"...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.
Jurek Polanski: In your poem "Dedication," you wrote: "That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,/That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,/In this and only this I find salvation." Milosz: I consider myself, to a large extent, to have been saved by poetry. At one time, I was too much under the influence of philosophy, and I noticed that that was very detrimental to my internal equilibrium. I had to go back to poetry to save myself from philosophy. To this day I still believe that in poetry there is much more wisdom. For example, in the work of the American poet better known than all others taken together, Walt Whitman.
This resonates with my own experience. Corbin was instrumental in saving me from philosophy and freeing me for poetry - both because of the nature of his own relation to philosophy and because of his privileging of Imagination as the primary human act. Perhaps even more important, partly at least because I read him first, was James Hillman. I think both of them can help to save us from "fundamentalism" which comes in a tremendous variety of disguises and requires constant attention to unmask and energy to defend against. For that reason alone both of them deserve our attention and our thanks.