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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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Every time I read something, that something is changed. And every time I write something, that something is being changed all the time by every reader. Every new experience enriches the book. […] People read my stories and read many things into them that I have not intended, which means that I am a writer of stories. A writer who wrote only the things he intended would be a very poor writer. A writer should write with a certain innocence. He shouldn’t think about what he is doing. If not, what he does is not all his own poetry. — Borges, Borges at Eighty I’m sorry to say that people have written fifty or sixty books about me. I haven’t read a single one of them, since I know too much of the subject, and I’m sick and tired of it. — Borges, Borges at Eighty They tell me there are some 300 books that have been written about me. But I think the writers should choose a better subject. — Borges: interview with William F. Buckley Todo hombre memorable corre el albur de ser amonedado en anécdotas [‘Every memorable man runs the risk of being minted in anecdotes’] — Borges, Atlas Emanuel Swedenborg writes in the Preface of Heaven and Hell (1758): ‘it has been granted me to be with angels and to talk with them person to person. I have also been enabled to see what is in heaven and in hell, a process that has been going on for thirteen years’...

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