"...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

Monday, November 30, 2009

On the Meaning of Music in Persian Mysticism by Henry Corbin

On the Meaning of Music in Persian Mysticism  

Henry Corbin

(Introduction given at le cité Universitaire May 19th 1967, on the occasion of an evening of Persian  music, poetry and  dance.  L'Iran  et la Philosophie, Fayard 1990. This translation appeared in Temenos 13, 1992)

I would like to suggest, in a few pages, how I see the fact that among all the forms of mysticism our science of religions has made known to us, Persian mysticism is notable as having always tended towards musical expression, and as never having found its complete expression otherwise than in that form. The part played by music in Islamic countries has not, over the centuries, followed the same course as in the West; doubtless because those who condemned its use saw in it in nothing more than a profane diversion. By contrast, what our mystics have produced is in the nature of an equivalent of what we call sacred music; and the reason for this is so profound that, rightly understood, all music, provided it be devoted to its supreme end, cannot be seen as other than sacred music. But is that not another paradox?

I believe that every Iranian must remember, more or less, the famous prologue to Jalaloddin Balkhi Rumi's Mathnawi, more often known in Iran as Mawlânâ. This prologue perhaps serves to justify the paradox I have just stated. Of this I have been convinced by the recent discovery, in the course of my researches, of an eminent Iranian thinker, at present almost unknown to the general public, but who deserves, when the time comes, I truly believe, to figure in our anthologies of the history of philosophy and spirituality - I mean the 17th century Qazi Sa'id Qommi. In one of his great works, still in manuscript, this philosopher recalls, and comments at length on certain propositions of one who is equally dear to Iranian hearts, the first Imam of the Shi'ites, Mawlana 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. According to this tradition the first Imam said one day, in the presence of his friends, 'Because in  my heart there were anguishing cares which I was unable to find anyone in whom to confide, I struck the ground with  the palm of my hand and confided my secrets to it, so that every time a plant germinates from the earth, that plant is one of my secrets.'

This is not a question, to be sure, of some secret of rural economy. The earth of which he speaks is not the earth under our feet and which is today in process of being devastated by the ambitions of our inordinate conquests. It is the 'Earth of Light' perceived only with the eyes of the heart. But it is for us - for each of us - to behold that Earth with eyes capable of seeing it and, so beholding it, to ensure that the 'Earth of Light' still matters to us, concerns us too. It depends on ourselves whether (striking the ground of that Earth of Light with the Imam) we see emerging certain plants which reveal to us our scarcely suspected secrets. And occupying a pre-eminent place among these plants the philosopher Qazi Said Qommi names the reed from which the mystic flute is cut, whose lament is breathed in the prologue of the Mathnawi, and of which we know that it is associated with the religious services of the Mawlana Order.

We have all heard chanted at least a few verses of that prologue:

Listen to the story told by the reed flute, of the partings whose lament it breathes,
Since I was cut from the reed-bed my plaint has made both men and women mourn their lot.
Whoever is parted far from his native place longs to return to the time of union.
My secret and my plaint are one, but both eye and ear lack light.
Body is not veiled from soul, nor soul from body; yet none is permitted to see the soul.
The sound of that flute is not a breath of wind, it is fire! He who has not that fire, let him be nothing!

Certainly no-one has seen the soul with the eyes with which we normally perceive the things of this world. Only the lament of the mystic flute cut from the source, from the Earth of Light, can give some premonition of it. All that grows from that Earth and is separated from it, the story of exile and return, this it is that haunts the mysticism of Persia, something which can neither be seen nor proved by reason, which cannot be said or seen by direct vision, but of which musical incantation alone can give us a foretaste and make perceptible, insofar as it belongs to listening to music to make us suddenly into clairvoyants.

The unsayable which the mystic seeks to say is a story that shatters  what we call history and which we must indeed call metahistory, because it takes place at the origin of origins, anterior to all those events recorded - or recordable - in our chronicles. The mystic epic is that of the exile, who, having come into a strange world, is on the road of homecoming to his own country. What that epic seeks to tell is dreams of a prehistory, the prehistory of the soul, of its pre-existenceto this world, dreams which seem to us a forever forbidden frontier. That is why, in an epic like the Mathnawi we can scarcely speak of a succession of episodes, for all these are emblematic, symbolic. All dialectical discourse is precluded. The global consciousness of that past, and of the future to which it invites us beyond the limit of chronology, can only attain musically its absolute character. In order to have their 'Holy Book', that Mathnawi which is often called 'the Persian Qur’an,’ the mystics are, essentially, obliged to sing in order to speak.

Such too is the structure of all those musical auditions which often, spontaneously, are improvised in Iran. The instrumentalist begins with a long prelude whose sonority continues to amplify. Then the human voice comes in, like a paroxysm, itself leading to deep
sonorities, to culminate in turn in a paroxysm of feeling and gradually towards silence. And the postlude, with which the instrument accompanies that silence, seems at last to lose itself like the arpeggio of a far light, that light whose new dawn all mystics await.

