"...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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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Geography of the Soul

"The Active Imagination perceives and shows to itself an Earth which is other than that Earth which is seen in ordinary sense experience... The Image of the Earth is revealed in the form of an Angel... In this sense, the categories of the sacredness which possess the soul can be recognized in the landscape with which it surrounds itself and in which it shapes its habitat, whether by projecting the vision on an ideal iconography, or by attempting to inscribe and reproduce a model of the vision on the actual earthly ground." - Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth, 29-30.

Louis Massignon writes, "The art of Persian miniatures, without atmosphere, without perspective, without shadows and without modelling, in the metallic splendor if its polychromy, peculiar to itself, bears witness to the fact that its orginators were undertaking a kind of alchemic sublimation of the particles of divine light imprisoned in the 'mass' of the picture. Precious metals, gold and silver, come to the surface of the fringes and the crowns, of the offerings and cups, to escape from the matrix of the colors."

Corbin says, "Let us make no mistake as the meaning of these colors... when we find them again in the gold background of the Byzantine icons and mosaics... it remains always a question of the same transfiguring light..." - The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 137-8.

The illustration is from a manuscript in the Turkish Museum in Istanbul. It is an anthology of Persian poets published in Shiraz in 1398 C.E. and is reproduced in Corbin's Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth from Gray, Basil, Persian Painting, Geneva, Skira, 1956. (Here borrowed from Greg Roberts)