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The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick

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Widely recognized as one of the most imaginative writers of the 20th century, Philip K. Dick helped to shape science fiction into the popular genre it is today. His stories, renowned for their sophisticated philosophical themes and startling portrayals of simulated realities, inspired numerous television and film adaptations, including the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner.

Dick's personal life took on an otherwordly quality when, in 1974, he famously had a series of bizarre visions. According to Dick, a pink light beamed psychic information into his brain, awakening memories of a past life as an ancient Christian revolutionary and granting him contact with time-traveling extraterrestrials. He witnessed scenes from ancient Rome superimposed over his California neighborhood, and warned local police he was a dangerous machine programmed to self-destruct. After the visions faded, Philip K. Dick spent the rest of his life trying to fathom the meaning of what he called his "divine madness." Was it schizophrenia? Or a genuine religious experience?

In The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick, clinical psychologist Kyle Arnold probes the fascinating mystery of Dick's heart and mind, and shows readers how early traumas opened Dick to profound spiritual experiences while also predisposing him toward drug dependency and violence. Disputing the myth that Dick had schizophrenia, Arnold contends that Dick's well-known paranoia was caused by his addiction to speed. Despite Dick's paranoia, his divine madness was not a sign of mental illness, but a powerful spiritual experience conveyed in the images of science fiction.

248 pages, Hardcover

First published June 1, 2016

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Kyle Arnold

3 books4 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews386 followers
November 1, 2016
<<>> SHOULD have made GR's Best Awards nominees for Biography <<>>

Dick's origin story is grippingly tragic. The loss of his twin Jane to neglect, his near death, and the mental instability of both his parents are specters. The ghosts of his psyche echoing through his stories. Arnold breaks down the repeated story elements and analyzes them in the context of Dick's life via interviews and diary entries.

I feel terrible. His writing is a series of psychic screams. What does it make me to take pleasure in creations that exist only because a man was tortured from childhood? What began as treatment in childhood for asthma spirals wildly out of control as his addiction to amphetamines induces paranoia and fits of rage. Combined with his unhealthy interpersonal relationships learned and then replayed throughout his life makes for a sad and rather depressing reality. He needed help and while he sought it, it never worked out. He never found peace.

That said, the way it manifested meant that Dick wasn't the nicest or most pleasant person to be around, paranoia incited physical and emotional confrontations. Additionally, his obsessions led him to make poor personal decisions which often acerbated his issues. The correlations between Dick's episodes and the effects of his various medical conditions is well done. The supporting commentary of witnesses and family who knew and were involved with Dick provide confirmation where it can. A cogent argument, but well drawn and convincing.

The investigations into the individual cruxes or visions that affected Dick greatly: break in, the pink light, Zebra, there is surprisingly long list ... some got bogged down in the format. In order to cross off all the elements there's a great deal of repetition to breakdown the argument. It's complete, but tedious to read at times. This is hefty subject matter and feels like it. By the end, Dick's circular arguments leaves one dizzy as they're unraveled.

Overall, a comprehensive investigation of Dick's life and how it affected his writings.

~ARC provided by NetGalley~
Profile Image for Brian Clegg.
Author 158 books2,469 followers
July 4, 2016
Although a huge fan of science fiction, I've never been overly fond of the New Wave authors of the 1960s. Their ideas were remarkable - but their stories tended to be relentlessly bleak and unrewarding - a bit like post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd without the wonderful music. And there's no better example than Philip K. Dick. (It's Kindred, since you ask.) The sheer inventiveness of Dick's stories come through in the number of 'adaptations' of his work, from Blade Runner (taken from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) to The Man in the High Castle. But the negative side of his work comes across in those inverted commas round 'adaptations' - the stories usually need a lot of adapting to be less odd and nihilistic to work for a wider audience.

