"...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, November 11, 2009

Corbin & Poetry - #6 in a series - Updated Version

Pierre Joris, prolific poet, essayist, translator and anthologist (here on wikipedia) has this to say on ta'wil & Henry Corbin:

"I believe I first heard the word in the late sixties, reading a Charles Olson essay (&/or Robert Duncan material — can't remember what came first). Then a fine use of the concept in terms of poetics was made in the early 70's by Robert Kelly in a dialogue with George Quasha & Chuck Stein for the "Vort" magazine Kelly issue [Vol 2, #2, 1974]. At which moment I was able to get my hands on the Corbin book (in London) & then several of his volumes in French which I took with me when I moved to Algeria in 1976. Kelly's notion of the (process of the) poem as a "ta'wil of the first line" has been important for me. I have used / cited the term & its poetological implications on a number of occasions — inside of poems but also when using it as the name of my off&on small press venture)."

A ready example can be found in a recent post by Jerome Rothenberg of an excerpt from Notes Towards a Nomadics Manifesto. Joris writes:

"We will keep Robert Kelly's notion of "ta'wil of the first line," the poem as nomadic/ rhizomatic extension of some given or found beginning, but a ta'wil reduced to immanence, to a "writing through." As he tells it otherwise in A MY NAME [in The Convections, 1978]: "This chant was my first news of the Great Trade Route along which scarce and isolate merchant-poet-nomads carried goods from tribe to tribe, over the mountains and under the sun, bringing the only news."

I asked Joris about his idea of a ta'wil reduced to immanence, and he replied with this:

"Yes, I know that Corbin would frown as transcendence is core to his thinking. My sense of "immanence" (& my insistence on it, rather than on a vertical theophany & the baggage such verticalities & hierarchies carry with them in religio-political terms throughout the history of our monotheisms) comes in good part via an early reading of Spinoza — prolonged later on by deep involvement in Gilles Deleuze's thinking about Spinoza, but any number of other matters too. If I were to put it in relation to Islamic mysticism, I would probably go to the term BARZAKH, as that "inbetween" place, — the original meaning of which is "curtain, barrier," but thus also "connecting link," "isthmus" between two spheres of existence,  as in its Koranic sense as "Bardo" realm between life and death etc — and of which Ibn Arabi, who speaks of it often and deeply, says somewhere that finally it is the only place there is, i.e. that there is nothing that is not in the barzakh."

For the complete text of the VORT piece, "Ta'wil or How to Read" see the post of December 16, 2009.


  1. Thank you! I had heard that Kelly was at one time deeply involved in ta'wil but I had no idea of this text. What a find.

  2. Would love to see the Enslin. (Like you have nothing else to do!)