The World as Book

The World as a Book

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The nine photography projects inspired by my trip to Turkey were especially influenced by the illuminated Qur'ans I saw, and experienced, on the trip.  This explains in part why each of the project titles carry the subtitle:  "Double-page Illuminations for an imaginary book."  

The texts below should clarify the idea of an imaginary book has a connection to the Qur'anic tradition of the Hidden or Guarded or Preserved or Eternal Tablet upon which God is said to have written all of creation, and that everything on the earthly plane is  a reflection of the archetypal paradisal world.   It then follows that everything on earth is a sacred symbol of the paradisal world, and indeed is itself a form of Divinity 

I treasure the idea that my imaginary book is in some subtle way related to the Hidden Tablet and the Divine hierarchy as such.  This requires an in-depth study and understanding of the significance of imagination in the intellectual, religious and art traditions of Islam.  I will include below some quotes from my webpage dedicated to scholarly writings on "Imagination," but I encourage you to visit the whole page:  Imagination.


The following quotes are taken from my web page: 

The World as a Book
From Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam by Samer Akkach  click here
A popular treatise on the meanings of the Quran's opening chapter opens by saying "Praise be to God who externalized from the nun (ink well) what he internalized in the Pen, and brought out into being by benevolence what he treasured in non-Being . . .  And glory to him who . . . unrolled the parchment of the world and inscribed the archetypal book by the ink of existence, which manifests all that is latent within the speaker in the form of letters and perfect words."

The metaphor of the world as a book is common in premodern Islam.  The Quranic imageries of the pen, the ink-well of nun, and the divine act of writing provide the basic conceptual tools used by Sufis and other theologians in the development of their metaphorical interpretations.  The concepts of the "Pen" and the "Preserved Tablet", the analogy of the trees as pens and the seas as ink, of the word as a tree, and so on, form the foundation of the alphabetical symbolism of Islam.

In the parallels Sufis draw between the world and the Quran, letters and words acquire individual presences just as other beings do.  

Note: I highly recommend Samer akkach's book, which is available online as a pdf for free  (click here).


The Vision of the Universe as A Vast Book
From Knowledge and the Sacred by Seyyed Hossein Nasr  click here
Sacred knowledge is based in the language of symbolism.  In traditions based upon a sacred scripture the cosmos reveals its meaning as a vast book whose pages are replete with the words of the Author and possesses multiple levels of meaning.  This perspective is to be found in Judaism and Islam where the eternal Torah and the Qur'an are seen as prototypes of both the revealed book and that other grand book or virgin nature which reflects God's primordial revelation. 

In Islam the correspondence between man, the cosmos, and the sacred book is central to the whole religion.  The sacred book of Islam is the written or composed Quran as well as the cosmic Quran ("The Hidden Tablet").  Its verses are called ayat which means also signs or symbols to which the Quran itself refers in the verse "We shall show them our portents upon the horizon and within themselves, until it be manifest unto them that it is the truth."  The ayat are the Divine Words and Letters which comprise at once the elements of the Divine Book, the macrocosmic world and the inner being of man.  The ayat manifest themselves in the Holy Book, the horizons or the heavens and earth and the soul of man.  


The Universe, symbolized by a Book 
From The Symbolism of the Cross by Rene guenon 
In certain tradtions the Universe itself is sometimes symbolized by a book.  On this symbolism of the book, the following passage from Ibn-Al'Arabi [referring here to the Qur'anmay be quoted: "The Universe is a vast book; the characters of this book are all written, in principle, with the same ink and transcribed on to the eternal Tablet by the Divine Pen; all are transcribed simultaneously and inseparably; for that reason the essential phenomena hidden in the 'secret of secrets' were given the name of 'transcendent letters'.  And these same transcendent letters, that is to say all creatures, after having being virtually condensed in the Divine Omniscience, were carried down on the Divine Breath to the lower lines, and composed and formed the manifested Universe." 


The Seen and the Unseen
From Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam by Samer Akkach  click here
The Quran uses many tangible examples from the seen to explain or describe matters of the unseen:

"If all trees in the earth were pens, and if the sea eked out 
by seven seas more were ink, the words of God could not be 
written out to the end." (31:27)  

"Do you not see how God cites a symbol: 

a good word as a good tree, its root set firm  

and its branches in heaven." (14:24)

In the first example the incomprehensible infinity of God’s words is brought closer to human understanding by using the analogy of trees and seas as pens and ink.  In the second, the verse relates “a good word” to “a good tree,” so that we may understand the nature of the divine word by means of the given description of the tree.   Religious understanding of spiritual realities hinges on the efficacy of such analogies, and symbolic reasoning relies on and promotes similar modes of thinking.  In constructing ties between the divine and human modes of existence, analogical reasoning operates in the paradoxical space that lies in between the contrasting dimensions of analogy: tashbih and tanzih, “likeness” and “transcendence.”


Ta'wil, Imagination, and The World as a Divine Book
Tom Cheetham:   The World Turned Inside Out  Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism
Ta'wil is a kind of meditative, imaginative thinking that proceeds by means of images, not concepts. 

Everything depends upon the interiorization and true interpretation of Revelation.  And this in turn depends upon the cosmic correspondences revealed by the science of the Balance.  Visible reality has its complement, its completion, in the other world.  Ta'wil must be understood as half of a pair: Ta'wil - Tanzil.

"Tanzil properly designates positive religion, the letter of the
Revelation dictated to the Prophet by the Angel.  It is to cause
the descent of this Revelation from the higher world.  Ta'wil
is, etymologically and inversely, to cause to return, to lead
back, to restore to one's origin and to the place where one 
comes home, consequently to return to the true and original
meaning of a text."  [Corbin, Avicenna]

Our presence is a dim reflection of the Angel, and poetic metaphor derives its truth and its energy from the levels of meaning and the correspondences within a world perceived as symbol,  from the powers of the Angels to draw beings upward: from the Desire of the Soul of the World.  Ta'wil applies not only to reading the text of a Book, but to the interpretation of the cosmic text as well, since the Cosmos itself is the Primordial Revelation.  The idea of the world as itself a divine Book is central to Islamic cosmology.

Note: the quote above is taken from my webpage dedicated to excerpts about imagination.  For many text excerpts on this subject please visit:  Imagination  


Related links:

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.