I knew nothing about Dick himself before reading The Divine Madness, a kind of psychoanalytic biography that attempt to retro-analyse Dick's strange life and thinking. His upbringing was never going to leave him normal. His twin sister (the book says 'fraternal twin' as if he could have had an identical twin sister, which is odd) died of malnutrition, as Dick almost did, when their mother didn't manage to feed them properly. For some reason, Dick's mother then seems to have brought him up blaming him for his sister's death and telling him he should have died too. Alarmingly, they even put Dick's name on the gravestone. Throw in a mostly absent and uncaring father and it's not entirely surprising the result was a troubled young man.

All the evidence in the book suggests that Dick had a serious mental illness - from apparently staging a burglary at his home (the book's hypothesis as Dick never admitted it) to paranoid delusions - compounded by massive prescription (and other) drug taking. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this slim volume was the occasional analysis of Dick's stories and novels. I had read many of them (though I wasn't fond of New Wave, I read a lot, because I felt I ought to) and it was genuinely interesting to see how a couple of major underlying themes, revolving around the loss of his sister, and the idea that the world we experience is not reality and reality will occasionally poke through and show itself, are replayed time and again. The book also explores effectively why Dick's female characters are almost always evil or unsympathetic.

What I was less sure about was the heavy lashings of psychoanalysis in the book. Freud's work has already been pretty well comprehensively dismissed as pseudoscience, and there is little evidence that later practitioners had any more scientific basis for their work. The Divine Madness, written by Kyle Arnold, an assistant professor of psychiatry, lays the analysis on thick. One clear example of this is when the author claims that the song-game parents play with their babies and toddlers 'Rockabye Baby' plays out a death wish in which the parents secretly want to commit infanticide. Unfortunately, as anyone who has had children this age knows, the game, like the similar action game 'The Farmer goes a-clip', is all about anticipation of a safe drop - it's the nursery equivalent of a rollercoaster ride. It's not about parents secretly wishing to finish off their little ones, any more than theme park ride owners secretly want to kill large numbers of people in vehicle crashes.

There are times it is difficult not to wince when reading the book - and I certainly couldn't include it as a review on the popular science website due to the lack of science - but it does give some fascinating insights into the mental processes and life of a very inventive but tortured science fiction writer.
Profile Image for Steve Wiggins.
Author 6 books54 followers
May 27, 2016
I really enjoyed this one, even though I've read limited work by Philip K. Dick. Part biography, part analysis, this book takes seriously the religious experiences of one of the most highly regarded science fiction writers of last century. The clarity of the writing and the interest of the subject make a winning combination. I highly recommend this one. For further remarks, if interested, please see my blog post on the book: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Profile Image for Daniel.
2,340 reviews35 followers
February 13, 2018
Science fiction author Philip K. Dick is remembered as an author whose books were innovative and creative and often had multiple layers of reality within the story and the reader was never quite certain which 'reality' was the 'proper' timeline. His books were the basis for movies such as Blade Runner and Total Recall and The Minority Report, among others. He is also remembered as a man with severe psychiatric and paranoia issues. Kyle Arnold's biography, The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick, explores Dick's personal life much more than his literary career.

The book is not nearly as clinical in presentation as I thought it would be. Author Kyle Arnold presents some of Dick's reported behavior and addresses the probable causes of the behavior, given standard psychiatric knowledge. This is of course difficult in some ways because Phil Dick isn't around for actual study, but instead we rely on written notes and observation memories from people who knew Dick. This isn't always the most reliable.

I have casually followed Phil Dick as I really have enjoyed his books. Because of this, I've been exposed to his personal struggles, from his life-long association to his dead twin sister to his drug use. This book doesn't really present anything new to the general knowledge of Dick's personal life. Nor does it offer any insight into his work other than the generally accepted thought that his paranoia crept in to his work.

Arnold mostly attempts to analyze Dick based on Dick's own thoughts about himself and too often I felt that Arnold made very tenuous assessments, couching his comments carefully, pointing out how Dick's behavior falls within the guidelines of noted psychological behavior (ie: "A key idea in Winnicott's conception of the false self is that the person with a false self perceives other people conflictually. ... That kind of conflictual pattern became increasingly evident in Dick's life in the late 1970s and 1980s.")

