"...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.

Search The Legacy of Henry Corbin: Over 800 Posts

Thursday, December 7, 2017

New from Carl Ernst




by Carl W Ernst

This collection of articles by Carl W Ernst summarizes over 30 years of research, recovering and illuminating remarkable examples of Islamic culture that have been largely overlooked, if not forgotten. It opens with reflections on teaching Islam, focusing on major themes such as Sufism, the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, and Arabic literature. The importance of public scholarship and the questionable opposition between Islam and the West are also addressed. The articles that follow explore multiple facets of Sufism, the ethical and spiritual tradition that has flourished in Muslim societies for over a thousand years. The cumulative effect is to move away from static Orientalist depictions of Sufism and Islam through a series of vivid and creative case studies.


Carl W. Ernst is a specialist in Islamic studies, with a focus on West and South Asia. His published research, based on the study of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, has been mainly devoted to the study of three areas: general and critical issues of Islamic studies, premodern and contemporary Sufism, and Indo-Muslim culture. He has received research fellowships from the Fulbright program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and he has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His publications, which have received several international awards, include Rethinking Islamic Studies: From Orientalism to Cosmopolitanism (co-edited with Richard Martin, 2010); Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World (2003); and Teachings of Sufism (1999).

He is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor (2005- ) and Co-Director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations. He and Bruce Lawrence are co-editors of the Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks Series at the University of North Carolina Press.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Important New Book!


Be sure to read part of the final chapter via the Look Inside option on amazon.



Thick and Dazzling Darkness
Religious Poetry in a Secular Age

Peter O'Leary



How do poets use language to render the transcendent, often dizzyingly inexpressible nature of the divine? In an age of secularism, does spirituality have a place in modern American poetry? In Thick and Dazzling Darkness, Peter O’Leary reads a diverse set of writers to argue for the existence and importance of religious poetry in twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature. He traces a poetic genealogy that begins with Whitman and Dickinson and continues in the work of contemporary writers to illuminate an often obscured but still central spiritual impulse that has shaped the production and imagination of American poetry.

O’Leary presents close and comprehensive readings of the modernist, late-modernist, and postmodern poets Robinson Jeffers, Frank Samperi, and Robert Duncan, as well as the contemporary poets Joseph Donahue, Geoffrey Hill, Fanny Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Pam Rehm, and Lissa Wolsak. Examining how these poets drew on a variety of traditions, including Catholicism, Gnosticism, the Kabbalah, and mysticism, the book considers how modern and contemporary poets have articulated the spiritual in their work. O’Leary also argues that an anxiety of misunderstanding exists in the study and writing of poetry between secular and religious impulses and that the religious nature of poets’ works is too often marginalized or misunderstood. Examining the works of a specific poet in each chapter, O’Leary reveals their complexity and offers a defense of the value and meaning of religious poetry against the grain of a secular society.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter O’Leary is the author of Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan and the Poetry of Illness (2002), as well as several books of poetry, most recently The Sampo (2016), and he is the editor of a new edition of Ronald Johnson’s ARK (2013). He teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Spring 2018 Lecture/Workshop




with
Tom Cheetham


June 1 & 2, 2018
The C.G. Jung Center
Brunswick, Maine

Draft Description - Subject to Change

Friday Evening Lecture


Not a Science But a Story
Imagination & the Lumen Natura


We begin with a meditation on Jung's Red Book and the nature of imagination in art, psychology and religion. In his essays on Picasso and Joyce, Jung expressed "intense irritation." He treated them, Sonu Shamdasani tells us, like "crazy brothers" whose works are "way too close for comfort as they approach a similar terrain from a different vertex." He thought they were playing a dangerous game. "He recognizes the motifs from his own experience, but he still judges it as crazy" because "they appear to be exalting, reveling in it. The nekyia becomes a bacchanal." It offends him as "almost sacrilegious" and "a send-up of the holiest mysteries." He didn't consider that the dedication of these radical artists might be a religious act itself. Shamdasani then makes a critically important point: "[Jung] also doesn't see the extent to which the form of presentation within Picasso and Joyce is sufficient unto itself. There's a lumen natura, to borrow one of the alchemical expressions Jung himself uses, already within the image, There's a translucency that doesn't require anything else… [But] for Jung, it's insufficient." Whole cosmologies, cultures and forms of life revolve around the way we understand this lumen natura. What is this translucency? What is it sufficient for? And why was it insufficient for Jung? What was he looking for? What should we be searching for? Drawing on the work of James Hillman, Henry Corbin and a range of contemporary poets and artists, we'll address questions about the nature of the lumen natura and why Jung refused to think of the Red Book as "art."

