that such a comparison attends to the many important differences between the presuppositions of ancient and modern audiences.5 Csicsery-Ronay remarks that ‘[t]he hoax, a fantastic tale told in persuasive, credible language intended to sound exactly like a true account, links SF with premodern literary forms. Lucian is significant for the genre not just because he envisioned travel to the moon, but that he reported it in the humorously inappropriate language of the mundane’ (2008: 125). But Lucian is not the only ancient writer whose comedy prefigures SF. In the next section, I argue that Aristophanes’ Clouds poses serious questions concerning science, theology, and the potency of the past that continue to reverberate in the work of SF writers such as Lem and Dick. Clouds: old gods, new tricks Like many SF narratives, the story of Strepsiades is a kind of latter-day version of the tale of Odysseus. It is also, of course, comic. Instead of the faithful wife Penelope and brave son Telemachus, there is the expensive wife and horse-mad son Pheidippides. Instead of wealth-devouring suitors, there are creditors prowling at the door. Instead of the resourceful Odysseus of the epic, there is Strepsiades, a would-be embodiment of the hostile interpretation of Odysseus as an amoral master of trickery (Stanford 1949). Instead of a journey to the boundaries of the known world, there is the journey to the phrontistērion. Instead of Athena, there are the Clouds. Clouds is not generally seen as part of the SF tradition, even by those whose view of that tradition encompasses some ancient literature, perhaps even other plays of Aristophanes.6 Its reputation as a reactionary satire, a blistering attack on science and scientists and innovation of any kind, an irresponsible caricature of Socrates that may have had something to do with his tragic execution, is too dark, even though there is no denying that SF is often quite hard on science, scientists, and innovation. I suspect that the play may have found more appreciation among writers of SF, particularly those with comic tendencies, than among the genre’s historians. Be that as it may, in this section my focus is on how using the analytical tools of SF criticism might shed light on Clouds in its original performance context. One important difference between the ancient audience of Clouds and the audience of modern SF is that the former will not have thought of science — if I may use that term to denote the set of theories and practices that the phrontistērion represents comically, with the usual caveats7 — as something bound inevitably to transform the future, whether through the discovery of aliens or the technological transformation of sociopolitical life. That is not to say that an Athenian audience of the late fifth century BCE will have considered sociopolitical life to be essentially static, or that they will not have considered science capable of contributing to change (see e.g. Prometheus Bound 436–506, Thucydides 1.2–1.17, On Ancient Medicine, Demosthenes 9.48–51).8 But they will certainly have considered themselves to possess more agency in relation to science, more power to determine whether or not change takes place, than a modern audience. Nevertheless, if any major transformation connected to science was likely to appear threatening, it is religious change. Significant evidence indicates that belief in the Olympian gods as guarantors of justice in the world really did degrade in Athens during the fifth century BCE (Whitmarsh 2015: 75–124). Any particular scientific or philosophical argument for the non-existence of the Olympian gods, whether it put forward some strange new view of divinity or advocated atheism, might have been easy enough for a sceptical Athenian to dispense with. But the unsettling facts would have remained that the gods, if they existed, hid themselves and often allowed the unjust to go unpunished. This is the context to keep in mind as we attempt to analyse the Cloud chorus as a novum, which is one possible application of SF theory that presents itself.9 Like the novum of a modern SF text, particularly the alien-entity novum, the Clouds are strange beings previously unknown to the protagonist and the audience. They are not entirely unheard-of, for they are in some way to be identified with the clouds one often sees in the sky. They are also to be regarded as deities (δαíμοσιν: 253; θεáς: 329). They look like human women, which appears to Strepsiades to differentiate them from clouds; however, Socrates points out that clouds often seem to take on the shapes of earthly phenomena (346–50). Still, the Clouds sing and converse in Greek with Socrates and Strepsiades, which is surely unusual. Perhaps the Clouds are clouds, but not all clouds are Clouds. Or perhaps all clouds possess the capabilities of the Clouds, but rarely show it. The Clouds’ ability to speak Greek does not receive a scientific explanation. What is scientifically explained is their ability to cause thunderstorms — without, crucially, the help of the Olympian gods, whom Socrates claims do not exist (365). In a modern SF text, of course, familiar phenomena such as thunderstorms are assumed to have a scientific explanation, and the novum will be something different: say, a storm with highly unusual properties (i.e. one that is incompatible with the current scientific understanding of thunderstorms), finally revealed to be the result of alien technology influencing the atmosphere or scientific experimentation gone awry. In Clouds, at the very dawn of the scientific worldview, the possibility that clouds independently cause thunderstorms, and that such storms have no moral force or meaning, is itself a novum, for it is ‘a totalizing phenomenon or relationship deviating from the […] implied reader’s norm of reality’ (Suvin 1979: 64). Given that non-theological science itself, in a sense, is the novum in Clouds, one might not expect that scientific rhetoric could perform a familiarizing function. It is true that if Socrates had explained the nature of the Clouds in abstruse, barely coherent rhetoric that the audience could not have hoped to understand, then we would have a simple case of satirical absurdity — as, indeed, is often assumed to be the case. However, Socrates’ arguments about thunderstorms, which crucially imply the non-existence of Zeus, eschew specialized language10 and appeal to the evidence of experience in ways that do generate real, if limited, plausibility, effectively familiarizing this strange world in which clouds are (or at least appear to be) the only deities. Socrates offers ‘evidence’ (σημεíοις: 369) for why thunderstorms are not caused by Zeus that may be called ‘scientific’ because it consists of a pair of modus tollens arguments (370–1, 399–402).11 These arguments are not difficult to understand and are likely to have been regarded as somewhat plausible by an Athenian audience, as they are by Strepsiades (372, 403). Socrates also offers positive explanations of thunder and lightning that are carefully designed to be intelligible and convincing. First, he offers a precise description of thunder in language that is scientific but not abstruse (375–84). Then, he offers an analogy that is comic in the sense that it refers to bodily processes, but also scientific in the sense that it assumes the regularity of physical processes: the cause of thunder is the same as that of the gas one gets after eating too much soup (385–93).12 Strepsiades responds enthusiastically to the analogy (388–91). Next, Socrates offers a scientific description of lightning (403–7), and this time Strepsiades comes up with the analogy: the cause of lightning is the same as that which makes a cooked sausage explode (404–11). He is learning to think scientifically. The plausibility of these arguments is important13 because it affects the way in which the Clouds’ famous revelation of their didactic function, near the end of the play (1458–61), is interpreted. In the interim, Strepsiades suffers the predictable consequences of having encouraged his son to learn to argue away empathy and respect. Pheidippides has become obsessed with the new (καινοĩς πρáγμασιν: 1399) and utterly contemptuous of anything old (ἀρχαĩος: 1357, 1469), from the poetry of Simonides and Aeschylus to his own father and mother, whom he decides to beat. Strepsiades tries to blame the Clouds for his misfortune, but they respond in a high tragic register that he himself is responsible (αἴτιος: 1454) for what has happened. He then asks why they did not tell him earlier what would become of his plan. They reply that their method is to lead a person infatuated with wickedness deeper into the wickedness, until he learns ‘to fear the gods’ (τοὺς θεοὺς δεδοικἐναι: 1461). What does this mean? It is clear that the Clouds assert the enduring potency of the past. Both the content and the form of their assertions emphasize the validity of archaic wisdom, the power of the old words that Pheidippides snubbed as passé (Silk 2000: 352–6). However, it is not so clear that their statements invalidate Socrates’ explanation of thunderstorms or reaffirm the existence of the Olympian gods as personal administrators of cosmic justice. Could it be that by τοὺς θεοὺς δεδοικἐναι, they mean that there are immanent moral laws that cannot be ignored without adverse consequences, patterns of human cause and effect analogous to the gastric sequence that begins with the ingestion of too much soup and ends with an enormous fart (385–93)? Three things strongly suggest this. First, αἴτιος in line 1454 can mean ‘the cause’ as well as ‘morally culpable’, and αὐτὸς μὲν οὖν σαυτῷ σὺ in the same line (immediately prior), emphasizing that Strepsiades himself is the cause (and culpable), echoes αὐτὸς ἐαυτὸν κατακáων in line 407, which describes how dry air burning itself up is the cause of lightning (rather than Zeus hurling fire). Second, the Clouds’ method of teaching fear of the gods is essentially to do nothing: they simply allow the desirer (ἐραστὴν: 1459) to go where his desire takes him. Third, the plot of the play clearly shows how Strepsiades’ punishment results from the effects of his own actions upon Pheidippides, not from divine intervention. Strepsiades opts for a more traditional interpretation. He restores his faith in Zeus (1468–74) and believes that he can hear Hermes telling him not to bother suing the phrontistērion but to go ahead and burn it down (1478–85), thereby completing his Odyssean homecoming with fiery revenge against those who have been revealed to be his true enemies. The play does not necessarily imply that Hermes has actually spoken to Strepsiades; indeed, Strepsiades’ desire for immediate, violent revenge seems more symptomatic of a continuing failure to take personal responsibility than of moral wisdom. If the voice of Hermes arises in Strepsiades’ own head, then the inhabitants of the phrontistērion, though they may be right about thunderstorms, suffer, like Strepsiades, the natural result of their own unwise actions (i.e. facilitating Strepsiades’ plan to defraud his creditors). Clouds, then, asserts the potency of the past, but it does not necessarily expose the novum of non-theological science as a hoax. Or, to put it another way, it suggests that the old gods are not dead, even if they do not exist. The importance of Clouds lies not in the simple moral lesson that Strepsiades learns (or does not learn), but in this temporal and epistemological paradox. In the work of Philip K. Dick, the meaning of antiquity is caught up in the echoes of this paradox. Philip K. Dick: comicality, historicity, and antiquity Despite increasingly numerous case studies of classical reception in SF and the efforts of Rogers and Stevens (2012, 2015) to lend coherence to this emerging subfield, there has been little attempt to periodize SF from the perspective of classical reception. SF’s constitutive concern with temporality seems the most promising angle from which to approach such periodization(s). The problem is complex — to insist on a unique or linear periodization, for example, would surely imply neglect of the most basic lessons of SF — and beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the coarse distinction between ‘modernism’ and ‘postmodernism’ can help to contextualize Dick’s work, which scholars often characterize as paradigmatically postmodern (Jameson 1991; Palmer 2003). Modernism in SF involves the incorporation into literature of the perspective of ‘deep time’, partly through encounters with the distant past (as in Verne’s Voyage au centre de la Terre of 1864) and partly through visions of the ‘deep’ future: Wells’s The Time Machine (1895), Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937). While classical reception plays a role in works of this period (‘the tragic’, for example, is very important for Stapledon), Greco-Roman antiquity as a historical period generally shrinks to near-insignificance within their (future-)historical ‘grand narratives’. The postmodern period in SF, which begins around 1950 (with Dick’s career), generates approaches to temporality that are less beholden to scientific models and more attentive to the enduring potency of human cultural history, even as imaginative engagement with the non-human (animal, vegetable, machine, alien, deity) continues apace. In Dick’s work, as we shall see, Greco-Roman antiquity proves to be no mere blip in the procession of eons, but an undead force of considerable power. In an article first published in Science Fiction Studies in 1975, Stanislaw Lem registered the novelty of Dick’s work by remarking that it displays an ‘indeterminacy as to genre’ (1984: 122). Such indeterminacy manifests in several different ways. First, Dick wrote some straight realist fiction, as well as some fiction that wavers between realism and SF. The late novel VALIS (1981), which I will discuss, belongs to the latter category. Second, much of Dick’s work is comic, but strangely so. Jameson describes the world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) as one that ‘freezes all possible grins into some mixed tonality [of] nightmarish zaniness’ (Jameson 2005: 367). Not all of Dick’s worlds are as nightmarish as this one, but the comedy is rarely as jovial as it is in, say, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series or Lem’s Cyberiad. Dick’s comedy always mingles with bitter annoyance, raw pain, and sincere striving for salvation.14 Third, there is what Lem was thinking of, which is that Dick ‘strikes no balances and explains nothing “scientifically,” but instead just confounds things’ (1984: 121–2). Lem’s annoyance is not entirely tongue-in-cheek. As he goes on to point out, the issue is not that he expects Dick’s fiction to conform to a model of SF in which, say, the novum must be familiarized with scientific rhetoric that is ‘x percent’ believable. The issue is that the hermeneutic that the text itself implies is not clear. This last point, which in some ways encompasses the previous two, will be worth keeping in mind as we examine classical reception