At the end of a non-fiction book like this I ask myself a couple of questions, first being - did I learn anything? And I'd have to answer that with a 'no.' Did I know all the details that Arnold lays out about Dick's life? No, I didn't. But what is told to the reader isn't anything that really has an impact on me or on my enjoyment or even my understanding of Dick's work. I don't feel any more informed or smarter or better off because of this. There was no 'wow' factor here or even any "hmmm, that explains a few things" factors.

Moderately interesting but not recommendation worthy.

Looking for a good book? The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick is a psychological biography by Kyle Arnold that only slightly touches new ground but isn't really worth the effort.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Alex Sarll.
5,606 reviews223 followers
June 22, 2016
Well, I knew PKD was bonkers, but I had no idea he was this bonkers. And bear in mind I already knew about the bit where he burgled himself (for once, a real false flag operation! Nobody tell the Internet, it’ll only encourage them) and the mystical communion with a pink light. What I didn’t know about was how messed up he was long before he got into drugs, and not surprising given his early life. Dick was one of twins, his sister dying very young and he nearly following her. The circumstances of this were not entirely unsuspicious, their lives having both been insured soon after birth; Dick’s mother went on to openly blame him for his sister’s death (and perhaps covertly for his failure to provide the anticipated payout). Oh, and perhaps just to save money, they purchased a joint gravestone for the twins, even though Philip was, you know, STILL ALIVE. Also, dad Dick would occasionally roust the family in the middle of the night, shove them in the car and start driving because of ‘earthquakes’ nobody else had noticed. The wonder is not that he ended up so resolutely screwed-up, it’s that he managed to get so much writing done and occasionally approximate a normal life.

Arnold’s ‘psychobiography’ of Dick forms part of an Oxford University Press series called ‘Inner Lives’, where it sits alongside psychological studies of Dubya, Lennon and even some people who weren’t complete pricks. And for the most part, as one would expect of an OUP author, Arnold seems to know his stuff. True, one will occasionally encounter a statement such as “Difficulty swallowing often occurs in children with broken attachments”, which for all I know is true but, when it appears without support, does set my inner Goldacre growling just because it looks like so many claims that aren’t. Still, that’s the exception – for the most part it’s hard to argue with Arnold's conclusion that Dick’s chaotic love-life consisted of attempts to re-enact his early family relationships, complete with self-destructive and self-fulfilling prophecies of doom (and these sections are hard reading if you’ve been close to people with similar, albeit less extreme, turmoil in their pasts). However, while he’s clearly made a close reading of Dick’s oeuvre, and has strong insights on its relationship to the troubled life which birthed it, he’s maybe less strong on the wider SF scene. For instance, we hear how Dick “transform[ed] his relationship with [Grania] Davis into a death trip”, driving them both off the road (not the only time he pulls the absolute cunt’s trick of attempting suicide via a method that will also kill others); we also hear that, after that burglary, he stayed with fellow SF writer Avram Davidson. Now, Davis and Davidson had been married, and would later collaborate: how did that feed into Dick’s jealousy, or Davidson’s willingness to put him up? We don’t know, because there’s no mention here of that marriage. Whether conscious or not, it can feel like the book is emulating Dick’s own solipsism, addressing other people only as they interact with him, even when the other connections between them might have proved illuminating.