What is known as the Sama, the spiritual conceit, the oratorio, of course goes beyond the special case of the Mawlana and its Order. The whole story of Iranian Sufism is before us, certain severe Masters (puritans that is to say) holding the spiritual concert in suspicion, while - others, by contrast, practice it with the assiduity of a cult, from which each retains an overwhelming impression. Among the latter I would cite one example, a great twelfth-century Master, Ruzbehan Baqli Shirazi, compatriot of Hafez of Shiraz, whom he preceded by some two centuries and with whom he is linked by many affinities.

At the end of his life, however, we see Ruzbehan abstaining from the practice of listening to music: he no longer needed the intermediary of sensible sounds, the inaudible had become audible to him as a pure interior music. Thus his whole life exemplifies that structure of musical audition of which I have just spoken. To a friend who questioned him on the reason for his abstention, Shaykh Ruzbehan made this reply: 'Henceforth it is God in person who gives me his concert (or God himself is the oratorio I hear). That is why I abstain  from listening to anything other than He would make me hear (or any other concert than Himself).’

At the end of a lifetime's experience, when the ear of the heart, of the interior man, becomes indifferent to sounds of the outer world, at that moment it perceives harmonies which can never be heard by the man dispersed outside himself, torn away from himself by ambitions of this world. What the ear of the heart then perceives are the harmonies of the music beyond the grave which certain privileged ones have already perceived even in this world, rendering that opaque barrier transparent for them.

At his death a friend and disciple of Shaykh Ruzbehan remained especially inconsolable. For years, every morning, at dawn, they had made it a habit to chant alternately verses of the Qur'an. Such was the grief of the lonely friend in Shiraz that he used to go and sit at the head of the tomb and there to begin, alone, the chanting of the Qur'an. But one day, as dawn came, it came to pass that the voice of Ruzbehan made itself heard from the invisible, from one world to the other, or rather the two friends took up again, in the same interworld, the antiphonal chanting of the Qur'an. And so it continued each day, at dawn, until the friend confided in one of his acquaintance. 'From that time,' he said, 'I no longer heard the voice of Ruzbehan.

This, as if to suggest that, if the mystic must sing in order to speak, if the meaning of the mystic is essentially musical, this meaning remains incommunicable. From the moment we have the temerity to communicate, to reveal the fugitive instant when 'the soul becomes visible to the body', then that secret is lost to us.

Therefore I wish to say no more. But I would hope, in conclusion, that this sacralization of music by Persian mysticism may help us to some presentiment of the meaning of a 'beauty' which arouses in the modern world a veritable fury of denial and destruction. I would hope that we may perceive the significance and the permanent presence of an art which is not a province of fashion. The work of a Mawlana, like that of a Ruzbehan and many more besides, which illustrates the spiritual history of Iran is, every time, essentially the expression of a personality whom we shall not find twice among men. To whoever, then, has truly understood, it will never occur to suppose that they have been 'superceded'.

Translated by Kathleen Raine

Dervish blowing horn1600-1650,  Safavid period  Probably Isfahan, Iran  F1953.18

Friday, November 27, 2009

Henry Corbin Facebook Page(s)

There seem to be three such groups:

Henry Corbin - with 266 members.

Henry Corbin - with 145 fans.

Henry Corbin - with 6 members.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Theory of Visionary Knowldege in Islamic Philosophy by Henry Corbin

"The Theory of Visionary Knowledge in Islamic Philosophy" by Henry Corbin. Temenos 8, pp.224-237 (1987) - Translated by Liadain Sherrard.

Icon of Moses Removing His Sandals from Before the Burning Bush. Early 13th century, Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai. In Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai. Ed. Robert Nelson & Kristen Collins. Los Angeles: Getty Museum, 2006. See the Exhibition online.

Theory of Visionary Knowledge in Islamic Philosophy - Henry Corbin

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Falnama: The Book of Omens" Updates

"Falnama: The Book of Omens" at the Sackler Gallery Offers First Exhibition of Rare Manuscripts

Sackler GalleryExhibit Page with link to Images

BBC World News America Web site and Newscast Features "Falnama" exhibition in "Behind the Book of Omens"

From the Press Release:

A group of unusual, illustrated manuscripts called the Falnama that were once used by sultans, shahs and commoners to explore the unknown will be on view Oct. 24 through Jan. 24, 2010, at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. "Falnama: The Book of Omens" is the first exhibition ever to be devoted to these rare works, which were created in 16th- and 17th-century Iran and Turkey. The Sackler Gallery will be the sole venue for this international exhibition featuring works of art from public and private collections.
Arresting images, supersaturated color and dazzling detail confronted seekers of omens in these oversized books. Adam and Eve ride out of paradise on the backs of a spectacular, dragon-like serpent and an equally fanciful peacock while startled angels look on. On another page, the angel of death in the guise of a ferocious gray demon drops out of the sky to pounce on Shaddad ibn Ad, who, according to the Koran, transgressed by daring to recreate paradise on Earth. On yet another page, the most celebrated physician of antiquity, Hippocrates, looks calmly over his shoulder as he travels through deep azure skies on the back of a mythical bird.
"Falnama illustrations possess a theatricality that sets them apart from other contemporary works," said Massumeh Farhad, chief curator and curator of Islamic art at the Freer and Sackler galleries and organizer of the exhibition.
While some versions of Falnama were popular in the streets and marketplaces of Isfahan, Iran, and Istanbul, Turkey, where fortunetellers improvised divinations for paying customers, four "monumental" volumes, notable for their scale, bold compositions and brilliant palette, were created for use in more affluent and courtly circles. Three of these volumes will be on display in the exhibition.
The works on view come from the Topkapı Palace Library in Istanbul, the Metroplitan Museum of Art in New York, the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Freer Gallery of Art. The exhibition will include more than 20 of the 29 folios of the so-called dispersed Falnama, created during the reign of the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasb (reigned 1524-76), as well as never-before-seen folios from Ahmed I's copy and a third unpublished volume.
The most widely published and now dispersed copy of the Falnama was created in the late 1550s to early 1560s at the court of Shah Tahmasb at a time when he had become increasingly preoccupied with his legacy and recounted his memoirs in seven vivid dreams. Another copy of the Falnama was compiled and illuminated by Kalender Pasha, a vizier at the court of Ahmed I (reigned 1603-17), the Ottoman sultan and patron of the celebrated "Blue" mosque.
To consult the wisdom of the Falnama, a seeker would first perform ritual ablutions and recite certain prayers before opening the manuscript randomly to an image and its accompanying text. Much like a talisman or a planetary configuration, the image was the key to unlocking the meaning of the omen. "They appeal to our common desire to know what the future holds and our need for guidance and protection in an uncertain world," said Farhad.
The manuscripts contain a range of images, from planets and zodiac signs to the lives and deeds of Abrahmic and Islamic saints and prophets, and were meant to aid a seeker in the process of making difficult decisions—from embarking on a voyage to waging war against an enemy. When seen as a group, the images suggest a vibrant and shared religious culture, embracing universal moral and ethical values. Seekers were encouraged to emulate the ethical and moral behavior of the prophets and saints portrayed in the Falnama.
"People clearly enjoyed the more fanciful aspects of divination, but they also took seriously the precepts of religion and morality reinforced in these very powerful images and prognostications," said Farhad.
The fully illustrated exhibition catalog, co-edited by Farhad and Serpil Bağcı, professor of art history at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, will offer the first comprehensive exploration of the Falnama and the practice of bibliomancy in Islamic culture. Essays by a number of eminent historians will shed light on a chapter of Ottoman and Safavid history that is largely unexplored.
Events surrounding the opening of "Falnama: The Book of Omens"will include family programs, concerts, lectures and film screenings. For more information about "Falnama" opening events, visit www.asia.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000.
The exhibition has been made possible with the support of an anonymous donor, The Folger Fund and the Hagop Kevorkian Fund. Other contributors include Mr. and Mrs. Farhad Ebrahimi and the Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Program. The catalog was underwritten by Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other events, the public is welcome to visit www.asia.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review of Creative Imagination - Lenn Evan Goodman, 1971

Book Review: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi by Henry Corbin. Reviewed by Lenn Evan Goodman, Int. J. Middle East Stud., 2 (1971), 278-81.
Review of Creative Imagination - Lenn Evan Goodman, 1971

Monday, November 23, 2009

3 Clergymen Bond Over Differences - NYTimes

From left, Sheikh Jamal Rahman, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Rabbi Ted Falcon read from their respective holy books during their presentation at the Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., in October.
3 Clergymen Bond Over Differences
Published: November 23, 2009 - New York Times

Friday, November 20, 2009


Les religions abrahamiques et l’eschatologie
Le samedi 19 décembre 2009
à l’Ecole Normale Supérieure, 45 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris
salle Dusanne
Président de séance : Leili Anvar-Chenderoff (INALCO)
9h 30 : Natale SPINETO (Université de Turin),
« Fin des temps et vie après la mort – Modèles d’eschatologie dans les religions ».
10 h 30 : Serge MARGEL (Université de Lausanne),
« Le témoignage, ou la vision eschatologique du martyr dans les religions du Livre »
11 h 30 : Christian JAMBET (Lycée Jules Ferry) :
« L’eschatologie abrahamique du vrai fidèle dans le Commentaire du Verset de la Lumière de Mullâ Sadrâ ».
Président de séance : Christian Jambet
14 h 30 : Jean-Pierre LAURANT (EPHE),
« Quelques dérives eschatologiques chez les occultistes français du XIXe siècle »
15 h 30 : Mojane MEMBRADO (INALCO / CNRS)
« L’eschatologie chez les Ahl-e Haqq »

Un déjeuner pour les orateurs et anciens orateurs aura lieu au restaurant « Le Mauzac », Rue de l’Abbé de l’Epée.
Un cocktail sera offert à tous les membres de l’Association à l’Hôtel Claude Bernard de 17h30 à 20h

Cotisation annuelle 15€ à adresser à Daniel Gastambide, Président de l’Association des Amis de Henry et Stella Corbin, 7 Rue Nicolas Houël, 75005 Paris

DOUBLE-FOLIO FROM THE HAFTAWRANG (SEVEN THRONES) BY JALLIL (D. 1492): THE MIRAJ OF THE PROPHET (F. 275A) 1556-1565 Safavid period  Probably Mashad, Khurasan, Iran  Purchase F1946.12.275 Freer & Sackler Galleries.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Emblematic Cities by Henry Corbin

"Emblematic Cities: A Response to the Images of Henri Steirlin," by Henry Corbin. Temenos 10, pp. 11-24 (1989), Translated by Kathleen Raine.

