FROM HEIDEGGER TO SUHRAVARDI:
AN INTERVIEW WITH PHILIPPE NEMO
translated by Matthew Evans-Cockle
PN: Henry Corbin, you were the first to translate Heidegger in France and then the first to introduce Iranian Islamic philosophy. How can these two tasks be reconciled as properly belonging to one and the same person, especially given that Martin Heidegger claims the West as his homeland. His philosophy is typically German, and one might imagine a certain disparity between the business of translating Heidegger and that of translating Suhravardî.
H.C.: I have often been asked that question, and I’ve sometimes noticed, with amusement, a certain astonishment overtake my interlocutors upon discovering that the translator of Heidegger and the man who has introduced Iranian Islamic philosophy to the West are one and the same. And then they ask themselves, how has he passed from the one to the other? I tried to tell you a while back, in an interview we had shortly after Heidegger’s death, that this astonishment is the symptom of a type of compartmentalizing, of an a-priori labeling of our disciplines. We tell ourselves: there are the Germanists and there are the Orientalists. Among the Orientalists there are the Islamists and there are the Iranianists, etc. But how could one go from Germanism to Iranianism? If those who asked this question had only a little idea of what the philosopher is, and of the philosophical Quest, if they would imagine for a moment that linguistic incidents are no more for a philosopher than signs along the way, and that they announce little more than topographical variants of secondary importance, then perhaps they would be less astonished.
I seize the opportunity to say these things because I have, in the past, run into altogether fantastical accounts of my spiritual biography. I had the privilege and pleasure of passing several unforgettable moments with Heidegger, in Freiburg, in April of 1934 and July 1936, which is to say during the period in which I was working through a translation of the collection of texts published under the title Qu’est ce que la Métaphysique? [“What is Metaphysics?”] I was subsequently to learn, much to my amazement, that if I had turned towards Sufism, it was because I had been disappointed by Heidegger’s philosophy. This version of things is utterly false. My first publications on Suhravardî go back to 1933 and 1935 (My diploma from the “Ecole des Langues Orientales” [Oriental Language School] dates from 1929); my translation of Heidegger appears in 1938. A philosopher’s campaign must be led simultaneously on many fronts, so to speak, especially if the philosophy in question is not limited to the narrow rationalist definition that certain thinkers of our days have inherited from the philosophers of the “enlightenment”. Far from it! The philosopher’s investigations should encompass a wide enough field that the visionary philosophies of a Jacob Boehme, of an Ibn ‘Arabi, of a Swedenborg etc. can be set there together, in short that scriptural and visionary (imaginal) works may be accommodated as so many sources offered up to philosophical contemplation. Otherwise philosophia no longer has anything to do with Sophia. My education is originally philosophical, which is why, to all intents and purposes, I am neither a Germanist nor an Orientalist, but a Philosopher pursuing his Quest wherever the Spirit guides him. If it has guided me towards Freiburg, towards Teheran, towards Ispahan, for me the latter remain essentially “emblematic cities”, the symbols of a permanent voyage.
1. What I wish I could bring people to understand, as hopeless as it seems to imagine it happening in the space of the next minute’s conversation –for I would have to write a whole book on the subject- is the following. What I was looking for in Heidegger and that which I understood thanks to Heidegger, is precisely that which I was looking for and found in the metaphysics of Islamic Iran. I will recall the names of several among the greatest personalities in this domain a little later on. With these figures, however, everything was shifted onto a different level, transposed into a register whose secret explains why, ultimately, it is not by mere chance if my destiny has, on the morrow of the second world war, sent me off to Iran, where, for over 30 years now, I have not ceased to make contact with and to deepen that which is the spiritual culture and spiritual mission of this country.
But I find it agreeable, and moreover necessary to add some further precisions - so as to facilitate understanding of just what has been my work and my quest - to the question of what I owe to Heidegger and what I have kept with me during a lifetime of investigations.
