March 31, 2013

Tom Cheetham - "On the edge of chaos"

"Tom Cheetham is a biologist and philosopher and the author of four books on the imagination and the meaning of Henry Corbin's work for the contemporary world. He is a Fellow of the Temenos Academy in London and Adjunct Professor of Human Ecology at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. He lectures regularly in Europe and the US."
Below is an excerpt from Tom Cheetham's book, "All The World An Icon: Henry Corbin And The Angelic Function of Beings." 2012. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California. Pg. 247-48.
In this world that we imagine, we have said that language is as much a primal element as matter, space, time, and the person. Language itself is the metaphor for the fundamental creativity at the root of all things. The creative power of language is most fully realized in poetry. If the language of the lower soul is dominated by greed and the love of power, as the Sufis and the Christian mystics say, then we should expect that the language of the higher soul would be a language dominated by poetry. I think that something like this must be true. But we can make a further claim. As kenosis is to the ego, so silence is to language. The languages of power hear the clash and clamor of the world, and engage that world with a will to understand in order to control. This is not of necessity an evil thing. We are all blessed by the results of these desires. But unbalanced, such desires run amok and threaten us all. The balance comes from acknowledging the counter-power, the embraced powerlessness of poetic language. The fountain of human creativity is the poetic basis of mind---from it comes all that we are. From that source, there flows both Sound and Silence. Poetry is language that always stays near the source and hears the coursing of that primal Silence. Poetry is born on the edge of silence and listens into and speaks out of that Void.

Corbin shared Jung's conviction that a true symbol is an expression of something essentially unknown. He wrote:
The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from rational evidence; it is a "cipher" of a mystery, the only means of saying something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never explained once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again.
The symbol mediates between our world and the immensity of the worlds beyond. We cannot know of that beyond in any other way---we are speechless in the presence of that darkness. Corbin says, "the symbol is mediator because it is silence, it speaks and does not speak; and, precisely thus, it states what it alone can speak." The function of the symbol is the function of the Angel of Revelation, and that is to be the "hermeneut of the divine silence---that is, [the] annunciation and epiphany of the impenetrable and incommunicable divine transcendence." The figure of Sophia is also exactly this mediating figure, standing on the boundary between the known and the unknowable. She is the guardian of the Fountain of Life, the Spring from which poetry and symbols flow. Corbin says:
Because she is a guide who always leads [the mystic] toward the beyond, preserving him from metaphysical idolatry, Sophia appears to him sometimes as compassionate and comforting, sometimes as severe and silent, because only Silence can "speak," can indicate transcendence.
Sophia is a manifestation of the Angel out ahead---she turns idols into icons and preserves us from idolatry. But only at a cost. The cost is that we must be forever unsettled and in exile. Any home we make is temporary. Corbin speaks of the necessity of a "perpetual hermeneutics" to combat the forces that would trap us in idolatry and the bondage of certainties. These traps are set by society and by ourselves. To avoid them we must travel light and move continually. It requires that we live on the edge of Darkness. On the edge of chaos, perhaps; at least it may often seem that way. And just as Jung showed us that we are always swimming in the unconscious no matter how conscious we may be, so too are we always idolatrous. There is always another certainty to let go of. Heroes, especially, are always idols. There is, as I imagine, only one figure who serves as the archetype of the icon, and that is Sophia as the Angel out ahead.
Visit Tom Cheetham's website, and The Legacy of Henry Corbin.