See: Steirlin, Henri. Ispahan: image du paradis. Lausanne: La Bibliothèque des arts, 1976

Emblematic Cities - Henry Corbin

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Robert Creeley & Henry Corbin

One of the readers of this blog some time ago mentioned in passing that he had first heard of Corbin in "something Creeley wrote" & I have ever since wanted to find what that might have been. Thanks to the Robert Kelly issue of Vort I have got my hands finally on what I suspect is the first reference in print that Robert Creeley makes to Corbin, though I would be happy to be proven wrong. The piece is a lecture given on October 31, 1972 at Johns Hopkins University as "Creativity: The Moving Force of Society?" as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium. This was subsequently published in Sparrow 6 (Black Sparrow Press, Los Angeles) March, 1973, as "The Creative by Robert Creeley" (each issue of Sparrow was devoted to a single author). I hesitate to reproduce the entire lecture  (9 pages) without permission - which I have not sought - so I will only repeat here the sections in which Corbin is mentioned, leaving the interested reader to seek out the rest -

What is here to discover is neither new nor significantly esoteric. Henry Corbin, in the introduction to Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, makes this useful point: "Today, with the help of phenomenology, we are able to examine the way in which man experiences his relationship to the world without reducing the objective data of this experience to data of sense perception or limiting the field of true and meaningful knowledge to the mere operations of the rational understanding. Freed from an old impasse, we have learned to register and to make use of the intentions implicit in all the acts of consciousness or transconsciousness. To say that the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it, no longer smacks of paradox." Thus you will recognize the sadly familiar, and useless, difficulty William Carlos Williams meets with in "The Desert Music": "You seem quite normal. Can you tell me? Why / does one want to write a poem?// Because it's there to be written.//Oh. A matter of inspiration then?//Of necessity.// Oh. But what sets it off?// I am that he whose brains/ are scattered/ aimlessly . . ." At the close of this extraordinary poem the moment of revelation is literally accomplished: "I am a poet! I/ am. I am. I am a poet, I reaffirmed, ashamed// Now the music volleys through as in/ a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all/ about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself/ seeking to become articulate..." The word dances, in the literal garden of desire.

Louis Zukofsky wrote, "Out of deep need . . ." But what nature of need is it? To eat, to sleep, to find a form merely? I question that. In Berlin I am delighted to discover that the eminent scientist Heisenberg, himself in Munich, has fallen upon the arts as though upon a blissful bed of flowers, knowing, in his age, as Gregory Corso would say, that the conceptual dilemma of the sciences leads them round and around the careful maze of their various contexts, true Bottoms but alas no Shakespeares to love them and get them home. Zukofsky also writes of these things made, these poems, as being source of profound solace—where the heart finds rest. It is the need to enter what we loosely call the vision, to be one with the Imago Mundi, that image of the world we each of us carry within us as possibility itself. What can we say otherwise? Peace, brother. It's going to be all right. It's soon over and it won't hurt.

But the heart aches—"Out of deep need . . ." Corbin: "This power of the heart is what is especially designated by the word himma, a word whose content is perhaps best suggested by the Greek word enthymesis, which signifies the act of meditating, conceiving, imagining, projecting, ardently desiring—in other words, of hav¬ing (something) present in the thymos, which is vital force, soul, heart, intention, thought, desire . . . The force of an intention so powerful as to project and realize ('essentiate') a being external to the being who conceives the intention, corresponds perfectly to the character of the mysterious power that Ibn 'Arabi designates as himma . . . Thanks to his representational faculty . . . every man creates in his Active Imagination things having existence only in this faculty. This is the general rule. But by his himma the gnostic creates something which exists outside the seat of this faculty ... In the first case, as it is exercised by most men, its function is representational; it produces images which are merely part of the conjoined Imagination . . ., inseparable from the subject. But even here, pure representation does not, eo ipso, mean 'illusion,’ these images really 'exist,’ illusion occurs when we misunderstand their mode of being. In the case of the gnostic . . ., the Active Imagination serves the himma which, by its concentration, is capable of creating objects, of producing changes in the outside world . . . When in contemplating an image, an icon, others recognize and perceive as a divine image the vision beheld by the artist who created the image, it is because of the spiritual creativity, the himma which the artist put into his work. Here we have a compelling term of comparison, by which to measure the decadence of our dreams and of our arts . .."

Well, no use no way, and comparisons are odious— and the plan we had was that all this was going to get it together and be a happy place to be in, like. But that himma shit, man, that's really my kind of people. Heart-felt...