First and foremost, I would say, there is the idea of hermeneutics, which appears among the very first pages of “Sein und Zeit” [“Being and Time”]. Heidegger’s great merit will remain in his having centered the act of philosophizing in hermeneutics itself. Forty years ago, when one employed this word, “hermeneutic”, among philosophers, it had a strange almost barbaric ring. And yet, it’s a term borrowed directly from the Greek and one that has its common usage among biblical specialists. We owe the technical definition to Aristotle: the title of his treatise peri hermenêias was translated into latin as De interpretatione. We can go one better too, for in contemporary philosophical parlance hermeneutics is that which, in German, is called das verstahen, le “Comprendre,” “Understanding”. It is the art or technique of “Understanding”, as this was understood by Dilthey. An old friend, Bernard Groethuysen, who was once a student of Dilthey’s, always came back to this in the course of our discussions. There is, in fact, a direct link between the “Verstehen” as hermeneutic in Dilthey’s “Comprehensive Philosophy” and the “Analytic”, the idea of hermeneutics that we find in Heidegger.
That said, Dilthey’s concept is derived from Schleiermacher, the great theologian of the German Romantic period, upon whom Dilthey had consecrated an enormous and unfinished work. Precisely there, we relocate the theological origins, namely protestant, of the concept of hermeneutics that we use in philosophical circles today. Unfortunately, I have the impression that our young Heideggerians have somewhat lost sight of this link between hermeneutics and theology. To find it again, one would obviously have to restore an idea of theology altogether different from that which holds sway today, in France as elsewhere, I mean that definition that has become subservient to sociology when it is not handmaiden to “sociological-politics”. This restoration could only come about through the concurrence of the hermeneutics practiced within the Religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, for it is therein that hermeneutics has developed as a spontaneous exegesis, and therein lie reserved its future palingenesis.
Why? Because therein one is in possession of a Book upon which all depends. It is indeed a question of understandingthe meaning, but of understanding the true meaning. Three things to consider: there is the act of understanding, there is the phenomenon of the meaning, and there is the unveiling or revelation of the truth of this meaning. Now, are we to understand by this “true” meaning that which we currently call the historical meaning, or rather a meaning that refers us to an altogether other level than that of History as the word is commonly understood. From the very outset, the hermeneutics practiced in the Religions of the Book put into play the same themes and vocabulary familiar to phenomenology. What I was enchanted to rediscover in Heidegger, was essentially the filiation of hermeneutics itself passing through the theologian Schleiermacher, and if I lay claim to phenomenology, it is because philosophical hermeneutics is essentially the key that opens the hidden meaning (etymologically the esoteric) underlying the exoteric statement. I have as such done nothing more than attempt to deepen this understanding, firstly in the vast unexplored domain of Shiite Islamic gnosis, and then in the neighboring domains of Christian and Judaic gnosis. Inevitably, because on the one hand the concept of hermeneutics had a Heideggerian flavour, and because on the other hand my first publications concerned the great Iranian philosopher Suhravardî, certain historians stubbornly maintained their “virtuous insinuations” that I had “mixed up” (sic) Heidegger with Suhravardî. But to make use of a key to open a lock is not at all the same thing as to confuse the key with the lock. It wasn’t even a question of using Heidegger as a key, but rather of making use of the same key that he had himself made use of, and which was at everyone’s disposition. Thank God, there are some insinuations whose sheer ineptitude reduces them to nothing… that said, the phenomenologist would have a great deal to say about the “false keys” of historicism.
And specifically with regards to this last point, there is a book within the ensemble of Heidegger’s work about which, perhaps, we no longer speak of enough. It is true that it is an old book… it was one of the first that Heidegger wrote, for it was his “habilitation thesis.” I am referring to his book on Duns Scot. This book contains pages that have been particularly illuminating for me, concerning as they do what our medieval philosophers called grammatica speculativa. I was to make immediate use of it upon being called to stand in for my dear departed friend Alexandre Koyré at the Section of Religious Sciences in the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, [a French University, the “School of Higher Studies”] during the years 1937 through 39. Having to discourse upon Lutheran hermeneutics, I was able to put into practice that which I had learned [from its pages] of the grammatica speculativa.
