"...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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Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Ta'wil and Henry Corbin" by Eric Mottram - (Corbin & Poetry #16)

It is with great pleasure that I make a most important essay available here:

Eric Mottram, "Ta'wil and Henri Corbin: a legacy for radical American poets," Talus 8 (London, 1994) 115-180.

Eric Mottram (1924–1995) was a teacher, critic, editor and poet who was one of the central figures in the British Poetry Revival. He was Professor of American Studies and English Literature at King's College, London. An extended obituary in The Independent can be read here. This essay is reproduced with the permission of the Mottram Archive at King's College.  Also see this memoir, Live All You Can: American Experience, 1965-6, by Robert Banks. Amy Evans and Shamoon Zamir have complied an excellent piece on Mottram and Robert Duncan in Jacket 34, "Between Revelation and Persuasion" which is not to be missed. They write, "Eric Mottram was a poet, a teacher and a critic. A figure central to the British poetry revival which began in the late 1960s and a pioneer of American Studies in the United Kingdom, he was an influential editor of The Poetry Review, the journal of the Poetry Society in London, from 1971 to 1977 and wrote widely on British and American literatures and cultures. Mottram’s prolific investigations into innovative poetries and poetics remain ground-breaking; perhaps no-one did more to bring several generations of British readers and students to the excitement of post-World War II American poetry than he did."

My sincere thanks to Shamoon Zamir, who is former editor of Talus, for sending me a copy of this essay. (Back issues of Talus can be had here). I found the piece in a circuitous way. In the course of a long phone conversation Duncan McNaughton mentioned John Clarke to me as someone associated with Charles Olson who had read Corbin. [Audio CD of Clarke in Buffalo c.1985 to be available here). In researching Clarke's work I chanced upon the connection with Mottram, which led me to the Archive and this essay. It was Pierre Joris who suggested Zamir as a possible source for the text, which I had trouble finding in other ways. My thanks to all.

As readers will know, I had made it a project to investigate the reach of Corbin's influence on American poetry. I had come quite a way in finding facts and chronologies which are now confirmed and extended. Mottram's essay is the definitive document and puts an end to the initial phases of my research. It is just the sort of work I might have hoped to find - and written by someone who knew American poetry thoroughly, as I certainly do not. I wish I had known Mottram, who wrote this just a few years after I began my own work on Corbin.

The cast of characters discussed is large and inclusive: Charles Olson, Robert Duncan,  Robert Creeley, Robert Kelly, Norman O. Brown, Buckminster Fuller and more.

Mottram begins:

"In 1953 Basil Bunting wrote to Louis Zukofsky:

Reverting to the West has made me more convinced than before that we've got to learn almost everything from the East (which, to the measure of my limited experience, is the lands of Islam) before there's a chance of any peace of mind or dignity for most of us. And that's a way of saying to hell with material welfare, and, logically, all the laws and references and adages designed to procure it.

Bunting at the age of fifty-three could cite his first-hand experiences of Islam obtained while working in Persia and studying the culture. In America, Charles Olson drew towards certain aspects of Sufism through reading Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (1950) by Henry Corbin, the distinguished French professor of Islamic religion at the Sorbonne in the 1950s."

I urge everyone with an interest in the meaning of Corbin's work in the modern world to read this penetrating essay - to react to and think with.


  1. Can you repost this right side up (vertically) please....?

    1. easier said than done bill - download & print it... thats what i have done

  2. thank you for posting it

    Robert j Hamburger