Alchemical Mercury: A Theory of Ambivalence by Karen Pinkus

By Karen Pinkus

How will we account, in a rigorous method, for alchemy's ubiquity? we expect of alchemy because the transformation of a base fabric (usually lead) into gold, yet "alchemy" is a notice in extensive move in lifestyle, known as upon to meet a metaphoric responsibility because the magical transformation of fabrics. virtually each tradition and time has had a few kind of alchemy. This publication seems at alchemy, now not at anybody specific example alongside the ancient timeline, no longer as a convention or concept, now not as a style of redemption, yet as a theoretical challenge, associated with genuine gold and genuine creation on this planet. What emerges because the least universal denominator or "intensive estate" of alchemy is ambivalence, the very unlikely and paradoxical coexistence of 2 incompatible parts. Alchemical Mercury strikes from antiquity, in the course of the golden age of alchemy within the Dutch 17th century, to conceptual paintings, to substitute fuels, preventing to imagine with writers akin to Dante, Goethe, Hoffmann, the Grimm Brothers, George Eliot, and Marx. Eclectic and wide-ranging, this is often the 1st examine to contemplate alchemy in terms of literary and visible thought in a finished approach.

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The room, however, is extremely dark. In the left-hand corner—and this is the second surprising element—sits a figure wrapped in red cloth with his or her back to the viewer. This ghostly presence is literally marginal to the central interaction between the doctor and maid. 4 Perhaps this bodily mass in the corner is a gesture toward everyday life (the individual just happened to be there when ter Borch came across the scene), yet simultaneously, it hints at the shadowy nature of the doctor’s work.

Another variant of the urine-analysis genre, the “diagnosis of lovesickness,” popular with middle-class Dutch patrons, links the domestic scene to a long emblematic tradition: Only Love can cure Love. In Amans amanti medicus from Otto van Veen’s Amorum emblemata, Love stands in the center of the composition, holding a “clear” vial—indicated precisely by pictorial conventions of clarity—filled with urine. On the bed, a victim of lovesickness languishes. This emblem-type, then, while compositionally similar to the diagnosis of pregnancy, engages immediately with a unique symbolic register.

Although the sky is cloudy, the sun breaks through somewhere on the left-hand side of the composition, since the figures are in light, and a glimmer of light hits the glass vessel. In such a context the painter’s ability to depict a clear vessel in an illusionary manner stands as the positive analogue to the deception of the quack doctor. The vessel is a masterful chimera. But the link between painterly illusion and the clear vessel is not merely casual, and we can trace it back at least to fourteenth- and fifteenthcentury images.

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