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philip k. dick, the man in the high castle

I thought to reread this book after watching the pilot episode for an upcoming TV series based on the book. If you've read The Man in the High Castle, you know how important a part the I Ching plays. Not only do many characters in the novel consult the oracle, Dick himself used it when writing:

I used it in The Man in the High Castle because a number of characters used it. In each case when they asked a question, I threw the coins and wrote the hexagram lines they got. That governed the direction of the book. Like in the end when Juliana Frink is deciding whether or not to tell Hawthorne Abensen that he is the target of assassins, the answer indicated that she should. Now if it had said not to tell him, I would have had her not go there. But I would not do that in any other book.

It occurred to me that I might fruitfully use the I Ching for this blog post, as a sort of “Play Along with Phil” game. In the book, which is an alternate history where the Allies lost WWII, an author, Hawthorne Abensen, writes a book that tells of an alternate history where the Axis lost the war. Abensen consults the I Ching when writing his book. How much more Dickian could I get, than to replicate that here.

I asked, “What can the oracle tell me that might illuminate The Man in the High Castle?” I got Li, The Clinging, Fire, with a changing nine at the top which leads to F’eng, Abundance/Fullness. (Explaining the I Ching would require a separate post ... what matters is whether I can turn this reading from the oracle into something illuminating about Dick’s novel.)

Here is what Li looks like:


You’ll notice that the top three lines and the bottom three lines are matches: fire on top of fire. The “Judgement”: “The Clinging. Perseverance furthers. It brings success. Care of the cow brings good fortune.” (You can see how the I Ching works ... it never gives a clear reply, which thus allows the reader to basically invent meanings.) Luckily, each Judgement has a “Commentary”. Here, it reads in part, “Human life on earth is conditioned and unfree, and when man recognizes this limitation and makes himself dependent upon the harmonious and beneficent forces of the cosmos, he achieves success. The cow is the symbol of extreme docility. By cultivating in himself an attitude of compliance and voluntary dependence, man acquires clarity without sharpness and finds his place in the world.” Jeff Pike has noted of the novel that “The characters are largely listless and accepting of the world as it is”. Combining this with “The Clinging”, we get characters who find their place through compliance and voluntary dependence. The inner monologues of the characters in the book let us understand that none of these people have actually accepted their place. They are all struggling to get beyond wherever they find themselves. But outwardly, they often feign compliance, because to do otherwise is to risk everything. While this hexagram might offer insight into the characters when we first meet them, it doesn't explain why so many of them take actions to change their situations.

The “Image” here shows “That which is bright rises twice: The image of Fire. Thus the great man, by perpetuating this brightness, illumines the four quarters of the world.” The commentary: “The great man continues the work of nature in the human world. Through the clarity of his nature he causes the light to spread farther and farther and to penetrate the nature of man ever more deeply.” Perhaps Hawthorne Abensen is trying to spread the light in his alternate history; perhaps Philip K. Dick is doing the same with his alternate history.

The changing nine at the top means, “The king used him to march forth and chastise. Then it is best to kill the leaders and take captive the followers. No blame.” Commentary: “Evil must be cured at its roots. To eradicate evil in political life, it is best to kill the ringleaders and spare the followers. In educating oneself it is best to root out bad habits and tolerate those that are harmless.” Note the difference between “political life”, where evil ringleaders must be killed, and personal life, where “it is best to root out bad habits”.

The changed hexagram is F’eng, Abundance. “Abundance has success. The king attains abundance. Be not sad. Be like the sun at midday.”

I can’t say this little experiment did much for me. I can't see anything clearly that takes me places within the novel that I hadn't been before. In my reading of the result of my question, we as individuals are encouraged to find our place via compliance, while looking inwards to root out bad habits. But as a society, we are to eradicate evil by killing the ringleaders. I don’t see how these can co-exist, nor do I see that they have a clear connection to The Man in the High Castle.

[I Ching quotations, from the Richard Wilhelm translation that was the most-used back in my hippie days, are gathered from the website ichingfortune.com.]


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