The Visionary Recital

The Visionary Recital 
     Text excerpts from the following books:
Henry Corbin        
     Avicenna and the Visionary Recital  1954/1980

Tom Cheetham    
     The world Turned Inside Out  Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism  2003
     Green Man Earth Angel The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World  2005
     After Prophesy  2007
     All the World An Icon Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings  2012

Note:  Avincenna (born in Persia, 980-1037 CE, known in the West as Ibn Sina), an intellectual giant and Sufi mystic, was one of the most important figures in the history of Islamic thought.  He, and another important intellectual and mystic, Suhrawardi (Iran-Persian, 1155-1191) wrote what Corbin called Visionary Recitals, which profoundly influenced Corbin's early work.  Avicenna and the Visionary Recital was one of the more important early books by Corbin. ~~  Tom Cheetham's four books explore the implications of Corbin's work for the contemporary world.  The excerpts I have provided below from his books pertain particularly to the Corbin's ideas about the Visionary Recital.  Please visit my Epilogue to "An Imaginary Book"  entitled  "Personal Visionary Stories"

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Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
Imago : Image of one's own world
Avicenna's recitals . . . show us the repository of the Image that the man Avicenna carries in himself, as each of us also carries his own.  The Image in question is . . . an Image that precedes all perception, an a priori expressing the deepest being of the person, what depth psychology calls an Imago.  Each of us carries in himself the Image of his own world, his Imago mundi, and projects it into a more or less coherent universe, which becomes the stage on which his destiny is played out.  He may not be conscious of it . . .

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Soul ~ The Angel ~ The Individuated Person
. . . The soul reveals all the presences that have always inhabited it without its being aware of them.  It reveals its secret; it contemplates itself and tells the story of itself as in search of its kindred . . .  The Angel individuates himself under the features of a definite person . . . It is through the integration of all its powers that the soul opens itself to the transconscious and anticipates its own totality.  This totality can be expressed only in a symbol.  . . . He who practices ta'wil is the one who turns his speech from the external form towards the inner . . . hidden Reality, to the esoteric truth, with which it symbolizes.

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The symbol is not an artificially constructed sign; it flowers in the soul spontaneously to announce something that cannot be expressed otherwise; it is the unique expression of the thing symbolized as of a reality that thus becomes transparent to the soul, but which in itself transcends all expression.

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
A Totality Dual in Structure
The soul discovers itself to be the earthly counterpart of another being with which it forms a totality that is dual in structure.  The two elements of this dualitude may be called the ego and the Self, or the transcendent celestial Self and the earthly Self.  It is from this transcendent Self that the soul originates in the past of metahistory; this Self had become strange to it while the soul slumbered in the world of ordinary consciousness;  but ceases to be strange to it at the moment when the soul in turn feels itself a stranger in this world.  This is why the soul requires an absolutely individual expression of this Self

The Self is the heavenly counterpart of a pair made up of an angel appointed to govern a body, and of an angel retaining his abode in heaven.  . . . It corresponds to a fundamental gnostic intuition, which in every relation individualizes the Holy Spirit into an individual Spirit, who is the celestial paredros of the human being, its guardian angel, guide and companion, helper and savior.

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Visionary Recital & Ta'wil 
The text of the recital [a photographic image] is itself a ta'wil [interpretation] of the psychic Event; it is the way in which that Event was understood by the soul that experienced it, the way in which the soul understood the sensible or imaginable context of the Event by transmuting it into symbols; it shows who was led back to his origin, and thereby to whom he was led back.  

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Event of a recital : An Encounter with its own Archetypal Image
The Event of the Avicennan recitals was an exodus from this world, the encounter with the Angel and with the world of the Angel.  For the Event to be expressed in its truth--that is, for its expression to restore consciousness of self as that of a stranger in the world into which the soul has been cast, and at the same time as an awakening to a celestial kinship and origin--this Event could not but be visualized and configurated in a symbol that was its eminently individual expression. . . . What the soul suddenly visualizes is its own archetypal Image, that Image whose imprint it simultaneously bears within it, projects, and recognizes outside of itself. . . . 

The culminating point of a spiritual experience [is that] in which the soul attains not only to consciousness and realization of itself, but is set in the presence of the Self to which it addresses itself and to which it can give many names.  And this is an initiation that can be given and related only in symbols.  It is the soul's own story; it can tell it only in the first person.

