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on April 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
We can get a clear introductory sense of Cheetham's thesis and arguments in this book from the "Back Cover":
"Green Man, Earth Angel explores the central role of imagination for understanding the place of humans in the cosmos. Tom Cheetham suggests that lives can only be completely whole if human beings come to recognize that the human and natural worlds are part of a vast living network and that the material and spiritual worlds are deeply interconnected. Central to this reimagining is an examination of the place of language in human life and art and in the worldview that the prophetic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--presuppose. If human language is experienced only as a subset of a vastly more-than-human whole, then it is not only humans who speak, but also God and the world with all its creatures. If humans' internal poetry and creative imaginations are part of a greater conversation, then language can have the vital power to transform the human soul, and the soul of the world itself."
While there are many ways to review a book, within the discipline of hermeneutics two ways to understand a text are brought into focus by Gadamer:
"The real meaning of a text as it addresses the interpreter does not just depend on the occasional factors which characterizer the author .... [I]t is always co-determined by the historical situation of the interpreter and thus by the whole course of history.... The meaning of a text surpasses its author not occasionally, but always. Thus understanding is not a reproductive procedure, but rather always also a productive one." [Gadamer, H. G. (1977). Philosophical Hermeneutics. (L. E. David, Ed., & L. E. David, Trans.) Berkeley: University of California Press. P. xxv.]
In distinguishing reproductive understanding from productive understanding, Gadamer is making the point that one way to understand a text is to attempt to enter the mind of the author, to get what she really means and then reproduce that meaning. Reproductive understanding could also be called canonical understanding. For example, Henri Corbin is generally accepted as a preeminent scholar and interpreter of Islamic mysticism, so that if we want to know what Islamic mysticism and, say, Mundus Imaginalis is all about, then we study Corbin as perhaps the ultimate Western authority. The effort to understand the author's mind and the subsequent scholarly disputes must depend on a rich in-depth knowledge of the author's work, the secondary literature and, as well, the historical life of shared meanings available through the language at the time of writing the particular text under examination.
So, for example, when Robert Sardello, in his foreword, tells us that:
"Hillman's interpretation of the Mundus Imaginalis is a misinterpretation. Cheetham's teasing out of all the exact quotations from Corbin that establish the clear difference between Shadow and Luminous Darkness constitutes one of the scholarly delights of this book that frees us enough from Jung to be appreciative of his efforts while reorienting the search that archetypal longing pulls us into." (P. xiii)
there can be no doubt that Sardello, a long-time colleague and friend of Hillman's, and student of Henri Corbin, is speaking as an authority on Hillman and Corbin. He and Cheetham are seeking to carve out a theoretical territory for themselves by seeking canonical or reproductive understanding, as a basis for rejecting the thought of others, here Hillman's, and later, Wolfgang Giegerich's. Such moves attempt to establish authority in a field (here the field of imagination studies), at a time when battles among authorities seem to be reducing all authority to rubble, in order to get a toe-hold in the "narratives" of our time and thus to advance their cause of valorizing "the central role of imagination for understanding the place of humans in the cosmos." No doubt each author is guided in this effort by his allegiance to Corbin's startling analysis of our times as being a double catastrophe in which we have both lost the keys to the kingdom (which is still an ontology rooted in the imagination) and lost the memory of that loss (so that the original loss is no longer felt as a loss but now instead feels normal)!
So, Cheetham and Sardello join the battle for the Soul of the World, as the book's sub-title suggests.
I certainly have no problem with hermeneutical efforts to understand other writers' minds in order to carve out theoretical territory but one must be careful in doing so. The risk is that such interpreters can occasionally step outside their limits of competence in their zeal to establish territory for their own position.
I found myself thinking along these lines when I read Cheetham's treatment of Wolfgang Giegerich's contributions to "matters of soul" in the modern age, particularly the meaning of the Incarnation. After dwelling with Giegerich's thought for a while, Cheetham concludes that:
"We must learn to see, Giegerich says, that humanism, freedom, individuality, and inferiority are the "untruth of the West." We are bound by destiny, by the new truth of Being which technology inaugurates, and our only redemption lies in giving ourselves over wholly to this new ontology, this more-than-human power that will sweep us along in its wake whether we will it or not. We have viewed the world of technology as a secular realm only because we have tried to deny its sacred power--the power of the one God among us--and we can be saved only by accepting the fact that for us, technology is God. 'The nuclear Bomb is God.'"
