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The Alchemy of Man and the Alchemy of God: The Alchemist as Cultural Symbol in Modern Thought Author(s): Eugene Webb Source: Religion & Literature, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1985), pp. 47-60 Published by: The University of Notre Dame Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40059263 Accessed: 10/09/2009 09:44
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in terms both of its meaning and of the ways in which it has been valued. By conforming himself to an appropriatemodel from the accepted set. Depending upon the intention of the practitioner.along with wizards. In his Inferno fortunetellers.THE ALCHEMY OF MAN AND THE ALCHEMY OF GOD: THE ALCHEMIST AS CULTURAL SYMBOL IN MODERN THOUGHT Eugene Webb At the center of any cultural system is a cluster of authoritative symbols. are less easy to discern. it was seen either as a cooperation with God or as a form of opposition Dante places alchemists. for imitation.in R&L 17. This makes for greater freedom. using them as models upon which to pattern himself and as criteria by which to measure his own worth. to Him. they offer increasinglyvaried possibilities of choice. Comparatively simple societies present only a few such cultural models for imitation. seducers. As societies become more complex.1 (Spring 1985) 47 .1 If one looks back to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance when the tradition of alchemy was being imported from the Arab world and assimilated into European thought. he becomes a properly developed person. and indeed urged. A consideration of one of the major cultural symbols of the Western tradition may serve to throw light on the process that has led to our present situation. In the modern West it is obvious that the sense of confusion has become acute. one finds alchemy being viewed from two angles. as this is defined within his community. however. that are offered. but it may also make for confusion. In the process of enculturation or cultural formation the individual becomes formed by internalizing the values representedin these images. Its exact nature and causes. and others who deform God's creation. The concept of alchemy has been an inherently ambiguous one . accepted images of human excellence.
Martin Luther said. touching the resurrection of the dead at the last day" (quoted in Linden. including Spenser. alchemical imagery could be used to refer to divine redemptive action worked upon man for his transfiguration and glorification. This conception presupposed. a symbol of humanity brought to the peak of its powers.. Francis Bacon's attitude toward alchemy . on the other hand. for the sake of the allegory and secret signification. To an increasingly influential undercurrent of medieval and renaissance society. Applied to God and Christ. for example. "Alchemy and Eschatology"). saw a parallel between their art and alchemy and interpreted both as connected with the power of good human beings to call upon the divine through prayer (Mazzeo 60-89). Even when the alchemist was attacked as a charlatan and his powers denied. where it toucheth it makes good. and there was usually a recognition that power brings with it the possibility of its misuse . said that ". but a dangerously potent one nonetheless.. is represented as a trickster. he retained sinister associations. where the title figure. Such an attitude of moral disapproval was still clearly pronounced in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist (1610). Similarly. "Alchemy and Eschatology"). numerous English poets of the sixteenth century. on the other hand. Sidney. and religious" (quoted in Haller 125 and in Linden. the traditional reservations about the human alchemist were gradually being displaced by his development into an image of true excellence.48 Religion & Literature the eighth circle of hell. that the human practitioner exercised his divinely given powers for divinely authorized ends. but from God. claimed to have received the secret knowledge of alchemy not from man. And Richard Sibbes. but he was always susceptible to the temptation to try to usurp for his own ends the power he exercised.hence the frequent note of apprehensiveness or distrust in the portrayal of the alchemist as a human figure.. William Blomfild. even when his art is seen as divinely founded. the Grace of God is a blessed Alcumist. whose real skill lay in the manipulation of his victims through appeal to their various lusts.2 The Elizabethan Puritan preacher and alchemist. Dr. there was also a widespread belief in the possibility of an alternative between God's grace on the one hand and a virtually Satanic attempt to usurp the role of God on the other. for example. of course. despite the condemnatory attitude of a long tradition of literary satirical treatments. "The science of alchemy I like very well . in A LearnedCommentary (1656). which is exceedingly fine. Subtle. and Donne. In the case of the human practitioner of alchemy.. Shakespeare. and considered it to go hand in hand with the other gifts of God to His spiritual elect (Schuler 303-4). The human alchemist might act as a co-worker with God.