In fact, there is one notion in particular which dominates the hermeneutics of the young Luther, and it is that of thesignificatio passiva, precisely the type of question with which speculative grammar is concerned. Confronting the psalm verse “In justitutia tua libera me” the young Luther asks: How can divine justice, the aspect of Righteousness opposed to that of Mercy, be the instrument of deliverance? There is no way out of this quandary so long as we consider this justice as an attribute that we confer upon God Himself. Everything changes, however, as soon as we consider it in itssignificatio passiva. By this we mean that justice by which we are made to be just. And so it is for the other divine attributes as well, which cannot be understood (modus intelligendi) except through their relation with us (our modus essendi), and as such these should always be expressed with the adjunction of a suffix along the lines of “icent” (beneficent [Corbin here suggests the suffix “fique” which has a much more widespread applicability in French than “icent” in English, as such the following French examples he cites do not all admit of an adequate translation: “l’unifique, le bénéfique, le vérifique, le sanctifique”. These terms translated into English - the unifying, the beneficent, the veridical, the sanctifying - fail to illustrate the philosophical idea that Corbin is here concerned with: that the divine quality is only manifest to the extent that it is invested in the person.] It is this discovery that made of the young Luther the great interpreter of Saint Paul, and this when he had almost been his victim. I have run across this same hermeneutic situation in many of the great tracts of mystical philosophy in Islam. It’s specificity might well have remained obscure to me had I not already possessed the key of the significatio passiva. A simple example: the advent of Being in this theosophy consists in putting Being in the imperative: KN, Esto (in the second person, and not fiat). That which is primary is neither the ens nor the esse, but the esto.
“Be!” This imperative inaugurator of “Being”, this is the divine imperative in its active aspect (amr fi’lî); but considered in the “being” that it makes “to be”, the “being” that we are, none other than this same imperative, but in its significatio passiva (amr maf’ûli).
I believe we can claim, therein, the triumph of hermeneutics as Verstehen, meaning that that which we truly understand, is never other than that by which we are tried, that which we undergo, which we suffer and toil with in our very being. Hermeneutics does not consist in deliberating upon concepts, it is essentially the unveiling or revelation of that which is happening within us, the unveiling of that which causes us to emit such or such concept, vision, projection, when our passion becomes action, it is an active undergoing, a prophetic-poietic undertaking
The phenomenon of meaning, that is fundamental in the metaphysics of “Being and Time”, is the link between the signifier and the signified. But what makes this link, without which signifier and signified would simply remain objects for theoretical consideration?
This link is the subject, and this subject is the presence, presence of the mode of being to the mode of understanding. Pre-sence, Da-sein. I do not want to return here to a discussion of the reasons that, back in the day, led us, in agreement with our friends, to translate Dasein by réalité-humaine [human-reality]. I am aware of the particular weaknesses of this translation, especially when by an all too frequent negligence, we omit the hyphen, whose necessity we have explained elsewhere. Da-sein: being-there, this is understood. But being-there, is essentially to be enacting a presence, enactment of that presence by which and for which meaning is revealed in the present. The modality of this human presence is thus to be revelatory, but in such a way that, in revealing the meaning, it reveals itself, and is that which is revealed. And here again we are witness to the concomitance of passion-action.
In short, the link to which phenomenology draws our attention, is the indissoluble link between modi intelligendi andmodi essendi, between modes of understanding and modes of being. The modes of understanding are essentially in accordance with the modes of being. Any change in the mode of understanding is necessarily concomitant with a change in the mode of being. The modes of being are the ontological, existential [Corbin here draws a distinction between the two possible French spellings: existential and existentielle, and makes clear that he is using the French word “existential” in the sense of existentiating and not “existential” as a simple attribute among others.] conditions of the act of “Understanding”, of the “Verstehen”, which is to say of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the definitive task set before the phenomenologist.
2. Let us now move on to the strange vocabulary that Heidegger puts before us, and which made a rude trial of his first French translator. I am thinking of words such as Erschliessen, Erschlossenheit; of all those terms designating the acts by which the modalities of the human-presence are revealed; of terms such as Entdecken, to dis-cover, to unveil the hidden, the Verbogen. Well, what I found out rather quickly, was that we find the equivalent of these words in the classical Arabic of the great visionary theosophers of Islam [“theosophers” as distinct from the “theosophists” belonging to the somewhat notorious European “theosophical” movement].