The heart of the book is Arnold’s assertion that the central mystical experience of Dick’s life – that business with the pink light, to which Dick and Arnold refer as '2-3-74’ - was not the mental health episode for which it’s widely taken, but a genuine mystical experience. Which surely raises as many questions as it answers. Most obviously: what’s the difference? Arnold suggests that unlike the general run of paranoia, self-destructive behaviour patterns &c with which Dick’s life was strewn, this particular episode broadened his life rather than narrowing it. Which is true…but then the comedown was a bitch, and it’s not like his life was particularly improved afterwards, so really, where’s the benefit? And in any case, is a breakdown any less of a breakdown if it has an optimistic interpretation? Does a transcendental contact necessarily end well? Abraham might not think so, nor the average Lovecraft protagonist. And since Arnold makes clear that he’s not arguing for the external reality of the endlessly ramifying rabbit hole of Zebra, Black Iron Prison and Palm Tree Garden into which 2-3-74 and its subsequent Exegesis would plunge Dick, is he really saying any more than that sometimes, crazy people have insights which seem compelling even to those of us who pass for sane? Because that seems perilously close to stating the obvious. Meanwhile, one angle not addressed is that despite his largely moving among and being loved by the counterculture, Dick’s visions had such a clearly Christian framework, whether he saw himself as one of the persecuted faithful in a world still covertly Roman, or a cell operating as part of the divine plan for humanity’s collective consciousness.

Still. I won’t say this wasn’t a frustrating read, but it was also a fascinating one. And I suppose that was always likely to be the case when you’re digging deep into the psyche of a great writer and visionary who was also a manipulative bully, complete nutter and absolute arsehole. Nobody else is ever going to run the exact pathways you want to follow in that endless maze, or come out of there entirely unscathed, and Arnold’s probably made as fine an effort as any. And at least in part that is precisely because he’s willing to meet 2-3-74 halfway and concede that yes, in some senses, The Empire Never Ended.

(Netgalley ARC)
Profile Image for Cristina.
194 reviews22 followers
July 13, 2019
Fans of PKD, who don’t have the energy to lug around his 900 page “Exegesis”- this bb tome is for you. It’s an ultra compressed biography slash psychoanalytic discussion of his life. From his childhood traumas through his chronic paranoia, delusions, and spiritual hallucinations, we see a side of Dick that really puts his writing into perspective. (Honestly, until reading Scanner Darkly, I didn’t realize how much his “science fiction” was based on his reality...)
4.5 stars because it would have benefited from a bit more editing, but with subject matter this fascinating it’s hard to go wrong
Profile Image for Human Being.
57 reviews1 follower
November 19, 2019
Outstanding!!! This is my second bio on Philip K. Dick that I have recently read with the first being Sutin's Divine Invasions. I faulted Sutin's work for crap psychoanalysis babel from someone who is not trained in that field but nevertheless filled his book with loads of inappropriate analysis and conclusions.
Not here, not in this work can this charge be made because Mr Kyle Arnold is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at a Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. It is a first class, deep dive into the life, mind, and writings of PKD. With each conclusion Arnold offers up he supports it with accepted theories, research, and findings common to his field of psychiatry and psychology. I'm so glad that I found this book! Because I now take Dick not so much for a spaced out speedfreak that anyone couldn't help concluding after reading Sutin's book; but thinking that maybe he actually DID have real metaphysical encounters that didn't have much to do with his drug abuse. Or that at least they were not any less valid even if partly fueled by it. And this is just part of what I learned from reading this excellently researched and reasoned work. It is very enlightening on so many levels not just in reforming PKD for me but I got to better understand the depth of his creative genius. And I do use that word whereas Arnold does not. And I would NOT have come close to anything like that from Sutin's bio on Dick. This is so much more of a humain look at PKD that I have to go back and edit my review here of Sutin's book to make sure I direct readers to this book for a real dose of enlightenment not just on Dick and his life but also on how trauma, creativity, addiction, and the metaphysical can interact on a life. Fascinating!
Profile Image for Alyce.
75 reviews
March 17, 2016
THE DIVINE MADNESS OF PHILIP K. DICK by Kyle Arnold is not a light read. Mr. Arnold chronicles Mr. Dick's descent into madness and most notably the divine madness he experienced during February and March of 1971. For those of you who are wondering who Philip Dick is and why is this important? Mr. Dick wrote some of the seminal sci-fi books of the 1970's era including my favorite "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" which was later made in to my favorite movie BLADERUNNER.

