The Usurper Within

There is a story which is being told and retold, in many different forms. It is the story of the usurper-king and the fool who is the real king. Philip K Dick has caught on to this story, and writes of it in the following words:

“A usurper is on the throne. The rightful king (who is younger) appears as a madman, criminal, or fool; he is mysterious; his nature and origins are uncertain. He is arrested and tried. (I should say falsely arrested). Interrogated by the old king (usurper). He is charged with a crime he did not commit. The resolution varies; sometimes he is acquitted and assumes the throne; sometimes he is killed. The white-haired old king on horseback may be the murdered father of the young man who is the rightful heir to the throne; he returns to seek justice: punishment of the usurper; the son placed on the throne. The story is told and retold. Why? What are we supposed to learn? That the ostensible ruling power of this world is illegitimate? The ‘King’ is not in fact the true king? And the ‘fool’ is not mad or a fool or a criminal but is the rightful king? My analysis: everything we see is a 180-degree mirror opposite of the truth. The ostensible ‘king’ is not only not the true king, he also has no actual power: despite appearances his power is illusory. All true power belongs to the ‘fool’ who is the true king (vide The Bacchae). This is all some sort of play – which Hamlet clearly alludes to. We are to guess the riddle. Who is the true king?”[1]

We are living in this play, the Theo-Drama.

Philip K. Dick saw a part of it, but he did not understand that all these variations of the story are reflecting the true play, the play where the foolish-king is both killed and put on the throne, where he is the one who seeks justice and the one who is acquitted. This is the Christ drama; the stories which reflect this drama draw us in because they point to the truth behind the apparent reality we live in. The fool participates in Christ and contains more wisdom than those who proclaim themselves to be wise; the powerless accused is the one who has true authority to judge. It is the death of the true king which raises him in glory and brings him to the throne of judgment. The usurper, the king who is no king, is each and everyone one of us so long as we try to live in the world of our own creation, in the world where we believe our dictates and claims have any merit. We must let that king within, the self, be judged instead of judging others. In the judging of others, we take on the role of the unjust usurper and Christ takes the role of the accused. Everything we do to the other, including the judgment we make, is done to Christ. We must step down. We must overcome the self. We must die so as to let the holy fool lead us to glory. Hamlet, Life is a Dream, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars – they draw us in because we feel their connection to the true Story, the Story from which all other stories flow. And yet, to learn from them, we must recognize that we are Claudius, Basilio, Humperdink, Sauron, Voldemort, and the Emperor, that we are the one who creates the conditions in which the suffering are led to their perdition. We must take part in the play, we must recognize the falsehood we have taken for ourselves – and let it go. Star Wars has it right with Darth Vader. He had to let go, to see the falsehood he had established, to see the authority he took was only destructive and harmed himself every time he exercised it. He was on life-support because he was weak, and yet he pretended to be strong.  He had to accept his weakness in order to truly live. And so we must become fools for Christ, no longer trying to control or manipulate the world, no longer living in the delusion of grandeur, but accepting  our inherent weakness. Then we can be the fool in Christ, and die and reign with him, showing that to die to the world is to live in true glory.

[1] Philip K. Dick, Exegesis. ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2011), 828.

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  • Brandon

    I like this post quite a bit, particularly the part about the true story having to be one in which the true king both dies and is enthroned.

    I think Dick probably comes as close to right as is possible, short of the actual truth, in seeing the link between the story and The Bacchae; the god Dionysos is in prison for bringing the divine madness, but is always and at every moment the one with true power. The only other Greek story that comes close to a similar truth, albeit in a very different iteration of the story, is that of Socrates. Both of them recognize the crucial importance of the distinction between true power and false power (and true wisdom and false wisdom, and true justice and false justice, and true order and false order, etc.). But the Dionysiac and the Socratic telling are both very incomplete in their uncovering of the contrast; indeed, all the tellings but God’s have to be very incomplete, shadows of the thing itself, because only God can bring together all the elements that are needed into one coherent drama. (It also shows why Docetism and similar heresies are often dramatically and aesthetically as well as theologically weak. As Dorothy Sayers liked to say, The dogma is the drama.)

    • Henry Karlson

      Thanks. Yes, PKD had a great insight, and as you say, as close as to right as is possible; it’s interesting how he does it, and I really appreciated his connection between the Bacchae and Hamlet. It gave a new twist to Hamlet for me, one which I had not seen, how connected it was to the universal story itself. And, of course, you are right about Socrates, though I would also add Siddartha to the mix.

  • Ted Hand

    the Bacchae references are interesting. here’s another from the Dear Claudia letter labeled [4:108]

    In the visions of every Pythagorean in history (Euripides in The Bacchae, in Wordsworth’s “ode,” etc.) I discover the same visions that I have seen: what in Dante is called Earthly Paradise. (He is led to it and finds the lady singing and picking flowers; in dream after dream I’ve seen her and heard her singing; now I know who she is, and I know what the beautiful park which I see is. It is going to be here and not in the next world; it’s what Dante himself saw and depicted too clearly, and his vision is amazingly similar to that of the 6th century B.C. Greek Orphics.)

    • Henry Karlson

      There are going to be many interesting passages; certainly his interest in Pythagoras would have had an influence in Owl if he had ever got to it. It’s good that we have more of the Exegesis published, though of course, it’s only a small portion of the whole, isn’t it? I wonder which will be more likely to be published, all that is available of the Exexgesis or Tolkien’s diaries?

  • inceptorphilosophus

    While we are not exactly fond of each other, Mr. K, I was very moved by this piece and could not bear to let it pass without a response. Phillip K. Dick is my favorite postmodern Gnostic, absolutely brilliant and compelling. That was without any doubt in my mind the best blog post I have ever read.

    • Henry Karlson

      Thanks. Yes, we don’t see eye to eye on many things; but that doesn’t mean I will just delete comments from you without warning/reason/etc [n.b. so no need to make a comment about feeling free to delete; I removed that portion of your comment, hope you don’t mind]

      Yes, PKD is very compelling (and my favorite modern Gnostic, too); I expect many gems to come out of his Exegesis (I am slowly reading it, but , flipping through the work, I was caught by this page, read it, and knew it was worth commenting upon).

  • brettsalkeld

    Fascinating Henry. Thank you.

  • markdefrancisis