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Imaginal World  
An intermediary universe having its own existence, this world of symbol or of archetypal Images . . . is the the world of the Imaginable, that of the Angels-Souls who move the heavens and who are endowed not with sensible organs but with pure active Imagination.  As a universe "in which spirits are corporealized and bodies spiritualized," it is pre-eminenty the universe of the ta'wil, the "place" of our visionary recitals.  From henceforth the soul is committed to the exodus [from the ordinary world in which the soul feels itself held captive]  . . .  into the Orient . . .  that is, the soul's return to its "home" under the conduct of its Guide, its celestial Self.

For changing the appearances of things, walking on water, etc. . . . all falls in the category of events as taking place in the "intermediate Orient."  In other words, [the recitals] are psychic events whose scene and action are set in neither the sensible nor the intelligible worlds, but in the intermediate world of the Imaginable, or the world of symbol and of typifications, the place of all visionary recitals.  Now, this world is also called bazakh an interval extending between the intelligible and the sensible.  It is the wold "in which spirits are corporealized and bodies spiritualized."

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
A Mental ascent through a world of Symbols
[The Avicenna Visionary Recital is . . .] on the same road as that taken by the Prophet on his Mi'raj [night journey] with Gabriel, who is also the Holy Spirit and the Active Intelligence  . . .   We can recognize the same stages . . .  a mental ascent through a world of symbols secreted and perceived by itself, the soul begins by producing its own symbol.  It apprehends itself under a figure that permits it to perform its own ta'wil, and this symbol will remain incomprehnsible to any but itself . . .  [The Recital's] first source and its final "explanation" are Avicenna himself and his own inner experience.  

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Paradoxical Mystery of The Self 
[Here Corbin is commenting on Attar's recital "The Flight of the Birds to Union"] What each of the birds found at the end of its long and painful quest, what was revealed to it, is the mystery of its own Self: a Self that overflows its terrestrial and exiled ego, its little empirical and conscious ego, a Self that is its whole being, so near and yet so distant, so much it and yet so much another that to meet it is to experience the joy of being two in one.  The reciprocity that flowers in the mystery of this divine depth cannot be expressed save by a symbol such as the Simurgh, which portrays in a primordial Image this same relation with his God that the mystic can utter, if he attempts to do so, only in formulas that look paradoxical. 

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Symbol and Transmutation
The symbol is mediator because it is silence, it speaks and does not speak; and, precisely thus, it states what it alone can speak.  If one undertakes to achieve its meaning once and for all . . . nothing is left but pallid "allegories."  The Avicenna doctrine teaches that the human intellect does not perform abstractions, but receives the illumination of the Angel.  For the soul, it is a question of at once undergoing and performing a transmutation.

The event perceived is transmuted by the mode of perception that leads it back (ta'wil) to the higher plane on which, spiritually understood--that is, transmuted into symbol--the Event then "occurs" spiritually. . .  In this sense it is in truth not an ordinary external event, but the Event of the Soul, which, by comprehending it, lives it and makes it its own.  . . . It is only then that the soul attains the configuration and the vision of its most personal symbol, the central symbol of the Self, which is not knowable in any other way . . .

Tom Cheetham
Corbin's Visionary Recital 

Tom Cheetham: The world Turned Inside Out  Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism  2003
The daring of Avicenna and living in the all-encompassing world view of Islam was to become conscious, to step to the edge of the cosmos in order to free one's self from exile in that cosmos conceived as exterior to the soul, the cosmos of "rational constructions."  

"The idea of integration of the ego with its Self becomes the recital of an Event that  . . . is real to the highest degree . . .  The Self . . . is, "in person," the heavenly counterpart of a pair or a syzgy made up of a fallen angel, or an angel appointed to govern a body, and of an angel retaining his abode in heaven . . .  This [syzgy] individualizes the Holy Spirit into an individual Spirit, who is the celestial paredoros of the human being, its guardian angel, guide and companion, helper and savior."  [Henry Corbin] 


Tom Cheetham: Green Man Earth Angel The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World  2005
Avicenna championed the Platonic and neo-Platonic cosmology.  To the defeat of that cosmology is coupled the disappearance of the anima mundi, the Soul of the World.  The catastrophic event that gave rise to modernity is the loss of the soul of the World.

Through the agency of the the active imagination we have access to an intermediate realm of subtle bodies, or real presences, situated between the sensible world and the intelligible.  This is the realm of the anima mundi.   . . . Corbin called this the mundus imaginalis, the imaginal world.  . . . On Corbin's view, all the the dualisms of the modern world stem from the loss of the mundus imaginalis: matter is cut off from spirit, sensation from intellection, subject from object, inner from outer, myth from history, the individual from the divine. 

