'Grind the stone to a very fine powder and put it into the sharpest celestial vinegar, and it will at once be dissolved into the philosophical water'.
We called it the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth, the Philosophers' Stone. We connected our fate with utopian philosophies, and believed in the salvation which the last days would bring. We saw the signs in the rainbow of colours from a centuries-old gem, in the inexhaustible water of a spring, always flowing, invisibly fed. Indeed, the proof lay in the absurd. Unfathomable mysteries made reality bearable, and in the meantime we sought to unravel the solution for that perfect state. The unicorn would show us the way to the resting place of the Grail, behind the heart of the mountains, past the most terrible guardian dragons.
The key lay in hardships and mortification of the flesh, that much we quickly discovered. We named ourselves Lancelot, anchorites, Indiana Jones, and marched forth to find that which we could not even conceive: immortality, or at least the physical version thereof.
The condition was always the same: only the purest of human beings had a chance of success. But the testing was long, generally the whole of the human life, and purity slipped away. Every trial that was passed abraded the soul still more. The more closely we approached perfection, the more vulnerable the Knight of the Holy Grail became - ultimately to vulnerable, unfit to attain the highest goal.
We fitted up laboratories, cathedrals of the most advanced scientific knowledge, with the most precise measuring apparatus under perfect clinical conditions. The door to the outside world was hermetically sealed. We consulted books, assembled the world's best minds, and set ourselves a task: create an earthly paradise, free of illness and need.
We named ourselves Pasteur, Oppenheimer or Yuri Gagarin, and conjured up the weapons that each war made redundant. We manipulated the genes of a sheep, wrote Dolly on her birth certificate, and knew that with every new step the foundations were being laid for a still more secret laboratory, which only the one who had not been compromised by pressure from the authorities or the temptation of lucre would be permitted to enter. The more paradise came into sight, the clearer it became that the latter-day heroes too came to the door empty-handed, disillusioned, broken in spirit, healed of all faith. The moon, the bomb and Dolly have changed little. One step closer to imperfection, says the treasurer of the sublime.
We conferred our trust on poets who could catch the ineffable in words. They wrote the formulae for our survival, fired off shots at the Heart of the Matter. The landscape of the spirit gelled in a single sentence; words became pearls in which the universe was preserved. But doubt crept into their words. Every sentence was a mountain of words too much. Their verse became a prison, their metre set up bars around the mystery. Every time we were prepared for a breakthrough, a new iron rose in its place.
We named ourselves Rilke, Mallarme or Ezra Pound, and knew that hope was idle. 'Everything of value is defenceless', wrote their brother-in-arms: a direct hit on the untold, but at the same time a stumbling block on the road to salvation.
Since, then, truth has dwelt in libraries. Letter cling together with each other in impeccable lines, pressed flat for our need for order. Gymnasiums and plastic surgeons would turn things around. Vitamin compounds and diets of seaweed did the rest. We placed ourselves outside of time, and thus outside the logic of defective reality. The Holy Grail in biceps and 'Perfect Abs'. We named ourselves Boebka, Princess Diana or Michael Jackson, and shaped our body into an icon. We sought rescue from the doomed carcass, charms against ageing But his urge to perform outlives the muscle man himself; the child in the man is doomed to lose out to the child that he begets. Rowing machines and home trainers only stir up the air. They buy time, but never enough.
He sought gold in a lump of lead, studied the transformations from black to white to yellow to red. He called himself a chemist or an alchemist, and pulverised rubies to his heart's content in an effort to find the Philosophers' Stone that he must have for himself. He followed the formulae from the old adepts, but did so according to his own precepts: an intuitive compound of sulphur and malachite, beeswax and silver. Gems filled cavities in other gems. Piano strings connected the various stages of sublimation between lead and gold to a necklace almost too heavy to wear.
The alchemist's laboratory is fascinating and at the same time terrifying because it is a return to the beginning. It does not represent a flight into the future, but rather the reconstruction of an Ur-stage. It is the pride of creation that precedes all other creations, the gem made by the hand of man, an ennobling, perhaps more sublime nature than that which traces its origins to God's creation. Here is a creator who acts in the fullest certainty that he is one of an endless series of Knights of the Holy Grail who have sought the Philosophers' Stone in vain. Call him Lancelot. Call him foolhardy. But in any case, look with all your senses.
'Everything unknown and empty is filled with philosophical projection; it is as if the investigator's own psychic background is mirrored in the darkness. What he sees in matter, or thinks he can see, is chiefly the data of his own unconscious, which he is projecting into it. In other words, he encounters in matter, as apparently belonging to it, certain qualities and potential meanings, of whose psychic nature he is entirely unconscious'.*
* C.G. Jung and Alchemy Part II
GERT STAAL NL