"...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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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

The following poem is by Wendell Berry, farmer, poet, novelist, essayist, cultural critic and also a Fellow of the Temenos Academy. His wonderful work is always grounded in the land and the body. His implicit Christian "theology" is profoundly embodied and incarnate. His critiques of modern technological culture can serve to remind us of one way the energies of "spirit" and "transcendence" can go wrong, and to suggest reasons an "angel Christology" such as Corbin's must take the concerns of the orthodox theologians quite seriously. Corbin's own theology, for all his "heresies," is rooted in traditional thought and practice, which is always embodied in ways many of us have literally "lost touch" with. It seems to me important for those of us immersed in the modern world to pay close attention to the ways in which we are dis-embodied by our technologies. Theologies of the Incarnation are at pains to be sure we are not disembodied by our theologies as well.

A Speech to the Garden Club of America

by Wendell Berry

(With thanks to Wes Jackson and in memory of Sir Albert Howard and Stan Rowe.)

Thank you. I’m glad to know we’re friends, of course;
There are so many outcomes that are worse.
But I must add I’m sorry for getting here
By a sustained explosion through the air,
Burning the world in fact to rise much higher
Than we should go. The world may end in fire
As prophesied—our world! We speak of it
As “fuel” while we burn it in our fit
Of temporary progress, digging up
An antique dark-held luster to corrupt
The present light with smokes and smudges, poison
To outlast time and shatter comprehension.
Burning the world to live in it is wrong,
As wrong as to make war to get along
And be at peace, to falsify the land
By sciences of greed, or by demand
For food that’s fast or cheap to falsify
The body’s health and pleasure—don’t ask why.
But why not play it cool? Why not survive
By Nature’s laws that still keep us alive?
Let us enlighten, then, our earthly burdens
By going back to school, this time in gardens
That burn no hotter than the summer day.
By birth and growth, ripeness, death and decay,
By goods that bind us to all living things,
Life of our life, the garden lives and sings.
The Wheel of Life, delight, the fact of wonder,
Contemporary light, work, sweat, and hunger
Bring food to table, food to cellar shelves.
A creature of the surface, like ourselves,
The garden lives by the immortal Wheel
That turns in place, year after year, to heal
It whole. Unlike our economic pyre
That draws from ancient rock a fossil fire,
An anti-life of radiance and fume
That burns as power and remains as doom,
The garden delves no deeper than its roots
And lifts no higher than its leaves and fruits.

(from The New Yorker - here)

The illustration of a visionary landscape 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)

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