“To exist is nothing insignificant.” —Frithjof Schuon
Borderline, by the Swedish writer Lennart Svensson, is not a book to read in a sudden burst, but rather, it is a book to take up chapter by chapter, to be read carefully, and to be pondered, which is how it should be. All philosophical books ought to be written to be reflected upon rather than devoured in one big byte like the throwaway tomes are these days.
There are twenty-six chapters that make up the bulk of this two hundred thirty-three-page book, which is also comprised of an introduction, a coda, aphorisms, a list of sources, and an index of persons mentioned. Spanning from Plato to Castaneda, Svensson manages to not only capture the essential spark and esoteric meaning of conjectures regarding ontology—the nature of being—but he also manages to recast these conjectures in a new light, “so that the educated reader of today gains clarity in the matter.” Achieving such a feat is not an easy task, I imagine, but achieve it Svensson most certainly has.
This is not to say that Borderline is difficult to grasp or dive into; on the contrary, Svensson writes with a smooth ease, his words flowing like intelligent conversation flows, meandering here and getting straight to the point there in a natural, balanced manner. At times, it reminds me of the textual equivalent to attending a lecture by an expert speaker: ideas sparking off from other ideas and thoughts following thoughts with a touch of wryness interjected at just the right moments to fend off any hint of the tediousness that can sometimes accompany a book’s worth of philosophic gravity.
This is a book written by a deft and deeply meditative mind:
“…I’m a holist acknowledging the big picture, whether it concerns the microcosm (Man, objects, artworks) or the macrocosm, that the Universe. On every level of reality I acknowledge wholes. ‘Borderline’ will show you this is a synthesis spanning from ancient times to contemporary times, from Greek thought and Hinduism to Christianity, from rationalism to art, and from idealistic philosophy to modern science.”
At the same time, this is a book written by an honest and self-aware mind:
“This is an essay. The French word ‘essai’ means ‘attempt.’ This is no deductive lecture, no rigid system. This is an attempt at a serious discussion. I’m trying to catch an elusive phenomenon in the gray area between art and science, action and being, transcendence and immanence. If I’m wrong and out of line, then say so.”
Finally, this is a book created by an organized mind (a mind with “order inside” it):
“The structure of this book is the following:
“The most important figure in ‘Borderline’ is the Greek esotericist Plotinus and he’s present in chapter one. Chapter two delves into the symbolic aspect of his thought. Chapter three makes an overview of the perennial, holistic traditional that Plotinus and Plato spawned…”
It almost feels redundant reviewing a book that has its aspects expertly covered by its own author. Yet, I will stick with the word “almost” and go on.
Chapter one gives us the “gist of Plotinus” (Greek philosopher, 204-270 CE), which forms the platform upon which Borderline is built. As such, it is an important chapter, and its placement is not arbitrary, introducing the ideas of aesthetics:
“The world is an artwork, deliberately and intelligently created”
…the idea of “being, of Sein, of esse (Latin: present active infinite of ‘sum’ to be),” and the fact that,
“This line, ‘everything is harmony, formed of opposites’, could pass as an informal motto for this study, ‘Borderline.’ It intimates the integral approach also sported by such luminaries as Goethe and Jung, treated in chapters four and eighteen respectively.”
Echoing Jünger’s The Forest Passage, Svensson tells us in this chapter:
“You have to search inward, listen inward: ‘in homine interior habitat veritas’ (the truth resides in man’s interior). This is elementary for the esotericist attitude. And the chief inner activity of man is thinking. …Plotinus maintains that the forms are intellects thinking themselves. As for the subject of ‘thinking’, you could also say: there is no thought where there is no life, therefore the question of forms is a question of life. And: Being and thought are identical; cf. Descartes, ‘cognito, ergo sum.’”
The second chapter is also precisely placed: key “concepts like symbol, form, Urbild, and ‘universalia in re’ [the general concepts are in the things] are discussed here in the form of statements giving you a clue to the esoteric world view.” Of all these concepts, the most important is the concept of “Urbild”: the primeval image, the original (ur-iginal) source of the picture in our head of what a thing looks like, what a thing is.
A book of such depth could be considered dense, but Svensson’s engaging intelligent-lecturer style makes the text sparkle. Take, for example, his words regarding “neo-Platonism”:
“…Plotinus (204-270 CE). He’s called ‘neo-Platonist’ and rightly so, since to a large extent his philosophy was based on the ontology of Plato (428-347 BCE). It was also based on Aristotle (384-322 BCE). Aristotle won’t be mentioned any more in this chapter. But don’t for a second think that Aristotle was a reductionist materialist as some are wont to do.”
Continuing with this combination of personable style, Svensson presents Goethe:
“Goethe was the kind of ‘Borderline’ personality I cherish: unpredictable, busying himself with both art and science, with a keen eye for the divine but not afraid of ‘knocking on the doors of Hell to find the truth.’”
Svensson then goes on to neatly juxtapose the Reductionist philosophy of reducing complex systems into simple parts that are “easier to handle” with Goethe’s holistic, “Nature has neither core / nor shell. / She’s all at once.”
In chapters six through eight, Svensson tackles physics and metaphysics, including science (quantum physics, string theory), the anthropic principle (“A world without an observer is impossible to imagine”—this includes our dreams and our concept of God), and modern physics itself (synergetics, turbulence, Chaos physics, etc.). Svensson ends these chapters by discussing, “criticism of old physics, like the tendency of dominating nature, treating it like an object, of man imagining himself as being able to control its processes objectively,” and how instead humanity should stress, “the attitude of participation, of regarding nature as essentially holy, that we’re part of it, as ‘Seiendes in Sein.’”
