Wilson now turns to Emanuel Swedenborg, to examine some of his work. It is a short chapter and he doesn’t have a lot to say about him. Most of us have heard of Swedenborg and his amazing visions of Heaven and Hell. The material pertaining to the Outsider and existentialism in his oeuvre is what we’re interested in here.
Wilson begins his examination by stating: “For the existentialist, truth is subjectivity; external events are neither true nor untrue, but unimportant.”1 Wilson is not concerned whether Swedenborg’s teachings about Heaven and Hell are true or untrue; his main thrust is subjectivity, withdrawing into oneself, as all Outsiders do, in order to apprehend truth. He writes:
Wittgenstein summarised the Outsider’s position at the end of his Tractacus, where he said: The meaning of life must lie outside life.’ This means that there is no point whatever in deciding that the meaning of this ‘earthly life’ becomes defined by a continuation in a spirit world on the other side of the grave. Life is the interaction of spirit and matter. If ‘truth is subjectivity,’ then truth is approached by retreating from the region where spirit and matter interact (i.e. the world)…2
Swedenborg’s visionary journeys are completely secondary to his contention that “the mind must learn to be independent of the physical world.”3 On the other hand, “men should not hold the physical world in contempt (which is blasphemy), but they should not be enslaved by it, either.”4
One other thing to mention about Swedenborg, he really believed that humans are gods within themselves. Also, “he recognises the immense difficulties that prevent men from defeating their human-all-to-human stupidity and penetrating to that still centre.”5 He was one of the few who has.
Wilson, Colin. Religion and the Rebel. Houghton-Mifflin: Boston, 1957.
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