and the consequent cancerous growth of the utilitarian segment of existence. for example. Bacon's own imagination was "saturated in magic and alchemy" (xiii. and truth was pragmatically effective. he is of special interest in connection with the theme of the present essay.EUGENEWEBB 49 shows something of the pattern of transition. anti-esoteric enterprise .the virtual antithesis of alchemy . a symbol of the cultural ideals that took shape in part under his influence in the early modern period. as for the magician and the alchemist. Nevertheless. 15).3 For Bacon. science. see also Linden. and pragmatic action. the tendency and to overvalue this area in relation to the biostheoretikos the life of the spirit. who traditionally believed that their operations were based on a knowledge of lawful natural processes which they assisted and thereby controlled. As Eric Voegelin has put it. that all substances contain "spiritual" bodies. for which the highest truth was contemplative and the position of man in creation was defined not primarily in relation to nature. . but it is largely forgotten that in addition to a research library. This way of thinking and the values it was rooted in stood in fundamental opposition to those of traditional Christian culture. Who was the true source of all power and to Whose ends alone it should always be subordinated. knowledge was power. as Paolo Rossi has shown. and he considered this transmutation to be one of the highest aims of science (Rossi 13. The tendency to narrow the field of human experience to the area of reason. It is generally remembered that Bacon's appeal to the British crown for the establishment of scientific institutions was the impetus behind the eventual establishment of the Royal Society. a virtual coup in which what had been a subculture took possession of the centers of political and economic power and gradually became itself the mainstream of culture. "Francis Bacon and Alchemy. Bacon wanted the King to establish a laboratory for the discovery of the philosopher's stone (Rossi 24)." 547-60). Bacon is well known as a major source of the modern ideal of empirical science as a rational. a botanical garden. and since he has become himself a culture-hero of the modern west. and a zoo. but to God. The eventual success of Bacon's program of science in capturing the European imagination amounted to a major shift in cultural values. collaborative.and he is remembered for his condemnation of the pretenses of the alchemist and the magician. The interrelation of science and power. Bacon believed. have injected a strong element of magic culture into modern civilization. which can serve as the basis for the transmutation of metals. Bacon's ideal of the scientist as simultaneously the master of nature and its servant and interpreter was precisely the ideal of the magician and the alchemist.
in literary culture as well. one sees far more criticism of the Baconian movement than advocacy or celebration. for example. And this just after his final earthly act has been to order the slaying of a pious elderly couple who resisted the incorporation of their own land. Thomas Mann. arrives at an end that is highly ambiguous: Faust. part 2.all these are part of a cultural process that is dominated by a flight of magic imagination. on the other hand. and it is the criticalvoices we tend to remember. Reading eighteenth-century English literature. and in both he is a seeker of power. Marlowe'sfigure proceeds straightforwardly damnation. by the idea of operating on the substance of man through the instrument of pragmaticallyplanning will. that is. as one might expect. "Wer immer strebend sich bemuht. on the other hand. Faustus is an adept of all branches of learning.50 Religion & Literature the tendency to make it the exclusive preoccupation of man. than the scientific. Swift's parody of the Royal Society as the Academy of Lagado is a landmarkwe all recognize. culturally. The literary tradition tended on the whole to be more conservative. the tendency to make it socially preponderant through economic pressure in the so-called free societies and through violence in totalitarian communities . We have ventured the suggestion that in retrospect the age of science will appear as the greatest power orgy in the history of mankind. In both. him can we save. to in accord with the judgment of the earlier cultural tradition. we now venture the suggestion that at the bottom of this orgy the historian will find a gigantic outburst of magic imagination after the breakdown of the intellectual and spiritual form of medieval high-civilization ("The Origins of Scientism" 488). the system of values deriving from the traditions of magic and alchemy has gradually come to occupy a central place. can we even recall the names of those who wrote odes in honor of the discoveries of Isaac Newton? It was much more recently that the literary classics of Greece and Rome were displaced as the principal vehicles for the approved cultural formation of the young and that what has come to be called "social science" arose as a rival to literature and philosophy in the study of man. The process by which this has happened has been gradual and complex. hallowed by its little chapel. as can be seen in the contrast between the Faustus plays of Marlowe and Goethe. preserves more than others the Goethean ambiguity toward . Nevertheless. licit and illicit. Among twentieth-century writers. Goethe underscoresthe ambiguity by having Mephistopheles allude in connection with this (11286-7) to the episode of Naboth's vineyard in 1 Kings 21.")./ Den konnen wir erlosen" (11936-7: "He who strives unceasingly. shows him being received into eternal bliss as an angel sings. Goethe's. into the earthly paradisehe had built through his dark powers.