- Robert Creeley
Photo here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jung's Red Book - Even More News

The mainstream media seem to be interested in Jung's Red Book. National Public Radio did a piece this week. The New Yorker also took note. And there are odd goings on at the Rubin Museum which is having a series of programs to coincide with the Red Book on display. And now the Washington Post's Michael Dirda has done a review here.

Goethe's Die Geheimnisse in English

Of Goethe's late, unfinished poem Die Geheimnisse (The Mysteries) Corbin writes

"the meaning given by Goethe to the pleroma of the twelve Knights corresponds to the meaning of the pleroma of the twelve Imams in a most striking manner, significant for the religious history of humanity. It is in the field of consciousness thus delimited by the assembly of the Twelve united around the Friend of God of the Oberland and by the assembly of the Twelve Knights that Goethe unites around the summit of an ideal Mont-Serrat, that we may observe at work the lines of force that blossom in the heart of Shi'ism in the idea of a spiritual chivalry common to the entire Abrahamic tradition, which also opens out in the work of Wolfram von Eschenbach in the idea of a chivalry common to the knights of both Christianity and the Orient, that is to say, in Islam." (En Islam Iranien IV, 393).

I said in an earlier post that "Goethe's poem can be found in English in only one place that I am aware of. It is translated in this rare volume by Rudolf Steiner: The Mysteries: A Christmas and Easter Poem by Goethe = Die Geheimnisse. Spring Valley, N.Y.: Mercury Press, 1987."  I now have a photocopy of this work as published by the Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 54 Bloomsbury St., London, 1946. The title page reads  "A Lecture by Rudolf Steiner given at Cologne on 25th December, 1907. Authorized translation from a shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer." I still know of no other English translation, though I would like to be proven wrong by anyone who can do so. I have excerpted the poem, which appears in fragments in this transcribed lecture.

Die Geheimnisse

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Omens of Millennium by Harold Bloom

Henry Corbin's work has been brought to the attention of many people through the work of Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale. He contributed the Preface to the most recent edition of Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, (re-titled Alone with the Alone).  Bloom's 1996 volume Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection is an extended analysis of  "gnosticism," ancient and modern, and is substantially influenced by Corbin. Though I do not agree with his reading of Corbin, or gnosticism, I would be remiss not to mention this most interesting book. It is reviewed by the excellent Lee Irwin in Esoterica Volume II here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Imagination and Contemporary Theory

Adrian J. Ivakhiv, Assistant Professor of Environmental StudiesA blog post not to be missed from Adrian J.Ivakhiv, Ph.D., York University, 1997, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont. His post on imagination and contemporary theory will be useful to many readers. I found it because in the post he links to this blog. As a biologist & former Associate Professor of Environmental Studies myself, I have much in common with Dr. Ivakhiv.  -
>Imagination & Contemporary Theory 

This reminds me too that Gaston Bachlard's Earth & Reveries of Will is due out in English translation soon. See the Bachelard facebook page!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Corbin & Olson Continued...

As part of my continuing series on Corbin & poetry in America, here are a few paragraphs from Poetry & Truth: The Beloit Lectures and Poems, by Charles Olson, Transcribed & Edited by George F. Butterick, Four Seasons Foundation, San Francisco, Ca, 1971. It is hardly possible to convey the full impact of these rambling and chaotic but always astonishing "lectures." I have here selected a few pages near the end of the text which refer to Henry Corbin's Avicenna and the Visionary Recital and to ta'wil. It is impossible I think to find a "good" place to pick up Olson's "thread"  so I simply begin & hope that the interested reader will acquire the book:

Yeah, I mean the first sentence is the whole shot, shoot. I used it only once before and I didn't do this to it. I simply walked out at Berkeley—I would like very much to talk how—this was a lecture at Berkeley, in front of my peers, called "Causal Mythology," and I had just flown in from Rome and hadn't done my work, and had to get up in front of, oh I think the body of poets that you could say are in this world, or most in this world—at 10:30 in the morning. And luckily I remembered a Visionary Recital—the one I mentioned to you—of the angel of the right and the angel of the left—which I also have with me tonight, and as a text. That's the one I mentioned earlier in the week—Avicenna's queer, short whatever it is. Again, Avicenna in this same period. And I said I wanted to talk about the orb, the urb, the image, and the anima mundi, and that it was all to be done under this apothegm or epigram, epigraph. And now here I am again, for the second time, in such a situation—and with the bell tolling! [over the campus, heard in the background] "That which exists through itself . . . That which exists through itself, is what is called meaning." Too much! I mean it's too much for me to stand here and just have that. And that is what I have to offer. And that's what I think there is to offer, and I don't think anything in this world moves it a jot, except as we do, or become such. "That which exists through itself is what is called meaning." And even that word meaning is, I think, very—I'm reading from a translation of the Chinese, and as you prob—many of you, many of you, especially, may know—the word, of course, in Chinese is that word which I would like to avoid mentioning, but it rhymes with the man who also, to whom that is attributed. And we have that word in our language as 'how,' if you get my string of rhymes. A Chinese man's name; his, like they say—or one did say, concept; and our word 'how.' I mean, like, the trouble, at least—if I may jump on him—Bob had, the first night I was here, with what was the first of three poems that for me belonged to you . . . And in my stubborn ruse way, I would like to read it again, so that we can summarize, hopefully, the week. It has the title, "*Added to making a Republic in gloom on Watchhouse Point"—which is simply where I live, it's called such, it's part of Fort Point, Fort Square, Gloucester, Massachusetts:

an actual earth of value to
construct one, from rhythm to
image, and image is knowing, and
knowing, Confucius says, brings one
to the goal: nothing is possible without
doing it. It is where the test lies, malgre
all the thought and all the pell-mell of
proposing it. Or thinking it out or living it
ahead of time.

