Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Man in the Castle

Imagine that the Allied victory is a subversive novel abroad in a world where the Axis has won and where the relatively benign occupation of the Japanese is confronted by the next stage of the Nazi horror.

Imagine a cast of 'minor' characters, directly and indirectly, involved in both communicating the German plan of atomic holocaust to the Japanese and sparing the life (from German assasination) of the author of the subversive text.

Imagine a society that takes counsel from an ancient text of Chinese divination that seeks to restore harmony to a world where dark comes perilously close to extinguishing the light.

In this imagination you have many of the key themes of Philip K. Dick's illuminating novel. Most especially it is informed by a traditional religious trope: how do you distinguish the illusory from the real? how do you know that 'this world' is not an imprisonment of the soul, obscuring you from the light? The original Gnostic dilemma.

It is the first of his works that I have read and not the last. It manages to merge its engagement with ideas with the lives of credible characters, living an unfolding set of narratives that strike truth.

I especially liked the twist at the end: the suggestion that despite appearances, the Allies won, not in actual victory but in the real sense that the ideas that inform them remain alive waiting for the current circumstances to turn. Reality undermines from within, speaks truth out of inner consciuosness, it will prevail, even if the world must pass to the brink of disintegration. Ideas, as Plato knew, are alive and beyond the appearances of the world.

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