"...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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Friday, October 23, 2009

Corbin in the Music of Sir John Tavener

Sir John Tavener's (b. 1944) piece The Veil of the Temple (also here) makes use of some lines from Corbin's Temple and Contemplation. Tavener has written a short essay on the composition available here as a pdf. The premiere of this immense overnight work was in 2003 at the Temple Church in London. Of Cycle 8 Tavener writes,

"My references to the Knights Templar that follow are symbolic. There is a rather wonderful legend concerning them, recalled by the eminent French Islamisist Henry Corbin. He tells that on March 18th, a knight of the Temple is seen to appear uttering the cry “Who will defend the Holy Temple? Who will defend the Tomb of Christ?”. At this call, the enthroned Templars come alive and stand up to answer “No one! No one! The Temple is destroyed forever”."

The passage in question is from the opening paragraph of Corbin's "The Imago Templi in Confrontation with Secular Norms" (p. 263). In this first section, The Imago Templi at "the meeting-place of the two seas", Corbin writes as follows:

"A great Jewish writer of our time, Elie Wiesel, has chosen as the epigraph to one of the most poignant of his books, Le serment de Kolvillag [in English as The Oath - TC], the following quotation from the Talmud: "If peoples and nations had known the evil they were inflicting on themselves by destroying the Temple of Jerusalem, they would have wept more than the children of Israel." I was still pondering the far-reaching implications of these lines when, in a recent work, I came across another epigraph, taken this time from the historian Ignaz von Dollinger: "If I were asked to name the dies nefastus in the history of the world, the day that would come to my mind would be none other than October 13, 1307" (the day when Philip the Fair ordered the mass arrest of the French Templars). A few pages further on, the same work makes mention of "a legend whose setting is the amphitheatre of Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, where six knights of the Temple lie at rest in a chapel. Every year, on March 18—the birthday of the last Grand Master of the Order— a knight of the Temple is seen to appear, whose shroud is replaced by the famous white cloak with the four-triangled red cross. He is in battle apparel and holds his lance in rest. He walks slowly towards the centre of the chapel and utters a piercing call, which re-echoes around the amphitheatre of mountains: 'Who will defend the holy Temple? Who will deliver the tomb of Christ?' At his call, the six entombed Templars come alive and stand up, to answer three times: 'No one! No one! No one! The Temple is destroyed.'"

"The lamentations of the Talmudist sages and the doleful cry resounding through a Pyrenean amphitheatre echo each other, in that each of them sets the same catastrophe at the centre of world history: the destruction of the Temple, of the same Temple. Nevertheless, over the centuries a triumphal Image occurs and recurs, opposing this despair with the tenacity of permanent defiance: the Image of the rebuilding of the Temple, the coming of the New Temple, which assumes the dimensions of a cosmic restoration. The two images, of the destruction and of the rebuilding of the Temple, are inseparable one from the other. They draw on the same source, and they configurate a vision of the world which in both its horizontal and vertical dimension is dominated by the Image of the Temple, Imago Templi, and which conjoins the destiny of the city-temple and the destiny of the community-temple in the body of the Knights Templar." (263-4) - H. Corbin.