"...the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it..."
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a scholar, philosopher and theologian. He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. One of the 20th century’s most prolific scholars of Islamic mysticism, Corbin was Professor of Islam & Islamic Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Teheran. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a classic initiatory text of visionary spirituality that transcends the tragic divisions among the three great monotheisms. Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life.
"There is a relentless generosity to Joseph Donahue’s newest collection, as seemingly everything can find its place among the contours of his poetry. By turns worldy and visionary, Red Flash on a Black Field accommodates Charles Olson and David Lynch, Nietzsche and a theology bursting from pure, luminous words of radical intent. In the hands of this consummate craftsman “consciousness is a continual fire” and the world of words is ablaze." - Susan Howe
There is a good interview with Joe about this book and other things in The Conversant. He says,
"In the last few years I have been drawn to the literature of esoteric Islam, certainly for its extravagance of devotional expression and its exploration of visionary states of being, but also to help me fathom a simple and yet difficult ambition of lyric poetry, the ecstatic cry. Why is such a little mouthful of air so hard to get right? Perhaps this is so only to the ecstatically challenged, such as myself. But it seems to me the simple exclamation of joy or despair, both to utter and interpret, demands a thinking out the nature of the world: what forces large and small have brought these syllables to be?"
I want to rectify some omissions that I meant to get to long ago and I have realized that I never did. When I was first exploring the relationship between Corbin and poetry I was in touch with several different poets who gave me invaluable information and assistance. One of them was George Quasha whose work with and about Robert Kelly on ta'wil and related matters is absolutely central to understanding how Corbin's work made it's way into the poetry of the 60s and 70s. Early on Quasha mentioned three poets who were foremost among those influenced by Corbin: Gerrit Lansing, Kenneth Irby and Theodore Enslin. I never followed this lead and I have I think never posted anything about any member of this fascinating trio and this is an important hole in the account I have provided sporadically on this blog. I here officially acknowledge this lack and add their names to the list.
On his PennSound page "Lansing talks with Charles Bernstein, and guest Susan Howe, at Lansing’s house in Gloucester, Mass. Lansing, a close friend of Charles Olson, discusses the wild of Gloucester, the relation of the magic (and the magical) and the occult to poetic practice, Nerval, queer politics and the poetics identity, New York in the immediate postwar period, parapsychology at Harvard in the late 1940s, Gnosticism versus neo-Platonism, Jewish mysticism, and his connections with Henry Murray, Harry Smith, Alan Watts, Aleister Crowley, Carl Jung, and John Ashbery.
Kenneth Irby is Associate Professor at the University of Kansas and his collected poems was published in 2009 as The Intent On.
Theodore Enslin died in 2011 in Milbridge, Maine where he had lived since 1960. To my mind he was the most fascinating character of all. If I had been paying attention I might well have been able to meet him as Milbridge is scarcely 2 hours from my own homestead in rural Maine. This brief appreciation provides a sense of the man: With Great Respect. Though he lived in relative isolation far outside the mainstream he was extremely prolific, publishing roughly 60 books of poetry including a selected poems Then and Nowin 1999. And here is a fascinating interview with Enslin and Robert Bertholf on music and poetry.
[The dated heading for this post acknowledges the fact that I long ago lost track of how many entries there have been in this "series" & I should have dated each entry from the beginning.]
As I've mentioned before, Robert Kelly is one of the most important poets to have put Corbin's work to use. This new collection of essays is very much worth your attention. Though there is no explicit mention of Corbin in these 800 pages, there are three occurrences of ta'wil. On p 284 is the justly famous comment that "A poem is the ta'wil of the first word written down." Perhaps more striking to me is the commentary on Charles Olson and the Angel, which begins on 171 - Olson was, Kelly says, particularly in the late, post-Maximus work, a man in search of his Angel. [I have written about the Olson/Corbin connection many times, and Maud's excellent Charles Olson At the Harbor - see here for instance.] There is so much of interest in this immense volume that it seems to me indispensable.
A companion book, forthcoming [this Fall?] from Contra Mundum, A City Full of Voices, will include the full text of the seminal 1974 collaboration Ta'wil, Or How to Read which I have pointed to several times here. And I will whet the appetite of all with an interest by mentioning that this volume will also contain an essay by George Quasha, "Uncertainties," which discusses Kelly's poetics and the entire complex of issues involved with the poetics of ta'wil, the visionary recital, initiation, creative imagination and alchemy. It is, it seems to me, quite wonderful and utterly essential reading for anyone interested in these matters.
