Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027482, Mon, 28 Aug 2017 14:54:27 -0700

WIP: Foreword "Art, Alchemy & Failed Transcendence
The following is my foreword to my WIP, "Art, Alchemy & Failed Transcendence, Jungian influences in Nabokov's Pale Fire" which includes some basics on Jung and Alchemy:

Alchemy, Art and Failed Transcendence
A Jungian perspective on Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire


“It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”, as Winston Churchill remarked of Russia, and the same could be said of that wily Russian writer, poet, and abstruse genius, Vladimir Nabokov, and his Chinese box puzzle of a novel, Pale Fire. More aptly, perhaps, like Russian dolls, every clue reveals another inside. From lines 704-6 of the long poem that opens the book:

“A system of cells interlinked within
Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem”

References and convoluted cross references to poetry, chess, lepidoptery, ornithology, botany, theology, mythology, psychology, mysticism, alchemy, numerology and diabolical word-play lead the reader down the rabbit hole (oh, yes, looking glass reflections and hidden “bunny eggs” abound).

Is there “one stem”, as Nabokov seems to suggest, that can link all these multiple themes and motifs? Many devoted Nabokovians have tried to answer this question. As far as I am aware, however, no one seems to have gathered all the clues into an integrated solution. I do not claim to have found the solution to every clue left by the audacious author of Pale Fire, nor certainly the only theme running through it. I do feel though that I have discovered an angle that is wide enough that it may encompass many of the leitmotifs hidden in the text.

As Nabokov tells us in Strong Opinions, a perfect poem (or, by extension, a perfect work of art) can be approached from many angles:

“…the perfect poem (at least three hundred examples of which can be found in Russian literature) is capable of being examined from all angles by the reader in search of its idea or only its sentiment, or only the picture, or only the sound (many things of that kind can be thought up, from ‘instrumentation’ to ‘imagination’), but all this amounts to a random selection of an entity's ’s facet, none of which would deserve, really, a moment of our attention (nor could it of course induce in us any thrill except, maybe obliquely, in making us recall some other ‘entity, somebody’s voice, a room, a night), had not the poem possessed that resplendent independence in respect of which the term ‘masterly technique’ rings as insultingly as its antonym ‘winning sincerity’.” (VN, Strong Opinions, P.226)

Nabokov has oft been quoted, in various ways, that ultimately it is the art as a whole that matters; socio/politico commentary, philosophy, religion, psychoanalysis, solipsistic soul-searching, symbols and metaphors were anathema to him. This is not to say these things are absent from his work—Pale Fire is replete with so many motifs, metaphors, tropes, allusions and illusions (cells within cells) that he apparently made this the challenge for himself. Originality and style trump content.

“All my stories are webs of style and none seems at first blush to contain much kinetic matter. For me style is matter. ” (VN, Selected Letters, March 17, 1951 (1989).

Riddles, puzzles, games, wordplay - Nabokov delighted in deviously imaginative intellectual challenges.

“Deceit, to the point of diabolism, and originality, verging upon the grotesque, were my notions of strategy” (VN, Speak Memory, P.289)

Like the elaborate chess problems that he composed, he likened novel writing to a game of dazzling deception and discovery between two players.

”It is not really between White and Black but between the composer and the hypothetical solver (just as in a first-rate work of fiction the real clash is not between the characters but between the author and the world), so that a great part of the problem’s value is due to the number of “tries” – delusive opening moves, false scents, specious lines of play, astutely and lovingly prepared to lead the would-be solver astray. But Whatever I can say about this matter of problem composing, I do not seem to convey sufficiently the ecstatic core of the process and its points of connection with various other, more overt and fruitful, operations of the creative mind, from the charting of dangerous seas to the writing of one of those incredible novels where the author, in a fit of lucid madness, has set himself certain unique rules that he observes, certain nightmare obstacles that he surmounts, with the zest of a deity building a live world from the most unlikely ingredients – rocks, and carbon, and blind throbbings.” (VN, Speak Memory, P.290)

Pale Fire is indeed an incredibly conceived novel, so elaborately layered and constructed that after more than half a century readers are still scratching their heads. Nabokov clearly did not want to remain forever abstruse. He wanted worthy “opponents”, as only coevals would really be able to appreciate what he had wrought. He clues them in by adding,

“but Black can defeat the whole brilliant affair by checking White and making instead a modest dilatory move elsewhere on the board.” SM 298

Somewhere in the text, there is an almost unnoticed move - one that (mis)leads the solver to look for solutions in all the wrong places. We will try to see where that false step first occurs.