For many writers the magician and the alchemist have become unequivocally positive figures. Marcel Proust. It will not be possible in the space of a short essay to explore this theme in great detail in relation to each of these writers. the poet invokes his own artistic powers in the following language: Hyperbole! de ma memoire Triomphalement ne sais-tu Te lever. rituals. considered as a cultural symbol. Indeed. the hymn of spiritualhearts in the product of my patience. In his "Prose(pour des Esseintes)"for example. used this in ways that conformed it to a surprising degree to the value system of the earlier tradition. for example. interpretation of his own role as poet was explicitly cast in the imagery of a modern magician-alchemist. Mallarme. To begin with Mallarme. on the other hand. James Joyce seems to have shared much of this attitude. who was seminal for so much of the modern tradition and for each of the writers just mentioned. par la science.EUGENE WEBB 51 the enterpriseof the scholar-mageand the values on which it is founded. herbiers. figures of modern literature. rituels. aujourd'hui grimoire Dans un livre de fer vetu: Car j'installe. by science.the cult of power.which. at least insofar as his Stephen Daedalus's thought patterns may be interpreted as reflecting aspects of his own. but he was fascinated by the image of the poet as heir of the ancient tradition of magic who wields the power of the "livre" as spirituer("spiritualtool")and is able to act as a ("book") "instrument rival creator to the God of nature (378). (55-56) ["Hyperbole!Do you not know how to rise triumphantly from my memory today as a magical text clad in ancient iron? Because I establish. was disdainful of the utilitarian pursuits of the scientist. atlas. manuals of herbs. and in many ways representative. for many they seem to represent a cultural symbol with which to counter the prestige of the natural or social scientist while implicitly accepting the fundamentalvalues ."] And in his lecture on "Music and Literature"he speaks of how the poet takes the twenty-fourletters of the alphabet ("ourlegacy from the . while interpreting his own art in explicitly alchemical terminology. L'hymne des coeurs spirituels En Foeuvre de ma patience. he stands for. but to note a few highlights in each case should serve to indicate its complexity as well as its importance in the writings of these major. Atlas.
He realizes. however. In the lecture just cited. sans fourneau. pour continuer par la simple intelligence (399). with whom he shared a longing for an anti-cosmic salvation. Of the modern writers mentioned. solitary celebrations in the void (647). . With him Joyce seems to have shared the belief that the world is essentially alien and that the only deliverance lies in art. In it the world is imaged as a mournful hospital in which the poet feels utter disgust toward those who breed children and wallow in mundane happiness. les manipulations.. congealed in other ways than in jewels. His poem. refroidis autrement qu'en pierreries. "LesFenetres. poisons. that the reflection is illusory and he a captive of an alien existence.] There are also reasons.. [What deference . as William York Tindall remarked. the solid preponderantreality of nature in order to cultivate our willful. In keeping with his consignment of physical reality to the domain of the modern sciences of nature. other than the fact that the physical sciences had preempted the field. He seems to have felt for physical reality a disdain akin to that of some of the ancient Gnostics. without an oven. he espouses a view according to which material reality alone genuinely exists. His only solace is the mirror of art."of his own magic as a purely mental continuation of that of his predecessors: Quelque deference . the manipulations. Mallarme'sconception of Despite his imagery of ancient "grimoires" the context of reality within which the magical "science"of poetry works is distinctly modern and represents an extensive acceptance of the worldview associated with the standard sciences."can serve as an example of this attitude. in "Magie. imaged here as his own reflection in a windowpane: "Je me mire et me vois ange!" (33: "I marvel at myself and see myself an angel"). toward the extinct laboratory of the great work there would be in taking up again. and his own poetic alchemy served this motive of escape into an alternative creation. who had lost belief in the upper . . He also shared the conception of the artist as a latter-day mage working within a truncated frameworkof reality. for writers like Joyce. . consisterait a reprendre. ". if he were to break through the glass to try to fly beyond. he speaks. why Mallarme might have preferredthat his alchemy be mental only. he would find only a void in which he would fall throughout eternity. Joyce is probably the one who carried forwardmost consistently the conception of art deriving from Mallarme. . for example. and he interprets literature as the practice of a delusion by which we free ourselves from. poisons.52 Religion & Literature ancient books of magic") and through their power effects a "transfiguration"of language onto a supernatural plane (646). as he puts it. envers le laboratoire eteint du grand oeuvre. to carry on by intelligence alone.