The language of poetry is as close as we can get to the language of the angels.  It is a language of images, of imagination.  And the imagination is central to the psycho-cosmology that Corbin describes in the Sufisim of Ibn 'Arabi and in Shi'ism.  Nature itself speaks, and it takes a special kind of attention to hear it.  On Corbin's view the most crucial event in the long history . . . was the loss of . . . the angelic hierarchies of Avicenna . . . that 
had provided the connection between the individual and the divine.  The loss of the intermediate world of the Imagination that they inhabit, of the real, of the imaginal, occasioned all the schism that split the West: religion and philosophy, thought and being, intellect and ethics, God and the individual. 

The Quran's sura XVIII is the meeting between Moses and Khidr.  Khidr is a mysterious figure who acts as Moses' Guide and initiator into the secret meanings of the Law and of the world.  He is the archetypal hermeneut whose speech is the lost poetry of Creation. . .  Khidr is the personal Guide, and Corbin says, . . . the inner Guide of each person, the celestial Anthropos and Angel of Humanity whose appearance to every person is each time unique.


Tom Cheetham:  After Prophesy  2007
Corbin was master of the thought of the heart, of the recit, the visionary recital.  The recit, as he intends the term, is the archetypal personal narrative.  The ability to recite the event of the soul guarantees each of us our individuality.  The paradigmatic exampls for Corbin are the recitals of Suhrawardi and Avicnenna.  

The recitals . . . are in fact the culmination, the summit of the imaginative universe that the rational mind has produced.  Corbin says "By substituting a dramaturgy for cosmology, the recitals guarantee the genuineness of this universe."  The recital is not a fiction, it is not an objective history of facts, and it is not an allegory, in which personified figures stand for abstract concepts.  It is "the soul's own story . . . The soul can tell it only in the first person."  . . .  At the heart of reality is the Person--concrete and individual, and  "for each one unique."  The Event of the soul that the recital displays turns the schema of the world inside out":  ". . . psychic energy performs the transmutation of the . . . cosmic text--into a constellation of symbols.  . . . What the soul suddenly visualizes is its own archetypal Image, that Image whose imprint it simultaneously bears within it, projects, and recognizes outside itself." Henry Corbin

The recitals are the track of the exodus of the soul from estrangement and disorientation and towards its Orient, its celestial origin--towards the Face of the Angel.  . . . This is the meaning of Oriental philosophy . . .   The goal of philosophical contemplation is finally to bring us Home--to ourselves and to a world come alive with meaning and with the light of Heaven.

The goal of the spiritual Quest is to make the world our own.  . . . Corbin has shown us that theophanic prayer is creative--it is a means of bringing into being the Angelic countenance whose Face is actualized by our act of Imagination--and precisely because this Imagination is a divine, personal, personified gift, whose powers only we can exercise.  

We are necessary partners in this creative, intimate, personal relationship with the transcendent.  The bond with the Angel requires everything from us.  . . . The power of the creative imagination, the gift of Gabriel, the Angel Holy Spirit, enable each of us, if we consent, to give birth to the Angel, whose grace allows us to see all the world as an icon.  For we give birth not only to God, but to the world itself, transfigured in the light of a personal vision.

Corbin's life work is a prolonged and profound meditation on the power of the image in the service of the individual.  A primary means by which imagination becomes embodied is language--through poetry and story.  The visionary recital is an exalted species of the same genus as the humblest poem, novel, play, or story.  And all are conscious manifestations of the continuous current of imaginings that are the substance of conscious and unconscious life.  

It is the great challenge of human existence to find an entry into the stream of life--to find the myth we are living, the story that is ours, the world that is ours to inhabit.  It lies within the power of the recit to make us present and open to Things, to other people, and to the Angel.  It is the Lost Speech of the spirit, without which we are doomed.  Suhrawadi says that the Spirit is a being of Light that shines in the mind.  When this light wavers, we are consumed with melancholy and the energies of life wane.  Yet even such despair is a form of presence, transformable, redeemable by the imagination.  All of life can be transformed in the presence of the figure of the unknowable Guide, who offers the possibility of seeking the true Self, the Face we had before the world was made.  The supreme paradox is this: you cannot know who you are without opening to the darkness of the unknown.  You cannot be present in the fullest sense until you are able to follow the fearsome Angel leading you on into the dark.  You must learn to live with the unknown in front of you . . .


Tom Cheetham:  All the World An Icon Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings  2012
"Each of us carries in himself the Image of his own world, his Imagio Mundi, and projects it into a more or less coherent universe, which becomes the stage on which his destiny is played out. . . " Henry Corbin   Philosophy, and indeed rational thought of any sort, only reaches its proper culmination in a "rupture" of plane, a profound event of the soul--the soul's own projection of its own inmost reality.  The world is our projection, and to become conscious of this and to realize the symbolic and "personal" nature of reality allows us to escape the bondage that so-called objective truths can impose.  . . . Corbin believed that any philosophical or theological system, if it is to fulfill its profoundest human potential, must culminate in a personal revelation--a rebirth of the individual through coming to full consciousness of the soul's relation to the cosmos, a relation that breaks the bounds of any rational system.

