"...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.
It seems that some of the 15 interviews and lectures available on the Fremaux CD have been posted online at the dailymotion website.
I include a list of the CD contents with links to what seem to be the proper audiofiles. I do not own a copy of the CD myself so I have not been able to confirm these. I hope that readers with access to the CD will contact me to help out with this.
1. Schiisme et Ismaélisme (1957), dans « Heure de Culture Française : l’Iran » sous le titre : Le Schî isme et l’Ismaélisme.
2. La Théologie d’Aristote (1976), dans Les chemins de la connaissance. Sous le titre : Plotin et la transparence. Henry Corbin raconte à Michèle Reboul l’histoire de la diffusion du néoplatonisme en Iran.
3. L’Imagination créatrice dans le Soufisme d’Ibn Arabi (1958), dans Thèmes et Controverse, sous le titre: Le Soufisme d’Ibn Arabî. Extrait d’un entretien avec Henry Corbin par Pierre Sipriot et Mounir Rafez à propos de la sortie de son livre « l’Imagination créatrice dans le soufisme d’Ibn Arabî.
4. En Islam iranien (1973) Sous le titre : En Islam iranien. Entretien d’Henry Corbin avec Bernard Latour à propos de son ouvrage "En Islam iranien" dont les 3ème et 4ème Tomes venaient d'être publiés.
5. Le Monde Imaginal (1979) dans Les chemins de la connaissance sous le titre : L'atlas des mondes imaginaires. Entretien d’Henry Corbin avec Gilbert Durand sur la définition du terme d’« Imaginal ». Henry Corbin y retrace l’histoire de cette notion.
7. La Théosophie ismaélienne (1961) dans Les formes du Sacré sous le titre : Les Apocalypses. Extrait d’un entretien d’Henry Corbin avec Pierre Sipriot sur le chiisme iranien et l'Apocalypse, sur la résurrection et la manière dont le Coran rend compte de l'Apocalypse.
8. La gnose en islam (1973) Sous le titre : Le mythe du messager et du voyageur. Entretien d’Henry Corbin avec Bernard Latour sur la gnose en Islam.
9. Esotérisme/exotérisme (1972) dans l’émission Entretiens avec sous le titre : avec Henry Corbin. Henry Corbin redéploie, avec Bernard Latour, la notion d'ésotérisme et les "pseudos-ésotérismes" à la mode. Il définit la situation du soufisme.
10. L’homme de lumière dans le Soufisme iranien (1972) dans l’émission Entretiens avec, sous le titre : avec Henry Corbin. Entretien d’Henry Corbin avec Bernard Latour à propos de son livre "L'Homme de lumière dans le soufisme iranien" consacré à la mystique islamique.
11. Terre céleste et corps de résurrection (1961) dans l’émission Thèmes et Controverses. Henry Corbin s’entretient, en 1961, avec Pierre Sipriot sur son livre « Terre céleste et corps de résurrection : de l’Iran mazdéen à l’Iran schi’îte »
12. La philosophie de la lumière au 12ème siècle (1957) dans l’émission Heure de Culture française : l’Iran. Sous le titre : La Philosophie de la Lumière au XIIème siècle. Causerie d’Henry Corbin sur « l’Iran et la philosophie de la lumière au 12ème siècle » . Il parle, également dans cette archive du philosophe Sohrawardî
13. L’Archange empourpré (1976) dans l’émission : L'autre scène ou les vivants et les Dieux. Sous le titre : Sohrawardî « L'Archange empourpré ». Entretien de Henry Corbin avec Philippe Nemo, à propos de la sortie du livre « L’Archange empourpré » (textes de Sohrawardî traduits et présentés par Henry Corbin).
15. Henry Corbin, philosophe (1976) Diffusé pour la première fois dans les nuits de France-Culture (deux fois 5 heures d’émissions spéciales consacrées à Henry Corbin par Christine Goémé les 2 et 3 novembre 2003). Henry Corbin s’entretient avec Philippe Nemo : il « revisite » ici son parcours intellectuel, et ses débuts comme traducteur des philosophes Martin Heidegger et Sohrawardî.
The sources of the following audio files remain to be identified. I hope readers of this blog who can identify them will contact me.
Finch writes: "I was not surprised when, recently, I read in Meg Bogin’s book The Women Troubadours that were it not for Persian poetry, English poetry would have no rhyme; the gift of rhyme came to us from Iran by way of the troubadour poets, through North Africa and into southern Europe. I will never be surprised again by anything I learn about the importance of poetry in Persian culture."