Despite the buffoonery and obtuseness of Kinbote, the novel’s narrator, Nabokov uses this character’s occasional eloquence (admittedly “borrowed” from his revered poet, Shade) to voice his own opinions.

“Such hearts, such brains would be unable to comprehend that one’s attachment to a masterpiece may be utterly overwhelming, especially when it is the underside of the weave that entrances the beholder and only begetter”. (Pale Fire P.12)

Not quite what the narcissistic Kinbote meant, but that is to say the beholder, the reader, is also the begetter, equal to the author, as they make their own sense of a work by examining the deeper, hidden structures, but most of all as they thrill equally to the composition of genius.

“... one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” (VN, Lectures on Literature)

Nabokov intended to be abstruse, but was disappointed that readers of Pale Fire remained obtuse.

He seems to have decided to rectify this situation through the republication of his autobiography, Speak Memory. Although Speak Memory was initially begun and published in 1940, well before Pale Fire in 1960, Nabokov “revisited” it in 1967, with important additions. I feel certain the purpose of the new edition was to offer more clues to baffled readers of Pale Fire, as most of the new material “speaks” to the novel. I will be pointing these out. Typically, he plants clues and then dissembles.

“The reader will find in the present work scattered references to my novels, but on the whole I felt that the trouble of writing them had been enough and that they should remain in the first stomach.” (VN, Speak Memory, P.14)

On the contrary. Later in the book he brings up some things that readers missed in the first edition. He complained about having to point such things out.

“Reviewers read the first version more carelessly than they will this new edition…It is most embarrassing for a writer to have to point out such things himself.” (VN, Speak Memory, P.15)

Seemingly this is a clue and an exhortation to the readers of all his works to please pay attention and play the game with him. He explains a bit how this is done, through what he calls “thetic” spirals. The concept of “thetic spirals” is that every point along the spiral can be revisited on the higher, more expanded level above it. The “thrice repeated circuit” suggests there are likely to be three levels to the “problem” he has in mind. It hints as well to the alchemic “coniunctio” or “sacred marriage” of opposites, which will be crucial for our understanding of the role of Carl Jung’s theories in Pale Fire:

“I remember one particular problem I had been trying to compose for months…It was meant for the delectation of the very expert solver. The unsophisticated might miss the point of the problem entirely, and discover its fairly simple, ‘thetic’ solution without having passed through the pleasurable torments prepared for the sophisticated one. The latter would start by falling for an illusory pattern of play based on a fashionable avant garde theme…which the composer had taken the greatest pains to ‘plant’…Having passed through this ‘antithetic’ inferno the by now ultrasophisticated solver would reach the simple key move…as somebody on a wild goose chase might go from Albany to New York by way of Vancouver, Eurasia and the Azores. The pleasant experience of the roundabout route (strange landscapes, gongs, tigers, exotic customs, the thrice-repeated circuit of a newly married couple around the sacred fire of an earthen brazier) would amply reward him for the misery of the deceit, and after that, his arrival at the simple key would provide him with a synthesis of poignant artistic delight. (VN Speak Memory, P.291)

Jung would agree:

“The meaning and design of a problem seem not to lie in its solution, but in our working at it incessantly.” (Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, P.103)

“The way is not straight but appears to go round in circles. More accurate knowledge has proved it to go in spirals.” (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, P.28)

“The Self ... is absolutely paradoxical in that it represents in every respect thesis and antithesis, and at the same time synthesis.” (Jung, P&A P. 19)

Nabokov’s metaphysics square nicely with Jung’s, especially his occult interests and the concept of synchronicity. He ‘plants” a hint suggesting his familiarity with alchemy in Speak Memory :

“I hope to write some day a ‘Speak on, Memory’, covering the years 1940-60 spent in America: the evaporation of certain volatiles and melting of certain metals are still going on in my coils and crucibles.” (VN, Speak Memory, P.14)

Synchronicity Jung describes as “meaningful cross connections”. Every clue in Pale Fire is cross-referenced and meaningful. In this labyrinthine book Nabokov has given us many routes to follow. I shall not dally long in chess, which is important, but, unfortunately, not my game. Nor will I take up botany or lepidoptery. We will have some fun on the fairways of “word golf”, though, which will help lead us to the elusive “Koboltana” and the hidden treasure.