"One can imagine Corbin's horror, were he to hear this account. This is just the catastrophe he feared, just what the failed initiation [my italics] could produce, just what one could expect from a fana of God into the world. The perils of the Incarnation include just this divinization of the human. Corbin saw that the doctrine of the God-Man can go wrong in precisely this way, so that the two natures of Christ collapse together, and in a monstrous inversion of the monophysite doctrine, Man sets himself up as God on Earth. Corbin would say that Giegerich has read the Judeo-Christian story from the point of view of the dominant tradition. By doing so, he has been able to show us what this tradition has done. But it has also led him into the errors of that tradition. Importantly, he misunderstands the imaginal. His interpretation of the "image" as well as his use of imaginal, differ essentially from Corbin's. In Corbin's theophanic cosmology, "image" always implies an interplay between immanence and transcendence; that is what guarantees the angelic function of beings and prevents idolatry. Giegerich views the origins of monotheism through the lens ground by the very technicians whose worldview is the result of the failed initiation. So he cannot understand the true meaning of theophany and of the imaginal. Thus, Giegerich reads a modern disaster back into the rift between the Greek and the Hebrew."
I became very curious about Cheetham's notion of "failed initiation" which, he claims, comprises the "background" to Giegerich's arguments and conclusions, leading him (i.e., Giegerich according to Cheetham) into a fatal hermeneutic error (failure to recognize his own horizons of understanding in his reading of historical texts).
Cheetham's notion of a failed initiation can be found in his chapter: "In Vagabondage and Perdition" where he writes of the philosophical tradition of the Christian West as being the theatre for the "battle for the Soul of the World". He acknowledges that this is a battle that we have largely lost and cites Corbin who notes that the pivotal historical events in this largely lost battle concern the interpretation (i.e., hermeneutics) of the doctrine of the Incarnation. Cheetham goes on to describe those pivotal historical events, a description whose general contours could scarcely be denied by any serious student of history:
"If God is dead then man is master. The human subject claims the vertiginous freedom to be the source of all values. ... It signals the end of mystery, the rending of the veils, the destruction of the cosmic Temple, the death of the Soul. What is an experience of the Abyss from the point of view of the human soul, is, from the point of view of the Divinity, so to speak, the collapse of God into history. ... The entry of God materially, wholly, and substantially into historical, material, and public time and space is the archetypal act of secularization." (P 74)
Cheetham goes on to drive the nail home:
"... God collapses into history. And seeing all of Western history encapsulated in this momentous event, Corbin argues that this "is the very same situation with which the West came face to face when Nietzsche cried out: 'God is dead.'" In this momentous failure, the West finally lost its celestial Pole, for we are only persons 'by virtue of this celestial dimension, archetypal, angelic, which is the celestial pole without which the terrestrial pole of [our] human dimension is completely depolarized in vagabondage and perdition.'" (P. 75)
"For Corbin it is this idea [my italics] that God must descend and live here among the fallen creatures in order for salvation to be possible that is the root of the problem. His contention is that because of an emphasis on sin and human helplessness with respect to salvation, Christian theologians have felt the need to unite the divine and the human at the level of fallen humanity. But this shattering violation of the Mystery turns the world inside out. It collapses the celestial hierarchies, and reduces being to a single level. God is demythologized, the world is abandoned to secular history, ..." (p.76)
These undoubted historical facts are crucially seen by Cheetham, and as he says, by Corbin, as the result of a FAILED INITIATION:
"This is the result of a failed initiation. It signals a failure to avoid the abyss that opens up at just that precarious point where the ego gives way to the higher Self. If the divine center is not attained, if the poverty of the soul is not complete, then the lower modes of perception remain operative, the higher realities cannot be attained and the lower soul is subject to dementia, intoxication, and a compensating inflation, which grows Promethean and unbounded in response to the vision of the Abyss."
If we are talking about failed initiations we must be talking about people, human beings, who suffer that failed initiation and who, then, within the theatre of the philosophical tradition of the Christian West, as Cheetham claims, promote dogmatic views or doctrinal positions that reflect that failed initiation, positions that are later taken up unreflectingly by future generations, Wolfgang Giegerich apparently being among those unfortunates. Cheetham is clear that for him, Corbin represents that view, perhaps the only one, that can effectively counter such aberrations of history:
"[Giegerich] has been able to show us what this tradition has done. But it has also led him into the errors of that tradition. Importantly, he misunderstands the imaginal. His interpretation of the "image" as well as his use of imaginal, differ essentially from Corbin's. In Corbin's theophanic cosmology, "image" always implies an interplay between immanence and transcendence." (P. 105)
Corbin's theophanic cosmology is the "saving grace" of Western Civilization which has, in the meantime, fallen under the spell of some unspecified black magicians who failed their initiation (failures in initiation typically led to death, i.e., being killed off by the community, or to becoming false shamans or, as I said, black magicians, falling prey to desires coupled with power, rather than entering a life of service to the community--Aleister Crowley being a modern example of such a life of "error").
