If the eye could see the demons that people the universe, existence would be impossible. — Talmud, Berakhot, 6
So, over the past few weeks, we’ve gotten a good look at lies, damned lies and maybe even a few “statistics.” Now I’d like to return attention to The Man in the High Castle, with those notions in mind.
Counterfeiting – the creation of falsehood that intentionally resembles the truth – is not just a critical idea behind Philip K. Dick’s most renowned novel, it was something of a lifelong obsession. It is easy to get lost in the “real or Memorex” parlor game of the novel while losing sight of the driving point, which is this: reality may not always be what it seems to be, but it is real, and it does matter.
Back in part one, I suggested you take a look at the only two characters who kill other characters in the course of the story. The first – Mr. Tagomi – does so in self-defense, using a counterfeit gun designed to look like a historic Civil War era Colt .44. (the U.S. Civil War – both in reality and in counterfeit – factors in as an important talisman; the U.S. is divided between the “allied rivals” Nazi East Coast and the Jap West Coast, with a very narrow Midwestern and Plains State buffer zone that resembles the actual U.S. of 1962*.)
Fortunately for him and for his colleagues holed up in his office under assault, Tagomi is a champion quick draw competitor, a sporting interest that itself is an outgrowth of his obsession with “authentic” Americana. The defense itself is a major historic event in the history of alternate America; the attackers were attempting to thwart a leak of German intelligence to the Japanese. That bit of intelligence was this: Operation Dandelion, a planned surprise attack on the unsuspecting nation of Japan.
So, the Japanese Tagomi kills German agents in a direct symbolic representation of Japan temporarily defending herself against the threat of nuclear annihilation. The shooting, incidentally, instantly contributes “new historicity” to the formerly fake historic gun. Shortly thereafter, Tagomi falls into a strange reverie, and his obsession with Americana leads him to take a look at authentic American craftwork – anti-counterfeits, if you will, modern stuff that, even if it were mass produced, would genuine, even if mass produced. His next experience is to suddenly rip the veil between PKD’s alternate U.S. and the real thing. Tagomi “visits” the real world (as represented by the novel-within-the-novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.)
The other killer is Juliana the heroine who slashes the throat of the Swiss assassin (who himself is a counterfeit Italian war hero) before he can take the final step to kill The Man in the High Castle. Shortly after this act, she is the only character who actually gets behind the shroud of the famous author to see him – and warn him – in the flesh. Some have misinterpreted the end of The Man in the High Castle as a mistake, or at the very least, proof that Juliana is mistaken.
However, Dick himself repeated Juliana’s own interpretation of reality as the proper one: that the only full truths in a mostly artificial world is that of the Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and that the best key to understanding that truth is through the I Ching.
Note that the I Ching is historical and authentic, and every passage used in the novel is non-fictional; that is to say the I Ching of The Man in the High Castle is fairly represented, and, unlike nearly every other historic artifact (other than The Holy Bible), is 100% authentic.
Julianna, therefore, despite being accused by Abendsen of being a “daemon” (both in the spiritual sense and in the computational: that she was simply carrying out her programming), her insights, consistent with Dick’s later analysis, as well as being the ones that most accurately harmonize the I Ching‘s promptings with the ample evidence that, in the real world, the Nazi West did not divide and destroy the world, and the Japanese East did not save and preserve it.
Note Dick’s low view of the author character – represented by the reckless and vain Abendsen, and his high view of the reader character, represented by the willful and determined Juliana. Mr. Tagomi and Juliana at turns seem mad or ghostly or demonic, but the truth is that they may be the only two characters who – at a minimum – become aware of the real world beyond the pages of the book that imprisons them. This truth only becomes clear to them after they have taken “life” from other characters. The madness that seems to descend on them is merely the realization that they are far more alone in the simulated world than when they thought their world was real. As horrific as such a realization might be for some, it also comes as a relief to both of them. It is as if their primordial suspicion of the world as they knew it had been confirmed, and now they could see more clearly than anyone else.
Although Hawthorne Abendsen now lives openly (no longer in the heavily defensed high castle, but in a 24-hour party atmosphere in an unsecured suburban home) and with an intentional disregard (over his wife’s objections) for self-defense by firearm against the real threat (as proven by the odd Italian, Cinandella) of assassination, he is extremely defensive about one thing: that he may have consulted the I Ching in plotting the Grasshopper Lies Heavy.
Important: PKD himself consulted the I Ching for plot direction of The Man in the High Castle. This, in part, may be why he felt disappointed in the novel’s stellar and tidy ending. He was pulling for the author character to come off looking like more than a partying simulation, a mere vessel for the truth, rather than Truth’s pupil.
“[An] intuition I’ve had for some time: that the Bible is the real world and appears in our spurious “world” as a putative book the way “Grasshopper” does in TMITHC. If what we possess in the form of a book (info) is actually a world, then what we experience as a world is perhaps only info–a book. Everything is backward.” – Philip K. Dick, from his Exegesis, 64:E-12]
So, ultimately, The Man in the High Castle is not about the uncertainty of reality, but instead of our strong resistance to face the naked truth.
*Not only was The Man in the High Castle written at the 100-year anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, but the novel that inspired PKD to write it was Bring the Jubilee, a steampunk alternate history in which the Confederacy wins at Gettysburg and eventually triumphs in the War of Southron Independence.