"...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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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Henry Corbin & American Poetry - Part 2

In my last post on this topic (November 18, 2008 - here) I discussed Corbin and Charles Olson. In Dale Smith's excellent and useful essay Divining Word he also highlights Robert Duncan's (1919-1988) interest in the idea of the Active Intelligence as delineated by Corbin in Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (pdf). (A good short biography of Duncan can be read here.) Interested readers should search out a copy of Duncan's remarkable lectures to the Analytical Psychology Society of Western New York transcribed for Spring Journal (1996): Spring 59: Opening the Dreamway: In the Psyche of Robert Duncan (this issue is, I am sorry to say, out-of-print but worth searching for). The audio recoding of the second lecture can be found here as "Reading on "Wind and Sea, Fire and Night" at the American Psychoanalytic Society, 1980."  Duncan was, according to Kathleen Raine, "the major visionary poet writing in America." As Smith points out there are several citations from Corbin's book on Avicenna in Duncan's important unpublished volume The H.D. Book (pdf). I present the chief of these below.

Referring to a scathing and dismissive review of H.D.s "Tribute to the Angels" Duncan writes,

"But the suspicion that disturbs [Dudley] Fitts is not mistaken; Pre-Raphaelism broughtdown- to-date “and the like’’ does enter in. Back of H.D., as back of Pound or of Yeats, was the cult of romance that Rossetti and then Morris had derived from Dante and his circle, the Fedeli d’amore, and revived in the Victorian era. The Christ of H.D.’s trilogy is not the Christ of church prescription but of the imagination, related to the Christ of the mysteries, the Christos-Angelos of Gnostic myth and the Angel Amor of the Vita Nuova; and here again, the elder Rossetti and then Dante Gabriel in their revival of Dante had played their part. Beatrice in the Christian mystery cult of Amor may have been herself a presentation of the Christos-Angelos. Gabriel Rossetti tells us in his Early Italian Poets that Dante had identified the Lady with Love Himself."

Duncan continues, quoting Corbin,

“This Figure imposes itself in the imperious manner of a central symbol,” Henry Corbin writes in Avicenna and the Visionary Recital: “appearing to man’s mental vision under the complementary feminine aspect that makes his being a total being.” [Corbin, 267] The crisis in angelology came in the Western World in the thirteenth century when William of Auvergne lead the attack against the Avicennan notion of natures operating in virtue of an inner necessity and according to the law of their essences and especially against the concept of the soul’s finding its inner necessity and the law of its essence in awakening through love to the presence of its Angel, the Active Intelligence. In the Moslem world as well as in the Christian world this concept of being united with the divine reality by a love union with the Angel who is present in the person of the Beloved becomes a prime heresy. Fitts’s “angels and archangels . . . mystical etymologies, and the like” would dismiss any such vision with something like the contempt of medieval theologians—for there were critics in the middle ages who raged in Provence against the lutes and cytharists, troubadours and catharists, against musks and embroideries and the pseudo-medieval. But, as Henry Corbin proposes of Avicenna: “our whole effort was bent to another end than explaining Avicenna as a ‘man of his time.’ Avicenna’s time, his own time, has not here been put in the past tense; it has presented itself to us as an immediacy. It originates not in the chronology of a history of philosophy, but in the threefold ecstasy by which the archangelic Intelligences each give origin to a world and to consciousness of a world, which is the consciousness of a desire, and this desire is hypostatized in the Soul that is the motive energy of that world.” [Corbin, 266] Corbin would read Avicenna’s recitals not as plays with counters but as visionary experiences. “The union that joins the possible intellect of the human soul with the Active Intelligence as Dator formarum, Angel of Knowledge or Wisdom-Sophia, is visualized and experienced as a love union. It is a striking illustration of the relation of personal devotion that we have attempted to bring out here and that shows itself to proceed from an experience so fundamental that it can defy the combined efforts of science and theology against angelology.” [Corbin, 267-8] What the dogma of science with its imagination of the world in terms of use and manipulation for profit and the dogma of theology with its view of reality in the individual experience that would imagine the universe in terms of love, desire, devotion and ecstasy, emotions which men who seek practical ends find most disruptive. “In symbolic terms, let us say,” Henry Corbin comments: “that the Avicennan champion will always find himself faced by the descendants of William of Auvergne, even, and not a whit the less, when those descendants are perfectly ‘laicized.’”[Corbin, 267]

Duncan continues,

The hostile reader will find that all visions start “vaguely from somewhere Biblical” or like Dante’s from somewhere Virgilian and end up “barely more convincingly, in Bethlehem” or like Dante’s in the high fantasy of the luminous eye of God. Dante and his circle, Corbin makes clear, were deep in this matter of angels “and the like”. The whole method, William of Auvergne almost a century before Dante had shown clearly and with telling scorn, was false. But the poets followed the tradition of Provence, not the convincing arguments of the University of Paris. What Dante drew from translated Sufi texts as well as from the songs of Toulouse and Albi where such Images of the First Beloved appeared was the Spirit of Romance. Corbin admits too to an Avicennan romanticism. “Nothing could be clearer then the identity of this ‘amorosa Madonna Intelligenza’ who has her residence in the soul, and with whose celestial beauty the poet has fallen in love. Here is perhaps one of the most beautiful chapters in the very long ‘history’ of the Active Intelligence, which still remains to be written, and which is certainly not a ‘history’ in the accepted sense of the word, because it takes place entirely in the souls of poets and philosophers.” [Corbin, 267] (Duncan, 358-9).

1 comment:

  1. This is not say that the liguidity of the soul resides in the history of Active Intelligence, which still remains to be written. In sciences, and quantum machanics we call this a constant.