Self-knowledge is blue

Marcel Proust


I like it when very distinct sources come up with the same material. One of the pleasure of writing a blog lies in sharing this kind of weird shit with my readers.

What to make of this?

Marcel Proust, in the last volume of A la recherché du temps perdu, having lost his footing on an uneven paving-stone, is reminded of an instance in Venice when, similarly, he had lost his footing, and through a process of accumulated memories of this kind attempts to measure the definitive instance of recall, the moment in which the whole process of revelatory recollection comes together. And his moment of revelation arrives in the colour blue, or azure:

The happiness that I had just experienced was indeed just like that I had felt when eating the madeleine, and the cause of which I had at that time put off seeking. The difference, purely material, was in the images each evoked; a deep azure intoxicated my eyes, impressions of coolness and dazzling light swirled around me and, in my desire to grasp them, without daring to move any more than when I had tasted the madeleine and I was trying to bring back to my memory what it reminded me of, I continued . . . to stagger, as I had done a moment before, one foot on the raised paving-stone, the other foot on the lower one.

It would seem that this swimming about in the blue, as an image of self-awareness, or imminent revelation, was something familiar to the ancient alchemists. Lindy Abraham, in A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery writes:

[T]he mercurial water and alchemical quintessence are frequently described as being sky blue or azure. Paraclesus introduced the symbol of the sapphire from the Cabbala into alchemy, where it came to signify the arcane substance. Thomas Vaughan described the tincture as having the colour of a certain inexpressible Azure like the Body of Heaven in a clear Day.’ He called the Stone ‘an azure Heaven.’ Elsewhere Vaughan wrote that the water of the sages was a ‘deep Blew Tincture’. To clothe in an azure shirt or garment means to make projection of the tincture on molten metal in order to convert it into silver or gold.

And finally Thomas Vaughan himself,  alchemist and brother of the great poet Henry Vaughan writes in his Aula Lucis:

Hence you may gather some infallible signs, whereby you may direct yourselves in the knowledge of the Matter and in the operation itself, when the Matter is known. For if you have the true sperm and know withal how to prepare it – which cannot be without our secret fire – you shall find that the matter no sooner feels the philosophical heat but the white light will lift himself above the water, and there will he swim in his glorious blue vestment like the heavens.

If you have the true sperm and know withal how to prepare it . . . prepare, dear reader, to swim into the livelong blue.






5 Comments on “Self-knowledge is blue

  1. …and the writing of James Hillman on Blue:

    It is through depression we enter depths and in depths find soul. Depression is essential to the tragic sense of life. It moistens the dry soul, and dries the wet. It brings refuge, limitation, focus, gravity, weight, and humble powerlessness. It reminds of death. The true resolution begins in the individual who can be true to his or her depression. Neither jerking oneself out of it, caught in cycles of hope and despair, nor suffering it through till it turns, nor theologizing it – but discovering the consciousness and depths it wants. So begins the revolution on behalf of the soul.

    The blue transit between black and white is like that of sadness, which emerges from despair as it proceeds toward reflection. Reflection here comes from or takes one into a blue distance, less a concentrated act that we do than something insinuating itself upon as a cold, isolating inhibition. This vertical withdrawal is like an emptying out. The creation of a negative capability, or a profound listening – already an intimation of silver..
    Sadness is not the whole of it. A turbulent dissolution of the Nigredo can also show as blue movies, blue language, l’amour bleu, pornographic, perverse, ghastly, or vicious animus/anima fantasies start up, we can place them within the blue transition toward albedo. Then we will look for bits of silver in the violence. There are patterns of self-recognition forming by means of horror and obscenity. The soul’s putrefication is generating a new anima consciousness, a new psychic grounding that must include underworld experiences of the anima itself: her deathly and perverse affinities. The dark blue of the Madonna’s robe bears many shadows, and these give her depths of understanding, just as the mind made on the moon has lived with Lillith so that its thought can never be naive, never cease to strike deep toward shadows. Blue protects white from innocence..
    The transit from black to white via blue implies that blue always brings black with it. Blue bears traces of the mortificatio into the whitening. What before was the stickiness of the black, like pitch or tar, unable to be rid of, turns into the traditionally blue virtues of constancy and fidelity. The same dark events feel different. The tortured and symptomatic aspect of mortification – flaying oneself, pulverizing old structures, decapitation of the headstrong will, the rat and rot in one’s personal cellar – give way to depression. As even the darkest blue is not black, so even the deepest depression is not the mortification, which means death of soul. The mortification is more driven, images locked compulsively in behaviour, visibility zero, psyche trapped in inertia and extension of matter. A mortificatio is a time of symptoms. These inexplicable, utterly materialized tortures of psyche in physis are relieved, according to the procession of colors, by a movement toward depression, which can commence as a mournful regret even over the lost symptom: “it was better when it hurt physically- now I only cry”. Blue misery. So with the appearance of the blue, feeling becomes more paramount and the paramount feeling is a mournful plaint. These laments hint of soul, of reflection and distancing by imaginal expression. Here we can see more why archetypal psychology has stressed depression as the via regia in soul-making. The ascetic exercises we call symptoms (and their treatments), the guilty despairs and remorse as the Nigredo decays, reduce the old ego-personality, but this necessary reduction is only preparatory to the sense of soul which appears first in the blued imagination of depression.

    It is the blue which deepens the idea of reflection beyond the single notion of mirroring, to the further notions of pondering, considering, meditating.
    The colors, which herald white, are spoken of as Iris and the rainbow, as many flowers, and mainly as the brilliance of the peacock’s tail with its multiple eyes. According to Paracelsus, the colors result from dryness acting on moisture. Believe it or not, there is more color in the alchemical desert than in the flood, in less emotion than more. Drying releases the soul from personal subjectivism, and as the moisture recedes the vivacity once possessed by feeling can now pass over into imagination. Blue is singularly important here because it is the color of imagination tout court. I base this not only on all we have been exploring: the blue mood which sponsors reverie, the blue sky which calls the mythic imagination to its farthest reaches, the blue of Mary who is the western epitome of the anima and her instigation image making, the blue rose of romance, a pothos, which pines for the impossible contra naturam (and pothos, the flower, was a blue larkspur or delphinium placed on graves)..

    The nature of this achievement can be garnered from the accounts of those we have summoned. They suggest that the alchemical unio mentalis is the interpenetration of thought and image, of perceived world and imaginal world, a state of mind no longer concerned with the distinctions between things and thought, appearance and reality, or between the spirit that develops theory and the soul that builds fantasy. We have colored this unio mentalis as ‘blue’, because the blue we have been encountering transfigures appearances into imaginal realities and imagines thought itself in a new way. Blue is preparatory to and incorporated in the white, indicating that the white becomes earth, that is, fixed and real, when the eye becomes blue, that is, able to see though thoughts as imaginative forms and images as the ground of reality.


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