to insight and integration. Thomas Mann. moreover. seem to express Joyce's sense of his own mission.. that he has. correspondences were generally horizontal. At the end of that novel the narrator asks. of ascent from one stage of being to another. The source of both types of power seems clearly superhuman. to mean as here. offers another representation of human renewal as a transmutation. to say that the reason Hans's thoughts. "the god of writers")." He goes on. through whatever means will avail. the Egyptian Thoth (225. after so many years of hermetic-pedagogic discipline. and their means may be. "highly questionable. One was the art of music.. he was describing his own program as well. but perhaps less clearly divine. and the EmeraldTabletwas modified [from "as above. a superhuman power that seeks out potential subjects for transmutation and then leads them. a humanly exercised power of "soul-enchantment. When he described Stephen's aspiration to create "out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being" (169) and to "forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race" (253). Joyce's treatment of Stephen was strongly critical with regard to his performance. Joyce seems to have read extensively in the Hermetic literature. "We assert. "May we take it that our simple hero. in The Magic Mountain. we record. And he answers. has now reached a point where he is conscious of the 'meaningfulness' of his love and the object of it" (651). and with Giordano Bruno as victim of the Church. but not with regard to these aspirations. have been able to soar so high is that "they were alchemistically enhanced" (653). there . except insofar as it could be equated with the poetic imagination or the unconscious. Frances Yates has described the burning of Bruno as proceeding from a mounting conflict in the Renaissance between the Church and the new messianic magus figures who challenged its cultural preeminence. This conflict Joyce himself reenacted belatedly in Ireland which he would probably have said was characteristically a few centuries behind the rest of Europe. so below"] . through two agencies. and in terms that make clear its continuity with that of the alchemical tradition. by the end of his time on the mountain." As Hans himself phrases the issue. This has happened." The other was the genius loci. so there" (34-5). the spirit of the mountain. the self-associations of Stephen with the craftsman Daedalus. and although one must be cautious in using A Portraitof the Artist as a YoungMan as an autobiographical document.EUGENEWEBB 53 half of Hermetic reality. we are told. as Mann terms them. From the evidence of his personal library as well as the internal evidence of his works.
art not in the service of a transcendent norm. cultivating disease. though pedagogic. In The Confessionsof Felix Krull: Confidence . which also stood in the sign of theology. is left unresolved. The theme of the artist-alchemistand of the questionable genialeWegperhe was still exploring the implications of the image of the Faustian artist attempting a transmutation of the merely natural. is evil and leads through death the (596). she has much of the laboratory and insistent activity of the alchemists and nigromancers of yore. In this work. the other the genial or inspired.the Faustusof the title. the autonomous artist exerting his power over the imaginations of the men whose consciences he sought to form was a benign or at least a harmless figure. This time." (131). but at the same time in that of emancipation and apostasy. Years later. even as he revels in his dreams of the power of art. The narratorof his Doctor Faustussays of the word "questionable" that "it challenges one both to go in and to avoid." as a tempter in Doctor Faustus would have phrased it) and the alchemical process is under what seems something like transcendentaldirection. however. In TheMagicMountain treatment of the latter path. That novel is an exploration of the question of whether such going-in can be justifiable at all. like Mallarme or Joyce. He chooses to reject the warning and pursue that path of genius and violation systematically. Item. music has always seemed to me personally a magic marriage between theology and the so diverting mathematic.. who exploits it for his own ends. he will have to violate the norms of the civilization that subjected itself to the service of God. despite such intimations of danger. anyhow to a very cautious going-in"(110). At the end. but under the control of the human agent. one the direct and honest. the again Man plexed him to the end. He realizes also that to gain such power for himself. He likens this to alchemy and magic: ".. hears an inward voice warning him: "O homo fuge"("O man. which. Mann looked at the negative side more closely. when the loss of his homeland and the devastation of much of Europe through another genialer individual had rendered the sense of the questionable much more acute. of autonomous art. The question. Doctor Faustuswas not Mann's last statement on this subject. the alchemical theme and its relation to art are rendered explicit. is generallypositive. the tone is lighter ("the music is by Gounod.54 Religion & Literature are two paths in life. For Mallarme and Joyce.4Leverkuhn went into the "gold-kitchen" seeking power. however. madness. and diabolism in a trajectoryparallel to that of his country and its sorcerer-leader. the narratorwould like to hope he may also have been seeking benefits for mankind. is an apostle. flee"). Adrian. . however. . Adrian Leverkuhn.
