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Borges, Swedenborg and Mysticism


William Rowlandson

Jorge 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 analysing his writings, including short stories, essays, poems and interviews, alongside scholarly writings on mysticism by figures such as William James. The book locates Borges within the scholarship of mysticism by evaluating his many assertions and suggestions as to what is or is not a mystic and, in so doing, analyses the influence of James and Ralph Waldo Emerson on Borges’ reading of Swedenborg and mysticism. The author argues further 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.


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When I was sixteen my Spanish teacher at school, Claire McWilliams, lent me a copy of Fictions which still sits on my bookshelf. It is a 1985 John Calder edition, which I have never seen for sale elsewhere, with a cover illustration of zany zigzag arrows dancing through a labyrinth towards two expressionless eyes. I thank and blame Miss McWilliams for push- ing me down the rabbit hole into the Borges Wonderland, from which I have never returned. If we should meet again, I will happily and gratefully return her book. Thanks to the University of Kent for granting me study leave of one semester in order to work on this and other projects. Thanks to Claudio Canaparo, series editor of Peter Lang’s Hispanic Studies: Culture and Ideas. Thanks also to Hannah Godfrey, Mary Critchley and Holly Catling at Peter Lang. My thanks to Jeremy Carrette for his helpful perspectives on William James, Henry James Sr. and the James family’s relationship with Swedenborg. Thanks to Sophia Wellbeloved for her investigation into possible Borges- Gurdjieff connections. Thanks also to Patricia Novillo Corvalán for many corridor chats and email exchanges about Borges and for lending me books (which I have returned) from her vast library of the Borges scholarship. Many of the ideas set forward in this book were discussed in the former Centre for the Study of Myth at the University of Kent. My thanks to those who tolerated my ramblings and who shared their ideas and insights; in particular...

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