Among other items of considerable interest, we find this:
"My relation to [Jack] Spicer is not that of influence — only rarely did I take something directly from him — but of belonging to the same poetic river, sharing a correspondence, a commonality of purpose. I regard Spicer as the creator of Gnostic poetry and poetics in American literature in the 20th century. I think his calls to Mars or for a language against the grain are attempts to evoke a suppressed, forbidden language. Until the 15th century, Byzantium was the center of Gnostic practice. My EDA of “godless Sufism” is an Eastern version of the same heretical sensibility. The progress of the Turkish poetry in the EDA anthology involves an explosion of suppressed voices, those of gays, of women, of social and ethnic outcasts."
I generally resist posting items that are not of rather direct relevance to Henry Corbin and his concerns but I cannot pass up the chance to point out the upcoming Tarkovsky Retrospective in New York City, July 7 - 14. The Film Society of Lincoln Center is sponsoring a showing of all 7 of Tarkovsky's films plus the new documentary by Dmitry Trakovsky - details here. Tarkovsky was one of the greatest "spiritual filmakers" and I think that anyone interested in Corbin and the meaning of the imaginal can hardly help but be astounded by these films. It seems to me that his work is a stunning manifestation of the imaginal.
Ingmar Bergman said of Tarkovsky: "My discovery of Tarkovsky's first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream."
Also not to be missed is Nathan Dunne's beautiful volume Tarkovsky. The essential online source for all things Tarkovsky is Nostalghia.com.
In earlier posts on Charles Olson & Corbin (here & here) I noted that Olson makes significant use of Corbin's Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, which he apparently read in March of 1966. Richard Reeve has kindly supplied me with scans of the marginal notes in Olson's copy of the book which I have embedded below and which I hope will be of interest to Olson readers and scholars.
Olson's personal library is housed at the Charles Olson Research Collection at the University of Connecticut where Reeve obtained these copies some years ago. Though less than perfect, these are for the most part legible. (Better copies can be had by printing the pdf files).
It seems likely that the footnote Olson refers to (mentioned in the earlier post) is the very long one on pp. 357-60 in Section 21 of The Persian Commentary on the Recital of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: The Terrestrial Angels.
Olson explicitly links "topology" and "etymology" in his glosses on page 29. On page 32 where Corbin says that "visionary recitals are situative of their cosmos" Olson stresses "fit" and the "aspect pf place." Pages 32-35 on ta'wil as situative, and a cause of homecoming from the exile of the soul are heavily marked.
On page 119 we find the following, with Olson's underlines marked here in bold and his marginal exclamations in brackets: "Furthermore, the Zoroastrian angelology puts a decisive end to all ambivalence of the numinous, that confusion between the divine and the demonic whereby the manifestations of the divine can elsewhere assume a terrific character. To judge by the oscillations that make consciousness waver elsewhere, and that are perceptible in the confusion perpetrated throughout history [wow! wow], and more than ever in our day, between angelology and demonology, we can appreciate the historical significance of the ancient Iranian faith: yes is not no, the beings of light wage a battle that is not a dialectical game, and it is to be guilty of a contradiction in terms, and a blasphemous contradiction for the Zoroastrian consciousness, to talk of an "angel of Darkness."
I hope to make a visit in the fall to the Olson Research Collection to try to obtain scans of Olson's copy of "Cyclical Time in Mazdaism and Ismailism."As always I am interested in hearing from anyone with an interest in Corbin's influence on Olson and his friends.
I also draw your attention to the upcoming Charles Olson Centenary Conference June 4-6, 2010 at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia. A paper on Olson & Corbin is needed.
52, rue Adib, Ave. Vahid Nazari, Ave. Felestin Téhéran, Iran. B.P. 15815-3495 Tél. : + 98.21-220.127.116.11 et + 98.21-18.104.22.168 Fax : + 9821-66.40.55.01
From their webpage: L'IFRI est un établissement culturel rattaché à la Direction Générale de la Coopération Internationale et du Développement, du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères français. Sa mission est la promotion de la recherche en sciences humaines et sociales et en archéologie, sur le «monde iranien» – qui déborde les frontières de l’Iran actuel – depuis l'Antiquité jusqu'à nos jours.