Interestingly enough, throughout Mr. Dick's life he was plagued by paranoia and beliefs that perhaps he was in fact an android. He had a total of six wives and lived most of his life in poverty. He had a jealous hatred of L. Ron Hubbard who he felt was his intellectual inferior yet was somehow rewarded financially for his mediocrity. Dick was a complex man with the ability to write about other worlds without camp.

His life story was seated in tragedy with the death of his twin sister, Jane, due to neglect. He nearly died at the same time but was fatefully saved by a nurse that happened to come by the house that was part of the family getting insurance from Met Life. Dick continues to repeat the vision of his sister as a dark haired, dark eyed girl throughout his life as the unattainable woman0-child he flirts with while married. His neglectful parents are repeated in themes in his stories and nightmares as the aliens or androids that are never there for him.

Dick becomes addicted to a cornucopia of medication that he is primarily self medicating, most notably handfuls of methamphtamines that he mixes with alcohol and other drugs. These seem to lead him into his full madness and later death.

The book is well researched with the story moving neathly between his madness, books and personal life. There are many strange incidences that he references such us a mysterious break in, a pink light, the Zebra and the list goes on. It seemed that these were not evidence of a psychospiritual event, but rather a break with reality. It is a sad but interesting read for Dick fans.

Many thanks to the author, the publisher and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. This book will be published June 1, 2016.


Profile Image for J Earl.
1,776 reviews68 followers
June 17, 2016
The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick by Kyle Arnold is that often frustrating but usually enlightening type of psychological biography. Frustrating because there are always questions about interpreting a person's life from such a standpoint and enlightening because the places where the explanations click can make the subjects actions (in this case, his writing) so much more meaningful. This biography accomplished both of those things.

It seems that so much of what is analyzed here is based on Dick's own words about his life, which brings into question the accuracy of the accounts. I didn't get the feeling that there was enough confirmation that the facts of his childhood were as he stated them to be. Which makes it a little problematic to then analyze Dick's explanations of his life, since a key element is often how things are explained by a subject compared to known facts about whatever is under discussion. In spite of this, I do believe that the vast majority of Arnold's conclusions are fairly accurate.

Knowing some of what Dick experienced and how it affected him certainly puts his work in a new light. Arnold does a very good job of relating Dick's psychological make-up to various works to illustrate how his work was influenced. For me, these literary discussions were the highlight of the book, namely because reading about his life was interesting but also sad.

I think this will appeal to any fan of Dick as well as fans of biographies that do more than relate events but also attempts an interpretive telling. The discussions of the literature will appeal to any fan or student of Dick and/or science fiction.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
873 reviews50 followers
August 20, 2016
How could I resist this book at the library? If you know much about me at all, you should know that I love Philip K. Dick. In this, like in many other things, I blame my father, who used to include quoted messages from Valis in his letters to me when I was in college. PKD's books deeply affect my brain, so while I have been interested in reading Dick's Exegesis for some time, I've also been vaguely anxious about doing so. This book seemed like a good middle ground -- someone to process/filter Dick's crazy/genius so it couldn't infect my brain directly.

I hadn't read much biographical material on Dick before reading this book, other than a little bit about the "break in" of his house in San Rafael, and, of course, the pink light incident. So all of the information on his early life was very new to me, but was of course, incredibly illuminating. Each chapter of the book investigates a different incident/theme/period of his life -- what happened to him, how it affected him, how that affected his fiction, and both philosophical and psychiatric implications.

