Reading Marguerite Yourcenar's The Abyss. By centering the story on Zeno, an alchemist with a single-minded scientific passion to know & to free himself, who delves into the hermetic secrets of the 4 elements within nature & his own body, Yourcenar gives very rich & vivid shape to a distant time (1500s Europe). The novel somewhat reflects Zeno's own fascination with the human microcosm, becoming a literary microcosm.

Funny how yesterday I was sidelining "hermeticism", since this novel reminded me (this morning) how important the alchemical-hermetic aspect is to the U.S. long poem. Both Paterson ("the giant, Paterson"; "a man = a city") & Maximus are structured largely as literary-alchemical transmutations (the epic questor becomes "Everyman", the image/bearer/creator of a cosmos). I've noticed before an odd thing about alchemical notions (the 4 elements, the transmutation of metals, etc.): once you take note of them in literature, they seem to crop up everywhere. I guess you may say that writing itself can be read alchemically.

Kenneth Warren, in his little mag House Organ, has published a serialized study of Charles Olson & Maximus ("The Emperor's New Code") which is steeped in alchemical-theosophical lore.

(However, let's be clear: alchemy, hermeticism, literary obscurity, trobar clus... these are not all the same thing. In other words I would still disagree with Ron S. when he suggests that a kind of secret writing for adepts represents authorial respect for the intelligence of the reader, or that trobar clus-like poetry is or will be the engine of literary change & advance. Yourcenar (or Nabokov, for another example, or Shakespeare) is a great writer because, among other things, she is master of a clear, precise, and capacious style - capable of absorbing and reflecting realities on many different levels.)

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