"...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 12, 2009

Corbin & American Poetry Part 12 - Charles Olson

My continuing attempt to nail down the history of Olson's encounter with and use of Corbin has THUS FAR determined the following:

Ralph Maud suggests that the final move into Corbin’s work on the Ismailis and angelology was something many people found hard to follow.[1] Charles Stein writes that “Olson read Corbin with great excitement, intensity and care.”[2] It seems that by late 1960 Olson had found “Cyclical Time in Mazdaism and Ismailism” in Joseph Campbell’s 1957 collection Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks.[3] In March of 1961 he wrote “LATER TYRIAN BUSINESS” using material from Corbin’s text.[4] In May he published “Grammar – a book” in Floating Bear #7, edited by Diane Di Prima and LeRoi Jones, in which he displays and plays with the idea of the “middle voice” which is one of the key concepts in Corbin’s essay, though whether that was Olson’s source is open to question. And in late October Olson wrote “Maximus, at the Harbor” which is shot through with references to Corbin’s essay.[5] During his time at the University of Buffalo from 1963 to 1965 Olson composed “A Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul” parts of which bear the imprint of Corbin’s work. A group of his students established The Institute of Further Studies, which published a series of pamphlets detailing aspects of Olson’s plan. The “Curriculum” itself was published in 1968.[6] The individual components of the plan were expanded by various people and appeared in series from 1972 to 2002.[7] Of most interest here is Michael Bylebyl’s contribution, “Ismaeli Muslimism”[8] which develops Olson’s brief allusions to the contents of the “Cyclical Time” essay.
            In 1960 Avicenna and the Visionary Recital appeared in English. Maud reports that he bought a copy on May 15, 1965 while he was in Buffalo.[9] He clearly had read it by July 1965 since in his Berkeley lecture of July 20th, published as “Causal Mythology,” he quotes a story of the angels who dictate and the angels who write from the “Recital of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan.” [10] In his Beloit Lectures of March 1968 he also mentions ta’wil. [11] Olson’s annotations to Avicenna are densest and most enthusiastic in the section on “Ta’wil as Exegesis of the Soul.” Corbin’s text served as a reference for the Maximus poem of 11 Feb 1966 which begins "the Mountain of no difference".[12] Ralph Maud writes that the Avicenna volume was listed in 1967, along with a diverse array of other books, including Jung's Psychology & Alchemy, as an essential text for a proposed graduate seminar.[13] The 1968 essay “‘CLEAR, SHINING WATER,’ de Vries says” is also a forum for the discussion of ta’wil. Olson returns to “Cyclical Time” in “A Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul” (1968)[14] and in a late addition to "The Animate versus the Mechanical, and Thought" of 30 April 1969.[15] Olson’s final writing, his “death-bed summation of his concerns and beliefs”[16] dated December 16, 1969, draws in no small measure on themes from both “Cyclical Time” and Avicenna.[17] Hee H died on January 10, 1970.

[1] Ralph Maud, Charles Olson's Reading: A Biography, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996, 8. [2] Charles Stein, The Secret of the Black Chysanthemum, Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1979, 162. [3] New York: Pantheon Books, 1957. [4] Maximus II, 36. [5] Maximus II, 70-1. See Ralph Maud, Charles Olson at the Harbor, Vancouver: Talon Books, 2008; and George F. Butterick, A Guide to the Maximus Poems, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. [6] A Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul, Buffalo: Institute of Further Studies, 1968. 22 pp. [7] Glover, Albert, and John Clarke, eds. A Curriculum of the Soul 1-28, Canton, NY: Institute of Further Studies, 1972-2002. [8] Michael Bylebyl, Ismaili Muslimism, Institute of Further Studies, 1972. [9] Maud, 1996, 160 and note p. 309. [10] Causal Mythology, transcribed and edited by Donald Allen (San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1969), a lecture at the Berkeley Poetry Conference, 20 July 1965. Quote from Corbin on p. 13. The passage in Avicenna is on p. 148. [11] Poetry & Truth: The Beloit Lectures and Poems, by Charles Olson, Transcribed & Edited by George F. Butterick, Four Seasons Foundation, San Francisco, CA, 1971. [12] III.124, p. 501 in the Maximus Poems . See Butterick Guide,  629-30. [13] Maud, 1996, 201-202. [14] which can be found in Rothenberg & Joris, Poems for the Millennium Volume 2, 410-11[15] p. 368 in Olson's Collected Prose[16] Stein, 1976, 156. [17] Maud, 1996, 205. This text is reproduced in Stein, 1976.

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