Guest Lecture by Visiting Scholar Thomas Goetselius

Epistemology of the Night: Emanuel Swedenborg and the Problem of the Soul

Rebecca Esterson Teaching

Lecture by Visiting Scholar Thomas Goetselius

Wednesday, April 10th at 5pm PT

Pacific School of Religion

1798 Scenic Ave

Berkeley, CA 94709

In the early modern period, the night emerges as a new epistemological resource in the learned world. For philosophers, writers and natural scientists, nocturnal border states such as sleep and dream suddenly become sources of intellectual productivity as well as objects of investigation in their own right. This talk focuses on a text where this nocturnal knowledge has unexpected consequences: the “journal of dreams” kept by the Swedish natural historian and esoteric Emanuel Swedenborg. In his work on the so-called psycho-physical problem, Swedenborg combines theoretical speculation at the writing desk with nocturnal introspection in bed. In both cases, his activity can be seen as part of the early modern development of a “scientific subject”: in order to enable objective, empirical observation, the subjectivity of natural scientists had to be defined and stabilized, i.e., scientific practice presupposed a technology of the self. When darkness has fallen, he seeks knowledge by making himself receptive to and submitting to an experience that the illuminated day excludes, but which, once conquered, can be brought backinto the light, recorded and analyzed. However, as “the journal of dreams” makes evident, this ’scientific’ technology of the self is insufficiently differentiated from older religious technologies of the self. The knowledge Swedenborg extracts from his nocturnal border states does not allow itself to be generalized: it turns out, to his astonishment and despair, to be about his own soul.

We invite you to join us for this exciting lecture by visiting scholar Thomas Goetselius, Professor of Literature at Stockholm University. A reception with drinks and hors d’oeuvres will follow. Please contact Paola Pruett-Vergara with any questions at