in Dick’s work. Fredric Jameson has for many years foregrounded temporality and historicity in his analyses of Dick, and Dick in his analyses of SF. In Postmodernism he posits a dialectical relationship between SF and the historical novel: [I]t seems interesting to explore the hypothesis that science fiction as a genre entertains a dialectical and structural relationship with the historical novel — a relationship of kinship and inversion all at once, of opposition and homology […] For if the historical novel ‘corresponded’ to the emergence of historicity, of a sense of history in its strong modern post-eighteenth-century sense, science fiction equally corresponds to the waning or the blockage of that historicity, and, particularly in our own time (in the postmodern era), to its crisis and paralysis, its enfeeblement and repression. Only by means of a violent formal and narrative dislocation could a narrative apparatus come into being capable of restoring life and feeling to this only intermittently functioning organ that is our capacity to organize and live time historically (Jameson 1991: 284). This is an important idea for the study of classical reception in SF generally, for it enables that project to be linked to more familiar terrain. For example, scholarship on the Victorian reception of classical antiquity in the historical novel has demonstrated that not only were stories about Rome and (to a lesser extent) Greece crucial for the emergence of the Victorians’ ‘sense of history’, but so too was the rhetoric of ‘academic testability’ (generated in large part within the emergent ‘sciences’ of classical philology and archaeology) such novels employed to give their representations of the past the illusion of truth (Goldhill 2011: 182). One crucial moment in the dialectical inversion Jameson identifies, then, is surely Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which not only transposes the paradigm of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, so crucial for the Victorian historical novel (Goldhill 2011: 166), onto the future, but also transmutes the rhetoric of academic history into the futurological, and mathematical, fictional science of ‘psychohistory’15. This example seems a strong confirmation of Jameson’s hypothesis and of the role that Classical Reception Studies would have to play in fully elaborating it, and as such it doubtless merits more detailed study.16 Here I will only observe that in Asimov, the classical past does not actually appear as such: rather, Gibbon’s transmuted paradigm provides a reassuring means of coping with, and ultimately mastering, the vicissitudes that inevitably attend the grand galactic future. In Dick the situation is quite different: the past as such — not only, but often, the classical past — returns, in its own particularity and whatever strange new materiality it can find to call its own. It may return to help, or it may return to destroy, or it may help in some ways and destroy in others, or it may be unclear whether it is helping or destroying.17 It may also be unclear how these returns are to be interpreted, whether as actual possibilities or as allegories, for example. The potency of the past is asserted by its sheer presence in the text, but the nature of that potency, particularly as this concerns the relation of the past to modern technoscience, may be radically unclear. Here one feels the reverberations of Aristophanes’ Clouds. Dick’s first published story, ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’ (Planet Stories 1952), illustrates the dynamic I have described. It is worth examining this story in some detail, not only because the myth of Odysseus (and its proper interpretation) plays a prominent role, but also because much of Dick’s subsequent engagement with the past is already latent in it. The first scene places the reader in a world in which humans have established an economically colonialist relationship with the intelligent natives of Mars, requiring the latter to hunt Martian animals and deliver them to human traders for transport to Earth. As the traders are preparing to leave Mars with a ship full of cargo, one of the traders, Peterson, turns up with a strange creature called a ‘wub’ that one of the natives told him was ‘very respected’ and then sold to him, rather incongruously, for fifty cents (Dick 2013: 2). Captain Franco, the traders’ leader, does not think much of the creature: he pointedly refuses to refer to it as a wub, calling it instead ‘a huge, dirty pig!’ Peterson suggests that it might be edible, and after takeoff Captain Franco quickly summons the cook. At this point, the wub shocks everyone by protesting in a dignified tone, piqued but affable: ‘“Really, Captain,” the wub said. “I suggest we talk of other matters”’ (3). Peterson turns out to be the only person on the ship willing to talk to the wub. They discuss the myth of Odysseus (6): ‘I find in your Odysseus a figure common to the mythology of most self-conscious races. As I interpret it, Odysseus wanders as an individual in search of himself as such. This is the idea of separation, of separation from family and country. The process of individuation.’ ‘But Odysseus returns to his home.’ Peterson looked out the port window, at the stars, endless stars, burning intently in the empty universe. ‘Finally he goes home.’ ‘As must all creatures. 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 …’. This conversation is interrupted by a gun-wielding Captain Franco, enraged and terrified by an earlier encounter in which the wub, through some mysterious power, had rendered him unable to move. In the ensuing debate about the wub’s fate, it emerges that the wub arranged for the native to sell it so that it could meet the humans and learn about them. It compliments the humans on their technical ingenuity (‘Atomic power. You have done many wonderful things with it — technically’) but observes that this ingenuity is crucially lacking in one respect: ‘Apparently your scientific hierarchy is not equipped to solve moral, ethical —’. One of Captain Franco’s men advises him to shoot for the brain, as that organ is ‘no good for eating’ (7). The wub is shot and eaten. Only Captain Franco seems to enjoy the meal, even though ‘[t]he taste was excellent’ (8). But Captain Franco behaves rather strangely. The pleasure he takes in eating the wub is hardly surprising, but his philosophical approach to the situation seems out of character: ‘I, myself, love to eat. It is one of the greatest things that a living creature can enjoy. Eating, resting, meditation, discussing things’ (8). Finally, the anagnorisis: ‘As I was saying before I was interrupted, the role of Odysseus in the myths —’ Peterson jerked up, staring. ‘To go on,’ the Captain said. ‘Odysseus, as I understand him —’ The wub just wanted to have a civilized conversation with the humans, but having found that to be impossible, it does not hesitate to defend itself by using its mysterious power to co-opt the body of its aggressor. The reception of the myth of Odysseus here is significant in light of the importance of this myth for SF. Rogers (2015), following the lead of Fredericks (1980), notes that ‘[m]ost SF narratives that draw on the Odyssey emphasize the outbound journey into the unknown, the encounter with the alien or Other, the act of discovery, but they do not necessarily include a return journey homeward, a reapplication of the discovery to the self in one’s original context’ (220).18 This underscores the significance of the wub’s (and Peterson’s) insistence on the necessity of the return home. The story seems to accuse SF’s typical reception of the Odysseus myth, which had already taken shape by 1952, of a critical error, and to correct that error by enacting what had been forgotten: the return to the (ancient) source. This would be plain enough even without Dick’s explanation, almost thirty years after it was published, that the wub represents ‘empathy, or, as it was called in earlier times, caritas or agape’ (Dick 1995: 106). The story’s handling of the myth of Odysseus, then, displays a mix of overlap and opposition with the SF tradition. This mix is mirrored in the indeterminacy of its implied hermeneutic. In many ways, it presents itself as offering a plausible possible future, mainly by moral extrapolation. If we go to Mars (or wherever) and find natives whose labour can be exploited for profit, we will probably do so; if we find something that looks edible, we will probably eat first and ask questions later. The reference to ‘atomic power’ and to the humans’ ‘scientific hierarchy’ further suggests a plausible future rather than a fantastic ‘other world’. But could such a future contain a wub? The story invites, or at least anticipates, this question, for it does provide some explanation of the wub’s powers. This occurs during the wub’s brief and generally unfruitful conversation with Captain Franco soon after it has been discovered that the wub can speak English. Captain Franco asks where it learned to do that, and the wub replies that it examined his mind. ‘Telepathy. Of course’ says Captain Franco. Apparently he requires no further explanation. Nevertheless, the wub continues. ‘We are a very old race […] Very old and very ponderous. It is difficult for us to move around. You can appreciate that anything so slow and heavy would be at the mercy of more agile forms of life’ (Dick 2013: 4). Telepathy, then, is its survival adaptation. Scientifically, this is quite plausible enough for most varieties of SF. The story’s conclusion, however, wreaks havoc with the ‘plausible future’ reading. It is one thing to read another entity’s mind — which, after all, is not so very different from what occurs in ordinary conversation — and quite another thing to transfer one’s consciousness intact, instantly and invisibly, into another entity’s body. Such a phenomenon seems to call for an allegorical interpretation, and I will propose one such interpretation in the conclusion of this article. For now, I want to underscore the jarring effect of the sudden revocation of the story’s dominant implied hermeneutic, which is greatly intensified by its occurrence at the very end. What renders such an effect palatable, even thrilling, is the comic tone of the story. It is funny to hear the sort of being Dick describes discussing the interpretation of ancient Greek myth in a very dignified register of English. The story sets up a joke and at the end delivers the punch line. But the stakes of the joke are quite serious, inasmuch as the survival or annihilation of the wub represents the survival or annihilation of wisdom and goodness. ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’ suggests two ways in which the past might, and in fact does, subsequently appear in Dick’s fiction. One is as an aspect of a possible future; the other is as an aspect of a fiction that either requires a radical reevaluation of what is possible or a different sort of interpretation altogether. I will briefly examine Now Wait for Last Year (1966) and We Can Build You (1972) as representative of the first category, and as representative of the second, Ubik (1969) and VALIS (1981).19 Many of the events in Now Wait for Last Year do not lend themselves to being interpreted as aspects of a possible future. However, the only one I consider here does. Virgil Ackerman, the head of a large corporation, creates on Mars a replica of his hometown just as it was when he was a kid (‘Wash-35’: Washington in 1935), complete with original period artefacts and android versions of the people he once knew. The protagonist reflects that perhaps this is not a grotesque symptom of a disease of inauthenticity, but a striving for connection that is itself rooted in the past: When the first bard rattled off the first epic of a sometime battle, illusion entered our lives; the Iliad is as much a ‘fake’ as those robant children trading postage stamps on the porch of the building. Humans have always striven to retain the past, to keep it convincing; there’s nothing wicked in that. Without it we have no continuity; we have only the moment. And, deprived of the past, the moment — the present — has little meaning, if any. (Dick 2011 [1966]: 29) The reference to the Iliad is significant, for it connects seemingly futuristic technologies of memory (‘robant children’) to ancient ones (bards, oral epic poetry). This suggests that not much has changed, even in the seemingly strange future that Dick’s text describes — or, indeed, in the present in which Dick’s literary text performs the sort of connection to the past that the passage claims is crucial. What is different in that present, perhaps, is that now we are imagining what strange new tools we will someday use to remember. But Dick points out that those tools will be analogous to ancient ones. Means change, but the motivation remains the same. Whereas Virgil Ackerman’s rebuilt past is a personal one, in We Can Build You, an American classical past returns to life in the form of the mechanical simulacra Lincoln and Stanton. As one character explains, ‘This nation is obsessed with the War Between the States. I’ll tell you why. It was the only and first national epic in which we Americans participated; that’s why’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 9). The Lincoln and Stanton simulacra are, in a sense, historical fictions brought into the future — and into SF — as robots. Their construction depends as much on the work of historians and philologists (which is fed into the ‘ruling monad brain’) as on that of electrical engineers (or what we would now call ‘AI’). As one character says of the Stanton, ‘It has the same facts that the original Edwin M. Stanton had. We researched his life to the nth degree’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 23). Unlike in the case of Virgil Ackerman, it seems here that things have changed psychologically, and not for the better. Lincoln and Stanton offer much-needed aid to their inept creators, Stanton bringing a kind of decisive corporate leadership to the Rosen business that the humans are unable to muster, while Lincoln’s ‘gentle humanism’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 115), equal parts humour and melancholy, aids in more delicate personal affairs. Psychologically, these figures are very much like the wub; technologically, they offer a plausible rationalization of the wub’s survival. Though the text itself does not make this connection, we might compare We Can Build You to works of Greek Old Comedy that imagine great people of the past revived to aid the city in its present distress. Even closer to Dick’s scenario than Aristophanes’ Frogs, which imagines the consultation in the underworld of great tragedians, is that of Eupolis’ Demes, which imagines the revivification of the great Athenian statesmen Solon, Miltiades, Aristides, and Pericles (Telò 2007). In these ancient plays, as perhaps in Dick’s novel, the actual means of revivification within the fictional world is less important than the comparison of older and newer mentalities that is thereby enabled. Dick’s comparison hews to the model of the Old Comic poets: morally, the past puts the present to shame. ‘Again I reexperienced my first impression of it: that in many ways it was more human — god help us! — than we were […] Only my father stood above it in dignity.’ And if that is true of the Stanton, how much more of the Lincoln? ‘I wonder how that will make us feel and make us look’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 60). Jameson identifies Dick’s affective innovation in historicity as ‘nostalgia for the present’ (Jameson 1991: 279–96; 2005: 381). Such an effect may be seen in the way that, for example, the extreme scarcity of real (non-robotic) animal life in the future of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which provokes the intense desire of the people in that world to own and care for a real animal, renders even the sharply declining abundance of the present (of 1968, or of 2017) an object of longing. However, as we have seen, at times Dick’s work registers the importance of connecting with one’s personal past and displays something very like nostalgia for a more dignified, humane cultural past. But two caveats are called for. First, the ugliness of the past does sometimes surface. In Ubik, the protagonist travels back in time to 1939. Initially, this seems a world he could learn to love, particularly in its technological dimension. ‘That LaSalle […] was a considerable piece of machinery; I felt real satisfaction driving it’ (Dick 2012 [1969]: 157). Morally, however, 1939 leaves much to be desired. His cab driver defends the Nazis: ‘We have a similar problem here in the United States, both with Jews and with the niggers. Eventually we’re going to have to do something about both’ (157). ‘This is a world’, the protagonist reflects, ‘that lives in terms of William Jennings Bryan’s oratory; the Scopes “Monkey Trial” is a vivid reality here. He thought, there is no way we can adapt to their viewpoint, their moral, political, sociological environment’ (159). Nostalgia, then, has its limits. Furthermore, the past may be dangerous. The protagonist of We Can Build You says of his associates who created the Lincoln that they ‘had reawakened what had been an awesome and awful force in this country’s history’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 58). It is to this kind of potency that we will now turn. The world of Ubik seems to represent a possible future, but in fact it is not easily legible as such. As Kim Stanley Robinson writes, ‘the constructive principle in Ubik is this: for every explanation one constructs for the events in the novel, there will be at least one event that confounds that explanation, making it impossible and thus inoperative’ (1984: 95). The issue here is not scientific plausibility in a superficial sense, but rather a bedrock principle of scientific reason, the law of non-contradiction. All of the novel’s paradoxes have to do, in one way or another, with time distortions, a notorious source of contradictions. What I want to suggest is that Ubik, like Aristophanes’ Clouds (as I read it), is partly concerned with a paradox concerning the validity of past knowledge: could such knowledge be both untrue and true, at the same time? The two major references to classical antiquity in the novel suggest such a reading. First, the primary way in which time dissolves, by causing technological objects to revert to earlier objects designed to perform a similar function, is explained as a weird verification of ‘a discarded ancient philosophy, that of Plato’s ideal objects […] The form TV set had been a template imposed as a successor to other templates […] Prior forms, he reflected, must carry on an invisible, residual life in every object’ (Dick 2012 [1969]: 138). I will not attempt to evaluate this as an interpretation of Plato’s ideas, but will merely point out that the actual environment of rapid technological evolution that Ubik here refers to, as well as the rapidly devolving environment that it imagines as a fiction, are things that Plato certainly was not intending to account for. Nevertheless, Dick’s novel suggests, Plato’s ‘discarded ancient philosophy’ may be necessary in order to make sense of such a world, or worlds. Second, there is Ubik itself. This substance, or entity, or whatever it is, performs a salvific function, halting the dissolution of time and physical integrity that threatens the characters. It comes, comically, in a spray can. It is explained scientifically in a way consistent with the usual expectations of SF. ‘“A spray can of Ubik,” the girl answered, “is a portable negative ionizer, with a self-contained, high-voltage, low-amp unit powered by a peak-gain helium battery of 25kv. The negative ions are given a counter-clockwise spin by a radically biased acceleration chamber […]”’ (Dick 2012 [1969]: 224). It goes on. But this explanation is immediately undercut. The protagonist responds, ‘To say “negative ions” is redundant. All ions are negative’. The girl simply changes the subject. Perhaps more promising, although hardly less mysterious, is the philological explanation. As the protagonist learns from a librarian, the word ‘Ubik’ comes from the Latin ubique (163). So, it is everywhere. What does that mean? The epigraphs to each chapter offer ‘ads’ for Ubik that humorously parody ad-speak and suggest that it is some kind of gadget, a kind of ‘every-gadget’. Perhaps, then, we are meant to think of the ubiquity of technology, and of the salvific promises made on behalf of technology. The final epigraph is perhaps not inconsistent with such an interpretation, but it presents further complications. Much as the Clouds at the end of Clouds break the comic mold by rising to, and sustaining, a non-parodic tragic and archaic register, the final ‘ad’ for Ubik deploys high Biblical language without any internal mark of parody: ‘I am Ubik. Before the universe was, I am. […] I am called Ubik, but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be’ (226).20 Is Ubik technology, or is it Jehovah? Perhaps it is both. As the narrator of VALIS reminds himself, ‘Everybody knows that Aristotelian two-value logic is fucked’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 144). VALIS contains Dick’s most extensive, explicit engagement with ancient Greek texts, and with the idea of the Roman Empire. It is one of his funniest and most poignant novels, and it takes up the questions of God and technology that Ubik raises.21 The protagonist is Dick himself, doubly fictionalized. The narrator is ‘Phil Dick’, a science fiction writer who has written novels with the same titles as Dick’s previous novels. Dick’s other fictional avatar is Horselover Fat. ‘But’, as another character tells Phil Dick, ‘that’s you. “Philip” means “Horselover” in Greek, lover of horses’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 185). Indeed, Horselover spends much of his time working on a sprawling ‘exegesis’ that seeks to elucidate an epiphanic experience involving a beam of pink light and metaphysical questions concerning God, reality, and time, as Dick also did. Phil generally professes to regard Horselover as insane. However, he often gets caught up in explaining Horselover’s ideas and lets the mask slip.22 There is a great deal that one could say about Classical reception in VALIS. Here I mainly want to point out that in this novel, statements about antiquity are sufficiently important that they call for the sort of authoritative verification, or signifiers thereof, that in SF is usually accorded only to statements about modern science. For example, Phil writes, ‘The idea that the entire universe — as we experience it — could be a forgery is an idea best expressed by Heraclitus’. He goes on to give a lengthy quote from a scholarly book discussing Fragment 56 and Heraclitus’s thoughts about ‘ordinary men, and what passes for knowledge among them’, which concludes: ‘“They are compared to sleepers in private worlds of their own.” Thus says Edward Hussey, Lecturer in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Oxford and a fellow of All Souls College, in his book The Presocratics, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1972, pages 37-38. In all my reading I have — I mean, Horselover Fat has — never found anything more significant as an insight in to the nature of reality’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 36). He goes on to quote Fragment 123 and Fragment 54, with additional commentary by Hussey, and later says of Hussey that ‘he would know; he is the foremost living authority on ancient Greek thought, with the possible exception of Francis Cornford’ (38).23 The function of these citations is different from that of similar citations in the footnotes to a Victorian historical novel. There, the aim is to verify the verisimilitude of an account of a past the reader is assumed already to have been familiar with and to have regarded as important prior to reading the novel. Here, I think, the aim is evangelical. As if to say, ‘Readers of SF, you don’t know this, but you should. Go look it up; I’ve given you the citation. Think about Heraclitus. He might wake you up’.24 Masking this missionary zeal in the ‘Falstaffian comic figure’ (Robinson 1984: 121) of Horselover Fat allows it to remain an open question what the exact message of the fragments of Heraclitus or Parmenides or Xenophanes, or of the New Testament, or of words of ancient Greek received in dreams,25 or of a vision of first century CE Rome superimposed on 1974 California (Dick 2011 [1981]: 39), or of a resemblance between the caduceus seen on a Greek krater and the DNA double helix (248), et cetera, might be for a technoscientific twentieth century. But the sheer volume of ancient material the reader is given to grapple with ensures that if there is a message there, somewhere, it will have a conduit.26 Conclusion: the literary mechanism The Clouds of Aristophanes’ Clouds have often been interpreted as figures of theater itself (e.g. Strauss 1966: 21, Köhnken 1980, Saetta Cottone 2013). In conclusion, I want to suggest an analogous interpretation of Dick’s wub and its ultimate survival. As ancient thinkers well knew, fiction is a force that, by somewhat mysterious mechanisms, can invade and alter a person at the core (Halliwell 2002: 19–22, 37–97), as the wub does to Captain Franco. If the wub is a symbol of fiction, then it survives in the same way that Odysseus survives down through the ages, forcing a kind of homecoming every time his name is mentioned or his story retold. This interpretation is strikingly confirmed by Dick’s story ‘Not By Its Cover’ (Famous Science Fiction 1968; Dick 1987), a sequel to ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’ published sixteen years later. Here the Mars-based firm Obelisk Books uses wub fur to bind luxurious editions of the books it publishes, one of which is Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. The story’s drama stems from the discovery of mysterious alterations in Lucretius’s text (or rather, the Dryden translation thereof) and the texts of other books bound in wub fur. It turns out that the still-sentient fur is strategically altering these texts to bring them into accordance with its own belief in, or experiential knowledge of, immortality. The wub, then, is a vector of transmission and agent of modification: SF as Classical reception. All of the vectors of memory in Dick’s futuristic fictional worlds, in fact — from the Lincoln simulacrum, to Virgil Ackerman’s immersive recreation of 1935 Washington on Mars, to the time-decomposition force in Ubik, to the pink light in VALIS that conveys visions of ancient Rome and an ability to speak ancient Greek, and so on and on — may be seen as figures of Dick’s own historically attuned SF, even if they also imagine new technologies of memory that the future (or, as in the case of the pink light, the present) might really hold. Just as Aristophanes turns the stylistic and philosophical novelties of the (ancient) moderns into a vehicle that mediates the survival of the ponderous wisdom of the (ancient) ancients, then, so too does Dick turn SF into a vehicle that can convey, and just might activate, whatever salvific potentiality the past may harbour. Footnotes 1 Not that it necessarily feels the need for such a heritage, as Samuel Delany’s contemptuous comment about ‘these preposterous and historically insensitive genealogies with Mary Shelley as our grandmother or Lucian of Samosata as our great-great grandfather’ as being ‘just pedagogic snobbery (or insecurity)’ (quoted in Roberts 2006: xv) vividly illustrates. Westfahl (1998: 3–18) also vigorously opposes attempts to push the origin of the genre back before the twentieth century. Rieder (2010) offers a more flexible view of SF as ‘historical and mutable’. 2 Fredericks seems to be the first critic to have done classical reception and SF in both directions, as it were: Fredericks (1976) reads Lucian’s True History ‘as’ SF, while Fredericks (1980) investigates the reception of classical myth in modern SF. Recently, Rogers and Stevens (2012, 2015) have done much to make ‘classical traditions in science fiction’ a coherent subfield. 3 Silk (2000: 350–435) discusses ‘the possibility of becoming’ and ‘the necessity of connecting’ as ‘the two principal co-ordinates of Aristophanes’ comic vision’ (409). Much the same could be said of Dick’s SF vision. 4 On the differences between Shklovsky’s and Brecht’s concepts, which are not pertinent to my argument, see Spiegel (2008: 369–70). 5 Rieder (2010) observes that, given a formal definition of SF such as Suvin’s, ‘it makes just as much sense to find it [SF] in classical Greek narratives as in contemporary American ones’ (193). 6 Versins (1972) includes an entry on Aristophanes (60–62) as well as one on Ancient Greece (383–5); these cite Peace, Birds, Lysistrata, Assemblywomen, and Ploutos as ‘comédies utopiques’. Roberts (2006: 24) mentions Peace and Birds, but again, not a word about Clouds. Orthofer (2002) briefly mentions Clouds in the context of a brief survey of scientists in plays. 7 On Ionian physiologia as ‘science’, see Graham (2006). 8 On Greek ideas about novelty and change, see D’Angour (2011). 9 Questions concerning the nature and dramatic function of the Cloud chorus have generated much scholarly discussion. Some important contributions are Whitman (1964: 119–43, esp. 127–9), Strauss (1966: 11–53, esp. 18–21, 46–48), Dover (1968: lxvi–lxx), Segal (1969), Köhnken (1980), Blyth (1994), Bowie (1996: 124–30), Silk (2000: 350–412), Judet de la Combe (2013, esp. 178–85), and Saetta Cottone (2013). 10 ‘Aristophanes created in Clouds a distinct “scientific discourse”, even though he does not make use of technical language as such’ (Willi 2003: 96). 11 On the modus tollens argument in Greek science, see Lloyd (1999: 24–26). 