"...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.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Visionary Clairvoyance

At the close of his essay "The Paradox of Monotheism", Henry Corbin writes as follows:

[The] pre-eminence of visionary clairvoyance may render us clairvoyant with regard to a prophetic symbol that André Neher, in his book The Exile of the Word, invites us to understand in a completely different manner: “Before the two statues at the south portal of the cathedral at Strasbourg, he writes, more than one Christian has been struck by the captivating beauty of the Synagoga, of this woman so astonishingly young, prevented from seeing by the blindfold on her eyes, and who surely has heard nothing, and hears nothing, as she pursues some interior dream whose silence speaks volumes more than the eloquent expression of the Ecclesia.” The blindfold on the eyes of the young woman alerts us that her vision is beyond the visible. The certitude of this visionary clairvoyance is essential as well to a German poet, a Christian and theologian of our time, of whom André Neher brings witness. The poet Albrecht Goes came to sense that the Synagoga is not only more beautiful but more true, in a metaphysical dimension, than the exoteric Ecclesia. Thus he says: Sie ist’s, die sieht, “It is She who sees.”

Henry Corbin, “Le paradoxe du monothèisme,” in Le Paradoxe du Monothèisme. Paris: Ed. de l'Herne (Le Livre de Poche), 1981, 69-70. (English translation available here).
André Neher, L’Exile de la Parole, Paris, Le Seuil, 1970, 50. In English as: Neher, André. The Exile of the Word, from the Silence of the Bible to the Silence of Auschwitz. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981.

Synagoga & Ecclesia, column figures, South Transept Portal, Strasbourg Cathedral
(Images courtesy of Mary Ann Sullivan, Digital Imaging Project)