—and it has that margin, "Reading about my world, March 6th, 1968."

Now, it wasn't Confucius, of course, that—right? It wasn't, as you, if you—I mean 'how' does not rhyme with 'Confucius.' I mean, there's—I didn't even figure this out that night. I thought I'd read this whole damn thing to you and come up like a living exegesis and make it work so that you understood every word. It's only about 29 pages this, and it's really impeccable. It's more like immaculate. And completely penetrable. Completely penetrable to your mind, to your life, to your thought, to your feelings—and I think only those things will actually produce results, result. That's why I have pressed you, or harried you, harried you so hard, I think—is that there isn't any way out of that. I think that that statement, that almost, apparently, a truism—as much as Confucius says, "nothing is possible without doing it"—there isn't any way out of that, it's like a—no matter what we may think—a pliers of typology, or not of typology, but of what I'm saying is the blow upon the world. I'm sure we could talk tonight like Mrs. Walsh and I at dinner, of Mr. Williams. When I wrote that tonight, the blow upon the world, I was sure, I mean I suddenly thought, of course, that lovely other alternative, which I'm sure some of you know, of Williams' letter in middle life?—I don't know when he said it, wrote it—"Love is a stain upon the world." Or "is the stain," is it not?—"is the stain upon the world." Any of you correct me in that, or confirm me on that? William Carlos Williams, "Love is the stain upon the world"—I think he opens a poem or something with. I don't know how—I don't want that to seem the way I presented it, as though it's equal at all. I want to take on that burden, too, of not . . .

I would like, actually, if I can, just to leave you with that sentence. I think it's, like they say, glass [?] enough. I mean I suppose I speak ... I have the superstition that human beings have, that when they hear something that matters to them, it's true. I—and again, if you'll excuse me—I will keep my noun. I once was told this, by myself, to myself, by no body or thing that I could identify. I think I was asleep, and it was a dream. But what got said was, "Everything issues from—Everything issues from . . . , and nothing is anything but itself, measured so." Which I'm sure led me on the path to the door of this sentence, quite simply. Can you hear? May I, would you like me to just repeat that? It's easy. I mean, it's like a prayer. Not really—a bead, something I carry in my pocket. I've never said this out loud, that's how much I know [?] use, hears, loves [?]. Nobody ever heard me say this before. And still I have something for myself—by even telling you that much. "Everything issues from . . . , and noth¬ing is anything but itself, measured so." I mean that's what of course got me. Those things always read ... I mean, that's why I do believe in the reversable, because actually the thing cocks back. That's why I'm talking . . . Earlier in the week I stressed the whole Arabic or Ismaili Muslim concept of ta'wil—which I think is almost singularly the only place I know, actually, in the body of man's accumulation, that you have this little—or you have, what we seem to me to be practically preparing from scratch, the acts of the future. "Measured so." I mean, what a trick to pull on you, to give you the whole thing and then say, "measured so." I mean, that's a voice talking, literally. I mean, if you take thought, it's simply seeking to be correct in the meter. It's perfectly obvious that that statement is not indulging me; it's supplying me with, like, the afterthought. I say that as of some conversation I had at the end of one session with someone from Madison who was saying that there is no metric left in poetry, because time now is now. I said, yeah, that's it, hey—he's one of Creeley's men, so he's very quick and bright, and knows what, knows something, really—you know, like, the meter is sort of gone and come and done in front of ourselves, and how do you therefore have meter? Well, I think it's simply measure, and I think it is what I'm unfortunately, probably—sort of engaged to do. And here I do it now publicly for the first time—which is to see if you can be so careful as to do this in public—to suggest measure as well. If you will note the first poem, carefully, that I wrote for you, carefully, does not involve itself except in itself with that question. The state¬ments are on the other matter entirely—of rhythm, image, knowing, and one I also added but I slipped out of the synod or quartorum —construct. I equally received that as a gift, maybe ten years earlier. The leading poet alive in the world, in a dream, told me when I was very young or much younger—I can read you the poem, I published it some years ago, in a series of poems in which I sought at that date—and this is prior to I think what all of you must best know of my own, that piece of writing that is called "Projective Verse." This is written some two years, I think, earlier—"The ABCs." And hidden amongst them, in "ABCs—2," is the actual words that I then wrote, that were spoken, again inside my head by another person entirely:

of rhythm is image
of image is knowing
of knowing there is
a construct


(pp. 61-64).

