The Dream of an Absolute Language
Emanuel Swedenborg and French Literary Culture
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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