Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

by Gordon Dahlquist

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Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Liz » Sun Jan 18, 2009 1:52 pm

Pg. 405 - 407:

“Do you know,” she (Miss Temple) asked, swallowing just enough of the fruit to speak clearly, “this is quite nearly as delicious as the mangos one can find in the garden of my father’s house? The difference—though this is very good—is due, I should think, to the different quality of sunlight, the very positioning of the planet. Do you see? There are great forces at play around us, each day of our lives—and who are we? To what do we pretend? To which of these masters are we in service?”

“I applaud your metaphorical thought,” said the Comte dryly.

“But do you have an answer?”

“Perhaps I do. What about…art?”

“Art?”

Miss Temple was not sure what he meant, and paused in her chewing, narrowing her eyes with suspicion. Could he have followed her to the art gallery (and if so, when? During her visit with Roger? More recently? Had he been contacted so quickly by the gallery agent, Mr. Shanck?), or did he mean something else…but what? To Miss Temple, art was a curiosity, like a carved bone or shrunken head one found at a village market—a vestige of unknown territories it did not occur to her to visit.

“Art,” repeated the Comte. “You are acquainted with it…with the idea?”

“What idea in particular?”

“Of art as alchemy. An act of transformation. Of re-making and re-birth.”

Miss Temple held up her hand. “I’m sorry, but do you know…this merely prompts me to ask about your relations with a particular painter, a Mr. Oskar Veilandt. I believe he is also from Paris, and most well known for his very large and provocative composition on the theme of the Annunciation. I understand—perhaps it is merely a cruel rumor—that this expressive masterwork was cut up into thirteen pieces and scattered across the continent.”

The Comte took another drink of coffee.

“I’m afraid I do not know him. He is from Paris, you say?”

“At some point, like so very many people one finds disagreeable.”

“Have you seen his work?” he asked.

“O yes.”

“What did you think of it? Were you provoked?”

“I was.”

He smiled. “You? How so?”

“Into thinking you had caused his death. For he is dead, and you seem to have stolen a great deal from him—your ceremonies, your Process, and your precious indigo clay. How odd for such things to come from a painter, though I suppose he was also a mystic and an alchemist—strange you should just mention that too—though I am told it is the usual way of things in that garret-ridden, absinthe-soaked community. You carry yourself so boldly, and yet one wonders, Monsieur, if you have ever had an original thought at all.”


The definition of Alchemy from thefreedictionary.com:

Alchemy: A medieval philosophy and early form of chemistry whose aims were the transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of a cure for all diseases, and the preparation of a potion that gives eternal youth. The imagined substance capable of turning other metals into gold was called the philosophers' stone.

A Closer Look: Because their goals were so unrealistic, and because they had so little success in achieving them, the practitioners of alchemy in the Middle Ages got a reputation as fakers and con artists. But this reputation is not fully deserved. While they never succeeded in turning lead into gold (one of their main goals), they did make discoveries that helped to shape modern chemistry. Alchemists invented early forms of some of the laboratory equipment used today, including beakers, crucibles, filters, and stirring rods. They also discovered and purified a number of chemical elements, including mercury, sulfur, and arsenic. And the methods they developed to separate mixtures and purify compounds by distillation and extraction are still important.


Compare Alchemy and/or art to the Comte’s transformation process.

NOTE: Please keep in mind, when answering this question, that there are those who have not finished the book yet. Use the spoiler button if you need to. Also, try to refrain from discussing the ending (as in the last 75 pages or so) as we will be saving that for later.
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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby nebraska » Sun Jan 18, 2009 2:24 pm

Just an aside here, Liz.......Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was originally published as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. If only I had you and DITHOT to guide me through the Harry Potter books! The books are stuffed full of names and happenings that have deeper meaning. There was SO MUCH there I missed because I didn't have tidbits! :dunce:

Well, the Process was supposed to take simple humans and transform them into a totaly different type of being, wasn't it. So I suppose in that sense the use of the blue glass was a form of alchemy. And the end result was not at all what was promised to the ladies willing to go through the Process, so there was some con art going on as well.

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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Liz » Sun Jan 18, 2009 3:01 pm

nebraska wrote:Just an aside here, Liz.......Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was originally published as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. If only I had you and DITHOT to guide me through the Harry Potter books! The books are stuffed full of names and happenings that have deeper meaning. There was SO MUCH there I missed because I didn't have tidbits! :dunce:

You give us too much credit, nebraska. But :thanks!: And we probably would have begged off of Harry Potter tidbits like we did with Glass Books because HP was also a fantasy.


nebraska wrote:so there was some con art going on as well.

