‘Through Imagination spiritual truths are transformed into visible forms’

English: Czeslaw Milosz, Miami Bookfair Intern...


“Let us pose a simplistic question: did [Emanuel] Swedenborg really travel through Heaven and Hell and did his conversations with spirits really take place? The most obvious answer is: no, not really. He only believed that he had access to the other world at any time, for instance when attending a party or walking in his garden. Everything happened only in his mind. This amounts to conceding that [Karl] Jaspers was right when he pronounced his verdict: schizophrenia. We should note that Romanticism had already treated Swedenborg in a way no different from the way positivistic psychiatry did later on, namely, a split into the material (that is, real) and the spiritual (that is, illusory) had been accepted, but with a plus sign, not a minus, added to the phantoms of our mind. If, however, William Blake‘s help is enlisted in reading Swedenborg, the picture changes radically. The question asked and the answer given would be rejected by Blake as absurd. Blake read Swedenborg exactly as he read Dante: these were for him works of the supreme human faculty, Imagination, thanks to which all men will one day be united in Divine Humanity. Through Imagination spiritual truths are transformed into visible forms. While opposing Swedenborg on certain crucial matters, Blake felt much closer to his system than to the system of Dante, whom he accused of atheism. Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell is modeled upon Swedenborg, and he would have been amused by an inquiry into whether he had ‘really’ seen the devils and angels which he describes. The crux of the problem — and a serious challenge to the mind — is Blake’s respect both for the imagination of Dante, who was a poet, and the imagination of Swedenborg, whose works are written in quite pedestrian Latin prose. Dante was regarded by his contemporaries as a man who had visited the other world. Yet Jaspers would not have called him a schizophrenic, because the right of the poet to invent — that is, to lie — was recognized in Jasper’s lifetime as something obvious. It is not easy to grasp the consequences of the aesthetic theories which have emerged as the flotsam and jetsam of the scientific and technological revolution. The pressure of habit still forces us to exclaim: ‘Well, then, Swedenborg wrote fiction and he was aware it was no more than fiction!’ But, tempting as it is, the statement would be false. Neither Swedenborg nor Blake were aestheticians; they did not enclose the spiritual within the domain of art and poetry and oppose it to the material. At the risk of simplifying the issue by using a definition, let us say rather that they both were primarily concerned with the energy which reveals itself in a constant interaction of Imagination with the things perceived by our five senses.” — Czeslaw Milosz, in “Dostoyevsky and Swedenborg,” from Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision


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