Monday, January 28, 2013

Mercury: Queer Objects & Objecting Forms (P3)


"[Mercury] is all things, who was but one; 
He is nothing, and his number is entire...
He is a spirit, and yet hath a body; 
He is a man, yet as the part of a woman... 
He is a poison, yet cureth the leprosie; 
He is life, yet he kills all things"

A Dialogue Between Mercury, 
the Alchymist & Nature
Michael Sendivogius


III. Objecting Forms


i. Mercury: A Philosopher's Stone

"Of a thousand drops I shall be one, 
out of one I give many thousand drops"

Mercury, Michael Sendivogius

In "Alchemetical" texts, including those written and referenced by Michael Sendivogius, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and Issac Newton, Mercury is generally considered a substance of special quality and virtue. Simultaneously a "spirit" and a "body" [a.k.a. a metal], quicksilver was regarded not as an element, but as a relic of the first oceans in creation, from which the gods divided all beings into discrete forms. It is, without exaggeration, an embodiment of chaos. As such, mercury promised to contain that resonance which could shake free the deterministic material universe back into a caustic, transformative fluid.

Alchemists, we are told, were chiefly interested into transforming "lesser metals" into "gold" and "silver." Certainly this was one potential profit by which they could sell their arts. But what if we regarded mad endevour as more candidly as a response at once to the stifling chains of being and class hierarchy and a desire to break free into a more dynamic and queer state-of-being? What if they regarded the Alchemist's object as queer? How might a queer relationship to materiality transfigure how we regard the intercourse between Alchemist and Mercury?

Turning to 14th century Alchemist, Michael Sendivogius's Dialog Between Mercury, the Alchymist and Nature, we are at once disturbed by the very framing of the text. Sendivogius does not simply imbue Mercury with a sense of agency, an alien way of knowing, and a voice, but becomes shaken by the quick-silver's persona, so that he become directed & altered by what Jane Bennett calls "vibrant materiality." 

After a prolonged period of mixing, cooking, and losing his mercury, the Alchemist at last surrenders his scientific objectivity to Mercury's "objections", his critical distance from the object, and sits down beside it and begins to speak. To his surprise, the Mercury answers back.

"Thou seest my shape," says the Mercury, admitting "and of this thou needst to know further." In a critical sense the Mercury's form and shape of non-human communication is simultaneously too subtle and too overt for the Alchemist to understand. What he is learning, by this condescension of the mercury, is to learn how to slow down and listen.

"Because thou askest me of my center,"continues Mercury,"my center is the most fixed heart of all things,immortal and penetrating."Alchemist in this way suggest that Mercury and all particular things have implications for ontology writ large. As a Mad Scientist, we see these "centers" or Foundations coinciding with foundations in a historicized and particular fashion through which many things pass.

"In that [center] my Master rests,"continues Mercury, "but I am a stranger and yet I live at home." Invoking diverse theological arguments on the time regarding the relationship between the particular and the universal, a being and God, the Mercury has just declared that it (and by extension all things) are ensouled and in some respect find their origin in God, however far they wander and transform.

There a paradox central to Mercury then, with an ability to be located in multiple places, be contained in many drops yet remain collected together, and to exist in many different forms. "I am most faithful to all my companions, I leave not those that accompany mee" speaks the Mercury, "I abide with them, I perish with them." Each form participates in Being as a particular being which is in fact tied to temporal, historical, change and mortality. However, it is not tied down absolutely to them and flow between times, places, and particulars. 

"I am an immortal body" admits Mercury "I die indeed when I am slaine, but I rise again in judgement before a wise Judge." This phrasing is itself indefinite, as it may suggest that Mercury too will stand before God in some sort of after-life or New Jerusalem, but also, looking back at the references to a good alchemist as a true Master, a wise Judge might be any one able to see this paradoxical state of being simultaneously present and absent in any given form.


ii. Objections: A Queer-Material Turn

"Dost thou come back again sometimes?"
"I doe, but in another forme"

the Alchymist & Mercury, Michael Sendivogius

As Lynne Huffer suggests in Mad for Foucault: queerness is a kind of (re)turn. Thus, I do not fear the presumption of including the promise of a conclusion in a meditation on queer objects, however indefinite, however infinite. For what is a queer life journey without its objects? 

