(A slightly modified portion of the original “‘Unutterable Utterances’ and ‘Mysterious Naming’: Nomination in Badiou and the Theater of Mysticism” as it appeared in Journal of Badiou Studies 5)
By Daniel Whistler
The determining influence on almost all late-modern language-mysticism is Emanuel Swedenborg’s doctrine of correspondences—and Swedish playwright August Strindberg (1849–1912) is no exception. It was on March 29, 1896, Palm Sunday, that Strindberg first discovered Swedenborg:
I came to a stop in front of a row of Balzac’s novels bound in blue, picked up his Séraphita quite by chance. . . . When I got home I opened the book, which was practically unknown to me, as so many years had passed since I first read it. Now, with a mind prepared to receive it, I devoured the contents of this remarkable work as if it were something entirely new. In my homeland and his, Swedenborg was regarded as a charlatan, a madman with a distorted and lewd imagination. I had never read a word he had written, and I was now carried away by admiration for this angelic giant of the last century, interpreted as he was here by the most profound of French geniuses. . . . So it was that Swedenborg came into my life, in which has played an immense part. He came on the actual anniversary of his death, bringing me the palms of victory or of martyrdom.
Swedenborg was to become “a guardian angel,” for in his writings were to be found, according to Strindberg, “the answer to the principal riddles of our spiritual life.”
Swedenborg’s founding statement of the doctrine of correspondences occurs in Heaven and Hell:
The whole natural world is responsive to the spiritual world—the natural world not just in general, but in detail. So whatever arises in the natural world out of the spiritual one is called “something that corresponds.” It needs to be realized that the natural world arises from and is sustained in being by the spiritual world, exactly the way an effect relates to its efficient cause. . . . This is the origin of correspondence.
In such passages, Swedenborg rehashes the traditional analogia ordonis in which, because the effect resembles its cause but at a far lower degree of reality, the name of the effect provides a means of understanding the nature of the cause, even if a radically inadequate one. Swedenborg speaks very much in this tradition, when he distinguishes between “a literal meaning and a spiritual meaning”in the Word. And yet Swedenborg—almost despite himself—goes beyond this: for, to angels, mystics, and humans before Babel, the name of the effect is equally the name of the cause; neither is merely inadequately predicated. Thus, “nowadays . . . no one can know about the spiritual things in heaven to which natural things in the world correspond except from heaven,” yet “the earliest ones, who were heavenly people, did their thinking from correspondence like angels.” That is, for these angels and “earliest ones” (as well as for other “heavenly people” like Swedenborg himself), the earthly and heavenly senses of a name are co-primary: both lay claim to literal truth. There are multiple literal meanings bound to each sign. And the role of the mystic is to become once more an angelic, pre-Babelian subject by affirming the excessive truths that each name carries. The mystic subject must bear witness to dual, literal meanings in singular names.
Strindberg reconceives the doctrine of correspondences in a more tortured form. The subject must bear the agonizing sense-contradictions enfolded into a name. The multiple truths signified by the subject’s own name, for instance, rupture one’s harmonious unity in the name of a duplicitous existence. The very end of The Road to Damascus trilogy, in which The Stranger, having ascended to the mystic retreat of the White House, is shown around the Hall of Paintings, illuminates this property of the mystic name particularly clearly.
This culmination in the Hall of Paintings draws on an earlier passage in The Road to Damascus II, in which The Stranger purges himself of contradiction in a dramatic double who performs him:
I must create a double: adjoin to my own personality that of another being who can absorb in him everything that enchains my spirit. So that my soul can find once more the purer, hotter atmosphere which will impel it still higher towards the ether, so that, transcending the Dominations, it will go up to the throne of God and place at the feet of the Eternal the woes of humankind.
The end of the trilogy extends this line of thinking: the monks of the White House are able to achieve self-identity at the expense of those they artistically depict—the two-headed great men of history. While the monks “have only one head,” all their painted subjects “have at least two.” In this way, Father Clement has painted Luther double-headed as “the young champion of tolerance, the old champion of intolerance”and similarly Voltaire as “the atheist who spent his life defending God.” Of the painting of F. L. Stolberg, it is said that he “wrote a fanatical book in defense of Protestantism and poof! [He] converted to Catholicism. . . . A miracle, maybe? A little Road to Damascus without a doubt?” And here we glimpse some of the significance of Strindberg’s conception of the road to Damascus for a theory of nomination: the Damascus-illumination is the moment where the inconsistent senses of the name are at their most severe, the moment of acute contradiction that causes the most suffering to the name-bearer. Ecstatic illumination and the unbearable duplicity of names here coincide, making possible the subsequent ascent toward which Strindberg directs his drama.
Moreover, according to Strindberg, there has been one exemplary subject who most fully embraced nominal duplicity and reveled in the proliferation of senses felt at these Damascus-moments: Napoleon. Strindberg writes,
Napoleon! Created by the Revolution! Emperor of the people, Nero of liberty, tyrant of equality, ‘venerable brother’ of fraternity. He is the most astute of all these two-headed people, for he could laugh at himself, raise himself above his inconsistencies, take on a new skin, change his soul and with each metamorphosis feel truly like a new incarnation with perfect conviction.
