August 23, 2012

Henry Corbin: "To be a philosopher is to take to the road. . . "

 Henry Corbin.

"Thus every spiritual person, every mystic, is always seen as a salik, a voyager, or pilgrim (homo viator). To be a philosopher is to take to the road, never settling down in some place of satisfaction with a theory of the world, not even a place of reformation, nor of some illusory transformation of the conditions of this world. It aims for self-transformation, for the inner metamorphosis which is implied by the notion of a new or spiritual rebirth. The adventure of the mystical philosopher is essentially seen as a voyage which progresses towards the Light." - Henry Corbin, "The Voyage and the Messenger: Iran and Philosophy," Pg. 139 - 140.

Henry Corbin (14 April 1903 – 7 October 1978) was a philosopher, theologian and professor of Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.

Corbin was born in Paris in April 1903. As a boy he revealed the profound sensitivity to music so evident in his work. Although he was Protestant by birth, he was educated in the Catholic tradition and at the age of 19 received a certificate in Scholastic philosophy from the Catholic Institute of Paris. Three years later he took his "licence de philosophie" under the great Thomist Étienne Gilson. In 1928 he encountered the formidable Louis Massignon, director of Islamic studies at the Sorbonne, and it was he who introduced Corbin to the writings of Suhrawardi, the 12th century Persian mystic and philosopher whose work was to profoundly affect the course of Corbin’s life. The stage was then set for a personal drama that has deep significance for understanding those cultures whose roots lie in both ancient Greece and in the prophetic religions of the Near East reaching all the way back to Zoroaster. Years later Corbin said “through my meeting with Suhrawardi, my spiritual destiny for the passage through this world was sealed. Platonism, expressed in terms of the Zoroastrian angelology of ancient Persia, illuminated the path that I was seeking.”
From "The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World: An Introduction to the Work of Henry Corbin," by Tom Cheetham:
"Henry Corbin's immense work reveals the meditations of a man living a life in sympathy with beings. We desperately need the example of such a life, in a world where, as Kathleen Raine has said, "the idea of energy has replaced the presence of beauty." Corbin understood his primary task as a philosopher to be to aid in the salvation of the Soul, both anima humana and anima mundi, from two complementary catastrophes: imprisonment in the static and opaque Truths of dogma, and a Fall into the abyss of nihilism. He wanted to serve as midwife for a rebirth of possibilities long since abandoned by the dominant ideologies of the West.

Perhaps Corbin's greatest gift to us is the transmission of a tradition in which the principle of individuation is allied with the concept of Imagination. We are ultimately responsible for ourselves, and for making ourselves capable of our God. But more than this: the spiritual birth accomplished by the soul, for the Angel, far outstrips both the bounds of the ego and the bounds of the literal world as well. Every battle for the Angel is a Battle for the Soul of the World, for the transfiguring light that brings into being a transformed and transforming world. It is not that we must escape this world to find salvation in another, for the world too is in Exile and must be returned to Paradise. This journey of Return begins when we realize that “the other world already exists in this world.” The human vocation is to give voice to the song of this other world and so bring it into being."