The wonder of such objects is that they are particular and precarious: a disturbing telos that is dangerous because its essentiality threatens form. We have attacked essentialism and formalism as though they are inherent allies - Mercury demonstrates it is not.

Our alchemists, our "mad scientists" we have said are not aimed exclusively at producing gold but at producing change - if to dangerously seeking to master change itself. 

Chaucer suggests in his Canon Yeoman's Tale, wherein the alchemist promises that with "This [crucible] ... which that thou seest,/taak in thyn hand, and put thyself therinne/ of this quicksilver an ounce, and heer bigynne ... For ye shul seen heer, by experience, / that this quyksilver I will mortifye / right in youre sighte anon, withouten lye, / and make it as good silver and as fyn / as ther is any in youre purs and myn, / or elleswhere, and make it malliable" 

The gold is in fact not the conclusion, but certain an object, a place to go and dwell but is not final. The power of Mercury and the mad science of Alchemy is that it puts change into your hands. You can feel it, see it and perhaps problematically command and undo it.

Before the promises of gold and power, what the Alchemist in the tale offers is that "faste shal ye see a wonder thyng, which ye saugh nevere er this." Is not part of the direction / goal of a queer object not an investment in a material ally and orientation towards surprise? In not the explosive and mercurial veers of a queer object the result of first a dangerous love and attachment to it as a travel-mate?

Gower in the Confessio Amantis, on the other hand, demonstrates how this power over change threatens to slay mutability in the name of eternal life. Mercury, he writes, may be so treated so as to make a "Philosopher's Stone" which he amends into three different types. 

1. "Lapis vegetablis [Stone of the Vegetable-Soul]of which the propre vertu is to mannes hele for to serve, / as for to kepe and to preserve/ the bodi fro sicknesses alle, / til deth of kinde upon him falle." 

2. "Lapis animalis [Stone of the Animal-Soul]... whereof a man mai hiere and see / and smelle and taste in his degre / and for to fiele and for to go / it helpeth man of bothe tuo. / The wittes fyve he underfongeth/ ti kepe, as it to him belongeth."

3. "Ston mineral [Stone of the Mineral-Soul] ...transformeth all the ferste kynde /and makth hem able to conceive /thurgh his vertu, and to receive /bothe in substance and in figure / of gold and selver the nature."

While the third stone, listed in the place usually housed by the rational soul (a replacement or conflation between the material and the mental), the Stone of the Mineral-Soul seem to promise the classic object of alchemist as moving teleologically towards gold and silver, but again, the meditation does not stay there but thinks more on the wider implications of this power.

"For thei tuo ben th'extremetes,/ to whiche after the propertes/ hath every metal his desi [i.e. desire],/ with help and confort of the fyr/ forth with this stone, as it is seid/ which to the sonne and mone is leid;/ for to the rede and to the whyte/ this ston hath pouer to profite."

Not only do minerals then have souls, but desires as well as virtues. Their relationship (we might say filial or erotic) with fire then propels this transformation, which we may describe as a "disturbance" in their ontology and an "objection" to set forms. Might it be then, that objects desire transformation and that this turning is significantly a virtual queerness in all objects, potentially actualized by our mercury-mineral-stone and fire.

Where are we going if each thing has different desires, and this too is perpetually disturbed or turned? This is why certain "queer objects" can capture others in their gravitational force, taking them on with a critical mass, but also why a sudden turn can disentangle these alliances and undermining this unifying quality. A single breaking point can "turn" the whole structure in across itself.


iii. Alchemy: A Mad Science

"Doest thou say I am inconstant, I resolve thee thus: 
I am constant unto a constant Artificer; 
fixed to him that is fixed in mind, 
but thou, and such as thou are inconstant, 
running from one thing unto another, 
from one matter onto another"

Mercury, Michael Sendivogius

We have called the gods down upon us; our games among the intelligences shook them from their spheres, inciting them into discourse. Truth walks among as an effect, in lower-case, as truth, a historicized pageant of powers big & small. Mercury in this way has become what Foucault calls "the obstinate murmur of language talking to itself - without any speaking subject and without an interlocutor, wrapped up in itself... collapsing before it ever reaches any formulation and returning without a fuss to the silence that it never shook off." It's become mutable and mad.