Nor is the bridge [between Heidegger and Islamic theosophy] difficult to find. A while ago I mentioned Heidegger’s book on Duns Scot. We know, as Etienne Gilson has shown us, that Avicenna is a starting point for Duns Scot’s thinking. Furthermore, thanks to the historians of the Toledo school in the 12th century we have a common Arabo-Latin philosophical vocabulary. Just recently Denis de Rougemont humorously reminded me, that when we were schoolmates he had noticed that my copy of “Being and Time” contained numerous Arabic glosses in the margins. Indeed, I believe it would have been much more difficult to translate the vocabulary of a Suhravardî, an Ibn ‘Arabi, or a Mollâ Sadrâ Shîrâzî, etc… had I not already undergone a training in the acrobatics required to translate the extraordinary German vocabulary that one encounters in reading Heidegger. I am thinking of Arabic terms such as “zahîr” which means the exterior, the apparent, the exoteric, and “bâtin” designating the interior, the hidden, the esoteric. An entire family of words organizes itself around these two terms.
There is a “zohûr”, the manifestation, the act of a thing revealing itself, appearing; “izhâr”, the act of making something appear, of making it manifest itself; “mozhir”, that which causes such a thing to manifest itself, “mazhar”, the form of manifestation, the form of epiphany; “marharîya, the epiphanic function of a mazhar. In Persian, there are terms such ashast-kardan “make-to-be”; has-konandeh “that which makes-to-be”, hast-kardeh, hast-gardîdeh, “that which is makes-to-be, in itself”. There is, of course, no need for me to sketch out the preliminaries of a dictionary here… It is sufficient to note that with these few terms we may already feel the entire phenomenological vocabulary entering into play. Such being the case, do I really need to insist upon the mutual benefit, for these two domains, that resides in knowledge of both the Islamic theosophical vocabulary and that of phenomenology? And this, despite the disparity, that I mentioned earlier, between the intended level or horizon with which their investigations are concerned.
There exist, in fact, what we may call “hermeneutic levels”. The term has become commonplace today; back in the day it was much less so. It is a question of course, in all cases, of considering the hermeneutic levels (the modi intelligendi) with regard to the different modes of being (modi essendi), which are their respective supports or mediums. It is precisely these modes of being which it is important for us to differentiate, in order to avoid any over-zealous confusion between different modes of understanding, misunderstandings against which I have never ceased warning my students, inParis just as in Teheran.
To this end, it is necessary to have well defined concepts of phenomenology and hermeneutics at one’s disposal. It is perfectly natural to have returned again and again to asking ourselves how we might faithfully translate the idea of phenomenology, into both Arabic and Persian. One solution, which is not really a solution at all, consists simply in translating the word into Arabic writing. Nor is it any better - as I have often observed my students and the authors of reviews doing – if we arm ourselves with dictionaries and stubbornly search for an equivalent. It was best to begin by asking ourselves if the Arabo-Persian vocabulary of mystical theosophy did not already offer us a term for a corresponding process. Indeed, there is such a term circulating within the sphere of mystical theosophy (‘erfân), a term so common in fact that it serves as title for more than one book. I am speaking of the term Kashf al-mahjûb, which signifies precisely “the unveiling of that which is hidden”. Is that not precisely the activity of the phenomenologist, an activity which - in unveiling and in bringing the hidden meaning, occulted beneath the outward appearance, beneath the phenomenal, out into manifestation - fulfills in its own way the program of the Greek science: sôzein ta phainomena (to save the phenomena)? Kashf, is the unveiling (Enthulling, Entdecken) which causes the true meaning itself, initially occulted by that which is the apparent, to emerge into manifestation, the phainomenon (here we might do well to call to mind that which Heidegger has said about the concept of alêtheia, or truth). We are ourselves the veil so long as we abstain from the “act of presence”, so long as we are not being-there (da-sein), at the hermeneutic level in question. And so, is it not clear that we are traveling a self-same route, even if we keep in mind the eventual difference between the levels of the destinations sought by the seekers, a difference heralded by the fact that our “theosophers” understand this unveiling to be of the esoteric hidden beneath the exoteric appeareance. Upon this very point, their hermeneutic remains faithful to that which is simultaneously its source and springboard: “the phenomenon of the Revelation of a Holy Book”, to which I had called our attention at the beginning of this discussion.