I propose to arrive at my conclusions taking a circuitous route via the work of C.G. Jung, especially his views on the archetypes (Shadow, Anima, the Senex, the Persona, the Self), Alchemy, synchronicity and Individuation, with various side trips into crossroads clues, arriving ultimately the feet of the ancient Sphinx and solving the riddle.

Whether Nabokov would applaud me as a diligent reader, or excoriate me for being “future specialist in such dull literary lore as autoplagiarism” (VN, SM, P.38), I have to wonder; I feel him sardonically looking over my shoulder. I wish to make clear that this is not intended as a Jungian “interpretation” of Pale Fire, but a demonstration of the deliberate use of Jungian concepts as parody. I have tried not to load this with too much of my own projections, and to stick as much as possible with the book and let Mr. Jung and Mr. Nabokov compare notes.

I see Jung as the major structure and trope holding together multifarious other motifs. Nabokov’s interest in the occult - mediumship, astrology, alchemy and numerology and his metaphysical thoughts on synchronicity, space/time and the afterlife all mirror Jung’s. From Jung’s “cryptomnesia” we can understand the real meaning of the stolen “pale fire”. This trope dovetails with Jung’s alchemical studies: turning base elements into literary gold. The Jungian archetypes contain and connect all the characters and makes their actions understandable; not only the relationship and personalities of the three main characters, but also the the “anima” women, Sybil, Disa, Hazel, Fleur and Sylvia, the gardener, Judge Goldsworth, Dr. Sutton and his daughter, Gerald Emerald, Odon/Nodo, the Mandevil cousins, Lavender, Gordon, Iris Acht, all gather snugly under the Jungian umbrella. Jungian influence solves the mystery on the level of the plot through the implications of Sybil as Anima and major conflict. It helps demonstrate solutions to “word golf”. It will lead us to the riddle of the Sphinx and the nature and location of the “treasure” and the centrality of the myth of Atalanta (the marriage of Art and Nature). And yet, Carl Jung is never mentioned; He is like the warp and weft of the “underside of the weave”.

This begs the questions: Did Nabokov like Jung? And how is it possible, given his oft averred hatred of Freud, that he would use the work of a psychoanalyst as major structure of his novel? Pale Fire is a grand parade of parody, and pastiche of poetic allusions and literary leg-pulling. Liking or not liking, is not the issue. What could be more deviously conceived than to use Carl Jung, a psychoanalyst nearly as reknowned as Freud but on whom he remained nearly silent, as major trope? Freud himself might have been a more obvious choice for parody. It is my belief, however, that Freud truly was anathema to Nabokov, particularly his sexual theory as basis of the unconscious. Jung broke with Freud over this central theory, claiming that the unconscious was not just repressed sexuality, but the source of the higher and creative aspects. Art and transcendence and the soul of the individual were his real concerns. I imagine that Nabokov must have had some grudging approval.

A parallel, important and intersecting route will be to show who the three main characters in the novel “really are”. Are Shade and Kinbote the same person, as has been postulated? Are they “real” within the context of the plot? Does that matter? What about Gradus? I will attempt to show that they are all the same person, and that person is Vladimir Nabokov.

Is the novel, then, autobiographical? Nabokov slyly dissembled any suggestions that there was any of his own life in his work.

