"...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, September 29, 2008

The Visionary Recital

Corbin was a master of the thought of the heart, of the récit, the visionary recital. The récit, as he intends the term, is the archetypal personal narrative. The ability to live this drama of the soul guarantees each of us our individuality. The paradigmatic examples for Corbin are the recitals of Suhrawardi and Avicenna. The collected works of both masters, he tells us, have this in common:

"side by side with extremely solid systematic works, they both contain a cycle of brief spiritual romances, narratives of inner initiations, marking a rupture of plane with the level on which the patencies successively acquired by theoretical expositions are interconnected."

The accounts bear such titles as The Recital of the Bird, The Recital of Occidental Exile, The Crimson Archangel, and The Reverberations of the Wings of Gabriel. These narrative dramas are not subsidiary to the philosophical systems, they are not allegorical tales meant to "illustrate" or explain. Quite the reverse. They perhaps bear the same relation to a "story" as an icon does to a picture. They are in fact the culmination, the summit of the imaginative universe which the rational mind has produced. Corbin says, "By substituting a dramaturgy for cosmology, the recitals guarantee the genuineness of this universe." The recital is not a fiction, it is not an objective history of facts, and it is not an allegory in which personified figures stand for abstract concepts. It is "the soul's own story… the soul can tell it only in the first person."

Text adapted from After Prophecy by the author. Quotations from Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital.
The "Antioch Chalice", first half of the 6th century, Byzantine; Made in Antioch or Kaper Koraon, The Cloisters Collection. "When it was discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century, this "chalice" was argued to have been found in Antioch … and was ambitiously identified as the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper… The identification of the "Antioch Chalice" as the Holy Grail has not been sustained, and its authenticity has even been challenged, but the work has usually been considered a sixth-century chalice meant to be used in the Eucharist."

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