Why should we be surprised that when we meet meaning and language in the flesh that it should be like us, an assemblage of tiny particles, tumbling, flying, intersecting, through time-space? Mercury was relatively benign, at least in regards to us, so long as he kept his distance, running rings around the Sun. Now it flows among us, defining and refining our very mode of relating to the world. Meaning and madness, matter and anti-matter, god and element, they are not antithetical beings ever at war, but the queer motions of a particular disturbing essence.

Queer bodies are Mad, claims Huffer, come into being like Mercury, "as a fragment of night formed by a flash of lightning" (H 15). Bringing together matter & meaning, Huffer locates queer theory not in Foucault's History of Sexuality, but the History of Madness, wherein a thing becomes Sane by throwing Madness into the world by a "self-splitting." What does this mean? To be a queer object is to be/exist turned inside-out:

"From the Middle High German quer, queer means oblique... from the Latin obliquus, slanting...'Tell all truth but tell it slant / Success in circuit lies" a queer Emily Dickenson remiands us. Queer also means adverse --- from the Latin versus, a turning, the root that gives us perverse, perverted, pervert. The danger of the queer is that it can easily be re-turned against us: we can be recaptured and pinned down again in our perversions and our genders" (H 2).

By making the gods into men and women; we proceed to slay them & distribute their parts across the known universe. These wholes as fully present in their parts: Anywhere you find Sanity (Sentence) you find Madness (Solace). Mercury speaks both languages, so must we. We need to become Mad Scientists. To pursue Mercury, we much become Alchemists.

Thus we come to our queer object in Mercury: not a lack of direction, but a splintered direction. Where once we looked for a road, or no road, we have instead found an intersection --- a road of many faces and many seasons.

To think with a queer object and a mind of mercury is to speak in many languages, hold many things, turn and return, split and change --- Mercury embodies chorus & conversation.

Contemporary Jungian psycho-analysis such as Deldon Anne McNeely describes Mercury's behavior as a kind of trickster who emphasizes relationality but does not necessarily diminish the significance of a specific object or location. Rather, the mad science, led by Mercury intensifies that ontological position by placing it in conversation with all other bodies it is displacing, turning, and shaping in the process of being. "While [Mercury] dismisses hierarchy," writes McNeely, "it does demand differentiation so there can be rich disagreement" (M 187). Truth becomes dispersed across particular objects and truths, which require interaction and difference to produce their truth-effects.

In a critical sense, all objects desire to converse, but such interplay requires a flexibility in speed (space over time) for different things functioning in different modalities to be able to listen and translate. With a ecological fervor, Mercury tells us, "Wait, don't rush into heroic solutions. What seemed true may not be the whole truth. Let's get another perspective and reflect on the big picture" (M 157). In our convers(at)ions with Mercury we have come to a renewed appreciation of our filial bond with queer objects in order that we might come into contact with something disturbingly different, which perpetually turns us towards new possibilities of knowing, being & objecting.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mercury: Queer Objects & Illicit Attachments (P2)


“Everything passes through [Mercury’s] hands, because, more or less, everything is transformed in his hands… It arrives neither pure nor unvarying nor stable”

the Parasite
Michel Serres


II. Illicit Attachments

"If my velocity makes you sweat, then just don't let go" barks Gerard Way, his vocals matching the urgency of the lyrics and the swift beat of electronic sound-machines. "Please understand, I can't slow down, I won't be waiting for you... then we just, then we just, then we just, then we just get up and GO!" Way, a self-proclaimed student of Freddy Mercury has brought together a elementally diverse set of pop-rock artists (brothers), with a punk-rock rhythm guitarist & a heavy metal lead guitarist under the banner of the name My Chemical Romance. Famous for dynamic sound & theatrical personas, which change with every album, their name seems to signify differently with each iteration. 