I found this book endlessly fascinating, and I'm sure it will color my readings of PKD's works in the future.
Profile Image for RobPalindrome.
8 reviews16 followers
September 12, 2017
This is clearly well researched and a very interesting read but I found the quality of writing really distracting. Lots of typos, unnecessary repetition ('as previously said' passages feature far too frequently!) and some verbal ticks (how many times can things be equivocal?!?) suggest that this needed some much more thorough, ruthless editing.
Profile Image for Margaret Sankey.
Author 8 books199 followers
November 11, 2016
Arnold takes a biographical swing at interpreting Dick's work--analyzing the ways in which is extremely stunted childhood, starvation death of his twin sister, middle aged psychic break and dysfunctional relationships with six wives filtered into his work.
Profile Image for Lynnee Argabright.
188 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2019
I'll preface my rating by saying I don't care for philosophy at all. Pages 41-169 were about philosophic and religious theories, which, even if very closely relevant, to me felt radical and long-winded. The rest of this 217 page book were pretty engrossing, as they covered possible psychological and psychiatric perspectives on Dick's most traumatic moments. I liked how occasionally the plot of Dick's stories were brought up to show similar themes with the author's autobiographical realities. Overall, it was clear that Dick had a difficult life cyclically due to trauma and addiction. (Given this, how the heck could he afford all the drugs and hospital bills?!) Reading the results of Dick's clingy and oppressive behavior, I was shocked how many women still flocked to Dick. As a positive reader of one of his novels prior to reading this psychobiography, I can now better appreciate the genesis of his creative stories, however, I am honestly now a little less interested to read others in the future.
Profile Image for Rhonda.
167 reviews6 followers
December 15, 2016
For my Halloween gift this year, my husband gave me this; an odd choice, I thought, as a don't really read biographies, and while I like Philip K. Dick, he's not an all-time fav or anything. Yet, Brian Clegg (a British science writer whose blog Tone reads religiously *snert,* see what I did there?) had liked it a lot and evidently Tone's gotten me several books in the past that Mr. Clegg recommended. Who knew? It was utterly fascinating -- lucidly written (surprising given the subject matter) and steeped in the latest ideas about the brain, mental health and psychology. I have a much greater appreciate for PKD's fiction and wonder what he might have accomplished if he hadn't been so hampered (maybe nothing, maybe the dysfunction was connected to his creativity). For sure, he was a messed up dude who I alternately felt sorry for and wanted to strangle.
Props to Brian Clegg for spotting it.
Profile Image for Matt.
76 reviews6 followers
March 10, 2017
A psychological biography of the renowned Sci-fi author that tries to make sense of a purported mystical experience Dick received in the last decade of his life. This was a very interesting look at a very sad life. I have a much deeper appreciation for Dick. I hope he found the rest he so desperately sought.
Profile Image for Brian Rothbart.
164 reviews7 followers
August 10, 2018
Wow, what a tough life Philip K. Dick had. This book is more of a psychoanalysis of Dick and less of a biography. It has its interesting parts, but it is very slow going if you aren't fascinated by psychology. That is not to say it is a bad book and I would recommend to those that like the works of Dick and/or the study of psychoanalysis.
Profile Image for Kristal.
213 reviews
June 3, 2017
Oh my, Philip K. Dick certainly had problems. This book was not what I expected. I wanted more personal versus more clinical. I felt like I was studying for my psychology exam in college rather than reading for enjoyment.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
429 reviews15 followers
June 16, 2019
Worth a read to get another perspective on the events of 2-3-74. Can be tedious at points but tries to be very thorough in what this author is trying to say about PKDs past and how it effected him as an adult and in the years before he died.
Profile Image for Jess Flarity.
4 reviews3 followers
October 5, 2017
Excellent analysis of Philip K. Dick, the individual, from a therapist's perspective.
Profile Image for Mike.
680 reviews
December 1, 2016
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this title via a Goodreads giveaway.

Kyle Arnold is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry who has brought his expertise to bear on the life story of Philip K. Dick. Arnold synthesizes the several published biographies of Dick to pull out the most significant psychological themes of his life. Arnold then moves on to use these perspectives to analyze two of the best known incidents in Dick's life: the burglary of his home in San Rafael, and his mystical/spiritual experiences of February and March 1974 (referred to Dick in his writings as "2-3-74").
Arnold is quite thorough in his analysis of Dick's writing, both published works, as well as material not intended for the public (letters and the infamous Exegesis). He constructs a psychological "origin story" for Dick, and discusses how that identity was carried through into Dick's writing. Arnold names three themes from this origin story that recur many times in Dick's books: inhumane authority figures who want you dead, deadly doubling, and a miraculous yet equivocal rescue.