Saturday Lecture


Wonders to Behold
Henry Corbin, Gaston Bachelard & the Blaze of Reality


A recurring phrase in the archaic Greek of the Iliad and the Odyssey is thauma idesthai: a wonder to behold. These incandescent marvels occupy the boundary between humans and the gods. Scholar Vered Lev Kenaan tells us that this experience of wonder "requires a mode of perception that involves recognition of the hidden, invisible, and divine dimension of things [and] is accompanied by a sense of danger." The anthropologist Stanley Diamond argued that an archaic sense of immersion in reality is common to the people of non-technological cultures, to artists and to mystics. They share a heightened awareness of reality that "commands a focus on the singularity of the object to such a degree that everything seems at once marvellous, strange, familiar and unexpected. No category can exhaust such an object; it saturates the perceiving subject… for [the artist] the object has become incandescent." The contemporary phenomenologist Jean-luc Marion has called such events "saturated phenomena." They "appear in full authority, in full glory, as the first morning of a world." They are unforeseeable, dazzling, unconditional and paradoxical. Marion insists they are not mystical limit cases, but rather the most fully realized experience of the bare phenomenon. Such a being "appears without the limits of a horizon and without reduction to an I." In Buddhist cultures such an egoless and unbounded openness is enlightenment. The 13th century Japanese Zen master Dōgen Zenji wrote: "To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening." This intensity of experience lies at the root of the mystery of the sacred. Referring to tale of the Burning Bush, Father Pavel Evdokimov lamented that today “we have lost the flame of things and the secret content of simple reality.” How can we recover a sense of reality that both humbles and empowers us and wakens us to the continuous mystery and beauty of merely being alive?
We can go a long way towards answering that question by attending to the life and work of two of the 20th century's great champions of the imagination, Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) and Henry Corbin (1903-1978). They, like Jung, shared a fascination with an alchemical vision of fire, light and transformation. Bachelard discovered in Corbin's work an impassioned example of the fire of imagination that he had been meditating on for many years. We will examine the allied but contrasting visions of Jung, Corbin and Bachelard and use their work to help open ourselves to forms of life and thought that can free us to experience the blaze of reality in all things.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

New from Peter O'Leary



Thick and Dazzling Darkness

Religious Poetry in a Secular Age

Peter O'Leary


November 2017

How do poets use language to render the transcendent, often dizzyingly inexpressible nature of the divine? In an age of secularism, does spirituality have a place in modern American poetry? In Thick and Dazzling Darkness, Peter O’Leary reads a diverse set of writers to argue for the existence and importance of religious poetry in twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature. He traces a poetic genealogy that begins with Whitman and Dickinson and continues in the work of contemporary writers to illuminate an often obscured but still central spiritual impulse that has shaped the production and imagination of American poetry.

O’Leary presents close and comprehensive readings of the modernist, late-modernist, and postmodern poets Robinson Jeffers, Frank Samperi, and Robert Duncan, as well as the contemporary poets Joseph Donahue, Geoffrey Hill, Fanny Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Pam Rehm, and Lissa Wolsak. Examining how these poets drew on a variety of traditions, including Catholicism, Gnosticism, the Kabbalah, and mysticism, the book considers how modern and contemporary poets have articulated the spiritual in their work. O’Leary also argues that an anxiety of misunderstanding exists in the study and writing of poetry between secular and religious impulses and that the religious nature of poets’ works is too often marginalized or misunderstood. Examining the works of a specific poet in each chapter, O’Leary reveals their complexity and offers a defense of the value and meaning of religious poetry against the grain of a secular society.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter O’Leary is the author of Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan and the Poetry of Illness (2002), as well as several books of poetry, most recently The Sampo (2016), and he is the editor of a new edition of Ronald Johnson’s ARK (2013). He teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago.