At first, it matched the drug & drink fueled ecstasy that defined their early years and albums (I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love & Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge), then it came to embody a morbid resignation to the toxicity of death and dying (The Black Parade), and in their most recent work it has come to signify an amp-ed up energy of bodies in motion (Danger Days: the True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys) --- a look and feel, Way has shared in interviews, inspired by classic science-fiction films and comic books with a touch of chaos theory. The band and their music the collective volatility of dangerous, even reckless amalgams of form, style, and matter. 

Despite these often violent, incendiary, macabre elements, MCR's fan-base commonly hosting a flag of their own: "my chemical romance saved my life." The motto takes on a peculiar multi-valency among the diverse demographic, made up heavily of teenagers, young-adults, and professionals that often share either a history of substance use --- illicit and prescribed --- to battle experiences of trauma, alienation, inconstancy, and depression. As between Mercury and mercury, the distinction between Chemical and chemical is best left free-floating and multiple in its associations.

As with Mercury, Way evidences that queer objects can sustain life as well as poison them. A toxin, it is said by biochemists, is defined by concentration of the actor and the sensitivity of the patient. That is what makes them so hard to regulate. At times making certain forms of touching illicit my be stifling, even suffocating, but at other times it is a protective measure which preserves the life of antagonistic elements. As the crosser of boundaries and the mediator that seems to have a hand in everything, mercury perpetually ignores prohibitions, making high-risk connections and dangerous amalgams everywhere it runs.


The molecular structure of quick-silver bonds excitedly with a host of other elements. The result of this feverish veering towards forming bonds is that mercury has been sought after and distributed across the world in a host of different industrial tasks. 

Because of its particular attraction to gold and silver atoms, mercury has been used in mining. According to Nicholas A Robin's account of Mercury, Mining and Empire: the Human and Ecological Cost of Silver Mining in the Andes mercury is poured through the soil, where it soaks through, collecting the stray particles of the precious metals as it slowly sifts through the earth and is recollected in a basin in a mine-shaft underneath. The mercury is then heated and turns into a gas, leaving behind the less easily transformed materials.

While this mining process had been recorded since the Roman Empire, it was not until the turn of the 17th century, among the Spanish mining colonies in the Americas where it was first fully industrialized. Since this time, especially with advent of coal-burning technology, mercury release via human mining manufacturing has remained consistently high.

Fueling this mercury-madness, a quick-silver rush ran so high that throughout the Spanish colonies 68,200 metric tons of mercury was unearthed by local labor populations that were nearly annihilated by the fatal toxicity of the mining process (R 110). Reports of the current release of mercury into the eco-system runs judge that around 5,500 tons of mercury dumped into the environment per year, 95% of which settles into local soil deposits, mostly in the form of gaseous emissions from coal-burning power-plants (R 102). 

As a result of these practices of liquid quick-silver being poured into the soil, mercury amalgams being handled (often without protection) by masses of indentured or under-paid workers throughout these mining towns (especially in the Americas), and then the release of the element into the air through cooking, the toxin permeated the ecologies and bodies of American colonies from the 17th century until today with deadly consequences. In some areas, 95% of the native population showed symptoms of severe Mercury poisoning, the effects of which are still evident in the health of later generations (R 11).

Despite more apparent contact with the material occurring during the mining process itself, it is actually the inhalation of the fumes when the mercury is being cooked away that caused the greatest number of mercury-related illnesses and death. While around 2% of persons that touch mercury in a liquid or solid state will suffer from harmful effects, over 80% of those that breath in its fumes will begin showing signs of poisoning (R 110). 

Thus the greater the intensity and excitation the mercury atoms exhibit, the more they are able to penetrate and travel through the body, altering it as it goes. It is this particular quality of the element that makes The Mad Hatter such a staple image for mercury-poisoning, as hat-making particularly required the heating of cinnabar (red mercury, a.k.a. mercury sulfide) to release its potential (R 7).


Mercury with obscene effectiveness has attached itself to the human, traveling through us and with us through history, and drawing us to it with all our most insatiable desires.

As the above image illustrates, what mercury is "holding" and what it is "made of" often amounts to the same thing. It becomes swollen with meaning as well as affect. Kris Lane explores this in "Dangerous Attractions: Mercury in Human History," mapping the medicinal uses of mercury as an amalgam and supplement has an engorged archive.

