Saturday, 29 October 2011

Philip K. Dick on the language virus theory of William S. Burroughs

Dick spent some time thinking about the information virus theory of William Burroughs, which he uses here to clarify his own thinking about "living information." Burroughs' theory interests and troubles him, as he indicates by praising Burroughs for getting the problem right. But he ends up disagreeing with Burroughs about the nature of the entity, and takes the opportunity to distinguish his own view in contrast to Burroughs. As is not uncommon in passages like this, Dick proceeds beyond the general theoretical question to speculate about his own experiences. I find this kind of passage beautiful and picturesquely Dickian. He is weaving a tense and compelling portrait, almost Lovecraftian in its description of the theoretical attraction and squeamish repulsion he feels for Burroughs' notion, of his work on the information paradox.
"I cannot accept Burroughs' view that we have been invaded by an alien virus, an information virus, yet on the other hand I cannot readily dismiss this bizarre theory as mere paranoia on his part. I think he is onto something real and important, and that his statements do more good--far more good--than harm (that is, he states the problem correctly, although perhaps his analysis of the cause is faulty; still, merely to be aware of the problem is to achieve a great deal). Now, I have been able to find accounts in ancient times of what seems to be a thinking or perceptual dysfunction or perhaps the thinking or perceptual dysfunction.
...Burroughs may have indeed detected an "information virus" or something like an information virus, but my supposition is that, if you grant its existence, it is of long-standing. World mythology supports this. Not just Christian.
Where Burroughs and I sharply disagree is that my supposition is that if--if--and information life form exists (and this is indeed a bizarre and wild supposition), it is benign; it does not occlude us; on the contrary: it informs us (or perhaps it has no interest in doing either, but simply rides our own information traffic, using our media as a carrier; that is entirely possible. That I myself saw this living information in the spring of 1974 is not something I wish to claim; on the other hand, I will not deny it. The issue is important, vital, and also elusive. If you grant an occluding information virus, are you not then yourself occluded in your very analysis of it, as well as your perception of its existence? There is a paradox involved. I'm sure you can see that. And I try to deal with it in VALIS."
Selected Letters of PKD 1980-1982, p.146
Here's a link to Burroughs on Language as a Virus from Outer Space
Here's a recent article explaining the history of the concept of information
Mr Hand @'Philip K. Dick and Religion'
Check out the link above  for much more PKD...


  1. 2Stylo/
    Do check out the rest of the site...

  2. Thanks for linking to my blog... but I would appreciate being credited for my writing, which seems to be presented as your own work here in this post.

    -Ted Hand, author of this post and writer of Philip K. Dick and Religion blog

  3. 2TH/
    Please forgive me for giving that impression, really was not my intention. Shall amend the post now so that hopefully it does not convey that impression. Very cool blog you have.