Who could be approached only in the way Adrian Leverkuhn attempted. The fundamental issue must have seemed to him beyond his power to resolve: that of whether the enterprise of surpassing the natural human condition was a divinely guided initiation or a human usurpation of divine power. changing only in that he deof velops a more mature realization of the difficulty of discerning truth behind the veil of appearances. In the case of Marcel Proust. but he never seems to have sensed as Mann did that its implications could be potentially sinister. moreover. shows how far his own way of thinking is from that of at least one side of the Symbolist heritage deriving from Mallarme. In Proust's final conception. the use of alchemical imagery to interpret both art and human life exhibits none of the sense of moral ambiguity that Mann felt. Beneath that issue. but Marcel's aspirations as here described remain constant throughout the seven volumes of Remembrance Things Past. was the question of the character of God: whether God in His reality is perhaps not the unlimited Good that the traditional Christian believed in. expected nothing less than the revelation of truth itself) were all the finer if they meant absolutely nothing" (127). he describes his perplexity when his friend Bloch states "that fine lines of poetry (from which I. On the contrary.toward a transcendent reality that demands courage. During the course of the novel he undergoes one disillusionment after another as he seeks supreme re- . however. it amounts to a virtually Dantesque ascent toward truth . in which the sought-after oppositorum (union of opposites) and is to quintessence is the conjunctio be found only through a corruption making possible a combination of all possible qualities. There is no reason. the alchemical process does not augment specifically human power or attempt to replace God with art.EUGENEWEBB 55 genius loci in this case playing the role of theatrical impresario and director of a cosmic bull ring.rather it was his characteristic to look at questions from many angles. Marcel. and humility of those who would approach it. to suppose that the questionable seemed less so to Mann at the end of his life . In the early pages of Swann's Way. too. the narrator. by deliberately espousing evil in oneself. This way of thinking about the divine is at the heart of the alchemical tradition. knew this side of the alchemical heritage. and complicating it in Mann's picture of the problem as a whole. Joyce. if you please. But then also. Bloch speaks in this way during his own short-lived decadent phase. the alchemical process he portrayed and saw his art as furthering was much less tangential to the Judaeo-Christian cultural scheme than was that depicted by the others. self-denial. but rather a sort of consummate union of good and evil.
To accept this means both the . this being is nourished only by the essences of things. genuinely revelatory experiences. its subjects. as gracious presences from a higher realm. there are two types of alchemy. bringing glimpses of the very truth he had mistakenly sought in Gilberte. this apparently sole method. narrowly human purpose for which it intends them." to distill from it the lifegiving essence: "And this method. The latter at first make no sense to him. the Duchesse de Guermantes. As Marcel comes to conceive it. He had mistakenly sought it also in his unachieved works of art. in these alone does it find its sustenance and delight.56 Religion & Literature ality and beauty in this person and that and in ephemeral activities of the imagination. what was it. One is that in which a higher life. it languishes. These experiences are the moments of involuntary memory that come upon him unforeseen. its grace received and accepted. the unevenness that was common to the paving-stones of the Guermantes courtyard and to those of the baptistery of St. the true being. after complete despair forces him to surrender his autonomous efforts to become a writer. in ThePastRecaptured. of the individual person: The being which had been reborn in me when with a sudden shudder of happiness I had heard the noise that was common to the spoon touching the plate and the hammer striking the wheel. But these serve as preparation for other. fragments whose reality it still further reduces by preserving of them only what is suitable for the utilitarian. Mark's. Marcel the reflects. or. Eventually this culminates. is a method by which to "convert" truth-bearingsensation "into its spiritual equivalent. two forms that a single alchemical process may take in relation to us. or had felt beneath my feet. In the observation of the present. The results are ennui and despair. "whichlife communicates to us against our will in an impression which is material because it enters us through the senses but yet has a spiritualmeaning which it is possible for us to extract"(138). and Albertine. as it does in the consideration of a past made arid by the intellect or in the anticipation of a future which the will constructs with fragments of the present and the past. but finally. (134) The other alchemical process is that of a literary art that draws its subject matter from these moments of revealed truth. but the creation of a work of art?" (139). they disclose their true meaning and offer hope that a life dedicated to its service will redeem art from its tendency to circle about the fantasies of the human ego. in his total disillusionment with both man and art. but without the necessary seeding by the moments of involuntary memory these would have been the mere bricolage his own imagination as it recombined of fragments of mundane experience. to put it more accurately. is forming the soul. where the senses cannot feed it with this food. What is needed.
