"...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.

Search The Legacy of Henry Corbin: Over 800 Posts

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Eda: An Anthology of Turkish Poetry

Jerome Rothenberg has excerpted passages (here) from the fascinating introduction to Murat Nemet-Nejat’s 2004 volume of Turkish poetry. He writes that this "remarkable gathering, Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry (Talisman, 2004), ... establishes “eda” as a marker of poetic process much as Lorca’s duende or the Japanese concept of yugen had ignited similar interests in the century now behind us. The rootedness of mysticism in language is central to the poetics in question, a point he hammers home with great intelligence & passion. " There is a review with selected passages from some of the poems here.

From the Introduction: "Eda is the alien other. What is this alien ghost, the way of moving and perceiving which must enter and possess English? It is Sufism, the Asiatic mode of perception which contains an intense subjectivity at its center. The pre-Islamic origin of Sufism is in Central Asian Shamanism. Turkish was the language of that area; its grammar is the quintessential Sufi language."

Page of Calligraphy 16th century Ottoman period
Probably Turkey
S1986.335 Freer & Sackler Galleries

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

15th Annual Fez Festival of Sacred Music

"The rhythm of music is the rhythm of my soul." - Henry Corbin

15th Annual Fez Festival of Sacred Music
May 29 to June 6, 2009

The Tree of Life

A Dervish Dance, Isfahan, Iran. Savafid, 1613. Freer & Sackler Galleries. Also see this fine podcast of Sufi Music from Iran with links to various artworks in the collection.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Time & Eternity

One of the central themes in Corbin's work is the relation between the "time of myth," of what he calls "hierohistory," and the linear time of history. This distinction raises issues that lie at the heart of much modern philosophy and theology. I have just chanced upon an essay that will be of interest to anyone who wishes to understand how Corbin's work relates to that of his contemporaries and to subsequent philosophical thought. Tyrus Miller's "Eternity No More: Walter Benjamin and the Myth of the Eternal Return" (in Given World and Time: Temporalities in Context, edited by Tyrus Miller and published by the Central European University Press in 2008) is available online here. This excellent piece outlines some of the relations among the thought of Nietzsche, Eliade (a close colleague of Corbin ar Eranos), Benjamin and others.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Dream of the Poem

Of interest to all students of Henry Corbin:

The Dream of the Poem:
Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain
950-1492. Translated, Edited & Introduced by Peter Cole

From the Publisher:

Hebrew culture experienced a renewal in medieval Spain that produced what is arguably the most powerful body of Jewish poetry written since the Bible. Fusing elements of East and West, Arabic and Hebrew, and the particular and the universal, this verse embodies an extraordinary sensuality and intense faith that transcend the limits of language, place, and time.

Peter Cole's translations reveal this remarkable poetic world to English readers in all of its richness, humor, grace, gravity, and wisdom. The Dream of the Poem traces the arc of the entire period, presenting some four hundred poems by fifty-four poets, and including a panoramic historical introduction, short biographies of each poet, and extensive notes. (The original Hebrew texts are available on the Princeton University Press Web site.) By far the most potent and comprehensive gathering of medieval Hebrew poems ever assembled in English, Cole's anthology builds on what poet and translator Richard Howard has described as "the finest labor of poetic translation that I have seen in many years" and "an entire revelation: a body of lyric and didactic verse so intense, so intelligent, and so vivid that it appears to identify a whole dimension of historical consciousness previously unavailable to us." The Dream of the Poem is, Howard says, "a crowning achievement."

A lengthy review by Harold Bloom, "The Lost Jewish Culture", appearing in the New York Review of Books can be read here.

Heretics of the World, Unite!