Dick saw his own early life through the prism of those three elements, and rehashed them in his fiction. The "deadly double" theme comes from the death of Dick's twin sister as an infant. Twins, doubling, and duality are themes I've noted many times in my reviews. However, Arnold's other two themes are ideas I personally had not thought about as much. I certainly had not thought of Dick's fascination with androids and other cold, unemotional authority figures as reflecting his distant and difficult relationship with his parents (although when Arnold points it out, it seems obvious to me). And finally, Dick escaped death as an infant, but was plagued by survivor's guilt. This played out in his books as the "equivocal rescue. " That is often seen by commentators as part of Dick's examination of true vs. false realities, virtual reality, multiple universes, and so on. But Arnold notes that the twists and turns of reality in Dick's books often carry the deeper message that "even if you think you've escaped, you are never truly safe." Ubik and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch take this theme to its pinnacle.

There is a persistent popular myth that the hallucinatory nature of Philip K. Dick's writing came from his use of LSD. Arnold quickly and correctly puts that myth to rest. Dick experimented with acid two or three times, but did not enjoy or repeat the experience. However, he did abuse prescription amphetamines for decades. Dick admits, and others describe him taking them by the fistful in the early 70's. Arnold unequivocally states that this habit resulted in amphetamine psychosis. While I am often skeptical of this sort of post-mortem diagnosis, there's really no question that Dick suffered from all the major symptoms of this condition. In this case, the evidence is so overwhelming that I can accept the diagnosis. Additionally, Dick sometimes diagnosed himself as schizophrenic, but Arnold finds no convincing evidence for that. Proceeding from these two conclusions, Arnold does a particularly interesting and exhaustive analysis of the break-in immortalized in Paul Williams book Only Apparently Real. Arnold's psychology expertise comes to the fore here, as he separates the wheat from the (rather considerable) chaff.

The book's final section deals as exhaustively with Dick's 1974 experiences. Again, I find Arnold's analysis thoughtful and cogent. I have at times referred to Dick's 2-3-74 "pink light" and the associated phenomena as part of his mental illness, but Arnold's examination has led him to see it as a legitimate mystical experience: something equivalent to what has been described by other religious and spiritual figures throughout history. I find his conclusion convincing. Although 2-3-74 caused Dick a good deal of pain and confusion, Arnold rightly points out that it allowed Dick to reintegrate his fractured psyche and to access parts of parts of himself he had locked away. It was a net positive experience. As such, it by definition was not a mental illness experience, and can accurately be described as a spiritual/mystical experience (albeit a temporary one). My own interpretation is that it was also an artistic experience. None of Dick's last (and some of his greatest) novels would not have come into existence without it.
Profile Image for Pearl.
78 reviews2 followers
May 18, 2017
I got this book for Christmas from James for our book club. Somehow we both expected something a bit different to what it was. The book appears to be Arnold's published dissertation and it goes through to reveal aspects of Dick's psyche that are intriguing. I guess I was expecting a deeper insight into Dick's creative process but it seems that it was drug induced or indeed enhanced. I did learn that Dick was a womaniser and had children from multiple marriages and that his womanising behaviour can be attributed to a deep sense of guilt caused by the death of his twin sister when still a baby. Arnold centers Dick's anxiety over his baby sister's death as the reason for Dick's inability to find and maintain healthy and stable relationships. Arnold also discusses Dick's lifelong battle with depression and how it formed the basis of many of the themes in Dick's novels. The discussion of the 'beetle satori' that Dick experienced is interesting and I find that my mind goes back to this idea from many view points - spiritual and out of body, clinical, empathetic, and I'm not sure what others - but I did find it weird yet something that could easily be related to. I've read a few of Dick's novels as homework before reading Arnold's biography. Dick is a wizard with the written word, he paints incredibly dark and deep images of dystopia and alternate possibilities of the world. It seems that Dick writes about the human condition and human relationships from the point of view of an Andriod and in doing so strongly highlights how alien Dick himself feels being a human. I can't wait to read more of Dick's novels; as for Arnold's publications, I can't say that I will be reading any more.
41 reviews
January 2, 2017
I've enjoyed a number of Dick's stories, but I wouldn't call myself a huge fan, and so I read this without a stake in the conclusion; I was more interested in the idea that madness and creativity can be linked. The author is a qualified, professional psychologist as well, so this promised to be a fairly rigorous examination of the topic.