And this is precisely the meaning suggested by the Arabic term that corresponds most closely to the term “hermeneutics”: I am speaking of the term ta’wîl. Etymologically, the word ta’wîl means to re-conduct something to its source, to its archetype”. It is the technique of “Understanding” in which the Shiite “theosophers”, both Duodeciman and Ismaili have excelled in their esoteric Koranic hermeneutics. It consists of “the occultation of the apparent and the manifestation of the occulted”; nor did the alchemists themselves conceive otherwise their own great work. On this path there is a multitude of hermeneutical levels, each one corresponding to a respective level of Being. This is why an authentic ta’wîl has nothing to do with inoffensive “allegory”. The ascension through these hermeneutical levels might well create the impression that we are leaving our occidental phenomenologist companion behind. But since we are engaged upon one and the same hermeneutical path why mightn’t he come and join us? And this is indeed the question of our relations to come, the very question we encountered earlier on in relation to the significatio passiva. While altogether necessary, it sufficed to prolong what we had learned, in terms of grammatica speculativa, to follow the admirable developments of the great theosopher Ibn ‘Arabi concerning the meaning of the divine Names. A simple exercise, permitting me nonetheless to affirm that if one is not already somewhat acquainted with the secret of the significatio passiva, one risks making a mess of the question and overlooking the essential. I hope, of course, that it is no breach of etiquette for me to refer to my work on Ibn ‘Arabi, here. This then, in as brief a synopsis as was permissible, constitutes the governing idea in my books and in my life’s work as a researcher in the philosophical and religious sciences.
3. It is thus easy for you to understand my dear Philippe Nemo, why I couldn’t be, and why I wouldn’t wish to be, a historian in the common sense of the word, an intellectual authority who establishes the course of events of the past, without feeling him or herself responsible for the latter, not even responsible for the meaning which he or she attributes to it. And it is indeed he or she who confers upon this past one meaning or another and who sets in motion the cogwheels of “historical causality” in conformity with the meaning upon which he or she has already decided. For the historian the events have come and gone, they have past by, without the historian having been there. And it is convenient that the historian should not have been there, where and when the events took place. In fact, it is necessary that he or she not be there, nor ever engage in an “act of presence” with regards to this past, for this would compromise the historian’s ability to speak with “historical objectivity”. And even if they make conspicuous use of such terms as the “living past”, or the “presence of the past”, such presence is no more than an inoffensive metaphor for their personal alibi. In striking contrast hermeneutical phenomenologists must always be “Being-there” (da-sein), for them there can never be anything that is irrevocably past. It is by their own “act of presence”, that they cause that which is occulted by the phenomenal appearance to manifest itself. This “act of presence” consists in opening or ushering in the future that all so-called bygone events of the past conceal within themselves. It is to see the past before one, and this is something entirely different from the inoffensive and metaphorical literary “presence” of the “living past”. Because at one and the same time, it is to feel oneself “responsible for the past”, in that one makes oneself answerable for its future. This implies, of course, a certain mode of Being, but precisely that mode of Being which conditions this hermeneutical level. (There can be no question of dialectically contesting the modes of Being. One can understand them, one can refuse them, but they are not such that one can refute them.) This is why I have always remained the phenomenologist that I was in my youth. I am well aware that this may have misguided several of my Orientalist colleagues, more or less well informed of the exigencies proper to the philosopher. Nevertheless, as the state of the research in this field necessitated that I take upon myself the critical edition of many volumes of Arabic and Persian texts, I was able to prove in so doing that the duties intrinsic to philological erudition and the exigencies of philosophical understanding were indeed such as could be combined by the philosopher. At the same time I was much better understood in philosophical circles where the nature of the questions involved were immediately recognized. But this is where one feels the poverty of our official [academic] programs. One must begin by making known the names of distant philosophers, the discontinuity between possible chronologies, the catalogue of technical terms, etc., all things that ought to be common currency, and which will perhaps one day come to be so, when Occidental and Oriental philosophers will have once more come together to assume responsibility for the tradition they hold in common.
Is it even necessary for me to say that the direction my research has taken had as its starting point the incomparable analysis we owe to Heidegger showing the ontological roots of the Historical sciences, showing effectively that there is a more original, more primitive historicism than that which we call the “universal History”; the History of external events, the Weltgeschichte, or simply History in the ordinary everyday sense of the word. To signify this idea I forged the termhistoriality, and I believe it is a term worth holding on to. The same relation exists between the terms historiality and historicism as between existential as “existentiating” and existential conceived as a simple attribute [existential andexistentielle in the French]. It was a decisive moment. This very historiality appeared to me as motivation for and legitimization of the refusal to allow oneself to be inserted into the historicism of History, into the weave of historical causality, as effectively calling us to tear ourselves from the historicism of History. For if there is a “meaning to History”, it is not by any means in the historicism of historical events; it is in this “historiality”, in these secret, esoteric, existentiating roots of History and of the historical.