Friday, October 13, 2017

"This Vast Earth: Ibn 'Arabi's Ecology of Consciousness"

Conference website
 
Friday, Nov 10, 2017
Founders Room, Carillo Recreation Center

100 East Carillo Street
Santa Barbara, CA, 93101
  • 7:00pm Welcome
  • 7:10pm Keynote Speech: Michael Sells
  • 7:45pm Selected Readings from the poetry of Ibn ‘Arabi
  • 8:00pm Performance by musicians from UCSB Middle East Ensemble
Saturday, Nov 11, 2017
McCune Room

6020 Humanities and Social Sciences Building
El Colegio Rd
UC Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
  • 9:00am Welcome
  • 9:15am - 12:10pmPlenary Session
  • 12:10pm Lunch
  • 1:30pm - 4:30pmWorkshops
  • 4:30pm Panel Discussion
  • 5:00pm End
 

2017 Annual conference

"This Vast Earth:
Ibn 'Arabi's Ecology of Consciousness"

November 10-11, 2017
UC Santa Barbara, California, USA

As one of history’s greatest universal mystics and interpreters of the human condition, Ibn ’Arabi’s teachings offer a window into a form of Islam that the West is rarely exposed to, as well as a more sophisticated understanding of the more exalted aspects of the Islamic cultural heritage.
This conference will explore Ibn 'Arabi's ideas on consciousness with particular focus on his articulation of the "Vast Earth" as a living reality, and the landscape through which the awakened human travels.
The Ibn 'Arabi Society is pleased to partner this year with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at UCSB 

Registration

Don't miss this special evening of spoken word and music.
  • Hear Michael Sells' keynote speechSpeaking Stone: Kaʿba, Love, Talk, and Consciousness in the Writings of Ibn ʿArabi
  • Hear to poetry readings in the original Arabic, and Michael Sells' incomparable translations into English, recited by John Mercer
  • Hear members of UCSB's own Middle East Ensemble
Register for the Friday Night Concert and Keynote, or for the Full Conference which includes Friday and Saturdayevents.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Purpose Summit


Join the Purpose Summit for FREE!
Video Interviews with top experts
Starts Sept 10th
Hi Friends -
I was interviewed recently for the Purpose Summit which begins this Sunday September 10th.  In my video interview I shared my perspective on the subjects of: purpose, soul, purpose discovery work, the pitfalls along the path to purpose embodiment and more.  The interviewer has read Corbin and 4 of my books.  His questions elicited some interesting facets of my work and I think you'll find edifying.

I invite you to join this FREE online event which starts this Sunday Sept 10th.  You'll get a new video in your inbox every weekend with an engaging interview on the subject of purpose.

Tom Cheetham
Here's what you'll experience during the summit:
  • Intimate interviews, giving you a taste of each expert's take on the subject of purpose, soul and cultural transformation.
  • Insight into a variety of practices and techniques that support you to discover your soul's deep purpose.
  • Directions on how you can find and embrace a life of true impact.
How the Summit works:

Every weekend you receive an email with a link to a fresh interview.  After 7 days, the video will be replaced by the next weekly inspirational interview.



Are you ready to learn from those who have discovered their own soul level purpose?  

Now is the time for you to fully inhabit your raw, authentic nature and channel the electric force that emanates from the center of your being.


You are invited to join the Purpose Summit.
It's totally free.
Each week a new video will pop into your inbox.