Corbin’s account of the power and significance of the Imagination and the mundus imaginalis is a passionate defense of the religious and spiritual capacities of human being. He believed in the world-historical importance of a nearly lost metaphysics that places Imagination at the center of human life, and he devoted his life to bringing it to the attention of the modern world. But he was concerned that his message not be misunderstood. The Western world is perfectly familiar with products of imagination, but these tend to be products of a secularized and disoriented imagination, not the imaginatio vera. He says

"it is impossible to avoid wondering whether the mundus imaginalis, in the proper meaning of the term, would of necessity be lost and leave room only for the imaginary if something like a secularization of the imaginal into the imaginary were not required for the fantastic, the horrible, the monstrous, the macabre, the miserable and the absurd to triumph. On the other hand, the art and imagination of Islamic culture in its traditional form are characterized by the hieratic and the serious, by gravity, stylization and meaning."

Now Corbin was a passionate defender of the most heterodox elements of the Abrahamic traditions. He was a generous and eclectic champion of the imagination whose sympathies cover an enormous range of sentiment, and a partisan of the individual in the face of every form of institutional dogma. His long-time friend Denis de Rougemont remembered and celebrated his youthful cry, “Heretics of the world unite!” But recalling this same incident some years later, Corbin demurred and commented that what he had said was probably rather “esotericists unite.” And in his remarks emphasizing the gravity and stylization of traditional Islamic imagination ­he revealed again a rather conservative interpretation of the imagination. This raises an issue of enormous importance: What are the criteria that allow us to tell the difference between the imaginary and the imaginal, between imaginatio vera and Phantasy? Must we appeal only to categories such as gravity, seriousness and stylization? Or are we hearing in these words the voice of an old man, somewhat irritated at the extravagances of his youth and fearing misinterpretation of his life’s work? I tend to think that there may be some truth in the latter. And I think it is in the spirit of Corbin’s life and work to doubt the existence of absolute criteria for distinguishing true imagination from fantasy. But even if there are no public and objective laws governing the Imagination, it is nonetheless important to attempt to fill in the chart of the Imaginal that Corbin has provided, and in doing so begin to orient ourselves at least provisionally in the landscape he has opened for us.

[I am not unaware of the dangers of vague and careless appropriations of the term “imaginal.” William Chittick and Christian Jambet have both often echoed Corbin in emphasizing the necessity of understanding the precise genealogy and context which gives the term its meaning in Islamic thought. It is important indeed to recognize that the mundus imaginalis requires a docetic cosmology quite different from the Incarnationism which forms the context for modern Western theology, philosophy and science. And Jambet cautions that the imaginal is profoundly serious. He writes, “The agent imagination has a prophetological function, a moral use, and an eschatological role.” (The Act of Being, 285. Reviewed here). Keeping these cautions in mind, it is I think consistent with Corbin’s ecumenism that we make the attempt to discover what meaning the Agent Imagination can have for us in the modern world.]

Corbin warns that access to the imaginal world is not easy – “One does not penetrate into the Angelic World by housebreaking” he says. But what are the alternatives? The question arises for those of us who are not given the gift of mystic vision as to precisely how one “learns the imagination.” The initiation can be demanding and prolonged. Corbin lays great stress on the trials of alchemy and speaks of the descent into the underworld which is the unconscious. He says that we

"must pass through the Darkness; this is a terrifying and painful experience, for it ruins and destroys all the patencies and norms on which the natural man lived and depended - a true ‘descent into hell,’ the hell of the unconscious."

But his work provides little practical guidance for our struggles to find the Angel, and he seems to move with ease in realms that often seem remote from the mundane concerns of our fragile and painful daily lives. We need guides in addition to Corbin to help us learn to make the Active Imagination a living reality. If we do not have a veritable Master from one of the great religious traditions to whom we can turn, then we can learn from certain kinds of psychologists, and from the poets and artists to whom Corbin has said the Active Imagination has for so long been relegated. And it may happen that we will be graced with a vision of that unique personal Guide, the only real Master, who is the Angel Holy Spirit around whom our lives individually revolve.

[Adapted from After Prophecy by the author.]