“I am very careful to keep my characters beyond the limits of my own identify. Only the background of the novel can be said to contain some biographical touches.” (VN, Strong Opinions P.14)

Asked by a critic, “In your books there is an almost extravagant concern with masks and disguises: almost as if you were trying to hide yourself behind something, as if you’d lost yourself,” he replied the following:

“O, no. I think I’m always there; there’s no difficulty about that. Of course there is a certain type of critic who when reviewing a work of fiction keeps dotting all the i’s with the author’s head. Recently one anonymous clown writing on Pale Fire in a New York book review, mistook all the declarations of my invented commentator in the book for my own. It is also true that some of my more responsible characters are given some of my own ideas. There is John Shade in Pale Fire, the poet. He does borrow some of my own opinions.” (VN, Strong Opinions P.14)

“The middlebrow or the upper Philistine….wants at least one of the character to be the author’s stooge.” (VN Strong Opinions p41)

Guilty as charged, and thrice over.

Nevertheless, I maintain that Pale Fire is, in fact, an autobiography, that it is Nabokov himself that is the subject, but within a fluidity of spacetime and Art. John Shade says, “Man’s life as commentary to abstruse Unfinished poem. Note for further use”. This line is key to the novel. Here are some thesaurus words for “abstruse”: complex, perplexing, deep, enigmatic, hidden, intricate, profound, puzzling. What one word could better describe Pale Fire? We could elaborate with a few more choice words:

“… virtues that characterize all worthwhile art: originality, invention, harmony, conciseness, complexity, and splendid insincerity.” (VN, Strong Opinions, P. 160)

“Man’s life”: what man? John Shade? Is Shade the main character? Neither the poem nor the story are really about his “life”. The poem is mostly metaphysical musings on death and the afterlife. The story is really Charles Kinbote’s, and although we learn some of his history, it is not a biography. Certainly it is not the life of Gradus. I refer again to my thesis; the three main characters represent one man – not on the level of the story, but as psychological aspects. It is autobiography as psychology, the real life of a man. To further substantiate this, I offer the following:

Nabokov had the idea for a novel based on the “solus rex” move in chess percolating for several years before Pale Fire. In a letter he wrote to Kenneth D. McCormick, Editor in Chief of Doubleday, in 1946, wherein he describes a work which sounds more like Pale Fire, than any other book or story of his. Although a short story was titled “Solus Rex” and “Bend Sinister” had that as a working title, they ultimately were not as described here, and it seems the idea eventually morphed into Pale Fire.

“This will be a new kind of autobiography, or rather a new hybrid between that and a novel. To the latter it will be affiliated by having a definite plot. Various strata of personal past will form as it were the banks between which will flow a torrent of physical and mental adventure. This will involve the picturing of many different lands and people and modes of living. I find it difficult to express its subject matter more precisely. As my approach will be quite new, I cannot affix to it one of those labels of which we spoke. By being too explicit at this point I should inevitably fall back on such expressions as “psychological novel” or “mystery story where the mystery is a man’s past, and this would not render the sense of novelty and discovery which distinguishes the book as I have it in my mind. It will be a sequence of short essay-like bits, which suddenly gathering momentum will form into something very weird and dynamic: innocent looking ingredients of quite unexpected brew…From this point of view SOLUS REX (I shall probably change the title) is a perfectly safe bet. “ (Nabokov, Selected Letters 1940-1977)

Note that he does not say “biography”, but “autobiography” and that it is to be a non-usual type of “psychological novel”. Referring to Robbe-Grillet, whom he admired, Nabokov had this to say about psychology in literature:

“…the shifts of levels, the interpenetration of successive impressions and so forth belong of course to psychology – psychology at its best.” (VN, Strong Opinions, P. 80)

The “shifts of levels” (thetic spirals) are crucial for our understanding. This novel was also to be a “mystery story”, but unlike any other. Mysteries abound on many levels, but there is among them a generic kind of Sherlock Holmsian type to be solved on the plot level: Who really killed John Shade. We will ultimately find out.

I believe the work of C.G. Jung will lead to the “simple key” Nabokov alludes to. Stated simply, yet cryptically, “The key to the treasure is the treasure”, and the treasure, as we know from fairytales, is usually hidden in plain sight, the last place one would look–in this case, Nabokov’s detested psychoanalysis. Although the key itself is simple, it radiates out in so many directions, or rather, so many diverse clues point to it, that I wondered how I could present a cohesive exposition. I decided, like the Moon stealing light from the Sun, to copy the Source’s own format; with foreword, the poem (a line by line commentary, fairly brief and looking at the poem sui generis, to set up for the more meaty clues in a commentary on Kinbote’s commentary), then commentary on Kinbote’s commentary (which will bring in the roles of Kinbote and Gradus), and, finally, an index (as in Pale Fire, but a little less abstruse). There are also several appendices relating to some of the more esoteric Jungian themes.

