"...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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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Corbin & Olson Continued...

As part of my continuing series on Corbin & poetry in America, here are a few paragraphs from Poetry & Truth: The Beloit Lectures and Poems, by Charles Olson, Transcribed & Edited by George F. Butterick, Four Seasons Foundation, San Francisco, Ca, 1971. It is hardly possible to convey the full impact of these rambling and chaotic but always astonishing "lectures." I have here selected a few pages near the end of the text which refer to Henry Corbin's Avicenna and the Visionary Recital and to ta'wil. It is impossible I think to find a "good" place to pick up Olson's "thread"  so I simply begin & hope that the interested reader will acquire the book:

Yeah, I mean the first sentence is the whole shot, shoot. I used it only once before and I didn't do this to it. I simply walked out at Berkeley—I would like very much to talk how—this was a lecture at Berkeley, in front of my peers, called "Causal Mythology," and I had just flown in from Rome and hadn't done my work, and had to get up in front of, oh I think the body of poets that you could say are in this world, or most in this world—at 10:30 in the morning. And luckily I remembered a Visionary Recital—the one I mentioned to you—of the angel of the right and the angel of the left—which I also have with me tonight, and as a text. That's the one I mentioned earlier in the week—Avicenna's queer, short whatever it is. Again, Avicenna in this same period. And I said I wanted to talk about the orb, the urb, the image, and the anima mundi, and that it was all to be done under this apothegm or epigram, epigraph. And now here I am again, for the second time, in such a situation—and with the bell tolling! [over the campus, heard in the background] "That which exists through itself . . . That which exists through itself, is what is called meaning." Too much! I mean it's too much for me to stand here and just have that. And that is what I have to offer. And that's what I think there is to offer, and I don't think anything in this world moves it a jot, except as we do, or become such. "That which exists through itself is what is called meaning." And even that word meaning is, I think, very—I'm reading from a translation of the Chinese, and as you prob—many of you, many of you, especially, may know—the word, of course, in Chinese is that word which I would like to avoid mentioning, but it rhymes with the man who also, to whom that is attributed. And we have that word in our language as 'how,' if you get my string of rhymes. A Chinese man's name; his, like they say—or one did say, concept; and our word 'how.' I mean, like, the trouble, at least—if I may jump on him—Bob had, the first night I was here, with what was the first of three poems that for me belonged to you . . . And in my stubborn ruse way, I would like to read it again, so that we can summarize, hopefully, the week. It has the title, "*Added to making a Republic in gloom on Watchhouse Point"—which is simply where I live, it's called such, it's part of Fort Point, Fort Square, Gloucester, Massachusetts:

an actual earth of value to
construct one, from rhythm to
image, and image is knowing, and
knowing, Confucius says, brings one
to the goal: nothing is possible without
doing it. It is where the test lies, malgre
all the thought and all the pell-mell of
proposing it. Or thinking it out or living it
ahead of time.

—and it has that margin, "Reading about my world, March 6th, 1968."

Now, it wasn't Confucius, of course, that—right? It wasn't, as you, if you—I mean 'how' does not rhyme with 'Confucius.' I mean, there's—I didn't even figure this out that night. I thought I'd read this whole damn thing to you and come up like a living exegesis and make it work so that you understood every word. It's only about 29 pages this, and it's really impeccable. It's more like immaculate. And completely penetrable. Completely penetrable to your mind, to your life, to your thought, to your feelings—and I think only those things will actually produce results, result. That's why I have pressed you, or harried you, harried you so hard, I think—is that there isn't any way out of that. I think that that statement, that almost, apparently, a truism—as much as Confucius says, "nothing is possible without doing it"—there isn't any way out of that, it's like a—no matter what we may think—a pliers of typology, or not of typology, but of what I'm saying is the blow upon the world. I'm sure we could talk tonight like Mrs. Walsh and I at dinner, of Mr. Williams. When I wrote that tonight, the blow upon the world, I was sure, I mean I suddenly thought, of course, that lovely other alternative, which I'm sure some of you know, of Williams' letter in middle life?—I don't know when he said it, wrote it—"Love is a stain upon the world." Or "is the stain," is it not?—"is the stain upon the world." Any of you correct me in that, or confirm me on that? William Carlos Williams, "Love is the stain upon the world"—I think he opens a poem or something with. I don't know how—I don't want that to seem the way I presented it, as though it's equal at all. I want to take on that burden, too, of not . . .

