Friday, May 3, 2013

Corbin on Eranos

~Henry Corbin 

Possibly in a century or two, perhaps a little less or a little more, some historian of ideas, if any historians of ideas are still left, or some student with a thesis to write will find an ideal subject for a monograph in the phenomenon of Eranos in the twentieth century. And perhaps his monograph will turn out to be like so many others that, ever since the rise of historical criticism, have been devoted to the "schools," the "ideological currents" of the past, demonstrating their "causes," explaining their "influences," the "migrations of themes," and so on.

But it is to be feared that, if he in his turn is content to do no more than to apply a scientific method which will have had all the virtues, except the primary virtue that would have consisted in establishing its object by recognizing the way it gives its object to itself—it is to be feared that our future historian will completely miss the phenomenon of Eranos. He will perhaps believe that he has "explained" it by a profound and ingenious dialectic of causes. But he will not have divined that the real problem would have been to discover not what explains Eranos, but what Eranos explains by virtue of what it implies: for example, the idea of a true community, bringing together speakers and listeners, a community so paradoxical that it displays none of the characteristics that are of concern to statistics and sociology. 

This is why, if the eventuality of our future historian is forecast here, the forecast is made from no vanity of an expected fame, but rather in fear that the soul of Eranos may one day be lost in such a venture. Had he not felt this fear, he to whom it has fallen to play a soloist's role at the beginning of the present volume would have hesitated thus to step out from the chorus of his confrères. But he has become convinced of one thing. This whole volume is devoted to the question of Time, which each of us has envisaged from the angle of his habitual meditations. Now, if it is true that, while they explain things and beings by their time, historians as such are not in the habit of beginning by reflecting on the nature of historical time, the theme of this volume perhaps contains the best warning against the dubious formula that would try to explain Eranos "by its time." It would be well to meditate on the possible meaning of these words: the time of Eranos. For it will be no explanation of Eranos to say that it was "very much of its time," that is, of everybody's time, in accordance with the formula that is so soothing to alarmed or hasty conformisms. Nothing indicates that Eranos ever tried to "be of its time." What, on the contrary, it will perhaps have succeeded in doing is to be its time, its own time. And it is by being its own time that it will have realized its own meaning, willingly accepting the appearance of being untimely. It is not certain things that give its meaning to Eranos; rather, it is Eranos that gives their meaning to these other things. How, then, are we to conceive the proposition that it is not by "being of our time," as so many well-meaning people say, but by ourselves being our own time, that each of us explains and fulfills his own meaning? Can this be suggested in a brief summary? To return to our hypothetical future historian: why, undertaking to explain Eranos by the circumstances, the "currents" and "influences" of the period, would he miss its meaning and its essence, its "seminal reason"? For the same reason, for example, that the first and last explanation of the various gnostic families referred to in the present book is those gnostics themselves. The historian may suppose every kind of favorable circumstances, draw all possible conclusions, he would be merely reasoning in vacuo if there were not the first and signal fact of gnostic minds. It is not the "main currents" that evoke them and bring them together; it is they that decree the existence of a particular current and bring about their own meeting. 

Probably, then, the word "fact," as just used, does not signify quite what our current speech commonly means by the word; rather, it signifies what current speech makes its opposite, when it distinguishes between persons and facts, men and events. For us, the first and last fact, the initial and final event, are precisely these persons, without whom there could never be anything that we call "event." Hence we must reverse the perspectives of the usual optics, substitute the hermeneutics of the human individual for the pseudodialectic of facts, which today is accepted, everywhere and by everyone, as objective evidence. For it was only by submitting to the "necessity of the facts" that it became possible to imagine in them an autonomous causality that "explains" them. Now, to explain does not yet necessarily mean to "understand." To understand is, rather, to "imply." There is no explaining the initial fact of which we are speaking, for it is individual and singular, and the individual can be neither deduced nor explained; indimduum est ineffabile. 

Read more:

No comments:

Post a Comment