However in writing style, this book is a much easier read than the recently reviewed Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, this new title proved to be quite a read. It is not like it is extremely big (372 pages a large part notes and biography) and I thought I knew a thing or two about Mazdeism and Shi’ite Islam, but this book constantly gave me a feeling of information overload with descriptions that I did not (immediately) understand or failed to see the connections aimed at. Still the book makes a nice read and some of the traditional texts that are published are beautiful, but it is not like I have a clear idea of what this book is actually about.
The author starts with about 100 pages with his own introduction, descriptions, etc. The subject at hand seems to be the concept of two cities, Hurqalya and Jabalqa, which are part of what Corbin calls the Mundus Imaginalis or “Imaginal world”. Many speculations have been made about the nature of these cities and its inhabitants. After a few of these speculations, Corbin prints “selections from traditional texts” which make out the next 170 pages. The texts are from authors from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Of most of them I never heard, but a better-known author that seems Corbin’s favorite is Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi.
I cannot tell you a whole lot about this book. Perhaps the audience that Corbin aimed at is better versed in near Eastern religion and philosophy than myself. As a layman I can say that the part that Corbin wrote himself is informative enough (but I do not remember much of it) and the traditional texts vary from very dry to more mystical texts, the latter of which I prefer to read.
I had heard of the French author Henry Corbin (1903-1978) a couple of times and I thought it was time to read something of this author whom some regard as a Traditionalist, others certainly do not. He definately was a scholar in comparitive religion.
I set out for titles that are well available and potentially interesting. The thin (160 pages) “Swedenborg And Esoteric Islam” is one of the two books that I got.
The title of this book suggests that Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) had something to do with esoteric Islam, that the former was influenced by the latter or vice versa, but that is not what this book is about. Corbin taught Islamic studies at the Sorbonne University and he deeply studied Swedenborg. He certainly found resemblances, but that does not mean that there are direct links between the two subjects of this book.
The translator Leonard Fox says in his introduction that Corbin does not have an easy writing style. He sure is right about that! The book does not make an easy read. It is a bit like a mash of information not too well structured to easily make sense. Yet the book makes a good read. As for Islam, the author mostly focusses on Isma’ilism, a branch of Shi’ism (also: Shia Islam), but other forms of Islam are also written about.
There are chapters about the Hermeneutics of Swedenborg, that of Isma’ilism and of course there are comparisons between the two. Sometimes Corbin goes so deeply into a subject, that it is hard to figure out how this information fits into the whole of the book. The subjects that are dug out in both ‘systems’ mostly are the story of Noah and the flood and what Corbin called the “imagninal world”.
It is quite interesting to see much distinct philosophies used to explain each-other. This way of working brings some surprising comparisons and unexpected clarifications even when the book requires some effort to read.