Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Testimony to the Invisible: Essays on Swedenborg, edited by James Lawrence

This volume from Chrysalis Books (1995) contains seven essays by diverse but well known thinkers, mystics and poets discussing the importance of an obscure--for most of us--Swedish thinker, Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborg was born in Stockholm in 1688. As Borges states in his essay, "this peerless, solitary man was many men." He was a cabinet builder, a mathematician, a scientist, and inventor. However, and most important to us, he was a mystic. Wilson van Dusen in his essay defines a mystic as "one who experiences God." When Swedenborg was fifty-six an event occurred that Swedenborg called the "discrete degree." From that point on he dedicated himself to the life of the visionary. During the next thirty years--he was quite long-lived--he produced the incredible works that influenced, inter alia, William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, Sr., Carlyle, Dostoevsky. Jorge Luis Borges, Czeslaw Milosz, and countless other poets and mystics.

Each one of the essays in this collection sheds a different light on Swedenborg and his influence. For instance,Kathleen Raine's "The Human Face of God" is particularly illuminating. In it she discusses William Blake's dedication to and study of Swedenborg but she also discusses the way Blake's ideas, influenced by Swedenborg, informed the works of Carl Jung and Henry Corbin. Another strong essay in the collection is Eugene Taylor's "Emerson: The Swedenborgian and Transcendentalist Connection." After reading Mr. Taylor's essay, I was reminded of how saturated 19th American literature is with the visionary ideas of Swedenborg and how close to the Mundus Imaginalis such writers as Hawthorne and Melville are.

If you are interested in the visionary experience, I highly recommend this collection of essays.

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