on 23 August 2009
Welling's Swelling Meisterwerk, August 20, 2009
By Paul Cowlan (Frankfurt am Main, Germany) - See all my reviews
This is not a book to be taken up lightly. Like the ouroborus it seems to go round and round in circles with the discursive persistence of Finnegan's Wake, but without its effervescent sparkle. Aurora Consurgens is an easy read by comparison. It is a rambling, wooly, infuriating book which, if it really was as influential as the cover note claims, would suggest that the eighteenth century reader was capable of tolerating a remarkably high density of hot air. I don't say the man wasn't knowledgeable, but I do say he could have halved his text and sacrificed nothing. His personal, testy egotism is entertaining, but the unrelenting theological rant, allegorical or not, is tedious in the extreme. Certainly the work is informative, but isolating the nuggets of pure gold requires the determination of someone searching for marbles in a wilderness of bubble-wrap. And yet ...... and yet......
As I slammed it shut, with a feeling of huge relief at having stayed with it to the last page, I couldn't help noticing that my bookmark was crammed, on both sides, with page references; and, when the dust had cleared, a very real sense of gain and positive expansion remained. Continuing to work on a booklet exploring the nature of the Alchemical Mercurius I found myself quoting Herr Welling again and again, until I was forced to impose a limit. His endless reiterations do an excellent job of dinning his themes into the reader's head, and the overall result is considerably more coherant than the initial encounter seems to promise.
The translation, as far as I can judge, is excellent. That is it is seamless and unobtrusive. The feeling is that you are very close to the original in both vocabulary and mood. The diagrams are vaguely annotated and often, for this reader at least, maddeningly, or even willfully, obscure, but this is exactly as they would have been when it was first published. Welling's quirky, abrasive character is both a weakness and a strength, but it is very much his book, and there is nothing to be done but to take him as he is, froth, bluster and all.
In short, it's worth the effort. You need to be dogged and receptive, to button your collar against the blasts, and to put your head down into the verbiage; but if you cheerfully persist you will, after a while, begin to hear the language of the birds.