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A.K. Coomaraswamy

The Door In The Sky * Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1997 princeton university press * isbn 0691017476)

Another compilation of texts by A.K. Coomaraswamy compiled and introduced by his son Rama Coomaraswamy. This time “on myth and meaning”. Like in the other book there are very interesting articles and articles which are just a nice read. Coomaraswamy tends to write too lengthy and treading too many sidepaths sometimes. The introduction by Rama Coomaraswamy is again a nice one. Also the opening article “Myth And Mind” is magnificent. Towards the end there is an article “Literary Symbolism” which is also a great read. For the rest there is a lot about Coomaraswamy’s pet topic, modern ‘art’ in comparison to traditional art.
Coomaraswamy was a traditionalist with an oriental background, but he studied so much Eastern and Western literature that he makes a lot of cross-references which is highly interesting. Not the easiest literature, but a must-read if you are interested in the traditionalist worldview, comperative religions and symbolism.
(21/2/07 -3-)
Read quotes of Coomaraswamy here.

The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (2003 world wisdom * isbn 094153246)

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) (not to be mistaken with his almost equally famous son Rama Poonambalam Coomaraswamy (1929-) was a contemporary of René Guénon and ‘fellow-Traditionalist’. He was the son of a Sri Lankan father and a British mother, born in Sri Lanka, but raise in the United Kingdom and was in person and ‘philosophically’ a bridge between the East and the West. Like I said, he was a Traditionalist like Guénon, meaning that he thinks that there is one primordial Tradition from which all religions sprung. His starting-point is not (as you might expect) Hinduism, but art. As the title of this book shows, this is an anthology of the man. The book was compiled by his son Rama. The lengthy introduction by Arvind Sharma contains nice information about the time of Guénon and Coomaraswamy and some critical notes on the first.
There are 20 chapters, which are mostly articles and essays published in other books. Some of his more well-known writings can be found. Most of the texts are about art. This should be taken in a broad sense of the word. Coomaraswamy’s idea is that a work of art is made by a person who is ‘in contact’ with the ‘overworld’ and makes something usefull after a divine model. This gives a totally different conception of the term than we use today. A tea-cup is (when it is made ‘Traditionally’) a work of art and a bomb is a work of art if it does what it is made for well. Coomaraswamy does not have a very positive view of modern art and museums (also not when they collect ancient items). Nowadays art seems to be something elitaristic, only made for the artist himself and others may or may not like it, but most of all, there is no use for the ‘works of art’ of today save for putting them in a museum for the sole sake of being advertisement for the ‘artist’.
During the course of this book you will read about literacy, “Eastern Wisdom And Western Knowledge”, folklore, “The Interpretation Of Symbols” (not a practical guide btw), “What Is Civilization?”, all which chapters mostly speak about art, but you will also learn about Traditionalism; the last two chapters are “The Hindu Tradition: The Myth” and “The Hindu Tradition: Theology and Autology”.
Coomaraswamy reads easier than Guénon. He is sometimes more outspoken too. It is nice to see a similar (Traditionalism), but different (art versus esotericism) starting point. Coomaraswamy has written a few famous titles, but like Guénon his bibliography is enormous, so a “the essential” is a very good introduction.
(22/5/06 -4-)
Read quotes of Coomaraswamy here.