Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027514, Sun, 10 Sep 2017 11:26:44 -0700

WIP:“People who live in glass houses should not write poems”
WIP: "Art, Alchemy, and Failed Transcendence: Jungian Influences in Nabokov's Pale Fire

Kinbote’s quip, “People who live in glass houses should not write poems”: of course this doesn’t make sense, as Shade’s reply shows. Or does it? The word “glass” is mentioned throughout Pale Fire. It is associated with windowpanes and mirrors, but above all with Gradus. Gradus, we’ve learned was implicated in the explosion in the Zemblan glass factory. We have also seen that Gradus is associated with the “nigredo” of alchemy. The alchemical processes take place in glass retorts, or alembics. Psychologically, one can imagine what would happen if one’s glass house (a house is a symbol of self) were to explode – death or insanity. A poet plays around with the potentially dangerous unconscious. Jung points out that the element mercury is potentially explosive, and had to be carefully contained in the alchemical process by sealed glass retorts.

“As the vas Hermeticum of alchemy, it was ‘hermetically’ sealed (i.e. sealed with the sign of Hermes), it had to be made of glass, and had also to be as round as possible, since it was meant to represent the cosmos in which the earth was created.” (C.G. Jung, Alchemical studies, P.197)

“…The alchemists were all for not letting Mercurius escape. They wanted to keep him in the bottle in order to transform him: for they believed, like Petasios, that lead (another arcane substance) was ‘so bedeviled and shameless that all who wish to investigate it fall into madness through ignorance’. The same was said of the elusive Mercurius who evades every grasp – a real trickster who drove the alchemists to despair.” (Jung,
Alchemical Studies, The Spirit Mercurius, P.203)

There is quite an amusing and interesting quote from Jung, about “poets who live in glass houses”:

“It is evident that some alchemists passed through this process of realization to the point where only a thin wall separated them from psychological self-awareness…but with Faust Goethe came out on the other side and was able to describe the psychological problem which arises when the inner man, or greater personality that before had lain hidden in the homunculous, emerges into the light of consciousness and confronts the erstwhile ego, the animal man…He never really understood how dreadful was the Walpurgisnacht of the mind against which Christian dogma offered protection, even though his own masterpiece spread out this underworld before his eyes in two versions. But then, an extraordinary number of things can happen to a poet without having serious consequences.” (Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW, P. 90)

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