From these passages and from the tenor of Cheetham's thesis in his book, it becomes clear that he and possibly Corbin (or Cheetham's version of Corbin) are addressing the world of humans and their history as an outcome of human choices, mistakes, and failures. To put it bluntly, Cheetham is claiming that speakers within the Western philosophical tradition, including Nietzsche, are proponents of mistaken ideas, whereas Corbin is the holder of the true ideas. Clearly there is a battle here but it is a battle lying entirely within the human sphere--a battle of ideologies! History as a history of competing ideologies! History that can altered by speakers fighting for the right ideology! As Sardello says:
"Cheetham progresses in his method by seeing through the split of spirit and matter, seeking to establish what a metaphysics with imagination as the forming force of the world would mean. As long as we think only in terms of spirit and matter, and its two primary manifestations in the 'world, religion and science, we contribute to the loss of the subtle, participative sense." (P. xii)
So, We can SEE one way or MAYBE, another. It is up to us--our choice whether to see via a split between spirit and matter or to see via a metaphysics of the imagination! These are the same arguments that Hillman inaugurated in his methodology of seeing through the surface of life to its archetypal depths. So far, then, we seem historically to have been seeing wrongly, due to the historical influences of unnamed "masters" of a failed initiation. Let's change all that! Simply see differently!
In my own hermeneutical reading of Cheetham's text, nowhere do I get any sense of a view of history that is the only view of history informing Wolfgang Giegerich's arguments and conclusions. Cheetham seems to be drawing his discussion of Giegerich's views of (the soul of) our modern technological civilization (pp 100 ff) only from several essays Giegerich wrote and which now are included in his book, "Technology and the Soul". Spring Journal Books (2007), without any regard to Giegerich's view of history.
The history that Giegerich is describing is not to be confused with Cheetham's view of history as a history of competing ideas, not at all! To make this mistake is to see Giegerich's arguments simply as a competing ideology, one that according to Cheetham belongs to the mistaken ideologies, "Giegerich views the origins of monotheism through the lens ground by the very technicians whose worldview is the result of the failed initiation. So he cannot understand the true meaning of theophany and of the imaginal" (P. 105). That is, Cheetham assumes that Giegerich is addressing the same domain as himself--the domain of the human-all-too-human!
Cheetham's ideological stance becomes quite clear in his charge that Giegerich does not understand the "true meaning of theophany and of the imaginal". This move of Cheetham's is bad hermeneutics (no attempt to understand Giegerich's extensive work on theophany and imagination) and clearly shows his valence towards one particular ideology (Corbin's "true meaning" of "image" and "theophany", as if to say that word meanings do not change by themselves, throughout history, according to determinative factors outside human choices which then unite with human contingency. A historical change in word meaning CANNOT be wrong. The change reflects historical transformations, something Cheetham seems to eschew completely).
Of course Giegerich "views the origins of monotheism through the lens ground by the very technicians whose worldview is the result of the failed initiation" and of course "Giegerich has read the Judeo-Christian story from the point of view of the dominant tradition." If we put to one side the mystifying idea of a failed initiation occurring somewhere along the way, then yes, of course Giegerich does. We all do! We must do so. As Heidegger teaches, and Gadamer reinforces, our modern consciousness is unavoidably historical today. Our "effective history" (Gadamer) lies always already "behind" us, within our language (the syntax of our consciousness), informing the contours of our modern world, and producing our hermeneutic horizons. We are "thrown" (Heidegger) into such from birth.
Cheetham has a view of history that humanizes its processes entirely: "lens ground by technicians, a result of a failed initiation, etc.)--history as a series of human choices, mistakes, failures--which view opens up the possibility of historical correction with the help of better choices, more adequate views, ideas etc. Nowhere do we get a sense of historical NECESSITY! For all his talk of spirit and soul, Cheetham does not leave the world of human endeavors whatsoever.
In evaluating Wolfgang Giegerich's arguments and conclusion regarding our modern world, there is a hermeneutic imperative to seek to understand his methodology, i.e. the WAY he comes to his conclusions. This takes time, the kind of time that Cheetham has devoted, through love no doubt, to the work of Henri Corbin. His rejection of Giegerich's conclusions are uninformed at best, prejudicial at worst, functioning merely as a way to establish his own position by negating his own version of Wolfgang Giegerich (an activity engaged in by Derrida and Heidegger in relation to Hegel, I am told).
To begin to understand Giegerich's conclusions including that of the meaning of the Incarnation, the careful interpreter could do no better than a close examination of Giegerich's view of history as explained in his book "Soul Violence", Spring Journal Books (2008) or, more recently, "C. G. Jung on Christianity and on Hegel",(2014). His is not a view of history as human inspired events. His is a view of history from the point of view of soul: soul as history. The soul undergoes its own transformations in logical structure as the background of our perceivable world, and the contours of that world change accordingly according to the principle of a union of telos (necessity) and contingency, which process includes, yes, human mistakes and failures, none of which however are determinative. It is the soul's "background" self-transformations that are determinative, and philosophy is "simply" comprised of those minds capable of "catching up" to and articulating those changes and making them explicit to us.
Giegerich's method of psychology takes time, practice, and many errors. He is not seeking to promote a system of ideas to compete with that of others in the marketplace of meanings. He has developed a method that any serious practitioner of psychology can bring to bear in order to test his conclusions in the spirit of asking questions about the real status of soul today, or historically.
John Woodcock may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org