Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027524, Sun, 17 Sep 2017 15:39:42 -0700

WIP:Gardener = Mercurius = Our Savior

The child John Shade falls into transcendental unconsciousness at the sight of a tin toy negro boy pushing a wheelbarrow. The negro gardener with his wheelbarrow is the last thing John Shade sees before he is killed. Kinbote, upon seeing the toy as Shade’s “memento mori” declares that it shall work again because, “I have the key”. There is probably not a person, place or thing in Pale Fire that does not have a correlated or contrapuntal image; the question is, why a negro? Why a gardener with a wheelbarrow? Why is this the key?

A very interesting interpretation of astronomical images in Pale Fire has been given by the scholar Ljiljana Cuk. (https://drsuttonsite.wordpress.com/dr-sutton-who-or-what/) She notes that the Great Bear is part of the constellation “Bootes”, The Ploughman, being the plough itself, or sometimes considered a cart (i.e. wheelbarrow), called also, “Charles’s Wain”.

The myth of Bootes fits the “mirror image” themes pervading Pale Fire. Philomenus was the twin brother of Pluto. He was not rich like his brother, but he gave to mankind the plough and the cart, and was rewarded for his generosity and ingenuity by being made a constellation. He is thus associated with the earth, chthonic like his dark brother, but also the sky; He has a beneficent aspect. According to Jung:

“Opposites are extreme qualities of any state, by virtue of which that state is perceived to be real, for they form a potential. The psyche is made up of processes whose energy springs from the equilibration of all kinds of opposites. The spirit/instinct antithesis is only one of the commonest formulations, but it has the advantage of reducing the greatest number of the most important and most complex psychic processes to a common denominator. So regarded, psychic processes seem to be balances of energy flowing between spirit and instinct…” (Jung, The structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Vol.8 Collected works, P. 207)

Bootes/Philomenus, like his twin, is chthonic; psychologically then, both would be associated with the unconscious. However, he is a helper to mankind, and therefore on the high end of the “instinct-spiritual” polarity. Jung found this polarity in the alchemical figure of Mercurius, whose multiple aspects ranged the high and low of the unconscious. Note especially that he was called “versipellis”, an unusual word that Nabokov uses in Pale Fire, which means “shape shifter”:

“Again and again Mercurius is called versatilis, versipellis, mutabilis, servus or cervus fugitivus, Proteus, etc.” (Jung, Vol.13 CW P. 178)

“Mercurius is by no means the Christian devil – the latter could rather be said to be a ‘diabolization’ of Lucifer or of Mercurius. Mercurius is an adumbration of the primordial light-bringer, who is never himself the light, but a (messenger) who brings the light of nature, the light of the moon and the stars, which fades before the new morning light.” (Jung, Alchemical Studies, P.248)

“The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semihuman, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, "divine." (Jung, Aion, CW Vol.9, P.338)

What shall we make of “Balthasar, King of Loam”? We never learn his name, except for the fanciful one Kinbote gives him, an allusion to the Moorish magus of the Bible. He is a negro, black. His skin color and magus association allude to the “nigredo” of alchemy, the degrading dissolution into blackness for purification. These qualities put him squarely in the camp of Gradus and the Shadows, yet he resembles Philomenus, the benificent Bootes ploughman. Whose side is he on?

Kinbote first meets him tending trees along the avenue of Shakespeare trees, on a green ladder, his red flannel shirt on the ground. “Green” seems to be associated with squares on the chessboard. The red shirt suggests the “red” chess pieces. It could be he is wearing red as a loyalist. He does seem to be loyal to Kinbote.

The trees mentioned seem to have to do with more than Shakespeare; they relate to themes in the story. Trees, first of all, are Jungian symbols for the individuating Self. “Jove” and “Thunder-cloven” suggest Mercurius/Odin, and “knotty-entrailed wittily suggests Gradus’ dyspepsia. The “phoenix” is an alchemical symbol of rising from the ashes to the liberation of the philosopher’s stone. The “weather-defending line tree” is exactly that; a tree planted along a line against the weather (wind and storms being Mercurius’ province). The Pine and Cedar relate to “Cedarn”. “Willows”, symbolizing death are mentioned elsewhere in the text, the “midsummer elm” and “mulberry” relate to the time period of the novel. The “cypress” is a cemetery tree – from Illyria, the modern day name for Arcadia.

The gardener is earthy, of the earth, chthonic. He is not dark, though, except for his skin. He seems a very positive character, caring for trees and plants and people in need, and he has intellectual and spiritual aspirations, despite his lowly birth. He “lays a path” for Kinbote at Goldsworth’s house. Kinbote calls him, “awfully nice and pathetic”. Why pathetic? Does he suffer? He is impotent (or perhaps just asexual?) and talkative – what does he have to say?

John is shot, and it is Gradus who receives the gardener's contrapuntal blow to the head. Kinbote even calls the gardener, “Our savior”. One could hardly miss the religious connotation. We know that Kinbote is conventionally religious, but if we go to the higher thetic level, the alchemists incorporated and equated the Christ figure into their work. Jung wrote a treatise on Mercurius as a Christ figure. The dual nature of Mercurius has a positive, as well as a negative side, as Jung claims, does the unconscious.

“Thus the higher, the spiritual, the masculine inclines to the lower, the earthly, the feminine; and accordingly, the mother, who was anterior to the world of the father, accommodates herself to the masculine principle and, with the aid of the human spirit (alchemy or ‘the philosophy’), produces a son – not the antithesis of Christ but rather his chthonic counterpart, not a divine man but a fabulous being conforming to the nature of the primordial mother. And just as the redemption of the man the microcosm is the task of the ‘upper’ son, so the ‘lower’ son has the function of a salvator macrocosmi.” (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, P. 24)

“Since Mercurius is often called filius, his sonship is beyond question. He is therefore like a brother to Christ and a second son of God,…he is also the counterpart of the Trinity as a whole in so far as he is conceived to be a chthonic triad. According to this view he would be equal to one half of the Christian Godhead. He is indeed the dark chthonic half, but he is not simply evil as such, for he is called “good and evil’, or a ‘system of the higher powers in the lower.’ He calls to mind that double figure which seems to stand behind both Christ and the devil – that enigmatic Lucifer whose attributes are shared by both.”(Jung, Alchemical Studies, P.222)

The gardener and Gradus end up sitting side by side, smoking, and sharing a glass of water, like old friends, like mirror images.

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