*

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Truth etc... and N. Berdyaev


A pre-history of post-truth, East and West
MARCI SHORE
1 September 2017

In 2014, Russian historian Andrei Zubov was fired from his Moscow professorship for comparing Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland.1 Two years later, at a festival in the post-industrial Czech city of Ostrava, Zubov spoke to a large audience about the task of historians. ‘My dolzhni govorit’ pravdu’, he said. We should speak the truth. This declaration – all the more so when uttered in Zubov’s baritone – sounded quaint, even old-fashioned. In particular, the Slavic word pravda – truth – invoked with no qualification and no prefix, suggested a bygone era. Who believed in truth anymore?

The end of ‘The End of History’ arrived together with the end of belief in reality. The Cold War world was a world of warring ideologies; in the twenty-first century, both American capitalism and post-Soviet oligarchy employ the same public relations specialists catering to gangsters with political ambitions. As Peter Pomerantsev described in Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, in the Russia of the 2000s, distinguishing between truth and lies became passé. In this world of enlightened, postmodern people, ‘everything is PR’.

Reality television has rendered obsolete the boundary between the fictional and the real. Truth is a constraint that has been overcome; ‘post-truth’ has been declared ‘word of the year.’ In Washington, the White House shamelessly defends its ‘alternative facts’. At the beginning, American journalists were taken off-guard: they had been trained to confirm individual pieces of information, not to confront a brazen untethering from empirical reality. The New Yorker captured the desperation with a satire about the fact-checker who passed out from exhaustion after the Republican debate. He had to be hospitalized; apparently no one replaced him. READ MORE


WITH THIS REFERENCE OF INTEREST:

"In the wake of the Stalinist Terror, the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev wrote an essay titled ‘The Paradox of the Lie.’ The lie was the condition that allowed totalitarianism to come into being, asserted Berdyaev. In his experience, this lie was an expression of the deep deformation of human consciousness; as a result of this deformation, individual conscience fled ever more from the world."

I've made a more readable version available here.




Saturday, July 22, 2017

Item of interest





LISTENING TO AYAHUASCA

by Rachel Harris, PhD



New Hope for Depression, Addiction, PTSD, and Anxiety



Used for thousands of years by indigenous tribes of the Amazon rain forest, the mystical brew ayahuasca is now becoming increasingly popular in the West. Psychologist Rachel Harris here shares her own healing experiences and draws on her original research (the largest study of ayahuasca use in North America) into the powerful medicine’s effects on depression, addiction, PTSD, and anxiety. In this wide-ranging and personal exploration, Harris details ayahuasca’s risks and benefits, helping readers clarify their intentions and giving psychotherapists a template for transformative care and healing.



Monday, June 12, 2017

New Journal of Interest



Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture publishes scholarly and scientific articles and reviews on every aspect of imaginative culture: literature, film, theater, television, music, religion, the visual arts, video games, and other media. Works of imaginative culture would include both canonical and popular forms of literature, art, and other media, comics, fads and fashions, hobby groups, sports cultures, creative non-fiction, and the imaginative manifestations of politics, ethnicity, ideology, religion, and other forms of group identity. Articles are written in English, but subject matter can include works from any language and any historical period.
The central qualification for contributing to the journal is to regard works of imaginative culture as arising out of human nature—the evolved and adapted character of the human mind. While sharing a common concern with locating cultural products in human nature, contributors can focus on divergent or multiple features of cultural artifacts: their depicted content, emotional qualities, or structural and stylistic features; aesthetic and intellectual traditions; the responses of readers or viewers; the motives and character of authors or other artists; the ecological and sociopolitical context within which imaginative works are produced; or the psychological or social functions the works fulfill.
The central qualification for contributing to the journal is to regard works of imaginative culture as arising out of human nature—the evolved and adapted character of the human mind. While sharing a common concern with locating cultural products in human nature, contributors can focus on divergent or multiple features of cultural artifacts: their depicted content, emotional qualities, or structural and stylistic features; aesthetic and intellectual traditions; the responses of readers or viewers; the motives and character of authors or other artists; the ecological and sociopolitical context within which imaginative works are produced; or the psychological or social functions the works fulfill.
The journal is open to theoretical essays, interpretations of individual works or groups of works, and empirical, quantitative studies of imaginative cultural products.
Books under review can include contributions to fields such as literary Darwinism, evolutionary aesthetics, cognitive rhetoric, cognitive media studies, neuroaesthetics, and evolutionary studies of religion, society, and politics. Reviewers commenting on books in the evolutionary social sciences would typically consider the way the subjects of those books have a bearing on imaginative culture.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Complexity and the Implicate Order



