Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Al-Hamd and Alhamdulillah

Renowned archetypal psychologist James Hillman, in his monograph entitled "The Thought of the Heart" offers his reflections on the contemplations of Henri Corbin on this topic. With a deeper appreciation for the wisdom of Ibn al-Arabi, Hillman and Corbin may be offering a profound psychological penetration into the mystery of Sura 1:2 of Al-Hamd, which is another descriptor of the Opening Chapter of the Holy Qur'an. Hidden in the experience of Al-Hamd are Love and Beauty:

"If beauty is inherent and essential to soul, then beauty appears wherever soul appears. That revelation of soul's essence, the actual showing forth of Aphrodite in psyche, her smile, is called in mortal language, "beauty". All things as they display their innate nature present Aphrodite's goldenness; they shine forth and as such are aesthetic. Here, I am merely restating what Adolf Portmann has elaborated at Eranos for forty years: the idea of Selbstdarstellung (self-presentation) as the revelation to the senses of Inner-lichkeit (interiority). Visible form is a show of soul. The being of a thing is revealed in the display of its Bild (image).

Beauty is not an attribute then, something beautiful, like a fine skin wrapped round a virtue; the aesthetic aspect of appearance itself. Were there no beauty, along with the good and the true and the one, we could never sense them, know them. Beuaty is an epistemological necessity; it is the way in which the Gods touch our senses, reach the heart and attract us into life.

As well, beauty is an ontological neccessity, grounding the sensate particularity of the world. Without Aphrodite, the world of particulars becomes atomic particles. Life's detailed variety is called cahos, multiplicity, amorphous matter, statistical data. Such is the world of sense without Aphrodite. Then sense must be made of appearance by abstract philosophical means - which distorts philosophy itself from its true base.

If, as we said in Part I, philosophy takes rise in philos, it also refers to Aphrodite in another way. For sophia originally means the skill of the craftsman, the carpenter (Iliad: XV, 412) the seafarer (Hesiod, Works: 651), the sculptor (Aristotle, Nic Eth., vi:1141a. Sophia originates in and refers to the aesthetic hands of Daedalus and Hephaistos, who was of course conjoined with Aphrodite and so is inherent to her nature. With Aphrodite informing our philosophy, each event has its own smile on its face and appears in a particular mode, fashion, style. Aphrodite gives an archetypal background to the philosophy of "eachness" and the capacity of the heart to find "intimacy" with each particular event in a pluralistic cosmos (Wm. James).

Now, the organ which perceives these faces is the heart. The thought of the heart is physiognomic. To perceive, it must imagine. It must see shapes, forms, faces - angels, demons, creatures of every sort in things of any kind; thereby the heart's thought personifies, ensouls, and animates the world. Petrarca sees Laura: pathless forest shades,
I see the face I fear, upon the bushes
Or an oaken trunk; or from the stream
she rises; flashes on me from a cloud
Or from clear sky; or issues from a rock,...

The lines are not to Laura, a love lyric, but a description of Laura, the soul personified, the figuration in the heart by means of which aesthetic perception proceeds. It brings to life things as forms that speak.

As we saw above, it was Aristotle's psychology that laid the basis for the connection between aisthesis and the heart. It may be strange to hear me speak in his praise, but there are many Aristotles, and my delight is in Aristotle the biologist who took the world of sense and shape to heart. In Aristotelian psychology, the organ of aisthesis is the heart, passages from all sense organs run to it; there the soul is "set on fire". Its thought is innately aesthetic and sensately linked with the world.

This link between heart and the organs of sense is not simple mechanical sensationalism; it is aesthetic. That is, the activity of perception or sensation in Greek is aisthesis which means at root "taking in" and "breathing in" - a "gasp", that primary aesthetic response.

Translators have turned aisthesis into "sense-percpetion", a British empiricist's notion, John Locke's sensation. But Greek "sense perception" cannot be understood without taking into account the Greek Goddess of the senses or the organ of Greek sensation, the heart, and the root in the word - that sniffing, gasping, breathing in of the world.

What is it to 'take in' or breathe in the world? First it means aspiring and inspiring the literal presentation of things by gasping. The transfiguration of matter occurs through wonder. This aesthetic reaction which precedes intellectual wonder inspires the given beyond itself, letting each thing reveal its particular aspiration within a cosmic arrangement.

Second, 'taking in' means taking to heart, interiorizing, becoming intimate with in an Augustinian sense. Not only my confession of my soul, but hearing the confession of the anima mundi in the speaking of things.

Third, 'taking in' means interiorizing the object into itself, into its image so that its imagination is activated (rather than ours), so that it shows its heart and reveals its souls, becoming personified and thereby lovable - lovable not only to us and because of us, but because its loveliness increases as its sense and its imagination unfold. Here begins phenomenology: in a world of ensouled phenomena. Phenomena need not be saved by grace or faith or all-embracing theory, or by scientific objectiveness or transcendental subjectivity. They are saved by the anima mundi, by their own souls and our simple gasping at this imaginal loveliness. The ahh of wonder, of recognition, or the Japanese shee-e through the teeth. The aesthetic response saves the phenomenon, the phenomenon which is the face of the world. "Everything shall perish except His face," says the Koran (xxxviii: 88) which Corbin can understand to mean "Every thing...except the Face of that thing" (CI: 244&n; ML:112-13). God, the world, everything can pass into nothingness, victims of nihilistic constructions, metaphysical doubts, despairs of every sort. What remains when all perishes is the face of things as they are. When there is nowhere to turn, turn back to the face before you, face the world. Here is the Goddess who gives a sense to the world that is neither myth nor meaning; instead that immediate thing as image, its smile, a joy, a joy that makes 'forever.'" (1981, pp. 29-33).

~ Excerpted from "The Thought of the Heart" by James Hillman, author of "Revisioning Psychology" and "We've Had A Hundred Years Of Psychotherapy".

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