"...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

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Corbin & Nietzsche

One of the most profound and striking aspects of Corbin's account of Western secularism and a-gnosticism is his analysis of Nietzsche's nihilism. Nietzsche announces the death of God first in The Gay Science in the voice of the Madman, and later in Thus Spake Zarathustra in the voice of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) himself. This world-shattering event is a dei-cide, for "we have killed Him." For Nietzsche this death marks a new beginning and heralds the possibility of a heretofore unknown freedom for humanity from forms of control and repression that have dominated the history of the world. Nietzsche hoped to usher in an age where fundamentalists of all kinds have no more ground to stand on - no transcendent Truth on which to base their claims for power. It is an exhilarating and dizzying prospect, and not one to be scornfully dismissed. Yet Corbin argues that what we know from the Sufis and others in the mystical traditions is that such a move is catastrophic unless one can transcend the "lower soul," the all-too-human ego. For all his visionary power as a philosopher and his startling insights as a psychologist, Nietzsche's attempt to live beyond good and evil and to face the blackness of the Abyss that opens in the absence of God is a failed initiation. This disaster is an ever-present possibility in the religions of the Abrahamic tradition.

A Failed Initiation

In his metaphysical anthropology and physiology the 13th century Iranian mystic Alaoddawleh Semnani described a “series of subtle organs…each of which…is the typification of a prophet…whose role and action it assumes… [E]ach of these…is marked by a colored light…[which] informs the mystic as to his spiritual state.” The penultimate stage of ascent through these “seven prophets of your being” is Jesus. His color is luminous black. In the Qur’an “it is said that Jesus, as the prophet before the last of the prophets of our cycle, was the herald of the last prophet, i.e., of the advent of the Paraclete.” Jesus thus presages the “stage of the divine center (Mohammad) which is brilliant green.” This is the emerald splendor of the complete fulfillment of personal initiation.

For Semnani, the Jesus of your being marks “exactly the perilous distracting stage whereat Christians in general and certain Sufis in Islam have been misled.” Corbin says of Semnani’s critique that “everything takes place as though this Sufi Master’s aim were to perfect the Christian ta’wil [hermeneutic], that is, to ‘lead it back,’ to open the way at last to its ultimate truth.”

Corbin draws together all the threads of his mystical, metaphysical and psychological themes to declare a pivot point for the mystical seeker, and for the history of the Western world. In order to avoid the catastrophes of dementia, nihilism, idolatry and the annihilation of the person in social and collective anonymity, the soul must achieve the “mystical poverty, mystical nakedness” which completely eliminates “intoxication,” or, in Jung’s terminology, the dangers of inflation. One must overcome the lower modes of perception – the allurements of the lower states of the soul must be overcome and transcended. A profound misunderstanding of the true situation is common to dogmatic Christianity, certain Sufis, and to Nietzsche, who stands as the representative of nihilistic modern man. Corbin writes:

"By a striking comparison, Semnani establishes a connection between the trap into which the Christian dogma of the Incarnation falls by proclaiming homoousia and by affirming that ‘Isa ibn Maryam [Jesus, son of Mary] is God, and the mystical intoxication in which such as Hallaj cry out: ‘I am God.’ These dangers are symmetrical. On the one hand the Sufi, on experiencing the fana fi’llah, mistakes it for the actual and material resorption of human reality in the godhead; on the other, the Christian sees a fana of God into human reality. This is why Semnani perceives on the one side and other the same imminent threat of an irregularity in the development of consciousness. The Sufi would need an experienced shaykh to help him avoid the abyss and to lead him to the degree that is in truth the divine center of his being…where his higher, spiritual Self opens. If not, the spiritual energy being wholly concentrated on this opening, it can happen that the lower ego is left a prey to extravagant thoughts and delirium. The ‘scales’ are then completely unbalanced; in a fatal moment of looking back, the newborn higher Self succumbs to what had been overcome and perishes in the moment of triumph. And this is just as true in the moral domain as in respect to the metaphysical perception of the divine and of being. It is a premature rupture in the process of growth, a ‘failed initiation.’ One could say that the mortal danger described by Semnani on both sides is the very same situation with which the West came face to face when Nietzsche cried out: ‘God is dead.’ ” (The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 127-128).

Corbin writes at more length of Semnani's physiology in En Islam Iranien, Volume 3, Book 4.

(Adapted from Green Man, Earth Angel: Ch. 3 Black Light.)

Photo: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche in 1888.
Francis Bacon, Study After Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953 (Velasquez's painting here.)

No comments:

Post a Comment