New York is essentially a spiritual city, one of the most occult and esoteric cities on Earth. As David Ovason has suggested in The Secret Architecture of our Nation’s Capital, New York – like Washington DC (the main focus of his study) – is laid out according to a whole matrix of secret symbolism and occult geometry.
If the philosophy of Immanuel Kant is now studied worldwide, the current climate of philosophical investigation ignores the mystical thinker Emanuel Swedenborg – at best relegating him to footnote status. But towards the end of the eighteenth century, the interest in Swedenborg among intellectuals was immense; his writings “made a lot of noise in the speculative world,” as the leading journal on esoteric matters, The Conjuror’s Magazine, commented in 1791. Kant even felt compelled to respond to Swedenborg in Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (1766). Swedenborg’s teaching became the main substance of the occult revival in the late eighteenth century, and his ideas have had a lasting appeal as a source of inspiration to many intellectuals who were not converts, such as Lavater, Goethe, Coleridge, Emerson, Balzac, Baudelaire, Whitman, Melville, Henry James, and, not least, the poet and painter William Blake, on whom the essay at hand will focus.