Editor's Notes on these pages:

p. 61:    a lecture at Berkeley, in front of my peers, called "Causal Mythology." Causal Mythology, transcribed and edited by Donald Allen (San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1969), a lecture at the Berkeley Poetry Conference, 20 July 1965.
p. 61:    a Visionary Recital. Henry Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Pantheon, 1960). The passage on the two angels is quoted on p. 13 of Causal Mythology.
p. 61:    "That which exists through itself, is what is called meaning." See The Secret oj the Golden Flower, A Chinese Book of Life, trans. Richard Wilhelm, commentary by C. G. Jung, rev. ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1962), p. 21: "Master Lii-tsu said, That which exists through itself is called the Way (Tao)." While on p. 97 it is pointed out: "Wilhelm translates Tao by Sinn (Meaning)." See also Causal Mythology, p. 11.
p. 62:    William Carlos Williams, "Love is the stain upon the world"

The stain of love
Is upon the world.

It appears in two poems in Williams' Collected Earlier Poems (New York: New Directions, 1951), "First Version: 1911" (pp. 173-174) and "Love Song" (p. 174).
p. 63:    "Everything issues from . . ." In a notepad of dreams from 1958 among the poet's papers occurs:

Everything comes fr the
Black Chrysanthemum
& nothing is anything but itself
measured so ...

p. 63:    ta'wil. The "exegesis that leads the soul back to truth." See Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, esp. pp. 28-35.
p. 64:    The leading poet alive in the world . . . Ezra Pound.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Corbin & Poetry - #6 in a series - Updated Version

Pierre Joris, prolific poet, essayist, translator and anthologist (here on wikipedia) has this to say on ta'wil & Henry Corbin:

"I believe I first heard the word in the late sixties, reading a Charles Olson essay (&/or Robert Duncan material — can't remember what came first). Then a fine use of the concept in terms of poetics was made in the early 70's by Robert Kelly in a dialogue with George Quasha & Chuck Stein for the "Vort" magazine Kelly issue [Vol 2, #2, 1974]. At which moment I was able to get my hands on the Corbin book (in London) & then several of his volumes in French which I took with me when I moved to Algeria in 1976. Kelly's notion of the (process of the) poem as a "ta'wil of the first line" has been important for me. I have used / cited the term & its poetological implications on a number of occasions — inside of poems but also when using it as the name of my off&on small press venture)."

A ready example can be found in a recent post by Jerome Rothenberg of an excerpt from Notes Towards a Nomadics Manifesto. Joris writes:

"We will keep Robert Kelly's notion of "ta'wil of the first line," the poem as nomadic/ rhizomatic extension of some given or found beginning, but a ta'wil reduced to immanence, to a "writing through." As he tells it otherwise in A MY NAME [in The Convections, 1978]: "This chant was my first news of the Great Trade Route along which scarce and isolate merchant-poet-nomads carried goods from tribe to tribe, over the mountains and under the sun, bringing the only news."

I asked Joris about his idea of a ta'wil reduced to immanence, and he replied with this:

"Yes, I know that Corbin would frown as transcendence is core to his thinking. My sense of "immanence" (& my insistence on it, rather than on a vertical theophany & the baggage such verticalities & hierarchies carry with them in religio-political terms throughout the history of our monotheisms) comes in good part via an early reading of Spinoza — prolonged later on by deep involvement in Gilles Deleuze's thinking about Spinoza, but any number of other matters too. If I were to put it in relation to Islamic mysticism, I would probably go to the term BARZAKH, as that "inbetween" place, — the original meaning of which is "curtain, barrier," but thus also "connecting link," "isthmus" between two spheres of existence,  as in its Koranic sense as "Bardo" realm between life and death etc — and of which Ibn Arabi, who speaks of it often and deeply, says somewhere that finally it is the only place there is, i.e. that there is nothing that is not in the barzakh."

For the complete text of the VORT piece, "Ta'wil or How to Read" see the post of December 16, 2009.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Henry Corbin & Suhrawardi's Angelology by Roberts Avens

Being the third in a series of papers by Avens: "Henry Corbin & Suhrawardi's Angelology" by Roberts Avens, Hamdard Islamicus Vol XI, No. 1, Spring, 1988, 3-20.

Corbin & Suhrawardi's Angelology by Roberts Avens

Muhammad on Buraq sees the angel with seventy heads. From Mir Haydar’s Mirajnameh. Herat or Samarkand c. 1420-40. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. In Peerless Images: Persian Painting and Its Sources. Eleanor Sims with Boris Marshak and Ernest Grube. Yale University Press, 2002. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Act of Being by Christian Jambet

I'd like to call attention to the English translation of a work from one of Corbin's most illustrious students, Christian Jambet.

