Philip K. Dick - The Man in the High Castle


The Man in the High Castle was written in 1962 and published in 1963. It might or might have not predated the Cuban Missile crisis. By now we know that in 1962 the world faced a bigger danger than thought at the time for a nuclear holocaust. What should the I Ching have said, had the US and and the USSR consulted the Chinese oracle? We will never know.
What we do know that Philip K. Dick must have been high around that time on whatever he was using around that time. It's the duality of being a genius and being at risk of mental illness. In many books Philip K. Dick balanced on that thin line. The results were - as always - astonishing. One of my most beloved Philip K. Dick books is Ubik, which knocks you off balance with its ending. And with a dime. The end must have been stolen by the movie Inception, but that aside.

The Man in the High Castle is the story of an alternate history where the Axis forces, especially Germany and Japan, have won the Second World War. For those who are sensitive to vulgar nicknames for Italians (wops) or Jews (kiks) or whatever minority came in the pitch black spotlights of the Nazi society, the book might be less than optimal for your peace of mind. For all others, it is a treat. In the end the book is not so much about a clever turning of tables on the Allies and the Axis forces, but about human nature. So you think we would be worse off? The Cuban Missile standoff has shown us that no matter if you're the good guy or the bad guy, the end might be the same for you both: Totaler und Radikaler, as Goebbels once screamed in one of his speeches, than you might have dreamed.

The book builds upon quite a cast of characters whose paths eventually all will cross in all kinds of remarkable ways. And leading some of them through the story is the I Ching, the Chinese oracle which holds such deep wisdom, even if you - quite correctly - are convinced predictions by oracles are funny, yet utter bunkum. The Man in the High Castle only appears in the closing pages of the book, together with .... well.... very, very minor spoiler alert - the bunkum oracle as well.

What does it tell us? The oracle dispenses its wisdom and gives a description of an alternative that turns out to be as weird and dismal as any other variety of reality. For humanity going left or right doesn't matter: they always find ways to make it the wrong turn. It might well be that Philip K. Dick was quite aware of the Cuban missile crisis after all.

What should we think of the book? What better way to find out than to consult the oracle itself. Over to the I Ching. Hexagram 35, Advancing (Jin), active lines 2 and 6 turning it to 40, Release (Jie):
You advance, but you are worried. The omen is auspicious. Now you receive armor and blessings from the mother of the king.
(Change wells up in his feelings. He is not in control here and it causes him distress. If he coordinates his feelings instead of controlling them this same change would cause him happiness.)
The ram avances with its horns. Hold firm in striking the city. Even in danger, the omen is auspicious. No harm, but an omen of misfortune.
(Accepting change at the foundation involves changing the superstructure. This is demanding and needs the approach of sympathy).

Over to hexagram 40, Release (Jie):
Release. Favorable in the southwest. Nowhere to go. Auspicious to return. In proceeding with a purpose, it is auspicious to be early. (A new way leads out of insecurity and vacillation. Release from indecision.)

Well, it's obviously about the change in history in the book. It's distressing, but when you deal correctly with the story and are armed against it, it turns out to be a positive experience. You must open yourself to the 'change at the foundation' , the alternate history. You have to accept and be positive about the story. Only this assures you that in the end the book will give you a new way to free yourself from doubt and make you decide what you think of the history and time we live in.

Well, isn't that great? The I Ching delivers. Yes, as I said, exactly. Funny, but bunkum nevertheless.
Let me be the oracle. Read that book. You won't be disappointed.