12 See Lloyd (1999: 23–32) on the idea of physical regularity, and analogies between different physical processes, in Greek science. Aristotle, in the Meteorologica, employs an argument very similar to Aristophanes’ Socrates’ ‘belly full of soup’ argument to support his theory about earthquakes (which he regards as similar to thunder, in that both are caused by trapped wind): ‘For we must suppose that just as the cause of tremors and throbbings in our bodies is the force of wind trapped inside us, so does wind trapped in the earth do something similar’ (δεĩ γὰρ νοεĩν ὅτι ὥσπερ ἐν τῶι σώματι ἡμῶν καὶ τρóμων καὶ σφυγμῶν αἴτιóν ἐστιν ἡ τοῦ πνεύματος ἐναπολαμβανομἐνη δύναμις, οὕτω καὶ ἐν τῆι γῆι τὸ πνεῦμα παραπλήσιον ποιεĩν: 366b15–18). Aristotle’s explanation of lightning (369a27–30) is also similar to that of Aristophanes’ Socrates. Betegh (2013: 98) notes ‘une similarité remarquable, qui va jusqu’aux mots utilisés’ between Socrates’ explanation of lightning and the explanation of earthquakes that Seneca (Natural Questions 6.12) attributes to Archelaus. Betegh argues that Archelaus is a source of much of the scientific thought, both meteorological and ethical, in Clouds. 13 Scholars have not generally seen this passage (Clouds 365–411) as particularly significant for the overall interpretation of the play, except insofar as it contains Socrates’ denial of the existence of the traditional gods (367) and the reference to δĩνος, ‘rotation’, which Socrates introduces as an inanimate factor in the production of thunder by clouds (379–80) and Strepsiades misunderstands as the name of a new divinity — and a pot (380–2, 1470–4; Willi 2003: 100–5). Even Willi (2003: 96–117) and the essays in Laks and Saetta Cottone (2013), which focus on scientific and philosophical rhetoric in the play, pay it scant attention. 14 Sutin (2005) includes numerous testimonials of Dick’s tremendous sense of humour. Perhaps most telling of its importance to Dick himself is a 1977 Exegesis entry in which he writes that one of the major contributions of his work has been to ‘present the most accurate and stringent — rigorous — revised criteria to pull the truly real as set out of ground (Love, making exceptions, humor, determination, etc. The little virtues)’ (chapter 11). 15 On Asimov and Gibbon, see Hassler (1988); as Hassler observes, Asimov wrote in an article called ‘The story behind the “Foundation”’ (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, vol. 6, Dec. 1982) that he ‘had read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire not once but twice’ before writing Foundation (41). Freedman (2000: 56) characterizes Foundation as a kind of ‘disguised historical fiction’. On Gibbon in SF, see also Yaszek (2009: 222–3). 16 Freedman (2000: 44–62) discusses the relationship between SF and the historical novel in some detail, but not classical reception. 17 Jameson (2005: 363–83) discusses the past as salvific in Dick’s work but excludes from consideration the later novels, including VALIS, hoping ‘to disconnect the religious thematics from the earlier works’ (363). 18 On the myth of Odysseus in SF, see also Weiner (2015), which shows how the myth frames Vonnegut’s satire on the shortcomings of the ‘scientific hierarchy’ of values in Cat’s Cradle. 19 Classical reception is ubiquitous in Dick’s work, and there are many other texts, too numerous even to cite here, that one might examine. Dick’s engagement with Greco-Roman antiquity started early and continued throughout his life. He learned Latin at the California Preparatory School in Ojai (Sutin 2005: chapter 2) and did not forget it; years later, the SF writer Robert Silverberg reluctantly engaged with him in ‘a long public conversation in fractured Latin in the cocktail lounge of a convention hotel’ (Sutin 2005: chapter 11). His second wife (of eight years), Kleo, was Greek, and he enjoyed ‘talking […] Greek drama and mystery religions with Alexandra [Kleo’s mother], who had a B.A. in classics’ (Sutin 2005: chapter 4). Although his interests gravitated towards ancient philosophy, he discusses Euripides several times in the Exegesis (Umland 1995: 91), and he includes Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in the bibliography that accompanies The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), the final work in the VALIS trilogy. In a 1949 letter, he mentions having read ‘Herodotus’ ‘Persian Wars’ and the ‘Anabasis’ of Xenophon for entertainment’ (Sutin 2005: chapter 3). 20 Lem (1984: 133–4) discusses Ubik as ‘a blend (contamination)’ of the gadget and the Absolute. 21 Given the importance of theological questions in Dick and quite a few other major SF writers (e.g. Olaf Stapledon, Ursula Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, Octavia Butler, even Lem), Roberts’s emphasis on ‘non-theological’ as the distinctive mark of the kind of ‘science’ one needs for SF seems somewhat misplaced (Roberts 2006: 24, quoted in Rogers and Stevens 2015: 14). 22 On Dick’s pink light experience of ‘2-3-74’ and the complex process of trying to understand it that resulted in the Exegesis and the VALIS trilogy, see Sutin (2005: chapters 10 and 11). Dick’s theories as to the source of the pink light ranged from Asklepios and the Christian God to Soviet experimentation and ‘technology from the future’ (Sutin 2005: chapter 10). 23 Although Aristophanes’ Clouds is never cited by name in VALIS, there may just be one subtle but significant allusion to it. Near the beginning of the novel, Fat’s friend Stephanie gives him a little ceramic pot she made. ‘It looked like an ordinary pot: squat and light brown, with a small amount of blue glaze as trim. […] The pot was unusual in one way, however. In it slumbered God’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 14). Could this allude to the δĩνος (clay pot) that Strepsiades (mistakenly) thinks Socrates claimed had replaced Zeus as ruler of the universe (Clouds 1470–4; see n. 13 above)? If not, the coincidence is remarkable. It would be entirely in keeping with Dick’s God’s perverse yet redemptive sense of humour to appear in what had been thought to signify his non-existence. Pots also have a religious significance in Dick’s novel Galactic Pot-Healer (1969). 24 On the citation of ancient texts in VALIS, see also Palmer (2003: 223–37) and Rossi (2012). 25 This is an important aspect both of Fat’s experience in VALIS and of Dick’s own experience, as described in letters and parts of the Exegesis (Sutin 2005: chapter 10). In VALIS it is strongly emphasized that the Greek words Fat received were not ones he previously knew (Dick 2011 [1981]: 28). Dick speculated that Asklepios might be the source of these messages. 26 On the motif of possession by ‘a transmigrating or invading agent or agency’, often associated with antiquity, in Dick’s work, see also Umland (1995). Umland discusses some examples I have not considered in this article (e.g. ‘Upon the Dull Earth’ and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch) and mentions some examples I have discussed in more detail (e.g. ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’). As Umland notes, Dick himself described this phenomenon as Dionysian enthousiasmos (97 n.19). A passage in VALIS suggests a Jungian interpretation: ‘In the depths of the collective the archetypes slumber; if aroused, they can heal or they can destroy’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 194; Umland 1990: 84). Willis (2007) offers a more political reading of the vision of ancient Rome superimposed upon 1974 California and its accompanying refrain, ‘The Empire never ended’, as indicating that ‘Empire is the condition of possibility of (the legibility of) the world as we inhabit it’ (347). Acknowledgements This article grew out of my dissertation research, and for that reason I would like to thank my committee members — Brooke Holmes, Andrew Ford, and Mark Payne — for their guidance and support. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewers for CRJ, whose careful comments inspired major revisions that have substantially improved the article. 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Rogers B., ‘Hybrids and Homecomings in the Odyssey and Alien Resurrection,’ in Rogers B., Stevens B. E. (eds.), Classical Traditions in Science Fiction  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 217– 42. Rogers B., Stevens B., ‘ Classical Receptions in Science Fiction’, Classical Receptions Journal  4, no. 1 ( 2012), pp. 127– 47. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Rogers B., Stevens B. (eds.), Classical Traditions in Science Fiction  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). Rossi U., ‘ The Shunts in the Tale: the Narrative Architecture of Philip K. Dick’s VALIS’, Science Fiction Studies  39, no. 2 ( 2012), pp. 243– 61. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Ruffell I., Politics and Anti-Realism in Athenian Old Comedy  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Saetta Cottone R., ‘Aristophane et le théâtre du soleil. Le dieu d’Empédocle dans le chœur des Nuées,’ in Laks A., Saetta Cottone R. (eds.), Comédie et Philosophie: Socrate et les “Présocratiques” dans les Nuées d’Aristophane  ( Paris: Éditions Rue d’Ulm, 2013), pp. 61– 86. Segal C., ‘ Aristophanes’ Cloud-Chorus’, Arethusa  2, no. 2 ( 1969), pp. 143– 61. Silk M., Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). Spiegel S., ‘ Things Made Strange: On the Concept of ‘estrangement’ in Science Fiction Theory’, Science Fiction Studies  35, no. 3 ( 2008), pp. 369– 85. Stanford W., ‘ Studies in the Characterization of Ulysses.—1. The Denigration of Odysseus’, Hermathena  73 ( 1949), pp. 33– 51. Strauss L., Socrates and Aristophanes  ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966). Sutin L., Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick , ed. Kindle ( New York: Carroll and Graf, 2005). Suvin D., Metamorphoses of Science Fiction  ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979). Telò M., Eupolidis Demi. Testi con commento filologico  ( Firenze: Felice Le Monnier, 2007). Telò M., Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy  ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Umland S., ‘To Flee from Dionysus: Enthousiasmos from “Upon the Dull Earth” to VALIS,’ in Umland S. (ed.), Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations  ( Westport: Greenwood, 1995), pp. 81– 99. Versins P., Encyclopédie de l’Utopie, des Voyqges extraordinaires et de la Science-Fiction  ( Lausanne: Editions L’Age d’Homme, 1972). Weiner J., ‘Mapping Hubris: Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and Odysseus’ Apologoi’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition  22, no. 1 ( 2015), pp. 116– 37. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Westfahl G., The Mechanics of Wonder  ( Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998). Whitman C., Aristophanes and the Comic Hero  ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Whitmarsh T., Battling the Gods  ( New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015). Willi A., The Languages of Aristophanes  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). Willis I., ‘The Empire Never Ended,’ in Hardwick and Gillespie (eds.), Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 329– 48. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Yaszek L., ‘Cultural history,’ in Bould M. et al.   (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction  ( New York: Routledge, 2009), pp. 222– 31 © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Classical Receptions Journal Oxford University Press

The potency of the past in comic science fiction: Aristophanes and Philip K. Dick

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
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Abstract

Abstract This article contributes to the emerging study of classical reception in science fiction (SF) by investigating the potency of the past at the intersection of SF and comedy. Although SF is a genre powerfully oriented towards the future, comedy offers a means by which meditation on the necessity of connecting with the past may enter this seemingly inhospitable environment. After considering some of SF’s generic tendencies at an abstract, theoretical level, I offer a reading of Aristophanes’ Clouds ‘as’ SF, arguing that it is not quite so hostile to ‘new’ ideas as has generally been thought, even as it affirms the validity of old ideas. Then I consider a number of references to classical antiquity and other aspects of the past in the work of Philip K. Dick, particularly the story ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’ and the novels We Can Build You, Now Wait for Last Year, Ubik, and VALIS. Connection with the past appears in a variety of forms and inspires a variety of responses in Dick’s fiction. Connection with the classical past in particular becomes especially crucial in the late novel VALIS. Comedy, science fiction, and temporality Science fiction (henceforth SF) is a genre troubled by an ambivalent relation to comedy and the comic. At best, the resemblance of Lucian’s True History to SF provides the latter with a venerable ancient heritage.1 Or there is Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide series, thoroughly comic and much beloved by SF fans. At worst, SF may feel itself to be besieged by dismissive judgements that it is unintentionally ridiculous: that not only the erotic grotesquerie of the pulps, but even the most thoughtful efforts involving aliens, time machines, galactic empires, and so forth, merit derisory laughter. The genre’s anxiety about being laughed at has eased as its importance has gained recognition. Nevertheless, despite the great volume of critical work that has now been devoted to it, and despite the deep link that the Lucianic heritage suggests, scholars have not been particularly eager to explore connections between SF and comedy. This may be due in part to an understandable reluctance to yoke one genre that has had to fight and claw for legitimacy to another that has had to do the same. This article contributes to the emerging study of classical reception in SF by investigating what I will call the potency of the past at the intersection of SF and comedy.2 SF is a genre deeply concerned with time and knowledge; as we will see, these twin concerns are inscribed at the core of the genre’s defining structural conventions. From this nexus a variety of questions arise, among which those that concern the past may not spring immediately to mind. Most well known is the futurological question: what might technoscience look like in the future, and what might it enable or compel us to become? Though this is often the question that an SF text seems to be asking, many writers and critics emphasize that a strong SF text ought to serve as an organon for understanding (or rethinking) the present, not as a crystal ball in which to see the future. However, even if that is so, the future remains a necessary concern, for an orientation towards the future, in one form or another, has long been a potent aspect of the present in Western cultural psychology (Koselleck 2004). The efflorescence of SF as a distinct, explosively popular, and increasingly respected genre tracks the