There are numerous interweaving words and imagery that are found throughout the text, of both poem and Kinbote’s commentary. I will list the ones I feel are most important here, and will note them with an asterisk for the poem. That should aid noticing their profuse scattering in the commentary as well. One can also consult the appendix for a list of Jungian symbols.

Gradus (and aliases)
Haze, mist
Light (nacre, opalescence)
Colors: black, red, green, blue, white, grey, amber
Stone, pebbles, rocks

The following are the main psychological theories of Carl Jung:

The major concepts of analytical psychology as developed by Jung include:

SYNCHRONICITY – an acausal principle as a basis for the apparently random simultaneous occurrence of phenomena.
As we shall see, the concept of synchronicity, the acausal events of space-time, is central to Nabokov/Shade’s metaphysics. In this light, Jung was also passionately interested in matters of the occult, especially alchemy, but also tarot, astrology, mediumship and, especially, life after death.

ARCHETYPES – universal symbols that can mediate opposites in the psyche, often found in religious art, mythology and fairy tales across cultures
Archetypal images will be found and noted throughout the text, especially relating to alchemy and tarot. The Shadow, the Anima, the Self are all archetypal images.

COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS – aspects of unconsciousness experienced by all people in different cultures
The archetypes are basically images within the collective unconscious.

SHADOW – the repressed, therefore unknown, aspects of the personality including those often considered to be negative
Shade, shadow, reflections, light-dark abound through the book, and will be noted. The three aspects of a person are the higher Self, the Ego, and the Shadow I will relate to Shade, Kinbote and Gradus.

ANIMA – the contrasexual aspect of a man's psyche, his inner personal feminine conceived both as a complex and an archetypal image
This will be explored extensively, especially regarding Sybil, Hazel and Disa and Fleur.

ANIMUS – the contrasexual aspect of a woman's psyche, her inner personal masculine conceived both as a complex and an archetypal image
The Anima and Animus are both Archetypes, part of the collective unconscious, although specific within specific individuals.

SENEX (WISE OLD MAN) – a wise guide, philosopher, mentor, teacher

PERSONA – The adoptive social mask, (ego personality) and ego ideal of an individual.
Masks, theaters, disguises will be noted throughout.

SELF–the central overarching concept governing the individuation process, as symbolized by mandalas, the union of male and female, totality, unity. Jung viewed it as the psyche's central archetype.
The capital “S” Self is the whole individuated person, one who has integrated their anima/animus and Shadow.

INDIVIDUATION – the process of fulfillment of each individual "which negates neither the conscious or unconscious position but does justice to them both”.The poem is John Shade’s attempt to come to terms with life, death and meaning. This is the path of “Individuation”. Kinbote is also on a path of individuation, but he resists it.

COMPLEX – the repressed (unconscious) organization of images and experiences that governs perception and behavior.
Perhaps it would be better to say “misbehaviors”, as the complexes are compulsive neuroses.

EXTRAVERSION & INTROVERSION – personality traits of degrees of openness or reserve contributing to psychological type.
This notion, widely adopted today, was developed first by Jung. The main contrast will be seen in Shade (introvert) and Kinbote (extrovert)

ALCHEMY & NUMEROLOGY – Jung was responsible for resurrecting ancient alchemy, as holding keys to the psychological process of Individuation. He was also interested in Numerology, the spiritual meaning of numbers.

A necessarily brief description of Jung’s views on Alchemy and Numerology will help with understanding my exposition. (These ancient practices also intersect with Astrology and Tarot, subjects of interest to both Nabokov and Jung). After seeing so many of his patients, as well as himself, report the same images, he developed his theory of the “collective unconscious”: archetypal images inherent in all persons. He later found that the ancient alchemical texts, which were replete with symbolic imagery (emblemata), had much of the same meanings as he found in dreams.