:biglaugh:
Thanks for starting us off, nebraska!
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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby trygirl » Sun Jan 18, 2009 3:25 pm

The whole purpose of early alchemists was "transformation" or turning one thing into something else i.e. lead into gold, the old into the eternally young, or the diseased into the perpetually healthy. So the Comte's process is at the very heart of this medieval science. His machine takes a human being, and in the space of one of these ceremonies, removes all of their inhibitions, doubts, and fears. They are transformed and re-born...they are naked and unashamed. And without the paintings of Oskar Veilandt, the transformation wouldn't be possible. But art has always played a role in alchemy. The Egyptians drew on walls in their time and thousands of years later people realized that these weren't just creative drawings. They were telling stories, leaving clues. These hieroglyphs were full of medicinal codes, religious messages, etc. like Veilandt's paintings. So art and alchemy have always been hand-in-hand.
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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby IngridN » Sun Jan 18, 2009 3:31 pm

The paintings from Oskar Veilandt were made to provoke people but they also reveal things about the "Process", like a lady being strapped on an angled table
and then, the lady with purple loops around her eyes.
At the back of the paintings there are also mystical formulas, symbols, and also the writing: "and so they shall be consumed in blue"
Dr Sveson calls Oskar Veilandt an alchemist.
At the end of the book
Spoiler! :
when they are in the airship at a certain point the Comte d'Orkancz stands up and Francis Xonck says to him:"Sit down Oskar!"
So the Compte d'Orkancz is Oskar Veilandt and with his paintings he is showing the "process".
"We are always the same age inside." Gertrude Stein

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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby ladylinn » Sun Jan 18, 2009 4:00 pm

The paintings of Oskar Veilandt seemed to hide his work in alchemy. The paintings containing religious beings and forms in explict acts of the process, was like a secret code of explaining his experiments.
Spoiler! :
Using his alias of Comte Dahlquist kept us readers in the dark as Miss Temple, Dr. Svenson and Chang tried to solve the mystery of the blue glass and books. Veilandt's goal seemed to be to transform people instead of materials into gold etc. He was an alchemist hiding his real passion in his art work.

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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Liz » Sun Jan 18, 2009 4:07 pm

Since there are Noodlemantras who have not finished the book yet I don't want them to see what happens at the end--unless they want to. So I have put a spoiler around the end of your posts, IngridN & Ladylinn. However, what you both say is quite relevant & insightful. Also, I don't want to get into a discussion about the ending of the book just yet. That will come in about a week. Seems I should have anticipated this issue. :-/ Thanks for your patience.
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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby gemini » Sun Jan 18, 2009 5:44 pm

Here is another definition of alchemy which I found relevant.
Alchemy (Arabic ), a part of the Occult Tradition, is both a philosophy and a practice with an aim of achieving ultimate wisdom as well as immortality, involving the improvement of the alchemist as well as the making of several substances described as possessing unusual properties.

Spoiler! :
When reading this with hindsight now, I see that Miss Temple was totally in error with her last paragraph above. I realize she was grasping at straws to gain information but she did not get the clue he gave her when he asked about art. Since she knew the glass book brought emotion to life, he was telling her what the glass books really were and who he was.
I think this definition of alchemy which mentions a goal of immortality certainly fits with our story.
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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Liz » Sun Jan 18, 2009 9:42 pm

Gemini, I would agree that achieving ultimate wisdom, as well as a type of immortality, were in line with the alchemical properties of the "process".
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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Theresa » Sun Jan 18, 2009 10:08 pm

This was one section that I just had to skim over...it just didn't make much sense to me. Was the Comte was trying to say his "Process" was art? Alchemy, yes, I can see that...but art?

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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby gemini » Sun Jan 18, 2009 10:20 pm

Theresa wrote:This was one section that I just had to skim over...it just didn't make much sense to me. Was the Comte was trying to say his "Process" was art? Alchemy, yes, I can see that...but art?

Spoiler! :
I took his answer as an admission that he was the artist and this invention was his way of bringing it to life.
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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Theresa » Sun Jan 18, 2009 10:30 pm

gemini wrote:
Theresa wrote:This was one section that I just had to skim over...it just didn't make much sense to me. Was the Comte was trying to say his "Process" was art? Alchemy, yes, I can see that...but art?

Spoiler! :
I took his answer as an admission that he was the artist and this invention was his way of bringing it to life.

Maybe that's why I didn't get it when I read it in the story...since I didn't yet know what the ending was.

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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Liz » Sun Jan 18, 2009 11:03 pm

Well, I think alchemy itself is considered an "art"....like the art of a silversmith, jewelry making, etc. And trygirl mentions that the Egyptians used art in their process of alchemy. As an artist, I see art as a transformation, as a way of expressing beauty or a message using an art form...be it a painting, sculpture, or jewelry. Writing is also an art form. So one is forming her thoughts, feelings or visions into another form than what is in her mind, heart or senses.

Has anyone here read The Alchemist? I thought it was a very good book. And funny that my local book club discussed it in our last book discussion. Just another TZ (Twilight Zone) moment, out of many, for me. Alchemy was a topic in The Club Dumas, too.
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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Theresa » Sun Jan 18, 2009 11:36 pm

And I've always thought of alchemy as science...as chemistry. Turning lead into gold, finding the cure for diseases, creating a potion for eternal youth -- to me, that's chemistry, not art. Maybe the art was in the alchemist's skill in convincing people that they could do these things.

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Re: Glass Books Question #14 ~ Alchemy

Unread postby Liz » Mon Jan 19, 2009 1:02 am

I have to confess that somehow the word alchemy had bypassed my radar all of these years until The Club Dumas. All I really knew was that it was related somehow to gold. Theresa, you should read The Alchemist. It will take on a whole different meaning for you. It is a very short book, BTW. :-O
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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