post-Victorian rise of a new kind of dominant orientation towards the future that tends to regard the past as puny, distasteful, misguided, and irrelevant. The cloak of comedy (to borrow the titular phrase of Telò (2016)), I argue, offers one means by which meditation on the potency of the past may enter this seemingly inhospitable environment. By ‘the potency of the past’, I mean the necessity of connecting with the past as such: not only the ideas, but also the people, animals, places, languages, and texts of the past, in their materiality and specificity. Necessity here may indicate a range of forces, from involuntary compulsion to desire. In this article, I examine comic meditation on the potency of the past in the work of Aristophanes and Philip K. Dick.3 As we will see, the Greco-Roman past in particular is often present and vitally at stake in Dick’s fiction. Before arriving at Dick, however, I do two things. First, I develop some theory that is useful for the formal analysis of SF, and I argue that SF and comedy are structurally homologous in certain key respects. Second, I offer a reading of Aristophanes’ Clouds that will enable this play and Dick’s fiction to elucidate each other. Theory Darko Suvin’s highly influential definition of SF as the literature of ‘cognitive estrangement’ remains a useful jumping-off point for discussions of SF as a genre. Suvin derives the concept of ‘estrangement’ from Shklovsky’s ostranenie and Brecht’s Verfremdung. However, Spiegel (2008) argues that the SF phenomena Suvin wants to designate are quite unlike those that Shklovsky and Brecht designate.4 For Shklovsky, the fictional world and the world of the reader are assumed to be ontologically identical, and ostranenie refers to formal techniques of narration that enable that world to be seen in a new light. In SF, however, the ontology of the fictional world is strange, and the dominant formal device is actually naturalization. As Spiegel puts it, ‘On a formal level, SF does not estrange the familiar, but rather makes the strange familiar’ (2008: 372). Suvin calls the primary locus of ontological strangeness in the SF text’s fictional world the novum, ‘a totalizing phenomenon or relationship deviating from the author’s and implied reader’s norm of reality’ (Suvin 1979: 64). The novum may be a strange alien being, a strange natural phenomenon (perhaps of alien origin), a strange technological device, etc. There may be more than one novum (Csicsery-Ronay 2008: 69–70). Most often the novum is imagined as an aspect of the future — say, the sociotechnological configuration of a future state of society — or as something that is encountered in the future. It may, however, affect the structure of time in ways that normal temporal categories cannot easily accommodate. One of the primary functions of scientific rhetoric in SF is to familiarize the novum. However, the novum generally is not, and frequently clearly cannot be, explained in strict accordance with facts and principles widely agreed by scientific specialists to be true. Indeed, the science in SF is often just as strange as the events it purports to explain. How, then, does it familiarize these events? One answer is that SF presupposes readers disposed to accept scientific rhetoric as a vehicle of plausibility, even when the ‘illusionary status’ of that rhetoric is thinly disguised (Csicsery-Ronay 2008: 111). The reader is expected to accept, however provisionally, that the events represented could be explained scientifically, even if the explanation actually given leaves something to be desired. SF also presupposes readers who believe that technoscience really does operate according to a dynamic of continual revolution or ‘paradigm shifts’, so that the technoscience of tomorrow really should differ radically from that of today (Csicsery-Ronay 2008: 57–59). Thus, the ontological strangeness of an SF world does not necessarily prevent it from representing, at least in some respects, a possible future. Interpretation of the SF world as a model of a possible future is a cognitive activity, but this is not primarily what Suvin means by the ‘cognitive’ in ‘cognitive estrangement’. Suvin emphasizes, instead, that even an SF text that depicts events that the reader cannot believe could ever occur or be explained scientifically — as is often the case, particularly when time travel is involved — may serve as an organon for understanding (or rethinking) the present in ways that are ‘cognitively valid’. Indeed, if it cannot do that, Suvin has no use for it (1979: 75). For Suvin, cognitive validity and science strongly overlap, as indicated by his claim that ‘[t]he novum is postulated on and validated by the post-Cartesian and post-Baconian scientific method’ (64–65). However, his primary concern is that SF should elucidate social relations in ways that accord with the methods of the social sciences, not that it should put forth potentially valid hypotheses about quantum computing or distant star systems (67–68, 71, 81). When scientific rhetoric familiarizes the novum, it neutralizes a jointly ontological and epistemological problem that might otherwise render the novum entirely unacceptable, or at least foreign to the genre of SF. If one can accept that the novum could be known scientifically, then one can accept that it could be. Regardless of how bizarre the fictional world may be, or how seemingly unlikely as a model of the future, it shares at least this minimal equation of potential scientific knowability and potential existence with the implied reader’s normal world. Fictions that reject this equation are generally classified as fantasy, which readers of SF may also enjoy but will read and interpret according to different criteria. However, the novum may at times pose very difficult epistemological problems that are central to the drama of the SF text. I do not mean merely temporary problems, which are very common, but problems that threaten the foundations of scientific rationality, remain unresolved, and constitute the text’s central interpretive questions. The enigmatic planet in Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris is perhaps the most famous novum of this kind. The characters in Lem’s novel assume that the planet can be known scientifically, but like the many scientists who have come before them (whose efforts the novel describes in great detail), they fail to do so. Ultimately, half in jest, they resort to theological explanations. Later on in this article, we will examine how Philip K. Dick’s Ubik and VALIS pose similar problems. To conclude this section, I want to posit a very abstract homology between comedy and SF. Summarizing a discussion of humour theory (designed to be applied to the work of Aristophanes), Ruffell writes that ‘jokes […] have at their core both an element of opposition (implausibility, incongruity, disjunction) and an element of motivation (overlap, plausibility)’ (Ruffell 2011: 100). SF, as we have seen, hinges on a structurally identical combination of elements. Here, the ‘element of opposition’ is the novum, and the ‘element of motivation’ consists of familiarizing devices such as scientific rhetoric. This homology warrants comparison of ancient comedy with SF, provided that such a comparison attends to the many important differences between the presuppositions of ancient and modern audiences.5 Csicsery-Ronay remarks that ‘[t]he hoax, a fantastic tale told in persuasive, credible language intended to sound exactly like a true account, links SF with premodern literary forms. Lucian is significant for the genre not just because he envisioned travel to the moon, but that he reported it in the humorously inappropriate language of the mundane’ (2008: 125). But Lucian is not the only ancient writer whose comedy prefigures SF. In the next section, I argue that Aristophanes’ Clouds poses serious questions concerning science, theology, and the potency of the past that continue to reverberate in the work of SF writers such as Lem and Dick. Clouds: old gods, new tricks Like many SF narratives, the story of Strepsiades is a kind of latter-day version of the tale of Odysseus. It is also, of course, comic. Instead of the faithful wife Penelope and brave son Telemachus, there is the expensive wife and horse-mad son Pheidippides. Instead of wealth-devouring suitors, there are creditors prowling at the door. Instead of the resourceful Odysseus of the epic, there is Strepsiades, a would-be embodiment of the hostile interpretation of Odysseus as an amoral master of trickery (Stanford 1949). Instead of a journey to the boundaries of the known world, there is the journey to the phrontistērion. Instead of Athena, there are the Clouds. Clouds is not generally seen as part of the SF tradition, even by those whose view of that tradition encompasses some ancient literature, perhaps even other plays of Aristophanes.6 Its reputation as a reactionary satire, a blistering attack on science and scientists and innovation of any kind, an irresponsible caricature of Socrates that may have had something to do with his tragic execution, is too dark, even though there is no denying that SF is often quite hard on science, scientists, and innovation. I suspect that the play may have found more appreciation among writers of SF, particularly those with comic tendencies, than among the genre’s historians. Be that as it may, in this section my focus is on how using the analytical tools of SF criticism might shed light on Clouds in its original performance context. One important difference between the ancient audience of Clouds and the audience of modern SF is that the former will not have thought of science — if I may use that term to denote the set of theories and practices that the phrontistērion represents comically, with the usual caveats7 — as something bound inevitably to transform the future, whether through the discovery of aliens or the technological transformation of sociopolitical life. That is not to say that an Athenian audience of the late fifth century BCE will have considered sociopolitical life to be essentially static, or that they will not have considered science capable of contributing to change (see e.g. Prometheus Bound 436–506, Thucydides 1.2–1.17, On Ancient Medicine, Demosthenes 9.48–51).8 But they will certainly have considered themselves to possess more agency in relation to science, more power to determine whether or not change takes place, than a modern audience. Nevertheless, if any major transformation connected to science was likely to appear threatening, it is religious change. Significant evidence indicates that belief in the Olympian gods as guarantors of justice in the world really did degrade in Athens during the fifth century BCE (Whitmarsh 2015: 75–124). Any particular scientific or philosophical argument for the non-existence of the Olympian gods, whether it put forward some strange new view of divinity or advocated atheism, might have been easy enough for a sceptical Athenian to dispense with. But the unsettling facts would have remained that the gods, if they existed, hid themselves and often allowed the unjust to go unpunished. This is the context to keep in mind as we attempt to analyse the Cloud chorus as a novum, which is one possible application of SF theory that presents itself.9 Like the novum of a modern SF text, particularly the alien-entity novum, the Clouds are strange beings previously unknown to the protagonist and the audience. They are not entirely unheard-of, for they are in some way to be identified with the clouds one often sees in the sky. They are also to be regarded as deities (δαíμοσιν: 253; θεáς: 329). They look like human women, which appears to Strepsiades to differentiate them from clouds; however, Socrates points out that clouds often seem to take on the shapes of earthly phenomena (346–50). Still, the Clouds sing and converse in Greek with Socrates and Strepsiades, which is surely unusual. Perhaps the Clouds are clouds, but not all clouds are Clouds. Or perhaps all clouds possess the capabilities of the Clouds, but rarely show it. The Clouds’ ability to speak Greek does not receive a scientific explanation. What is scientifically explained is their ability to cause thunderstorms — without, crucially, the help of the Olympian gods, whom Socrates claims do not exist (365). In a modern SF text, of course, familiar phenomena such as thunderstorms are assumed to have a scientific explanation, and the novum will be something different: say, a storm with highly unusual properties (i.e. one that is incompatible with the current scientific understanding of thunderstorms), finally revealed to be the result of alien technology influencing the atmosphere or scientific experimentation gone awry. In Clouds, at the very dawn of the scientific worldview, the possibility that clouds independently cause thunderstorms, and that such storms have no moral force or meaning, is itself a novum, for it is ‘a totalizing phenomenon or relationship deviating from the […] implied reader’s norm of reality’ (Suvin 1979: 64). Given that non-theological science itself, in a sense, is the novum in Clouds, one might not expect that scientific rhetoric could perform a familiarizing function. It is true that if Socrates had explained the nature of the Clouds in abstruse, barely coherent rhetoric that the audience could not have hoped to understand, then we would have a simple case of satirical absurdity — as, indeed, is often assumed to be the case. However, Socrates’ arguments about thunderstorms, which crucially imply the non-existence of Zeus, eschew specialized language10 and appeal to the evidence of experience in ways that do generate real, if limited, plausibility, effectively familiarizing this strange world in which clouds are (or at least appear to be) the only deities. Socrates offers ‘evidence’ (σημεíοις: 369) for why thunderstorms are not caused by Zeus that may be called ‘scientific’ because it consists of a pair of modus tollens arguments (370–1, 399–402).11 These arguments are not difficult to understand and are likely to have been regarded as somewhat plausible by an Athenian audience, as they are by Strepsiades (372, 403). Socrates also offers positive explanations of thunder and lightning that are carefully designed to be intelligible and convincing. First, he offers a precise description of thunder in language that is scientific but not abstruse (375–84). Then, he offers an analogy that is comic in the sense that it refers to bodily processes, but also scientific in the sense that it assumes the regularity of physical processes: the cause of thunder is the same as that of the gas one gets after eating too much soup (385–93).12 Strepsiades responds enthusiastically to the analogy (388–91). Next, Socrates offers a scientific description of lightning (403–7), and this time Strepsiades comes up with the analogy: the cause of lightning is the same as that which makes a cooked sausage explode (404–11). He is learning to think scientifically. The plausibility of these arguments is important13 because it affects