“The union of opposites, which plays such a great and indeed decisive role in alchemy, is of equal significance in the psychic process initiated by the confrontation with the unconscious, so the occurrence of similar or even identical symbols in not surprising”. (Jung, CW,Vol.13 P.341)

Alchemy goes back to ancient Egypt and Greece, whence the legendary “Hermes Trismegistus” (Hermes the Thrice Great), a mythic being, was believed to have written the Emerald Tablet, from which the word “hermeticism” derives. This was a basic text for alchemy, and had a resurgence of interest within the secret societies of the 19th and 20th centuries. It consists of fourteen inscriptions on the secrets of alchemy. The most important one, for this exposition, is number 13:

“I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.”

What are the three parts? There were usually three main ingredients put in glass retorts: Sulphur, Mercury, and Salt. These were considered the Sun, the Moon and the Earth, or spirit, soul, body. These were subjected to heat and went through a fourfold process, the black (nigredo, “death”), a “half-step”, the multi-colored“peacock’s tail”(cauda pavonis), the white (albedo, “purification”) the yellow ,or sometimes green,(citrinitas, veriditas “ gold, light of the Sun”) and finally the red (rubedo, “sacred marriage”, or coniunctio, the union of opposites). The result was called the “philosopher’s stone”.

The tri-part man has been described with slightly different terminology through the ages. Some terminology has been confused or conflated, such as spirit/soul, spirit/mind, mind/ego, soul/ego, soul/unconscious, body/unconscious, spiritual/moral, lower/instinctive, etc., so I will attempt to clarify how I will be using them.

We will be looking at this through the Jungian lens of the tri-part man of Higher Self, Ego, and Lower Self, and more specifically at Shade, Kinbote, and Gradus, as they relate to Nabokov as the whole Self. These are not precisely Jung’s terms, though he occasionally uses them. Jung claimed that the unconscious held both the higher and lower aspects of the Self. He also considered the anima (the soul) to be in the unconscious. To correlate with alchemy I prefer maintaining a tri-part definition, as it is essentially that, as Jung himself stated.

“If we are to do justice to the essence of the thing we call spirit, we should really speak of a ‘higher’ consciousness rather than of the unconscious, because the concept of spirit is such that we are bound to connect it with the idea of superiority over the ego-consciousness.” (Jung,Vol.8, P.335)

For the sake of simplicity, I am using the following terms:

Higher self = The part of consciousness open to, or channel of, spiritual, moral and aesthetic values. Spirit, super-conscious, mind, moral, head, thinking, super-ego

Ego self = The acquired personality, self-centered and defensive in nature, Soul, conscious, defended, heart, feeling, Ego

Lower self = The unconscious, repressed, instinctive, sensual self. Body, unconscious instinct, negative, repressed, belly, sensation, Id

The Self = The whole person. The individuated Self is one who has consciously united these three parts.

The 16th century alchemist, Michael Maier, author of the alchemical text “Atalanta Fugiens” (a text that will prove crucial to Pale Fire) gives further information on the tri-part man. One of the important emblemata in the book (No. XXI) explains the esoteric meaning of the riddle of the Sphinx. The usual answer to “what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three in the evening” is “Man”. Meier writes the following remark about the Sphinx's riddle, in which he states that the esoteric solution is shown in occult geometry:

“ But they who interpret concerning the Ages of Man are deceived. For a Quadrangle of Four Elements are of all things first to be considered, from thence we come to the Hemisphere having two lines, a Right and a Curve, that is, to the White Luna;
from thence to the Triangle which consists of Body, Soul and Spirit, or Sol, Luna and Mercury.”

This solution is more complex than I can explain here. Whether this is comprehensible or not to laymen, the alchemists understood it. The important thing is the theme of Body/Soul/Spirit, which is Mercury/Luna/Sol, which, in our text, is also Gradus/Kinbote/Shade, three aspects of man in one. It is also fitting that the “common” answer to the Sphinx’s riddle fits Pale Fire, too. The lower instinctual nature (infant or animal) crawls on all fours. Gradus’ abnormally long arms give him a simian appearance; a grown (conscious ego) man walks upright independently on two, and an old man accepts the help of a cane (higher wisdom/humility). John Shade, remember, walks with the help of a cane.

