"...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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Monday, June 14, 2010

Gnostic Contagion

Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan and the Poetry of Illness, by Peter O'Leary

(Octopus Magazine Interview with O'Leary)

Norman Finkelstein (author of On Mount Vision) has called this book "an absolute must-read," and a brief glance at the contents is more than enough to convince me and a copy is on the way. It is of course chock-full of references to Corbin.

Nathaniel Tarn's review in Jacket 22 begins with this:

"The suspicion that the making of poetry, indeed of any art, might be an abnormal act, a kind of insanity in fact or, at the least, a form of illness, of dis-ease is very ancient — possibly as ancient as the human race. The rider, that the madness or illness might contain the seeds of its own cure, or healing, may — given the probable great age of shamanic initiation and practice — be just as venerable. The basic model of such an initiation (on which many other later and more sophisticated types might have been grafted) is: an individual susceptible of being initiated (the signs are recognizable as per tribal lore) becomes sick as a result of straying into and witnessing the domain of a mystery; is cured by becoming a fellow member of the group already practicing the mystery; is then capable of healing a break in a part or the whole of the cosmos by bringing upper and lower domains together through magical flight and turns into a social treasure through the practice of an art of healing — most often a matter of exercising a number of tricks and a gift for language and song.
      We are in our time way down the line from this model but a frequent assimilation of the contemporary shaman to the poet forms the basis of Peter O’Leary’s quest: is poetry, as seen by Duncan, an illness, or better, a dis-ease? Can it be a world-, and word-, comprehending art by working through the insight afforded by a Gnostic interpretation of history: that the very creation by a demiurge is a catastrophe separating the lower, profane, world from the higher, sacred, one — a separation that must be mended toward an individual, or even social salvation? In the last resort, can poetry be said or thought to heal? Also: if poetry is a dis-ease, can it be inherited naturally or culturally through the familiar process of lineage formation among poets: i.e. can it be gotten by hearing or reading from another poet and/or other poets and then passed on to another poet or other poets?
      The core of O’Leary’s complex, demanding  and fascinating book consists of a guidance through an extraordinarily involved scenario played out by three main figures in which Duncan is part of an initiatic triangle involving Freud — as great poet-mythographer as well as psychoanalytic healer — H.D., Duncan’s lineage mistress, and Duncan himself. As Freud is to H.D., so H.D. is to Duncan. The initiation involves both sickness and cure through the process of analysis. Involved in the complexity of the very esoteric vortex at work here is Duncan’s drama of conceiving himself as having killed his mother through his own birth (his father too by grief at the mother’s death) and rediscovering a comforting mother archetype in H.D. The occult component (out of Hermeticism and Esoterism) displays a serial initiation with marked sexual undertones: Freud initiating H.D. and H.D. initiating Duncan. In all of this (we will not balk at it but Freud might conceivably at times be spinning in his grave), there is, of course, a great deal more poetry than science. Be this as it may, the initiatic lineage eventually carries on down when Duncan, through the influence of his work, passes the ‘Gnostic contagion’ onto other poets, principally Nathaniel Mackey." Read Tarn's entire review.

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