Chapter nine, titled “Fischer’s Vision,” is the only logical next chapter:
“More than any modern thinker Fischer has established Being, that is Sein (Latin esse, Sanskrit Sat) as the center of any holistic, perennially footed world view. If you’re going to criticize reductionism, nihilism and materialism then you have to acknowledge Sein, the superior, all-encompassing Reality that we all live in, move by and have our being from.”
And because Borderline is a supremely well-constructed book, the next chapter after this concerns the creation of all that shares in the state of being: “…in this subject I present the following, based on esoteric theory (Agerskov, Schure, Steiner) Gnostic documents, Vedic philosophy…” Sure, this could be heavy-going, but Svensson manages to punctuate the ponderous with light “unscripted” statements like, “I must have forgotten noting it when putting this down on paper once” (concerning the ultimate source of a creation myth), that make a chapter’s worth of philosophical musings on the beginning of existence lively and interesting rather than deadly and dull.
Svensson gives a quick summation of Vedic Philosophy after this, having dived into it (so to speak) while discussing the creation of everything. It is fascinating to note that when he talks about The Rigveda, “the Upanishads and its successor, the Bhagavad-Gita,” the translations he uses are his own. This is even more fascinating when you realize that the book you are reading is in English although Svensson himself is Swedish, and he still manages to convey both personality and intelligence.
Steiner and his “Logos” are given the mid-point of this book—which is the place to put things that you want people to take especial notice of—and again, I feel certain that this is no arbitrary placement:
“Logos. This is indeed a remarkable phenomenon. Again, everything has been created through this, everything lives because of it. This is what Steiner means and the beginning of ‘The Gospel of John’ says it: ‘All things were made through Him, / and without Him nothing was made that was made.’”
Not to be mistaken for what it is not, Borderline tempers this Esoteric Christianity: “Several religions worship a Sun Spirit, an elevated Solar Angel. According to Steiner the same sun spirit lives in Christ.”
And then Svensson goes further:
“If Christ is a sun god, then he can be seen as the essence of sunlight. Like this: just as a human being has a soul, just as a human being has spiritual qualities, so it is with sunlight. In this respect Logos can be said to be the soul of sunlight. Thus spiritual love steams down to earth from the sun. And as people, with the I Am-affidavit* integrated in us, we can receive, cherish and reciprocate this love.”
This is part and parcel of the Primordial Tradition as well as Svensson’s own stated guiding thought: “The basic element of my Perennial creed is: God is the Primeval Light and as individuals we are part of that Light.”
Svensson approaches human deliberation with a trio of chapters appropriately titled: “On Equanimity,” “On Acting,” and “The Chaotic Mindset”—these incorporate advice on how to:
“…practice ‘volitional mental calm’ … whether you live the ‘vita activa’ or the ‘vita contemplativa’ you have to have Willpower to the fore in your mindset. To meditate demands willpower; for example, you never start meditating by chance. Also, to engage in physical exercises takes willpower; for instance, you never start a training program by chance. Willpower is the key, both to equanimity and boldly action.”
These same chapters “give the reader some clues on how to be ‘calm, cool and collected’,” and they tell us that while “the basic tenet of ‘how to act’ is this: we have to act. No man can totally abstain from acting. The idea is […] to act not on the thing but on the soul of the soul of thing.” To do this, Svensson touches on memento mori (remember you will die), Castaneda, Napoleon, Jünger, Sodergran, and the concept of “RAWALTAFA”: rather acting wrongly and learning than abstaining from action—and concludes with a warning against disordered action:
“To just let go and follow your impulses, merely living on hope and drifting here and there with the tide of the times, this will drain you of energy and have you end up in The Chaos Company.”
The latter portion of Borderline gives us seven persons—namely Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, Edith Sodergran, T. S. Eliot, Caspar David Friedrich, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Ernst Jünger—presented through essays that highlight just how each of these famous persons has been integral to the various values, approaches, and concepts outlined throughout the book. We cross the borderline here.
After familiarizing the reader with the above mentioned august personages, and in addition to a word list, his sources, an index of persons, pages of aphorisms, and a coda, Svensson leaves us with an esoteric worldview:
“To say that man has developed by chance is as probable as if a tornado would visit a scrap yard and be able to assemble a fully functional car in the process.”
It is in his Coda that the soul, the purpose, and the ambition of Borderline are combined and put forth in a beautiful farewell curtsy of words:
“If you want a brighter future for earth and man you have to will it. It’s that simple. But the simple is difficult, as Clausewitz said. Willpower is the key to liberate earth from the current regime of pessimism, passivity, and paranoia. We are co-creators of reality with God. So don’t sit down and wait for things to happen, instead, act in the spirit of willpower, envisioning a Reign of Light, acknowledging the Inner Light which is part of the Eternal Light. This is the esoteric way, the holistic ‘modus operandi’; it always has been and always will be.”
As I wrote in the opening of this review, Borderline is a book to be read slowly, to ponder and to linger thoughtfully over. It is a book to be re-read, at least once. I found it engaging and enlightening when I first read it, and more engaging and enlightening when I read it again. There is a sentence on every single page that can make a reader want to stop for a second and reflect thoughtfully—some pages have many more than just one. Now, having read it once again for review purposes, I still find additional passages that strike with this sudden light and engaging beauty.
To paraphrase Jung (via Svensson’s aphorisms): Borderline is not a book to read, it’s a book to experience.
*“Say to yourself ‘I Am’ and you’re ready for anything.” —Final sentence of chapter 14
Written by: Juleigh Howard-Hobson
Author: Lennart Svensson
Publisher: Numen Books (Australia)
Publish Date: December 17, 2015
ISBN: 0994252579 / 978-0994252579
File Under: Philosophy