"...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, February 20, 2010

Zizek & Milbank (with a bit about Corbin)

The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? by Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank, Creston Davis (ed.), MIT Press, 2009, 312pp., Reviewed by John D. Caputo, Syracuse University.

This volume caught my attention for a couple of reasons - I've read some of Milbank's work in the past and will admit to being intrigued by some aspects of Radical Orthodoxy. I've heard of  Žižek - its hard not to - but haven't read anything of his. Here he cites Corbin's reading of Eckhart and Boehme (pp 41-2). I have not read much of this book but I have read Caputo's review (linked above) in the Notre Dame Philosophical Review. Caputo is himself a major and prolific figure in contemporary "theological" debates and knows the territory very well. (See his webpage at Syracuse). His review is well worth pondering for he lays out Milbank & Žižek quite neatly and then proceeds to explain why, from his own post-metaphysical perspective, he thinks that the options they both represent are indeed monstrous. In so doing he helps clarify some of the issues in contemporary theology, and the review is valuable for this reason alone, whatever one's own position may be. I quote here the final paragraphs of Caputo's review:

"I readily agree that something important is contracted in the name of Jesus, that this name harbors a marvelous mysterious event, a monstrous monstration, a perplexing paradoxical poetics. All this I locate in the reversals that mark the Kingdom of God, where the first are last, the outsiders are in and the insiders are out. But I do not see that this marvel must amount to either Žižek's void or Milbank's metaphysics of participation. Rather the marvel is the promise/risk of mercy and love, of compassion and forgiveness, and that is all we know on earth and all we need to know. Does anyone really think the Sermon on the Mount has anything to do with any of this bombastic metaphysical tilting and jousting?

Speaking of the Sermon on the Mount, I move finally from irony and incredulity to alarm -- about the violence of this book. Žižek has not the slightest compunction about invoking violence and he owes it to his readers to be clear about what he means, how far he would go and under what circumstances. Milbank on the other hand batters our ears with a barrage of rhetorical violence, with the vintage violence of theological imperialism -- is there any other? -- a disturbing and dogmatic theological dismissiveness of anyone who disagrees with him -- or, as it is more and more turning out, with the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas. Milbank and the authors who swim around him in the "school" of "Radical Orthodoxy" flatter themselves with the insufferable conceit that the entire world may be divided into either medieval Thomistic metaphysicians -- or nihilists! They remind us, in case we might have forgotten, why no one trusts theology.

Truth to tell, I think Jesus (who does not even make the index in this book) would have been utterly dumbfounded by this polemic about the metaphysics of Christ."      - John Caputo

ADDENDUM 3/29/10:     See this interview with Milbank

1 comment:

  1. You might find these comments on the Zizek-Milbank discussion of interest (or these on Zizek).

    I do think that Zizek's Lacanian understanding of the psyche is interesting - there's a negative-theological (apophatic) component to it that I think resonates with Jung's and potentially Corbin's work, and that provides a useful counterpoint to those who would wish to 'fill' the (Lacanian) 'lack' or 'gap' with political programs of any kind. That's why some of Zizek's own political comments occasionally seem inconsistent with his own writing. I think he's best thought of as a provocateur, someone who poses good questions, than as one who would deliver answers (which is all to the good).