Bohm-Prigogine Centenary Conference
24th June 2017


Professor Peter Allen, Dr. Vasilieios Basios, Professor Basil Hiley
Chairs: David Lorimer, Bernard Carr

Venue address: Christopher Ingold Building, XLG2 Auditorium, UCL, Gordon Street, London WC1E 6BT

2017 marks the centenary of two of the most creative scientists of the 20th century, Prof David Bohm FRS (1917 – 1992) and Prof Vicomte Ilya Prigogine (1917 – 2004). Both men thought out-of-the-box, and introduced new and influential concepts that have had a wide reach outside their specialist fields. The Network arranged a weekend of dialogue with David Bohm in 1988, and a day with Ilya Prigogine in 1995, which was attended by more than 400 people. Both were Honorary Members. Addressed by experts who worked closely with both men, this centenary conference will consider their legacies and the extensive influence, showing how their ideas still shape our thinking.

Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1977 for his work on self-organising systems and dissipative structures. Open systems try to maintain their existing dynamics by absorbing and adapting to external perturbations. We see this in our own lives when, after an illness, we try to ‘get back to normal’. We tend to resume our previous lifestyle, even if this was a contributory factor to our illness. If, however, the impact of the event is sufficiently great (as in a near-death experience) it reconfigures the whole system in a life-changing new dynamic. We literally become new people.

David Bohm’s work is key in at least two respects: the first is his distinction between what he called the implicate and the explicate orders. The implicate order is characterised by dynamic wholeness in flowing movement, while the explicate (literally unfolded as opposed to enfolded) shows us separation. For Bohm, implicate wholeness is primary and explicate separation is derived from it. The second aspect is his use of dialogue an exploratory process. Here, as with Bohm’s own dialogues with Krishnamurti, participants suspend their assumptions and engage in an open process of mutual exploration. If we applied such an approach to complex international negotiations where each party comes from a fixed position defined by their separate interests, outcomes might be very different.

So the processes of self-organisation in complex systems, new order arising out of chaos and an open process of dialogue have important implications for our individual and collective futures. We hope you can join us for what promises to be a memorable day.

We very much regret that David Peat is unable to join us for health reasons but we are working on being able to show some clips of him speaking about David Bohm and Bohm speaking with Krishnamurti.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Imaginal Politics




Images Beyond Imagination and the Imaginary

Chiara Bottici

Columbia University Press, 2014



Between the radical, creative capacity of our imagination and the social imaginary we are immersed in is an intermediate space philosophers have termed the imaginal, populated by images or (re)presentations that are presences in themselves. Offering a new, systematic understanding of the imaginal and its nexus with the political, Chiara Bottici brings fresh perspective to the formation of political and power relationships and the paradox of a world rich in imagery yet seemingly devoid of imagination.

Bottici begins by defining the difference between the imaginal and the imaginary, locating the imaginal's root meaning in the image and its ability to both characterize a public and establish a set of activities within that public. She identifies the imaginal's critical role in powering representative democracies and its amplification through globalization. She then addresses the troublesome increase in images now mediating politics and the transformation of politics into empty spectacle. The spectacularization of politics has led to its virtualization, Bottici observes, transforming images into processes with an uncertain relationship to reality, and, while new media has democratized the image in a global society of the spectacle, the cloned image no longer mediates politics but does the act for us. Bottici concludes with politics' current search for legitimacy through an invented ideal of tradition, a turn to religion, and the incorporation of human rights language.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Chiara Bottici is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research and the author of A Philosophy of Political Myth, Men, and States, and, with Benoît Challand, The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations and Imagining Europe: Myth, Memory, and Identity.

