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Alone with the Alone Paperback – March 2, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

About the Author

Henry Corbin (d. 1978) was professor of Islamic relgion at the Sorbonne and director of the department of Iranic studies at the Institut franco-iranien in Tehran. His wide-ranging work included the first translations of Heidegger into French, studies in Swedenbort and Boehme, writings on the Grail and angelology, and definitive translations of and commentary on Persian Islamic/Sufi texts. He introduced us to such seminal terms as the 'imaginal' realm, ta'wil, and 'theophany' into Western psychospiritual thought. His published works include Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, and The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism.

Ralph Manheim (b. New York, 1907) was an American translator of German and French literature. His translating career began with a translation of Mein Kempf in which Manheim set out to reproduce Hitler's idiosyncratic, often grammatically aberrant style. In collaboration with John Willett, Manheim translated the works of Bertolt Brecht. The Pen/Ralph Manheim Medal for translation, inaugurated in his name, is a major lifetime achievement award in the field of translation. He himself won its predecessor, the PEN translation prize, in 1964. Manheim died in Cambridge in 1992. He was 85.

Ralph Manheim (b. New York, 1907) was an American translator of German and French literature. His translating career began with a translation of Mein Kempf in which Manheim set out to reproduce Hitler's idiosyncratic, often grammatically aberrant style. In collaboration with John Willett, Manheim translated the works of Bertolt Brecht. The Pen/Ralph Manheim Medal for translation, inaugurated in his name, is a major lifetime achievement award in the field of translation. He himself won its predecessor, the PEN translation prize, in 1964. Manheim died in Cambridge in 1992. He was 85.
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Product Details

  • Series: Bollingen Series (General)
  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 2, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691058342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691058344
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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One of the best books on esoteric Persian thought I've ever read; immensely scholarly and yet largely readable, though very rich and thick with insight in places you'll want to slow down and really absorb. (A newcomer to Ibn 'Arabi's writings, I'm reviewing this book from a depth-psychological point of view.)
If you've read my other reviews you know I'm a relentless critic of unreadable writing, much of which is symptomatic of a narcissistic unavailability better dealt with in therapy than through a publisher or fan club. Corbin is not easy to follow in places, but it's the concentration of the material that makes for more careful study--and makes more careful study worthwhile.
I was particularly moved by the image of the saddened God breathing out a sigh at being unknown, a sigh that made space for humans to reflect God back to God and thereby become the "secret treasure." Corbin's criticism of "becoming one with God" mirrors Buber's of "doctrines of absorption": both praise a dialog between person and the Divine rather than a reduction of one to the other.
Note to students of James Hillman: while many of Hillman's ideas can be found here (the heart as an organ of soulful perception, for instance), Ibn 'Arabi makes a clear, non-Hillmanic distinction between Forms (Images) of God and the ineffable true God that shines through the Forms like light through stained glass. This distinction does not exist for archetypal psychology, which collapses the archetypal image into the archetype itself and regards extra-psychic activities as outside its purview.
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I have noticed that there are a few Sunni/wahabi types who are reviewing this book and giving it low ratings. Since they have already condemned Arabi, and sufism before they have understood either, I fail to see what value their reviews could be. Instead of a critique of this book, or Arabi on their own merits, these individuals merely compare it to Shi'a Islam. Let me tell you this: if you are looking for a book to re-confirm your fundamentalist beliefs in any religion, this book, sufism and mysticism as a whole are not for you, so don't waste your time reading or reviewing these books. On the other hand, if you're the sort of individual who wishes to experience God directly, through the heart, and without the idolatrous worship of scriptural dogma and the snares of the intellect, then this book, Arabi and the works of other great sufi writers and poets are meant for you. I say this to all people, regardless of what religion they are, or if they even have a religion at all.

The only thing which might be better than reading this book, is reading Arabi himself. This is a useful introduction to a vast field, that gives a careful analysis to his ideas and therefore it is a must. I will have to re-read it, to get everything out of it and at that time I may change my rating.
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This is an important study of imagination in Ibn Arabi by a significant philosopher-Orientalist. Corbin differentiates imagination from mere "fantasy," an "exercise of thought without foundation in nature." Thus what he has in mind when speaking of imagination is quite different from what we usually associate with the term. Cosmic Imagination is the creative power that gives birth to the sensory world: God imagines the cosmos and brings it into being. Imagining is a creative act which at the Divine level is a form of genesis where God draws out existence from Himself. This view stands in contrast to creation ex nihilo, a theological view partly responsible, in Corbin's view, for the degeneration of imagination into fantasy. But it is not only God who creates through Imagination, but man as well. The God that man creates is a theophony of man's active imagination, which is merely an organ of "absolute theopanic Imagination" (takhayyl mutlaq). This is another way of saying that God imagines Himself or rather creates an image of Himself through man, and that this imagining is a part of a larger Divine Imagination. No two images of God created by mortal imagination are exactly alike.
Most of the work is based on Ibn Arabi's Fusus al-Hikam, but as Chittick has noted, determining where Ibn Arabi ends and Corbin begins is not a simple task.
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Ibn `Arabî was one of the greatest and (still) most controversial figures in the history of Islam. Familiar categories don't fit him. Philosopher, theologian, saint, mystic, Kabbalist: he was a bit like all of these but not exactly any of them. William Blake is his only close Western counterpart, but Blake was a changeling, a one-off, while Ibn `Arabî was a devout Muslim: strictly observant, given to fasting, prayer, solitary retreats, pilgrimage, immersion in the Qur`an.

He moved in a radiant atmosphere unknown to most of us; he saw visions the way other people sneeze; Qur`anic verses became spirits who protected him. His writings are poetic, recondite, startling, naïve, uncategorisable, full of Qur`anic references and dream-images (no-one had ever told his unconscious mind it was supposed to be unconscious.)

Despite his vast influence on Islam, his prodigious output is only beginning to be translated. This book is the best introduction, but requires caution. It is one of the most wonderful and exasperating books in existence: it presents ideas so exciting they make your ears pop, but in a turbid professorial style that makes reading like swimming backwards through treacle.

Corbin also approaches his subject through his own preoccupations, derived from the crisis of Western philosophy in the early 20th century: Islamic concepts of non-empirical knowledge showed him the way out of the impasse. Thus the book has been criticised as one-sided; as half Ibn `Arabî, half Corbin. Yet William Chittick's model study ("The Sufi Path of Knowledge") seems trimmed and academic beside Corbin's passionate engagement.

Here you can read of prayer that creates its object; of the mutual discovery of the Infinite and the finite; of realms of Imagination more real than material things; of angels who exist because we speak with them. This is the door to a world of wonders; prepare to be turned upside-down.
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