Two Demons Attacked by Four Flying Angels, ca. 1580-1590. Possibly Qazvin, Iran. Freer & Sackler Galleries. S1986.250a-b

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The 106th Anniversary of Corbin's Birth

Henry Eugène Corbin was born on the 14th of April, 1903, at 47 avenue Bosquet, Paris the son of Henri Arthur Corbin and Eugènie Fournier. His mother died 10 days later. Here he is at about the age of five, with his aunt Mme Émilie Petithenry.

[Photo from Amir-Moezzi, M., Christian Jambet et Pierre Lory, (Editors). Henry Corbin: Philosophies et Sagesses des Religions du Livre. Brepols, 2005. Proceedings of this Colloquium.]

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mélanges offerts à Henry Corbin

Henry Corbin and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Mélanges offerts à Henry Corbin. Tehran: Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Tehran Branch, 1977.

This fairly rare volume will be of interest to students of Corbin. The table of contents provided here does not include the several articles in Persian.
(I apologize for the lack of diacritical marks.)

Table of Contents

Preface. S.H. Nasr.

Premiere Partie: Etudes Biographiques

S.H. Nasr. Henry Corbin, "l'exil occidentale" : une vie et une oeuvre en quete de l'Orient des Lumieres.
D. Shayegan. L'homme a la lampe magique.

Deuxieme Partie: Religion et philosophie comparee

G. Durand. Science de l'homme et islam spirituel.
M. Eliade. Mythes cosmogoniques indiens.
T. Izutsu. The Concept of Perpetual Creation in Islamic Mysticism and Zen Buddhism.
G. Valin. Elements pour une theorie de la philosophie comparee.

Troisieme Partie: La philosophie et theologie islamiques

P. Antes. The First Asharites Conception of Evil and the Devil.
M. Arkoun. Pour une remembrement de la conscience islamique,

Quatrieme Partie: le Soufisme et le Shi'ism

R Arnaldez. Le moi divin dans la pensee d'Ibn 'Arabi.
J. P. Ducasse. Un poeme Khalwati sur les Noms de Dieu
M.S. Khan. The Early History of Zaydi Shi'ism in Daylaman and Ghan.
H. Landolt. Deux opuscules de Semnani sur le moi theophanique.
F. Meier. Ein briefwechsel zwischen Saraf un-Din-i Balhi und Magd ud-din-i Bagdadi.
A.S. Melikian-Chirvani. Les themes esoteriques et les themes mystiques dans l'art du bronze iranien.
P. Nwyia. Un cas d'exigese soufie: l'Histoire de Joseph.
A. Schimmel. Zur Verwendung des Halladj-Motivs in der indo-persischen Poesie.

Cinquieme Partie: Philosophie, theologie et mystique en Occident

E. Benz. Uber die Leiblichkeit des Geistigen zyr Theologie der Leiblicheit bei Jacob Boehme.
F. Brunner. Signification de Kierkegaard.
D. de Rougemont. "Heretiques de toutes les religions, unissez-vous!"
M. de Dieguez. Intelligence humaine et critique de causalite.
A. Faivre. Le Ternaire alchemique et l'Axe Feu Central dans la tradition martinesiste
P. Gallais. La "maison" du Roi-Pecheur.
H.D. Lewis. Theology and Ideology.
G. Scholem. A Note on a Kabbalistic Treatise on Contemplation.

Sixieme Partie: L'influence de la pensee islamique en Occident

J. Ferrari. La pensee musulmane et l'Orient dans l'oeuvre de Hamann.
J. Jolivet. Intellect et Intelligence: Note sur la tradition arabo-latine des 12e et 13e siecles.

[Septieme Partie: Articles en Persan]

Folio from a Jamshid u Khurshid. circa 1600? Safavid period, Iran. S1986.53 Freer & Sackler Galeries.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Nasr and Chittick - Online Lectures

Thanks to Mohammed Rustom for pointing out this website: I of the Heart hosts a wide array of online video and audio of lectures by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and William Chittick here.

Both of these prolific and important scholars were colleagues of Henry Corbin at the University of Teheran, and both have commented on his life and work.

The Seyyed Nasr Foundation

William Chittick's Life and Work