"...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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Saturday, December 5, 2009
Notes on Mysticism in 20th Century American Poetry
I have no intention of pretending to be an historian - but I am trying to nail down some facts about the early reception of Corbin in America. I have been somewhat hampered by a lack of knowledge of the landscape of 20th century poetry. Few know that terrain any better than Ron Silliman and it finally occurred to me to ask this fine and helpful man for some advice. He responded with characteristic enthusiasm and a long and detailed letter giving me suggestions for reading and names of people to contact - which I will act upon immediately. One of his general points about the recent history of poetry in America can be summarized by this excerpt from his letter:
"...the death of [Charles] Olson really signaled the end of an ardent interest by many poets in all matters of the occult [and the "mystical" in general], including say historical investigations of earlier religious models. As it was, it had been pretty much the purview of just one group within the New American poets, those most often called Black Mountain or Projectivist. So Olson dies  and [Robert] Duncan has just begun his announced 15-year hiatus from publishing... What filled this space was theory, French theory & western-Marxist theory. It very much takes over that range of theoretical discussion among younger poets... There is one real exception to this history worth noting -- Sulfur, Clayton Eshleman's journal, and the interest he & Jerry Rothenberg have had, which is both different from Olson & from one another."
He is quick to point out that this account is hardly complete and goes on to mention several other poets in this "camp" as it were - so the story is of course a continuing saga. Silliman points us to a post from his superb and useful blog from June 2006 which is essential reading on this topic.