Aux chercheurs de toutes nationalités, l'IFRI offre la participation aux activités scientifiques qu'il organise, l'accès à une riche bibliothèque et des publications thématiques
Ce texte est la synthèse d’une étude dans lequel le lecteur trouvera toutes les références bibliographiques (Xavier Accart, « Identité et théophanies. René Guénon (1886-1951) et Henry Corbin (1903-1978) », dans « René Guénon, lectures et enjeux », Politica Hermetica, Lausanne, n° 16, 2002, p. 181-200). Elle fait suite à une étude consacrée aux rapports de Guénon et Louis Massignon qui fut le maître de Corbin (Xavier Accart, « Feu et diamant – Louis Massignon et René Guénon », Xavier Accart (dir.) (avec la collaboration de Daniel Lançon et Thierry Zarcone), L’Ermite de Duqqi, Milan, Archè, 2001, p. 287-325). Le lecteur trouvera des éléments complémentaires dans : ACCART, Xavier, Guénon ou le renversement des clartés – Influence d’un métaphysicien sur la vie littéraire et intellectuelle française (1920-1970), Paris, Edidit, 2005, 1222 p.
Accart points out that Corbin and Guénon really operate in very different universes of discourse, that their interpretations of Islam are quite distinct, and that their proposed "cures" for the spiritual problems of Western society are essentially different, Corbin for example proposing a renewal within the "occidental" tradition. Corbin hardly shared Guénon's apparent disdain for anything in Western culture after Dante.
See also this Wikipedia article on Traditionalism. In this context I should note that in my own reading of Corbin I minimize his elitist tendencies, which seem to me in conflict with much else in his work including his protestantism (which was anathema to Guénon) and his (I think) fundamentally "democratic" vision. In any case, as Nasr says, Corbin was no Traditionalist.
Jerome Rothenberg has recently posted an excerpt from the 1989 Tanner Lecture on Human Values, Poetry & Modernity, by Octavio Paz, winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature. This lecture may be of considerable interest to students of Corbin. As I have mentioned in these posts I think that our understanding of Corbin's work is deepened by seeing him as part of the Romantic tradition (particularly as re-conceived by Rothenberg and Robinson). This essay by Paz helps clarify Corbin's place within that tradition and I recommend it in its entirety. I have pulled a short excerpt from Rothenberg's blog here - there is a link to the full text from the University of Utah below.
"The relation between romanticism and modernity is both filial and contentious. Romanticism was the child of the age of criticism, and change prompted its conception and birth and was its distinguishing feature. It was the great change not only in the arts and letters, but also in imagination, sensibility, taste, and ideas. It was a morality, an eroticism, a politics, a way of dressing and a way of loving, a way of living and of dying. A rebellious child, romanticism was a criticism of rational criticism; it replaced successive historical time with a time of origin, before history, and the utopian future with the instantaneous present of the passions, love and the flesh. Romanticism was the great negation of modernity as it had been conceived in the eighteenth century by critical, utopian, and revolutionary reason. But it was a negation that remained within modernity. Only an age of criticism could have produced such a total negation.
Romanticism coexisted with modernity, time after time merging with it only in order to transgress it. These transgressions assumed many forms but only two modes: analogy and irony. I take the first to mean “the vision of the universe as a system of correspondences and the vision of language as a double of the universe." It is a very ancient tradition, reelaborated and transmitted by Renaissance Neoplatonism through various hermetic traditions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Having nourished the philosophical and libertine sects of the eighteenth century, it was recognized by the romantics and their followers through to our own era. It is the central, albeit underground, tradition of modern poetry, from the first romantics to William Butler Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the surrealists. Simultaneous to this vision of universal correspondence, its enemy-twin appeared: irony. It was the rip in the fabric of analogies, the exception that ruptured the correspondences. If analogy may be conceived as a fan which, unfolded, displays the resemblances between this and that, microcosm and macrocosm, stars, men, and worms, then irony tears the fan to pieces. Irony is the dissonance that disrupts the concert of the correspondences, turning it into cacophony. Irony has many names: it is the anomaly, the deviation, the bizarre, as Baudelaire called it. In a word, it is that great accident: death.