Part 1. Imagining
1. From Phantasia to Imagination
2. From Imagination to the Imaginary and Beyond?
3. Toward a Theory of the Imaginal
Part 2. Politics
4. A Genealogy of Politics: From Its Invention to the Biopolitical Turn
5. Imaginal Politics
6. Contemporary Transformations Between Spectacle and Virtuality
Part 3. The Global Spectacle
7. The Politics of the Past: The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations
8. The Repositioning of Religion in the Public Sphere: Imaginal Consequences
9. Imagining Human Rights: Gender, Race, and Class
The Freedom of Equals: A Conclusion and a New Beginning

Thursday, May 11, 2017

New Book!!!





Politics of Time / Politics of Eternity



The following editorial will appear in Temenos Academy Review 20, due to be published in late 2017; it is reproduced here with the permission of John Carey and the Temenos Academy.



EDITORIAL

While Temenos has always been concerned with the nature of ‘the good society’, it has never been political in a partisan sense. Kathleen Raine used to say that Temenos has to do not with ‘the politics of time’ but with ‘the politics of eternity’. This year, as Britain and America grapple with daunting political changes, stemming from profound ideological divisions and boding momentous consequences, it may be appropriate to reflect on this stance afresh.
In thus distinguishing between two kinds of politics, Kathleen Raine was quoting the Irish poet, painter, activist and visionary ‘Æ’ (George Russell). The paired phrases run like a leitmotiv through his novel The Interpreters, among the epigraphs of which is a question posed by one of the characters: ‘What relation have the politics of time to the politics of eternity?’ It is this question which, without aspiring to any thoroughness or resolution, I shall consider in what follows.
What did Æ mean by ‘the politics of eternity’? What he did not mean, we may be sure, was a fastidious refusal to come to terms with the here and now, an unworldly non-politics. The Interpreters is a philosophical fantasy laid in the future, in which a group of imprisoned revolutionaries debate their varied conceptions of an ideal society. It was published in 1922, in the wake of the Irish war of independence: the ‘world empire’ and the ‘nation long restless under its rule’ of Æ’s story clearly stand respectively for Britain and Ireland. He wrote out of a crisis through which he himself had lived; and the standpoints advocated by his characters reflect various strands in the fabric of contemporary Irish nationalism.
But despite this topicality, Æ gave his narrative an imaginary setting; and he did so for a specific reason. As he stated: ‘The symposium has been laid in a future century so that ideals over which there is conflict to-day might be discussed divested of passion and apart from transient circumstance.’ Believing that immediate events can only be properly understood through an understanding of what lies behind them, he said of the struggle for Irish freedom that

the political images in imagination were but the psychic body of spiritual ideas. Behind the open argument lurked a spiritual mood which was the true decider of destiny.

Or, as he observed later in the same book: ‘Politic[s] is a profane science only because it has not yet discovered it has its roots in sacred or spiritual things and must deal with them.’
Seen in these terms, the relationship between the politics of time and the politics of eternity is not one of mutual exclusion. Rather, the latter are the transcendent Reality of which the former are the contingent expression. As long as we are in this world, we must exist in terms of time: the wisest means of doing so has been found, probably, by those who have looked to the harmonious workings of the cosmos for guidance in the governance of human affairs. But if we lack the perspective of eternity, of the mystery which sanctifies that cosmos, our experience of this temporal existence will be flattened and distorted; we may be left with what Charles Williams called ‘a fallacy of rational virtue’.
To impart the eternal perspective is the task of the prophet and of the artist – among artists, perhaps especially of the poet. In the words of Kathleen Raine:

When Shelley wrote that ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ his words were not merely rhetorical, for he was himself deeply committed to that task of imaginative legislation – as had Blake been before him with the intent that his words would in due course affect the politics of history.