When philosophy turns to poetry, then we are on track toward our personal truth.  This is the significance of the "short spiritual romances" that Corbin calls "recitals" in the works of Avicenna and Suhrawardi.  They reveal the personal truth of what was previously projected as an objective reality.  

These stories are not allegories. . . They are symbols, and symbols by their very nature are openings onto mystery that can never be wholly explained and can never be exhausted.  They are the face of an immense mystery that cannot be understood but only encountered and lived. . . And that is why Corbin chose the term recite--they are first person narratives that re-cite events that actually occurred.  It is hardly coincidental that when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad he commanded him to "Recite!"  This is the meaning of the Arabic world Qur'an.

The recitals are the record of the opening of an inner world that reveals the transcendent individuality of the human person.  Corbin says of Avicenna's recitals that they reveal a spiritual universe:  ". . .the repository of an Image that the man Avicenna carries in himself, as each of us also carries his own. . . it is an Image that precedes all perception, an a priori expressing the deepest being of the person, what depth psychology calls an Imago."

We are all captives of our own unconsciousness, and the constraints and obsessions that bind us, drive us, and prevent us from realizing our freedom and individuality are largely imposed on us by our blindness.  So long as we are opaque to ourselves we will be unable to see the light shining through all things.  As always, Corbin is concerned with transforming the persons and things of this world into icons . . .

"Ultimately what we call physis and the physical is but the reflection of the world of the Soul; there is no pure physics, but always the physics of some definite psychic activity." Henry Corbin 

Prisoners in Exile :  Strangers
We are prisoners  in exile in the literal world, the world of idols and violence.  That is the world that must be transcended . . . in the soul of individuals who have escaped from prison by becoming conscious of the nature of the trap. 

By positing the individual person as "the first and final reality" in whom any Image of the world is born, Corbin's "gnostic" vision establishes a psycho-cosmology in which the soul must be a Stranger in any literally conceived and exoteric world.  It is the person and the person's interpretation of the world that have ontological, epistemological, and spiritual priority.  The person is not in the world--the world is in the person.  

The [Stranger's] feeling of estrangement is at the same time a longing for home.  The Stranger is by definition a figure seeking to return.  [ta'wil]  This implies "a kinship with divinity, with celestial beings, forms of light and beauty, which for the Gnostic are his true family. . . . Hence the soul must find the way of Return.  That way is Gnosis, and on that way it needs a Guide."  Henry Corbin 

As we have seen, the soul is a dual structure with an earthly and a celestial portion. . . . This duality "corresponds to a fundamental gnostic intuition, which in every relation individualizes the Holy Spirit into an individual Spirit, who is the celestial paredros of the human being, its guardian angel and companion, helper and savior." Henry Corbin 

Once the Guide has appeared, the return can begin, but the itinerary varies . . . The nostalgia and the desire that the earthly soul feels toward its Celestial Twin is the energy of salvation.  To leave this world is to discover one's status as Stranger and to become instead a stranger to the world of metaphors that were taken for literal reality.  Corbin uses the word in its root meaning: meta-phor, "to carry over."  What has been understood as reality can then be seen for what it truly is: metaphor for the truly Real.  Exodus reveals the world as all meta-phor.  The crypt of the literal opens to the freedom and the individuality of the symbolic.  

"The most characteristic mental operation of all our Spirituals, Sufis,  . . . ta'wil or spiritual exegesis [interpretation] . . . consists in "bringing back," recalling, returning to its origin, not only the text of a book, but also the cosmic context in which the soul is imprisoned.  The soul must free this context, and free itself from it, by transmuting it into symbols.  This transmutation will be the Event of our recitals." Henry Corbin 

Symbol & Ta'wil
"The symbol is not an artificially constructed sign: it flowers in the soul spontaneously to announce something that cannot be expressed otherwise.  It is the unique expression of the thing symbolized as of a reality that thus becomes transparent to the soul, but which itself transcends all expression." Henry Corbin 

To come to truly grasp the symbolic nature of the text [or image, or perception of a world event or psychic event, etc.]  requires a spontaneous flowering of the meaning of the symbol that can only happen to the individual--it is an inner event and may be different for each person.  The direct experience of the symbolic meaning of a text or an event in the world is always powerful, even shattering, since it raises the soul to another level.  It changes one's mode of being.  One can prepare for this experience, but it cannot be coerced--it requires a Guide.  This is a ta'wil that is always individual and individuating, and it is this that releases the soul from bondage.

