1/8/18-Book Report- Colin
In preparation for the trip to Sweden, I read Visionary Scientist by Inge Jonsson. Jonsson’s book explores the consistency of Swedenborg’s role of scientist throughout his entire life. Previous scholars have made the argument that Swedenborg’s life can be summarized into two phases: scientist and mystic. Jonsson argues that this distinction is not only unnecessarily created but is not supported by much biographical evidence. Jonsson argues that Swedenborg was a scientist throughout his entire adult life, even when he was writing theological works.
The evidence for this can be seen by how he documents his spiritual experiences. It is also evident by the way in which he writes his scientific works. Jonsson notes that Swedenborg had a style in his scientific works that include quoting Greek and Roman philosophers, mythology, and poetry in an attempt to supplement his observations and hypothesis of the natural world. This style of using poetry, mythology, and comparative religion to supplement observations can be seen in Swedenborg’s theological writings starting with the Arcana and finally in True Christianity.
The largest piece of consistency found in Swedenborg is his scientific style of recording observations. When comparing his observations of the human body, including the psychology of the mind, with observations of the spiritual world; one notices a similarity of honest reporting based on sensory experiences. The only difference is the earlier work is documenting observations on the physical world, the other Heaven, and Hell.
Another aspect of Jonnson’s treatment of Swedenborg’s biography is that he does not approach his subject as an apologist or polemic, something that other biographers can be accused of participating in their treatments of Swedenborg. Jonsson sticks to the evidence and lets them speak for themselves, without judgment, just analysis. This is refreshing because it allows the book to flow in ways where connections are made and comparisons analyzed, leaving behind the need to “prove” if Swedenborg was either mad or a mystic. It is truly a biography of ideas, ideas that will leave you in a state of pondering after you finish the book.
1/6/18 – Cory on Epic of the Afterlife by Olof Lagercrantz
In preparation for this trip, I read Emanuel Swedenborg: The Development of His Thought by Martin Lamm which was originally published in 1915. Lamm’s intention was trace Swedenborg’s religious ideological development by looking at his scientific research to find the impact it had on his theosophical thoughts later on. Lamm was not concerned with debating or arguing the merits of Swedenborg’s philosophical system; his focus was on the development of Swedenborg’s ideas throughout the progression of his life. He spends a great deal of the book connecting Swedenborg’s ideas to ideas presented by other theologians and philosophers throughout history. Lamm saw this work as a new form of scholarship on Swedenborg because he as the biographer is not a believer in Swedenborg’s divine visions.
The book is very much a critique of Swedenborg, yet, in the midst the critique there is a subtle admiration for Swedenborg’s consistency. Lamm presents the belief that Swedenborg’s theosophical ideology developed out of his knowledge of natural science and philosophy. This perspective places a great importance and an admiration on the rationality of Swedenborg’s thought process, as well as, the constant and natural development of his ideas. The basis of Lamm’s conclusion is that Swedenborg’s theological ideas did not come out of divinely inspired visions, but instead, that they are the result of deeper thought on the scientific theories that he had already written about. Lamm’s interpretation is that Swedenborg experienced a desire for reason as the voice of God, and that his visions were essentially a visualization of the knowledge he had already acquired. His final conclusion is that Swedenborg’s theological framework developed during his “rational” period, years before his religious quest.
In some ways, Lamm’s conclusion is favorable to belief of some others who say that Swedenborg had succumbed to insanity. However, the major plot hole that I found in this work is that Lamm spends the entire book explaining how rational Swedenborg was, so his argument that Swedenborg got caught up in an objectified vision of his own ideas seems out of character within Lamm’s own portrayal of Swedenborg.
On a more comical note, I appreciated Lamm’s inclusion of a few quick comments on Swedenborg’s personal fashion, grooming, and eating habits. Lamm notes that Swedenborg often ate a piece of wheat bread dipped in warm milk when he was at home, and when abroad he opted for a cup of chocolate and a dry biscuit. Lamm mentions Swedenborg’s reindeer pelt, in addition to a comment that he seems to have been known as a result of distraction to accidentally wear different shoe buckles. Apparently, there are also accounts of Swedenborg in his later years wearing soiled clothing with his face and hands looking like they have not been washed for years with Swedenborg claiming that dust and filth never stuck to him. If that truly is the case, we can have a good reason to be glad we’re visiting Sweden over 200 years after he was living there.