Oozing from the pages and bodies of theorists of matter from the Greco-Roman empire to the Persian Empire, to Southeast Asian emperors, to medieval alchemists, early modern chemistry, to current day medical practices, mercury has flowed through "the human" and made its home there.

Said to materially contain energies and astrological virtues from the moon and the planet that shares its name. According to alchemists such as Bernard, Earl of Trevisan (late 14th century), Mercury was said to help balance the humors of the body (black bile, yellow bile, blood & phlegm) by adjusting the dryness/wetness ratio as well as the heat/coldness of the humors. It was regarded as a potential cure-all, because it materialized both "living water" and "burning fire," resulting in a perfect mixing of the "Masculine, hot dry, and secretly informing" and "the Female... volatile, crude, cold and moyst" (B 139).

These balances were said to be fundamental in determining the longevity of the person, as well as affect, behavior, racial as well as gender attributes as well. Thus when patients began acting "different" as a result of ingesting different amalgams of mercury, these changes were read as having come from an adjustment in these fluid levels.

Evidently the toxic affects of mercury were also observed, with many individuals dying, but also a certain sudden "expulsion" of fluids from the body. Thus by the late medieval and early modern period in Europe, drugs of mercury could be taken to give a simultaneous "boost" to erections/ejaculations as well as to purge the digestive system of its unwelcome contents.

A perfect mixture of mercury has long been written to release hidden potentials. Most notable among these was the theory that while imbibing the wrong amount may kill you, just the right amount would  bring immortality. "In some Ayurvedic texts" notes Lane, "mercury is associated with the highest ranks of godhead and serves as  kind of elixir" (L 17). Records of these attempts have been unearthed in India, Southeast Asia, and in Europe. The accounts run with various treatises, instructions, and testimonies of emperors so infatuated with the element's promise that they had their tomb covered over with oceans of quick-silver.

Today the use of amalgamated mercury in dental fillings, vaccinations and industrial complicity with pouring high levels of quick-silver into local fields, air and water-ways has marked countless bodies with high chemical sensitivity. In the case of Mel Y Chen, and those like her, the amalgamation of mercury and human has gone awry, making it bonding of her body with stray toxins compulsory. 

"Metal-borne damage to the liver's detoxification pathways means that I cannot sustain everyday toxins: once they enter, they recirculate rather than leave" (C 201).

In "Following Mercurial Affect" Chen's accounts the lived, socialized experience of this bio-chemical activity:

"I can sometimes become 'autism spectrum' in the sense that I cannot take too much stimulation, including touch, sound, or direct human engagement, including being unable to meet someone's gaze, needing repetitive, spastic movement to feel that my body is just barely in a tolerable state; and I can radically lose compassionate intuition, saying things that I feel are innocuous but are incredibly hurtful" (C 201).

Chen's crip-chemical experiences points us towards the problematic inconstancy of mercury and its object partners. "The word mercurial means what it means" writes Chen, "unstable and widly unpredictable -- because the mercury toxin has altered a self, has directly transformed an affective matrix: affect goes faster, affect goes hostile, goes toxic" (C 201). Queerness has a violent potential, which is not less evident nor attractive when put into concert with object oriented ontology.

Music, mining, medicine --- mercury caustically brings things together that don't usually get to touch. The resultant mixture opens up opportunities, but also fresh dangers for bodies that are not prepared for the potentially toxic results. For those that can survive the convers(at)ion however, the exploration of uncharted alliances with mercury can lead us passed our blind-spots and into new ways of being & knowing in the world.


...On the Horizon...

Queer Objects
Convers(at)ions with Mercury [Part 3]
Objecting Forms

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mercury: Queer Objects & Disturbing Ontologies (P1)


“Matter and meaning are not separate elements… 
Mattering is simultaneously of substance & significance, most evidently perhaps when it is the nature of matter that is in question, when the smallest parts of matter are found to be capable of exploding deeply entrenched ideas & large cities. Perhaps this is why contemporary physics makes
the inescapable entanglement of matter of being, knowing, & doing, of ontology, epistemology,& ethics, of fact & value,
so tangible, so poignant”

Meeting the Universe Halfway
Karen Barad



To have a mind of mercury is to think in queer and inhuman ways. Mercury pollutes brains and gives language, freezes limbs and transports, amalgamates and mediates, rises and retrogrades, hardens, flows, and evaporates. Calling it quick-silver, Hg, argent vive, the primal matter and the philosopher’s stone, we have been speaking with and of Mercury for millennia and, perhaps more importantly, listening to this elemental metal speak to us. 