The recital is a ta'wil and is neither a story nor an allegory--it is initiation that can only be expressed in symbols and can only be told in the first person.  That is why "the ta'wil of texts supposes the ta'wil of the soul."  Ta'wil is not an intellectual exercise, but a spiritual enactment of mode of being. 

"The soul takes its departure, accomplishes the ta'wil of its true being, by basing itself on a text--the text of a book or cosmic text [experience in the world] which its effort will carry to a transmutation, raise to the rank of a real, but inner and psychic Event." Henry Corbin

The Event that the recital re-cites is an exodus from the world and an encounter with the Angel, by means of which the soul is brought back to its own truth, back to its own Image.  
This Event "carries us to the utmost limit of the world; at this limit the cosmos yields before the soul, it can no longer escape being interiorized by the soul, being integrated with it   . . .  What the soul suddenly visualizes is its own archetypal Image, the Image whose imprint it simultaneously bears within it, projects, and recognizes outside itself."  Henry Corbin

The mode of being, the mode of consciousness that the Event heralds exists in a real sense in "another world," the world of the Orient.  This consciousness "permits the perception of beings and things in their person--that is, as thought by a person . . .  This was the great aspiration of the Oriental philosophy [of Suhrawardi]: to perceive things, to encounter things, in their "Orient."  Henry Corbin

And this very aspiration, this longing and nostalgia, constitute and bring into being an intermediary universe, a world of archetypal personal figures, the world of the Imagination.   This world . . . which Corbin names the imaginal world, "is pre-eminently the universe of the ta'wil, the 'place' of our visionary recitals." Henry Corbin

Divine Light : Incandescence : the Creative Consciousness of the Poet, the Artist 
Corbin's thought is characterized throughout by a passion for the divine light.  . . . The features of a celestial Person "shine through all reality."  Corbin finds . . . this universal light "neither of the East nor of the West" in the Qur'an

"God is the light of the heavens and the earth.  The semblance of His light is that of a niche in which is a lamp, the flame within a glass, the glass a glittering star as it were, lit with the oil of a blessed tree, the olive, neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil appears to light up even though fire touches it not, --light upon light." (24:35)

This same light illuminates the human soul.  It comes to us from the Angels of the right who are known in the Qur'an as the Guardians.  The Guardians are paired with the Nobel Scribes.  They are symbols of the two faces of the soul.  Corbin writes: "In Avicennan terms, the contemplative intellect . . . is ordained to the illumination that it receives from the Angel, but this illumination . . . is also the very same light of which it is itself made . . . Thus it is its own light that grows more intense, its own being that is progressively brought to incandescence." Henry Corbin

The dictation of the contemplative soul, itself raised to incandescence, is driven by the energy of desire for the Angel of its own perfection.  The face of the soul symbolized by the Noble Scribes responds to this dictation by creating.  The phenomenology and hermeneutics of the angelic consciousness are, with this closure of the circle, identical to that of the creative consciousness of the poet, the artist, the scientist, the musician, the philosopher, the Lover. 

The Intermediate World : Between Waking and Sleeping
Corbin considers the narratives [the recitals of Avicenna and Suhrawardi and Ibn 'Arabi] to be accounts of events in the imaginal world.  They would have occurred in a state intermediate between waking and sleeping.  That is the particular interworld, or barzakh, where such visions are most likely to occur. "For changing the appearance of things, walking on water, etc. . . . whose scene and action are set in neither the sensible nor the intelligible worlds, but in the intermediate world of the Imaginable . . . the world of the symbol and typifications is the place of all spiritual recitals."  Henry Corbin

The entire narrative, an account of an inner journey, is an event of salvation.  It is how the soul is led by the Angel toward its true home.  Corbin writes:  "Each angel draws to himself the loving Soul that has issued from him" and "the Active Intelligence draws from the 'Occident' to the 'Orient' the souls that have issued from it."  This is why Knowledge is gnosis and "the fruit of angelic pedagogy."  

Salvation through knowledge is neither the result of a divine incarnation (Christ), nor of the Prophetic message of a Law.  It is rather "a sort of inward epiphany, in the heart and the intelligence, of a Form and figure of beauty and light who invests and draws the entire soul, and in who the soul recognizes its origin and end, because he is the absolute individuation of its relation to the divine, and because he is in person the Image of its superhumanity, the companion of its eternity."  Henry Corbin

Related Links:

Intuition, Correspondence, Contemplation, Symbol

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Ta'wil  chapter VII of "An Imaginary Book"

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