I would like, actually, if I can, just to leave you with that sentence. I think it's, like they say, glass [?] enough. I mean I suppose I speak ... I have the superstition that human beings have, that when they hear something that matters to them, it's true. I—and again, if you'll excuse me—I will keep my noun. I once was told this, by myself, to myself, by no body or thing that I could identify. I think I was asleep, and it was a dream. But what got said was, "Everything issues from—Everything issues from . . . , and nothing is anything but itself, measured so." Which I'm sure led me on the path to the door of this sentence, quite simply. Can you hear? May I, would you like me to just repeat that? It's easy. I mean, it's like a prayer. Not really—a bead, something I carry in my pocket. I've never said this out loud, that's how much I know [?] use, hears, loves [?]. Nobody ever heard me say this before. And still I have something for myself—by even telling you that much. "Everything issues from . . . , and noth¬ing is anything but itself, measured so." I mean that's what of course got me. Those things always read ... I mean, that's why I do believe in the reversable, because actually the thing cocks back. That's why I'm talking . . . Earlier in the week I stressed the whole Arabic or Ismaili Muslim concept of ta'wil—which I think is almost singularly the only place I know, actually, in the body of man's accumulation, that you have this little—or you have, what we seem to me to be practically preparing from scratch, the acts of the future. "Measured so." I mean, what a trick to pull on you, to give you the whole thing and then say, "measured so." I mean, that's a voice talking, literally. I mean, if you take thought, it's simply seeking to be correct in the meter. It's perfectly obvious that that statement is not indulging me; it's supplying me with, like, the afterthought. I say that as of some conversation I had at the end of one session with someone from Madison who was saying that there is no metric left in poetry, because time now is now. I said, yeah, that's it, hey—he's one of Creeley's men, so he's very quick and bright, and knows what, knows something, really—you know, like, the meter is sort of gone and come and done in front of ourselves, and how do you therefore have meter? Well, I think it's simply measure, and I think it is what I'm unfortunately, probably—sort of engaged to do. And here I do it now publicly for the first time—which is to see if you can be so careful as to do this in public—to suggest measure as well. If you will note the first poem, carefully, that I wrote for you, carefully, does not involve itself except in itself with that question. The state¬ments are on the other matter entirely—of rhythm, image, knowing, and one I also added but I slipped out of the synod or quartorum —construct. I equally received that as a gift, maybe ten years earlier. The leading poet alive in the world, in a dream, told me when I was very young or much younger—I can read you the poem, I published it some years ago, in a series of poems in which I sought at that date—and this is prior to I think what all of you must best know of my own, that piece of writing that is called "Projective Verse." This is written some two years, I think, earlier—"The ABCs." And hidden amongst them, in "ABCs—2," is the actual words that I then wrote, that were spoken, again inside my head by another person entirely:

of rhythm is image
of image is knowing
of knowing there is
a construct


(pp. 61-64).

Editor's Notes on these pages:

p. 61:    a lecture at Berkeley, in front of my peers, called "Causal Mythology." Causal Mythology, transcribed and edited by Donald Allen (San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1969), a lecture at the Berkeley Poetry Conference, 20 July 1965.
p. 61:    a Visionary Recital. Henry Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Pantheon, 1960). The passage on the two angels is quoted on p. 13 of Causal Mythology.
p. 61:    "That which exists through itself, is what is called meaning." See The Secret oj the Golden Flower, A Chinese Book of Life, trans. Richard Wilhelm, commentary by C. G. Jung, rev. ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1962), p. 21: "Master Lii-tsu said, That which exists through itself is called the Way (Tao)." While on p. 97 it is pointed out: "Wilhelm translates Tao by Sinn (Meaning)." See also Causal Mythology, p. 11.
p. 62:    William Carlos Williams, "Love is the stain upon the world"

The stain of love
Is upon the world.

It appears in two poems in Williams' Collected Earlier Poems (New York: New Directions, 1951), "First Version: 1911" (pp. 173-174) and "Love Song" (p. 174).
p. 63:    "Everything issues from . . ." In a notepad of dreams from 1958 among the poet's papers occurs:

Everything comes fr the
Black Chrysanthemum
& nothing is anything but itself
measured so ...

p. 63:    ta'wil. The "exegesis that leads the soul back to truth." See Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, esp. pp. 28-35.
p. 64:    The leading poet alive in the world . . . Ezra Pound.

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