the way in which the Clouds’ famous revelation of their didactic function, near the end of the play (1458–61), is interpreted. In the interim, Strepsiades suffers the predictable consequences of having encouraged his son to learn to argue away empathy and respect. Pheidippides has become obsessed with the new (καινοĩς πρáγμασιν: 1399) and utterly contemptuous of anything old (ἀρχαĩος: 1357, 1469), from the poetry of Simonides and Aeschylus to his own father and mother, whom he decides to beat. Strepsiades tries to blame the Clouds for his misfortune, but they respond in a high tragic register that he himself is responsible (αἴτιος: 1454) for what has happened. He then asks why they did not tell him earlier what would become of his plan. They reply that their method is to lead a person infatuated with wickedness deeper into the wickedness, until he learns ‘to fear the gods’ (τοὺς θεοὺς δεδοικἐναι: 1461). What does this mean? It is clear that the Clouds assert the enduring potency of the past. Both the content and the form of their assertions emphasize the validity of archaic wisdom, the power of the old words that Pheidippides snubbed as passé (Silk 2000: 352–6). However, it is not so clear that their statements invalidate Socrates’ explanation of thunderstorms or reaffirm the existence of the Olympian gods as personal administrators of cosmic justice. Could it be that by τοὺς θεοὺς δεδοικἐναι, they mean that there are immanent moral laws that cannot be ignored without adverse consequences, patterns of human cause and effect analogous to the gastric sequence that begins with the ingestion of too much soup and ends with an enormous fart (385–93)? Three things strongly suggest this. First, αἴτιος in line 1454 can mean ‘the cause’ as well as ‘morally culpable’, and αὐτὸς μὲν οὖν σαυτῷ σὺ in the same line (immediately prior), emphasizing that Strepsiades himself is the cause (and culpable), echoes αὐτὸς ἐαυτὸν κατακáων in line 407, which describes how dry air burning itself up is the cause of lightning (rather than Zeus hurling fire). Second, the Clouds’ method of teaching fear of the gods is essentially to do nothing: they simply allow the desirer (ἐραστὴν: 1459) to go where his desire takes him. Third, the plot of the play clearly shows how Strepsiades’ punishment results from the effects of his own actions upon Pheidippides, not from divine intervention. Strepsiades opts for a more traditional interpretation. He restores his faith in Zeus (1468–74) and believes that he can hear Hermes telling him not to bother suing the phrontistērion but to go ahead and burn it down (1478–85), thereby completing his Odyssean homecoming with fiery revenge against those who have been revealed to be his true enemies. The play does not necessarily imply that Hermes has actually spoken to Strepsiades; indeed, Strepsiades’ desire for immediate, violent revenge seems more symptomatic of a continuing failure to take personal responsibility than of moral wisdom. If the voice of Hermes arises in Strepsiades’ own head, then the inhabitants of the phrontistērion, though they may be right about thunderstorms, suffer, like Strepsiades, the natural result of their own unwise actions (i.e. facilitating Strepsiades’ plan to defraud his creditors). Clouds, then, asserts the potency of the past, but it does not necessarily expose the novum of non-theological science as a hoax. Or, to put it another way, it suggests that the old gods are not dead, even if they do not exist. The importance of Clouds lies not in the simple moral lesson that Strepsiades learns (or does not learn), but in this temporal and epistemological paradox. In the work of Philip K. Dick, the meaning of antiquity is caught up in the echoes of this paradox. Philip K. Dick: comicality, historicity, and antiquity Despite increasingly numerous case studies of classical reception in SF and the efforts of Rogers and Stevens (2012, 2015) to lend coherence to this emerging subfield, there has been little attempt to periodize SF from the perspective of classical reception. SF’s constitutive concern with temporality seems the most promising angle from which to approach such periodization(s). The problem is complex — to insist on a unique or linear periodization, for example, would surely imply neglect of the most basic lessons of SF — and beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the coarse distinction between ‘modernism’ and ‘postmodernism’ can help to contextualize Dick’s work, which scholars often characterize as paradigmatically postmodern (Jameson 1991; Palmer 2003). Modernism in SF involves the incorporation into literature of the perspective of ‘deep time’, partly through encounters with the distant past (as in Verne’s Voyage au centre de la Terre of 1864) and partly through visions of the ‘deep’ future: Wells’s The Time Machine (1895), Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937). While classical reception plays a role in works of this period (‘the tragic’, for example, is very important for Stapledon), Greco-Roman antiquity as a historical period generally shrinks to near-insignificance within their (future-)historical ‘grand narratives’. The postmodern period in SF, which begins around 1950 (with Dick’s career), generates approaches to temporality that are less beholden to scientific models and more attentive to the enduring potency of human cultural history, even as imaginative engagement with the non-human (animal, vegetable, machine, alien, deity) continues apace. In Dick’s work, as we shall see, Greco-Roman antiquity proves to be no mere blip in the procession of eons, but an undead force of considerable power. In an article first published in Science Fiction Studies in 1975, Stanislaw Lem registered the novelty of Dick’s work by remarking that it displays an ‘indeterminacy as to genre’ (1984: 122). Such indeterminacy manifests in several different ways. First, Dick wrote some straight realist fiction, as well as some fiction that wavers between realism and SF. The late novel VALIS (1981), which I will discuss, belongs to the latter category. Second, much of Dick’s work is comic, but strangely so. Jameson describes the world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) as one that ‘freezes all possible grins into some mixed tonality [of] nightmarish zaniness’ (Jameson 2005: 367). Not all of Dick’s worlds are as nightmarish as this one, but the comedy is rarely as jovial as it is in, say, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series or Lem’s Cyberiad. Dick’s comedy always mingles with bitter annoyance, raw pain, and sincere striving for salvation.14 Third, there is what Lem was thinking of, which is that Dick ‘strikes no balances and explains nothing “scientifically,” but instead just confounds things’ (1984: 121–2). Lem’s annoyance is not entirely tongue-in-cheek. As he goes on to point out, the issue is not that he expects Dick’s fiction to conform to a model of SF in which, say, the novum must be familiarized with scientific rhetoric that is ‘x percent’ believable. The issue is that the hermeneutic that the text itself implies is not clear. This last point, which in some ways encompasses the previous two, will be worth keeping in mind as we examine classical reception in Dick’s work. Fredric Jameson has for many years foregrounded temporality and historicity in his analyses of Dick, and Dick in his analyses of SF. In Postmodernism he posits a dialectical relationship between SF and the historical novel: [I]t seems interesting to explore the hypothesis that science fiction as a genre entertains a dialectical and structural relationship with the historical novel — a relationship of kinship and inversion all at once, of opposition and homology […] For if the historical novel ‘corresponded’ to the emergence of historicity, of a sense of history in its strong modern post-eighteenth-century sense, science fiction equally corresponds to the waning or the blockage of that historicity, and, particularly in our own time (in the postmodern era), to its crisis and paralysis, its enfeeblement and repression. Only by means of a violent formal and narrative dislocation could a narrative apparatus come into being capable of restoring life and feeling to this only intermittently functioning organ that is our capacity to organize and live time historically (Jameson 1991: 284). This is an important idea for the study of classical reception in SF generally, for it enables that project to be linked to more familiar terrain. For example, scholarship on the Victorian reception of classical antiquity in the historical novel has demonstrated that not only were stories about Rome and (to a lesser extent) Greece crucial for the emergence of the Victorians’ ‘sense of history’, but so too was the rhetoric of ‘academic testability’ (generated in large part within the emergent ‘sciences’ of classical philology and archaeology) such novels employed to give their representations of the past the illusion of truth (Goldhill 2011: 182). One crucial moment in the dialectical inversion Jameson identifies, then, is surely Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which not only transposes the paradigm of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, so crucial for the Victorian historical novel (Goldhill 2011: 166), onto the future, but also transmutes the rhetoric of academic history into the futurological, and mathematical, fictional science of ‘psychohistory’15. This example seems a strong confirmation of Jameson’s hypothesis and of the role that Classical Reception Studies would have to play in fully elaborating it, and as such it doubtless merits more detailed study.16 Here I will only observe that in Asimov, the classical past does not actually appear as such: rather, Gibbon’s transmuted paradigm provides a reassuring means of coping with, and ultimately mastering, the vicissitudes that inevitably attend the grand galactic future. In Dick the situation is quite different: the past as such — not only, but often, the classical past — returns, in its own particularity and whatever strange new materiality it can find to call its own. It may return to help, or it may return to destroy, or it may help in some ways and destroy in others, or it may be unclear whether it is helping or destroying.17 It may also be unclear how these returns are to be interpreted, whether as actual possibilities or as allegories, for example. The potency of the past is asserted by its sheer presence in the text, but the nature of that potency, particularly as this concerns the relation of the past to modern technoscience, may be radically unclear. Here one feels the reverberations of Aristophanes’ Clouds. Dick’s first published story, ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’ (Planet Stories 1952), illustrates the dynamic I have described. It is worth examining this story in some detail, not only because the myth of Odysseus (and its proper interpretation) plays a prominent role, but also because much of Dick’s subsequent engagement with the past is already latent in it. The first scene places the reader in a world in which humans have established an economically colonialist relationship with the intelligent natives of Mars, requiring the latter to hunt Martian animals and deliver them to human traders for transport to Earth. As the traders are preparing to leave Mars with a ship full of cargo, one of the traders, Peterson, turns up with a strange creature called a ‘wub’ that one of the natives told him was ‘very respected’ and then sold to him, rather incongruously, for fifty cents (Dick 2013: 2). Captain Franco, the traders’ leader, does not think much of the creature: he pointedly refuses to refer to it as a wub, calling it instead ‘a huge, dirty pig!’ Peterson suggests that it might be edible, and after takeoff Captain Franco quickly summons the cook. At this point, the wub shocks everyone by protesting in a dignified tone, piqued but affable: ‘“Really, Captain,” the wub said. “I suggest we talk of other matters”’ (3). Peterson turns out to be the only person on the ship willing to talk to the wub. They discuss the myth of Odysseus (6): ‘I find in your Odysseus a figure common to the mythology of most self-conscious races. As I interpret it, Odysseus wanders as an individual in search of himself as such. This is the idea of separation, of separation from family and country. The process of individuation.’ ‘But Odysseus returns to his home.’ Peterson looked out the port window, at the stars, endless stars, burning intently in the empty universe. ‘Finally he goes home.’ ‘As must all creatures. 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 …’. This conversation is interrupted by a gun-wielding Captain Franco, enraged and terrified by an earlier encounter in which the wub, through some mysterious power, had rendered him unable to move. In the ensuing debate about the wub’s fate, it emerges that the wub arranged for the native to sell it so that it could meet the humans and learn about them. It compliments the humans on their technical ingenuity (‘Atomic power. You have done many wonderful things with it — technically’) but observes that this ingenuity is crucially lacking in one respect: ‘Apparently your scientific hierarchy is not equipped to solve moral, ethical —’. One of Captain Franco’s men advises him to shoot for the brain, as that organ is ‘no good for eating’ (7). The wub is shot and eaten. Only Captain Franco seems to enjoy the meal, even though ‘[t]he taste was excellent’ (8). But Captain Franco behaves rather strangely. The pleasure he takes in eating the wub is hardly surprising, but his philosophical approach to the situation seems out of character: ‘I, myself, love to eat. It is one of the greatest things that a living creature can enjoy. Eating, resting, meditation, discussing things’ (8). Finally, the anagnorisis: ‘As I was saying before I was interrupted, the role of Odysseus in the myths —’ Peterson jerked up, staring. ‘To go on,’ the Captain said. ‘Odysseus, as I understand him —’ The wub just wanted to have a civilized conversation with the humans, but having found that to be impossible, it does not hesitate to defend itself by using its mysterious power to co-opt the body of its aggressor. The reception of the myth of Odysseus here is significant in light of the importance of this myth for SF. Rogers (2015), following the lead of Fredericks (1980), notes that ‘[m]ost SF narratives that draw on the Odyssey emphasize the outbound journey into the unknown, the encounter with the alien or Other, the act of discovery, but they do not necessarily include a return journey homeward, a reapplication of the discovery to the self in one’s original context’ (220).18 This underscores the significance of the wub’s (and Peterson’s) insistence on the necessity of the return home. The story seems to accuse SF’s typical reception of the Odysseus myth, which had already taken shape by 1952, of a critical error, and to correct that error by enacting what had been forgotten: the return to the (ancient) source. This would be plain enough