"...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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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Corbin & Charles Olson Continued (#18) - Jed Rasula

The following paragraphs are from Jed Rasula, Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, Pages 88 and 89. I present them here without comment - any adequate commentary would take more time (and knowledge of Olson) than I have - the interested reader will have to get hold of the book for context. This is a book worth reading. Here is part of a section discussing Olson's psychedelic experiences with Timothy Leary, entitled Mushroom Eyes:

"In Junger's assessment, the characteristic prolifer­ation of phenomena experienced on drugs could only go so far: even though "intoxication does not add up, it multiplies. It even makes fractions smaller," it nonetheless "lacks that higher power of addition, which brings something else and something new, and which eros does possess" (Bullock 207). The reverberation to infinity of cognition and perception in trance lacks one essential ingredient: encounter. It's emphatically in such an encounter—the struggle with the sea serpent—that Olson attained his special vision in a Maximus poem written after his second psilocybin experience: "I shaped her out of/ the watery mass with mushroom eyes."
Despite his generally negative experiences, Michaux affirms two prin­ciples that resonate with Olson. First, the experience is "pre-personal" and "infinitely archaic" (Miracle 87). Second, "A drug is not so much a thing, as it is 'someone'" (Light 41). "Paradise is a person," The Maximus Poems declares, and Maximus himself is a figure extending persona trans-corporeally until it includes all that might be "trenched out, smeared, occupied" by the Gold Machine, the alchemical alembic. Asked if she wanted a glass of water dur­ing an acid trip, Anai's Nin replied "I want a pagoda" (257). Sensing "images behind images," she felt the "whole room became filled with gold, my whole body was becoming gold, liquid gold, scintillating, warm gold. I was gold" (257, 258). The Maximus poem beginning "I am the Gold Machine" is an impetuously constellated confrontation with what's identified as "the ugli­est passage" (Maximus 301)—which is just how immersion in the infinitely archaic appears: a necessary but unwelcome visitor.
To address this visitation in the form of a person is to contend more prag­matically with Michaux's dilemma, being forced to endure "the superlative of everything." The stuttering perpetuity of a drug induced vision converges with the visionary apparition of infinite worlds in which "all the beings of the celestial universe are drawn into the ascending movement of limitless eternities toward horizons and toward creative acts of thought belonging to universes still unformulable"—a prospect characterized by Henry Corbin as "a 'Gothic style' of cosmology" (133). Corbin's essay, "Cyclical Time in Mazdaism and Ismailism," was of considerable importance to Olson, for whom some of Corbin's formulations seem preternaturally destined. The spiritual adept, for instance, "is himself the total Time of his own mea­sure" (163), and therefore a figure in accord with Olson's admiration for those who "go on the frozen being and do take the marks and bearings" (Maximus 481). Increasingly, in the later Maximus poems, the sense emerges from Corbin's dictum that "through every reality it is possible to discern a person—that is, to grasp this reality as or in its celestial person" (137). In an extended passage informing the composition of "Maximus, at the Harbor," Corbin writes:
Everything takes place as though the question "Who is it?" were substituted for the question "What is it?"—as though to name the person were to define its essence; and it is to this person and not to the abstract, universal concept that the ta'wiloi internal exegesis leads back. We gain this impression by juxtaposing propositions such as these: "Paradise is a person (or a human being)." "Every thought, every word, every action is a person." And finally: "Every true thought, every true word, every good action has an Angel." (165)
In Olson's adaptation:
Paradise is a person. Come into this world.
The soul is a magnificent Angel.
And the thought of its thought is the rage of Ocean             :           apophainesthai
(Maximus 240)
The Greek apophanesthai means "that which shows forth"; and Olson never tired of reiterating the basic precept of The Secret of the Golden Flower, "that which exists through itself is what is called meaning (Muthologos 164; Wilhelm 23). But note what the poem says: where there is appearance, there is rage. Rage is the unappeasable. It's the wink or nudge of the nick of time that reminds us our being crests, without appeal, on the throbbing portentous gist of the infinitely archaic, where the murmur is as hot as lava, hot as Ahab.
For a guide to rage, consider this passage from Robin Blaser's poem "Mappa Mundi":
Olson once said he wished he could learn how to handle verticals from Boulez—horizontals being what we do everyday toward horizons—he had in mind the Second Piano Sonata, the eruptive violence of them—in conversation with Beethoven's Hammerklavier—a rage of rhythm. (Holy 389)

Readers of The Maximus Poems invariably confront eruptive verticality in the second volume. "

(For some short comments on Corbin also see Jed Rasula, "Spicer's Orpheus and the Emancipation of Pronouns" boundary 2, Vol. 6, No. 1, Jack Spicer (Autumn, 1977), pp. 51-102)

Photo: Timothy Leary, San Francisco, 1967. by Larry Keenan.


  1. Tom, just wanted to thank you for all these fantastic posts. J

  2. Thanks! - Glad someone is finding them useful...

  3. for Jed

    that each appearance rages towards being--a function from everything shorn of its bezel, rages, with its loss--where nostalgia, Corbin's Avicenna's symphony of longing, turns black with flame--a function taking anything to to einai-- print it ↑Be↑Ing↑--one word too many, but there is no other word of which one can proffer such a complaint...

    high above the highest arches, (the "kindly" arrows of Artemis arching through the ethers) when the consummation resolves to initiation, no consummation, new beginning, novatis mundi, where the end of the world, began, nothing deferred, deferral impossible, the transparitionality, the house inside the house the beast inside the breath, a billion little white faces / rushing toward the light...

    Charles Stein