a cut-up from
Swedenborg’s Journal of Dreams
I was neither in a state of sleep nor wakefulness.
Throughout the whole night I seemed to be going deep down,
by ladders and other spaces.
This signified moving from celestial to natural
I slept deeply for eleven hours
I dreamt I was being punished
I dreamt of a woman
I dreamt of cages
I was arrested
This signifies inmost affection from the Lord.
This signifies the grand man.
This signifies natural truths.
This signifies the highest heaven.
This signifies I had not washed my feet.
I spoke long and familiarly with our Successor
who changed into a woman.
What it may signify is best known to our Lord.
In the morning my eyesight was so improved that I could
read the Bible without glasses.
What this signifies I do not know.
Something will happen to me after I finish the first
chapter on the sense of touch.
Whether I am being prepared to take another road in my work
and am being prepared for another, I know not; it is dark
I was not able to have the strong faith I ought to have.
I believed and yet did not believe.
Once again I was thrown onto my face.
I do not know what this means.
I hope you are having a good time on the chicken farm. Something happened after you left. I was thrown down on my face. In the hospital they are giving me a lot of nice meds. To be honest sometimes I can’t tell if I’m awake or sleeping. It’s like I’m writing to you from a dream. The thing is that I might not be able to work this semester because my arm is in a cast. Not sure what this means in terms of saving for our trip. Also your typewriter got smashed. But I’m still going to write something for you. Uncertain what, but have a strange feeling something will happen once I finish it.
De Cultu et Amore Dei
The pub is busier than usual, but as soon as Swedenborg totters in he sees the stranger, leaning against the back wall and wearing a big black cloak. Right away Swedenborg doesn’t care for the fashion. An unsettling effect—all that billowing; it signifies that you can’t locate his exact placement. Plus his ranginess brings to mind the dream apparitions.
Only an effect of the cloak, although he can’t be certain. He scuttles to a corner seat and barks an order in. It isn’t like Swedenborg to forego a courtesy, but tonight’s calisthenics with the journal have left his senses disarrayed. Again he dreamed that he had been cast down upon his face. Again he swooned. And then his pen moved with clear penetration. This signifies the new direction in his work; he can almost be certain.
The plate arrives. Room vanishes. He dives toward the food. He’s so famished he’s shaking. Should have eaten before he wrote. But, no—that’s out of the question. The dream would have hidden its significations by then. If only he could write at the same as he’s dreaming.
He is hunched over the platter, really scooping it in, so it takes him a moment to notice the stranger standing in front of him. He keeps his head down, keeps the fork moving. This signifies that he hopes the man will go away from him.
“Swedenborg!” the stranger says.
Does he know me? Swedenborg scrambles to place him. He’s wearing all black, so maybe—an acquaintance from publishing?
His mind flies to the new book idea he’s simmering. Maybe not new, entirely. He’s already jotted down a few notes and passages. But the form would be a somewhat of a departure for him—less research based; more of a poetic account of the Universe—
The stranger swells in brightness as the rest of the pub darkens. Is Swedenborg asleep? Is this still part of his vision? Of all the Heavens that he’s dreamed, he’s never dreamed London. He panics to catch the messages flickering out of objects. The plate and fork—they signify—no time to be certain.
Now the stranger is giving off that spooky ebullience; a sure sign, in the dream world, that a spirit is going to speak. “Swedenborg,” the stranger says, “you shouldn’t eat so much.”
He bolts; another first—he’s never left without paying. But the words frighten him more than the whips, ladders, cages, women, dogs, beasts, horses, water, and chasms in his dreams.
On the sidewalk, the wind is stiff. He hurries toward his rented flat. Eating too much signifies he’s going to give birth. He refuses the insight—or, he’ll give it to the new poem. A man, he thinks. A man could hatch a poem Universe. A presence moves; a presence follows. But he can’t be certain. Is that a cape he hears, or just the wind, flapping behind him?
Thanks for your letter, and for sending the novel excerpt. It was beautiful but surprising how the characters are so confused. I wouldn’t have guessed that was in your imagination--maybe because I’ve never sensed such confusion in you. Is that weird to say? I feel like I can write you things I wouldn’t say out loud. But letters are conversations, they just move really slowly. You asked if I’m still working on something to send you. Yes. You asked what I meant, something will happen when I finish? Don’t know. So far I only have a title: The Writings. What do you think?
