Friday, January 12, 2018

New articles on Ivan Aguéli

A special issue of Aura: Tidskrift för akademiska studier av nyreligiositet was published at the end of 2017 with four articles on Ivan Aguéli—all in Aguéli’s native Swedish, unfortunately for those who do not know Swedish. 2017 was the one hundredth anniversary of Aguéli's death.

First, in “Målare, mystiker, muslim–Ivan Aguéli 1869-1917” (Painter, mystic, Muslim: Ivan Aguéli 1869-1917), Simon Sorgenfrei provides a short account of Aguéli’s life. Then, in “Den stora estetiska ingivelsen: Om Ivan Aguélis Swedenborgläsningar” (The great aesthetic submission: On Ivan Aguéli’s reading of Swedenborg), Sorgenfrei looks at Swedenborg’s influence on Aguéli. He first establishes how Aguéli encountered the writings of Swedenborg, and then looks at their early impact. Even in 1894 in the Mazas prison in Paris, Aguéli had taken to heart Swedenborg’s understanding of the absolute oneness of God to the point where he wrote to a friend of “faith in a highest being who is above all, Allah” and added that “monotheism is the essence of Christ's teaching, so important that the believing Muslim is more Christian than most Christians.” Swedenborg makes a somewhat similar point in Vera Christiana Religio, though less emphatically, without placing Muslims above Christians. Here, perhaps, is one root of Aguéli’s later conversion to Islam, the reasons for which remain unclear. Aguéli himself wrote shortly before his death, in a letter cited by Sorgenfrei, that he found Ibn Arabi and Lao Tse through Swedenborg.

On another topic, in investigating the general relationship between esotericism and art, Sorgenfrei draws attention to the title of a book by the Swedish scholar Kjell Espmark, Att översätta själen: en huvudlinje i modern poesi - från Baudelaire till surrealismen (To translate the soul: A central line in modern poetry, from Baudelaire to surrealism). Yes, that is one good way of looking at the artistic thought of the period.

Then Annika Ohrner’s “Hilma af Klint och Ivan Aguéli. Andlighet och konstens rum” (Hilma of Klint and Ivan Aguéli: Spirituality and the artistic space) also looks at the influence of esoteric thought on the painting of both Aguéli and his contemporary Hilma af Klint, another Swedish painter who also drew on esotericism, and even on Swedenborg. Ohrner also compares the subsequent reception of the two artists’ work. She does not investigate Swedenborg in particular. For Aguéli, she thinks, the key text is his own “L’art pur” in La Gnose, which expresses a classic Platonic view of the relationship between the material and the spiritual. One of the surprises in the article is that the poet Guillaume Apollinaire told Aguéli that he "stuck by" ("håller styft på") Aguéli's metaphysics, as expressed in his articles in La Gnose. Interesting that Apollinaire was evidently reading Guénon's journal.

Fianlly, “Den fiktive Aguéli: Identifikationsobjekt och projektionsyta för unga manliga konvertiter till islam” (The fictional Aguéli: Object of identification and projection surface for young male converts to Islam), by Susanne Olsson and Simon Sorgenfrei, looks at the impact of Aguéli on Swedish converts to Islam—or actually more at the impact of the works of the Swedish novelist Torbjörn Säfve, whose 1981 novel Ivan Aguéli: En roman om frihet (Ivan Aguéli: A novel about freedom) had a major impact on some of Olsson and Sorgenfrei's interviewees. Säfve himself was inspired by his own vision of Aguéli as anarchist, freethinker and Muslim, himself converted to Islam on that basis, and naturally enough portrays Aguéli and Islam in this way. Some converts learn later that Säfve’s version of Aguéli differs from that found in the historical sources, and also find that Islam is not all about anarchistic freethinking. This leads to the alternative function of Aguéli in Sweden today, as a model for integrating the Swedish and Islamic identities that are drifting every further apart, not as a symbol of the counter-culture.