NABOKV-L post 0027509, Fri, 8 Sep 2017 15:32:06 -0700

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WIP: Gradus=Shadow=Mercurius
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From my WIP: "Art, Alchemy & Failed Transcendence: Jungian Influences in Nabokov's Pale Fire"

Line 17: And then the gradual; Line 29: gray

Now we are more fully introduced to Jakob Gradus and his many aliases, with the exception of “Jack Grey”. Note that a “jack” is a knave in cards; there are several allusions to cards within the text. Playing cards were derived from the Tarot. All these permutations of “Gradus” bear resemblance to his original name of “Vinogradus”, except “Raven” and Ravenstone”

“Vinogradus” we see is from his family’s origins in the wine business. The name suggests Chthonic Dionysian origins. “Gray” is a shade of black; in fact, it is “graded” from black, it is a “degree” of black. “Raven” and Ravenstone” also suggest black. The four stages of alchemy, as noted before, are given colors. Black is called the “nigredo”. The black crow is an alchemic symbol for the “nigredo”. Psychologically, the nigredo stands for the decomposition of the body, and the descent into hell, to be purified through the resulting steps of the alchemical process. Sometimes the “nigredo” is called the “decapitation”, or “caput corvi “(raven’s head). The nigredo is the rough stone, or prima material that is to be transformed into the philosopher’s stone. Thus we see the meaning of “Ravenstone” and clearly the association of Gradus to alchemy.

So, what about “d’Argus”? First of all, it is an anagram of Gradus, but there are other references. Argus was a many-eyed mythological monster, slain by Hermes (Mercury). Argus’ eyes were put into the tail of the peacock. In alchemy, after the nigredo, there is a half-step before the albedo, called “the peacock's tail”, a phase in which many colors appear. Note, that there is a bird called the “argus pheasant” similar to a peacock, so we can surmise a link back to the pheasant’s tracks. (See P20-29, C1-4) Note, also, that in alchemy there were “secret” words for the initiated only, called “argot”. Perhaps the name is a reference to the Argo and the search for the golden fleece, which is also found in alchemical texts. Note also, that the Arcadian princess, Atalanta (of whose importance we will see later, C149) was involved in both the myth of the monster Argus and in the search for the Golden Fleece.

Gradus, then, is like Mercury. Mercury (Mercurius) was the messenger of the gods, god of trading, thievery, travel, and was a “psychopomp”, conductor of souls into Hades. The element mercury was one of the prime ingredients in the process of alchemy. Gradus’ wine origins suggest “Dionyssus”, therefore chthonic. He is a dark, Mephistophelean figure. He is a trickster, a troublemaker and a rabble rouser, an organizer of strikes at the Zemblan glass factory, which started the Zemblan revolution. His work as a “messenger” for obscure syndicalist groups aligns him with Mercurius, as does his studies of “pharmacology” (i.e. alchemy).

Carl Jung wrote an alchemical treatise on Mercurius. He sees him as symbolic of The Shadow in the unconscious, as well as the process of bringing the unconscious to the discriminating conscious. He is likened to Lucifer; he has his own “dark light” and gifts for whoever can incorporate his energy and substance, through the conjunctio, sacred marriage of male and female.

“The problem of opposites called up by the shadow plays a great – indeed, the decisive – role in alchemy, since it leads in the ultimate phase of the work to the union of opposites in the archetypal form of the hierosgamos, or “chymical wedding” (Jung, Psychology & Alchemy, CW Vol.8, P.37)

“There are far more people who are afraid of the unconscious than one would expect. They are even afraid of their own shadow. And when it comes to anima and animus, this fear turns to panic.” (Jung, Aion, V.9, Part II, P.317)


“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.” (Jung, Aion, P. 292)


“The multiple aspects of Mercurius may be summarized as follows:

(1) Mercurius consists of all conceivable opposites. He is thus quite obviously a duality, but is named a unity in spite of the fact that his innumerable inner contradictions can dramatically fly apart into an equal number of disparate and apparently indepentdent figures.
(2) He is both material and spiritual.
(3) He is the process by which the lower and material is transformed into the higher and spiritual, and vice versa.
(4) He is the devil, a redeeming psychopomp, an evasive trickster, and God’s reflection in physical nature.
(5) He is also the reflection of a mystical experience of the artifex that coincides with the opus alchymicum.
(6) As such, he represents on the one hand the Self and on the other the individuation process and, because of the limitless number of names, also the collective unconscious.” (Jung, Alchemical Studies, P237)

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