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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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Chapter Five The Influence of Swedenborg on Borges


Chapter Five The Inf luence of Swedenborg on Borges No pasa un día en que no estamos, un instante, en el paraíso. [Not a day passes in which we are not, in an instant, in Paradise.] — Borges, Los Conjurados oathiose infernals to Booth Salvation, arcane celestials to Sweatenburgs Welhell!! — James Joyce, Finnegans Wake Durante los últimos veinticinco años de su estudiosa vida, el eminente hombre de ciencia y filósofo Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) fijó su residencia en Londres. Como los ingleses son taciturnos, dio en el hábito cotidiano de conversar con demonios y ángeles. — Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero, Libro de los seres imaginarios [For the last twenty-five years of his studious life, the eminent philoso- pher and man of science Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) resided in London. But as the English are not very talkative, he fell into the habit of conversing with devils and angels.] — Book of imaginary beings As discussed in Chapter One, Swedenborg constitutes a far richer pres- ence in Borges’ work than the scholarship has hitherto acknowledged. Rodríguez Risquete (2005) enumerates 95 references to Dante in Borges’ work, dividing his bibliography into five sections. For my own part, I have identified the following appearances of Swedenborg in Borges, some as critical assessments or biographical studies, others as mere references. The list is doubtless incomplete: ‘Testigo a lo invisible’, the poem ‘Emmanuel Swedenborg’ (El otro, el mismo), the poem ‘Doomsday’ (Los Conjurados), 194 Chapter Five the poem ‘Otro poema...

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