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The Challenge of Islam: The Prophetic Tradition Paperback – August 4, 2009
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Central Michigan University
In The Challenge of Islam, Norman O. Brown (1913-2002) poses three vital and interconnected challenges. First, Islam presents the challenge of the prophet against the institutions of the priesthood and the kingdom, the temple and the city. Second, Islam challenges Church Christianity. And third, Islam poses the challenge Brown takes up as a major theme - Brown's challenge to the reader -- to make one's life a work of art. The Challenge of Islam is a recent posthumously-published set of seven transcribed lectures originally delivered at Tufts in 1981, and one previously unpublished essay, the written text of a conference paper.
Throughout the work Brown reframes and reinforces the esoteric traditions of Ruzbihan, Suhrawardi, Ibn `Arabi, and their rich testimonies of epiphany and beauty. Trained as a classicist Brown's syntheses of symbol, myth, and ritual, especially "Life Against Death" (1959) and "Love's Body" (1966) stand as landmarks of visionary and psychoanalytic approaches to history and literature. Some of the material in these lectures appeared in condensed form in two chapters of Brown's Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis (1991).
Late in his career Brown began studying Islam. His classical training enriches his representation of Henri Corbin's signature The Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn `Arabi as a central theme in this book. It is this creative imagination of the artist that Brown advocates: "Man is the vicegerent of God on Earth...His work is to make the invisible reality of God visible. To make...to be an artist. That is what art is." (p. 36) This is one of the major themes of the book, as well as to show how Muhammad is the "Great Erotic," the exemplar of "the amourous ardor of `ishq....Read more ›
The introduction by Jay Cantor is outstanding.
We must finally face the fact that Norman O. Brown may well be the most important thinker of the 20th century.