Disappointingly to me, the book read much more like pop-psychology than clinical psychology. There are a number of fairly tenuous links made between his writing and unusual events in his life (most especially his childhood). You would also get the impression that he solely wrote sporadically in a haze of craziness, but this is only ever an impression --- strangely there is little focus on particular stories and their particular association with a period of madness. That isn't to say that there isn't ongoing connections made with particular books & his psychology, just that if you are hoping for an explanation of how, say, "The Man In The Hightower" or "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" come out of particular abnormal psychological conditions this just doesn't happen.

Subsequent to reading this I went and read a story of Dick's that I hadn't previously. I found that having read this book added little to my appreciation or understanding of Dick' story.

Profile Image for Wes Benchoff.
200 reviews10 followers
February 9, 2017
The Divine Madness presents a clear and well researched account of one very contentious point in Dick's life as well as many of the central themes contained in his literature. Arnold takes an interesting approach of trying to recreate PkD's inner psychological makeup rather than dryly listing facts, and the combined focus on this and Dick's infamous religious experiences pays off in very interesting ways. Highly recommended to fans of PKD as it will bring new light to his life and work.

Fair warning Arnold pulls no punches and his portrayal of Dick as a flawed man includes descriptions of abuse, neglect, and heavy drug use; also, I am heavily biased in this book's favor as a huge fan of PKD.
Profile Image for Ian.
673 reviews10 followers
June 17, 2016
3 1/2 stars. I found the first sections of the book (about Dick's traumatic formative years) to be absolutely fascinating, but the portions which delved into interpreting his delusions were still interesting but ultimately sort of inconclusive. It's really good for what it is, but to be honest I found myself skimming the last 3rd or so (mostly because once his early trauma was established, each section of the book was just sort of repeating "he had abandonment issues and took a lot of amphetamines" over and over). This being said, biographies of this author are pretty much always worth checking out.
Profile Image for Chris Craddock.
250 reviews53 followers
December 23, 2016
Great book by a shrink about prolific Science Fiction author Philip K. Dick. Sympathetic analysis of Dick's religious visions experienced by him in the 70s. Through a Scanner, Darkly, but as the recently departed Leonard Cohen said, the cracks let in the light. Recommended for serious PKD fans, which is redundant because if they weren't serious, how could they be his fans? Also recommended for fans of The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and other codex unearthed at Nag Hammadi.
437 reviews28 followers
December 27, 2016
Those who have read many of Philip K. Dick's books may appreciate the insights in Arnold's book, but those who have only read a few may find their interest in reading more of his work piqued by this book. The book consists of a series of theories on the unusual happenings in Dick's life. At times the material is redundant, but overall it was an interesting read. (I received this in a goodreads giveaway.)
Profile Image for San.
44 reviews15 followers
November 3, 2016
This book was not for me.

I expected a standard biography and got a psychological treatise using biographical materials (letters, interviews ...).

There were a few interesting fact and opinions (i.e. the reasons for the visions) but it was not what I wanted and also the repetition of certain facts made for a tedious read.

Profile Image for Frederick Gault.
811 reviews8 followers
March 28, 2017
To make this long story short; Philip K. Dick was barking mad, batshit crazy not to mention a drug addict and a liar. One can commend the author for trying to make sense of Dick, because after all he did write a lot of great Science Fiction, but in the end Philip K. Dick was beset with bad wiring.
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