even without Dick’s explanation, almost thirty years after it was published, that the wub represents ‘empathy, or, as it was called in earlier times, caritas or agape’ (Dick 1995: 106). The story’s handling of the myth of Odysseus, then, displays a mix of overlap and opposition with the SF tradition. This mix is mirrored in the indeterminacy of its implied hermeneutic. In many ways, it presents itself as offering a plausible possible future, mainly by moral extrapolation. If we go to Mars (or wherever) and find natives whose labour can be exploited for profit, we will probably do so; if we find something that looks edible, we will probably eat first and ask questions later. The reference to ‘atomic power’ and to the humans’ ‘scientific hierarchy’ further suggests a plausible future rather than a fantastic ‘other world’. But could such a future contain a wub? The story invites, or at least anticipates, this question, for it does provide some explanation of the wub’s powers. This occurs during the wub’s brief and generally unfruitful conversation with Captain Franco soon after it has been discovered that the wub can speak English. Captain Franco asks where it learned to do that, and the wub replies that it examined his mind. ‘Telepathy. Of course’ says Captain Franco. Apparently he requires no further explanation. Nevertheless, the wub continues. ‘We are a very old race […] Very old and very ponderous. It is difficult for us to move around. You can appreciate that anything so slow and heavy would be at the mercy of more agile forms of life’ (Dick 2013: 4). Telepathy, then, is its survival adaptation. Scientifically, this is quite plausible enough for most varieties of SF. The story’s conclusion, however, wreaks havoc with the ‘plausible future’ reading. It is one thing to read another entity’s mind — which, after all, is not so very different from what occurs in ordinary conversation — and quite another thing to transfer one’s consciousness intact, instantly and invisibly, into another entity’s body. Such a phenomenon seems to call for an allegorical interpretation, and I will propose one such interpretation in the conclusion of this article. For now, I want to underscore the jarring effect of the sudden revocation of the story’s dominant implied hermeneutic, which is greatly intensified by its occurrence at the very end. What renders such an effect palatable, even thrilling, is the comic tone of the story. It is funny to hear the sort of being Dick describes discussing the interpretation of ancient Greek myth in a very dignified register of English. The story sets up a joke and at the end delivers the punch line. But the stakes of the joke are quite serious, inasmuch as the survival or annihilation of the wub represents the survival or annihilation of wisdom and goodness. ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’ suggests two ways in which the past might, and in fact does, subsequently appear in Dick’s fiction. One is as an aspect of a possible future; the other is as an aspect of a fiction that either requires a radical reevaluation of what is possible or a different sort of interpretation altogether. I will briefly examine Now Wait for Last Year (1966) and We Can Build You (1972) as representative of the first category, and as representative of the second, Ubik (1969) and VALIS (1981).19 Many of the events in Now Wait for Last Year do not lend themselves to being interpreted as aspects of a possible future. However, the only one I consider here does. Virgil Ackerman, the head of a large corporation, creates on Mars a replica of his hometown just as it was when he was a kid (‘Wash-35’: Washington in 1935), complete with original period artefacts and android versions of the people he once knew. The protagonist reflects that perhaps this is not a grotesque symptom of a disease of inauthenticity, but a striving for connection that is itself rooted in the past: When the first bard rattled off the first epic of a sometime battle, illusion entered our lives; the Iliad is as much a ‘fake’ as those robant children trading postage stamps on the porch of the building. Humans have always striven to retain the past, to keep it convincing; there’s nothing wicked in that. Without it we have no continuity; we have only the moment. And, deprived of the past, the moment — the present — has little meaning, if any. (Dick 2011 [1966]: 29) The reference to the Iliad is significant, for it connects seemingly futuristic technologies of memory (‘robant children’) to ancient ones (bards, oral epic poetry). This suggests that not much has changed, even in the seemingly strange future that Dick’s text describes — or, indeed, in the present in which Dick’s literary text performs the sort of connection to the past that the passage claims is crucial. What is different in that present, perhaps, is that now we are imagining what strange new tools we will someday use to remember. But Dick points out that those tools will be analogous to ancient ones. Means change, but the motivation remains the same. Whereas Virgil Ackerman’s rebuilt past is a personal one, in We Can Build You, an American classical past returns to life in the form of the mechanical simulacra Lincoln and Stanton. As one character explains, ‘This nation is obsessed with the War Between the States. I’ll tell you why. It was the only and first national epic in which we Americans participated; that’s why’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 9). The Lincoln and Stanton simulacra are, in a sense, historical fictions brought into the future — and into SF — as robots. Their construction depends as much on the work of historians and philologists (which is fed into the ‘ruling monad brain’) as on that of electrical engineers (or what we would now call ‘AI’). As one character says of the Stanton, ‘It has the same facts that the original Edwin M. Stanton had. We researched his life to the nth degree’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 23). Unlike in the case of Virgil Ackerman, it seems here that things have changed psychologically, and not for the better. Lincoln and Stanton offer much-needed aid to their inept creators, Stanton bringing a kind of decisive corporate leadership to the Rosen business that the humans are unable to muster, while Lincoln’s ‘gentle humanism’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 115), equal parts humour and melancholy, aids in more delicate personal affairs. Psychologically, these figures are very much like the wub; technologically, they offer a plausible rationalization of the wub’s survival. Though the text itself does not make this connection, we might compare We Can Build You to works of Greek Old Comedy that imagine great people of the past revived to aid the city in its present distress. Even closer to Dick’s scenario than Aristophanes’ Frogs, which imagines the consultation in the underworld of great tragedians, is that of Eupolis’ Demes, which imagines the revivification of the great Athenian statesmen Solon, Miltiades, Aristides, and Pericles (Telò 2007). In these ancient plays, as perhaps in Dick’s novel, the actual means of revivification within the fictional world is less important than the comparison of older and newer mentalities that is thereby enabled. Dick’s comparison hews to the model of the Old Comic poets: morally, the past puts the present to shame. ‘Again I reexperienced my first impression of it: that in many ways it was more human — god help us! — than we were […] Only my father stood above it in dignity.’ And if that is true of the Stanton, how much more of the Lincoln? ‘I wonder how that will make us feel and make us look’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 60). Jameson identifies Dick’s affective innovation in historicity as ‘nostalgia for the present’ (Jameson 1991: 279–96; 2005: 381). Such an effect may be seen in the way that, for example, the extreme scarcity of real (non-robotic) animal life in the future of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which provokes the intense desire of the people in that world to own and care for a real animal, renders even the sharply declining abundance of the present (of 1968, or of 2017) an object of longing. However, as we have seen, at times Dick’s work registers the importance of connecting with one’s personal past and displays something very like nostalgia for a more dignified, humane cultural past. But two caveats are called for. First, the ugliness of the past does sometimes surface. In Ubik, the protagonist travels back in time to 1939. Initially, this seems a world he could learn to love, particularly in its technological dimension. ‘That LaSalle […] was a considerable piece of machinery; I felt real satisfaction driving it’ (Dick 2012 [1969]: 157). Morally, however, 1939 leaves much to be desired. His cab driver defends the Nazis: ‘We have a similar problem here in the United States, both with Jews and with the niggers. Eventually we’re going to have to do something about both’ (157). ‘This is a world’, the protagonist reflects, ‘that lives in terms of William Jennings Bryan’s oratory; the Scopes “Monkey Trial” is a vivid reality here. He thought, there is no way we can adapt to their viewpoint, their moral, political, sociological environment’ (159). Nostalgia, then, has its limits. Furthermore, the past may be dangerous. The protagonist of We Can Build You says of his associates who created the Lincoln that they ‘had reawakened what had been an awesome and awful force in this country’s history’ (Dick 2012 [1972]: 58). It is to this kind of potency that we will now turn. The world of Ubik seems to represent a possible future, but in fact it is not easily legible as such. As Kim Stanley Robinson writes, ‘the constructive principle in Ubik is this: for every explanation one constructs for the events in the novel, there will be at least one event that confounds that explanation, making it impossible and thus inoperative’ (1984: 95). The issue here is not scientific plausibility in a superficial sense, but rather a bedrock principle of scientific reason, the law of non-contradiction. All of the novel’s paradoxes have to do, in one way or another, with time distortions, a notorious source of contradictions. What I want to suggest is that Ubik, like Aristophanes’ Clouds (as I read it), is partly concerned with a paradox concerning the validity of past knowledge: could such knowledge be both untrue and true, at the same time? The two major references to classical antiquity in the novel suggest such a reading. First, the primary way in which time dissolves, by causing technological objects to revert to earlier objects designed to perform a similar function, is explained as a weird verification of ‘a discarded ancient philosophy, that of Plato’s ideal objects […] The form TV set had been a template imposed as a successor to other templates […] Prior forms, he reflected, must carry on an invisible, residual life in every object’ (Dick 2012 [1969]: 138). I will not attempt to evaluate this as an interpretation of Plato’s ideas, but will merely point out that the actual environment of rapid technological evolution that Ubik here refers to, as well as the rapidly devolving environment that it imagines as a fiction, are things that Plato certainly was not intending to account for. Nevertheless, Dick’s novel suggests, Plato’s ‘discarded ancient philosophy’ may be necessary in order to make sense of such a world, or worlds. Second, there is Ubik itself. This substance, or entity, or whatever it is, performs a salvific function, halting the dissolution of time and physical integrity that threatens the characters. It comes, comically, in a spray can. It is explained scientifically in a way consistent with the usual expectations of SF. ‘“A spray can of Ubik,” the girl answered, “is a portable negative ionizer, with a self-contained, high-voltage, low-amp unit powered by a peak-gain helium battery of 25kv. The negative ions are given a counter-clockwise spin by a radically biased acceleration chamber […]”’ (Dick 2012 [1969]: 224). It goes on. But this explanation is immediately undercut. The protagonist responds, ‘To say “negative ions” is redundant. All ions are negative’. The girl simply changes the subject. Perhaps more promising, although hardly less mysterious, is the philological explanation. As the protagonist learns from a librarian, the word ‘Ubik’ comes from the Latin ubique (163). So, it is everywhere. What does that mean? The epigraphs to each chapter offer ‘ads’ for Ubik that humorously parody ad-speak and suggest that it is some kind of gadget, a kind of ‘every-gadget’. Perhaps, then, we are meant to think of the ubiquity of technology, and of the salvific promises made on behalf of technology. The final epigraph is perhaps not inconsistent with such an interpretation, but it presents further complications. Much as the Clouds at the end of Clouds break the comic mold by rising to, and sustaining, a non-parodic tragic and archaic register, the final ‘ad’ for Ubik deploys high Biblical language without any internal mark of parody: ‘I am Ubik. Before the universe was, I am. […] I am called Ubik, but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be’ (226).20 Is Ubik technology, or is it Jehovah? Perhaps it is both. As the narrator of VALIS reminds himself, ‘Everybody knows that Aristotelian two-value logic is fucked’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 144). VALIS contains Dick’s most extensive, explicit engagement with ancient Greek texts, and with the idea of the Roman Empire. It is one of his funniest and most poignant novels, and it takes up the questions of God and technology that Ubik raises.21 The protagonist is Dick himself, doubly fictionalized. The narrator is ‘Phil Dick’, a science fiction writer who has written novels with the same titles as Dick’s previous novels. Dick’s other fictional avatar is Horselover Fat. ‘But’, as another character tells Phil Dick, ‘that’s you. “Philip” means “Horselover” in Greek, lover of horses’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 185). Indeed, Horselover spends much of his time working on a sprawling ‘exegesis’ that seeks to elucidate an epiphanic experience involving a beam of pink light and metaphysical questions concerning God, reality, and time, as Dick also did. Phil generally professes to regard Horselover as insane. However, he often gets caught up in explaining Horselover’s ideas and lets the mask slip.22 There is a great deal that one could say about Classical reception in VALIS. Here I mainly want to point out that in this novel, statements about antiquity are sufficiently important that they call for the sort of authoritative verification, or signifiers thereof, that in SF is usually accorded only to statements about modern science. For example, Phil writes, ‘The idea that the entire universe — as we experience it — could be a forgery is an idea best expressed by Heraclitus’. He goes on to give a lengthy quote from a scholarly book discussing Fragment 56 and Heraclitus’s thoughts about ‘ordinary