"...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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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who was Sunsiaré?

Anyone who has seen the Cahier de l'Herne volume devoted to Henry Corbin will have doubtless wondered about the woman in this striking photo. We have the answer to the puzzle of her identity thanks to the excellent Jean Moncelon here (in French) who brings the work of d'Azay to our attention. I paraphrase from portions of Moncelon's account:

Sunsiaré de Larcône

For years, this singular photo of the author of The Messenger, published in the Cahier de l'Herne volume devoted to Henry Corbin in 1981, posed an enigma, the caption giving only a first name and a date: "1961, Sunsiaré in conversation about the title of her novel, The Messenger."

What face was concealed behind the blonde hair of this remarkably attractive young woman who seemed to captivate Henry Corbin? And who was this mysterious Sunsiaré, author of a single novel, whose title had provoked the curiosity of the Orientalist? The novel itself could easily enough be read, but the biography of its author remained unknown, except that Sunsiaré died in a car accident, along with Roger Nimier, at the age of 27.

The answer comes from the investigative work of Lucien d'Azay in his book Seeking Sunsiaré, Gallimard, 2005. According to Gilbert Durand in a letter sent to the author, the meeting with Corbin was in 1962, the year of her death:

"In the spring of 1962 in Paris (in a UNESCO hall that [Roger] Caillois lent us, I think) during my lecture to the « Société du Symbolisme » I saw a beautiful couple in the front of the audience smiling at me... At the intermission they came up and Sunsiaré said: "Sir, you'll hear a lecture - that of Abellio [presumably Raymond Abellio - TC] - the most intelligent man I know." I was the one who, despite many inner reservations, had invited the mage of Gallimard ... We chatted a bit, and since she presented herself as an "orientalist" taking a course from Henry Corbin at the EPHE, I asked them for some information on the "Muslim rosary." She told me to contact Corbin who was to become my "master" for the next fifteen years. She was indeed the "Messenger." Two years later Corbin led me into the prestigious Eranos circle that I attended religiously for a quarter of a century."

In connection with Corbin, and because the reference to Swedenborg seems particularly appropriate [Balzac was influenced by Swedenborg; see the link below - TC] , among the many stories of Sunsiaré recounted by d'Azay, we note that of Laszlo Szabo: "She always seemed happy, but this was only an appearance. A journey, not an apparition ... An angel, blazing like a phoenix. One would say a Seraphitus Seraphita from Balzac. She falls upward - towards the heavens," he concluded with a rising gesture.

[It is worth mentioning that Corbin closes "Cyclical Time in Mazaism and Ismaili Gnosis" (Eranos, 1951) with lines from another early work by Balzac heavily influenced by Swedenborg, Louis Lambert : "Resurrection is accomplished by the wind of heaven that sweeps the worlds. The Angel carried by the wind does not say: Arise ye Dead! He says: Let the living arise!" (p. 145 of the 1889 English edition, here).]

- Our thanks to Jean Moncelon

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