Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027472, Tue, 22 Aug 2017 08:32:18 -0700

Kinbote's "Hero's Journey"
From my work on the Jungian influences in Pale Fire:

Kinbote’s story is a classic “hero’s journey”. Joseph Campbell popularized the notion of "Hero's Journey" with the publication in 1949 of "The Hero With a Thousand Faces". He used Jungian concepts to explain the universal "monomyth" (a word he borrowed from Finnegan's Wake). Campbell was also a noted scholar of James Joyce.

The journey is the path of a person undergoing spiritual transformation, or “Individuation” as Jung termed it. As an Ego, Kinbote will be tried and tested. As with many an ego, it will be against his will and resisted.

Like many a self centered ego, Kinbote starts out life imagining himself a king, the most important person around. Like an ego whose repressed unconscious breaks through, his journey begins with the explosion in the glass factory, headquarters of the “Shadows”. The factory, in fact, seems to be the alchemist workshop of Baron Mirador Mandevil (Man-Devil), “experimentalist, madman and traitor” who was attempting to make anti-matter (the alchemic “union of opposites”). Now, a whole legion of shadows is loose, and Kinbote is on the run from his demons.

Caught and imprisoned, alone in his own tower, he attempts to send messages to the outside with a flashing mirror, rather like a superior genius ego, isolated and alienated writes poetry to connect with the world.

His path of escape turns out to be recapitulating his past sexual awakening through the underground tunnel.. He sees a “sick bat, like a cripple with a broken umbrella” along the edge of the “opalescent” ditch water. Gradus, as we know, looks like a bat, and he carries an umbrella. The shining colors of the ditch water suggests the “Peacock’s Tail” phase of alchemy. He then sees a headless statue of Mercury. This is the phase of alchemy termed the “decapitation”, or “caput corvi “(raven’s head). Remember - Mercurius is sometimes a Raven and Gradus’ aliases include “Ravus” and “Ravenstone”. Mercurius, among other things, is a psychopomp, a conductor of souls to the underworld. We know now, that Gradus is, in fact, Mercurius. This is his realm, the subterranean world of the unconscious.

Cenobite sees a which “krater” shows two black figures dicing under a black palm. This is foreshadowed by the two guards the king saw gambling under the poplar: Gradus and Nodo. (See Above) Ancient Hermetic alchemy speaks of a “divine vessel, the Krater Poimandres”:
“This was the vessel which the demiurge sent down to earth filled with Nous, so that those who were striving for higher consciousness could baptize themselves in it.” (C.G. Jung, Alchemical Studies. P.73)

This type of vessel later became known as the Holy Grail. There is thus an oblique allusion to the Arthurian tales. Kinbote basically ignores this feminine symbol, indicating the anima in the unconscious.

When the King emerges, he is, (surprise!), in a theater, caught on stage like an errant actor. Theaters, disguises, masks are all indications of the “Persona”, what Jung termed the false “public” self. The “revolution” in consciousness, post-adolescence makes one “self-conscious” (as opposed to higher Self consciousness). From now on, he feels he must be disguised. Odon helps him to escape. “Odon”: a homonym for “Odin”? Odin, the Norse god is equivalent to both the German “Wotan” and “Mercurius”. They are all “shape shifters” and tricksters. The “trickster” is a Jungian archetype.

Climbing mountains, entering forests, grottoes and caves, undergoing a “night-sea journey”, these are all clichés of a hero’s journey. (Note that some of these places he had been before - with his tutor, Mr. Campbell!)

He gets some help along the way. The disguised King is taken in by the fairytale old couple and helped by their indecorous nymphet daughter. The old couple suggest the myth of Baucis and Philemon, the honest rustic couple that unknowingly took in the disguised gods, Jupiter and Mercury. The gods decide to destroy all the other ingrates of the village who refused them hospitality and they make Philemon and Baucus guardians of a temple they place on the mountain top. This is another instance of a sacred marriage, but, more importantly for this thesis, “Philemon” was the name that Jung gave to his spirit guide archetype, the “Wise Old Man”.

Jung claimed that the “Wise Old Man” was often paired with a young girl (positive anima), who also is a guide through the unconscious. The girl offers herself to Kinbote, but unfortunately, he refuses her help.

There is a black butterfly. A black butterfly is considered an omen of death or misfortune, sometimes more the attendant “rebirth”. This would be akin to the “nigredo” of alchemy.

He sees a “natural vault”, i.e. a cave (unconscious, underworld), with another stygian puddle. He sees what he thinks is his reflection, but it is an imitator who disappears, most likely Odon. He and Odon were to separate – is Odon spying on him? Next he sees the spy’s disguise, the red wool cap on a “steinman”. Piled rocks, like the steinman, were used in ancient Greece to mark roads and were called “herms” after Mercury/Hermes, who was the god of wayfarers – which is why he was also a psychopomp. Odon is apparently associated, then, with Mercurius, who is associated with Odin. Mercurius/Odin/Odon is thus “showing the way”. And, yet, if he is in league with Mercurius, is he friend, or foe, knight or knave?

The King reaches the seashore. There are several references to him having been in the forest, on the mountain, and at the seashore before – Why? On the path to Individuation, one has to “revisit” times and events in the psyche in order to assimilate whatever is repressed there (as in the “spirals” see P610-619).
“But, as I say, the process of development proves on closer inspection to be cyclic or spiral”(Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, P.28)
Forests represent unknowingness, confusion, being lost. Climbing a mountain represents the effort towards transcendence. The sea is the “night sea journey” into the emotional depths.

“Rippleson Caves”: Caves, we know, denote the unconscious. “Ripple” suggests water, or possibly an English alchemist named George Ripley (1415-1490), who wrote, and illustrated with emblemata, an alchemic scroll (the Ripley Scrowle). A sample:

The head of the Crowe that token call wee,
And some men call it the crowes bill;
Some call it the ashes of Hermes tree,
And thus they name it after their will;
Our toade of the earth which eateth his fill,
Some nameth it by which it is mortificate
The spirit with venome intoxicate.
But it hath names I say to thee infinite
For after each thing that blackness is to sight,
Named it is till time it waxeth white,
And the red likewise after the same,
Of all red things doth take the name.

In other words, whatever the "nigredo" phase of the work is called, it is always “black”. Jung notes that the alchemists were not exactly precise in their nomenclature nor recipes. Later, we will see the "toade" explode in the bowels of Gradus.

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