Analogy steeps itself in myth; its essence is rhythm, the cyclical time of appearances and disappearances, deaths and resurrections. Irony is the coming of criticism to the kingdom of imagination and sensibility; its essence is linear time which leads to death — the death of both man and the gods. Twin transgressions: analogy replaces the linear time of history and the canonization of the utopian future with the cyclical time of myth; irony, in turn, sheds mythic time in order to affirm the lapses in contingency, the plurality of gods and myths, the death of God and his creatures. The twin ambiguities of romantic poetry: it was revolutionary, but it occurred alongside, not as part of, the revolutions of the century; at the same time, its spirituality was a transgression of the Christian denominations. The history of modern poetry, from romanticism to symbolism, is the history of various manifestations of the two principles by which it has been composed since its birth: analogy and irony." (Translated by Eliot Weinberger)
Full text of the 1989 Tanner Lecture is available here (pdf).
...everything takes place as if the vision of the high mountains of Iran had ceaselessly prepared the "contemplative intellect" of the Iranian soul once more to receive from the Angel Active Intelligence an illumination that again puts the memory of their hierophanies "in the present." It was upon these lofty peaks that, according to tradition, Zarathustra, the Iranian prophet, was repeatedly granted theophanies and angelophanies. What we call "angelology" in the true sense is perhaps the peculiar charism, the gift, of the Iranian soul to the religious history of humanity. The Lord Wisdom (Ahura Mazda) does not reveal himself as solitary, but as always surrounded by the six with whom he forms the archangelic heptad of light. And with them each of the "Adorable Ones" (Yazatas) of the celestial multitude appears not as a vague and unstable entity but as a perfectly individuated and distinct existence, recognizable by his personal name and his emblem (a flower). Furthermore, the Zoroastrian angelology puts a decisive end to all ambivalence of the numinous, that confusion between the divine and the demonic whereby the manifestations of the divine can elsewhere assume a terrific character. To judge by the oscillations that make consciousness waver elsewhere, and that are perceptible in the confusion perpetrated throughout history, and more than ever in our day, between angelology and demonology, we can appreciate the historical significance of the ancient Iranian faith: yes is not no, the beings of light wage a battle that is not a dialectical game, and it is to be guilty of a contradiction in terms, and a blasphemous contradiction for the Zoroastrian consciousness, to talk of an "angel of Darkness." - Henry Corbin, Avicenna & the Visionary Recital, 118-119.
In talking with people interested in Henry Corbin I am sometimes reminded of one of the obstacles to understanding the meaning of the "esoteric" as I believe he intended it. Some who are attracted by Corbin's work are understandably bedazzled by visions of angelic hierarchies and the reality of the imaginal worlds. Corbin's own enthusiasm is palpable in his work. But it is important not to lose sight of the intensely apophatic context in which these visions occur. The modern urban societies in which most of us live are thoroughly exteriorized and extraverted and so dominated by the will-to-power that drives modern technology that it is easy to overlook the profound interiority that characterizes Corbin's writings. Doing so can distort the meaning of his liberating message.
The problem is easy enough to state, but the solution is exceedingly hard to live. Corbin warns that the realm of the imaginal is "not to be entered by housebreaking." It is necessary to overcome the will to power and the desire for mastery. He puts it quite starkly: "The very idea of associating such concepts as 'power' and the 'spiritual' implies an initial secularization." (Creative Imagination, 16.) This is one place where contemporary critical theory can help open up a spiritual perspective, by making conscious the varieties and structures of power. (A nice guide can be found here courtesy of Stephen Macek).
Entry into the imaginal requires a delicate, subtle and difficult personal transformation. It requires what Ivan Illich calls an "embraced powerlessness," which for Christians is symbolized by the Cross. It is all too easy to approach the inner world of the "hidden trust" as if it were a literal, public and exoteric reality. To make this mistake is the essence of idolatry and of fundamentalisms of all kinds. To live a life in tune with imaginal realities requires abandoning the desire for what postmodernists call master narratives. The counter-history that Corbin would write lacks most of what is taken for the central thrust of Western culture - certainly there are no Scholastics, no Hegelians and no scientists seeking a Theory of Everything. They are currently popular, but I am deeply suspicious of grand theories that attempt to unify spirituality and science. However well-intended they may be they risk enacting new versions of the totalitarian fantasies that Corbin fought so hard to combat. [I presented a short version of this argument several years ago that can be read here. (pdf)]
The goal of exploration in imaginal realms is not conquest and mapping. The terrain is real, but it is neither objective nor public. Any map is provisional and of limited use, for the landscape is constantly shifting and always unique, individual and personal. (Think of the confounding profusion of "maps" provided by the alchemists.) There can be a Guide, but the paths are made by the unique person walking them. The ground shifts and the traveler is perpetually lost, constantly seeking. That is why fundamentalism is impossible there - there is nowhere stable to stand and we are forever undone. The form of spiritual life Corbin opened for us requires the "ability of not knowing" that Keats spoke of. This is more than challenging. The near impossibility of living in "metaphysical poverty" and humility sets up a dynamic in the soul that is acknowledged by all the great traditions - the life that the world of the imaginal provokes and requires is nomadic and wandering, unsettled and unsafe. It is our lot to fail continually in our attempts to love and forgive. We waver in and out of idolatries and literalisms of all kinds. And we constantly judge others and fail to see our own faults. Human be-ing is a project, not a fixed state, and the ego gets continually in the way since the "essential person" that is the goal "in its posthumous becoming and in its immortality perhaps immeasurably transcends the 'personality' of so-and-so son [or daughter] of so-and-so." (Avicenna & the Visionary Recital, 116).