The alchemists were not concerned so much with literally turning base metals to gold but to discover the arcane secrets of spiritual development, or as Jung called it, Individuation.

“Although their labours over the retort were a serious effort to elicit the secrets of chemical transformation, it was at the same time – and often in overwhelming degree – the reflection of a parallel psychic process which could be projected all the more easily into the unknown chemistry of matter since that process is an unconscious phenomenon of nature, just like the mysterious alteration of substances. What the symbolism of alchemy expresses is the whole problem of the evolution of personality…the so-called individuation process”. (C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, P. 35)

In Pale Fire, we will see a lot of references to the Sun and Moon. Earth will be represented primarily by the chthonic figure “Mercurius”. Mercurius will be hidden, but everywhere. Jung wrote extensively on Mercurius, who was not only the element and the god, but the many-named essence of the alchemical process.

“If Mercurius had been understood simply as quicksilver, there would obviously have been no need for any of the appellations I have listed. The fact that this need arose points to the conclusion that one simple and unmistakable term in no way sufficed to designate what the alchemists had in mind when they spoke of Mercurius, the essence, moisture, or principle behind or within the quicksilver – that indefinable, fascinating, irritating, and elusive thing which attracts an unconscious projection.”

Mercurius was usually seen as dark and diabolical, in fact a kind of Luciferian creature. Like Lucifer, he had his own dark light, and he could dispense boons to those who could work with him, or “trick” him; Mercurius was also a “trickster” figure (another Jung coinage and archetype). He was dual natured, both good and evil, or more aptly, beyond good and evil. Jung gives a description of him from the occult text, “Aurelia Occulta”:

“…I am dark and light; I come forth from heaven and earth; I am known and yet do not exist at all; by virtue of the sun’s rays all colours shine in me, and all metals; I am the carbuncle of the sun, the most noble purified earth, through which you may change copper, iron, tin and lead into gold”.

Jung’s contention was that one must face one’s unconscious by meeting, owning and incorporating the archetypal images therein for true Individuation to take place, and that this is what the alchemists were actually trying to achieve. A completed Individuation leads to the true “Self”, which is composed of an integration of all aspects, high and low. (I prefer to capitalize “Self”, although Jung did not, to differentiate the usual ego-self from Jung’s concept of the whole Self.)

“The self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness” (C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy p 41)

Jung also said that working through the confrontation with the Shadow was the “apprentice” piece; the “masterpiece” was to confront and incorporate the anima/animus archetype. This is the “hierosgamos”, or “ Coniunctio” of alchemy, the union of opposites.

“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 and Alchemy P.37)

We will look at how this is developed within Pale Fire.

It will be important to say a few words about Numerology, as well. Jung was quite interested in the subject and wrote on it, but gave the further study of it to his associate and disciple, Marie-Louise Von Franz, to develop. Numerology – giving quality as well as quantity to numerals has been around since ancient times in both East and West. It is something that Nabokov was also quite taken with and we will see it throughout Pale Fire. Most of the western concepts stem from Pythagorean mysteries. The basic way it works is with the numerals 0-9 being assigned certain qualities. Numbers with more than one digit are added together, and then reduced to a single number. For instance 10 is 1+0= 1. A date, such as 04/22/1899, Vladimir Nabokov’s birthday would be 0+4+2+2 +1+8+9+9=35=3+5=8. Thus Nabokov would have the qualities of the number 8, a number which recurs quite often in the text. (see Appendix for numerology meanings).

“…I incline to the view that numbers were as much found as invented, and that in consequence they possess a relative autonomy analogous to that of the archetypes. They would then have, in common with the latter, the quality of being pre-existent to consciousness, and hence, on occasion, of conditioning it rather than being conditioned by it.” (C.G.Jung, Synchronicity: an Acausal Connecting Principle)

So, we will be looking quite a bit at the occult in this work. After all, it makes sense that a novel designed to be an abstruse autobiography, a devilishly intricate game of hide–n-seek for the ultrasophisticated solver should have an occult (hidden) key?

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