Thanks to Pierre Joris for co-editing these books and for drawing our attention to them.
During a prolific 200-year period in the 14th–16th centuries, four master calligraphers invented one of the most aesthetically refined forms of Persian culture: nasta‘liq, a type of calligraphy so beautiful that for the first time the expressive form of the words eclipsed their meaning. “Nasta‘liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy,” opening Sept. 13 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, displays 20 rarely seen masterworks created by the script’s greatest practitioners, tracing its evolution from a simple style of writing to a potent form of artistic expression.
This is the first exhibition ever to focus specifically on nasta‘liq, which was used primarily to write poetry, Persia’s quintessential form of literature. With sinuous lines, short vertical strokes and an astonishing sense of rhythm, the script was an immediate success and was rapidly adopted throughout the Persian-speaking world from Turkey to India. The exhibition shows how generations of itinerant calligraphers, bound by the master-pupil relationship, developed, enhanced and spreadnasta‘liq between major artistic centers.
“Nasta‘liq represents one of the most accomplished forms of Persian art, developed at a time of cultural and artistic effervescence in Iran,” said Simon Rettig, exhibition curator and curatorial fellow at the Freer and Sackler galleries. “In a sense, it became the visual embodiment of the Persian language enthusiastically embraced from Istanbul to Delhi and from Bukhara to Baghdad.”
Each of the four masters featured in the exhibition—Mir Ali from Tabriz (active ca. 1370–1410), Sultan Ali from Mashhad (d. 1520), Mir Ali from Herat (d. 1545) and Mir Imad Hasani from Qazvin (d. 1615)—further evolved the nasta‘liq style, intentionally slanting the script for dramatic effect, modulating lines to balance fluidity and discipline, and adding delicate, twisting flourishes. Often attached to royal and princely courts, many calligraphers were the celebrities of their time, and visitors will learn fascinating anecdotes of fame and rivalry.
Mastering nasta‘liq can take a lifetime, but it remains the most popular form of Persian calligraphy today. A demonstration video in the exhibition, along with calligraphic tools and accessories, shows how techniques developed more than 500 years ago are still practiced by contemporary calligraphers.
Primarily drawn from the collections of the Freer and Sackler galleries, highlights include the only known signed work by the “inventor” of nasta‘liq Mir Ali from Tabriz, two folios from a collection of poetry by the late 15th-century ruler Sultan Husayn Bayqara and sumptuous illuminated pages from imperial Mughal albums.
The exhibition will be on view through March 22, 2015, and will be featured during the museum’s annual family festival celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Saturday, March 7, 2015. Other exhibition-related programs include a Point of View talk with exhibition curator Simon Rettig Oct. 14 and lectures by eminent specialists, including David J. Roxburgh of Harvard University Dec. 14 and Dick Davis of Ohio State University Jan. 25, 2015. For a full listing of related events, visit asia.si.edu/nastaliq.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day (closed Dec. 25), and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other public events, visit asia.si.edu or follow twitter.com/freersackleror facebook.com/freersackler. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000.
We outline a specific profile of philosophy of religion emerging from the work of Henry Corbin, a thinker who engages with contemporary issues, interpreter of the Iranian Shi’ite tradition and of the currents of Gnosis,. The first chapter is devoted to the phenomenological method of Docetism. Compared to the bettern-known issue of mundus imaginalis, the Docetism is equally crucial: it is familiar to many Eastern and Western gnostic currents – a downright critical theory of visionary knowledge, that rebuilds metaphysics in a perspective that goes beyond Nietzsche and Heidegger, and an ontology not primarily ontic, not simply predicative, but “ontophanique” (G. Durand). In the second chapter we have meant to discuss the docetist theoretical foundations of ‘image’, starting from the illusory paradox of the regard granted to imagination in the Islamic context, usually defined as aniconic. The aniconic instance is analysed starting from the contrast between “idol” and “icon”: the first is the opaque image, the second is the transparent mirror. The image, at that level, is not the imitation of a model, but the ability to mirror, and a constitutive relating with the other outside the self: unus ambo, dualitude. In the third chapter we present the main focus of this kind of Docetism: to actualize the spiritual. The specificity of the Iranian Islam is confronted with the Platonic tradition of the Russian theology, the psychology of Jung, and a Western archaic sense of the image. Finally, in order to avoid any relativist misunderstanding, we reflect, along with Corbin, upon what makes a vision true.