We have come to know it as the messenger of the Gods and the sphere that rides closest to the Sun, the mythological fount of knowledge. Alchemists saw Mercury as the first element, the substance that came before all materials in the universe’s creation. When God, or the gods, in Genesis & the Metamorphoses spoke of the foundational chaos, undifferentiated seas from which all other things came into being & which shares some quality with all other substances, the alchemists registered them as waters of mercury. From this object, if properly purified, they believed that we can come to translate and transform all other objects. 

Today, chemists use quick-silver as a measurement tool as well as an agent of both binding and expulsion. It grasps on to other metals to form alamgates for dental fillings or to draw out tiny bits of silver and gold from the soil. Fat however sucks it up while the digestive track reacts but ejecting it and a mess of fluids (sometimes even seminal ones) along with it.  A substance of ecological, ethical and medicinal concern it surges through our barometer bulbs, mines, minds, rivers and blood-streams. 

In that way, this project is alchemical as well as chemical, medieval as well as scientific: by letting mercury become our queer object, our goal and our messenger, we map how it disturbs our modes ontology, telos & epistemology as it travels between bodies, topographies & times.

What do I mean by calling it a queer object? Queer studies has done a good job of challenging logics of identity and identification, my project with Mercury is to apply that same critical attentions to object oriented ontology. Michel Serres & Bruno Latour, among others in object, ecology & disability studies, have set the stage for such an investigation of deviant objects:

“We live in a hybrid world made up at once of gods, peoples, stars, electrons nuclear plants, and markets” writes Latour, “Once there is no longer a mind-in-a-vat looking through the gaze at an outside world, the search for absolute certainty becomes less urgent, and thus there is no great difficulty in reconnecting with the relativism, the relations, the relativity on which the sciences have always thrived. Once the social realm no longer bears these stigmata branded upon it by those who want to silence the mod, there is no great difficulty in recognizing the human character of scientific practice, its lively history, its many connections with the rest of the collective”

A disturbing ontology, as we will discover throughout our material convers(at)ions is already underway. What sign posts will we look for on our search for our queer objects? 


I. disturbing ontologies of a thing; failing “to be”

II. illicit touching between things supposed separate

III. resisting forms & parameters; of time, space or category; locating multiply or inconstantly

What are the consequences of this study? What does it mean to have a material turn in queer studies or a queer turn in object studies? It provides us first with more allies and avenues than other such theoretical turns, because in this case we extend the conversation beyond simply the field of human politics. Suddenly we can begin finding symbolic and material support for our interests from bodies that won’t make the usual human demands.

The difficulty, as we will see, is that different forms of ecological demands may begin to assert themselves, ones which may require us to change our sense of responsibility, ownership and even identification with non-human animals, ecologies, and sciences. A cursory investigation will however demonstrate that these contingencies & alliances have already been active. Listening to our mercurial messenger, we will find a noisy world, a cacophony of things in motion with metonymic lines of dialog—and yet it is our own world that we are arriving into. Making the familial strange, running together, we are arriving at an ever more disturbing world.



I. Disturbing Ontologies

“Only one in the saddle of whose soul rode Mercury himself could have unmade language” 

That Hideous Strength
CS Lewis 

“I feel ali-li-li-live” groans the melancholy Gay Icon, Freddie Mercury as he leans slantwise against the microphone stand, speaking to a crowded room of jam-packed bodies exchanging more than sweat. “And the woooooooorld” continues Mercury “ill turn it inside oooooooout! Yeah! I’m floating around in ec-sta-sy. So: Don’t. Stop. Me. Noooooow! Don’t. Stop. Meeeeeeeee!” Of course, Mercury would too soon be brought down by HIV/AIDS. His was a body, like his fans, through which flowed diverse waters, that made it bend, limp, shake & sing.

