Follow-up

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!

5 responses to “Follow-up

  1. I have always pictured green spaces within the walls of the new Jerusalem, similar to the farms that existed within the walls of West Berlin during the Soviet period. After all, in a city over 1,400 miles square, there’s a lot of space! Of course, it’s all symbolic imagery. But it still must be visualized in order to feel the full force of the spiritual meanings behind it.

  2. Thanks, Lee, for “dropping in” and reading, nice to see you here. I like grounding the city imagery in the context of Berlin…

  3. I just finished watching the three clips (Audubon/Cairo, Elaine Pagels/Revelation and Inness/New Jerusalem) — wonderful! Thanks, Devin!

  4. I found a good quote about anthropocentrism this morning in Matthew Fox’s “Creation Sprituality”: “Worship that is dull or boring, overly comfortable or excessively comforting, worship that does not transform and is therefore dead is the result of anthropocentrism. The universe is not boring. There is no atom, no flower, no light beam, no insect, no whale, no human, no star that is boring. Since creation is not boring, why should worship be? We render worship boring only when we leave out creation, when we reduce worship to human dimensions because our souls have shriveled up from too much fear, busyness, or compulsion to control.”

  5. Helen, what a lovely quote: thanks for sharing. Anthropocentrism = boring! I thought immediately of how un-boring the sanctuary of the San Francisco Swedenborgian church is, for anyone who enters that space. When you compare it to other more traditional kinds of church structures, it’s un-anthropocentrism really jumps out at you — no human bodies in the figuration of saints or Jesus-on-the-cross; instead, a proliferation of “wild” natural materials in the found-tree branches, scattered rocks, shells.

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