especially if. (263)5 These writers. whether they image the artist as alchemist or not. on the other hand. . This way of thinking has been by far the more common among modern writers. then. of a knowledge which could give both cognitive and pragmatic mastery of existence to the one who wields it. Neither Mallarme nor Joyce. wherein lay vast and varied ores of great price. hands which were not my own.creations which. and for both the image of the magician-alchemist was a symbol of their sense that if any real satisfaction for human longings was to be found. had the poignant disadvantage for their creators of being palpably artificial.. it would have to be in creations of the autonomous human imagination. and what makes them perpetually fascinating to the human imagination and will.EUGENEWEBB 57 humiliation and the truth fulfillment of the artist. of course. That this should tempt an artist is no more surprisingthan that it should tempt a Bacon or a Descartes. as in the case of so many in the modern world. represent a sampling of the diverse forms that the alchemical theme has taken in modern thought. I felt myself enhanced by this work which I bore within me as by something fragile and precious which had been entrusted to me and which I should have liked to deliver intact into the hands of those for whom it was intended. and it would be interesting to explore the permutations of alternating pride and despairto which this conceptionof art has given rise. higher power in which to trust . is the dream of autonomous power. I knew that my brain was like a mountain landscape rich in minerals. but it also gives to him the dignity of a collaborator in a work that is eternal and promises true life for all mankind: No longer was I indifferent to my fate as I had been on those drives back from Rivebelle. retained any belief in an actual transcendentreality. one no longer feels able to believe that there is any other. expressing mingled attraction and suspicion toward the magical-alchemical enterprise and the ideal of the autonomous human exploiter of superhuman powers. which despite the emphasis on the is aesthetic. remains recognizably akin to that which in the Commedia depicted as guiding Dante toward the beatific vision. It deprives him of any pretensions of his own. It requires that he give up his own efforts of creation and subordinate his imagination to a truth of which it becomes the organ of perception. Goethe and Mann represent a somewhat less common. What are some reasons the image of the alchemist has had appeal for the modern imagination? What the alchemist and magician share. but also characteristically modern view of the issue. In Proust the alchemy is primarily the activity of a transcendent principle working upon man through a kind of grace..
as Proust realized explicitly and as some others have come to feel at least implicitly. such as Mallarme and Joyce. It is also the effect of the alchemy described by Baudelaire in his "Alchimiede la douleur" ("Alchemy of Woe"): Hermes inconnu qui m'assistes Et qui toujours m'intimidas. but that modern boredom that eats the very entrails of a man and turns an intelligent being into a walking shade. Where there is a vacuum of power. he finds himself. "Do you know what boredom is? Not that common. When man becomes the sole master of existence and the creator through his own imagination of any meaning that is to be found in life. To at least some representatives of modern thought the alchemist'senterprisehas come to seem. with the first seen as a pretension to powers that belonged properly to God. in peril of incurable ennui. . Some modern writers. for which the alchemist is one of many symbols. who aid me and constantly frighten me. Still. 28). once the elation of autonomy subsides."] To return to this essay's point of departure. As Eric Voegelin has said. the human will rushes to fill it. Tu me rends l'egal de Midas. by you I change gold into iron and paradise into hell.58 Religion & Literature and to which one could and should subject one's ends. have used the figure of the alchemist as a symbol to express this sense of human power and fulfillment. banal boredom that comes from idleness. a thinking ghost"(Letter of June 7. but unambiguously beneficent alchemy. Le plus triste des alchimistes. . and to many in the period it has seemed to offer the unequivocal promise of a new earth and a new heaven of art. This is that boredom of which Flaubert asked. however. An element in the transition to the distinctly modern cultural enterprise was the rejection of this dichotomy in favor of the idea of a purely human. 1844. . the saddest of alchemists. . the moral and spiritual ambiguity of the symbol has never entirely faded from view. (73) ["O unknown Hermes. The temptation can carry with it its nemesis. I said in the beginning that for the mainstream of the classical-Christian cultural tradition there were essentially two alternatives in alchemy: the alchemy of man and the alchemy of God. Par toi je change Tor en fer Et le paradis en enfer. the world they have left becomes boring"("On Hegel" 335). you make me the equal of Midas. The pursuit of autonomous human power. has been a dominant theme of modern culture. "When the gods are expelled from the cosmos.
