January 8th, 2011

chomping pearls

Dissolving pearls in vinnegar.

(Ann Ward for Vogue Italia's "Beauty in Vogue",
photo by Vincent Peters, MPSaint butchery by me.)

The week continues to be rather relentless, but what can you do? I caught lunch with onatopofthings yesterday & today-- yesterday it was me & Ryan & Rachel, & we grabbed curry; then today it was Eisenberg's deli with just the two of us. I don't have a lot going on, otherwise, so I will maybe mention a few random bits. I was thinking about my favorite action figures, & I came up with:

  • My 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith.
  • My Babylon 5 Ambassador Kosh.
  • My G.I. Joe Cobra T.A.R.G.A.T.
  • My Transformers Ratbat cassette tape.
  • My Star Wars IG-88.

I was surprised how easy it was to come up with that list, since I'm not really an action figure collector-- though I suppose DnD miniatures kind of count. Just a few thoughts, kicking around in the back of my head, some weird childhood nostalgia. Otherwise, my bad mood continues, & has maybe come to a head. Hopefully it will break, like a fever, & I can get back to my usual demeanor. The key is in using things constructively, which isn't my strong suit-- but I've been on an arc going upward with it for the last decade, so at least there is that. Otherwise, last night Jenny & I went to Marie's for dinner & to play with Eliot. I was, as stated, a ball of aggravation, but not too bad, I hope. We ate Thai food & drank a little wine & talked. Eliot is warming up to us, & by the end of the night I was burying him in a pillow fort. & of course getting buried in turn. Then home & an episode of Modern Family before bed. One last note? I just got new Frankenstein boots, huge juggernaut Doc Marten's, & breaking them in is rough on my feet. Poor little toeses!
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Solve et Coagula. (3)

The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz by anonymous (attributed to Johann Valentin Andreae), translated by Joscelyn Godwin, commentary by Adam McLean.

The blade of the sword:
"Solve et Coagula."
Though mostly, solve.

I think the thing that draws me to alchemy is that it is an attempt to build a morality on the back of science. Now, I admire ethics & condemn morality as a rule, so I've chosen my words carefully. Alchemy contains in it the proto-science of chemistry, joined together with the the more esoteric arts of philosophy & sorcery. It is an attempt to see the revealed knowledge of the world, combined with the occult knowledge of the adept, & to try to reconcile the two into a spiritual path toward correct behavior. I'm not sure it succeeds, but I don't think that makes it worthless, but rather makes it a worthy object of study. Especially for those of us who spend our time on such things; heck, what is my Prisoner's Dilemma musing & the talk of a moral calculus but alchemy in the modern day?

This is an excellent introduction to alchemy-- not in that it is meant for beginners or that it contains explication of the subtle arts-- but rather because it is short, illustrative of alchemical symbolism, & has a strong & compelling narrative. That latter fact being a pleasant surprise! This is the third & most esoteric manifesto of The Rosicrucian Order, Christian Rosenkreutz being their eponymous & legendary founder. Like an alchemist's Pilgrim's Progress, it is rich with symbolism-- which Adam McLean is happy to dissect in the appendix. I can only urge everyone with a shred of interest to pick this up & read it-- we can have ourselves a lively discussion. We do know we are being guided through an alchemical riddle-- when Christian asks his guide the Virgin for her name, she replies with a riddle, whose answer is "ALCHIMIA," an answer first teased out by Leibniz (56, 125). I will say-- I was surprised not to find a rebis at the end of this book!

If I have one complaint with McLean, it is that he focuses only on the esoteric, & does not mention that physical procedures are part & parcel. While the physical transmutations rule the pop culture's understanding of alchemy, we shouldn't let that occlude the fact that it was not an entirely personal & spiritual affair by way of over compensation. Thus, while McLean wisely discusses the altar & the items upon it, he leaves out any more physical interpretations-- when in fact, many an alchemical treatise has its formulas hidden in allegory & metaphor (62, 130). He makes up for it with a good skill for summary & explication, bringing together disparate elements into a whole. The seven gifts given to Christian are a good example-- though again, the literal implications aren't gone into over much (21, 26-28, 132-133). He has wise things to say about the play within the play as an answer key, as it were, but sadly overlooks the best part-- that in between acts they bring on the Four Beasts of Daniel are a sideshow (68-71, 66, 138-139).

The Tower & processes wherein & by which the resurrection takes place reminds me of nothing so much as the images in the Voynich Manuscript (85). Here at last McLean mentions in passing albedo, nigredo, citrinitas & rubedo, the core stages of alchemy, in relation to a bird's transformations (87, 143). He's passed by the colours in the work at hand, as well as the changes in garments that the author brings attention to, which I think is a missed opportunity (65, 69-70, to note just a couple I found flipping quickly through). Still-- no appendix can be thorough in totality, & McLean's is very adroit. In particular he noted the stages of the knighthood, the books signed, the symbols taken-- the rose cross, the golden fleece, the golden stone. I'm particularly fond of that, since it played heavily in an earlier Oubliette campaign. I was also impressed by, & must agree with, McLean's opinions on the wings, ladders, & ropes of the guests at the tower (83, 141). Toward the end, McLean mentions a few works influenced by the Chemical Wedding, including Goethe's "Fairy Tale of the Green Snake & the Beautiful Lily" (150). Oh, how I hate Goethe. I hate him for ruining Faust with his moralizing, & when McLean notes that Goethe alters the themes & symbols of the Chemical Wedding to suit his ideology & politics, it just made me hate him all the more.