Napoleon self-consciously creates new meanings for his life, revels in their multiplicity under a single name; he joyfully suffers the acute contradictions of his name, transforming them into moments of liberation. Napoleon is that Christic double or mannequin who happily takes on himself all the pain of nominal inconsistency to make possible Strindberg’s own mystic ascent.
We have already read of the role Balzac’s Séraphita played in bringing Strindberg to Swedenborg on Palm Sunday in 1896. However, the significance of Séraphita in its own right for Strindberg’s naming practices should not be overlooked. From that day in 1896, “Séraphita became my gospel,” and its own fictional performance of Swedenborg’s doctrines became paradigmatic for Strindberg’s own attempts in his late drama.
Balzac’s novel aims at recapitulating the essence of Swedenborgian doctrine, yet it ends up an unorthodox repetition. For, while he acknowledges the importance of the doctrine of correspondences “by which the world is placed in unison with heaven,” Balzac is rarely concerned in Séraphita with the multiple literal senses of each name, but rather the reverse: multiple names for one referent. Names proliferate around, in this case, a person, cumulatively aggregating meaning by means of this process of accumulation.
As one character muses, the word may forever try to constrain nature, but nature always exceeds the word; however, at the same time, words are capable of “carrying [nature] up to a third, a ninth, or a twenty-seventh power . . . obtain[ing] magical results by condensing the processes of nature.” Language strives ever onward to capture the world—and thus will always proliferate names—but in so doing, it potentiates and intensifies the world by means of “a mysterious optic which increases, or diminishes, or exalts creation.” Names are “acting upon [us] at times like the torpedo which electrifies or paralyzes the fisherman, at other times like a dose of phosphorous which stimulates life and accelerates its propulsion.” The names of Seraphita/Seraphitus is where this idea of potentiation through proliferation is most evident: Seraphita/Seraphitus bears this dual name as a reflection of his/her Adamic androgyny. Again, the project of undoing the curse of Babel lurks in the background: Seraphita/Seraphitus cannot be given one proper name in a post-Babelian era of linguistic dispersion and confusion. It is for this reason that at his/her birth, his/her father (acting as an avatar of Swedenborg) proclaims, “Our child is to be without name on this earth. You must not baptize in the waters of an earthly Church one who has just been immersed in the fires of Heaven.” Hence, only a series of names can approximate. Not until the end of the novel do the characters even begin to acknowledge the plurality of Seraphita’s/Seraphitus’s names and start their own ascent upward, but also backward, toward an Edenic state. At this point,
Wilfrid and Minna were enabled to understand some of the mysterious sayings of Him who had appeared on earth in the form which to each of them had rendered him comprehensible—to one Seraphitus, to the other Seraphita—for they saw that all was homogeneous in the sphere where he now was.
That is, the other characters here begin an apprenticeship in an archaic language of true names, “a language as superior to thought as thought is to instinct”—that is, the language of correspondences. Such a language annuls the multiplicity of names that circulate after Babel, and—in orthodox Swedenborgian fashion—rediscovers the correspondent names that signify multiple truths.
Daniel Whistler is Reader in Modern European Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London.
 August Strindberg, Inferno, trans. Mary Sandbach (London: Penguin, 1979), 144–45
 Ibid., 210, 215.
 Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell, trans. George F. Dole (West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010), §§89, 96.
 Ibid., §§114, 110, 87. See also §115.
 For Strindberg’s explicit, theoretical engagement with correspondences, see August Strindberg, Selected Essays, ed. and trans. Michael Robinson (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 178. On Strindberg’s use of Swedenborg to reconstruct Adamic language, see Michael Meyer, Strindberg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 546.
 August Strindberg, Le Chemin de Damas, in Théâtre complet, vol. 3, trans. Tage Aurell et al. (Paris: L’Arche, 1983), 248.
 Strindberg, Le Chemin de Damas, 356, 354, 354, 356, 357. See also the comments on Luther’s duplicity in “The Mysticism of World History,” in Strindberg, Selected Essays, 198.
 Strindberg elsewhere considers himself the reincarnation (or at least, repetition) of Napoleon. See Strindberg, Inferno, 225.
 Strindberg, Le Chemin de Damas, 356. Kierkegaard is directly compared to Napoleon in this regard: “There is only one man who could compare with this—the Dane Kierkegaard. He had, from the beginning, a consciousness of this pathogenesis of the soul, this power of giving birth from this life without fertilization, like a tree sprouting from a shoot. It is for this reason, and also because he would not allow himself to be duped by life, that he wrote under a series of pseudonyms, each representing ‘a stage on life’s way’” (ibid., 356–57). However, notice how Kierkegaard’s strategy toward nomination is slightly different: instead of bearing multiplicity in one name, he multiplies names in his pseudonyms. He thus synthesizes the two naming strategies discussed in this text.
 Strindberg, Inferno, 145.
 On Strindberg and Balzac, see Meyer, Strindberg, 337–38.
 Honoré de Balzac, Séraphita, trans. K. P. Wormeley (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1889), 76.
 I have explored this practice in more detail in Daniel Whistler, “Improper Names for God: Religious Language and the ‘Spinoza Effect’,” in Speculations 3 (2012): 99–134
 Balzac, Séraphita, 50, 51, 50–51, 88, 192.
 Ibid., 133.