It was a great virtual conversation yesterday, thanks to everyone who took the time to participate. Here are the things I promised I would follow-up on
1) [this is especially for Helen Barler, our resident Audubon birder]. Here’s a clip from the Audubon trilogy of Nick Jordan and Jacob Cartwright, the video artists and film-makers who crafted the Swedenborg documentary we watched earlier in the semester. .Click here to watch the clip from the “Cairo: Breaking up of the Ice.”
It wonderfully juxtaposes narrated descriptions from Audubon’s travel writings around the 19th century Mississippi with present-day footage of those places. I wrote on this film for the publication that accompanies the work, and I’ll see if I can find that essay to attach here, as I talk about its ecological import.
2) Our conversation yesterday talked about how Swedenborg’s descriptions of gardens, the “green” typography of garden space in the images that accompany his work, all seem to betray a preference for neoclassical aesthetics (order, symmetry, balance–> humankind’s control over nature) — and NOT an embrace of more Romantic wilderness aesthetics (a preference for uninhabited mountain tops and the like). However, as we discussed, there are places in the work that complicates this assumption, or presents a different kind of scenario. A good example is the memorable relation no. 75 in Conjugial Love, which describes a “difficult journey” through a dark forest and a vast desert, in order to reach a distant mountain, upon whose slopes — in tents — live the most ancient humans. It is, I think, one of the closest moments we get in Swedenborg to an image of him “hiking” — “I had to ready myself for this journey,” he writes, before he sets of with an angel guide through the forest and desert. Read it in its entirety for full effect…
3) Finally, we had discussed the foundational / formative imagery of the garden of Eden in the Genesis creation story, and at the other end of the biblical text, the visions of Apocalypse in the Book of Revelations. Here’s Elaine Pagels talking on NPR about her new book on the Apocalypse, as referenced in our conversation. What we had fun playing around with at the end of our conversation was how Swedenborg’s vision of the New Church is completely urban: a holy city, with gates open to all directions. To end up with the center of this vision as an urban space — and not some idyllic wilderness, or pastoral garden — is fascinating to think about from an environmentalist perspective. Here’s a great video put together by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore that documents George Inness’s “lost” painting of the New Jerusalem, that depicts this Swedenborgian vision as a city growing out of a green, verdant wilderness. It also offers some great biographical context of this most influential Swedenborgian painter, and talks extensively of the importance of Swedenborgian correspondence theory for Inness’s nature aesthetics. Enjoy!