We can discern the same intent in Dante’s treatise on monarchy; in Plato’s picture of a just city; and indeed in the attempts of Plato and of Plotinus – and, for a time with greater success, of the Pythagoreans – to found philosophical communities.
The image of a heavenly order reflected here on earth, of the descent of the celestial Jerusalem, has been a source of inspiration down the ages. But it is a grievous truth that the attempt to realise such an order has again and again resulted in intolerance, hypocrisy, tyranny and evil. Examples could be given from throughout the world and from throughout history, and all too easily from our own times also. When human volition has acted in the name of the Absolute, when the bearers of spiritual authority have wielded material power, that power has been repeatedly abused. This should not be seen to discredit the beliefs which have served as the pretexts for such abuse; but that they have repeatedly so served is a fact which it would be immoral to ignore, or to condone.
It is against such oppression – ‘a dark yet mighty faith, a power as wide / as is the world it wasted’ – that Shelley’s ‘imaginative legislation’ was directed. He called for its fetters to be abolished, a liberation following which

the man remains
Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man:
Equal, unclassed, tribeless and nationless,
Exempt from awe, worship, degree: the king
Over himself....
(Prometheus Unbound)

Shelley was a votary of the Platonic tradition, but also of the ideals of revolution; and in these lines he is not speaking with the voice of Plato, who cherished freedom of enquiry but who also revered legitimate authority. Such reverence has, of course, likewise been a part of the age-old teachings of the wise: clearly, the wild beauty of Shelley’s poetry does not give us the whole of the truth. And what words can?
‘What relation have the politics of time to the politics of eternity?’ What are the politics of eternity? This is an enigma, some of the depth of which we can gauge from the words of Christ. For he seems to have spoken of something like the politics of eternity when he talked of ‘the kingdom of heaven’ or ‘the kingdom of God’. What is that kingdom?
For all its prominence in his preaching, what Christ meant by ‘the kingdom’ is obscure. In his parables, he likened it to small or hidden things: a seed, a pearl, a buried treasure. Challenged by Pilate, he said ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36); and when he advised that Caesar’s coins should be paid to Caesar, he seemed to resign all that is worldly to the worldly sphere. But when he prayed, he asked for the coming of his Father’s ‘kingdom’, so that God’s will should be done ‘as in heaven, [so] also upon earth’ (hōs en ouranō kai epi gēs; Matthew 6:10).
We will never exhaust the meaning of these words, but I would like to offer one way of understanding them here. I prefer not to think of the petition as being no more than a bald call for submission, for the naked imposition of God’s will on earth: the claim to be enforcing precisely this has been the age-old justification of the persecutors. May it not rather be a prayer that God’s will be done on earth in the same way that it is done in heaven – that it be performed with the joyous selflessness of the angels?
How can we distinguish the politics of eternity from their authoritarian perversion – from what could be called the politics of Antichrist? The test must be the test of compassion, which Christ articulated when he said that the Law and the prophets depend on the unstinting love of God, but also on the love of our neighbour as ourselves. The politics of eternity is a politics of love – a love which, in the same teaching, knows no boundaries, for we are told that everyone is our neighbour. When we close our eyes to compassion, we close them to the Infinite.
In the last few paragraphs I have dwelt upon the words of the Gospels, because these deal directly with the question which concerns me here, and also express the richness of that question’s paradoxicality. But I do not doubt that similar insights can be found in many other places.
We live in turbulent and contentious times; and any who seek to assist in realising the politics of eternity are faced with bitter struggle. In the midst of that struggle, we must try not to lose sight of the light that first summoned us. As Æ also wrote:

Every great conflict has been followed by an era of materialism in which the ideals for which the conflict ostensibly was waged were submerged. The gain if any was material. The loss was spiritual. That was so inevitably because warfare implies a descent of the soul to the plane where it is waged, and on that plane it cannot act in fulness, or bring with it love, pity, or forgiveness, or any of its diviner elements.... We might say with truth, those who hate open a door by which their enemies enter and make their own the secret places of the heart.

John Carey



COPYRIGHT © JOHNCAREY, 2017