men, and what passes for knowledge among them’, which concludes: ‘“They are compared to sleepers in private worlds of their own.” Thus says Edward Hussey, Lecturer in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Oxford and a fellow of All Souls College, in his book The Presocratics, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1972, pages 37-38. In all my reading I have — I mean, Horselover Fat has — never found anything more significant as an insight in to the nature of reality’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 36). He goes on to quote Fragment 123 and Fragment 54, with additional commentary by Hussey, and later says of Hussey that ‘he would know; he is the foremost living authority on ancient Greek thought, with the possible exception of Francis Cornford’ (38).23 The function of these citations is different from that of similar citations in the footnotes to a Victorian historical novel. There, the aim is to verify the verisimilitude of an account of a past the reader is assumed already to have been familiar with and to have regarded as important prior to reading the novel. Here, I think, the aim is evangelical. As if to say, ‘Readers of SF, you don’t know this, but you should. Go look it up; I’ve given you the citation. Think about Heraclitus. He might wake you up’.24 Masking this missionary zeal in the ‘Falstaffian comic figure’ (Robinson 1984: 121) of Horselover Fat allows it to remain an open question what the exact message of the fragments of Heraclitus or Parmenides or Xenophanes, or of the New Testament, or of words of ancient Greek received in dreams,25 or of a vision of first century CE Rome superimposed on 1974 California (Dick 2011 [1981]: 39), or of a resemblance between the caduceus seen on a Greek krater and the DNA double helix (248), et cetera, might be for a technoscientific twentieth century. But the sheer volume of ancient material the reader is given to grapple with ensures that if there is a message there, somewhere, it will have a conduit.26 Conclusion: the literary mechanism The Clouds of Aristophanes’ Clouds have often been interpreted as figures of theater itself (e.g. Strauss 1966: 21, Köhnken 1980, Saetta Cottone 2013). In conclusion, I want to suggest an analogous interpretation of Dick’s wub and its ultimate survival. As ancient thinkers well knew, fiction is a force that, by somewhat mysterious mechanisms, can invade and alter a person at the core (Halliwell 2002: 19–22, 37–97), as the wub does to Captain Franco. If the wub is a symbol of fiction, then it survives in the same way that Odysseus survives down through the ages, forcing a kind of homecoming every time his name is mentioned or his story retold. This interpretation is strikingly confirmed by Dick’s story ‘Not By Its Cover’ (Famous Science Fiction 1968; Dick 1987), a sequel to ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’ published sixteen years later. Here the Mars-based firm Obelisk Books uses wub fur to bind luxurious editions of the books it publishes, one of which is Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. The story’s drama stems from the discovery of mysterious alterations in Lucretius’s text (or rather, the Dryden translation thereof) and the texts of other books bound in wub fur. It turns out that the still-sentient fur is strategically altering these texts to bring them into accordance with its own belief in, or experiential knowledge of, immortality. The wub, then, is a vector of transmission and agent of modification: SF as Classical reception. All of the vectors of memory in Dick’s futuristic fictional worlds, in fact — from the Lincoln simulacrum, to Virgil Ackerman’s immersive recreation of 1935 Washington on Mars, to the time-decomposition force in Ubik, to the pink light in VALIS that conveys visions of ancient Rome and an ability to speak ancient Greek, and so on and on — may be seen as figures of Dick’s own historically attuned SF, even if they also imagine new technologies of memory that the future (or, as in the case of the pink light, the present) might really hold. Just as Aristophanes turns the stylistic and philosophical novelties of the (ancient) moderns into a vehicle that mediates the survival of the ponderous wisdom of the (ancient) ancients, then, so too does Dick turn SF into a vehicle that can convey, and just might activate, whatever salvific potentiality the past may harbour. Footnotes 1 Not that it necessarily feels the need for such a heritage, as Samuel Delany’s contemptuous comment about ‘these preposterous and historically insensitive genealogies with Mary Shelley as our grandmother or Lucian of Samosata as our great-great grandfather’ as being ‘just pedagogic snobbery (or insecurity)’ (quoted in Roberts 2006: xv) vividly illustrates. Westfahl (1998: 3–18) also vigorously opposes attempts to push the origin of the genre back before the twentieth century. Rieder (2010) offers a more flexible view of SF as ‘historical and mutable’. 2 Fredericks seems to be the first critic to have done classical reception and SF in both directions, as it were: Fredericks (1976) reads Lucian’s True History ‘as’ SF, while Fredericks (1980) investigates the reception of classical myth in modern SF. Recently, Rogers and Stevens (2012, 2015) have done much to make ‘classical traditions in science fiction’ a coherent subfield. 3 Silk (2000: 350–435) discusses ‘the possibility of becoming’ and ‘the necessity of connecting’ as ‘the two principal co-ordinates of Aristophanes’ comic vision’ (409). Much the same could be said of Dick’s SF vision. 4 On the differences between Shklovsky’s and Brecht’s concepts, which are not pertinent to my argument, see Spiegel (2008: 369–70). 5 Rieder (2010) observes that, given a formal definition of SF such as Suvin’s, ‘it makes just as much sense to find it [SF] in classical Greek narratives as in contemporary American ones’ (193). 6 Versins (1972) includes an entry on Aristophanes (60–62) as well as one on Ancient Greece (383–5); these cite Peace, Birds, Lysistrata, Assemblywomen, and Ploutos as ‘comédies utopiques’. Roberts (2006: 24) mentions Peace and Birds, but again, not a word about Clouds. Orthofer (2002) briefly mentions Clouds in the context of a brief survey of scientists in plays. 7 On Ionian physiologia as ‘science’, see Graham (2006). 8 On Greek ideas about novelty and change, see D’Angour (2011). 9 Questions concerning the nature and dramatic function of the Cloud chorus have generated much scholarly discussion. Some important contributions are Whitman (1964: 119–43, esp. 127–9), Strauss (1966: 11–53, esp. 18–21, 46–48), Dover (1968: lxvi–lxx), Segal (1969), Köhnken (1980), Blyth (1994), Bowie (1996: 124–30), Silk (2000: 350–412), Judet de la Combe (2013, esp. 178–85), and Saetta Cottone (2013). 10 ‘Aristophanes created in Clouds a distinct “scientific discourse”, even though he does not make use of technical language as such’ (Willi 2003: 96). 11 On the modus tollens argument in Greek science, see Lloyd (1999: 24–26). 12 See Lloyd (1999: 23–32) on the idea of physical regularity, and analogies between different physical processes, in Greek science. Aristotle, in the Meteorologica, employs an argument very similar to Aristophanes’ Socrates’ ‘belly full of soup’ argument to support his theory about earthquakes (which he regards as similar to thunder, in that both are caused by trapped wind): ‘For we must suppose that just as the cause of tremors and throbbings in our bodies is the force of wind trapped inside us, so does wind trapped in the earth do something similar’ (δεĩ γὰρ νοεĩν ὅτι ὥσπερ ἐν τῶι σώματι ἡμῶν καὶ τρóμων καὶ σφυγμῶν αἴτιóν ἐστιν ἡ τοῦ πνεύματος ἐναπολαμβανομἐνη δύναμις, οὕτω καὶ ἐν τῆι γῆι τὸ πνεῦμα παραπλήσιον ποιεĩν: 366b15–18). Aristotle’s explanation of lightning (369a27–30) is also similar to that of Aristophanes’ Socrates. Betegh (2013: 98) notes ‘une similarité remarquable, qui va jusqu’aux mots utilisés’ between Socrates’ explanation of lightning and the explanation of earthquakes that Seneca (Natural Questions 6.12) attributes to Archelaus. Betegh argues that Archelaus is a source of much of the scientific thought, both meteorological and ethical, in Clouds. 13 Scholars have not generally seen this passage (Clouds 365–411) as particularly significant for the overall interpretation of the play, except insofar as it contains Socrates’ denial of the existence of the traditional gods (367) and the reference to δĩνος, ‘rotation’, which Socrates introduces as an inanimate factor in the production of thunder by clouds (379–80) and Strepsiades misunderstands as the name of a new divinity — and a pot (380–2, 1470–4; Willi 2003: 100–5). Even Willi (2003: 96–117) and the essays in Laks and Saetta Cottone (2013), which focus on scientific and philosophical rhetoric in the play, pay it scant attention. 14 Sutin (2005) includes numerous testimonials of Dick’s tremendous sense of humour. Perhaps most telling of its importance to Dick himself is a 1977 Exegesis entry in which he writes that one of the major contributions of his work has been to ‘present the most accurate and stringent — rigorous — revised criteria to pull the truly real as set out of ground (Love, making exceptions, humor, determination, etc. The little virtues)’ (chapter 11). 15 On Asimov and Gibbon, see Hassler (1988); as Hassler observes, Asimov wrote in an article called ‘The story behind the “Foundation”’ (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, vol. 6, Dec. 1982) that he ‘had read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire not once but twice’ before writing Foundation (41). Freedman (2000: 56) characterizes Foundation as a kind of ‘disguised historical fiction’. On Gibbon in SF, see also Yaszek (2009: 222–3). 16 Freedman (2000: 44–62) discusses the relationship between SF and the historical novel in some detail, but not classical reception. 17 Jameson (2005: 363–83) discusses the past as salvific in Dick’s work but excludes from consideration the later novels, including VALIS, hoping ‘to disconnect the religious thematics from the earlier works’ (363). 18 On the myth of Odysseus in SF, see also Weiner (2015), which shows how the myth frames Vonnegut’s satire on the shortcomings of the ‘scientific hierarchy’ of values in Cat’s Cradle. 19 Classical reception is ubiquitous in Dick’s work, and there are many other texts, too numerous even to cite here, that one might examine. Dick’s engagement with Greco-Roman antiquity started early and continued throughout his life. He learned Latin at the California Preparatory School in Ojai (Sutin 2005: chapter 2) and did not forget it; years later, the SF writer Robert Silverberg reluctantly engaged with him in ‘a long public conversation in fractured Latin in the cocktail lounge of a convention hotel’ (Sutin 2005: chapter 11). His second wife (of eight years), Kleo, was Greek, and he enjoyed ‘talking […] Greek drama and mystery religions with Alexandra [Kleo’s mother], who had a B.A. in classics’ (Sutin 2005: chapter 4). Although his interests gravitated towards ancient philosophy, he discusses Euripides several times in the Exegesis (Umland 1995: 91), and he includes Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in the bibliography that accompanies The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), the final work in the VALIS trilogy. In a 1949 letter, he mentions having read ‘Herodotus’ ‘Persian Wars’ and the ‘Anabasis’ of Xenophon for entertainment’ (Sutin 2005: chapter 3). 20 Lem (1984: 133–4) discusses Ubik as ‘a blend (contamination)’ of the gadget and the Absolute. 21 Given the importance of theological questions in Dick and quite a few other major SF writers (e.g. Olaf Stapledon, Ursula Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, Octavia Butler, even Lem), Roberts’s emphasis on ‘non-theological’ as the distinctive mark of the kind of ‘science’ one needs for SF seems somewhat misplaced (Roberts 2006: 24, quoted in Rogers and Stevens 2015: 14). 22 On Dick’s pink light experience of ‘2-3-74’ and the complex process of trying to understand it that resulted in the Exegesis and the VALIS trilogy, see Sutin (2005: chapters 10 and 11). Dick’s theories as to the source of the pink light ranged from Asklepios and the Christian God to Soviet experimentation and ‘technology from the future’ (Sutin 2005: chapter 10). 23 Although Aristophanes’ Clouds is never cited by name in VALIS, there may just be one subtle but significant allusion to it. Near the beginning of the novel, Fat’s friend Stephanie gives him a little ceramic pot she made. ‘It looked like an ordinary pot: squat and light brown, with a small amount of blue glaze as trim. […] The pot was unusual in one way, however. In it slumbered God’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 14). Could this allude to the δĩνος (clay pot) that Strepsiades (mistakenly) thinks Socrates claimed had replaced Zeus as ruler of the universe (Clouds 1470–4; see n. 13 above)? If not, the coincidence is remarkable. It would be entirely in keeping with Dick’s God’s perverse yet redemptive sense of humour to appear in what had been thought to signify his non-existence. Pots also have a religious significance in Dick’s novel Galactic Pot-Healer (1969). 24 On the citation of ancient texts in VALIS, see also Palmer (2003: 223–37) and Rossi (2012). 25 This is an important aspect both of Fat’s experience in VALIS and of Dick’s own experience, as described in letters and parts of the Exegesis (Sutin 2005: chapter 10). In VALIS it is strongly emphasized that the Greek words Fat received were not ones he previously knew (Dick 2011 [1981]: 28). Dick speculated that Asklepios might be the source of these messages. 26 On the motif of possession by ‘a transmigrating or invading agent or agency’, often associated with antiquity, in Dick’s work, see also Umland (1995). Umland discusses some examples I have not considered in this article (e.g. ‘Upon the Dull Earth’ and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch) and mentions some examples I have discussed in more detail (e.g. ‘Beyond Lies the Wub’). As Umland notes, Dick himself described this phenomenon as Dionysian enthousiasmos (97 n.19). A passage in VALIS suggests a Jungian interpretation: ‘In the depths of the collective the archetypes slumber; if aroused, they can heal or they can destroy’ (Dick 2011 [1981]: 194; Umland 1990: 84). Willis (2007) offers a more political reading of the vision of ancient Rome superimposed upon 1974 California and its accompanying refrain, ‘The Empire never ended’, as indicating that ‘Empire is the condition of possibility of (the legibility of) the world as we inhabit it’ (347). Acknowledgements This article grew out of my dissertation research, and for that reason I would like to thank my committee members — Brooke Holmes, Andrew Ford, and Mark Payne — for their guidance and support. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewers for CRJ, whose careful comments inspired major revisions that have substantially improved the article. 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