Mann. Oeuvres Completes. Linden. 1957. since they express basically identical cultural values. and Proust have the virtue for us. "Alchemy and Eschatology m Seventeenth-Century Poetry. New York: Harper. 28 Dec. 1964. see Stanton J. Baudelaire. Man. A Portrait theArtistas a Young Linden. 2Fora list of satirical treatments among both major and minor writers in medieval and renaissance England. WORKS CITED Ed. of Joyce. . of . Eliade. Gustave. "Francis Bacon and Alchemy": 547-8. Letters. San Francisco. 4This last phrase is more than just a figure of speech. 3This pattern of thought has quite ancient roots. Y. Paris: Gallimard. the distinction is often not easy to make. see McKnight. 1954. The Rise of Puritanism. Selected Farrar. Le Dantec and Claude Pichois. 1961. Trans. 5It is perhaps worth mentioning that the reference to mining ores in this passage links the tradition of alchemy to those of mining and metallurgy. how can we be sure that we will use it well? Universityof Washington NOTES 'Although magic and alchemy are distinguishable. The Forgeand The Crucible: The Origins and Structures Alchemy. and ed. New York: Viking. since both arts have tended to interest the same figures for the same reason: the power they confer. who spoke of the furnace as an artificial womb in which nature's gestation of minerals could be hastened by additional heat. Charles. of renewing our sense of the fundamental questionability of the enterprise we are all of us to some degree caught up in: If such power is ours to use. they looked upon this act as a sort of transgression which must be justified by the claim to be aiding rather than forcing the maternal power of the Earth. Except where they become clearly distinct. to which it has been closely related historically as was indicated in note 3 above. Journalof the Historyof Ideas35 (1974): 547-60. 57) traces it back to the earliest exponents of the art of metallurgy. 1979. Mircea Eliade (42. at our present point in the troubled history of modernity. Francis Steegmuller. Stanton J. Mircea.-G. William. For a helpful bibliographic survey of both areas. "Francis Bacon and Alchemy: The Reformation of Vulcan. Haller. New York: Flaubert. Stephen Corrin.Trans. 1971. James.EUGENEWEBB 59 in Mann's phrase. on the role of magic in the National Socialist imagination see Vondung. "highly questionable. MLA Convention. 47. New York: Harper." Such writers as Baudelaire. the present essay will treat them together.
15 Vondung." SocialResearch (1948): 462-94. New York: Knopf. T."Journalof the Historyof Ideas 15 (1954): 23-29. William Hazlitt. Bruno theHermetic and Tradition. New York: Vintage. Jean-Aubry. McKnight. K. 1964. Eric. Yates. FrancisBacon:FromMagic to Science. Friend.New York: Columbia Mazzeo. Lowe-Porter. Robert M. "The Renaissance Magus and the Modern Messiah. Swanns Way. 1955." Journalof theHistoryof Ideas41 (1980): 293-318. Tindall. Proust.Ed. Joseph A.60 Religion & Literature Luther. and Studies. Scott Moncrieff. Trans. New York: Knopf. H." ReligiousStudiesReview5 (April 1979): 81-89. C. Schuler. Thomas. Voegelin. H. Trans. 1971.Trans. 1872. Frances A. Rossi. Martin. Lowe-Porter. "Some Spiritual Alchemies of Seventeenth-Century England. "JamesJoyce and the Hermetic Tradition. The TableTalkof MartinLuther. Chicago: U of Chicago P. Ed. TheMagicMountain. Henri Mondor and G. Klaus. 1928. Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German ComposerAdrian LeverkuhnAs Told by a . 1948. Andreas Mayor. Mallarme. Paolo. Oeuvres Completes. 1964. Stephane. 1968. New York: Modern Library. Giordano Chicago: U of Chicago P. "SpiritualRevolution and Magic: Speculation and Political Action in National Socialism. Paris: Gallimard. Stephen A. London: Bell and Daldy. "On Hegel: A Study in Sorcery. Mann. Renaissance Seventeenth-Century UP. ThePast Recaptured. William York. Trans." Modern Age 23 (1979): 394-402."Studium "The Origins of Scientism. 1945. Marcel. T. 24 Generate (1971): 335-68.
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