David Burrell begins his lengthy review (in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews here) as follows:

"A superb translation of L'acte de l'etre (Paris: Fayard 2002), this comprehensive presentation of Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Sadr al-Din Shirazi [Mulla Sadra] will help western philosophers and theologians to come to appreciate the trajectory of Islamic thought which extends beyond the stereotype prevailing in the west: that Islamic philosophy all but evaporated after al-Ghazali's trenchant attack on Ibn Rushd [Averroes]. It rather moved back to the heartland from Andalusia, in the personages of Suhrwaradi, Ibn al-Arabi, and later, Mulla Sadra, as well as countless lesser luminaries, as Sayyed Hossain Nasr has been reminding us for some time. I came to realize the truth of Nasr's contention in the first Mulla Sadra conference in Teheran in 1999, where the participants were overwhelmingly impressed with the contemporary vigor of philosophy (and poetry) in Iran. That event gave me the opportunity to compare Mulla Sadra's attitude towards existence with that of Thomas Aquinas, using Henry Corbin's edition and translation of Mulla Sadra's Masha'ir [Les Penetrations Metaphysiques]."

Burrell's comparative essay can be read here as a pdf: "Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and Mulla Sadra Shirazi (980/1572 – 1050/1640) and the Primacy of esse/wujûd in Philosophical Theology," David B. Burrell, Medieval Philosophy and Theology, Volume 8, 2 (September 1999), 207-219.

The book has also been reviewed in the Journal of Islamic Studies: here (1st page only; subscription required).

I make Jambet's Preface to the English Edition available here  in the hope that it will entice readers to embark on this journey.

The Act of Being - Christian Jambet - Preface to the English Edition

And those who can read the French should see this review / article in Le Monde from January 2003:
Christian Jambet, l'islam dans le désert Contre les extrémistes de la charia et contre le discours simpliste qui assimile l'islam au terrorisme, le philosophe tente, en explorant les textes, de faire entendre une voix dissidente.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who was Sunsiaré?

Anyone who has seen the Cahier de l'Herne volume devoted to Henry Corbin will have doubtless wondered about the woman in this striking photo. We have the answer to the puzzle of her identity thanks to the excellent Jean Moncelon here (in French) who brings the work of d'Azay to our attention. I paraphrase from portions of Moncelon's account:

Sunsiaré de Larcône

For years, this singular photo of the author of The Messenger, published in the Cahier de l'Herne volume devoted to Henry Corbin in 1981, posed an enigma, the caption giving only a first name and a date: "1961, Sunsiaré in conversation about the title of her novel, The Messenger."

What face was concealed behind the blonde hair of this remarkably attractive young woman who seemed to captivate Henry Corbin? And who was this mysterious Sunsiaré, author of a single novel, whose title had provoked the curiosity of the Orientalist? The novel itself could easily enough be read, but the biography of its author remained unknown, except that Sunsiaré died in a car accident, along with Roger Nimier, at the age of 27.

The answer comes from the investigative work of Lucien d'Azay in his book Seeking Sunsiaré, Gallimard, 2005. According to Gilbert Durand in a letter sent to the author, the meeting with Corbin was in 1962, the year of her death:

"In the spring of 1962 in Paris (in a UNESCO hall that [Roger] Caillois lent us, I think) during my lecture to the « Société du Symbolisme » I saw a beautiful couple in the front of the audience smiling at me... At the intermission they came up and Sunsiaré said: "Sir, you'll hear a lecture - that of Abellio [presumably Raymond Abellio - TC] - the most intelligent man I know." I was the one who, despite many inner reservations, had invited the mage of Gallimard ... We chatted a bit, and since she presented herself as an "orientalist" taking a course from Henry Corbin at the EPHE, I asked them for some information on the "Muslim rosary." She told me to contact Corbin who was to become my "master" for the next fifteen years. She was indeed the "Messenger." Two years later Corbin led me into the prestigious Eranos circle that I attended religiously for a quarter of a century."

In connection with Corbin, and because the reference to Swedenborg seems particularly appropriate [Balzac was influenced by Swedenborg; see the link below - TC] , among the many stories of Sunsiaré recounted by d'Azay, we note that of Laszlo Szabo: "She always seemed happy, but this was only an appearance. A journey, not an apparition ... An angel, blazing like a phoenix. One would say a Seraphitus Seraphita from Balzac. She falls upward - towards the heavens," he concluded with a rising gesture.

[It is worth mentioning that Corbin closes "Cyclical Time in Mazaism and Ismaili Gnosis" (Eranos, 1951) with lines from another early work by Balzac heavily influenced by Swedenborg, Louis Lambert : "Resurrection is accomplished by the wind of heaven that sweeps the worlds. The Angel carried by the wind does not say: Arise ye Dead! He says: Let the living arise!" (p. 145 of the 1889 English edition, here).]

- Our thanks to Jean Moncelon

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Things and Angels, Death & Immortality

This is the second installment in my series of posts making the more inaccessible works of Roberts Avens available.

"Things and Angels, Death and Immortality in Heidegger and in Islamic Gnosis," Hamdard Islamicus Vol. VII/Number 2, Summer 1984. As with most of Avens' work, there are many references to Henry Corbin.

Things and Angels - Avens

Adam honoured by angels
; British Library, London; from "Majalis al-'Ushshaq", Kamal al-Din Husayn Gazurgahi (author), Iran (Shiraz), c. 1560, shelfmark: Or. 11837