"...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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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Robert Creeley & Henry Corbin

One of the readers of this blog some time ago mentioned in passing that he had first heard of Corbin in "something Creeley wrote" & I have ever since wanted to find what that might have been. Thanks to the Robert Kelly issue of Vort I have got my hands finally on what I suspect is the first reference in print that Robert Creeley makes to Corbin, though I would be happy to be proven wrong. The piece is a lecture given on October 31, 1972 at Johns Hopkins University as "Creativity: The Moving Force of Society?" as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium. This was subsequently published in Sparrow 6 (Black Sparrow Press, Los Angeles) March, 1973, as "The Creative by Robert Creeley" (each issue of Sparrow was devoted to a single author). I hesitate to reproduce the entire lecture  (9 pages) without permission - which I have not sought - so I will only repeat here the sections in which Corbin is mentioned, leaving the interested reader to seek out the rest -

What is here to discover is neither new nor significantly esoteric. Henry Corbin, in the introduction to Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, makes this useful point: "Today, with the help of phenomenology, we are able to examine the way in which man experiences his relationship to the world without reducing the objective data of this experience to data of sense perception or limiting the field of true and meaningful knowledge to the mere operations of the rational understanding. Freed from an old impasse, we have learned to register and to make use of the intentions implicit in all the acts of consciousness or transconsciousness. To say that the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it, no longer smacks of paradox." Thus you will recognize the sadly familiar, and useless, difficulty William Carlos Williams meets with in "The Desert Music": "You seem quite normal. Can you tell me? Why / does one want to write a poem?// Because it's there to be written.//Oh. A matter of inspiration then?//Of necessity.// Oh. But what sets it off?// I am that he whose brains/ are scattered/ aimlessly . . ." At the close of this extraordinary poem the moment of revelation is literally accomplished: "I am a poet! I/ am. I am. I am a poet, I reaffirmed, ashamed// Now the music volleys through as in/ a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all/ about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself/ seeking to become articulate..." The word dances, in the literal garden of desire.

Louis Zukofsky wrote, "Out of deep need . . ." But what nature of need is it? To eat, to sleep, to find a form merely? I question that. In Berlin I am delighted to discover that the eminent scientist Heisenberg, himself in Munich, has fallen upon the arts as though upon a blissful bed of flowers, knowing, in his age, as Gregory Corso would say, that the conceptual dilemma of the sciences leads them round and around the careful maze of their various contexts, true Bottoms but alas no Shakespeares to love them and get them home. Zukofsky also writes of these things made, these poems, as being source of profound solace—where the heart finds rest. It is the need to enter what we loosely call the vision, to be one with the Imago Mundi, that image of the world we each of us carry within us as possibility itself. What can we say otherwise? Peace, brother. It's going to be all right. It's soon over and it won't hurt.

But the heart aches—"Out of deep need . . ." Corbin: "This power of the heart is what is especially designated by the word himma, a word whose content is perhaps best suggested by the Greek word enthymesis, which signifies the act of meditating, conceiving, imagining, projecting, ardently desiring—in other words, of hav¬ing (something) present in the thymos, which is vital force, soul, heart, intention, thought, desire . . . The force of an intention so powerful as to project and realize ('essentiate') a being external to the being who conceives the intention, corresponds perfectly to the character of the mysterious power that Ibn 'Arabi designates as himma . . . Thanks to his representational faculty . . . every man creates in his Active Imagination things having existence only in this faculty. This is the general rule. But by his himma the gnostic creates something which exists outside the seat of this faculty ... In the first case, as it is exercised by most men, its function is representational; it produces images which are merely part of the conjoined Imagination . . ., inseparable from the subject. But even here, pure representation does not, eo ipso, mean 'illusion,’ these images really 'exist,’ illusion occurs when we misunderstand their mode of being. In the case of the gnostic . . ., the Active Imagination serves the himma which, by its concentration, is capable of creating objects, of producing changes in the outside world . . . When in contemplating an image, an icon, others recognize and perceive as a divine image the vision beheld by the artist who created the image, it is because of the spiritual creativity, the himma which the artist put into his work. Here we have a compelling term of comparison, by which to measure the decadence of our dreams and of our arts . .."

Well, no use no way, and comparisons are odious— and the plan we had was that all this was going to get it together and be a happy place to be in, like. But that himma shit, man, that's really my kind of people. Heart-felt...

- Robert Creeley
Photo here.

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