He has set aside the diary pertaining to his dreams. He is no longer dreaming, he understands, but traveling. Not in space, or time, but along spiritual axes.
Swedenborg is empirical, to the letter a scientist. Heaven, as seen with his own eyes. A diligent transcript.
Not one Heaven, either, but a multitude of Heavens. Which boundaries, he hears murmured, are a little too relaxed.
Well, it’s not for him to censure; he’s not making this stuff up. But the Author of his Understandings refuses a by-line. Of course, the Swedish publishers won’t touch the new work. Fortunately, Swedenborg is well connected in London; Anonymous is the author when the books come back from press.
Understandings flow through Swedenborg as they are issued from the Lord. His challenge is absent his interpretative thoughts, although a shiver still runs through his mind each time the Lord commences a fresh lode. It’s a queer sensation, the urge to clamp his thoughts around the visions as they stream his faculties. The breathing exercises help relax these vestigial hiccups—faint gasps, really, compared to the first months’ agonies—spasming as each insight penetrated his theories. Better to be a shepherd, than all stuffed with philosophies.
The visit from the stranger has eased his doubts; ecstasies no longer molest him. He’s getting the swing of it. The surge of sight, the shiver, then the repetitious breaths. That old disjunction between the dreams and writing almost vanishes. No more sleepy fumbles at the ink well over the manuscript sheets. Experience and text are simultaneous; he can travel through the other world and keep the pen moving. The more he writes, the more he sees. Material proliferates.
Heavens’ citizens are eager to grant interviews. Finally! A proxy with decent publishing contacts.
I’m curious what you meant when you wrote that the novel came out of the negative space of your personality. No, I don’t assume/expect that all writing is autobiography. Even when it arises from experience. I agree, we are carried away. By language. By processes. Your last question is hovering in the negative space of this letter—I don’t how I will know when the story is finished—how can you ever “finish” “writing”? There are only interruptions. Endings require beginnings but do beginning require endings, or can they trail off? Maybe the finish line will just keep receding so that whatever I thought happens next will never quite arrive. I’m sending you the first chapter. I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you have time. Happy to hear you found someone there that you can trade work with. Over here, I have yet to find another “trusted reader,” although I am on the verge of making two friends. Strangely enough, this makes me sad, like time and space are about to swallow me. For a while, absences and your letters were my only companions, and I could stand outside of time, like an angel, without an appetite.
Cautiously, but with a refreshed spirit, Swedenborg wakes up. Lately he’s never certain which world he’s going to wake up in. But there’s his writing desk. The manuscript. As much as half finished.
Now it comes back to him in flashes—the moving pen, the other earth, the long, static journey.
His senses flux, sharpen. A vertigo particular to moving between realms. But how delightful, the other earth. It was pleasant to fly there with an angel. Of all the earths he’s visited, this earth was the farthest yet. This signifies the Immensity of Heaven and Its elastic boundary. He is almost sure of it. Soon he’ll review the manuscript to confirm the insight given him.
The new pages occupy his awareness as plainly as if a person or spirit were in the room, but at present Swedenborg avoids the desk. The pleasures of revision blossom more fully when deferred.
Lord, he prays, let me become a stranger to this text.
He moves toward the window to revive his natural sense. The garden emerges from a dazzle when he draws the curtain back. In the waxing light of Stockholm’s summer, the blooming plots appear so orderly as to be celestial. In delight he thinks appearance equals usefulness, but a disorder comes into focus as soon as his eyes adjust. The almond tree could stand pruning.
How long has he been working? Or, how long has he been away? Maybe hours. Maybe days. He’ll measure the time by writing when he goes over the new draft. Sentences are minutes. Day and night are paragraphs.
He walks to the desk and a familiar amnesia seizes him; always this disjunction between memory and writing.
He reads the new chapter as if for the first time.
Swedenborg holds a page written in Swedenborg’s own hand, but who, he marvels, is the true author of his transcript?
A shiver runs down his front—vestige of the old tremors. He waits a moment and it passes. Only an influx from the hells. Not arising from himself. And nothing in himself is left to snag or capture it.
A greater influx of joy spreads his cheeks into a grin.
The Lord has promised Swedenborg the book will go to press.
Amanda Davidson writes, teaches, publishes and makes performances as Parted in the Middle, an ongoing collaboration with Nathanial Putnam (and the world). Find out more at amandakdavidson.com.