The Dream of an Absolute Language

Emanuel Swedenborg and French Literary Culture

By Lynn R. Wilkinson

Subjects: Esotericism And Gnosticism
Paperback : 9780791429266, 346 pages, July 1996
Hardcover : 9780791429259, 346 pages, July 1996

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Table of contents


Introduction: Swedenborg, French Culture, and the Dream of an Absolute Language

Part I: Swedenborgianism, Popular Culture, and the Ends of the Enlightenment in France

1. Politics, Magic, and Language: Swedenborgianism in the Works of Alphonse-Louis Constant, a.k.a. Eliphas Lévi


Two Names, One Career: From Alphonse-Louis Constant to Eliphas Lévi
Constant/Lévi's "Les correspondances
Echoes of Les correspondances" in Constant/Lévi's prose
Magic, Politics, and Duplicity: Constant/Lévi's Dogme at rutuel de la haute magie
Language, Mesmerism, and Charisma: The Preface to the 1861 Edition of Dogme et rituel de la haute magie and Histoire de la magie


2. Swedenborg's Correspondences and the Cultures of the Enlightenment


The Worlds of Emanuel Swedenborg
Swedenborg's Interpretation of Dreams: The Journal of 1743-44
The Word "Represent" in the Journal of 1743-44
Heaven and Hell: Utopian Spheres and the Pleasures of Reading


3. Who Has the Word? Swedenborgianism and Popular Culture in France, 1780-1865


Swedenborgian Performances: Alphonse Cahagnet's Séances
Combien en durera cette société? J.-F.-E. Le Boys des Guays and the French Swedenborgians
Language, Rituals, and Utopias: Eighteenth-Century Interpretations of Swedenborgianism in France
Hunger and Hallucinations: The Emigré Perspective
Eclecticism and Flanerie: The Interpretations of Edouard Richer and Guillaume Oegger
Beyond the Myth? Mid-Nineteenth-Century Accounts
Swedenborgianism and Popular Culture


Part II: Fictions of Wholeness: Swedenborgianism and the French Canon

4. The Underside of History: Swedenborgianism and La comédie humaine


Swedenborgianism and Representation in La comédie humaine
Balzac's "Swedenborgianism" and Its Contexts
Desire and Tradition: The Other Worlds of Les études philosophiques
Though a Glass Darkly: Swedenborgianism in Les études de moeurs


5. Baudelaire's Correspondances: Language, Censorship, and Mourning


A Volume of Swedenborg under his arm: Baudelaire and Swedenborgianism
Fictional Polarities and the Aesthete's Dilemma: Baudelaire's References to Swedenborg
Towards a Universal Language of Art? Baudelaire's Correspondances



Appendix: Baudelaire's "Correspondances" and Constant/Lévi's "Les correspondances"


Works Cited


Traces the reception of Swedenborg's doctrine of "correspondences" in French literature and culture from the late 1700s to 1870.


Taking as its point of departure the two poems, "Correspondances" by Baudelaire and "Les correspondances" by Alphonse-Louis Constant, The Dream of an Absolute Language: Emanuel Swedenborg and French Literary Culture traces the reception and popularization of several key Swedenborgian doctrines in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French literature and popular culture, notably the doctrine of correspondences. Contrary to what Michel Foucault argued in his early Les mots et les choses, in nineteenth-century France, the word "correspondences" does not denote a break with "representation," at least as it was used by nineteenth-century French writers: rather it is intimately bound up with the taxonomic structures of natural history—and also with the desire to understand the social world in terms of an ordered and controllable totality. Because it crops up in texts we now classify as canonical and also those outside the canon, and because it is so clearly related to notions of literary structure and effect, the word "correspondences" and its transformations in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France offers a vantage point for discerning how artists and writers defined their work both within and against a context of cultures defined as elite, "popular," and even ideological.

Lynn R. Wilkinson is Assistant Professor of Scandinavian and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas, Austin.


"Wilkinson offers a thorough and scholarly treatment of an important area of nineteenth-century, mostly French thought, more particularly of the relations between mystical theories about language and poetic practice. Much of what she offers in the way of scholarship is quite new. I found it impressive not only from a scholarly point of view but also quite readable; it will be cited considerably." — Frank Paul Bowman, University of Pennsylvania

"...important as a contribution to the study of post-revolutionary French culture." — Inge Jonsson, Professor Emeritus, Stockholm University