NEW BOOKS: Borges, Swedenborg & Mysticism | Solomon’s Secret Arts


I am pleased to recommend three new publications, exploring the cultural influence of Emanuel Swedenborg… These books are published by Peter Lang and Yale University Press, but they are also available from the Swedenborg Society bookshop on request.

BORGES, SWEDENBORG & MYSTICISM | by William Rowlandson | (Peter Lang, 2013)

430811_coverJorge Luis Borges was profoundly interested in the ill-defined and shape-shifting traditions of mysticism. However, previous studies of Borges have not focused on the writer’s close interest in mysticism and mystical texts, especially in the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). This book examines the relationship between Borges’ own recorded mystical experiences and his appraisal of Swedenborg and other mystics. It asks the essential question of whether Borges was a mystic by analyzing his writings, including short stories, essays, poems and interviews, alongside scholarly writings on mysticism by figures such as William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The author that Swedenborg constitutes a far richer presence in Borges’ work than scholarship has hitherto acknowledged, and assesses the presence of Swedenborg in Borges’ aesthetics, ethics and poetics.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was an Argentine poet, novelist, essayist, a pioneer of Magic Realism, and one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. He had a particular love of English literature, and his philosophical influences include Kabbalistic thought, Swedenborg, George Berkeley and other Idealist philosophers. Borges’ interest in Swedenborg is apparent from his essay Testimony to the Invisible and the sonnet ‘Emanuel Swedenborg‘. References: Testimony to the Invisible (above) and ‘Swedenborg and Borges: the Mystic of the North and the Mystic in puribus‘ in In Search of the Absolute: Essays On Swedenborg and Literature (Swedenborg Society 2004). J.L. Borges, The Total Library, ed. Eliot Weinbeger (Allen Lane, the Penguin Press, 2000).

SOLOMON’S SECRET ARTS: THE OCCULT IN THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT | By Paul Kleber Monod | (Yale University Press, 2013)

9780300123586The late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are known as the Age of Enlightenment, a time of science and reason. But in this illuminating book, Paul Monod reveals the surprising extent to which Newton, Boyle, Locke, and other giants of rational thought and empiricism also embraced the spiritual, the magical, and the occult. Although public acceptance of occult and magical practices waxed and waned during this period they survived underground, experiencing a considerable revival in the mid-eighteenth century with the rise of new anti-establishment religious denominations. Even when official disapproval was at its strongest, the evidence points to a growing audience for occult publications as well as to subversive popular enthusiasm.

Ultimately, finds Monod, the occult was not discarded in favour of “reason” but was incorporated into new forms of learning. In that sense, the occult is part of the modern world, not simply a relic of an unenlightened past, and is still with us today.

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a central figure in the European Enlightenment. He set up and edited Sweden’s first scientific journal Daedalus Hyperboreus, and wrote on scientific subjects, such as mathematics, geology and astronomy, conceiving the nebular hypothesis for the origin of the solar system in The Principia (1734). His corresponding interests in geology, alchemy, natural science and theology, were shared by many of his contemporaries. Swedenborg’s theory of Correspondences claimed to prove vital connections between natural and spiritual things. In this way, Swedenborg is a clear example of the presence of ‘occult’ ideas during the Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, the editor of Solomon’s Secrets tells us that Swedenborg is ‘all over’ this new book, being ‘central to Monod’s thesis about the intersection of science and superstition’.


STRINDBERG – A LIFE by Sue Prideaux (Yale University Press, 2012) will be released in paperback on 31 July 2013. This stunning biography of the Swedish playwrite and Swedenborg-reader won the 2012 Duff Cooper Prize for non-fiction; it was shortlisted for the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction and for the 2012 Sheridan Morley Prize for theatre biography. Both paperback and hardback editions are available to order from the Yale Books website now. Further information


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