Here’s the latest of my Thinking Allowed Interviews with Jeffrey Mishlove. This time we look at one of the most fascinating and influential figures in the western esoteric tradition, the Eighteenth Century scientist and spiritual explorer, Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg influenced practically every important intellectual, cultural, and spiritual figure in the Nineteenth Century, from William Blake to Charles Baudelaire, Ralph Waldo Emerson to Honore Balzac – and that’s just for starters. In the interview, I try to do what I aim at in my book, Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas: to show that if you don’t know who Swedenborg is, you really should make an effort to get some idea of his importance, both in the history of ideas, and in our own attempts to make sense of life. He helped August Strindberg get through a bad patch and Helen Keller found joy and meaning in his work. That sounds like a pretty good endorsement.
Recently I was interviewed by Jeffrey Mishlove for his Thinking Allowed series of podcasts. This is the first of what will most likely turn out to be several such conversations. We talked about Rudolf Steiner in this one, and yesterday Jeffrey interviewed me about my book Dark Star Rising. The next installment we have planned is a chat about Madame Blavatsky. I enjoy Jeffrey’s interviews; he clearly knows the subjects and he guarantees a good discussion by asking intelligent questions. Here’s one place in which thinking is definitely allowed.
I’ve posted a short video of the Question and Answer session following my recent talk at Rudolf Steiner House on YouTube . Here’s the link. I’m aiming to post more of the talk sometime soon, and to record future talks and make those available too. It’s a slow process and while I am not a technophobe, I know why I studied the Humanities.
I’ve also recently agreed a deal with Thirteen Ventures Limited, of Toronto, Canada, for them to produce an audio book version of Lost Knowledge of the Imagination. Mark Jeftovic, the man in charge, has had success with his earlier audio ventures, but Lost Knowledge is, I think, a new departure. I look forward to hearing the finished product, and with any luck others will too.
And last week I submitted my 10,000 word essay on ‘Swedenborg’s Correspondences’, to the Swedenborg Society, who commissioned me to write it for a new series of short books they are launching, dealing with different aspects of Swedenborg’s huge body of work. The idea of correspondences is at the heart of Swedenborg’s vision, and it is an idea that has had an enormous influence on western culture over the last two centuries. I take a look at Swedenborg’s influence on Baudelaire and the Symbolist movement, his own correspondences with the western Hermetic tradition, and ask how his ideas may be of help to us today, in the early years of the post-truth world.
I’m giving a talk on 23 January at Rudolf Steiner House, London, on my latest book Lost Knowledge of the Imagination. Steiner House is a good location for this talk. Steiner himself saw developing imagination as the first step in his program of intensifying consciousness and achieving “supersensible perception,” and in the book, along with other figures such as the poet and Blake scholar Kathleen Raine and the scholar of Persian mysticism Henry Corbin, I devote much space to two thinkers closely connected to Steiner. The German poet, novelist and scientist J.W. von Goethe was Steiner’s central inspiration on his way to esoteric knowledge, and the essayist, historian of ideas, great friend of C.S. Lewis and occasional Inkling Owen Barfield, developed Steiner’s ideas and applied them to his own investigations into the evolution of consciousness. Both warrant chapters exploring how their insights into the cognitive character of imagination – its aspect as a “way of knowing” – can help us grasp imagination’s importance today. My talk will look at the historical roots of imagination being sidelined in favor of a strictly logical and empirical approach to knowledge, and will offer examples of how imagination can help us know reality and even, in some strange way, help it come into being.
Rudolf Steiner House 35 Park Road, London NW1 6XT (Telephone: 0207 723 4400.)
Price: £7/5 with concessions.
David Moore has posted an exhilarating and deeply probing essay about Lost Knowledge of the Imagination on his Ritual in the Dark web site. I met David last year at the Colin Wilson Conference held at Nottingham University, where he gave a brilliant talk on the links between Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ and his investigations into the occult, as evidenced in Wilson’s novels The Mind Parasites and The Philosopher’s Stone, and I am happy to see that he will be speaking again at next year’s conference. I also understand that Colin Stanley’s Paupers Press will be publishing a collection of his essays sometime in the near future. I hope that future is very near, as I look forward to reading more of, well, Moore’s work – due credit to the god of unintentional puns given. It is encouraging and heartening to see new minds taking up the Wilsonian banner, and if it is simply not done for a writer to applaud an essay about his own work, then I accept the calumny such action entails. Diffidence be damned: it is a fine piece of writing.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
However, in his most recent book, ‘The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World’, he explicitly sets out his own views of what it means to be human and why we are here? This being Lachman his views are set out lucidly, engagingly, tentatively and accompanied by a cloud of illustrious witnesses from the Hermetic tradition and the the Kabbalah, to Blake and Goethe through to Berdyaev and Cassirer (amongst many others).
He begins with the Hermetic and Kabalistic notion that in creating the world God left it purposely unfinished and that humankind’s task was to complete the world through repairing it. In the Kabbalah such repairing is done through continuous acts of loving attention that allows the world to be seen, handled and disposed aright. The intention with which we handle the world, the intention of repairing, transfigures the world suffusing it with meaning. This intention and attention may be very simple – treating the person at the Sainsbury checkout counter as a person in themselves or more radically imaginative, the poets Blake and Milosz beholding ‘the spiritual sun’!
But in some important way, Lachman argues, the cosmos was made for man (and vice versa), our conscious beholding of it, the doors of our perception cleansed, brings it fully to life.
Such a viewpoint necessarily comes into conflict with both materialist reductionism and postmodern ennui and, I confess, the most entertaining parts of the book are when Lachman puts them to flight and he does so in the company not simply of airy poets and woefully neglected philosophers but in the company of hard core (Nobel adorned) physicists and neuroscientists. The gentle skewering of John Gray’s misanthropic posturing is especially enjoyable.
However, I think, his most serious point is to notice that it is only since we displaced ourselves as cosmic guardians and saw ourselves, in an increasingly fractured way, as simply ‘part of nature’, an animal amongst other animals, that our serious despoiling of that very ‘nature’ or ‘environment’ began in earnest, without self-correcting limit. He quotes Louis Claude de Saint Martin, the Unknown Philosopher, to the effect that we have clothed ourselves in a ‘false modesty’ rather than seeking to be fully human and accept the responsibility that entails in a cosmos completed by us, a co-creation with God, we have settled for being ‘only human’ amongst the other animals, which has often meant, that we become less than other animals, wrapped in seeking identity, satisfaction and consumption, restless activity rather than a composed crafting, a repairing of cosmos.
Like his books before, you are set out upon new avenues of thought and reading. I came away knowing that I must (re)read Berdyaev that remarkable Christian personalist philosopher who sees it incumbent on us to exercise our freedom and creativity to create a home where God can dwell in the world, beginning with recognising that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. That life Lachman maintains is contagious and lights up the meaning of the creation as well as our own souls.