On Corbin's account of Ibn 'Arabi's doctrine the faculty of the Imagination as we experience it is inherently ambiguous. It has both a passive/sensitive aspect that we share with animals and an active aspect that, in its pure mystical form, has the power to create real beings outside the inner state of the soul and perceptible to other mystics (Creative Imagination, 222ff). The imagination spans a vast range of modes of being so that it may be most useful to speak of imaginations in the plural. We live in ambiguity in an intermediate realm of plurality and complexity. This requires a stance towards reality that is cautious, empathetic, sensitive and creative - one that is attentive to the uses of power. Power in itself is not evil, and we cannot live without a degree of mastery and control. But unconscious and uncritical power is dangerous, and its uses, mis-uses and hidden effects need to be uncovered. As Corbin and Hillman have emphasized, literalism is one of the chief strategies of the fundamentalist and totalitarian mind. Literalism encourages the uncritical use of power and coercion because it presumes that reality can be known with certainty. Humility, caution and critical self-awareness are essential for a life in tune with imaginal realities.
Corbin was worried about a facile adoption of the term imaginal, and though I am no doubt more liberal in my attitudes on this than he was in his later years (for instance I am deeply indebted to Hillman's work) I think it is crucial to guard against the dangers of violating the sacred interiority of the imaginal by professionalizing, literalizing or otherwise co-opting its meaning.
Imaginal Studies (England) "We find our Sources in the visionary work of Henry Corbin, James Hillman, and the adepts who inspired them - supported by recent imaginative approaches to participative and transformative research that realise the vision in embodied practice."
The New Eye: Visionary Art and Tradition - " The mundus imaginalis is a place of encounter and transformation. “Is it possible to see without being in the place where one sees?” asks Corbin, throwing down the gambit of visionary experience. “Theophanic visions, mental visions, ecstatic visions in a state or dream or of waking are in themselves penetrations into the world they see.” "
'Irfan - What is It? "The renowned academic Henry Corbin has had a great deal to say about `irfan and what it means. Henry Corbin was an expert on Iranian mysticism and wrote a lot of books about it. A central theme of his writings and, indeed, of mysticism is the process of going from understanding God intellectually to experiencing God in one's soul."
The Imagination (pdf) - Jeff Munnis - The Swedenborgian Church - "I have been doing a lot of reading of Henry Corbin the last few years."
Development of the Resurrection Body: A multi-part electronic class by Ravani Rah Weiner. "Part of the miracle here is that the answer for me came from a very esoteric realm of Islam. It is part of the body of wisdom which Suhrawardi and others brought from the Zoroastrian tradition to rejuvenate Islam in the thirteenth century. The source of this was the book Spiritual Body and the Celestial Earth by Henry Corbin, which was a book in my husband's library that almost flew off the shelf as an answer to my prayers. I have since found Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam and Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, both by Corbin, to be equally helpful."
Schiehallion - Mount Zion in the far north, by Barry Dunford "...the French oriental scholar, Henry Corbin, in a profound and illuminating address delivered to the Eranos Conference in Ascona, Switzerland, in 1974, entitled The Imago Templi in Confrontation [sic] after commenting on the "Sons of the Valley" which he identifies as "an exalted company of initiate Brothers, who constitute ab origine the secret Church of Christ", goes on to state: "Robert of Heredom is thus initiated by the Sons of the Valley and created Grand Master of the new Temple, which will be born again from the ashes of the old….Robert’s name in chivalry refers us to the mystical mountain of Heredom in the north of Scotland…." "