Moaning somewhere on the edge of articulation, sexual exaltation, and insanity, Mercury and his music embodied a queer material lineage. “Like an atom-bomb, about to woooooah, wooooooah, woooooag exploooooooooode” his song tells us “buuuuuurrrrrrrning through the sky! 200 degrees that’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheeeeeeeeeeeeeit. I’m traveling at the speed of liiiiiiight….Don’t stop me. Don’t stop me. Don’t stop me now!”

Mercury here speaks to his hotness and specifically his ability to register heat, like the embodiment of mercury as quick-silver that has been traditionally used in thermometers. At the same time, and in interviews, he imagines himself as a bright body flying through the sky, like an amalgam of gasous mercury vapours, the god, and/or the planet closest to the sun. Indeed they all are at play in Mercury, according to accounts in Queen: the Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crowned Kings of Rock that he took his name from his astrological sign: Virgo with Mercury Rising. Valuing the affect of galactic forces on his body, the would-be Freddy Mercury came to embody and speak on behalf of the great messenger. 

Freddy was hardly the 1st to view mercury, elemental, divine or planetary as a singer. Mythology records Mercury as the musician that lulled to sleep Argus, the all-seeing servant of Hera, using his reed-flute. Lewis Carol has the mercurial Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland singing joyfully, a mind-riddled with the neuro-toxin after years of breathing in its fumes. Kira Obelensky in her play Quick-Silver presents a town of musical but moody citizens poisoned by years of imbibing mercury-rich waters, which flow through blood, collecting in fat around nerves and in the brain. It’s a puppet-play, materially suggesting the stiff, wooden movements of bodies saturated with mercury.

Even accounts which personify Mercury, calling upon its celestial and divine embodiment, still exhibit a striking performance of the acute effects of a body ravished by quick-silver, as in CS Lewis’s account of “the Decent of the Gods” in his book That Hideous Strength where two characters, Dr Ransom and the revived Merlin (both figures, like quick-silver, born from the skies and bound in rock for a time) become vessels for mercury's powers:

“Quick agitation seized them: a kind of boiling and bubbling of the mind and heart which shook their bodies also. It went to a rhytm of such fierce speed that they feared their sanity must be shaken into a thousand fragments. And then it seemed that this had actually happened. But it did not matter: for all fragments—needle-pointed desires, brisk merriments, lynx-eyes thoughts—went rolling to and fro like glittering drops and reunited themselves.

“It was well that both men had some knowledge of poetry. The doubling, splitting, and recombining of thoughts which now went on in them would have been unbearable for one whom that art had not already instructed in the counterpoint of the mind, the mastery of doubled and trebled visions.

Ransom [a philologist], whose study had been for many years in the realm of words it was heavenly pleasure. He found himself sitting within the very heart of language, in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. All fact was broken, splashed into cataracts, caught, turned inside out, kneaded, slain and reborn as meaning. For the lord of Meaning himself, the herald, the messenger, the slayer of Argus, was with them: the angel that spins nearest to the sun. Viritrilbia, whom men call Mercury and Thoth.”

Indeed, even when Lewis flirts with an absolute theological truth in Mercury, he swerves, disturbing both the body & the matter/meaning of the experience. At this moment we see now simply Lewis the theologian, but Lewis the astrologer and the medievalist steeped in angel and alchemical lore. Mercury, also called Hermes and Thoth, was regarded by alchemists for centuries as the first of their order and even attest a number of works on physics and nature to him. 

The elemental embodiment of Mercury, they also believed held the secret to eternal youth and universal transfiguration. It was not only one of the first beings to become a god (Hermes was not born as one), and the first closest to the sun, but the first of all elements in creation and closest to a physical manifestation of primordial, undifferentiated chaos in existence. It was a secret, what Sam Kean calls a “cultish” metal, but in its secret, retreating ontology they hoped to come to translate and transform all being.


...On the Horizon...

Queer Objects
Convers(at)ions with Mercury [Part 2 & 3]
Illicit Attachments & Objecting Forms