If the moment was decisive it is because it was also without any doubt, the moment in which, while following the example of the Heideggerian Analytic, I was drawn to explore hermeneutical levels that his program had not yet envisioned. I am speaking of that which I have since designated by the term “hierophantic-history”, a sacred history that is not in the least bit concerned with the outward facts of a “history of the saints”, or of a “history of salvation”, but is rather concerned with something much more original: the esoteric hidden beneath the phenomenon of the literal appearance of the [spiritual] tales and acccounts related in Holy Books. I have just indicated the contrast between historiality and historicism. Now, this contrast is already perfectly well known - albeit expressed in different terms - to the Gnostics and Cabalists of the Religions of the Book. Our Jewish Cabalistic friends, for example, speak of the mysteries of the primordial Torah, of the Torah-Sophia, containing the archetypes of Creation that the Saint-blessed-be-he contemplated over the course of millennia before creating the worlds. But it was not the story of the first man, the story of Core, that of the she-mule of Balaam, in their literal appearance that occupied his meditation; it was not with these that he created the worlds. That which he contemplated was the neshama, the most intimate spiritual center of both the Torah and of Man, of the Torah as it exists at the level of the supreme world, the world of Atsilut. And that is what spiritual hermeneutics teaches us to read in the Bible. Similarly, for the Shiite Gnostics - Duodeciman as well as Ismaili - that which we profanely call historicity and historical meaning is for them but the outward figure and metaphor (majâz) of the true Reality (haqîqat) of events and of metaphysical persons, prior to the creation of our world. And that is what spiritual hermeneutics, the ta’wîl, teaches us to read in the Koran. Indeed, if there had not been that, -and here we are dealing with a matter that has been formulated in a most decisive manner by the fifth Shiite Imam, Imam Mohammed Baqir (VIIIth century)- if there was nought but the literal appearance relative to the circumstances surrounding the revelation of the Koranic verses, that is to say if there were no more than the merely historical, the Koran would have long since become a dead book. Yet, to the contrary this book shall live till the day of Resurrection, and if it lives, it is by virtue of the spiritual hermeneutics that is forever unveiling its hidden meanings. –And herein we have a perfect example of our phenomenological hermeneutics being called back to its theological origins.
And so, what tremendous irony! That which the profane, the “exotericists”, consider to be the metaphorical meaning is precisely what the Gnostics consider to be the real or true meaning, and this because they never degrade spiritual meaning to the rank of metaphor or of allegory. And that which the profane take to be the real meaning, which is to say the visible historical meaning, is nothing more for the Gnostics than the metaphorical meaning, the metaphor of the True Reality. Within such a perspective, our historical science and our historians are themselves reduced to metaphors and to a metaphorical state of Being. What then must we say of those contemporary exegetical theologians who intentionally ignore any other meaning than the so-called “historical” meaning, and who destroy hierophantic-history by inserting it at all costs into the historicity of History, because, for them, there is no other “reality”. At the very limit they may concede a [spiritual] typology every bit as inoffensive as it is unconvincing. I may not have had many precursors in making these links, but they seem indispensable to me, for they allow one to judge, all the more accurately, whether or not the Heideggerian Analytic has not come to a premature halt, immobilizing itself at a false impasse.
Because the historiality of hierophantic history tears us away from the historicism of History, it allows us to see, and with a good deal of irony, the furor for the historical and for historicity which is so dominant today. There are “historical keys” and “historical conferences”, propositions are made for historical laws, for historical trends, etc. Hierophantic history teaches us that there are filial connections more essential and more true to reality than historical affiliations. These connections are in fact so essential that the privilege which those, who are “blind to the invisible”, concede to the historical appears derisory. It is not by any “historical” tie that we are connected to the other worlds which give this world its “meaning”. The Heideggerian Analytic has, among others, the interesting virtue of bringing us to an understanding of the underlying motives that have lead the humanity of today to cling frantically to the historical as though it were the only “Reality”. It all gives one the impression of a laicising of the idea of Incarnation, in the wake of which even the theologians have been dragged into a generalized and omnipresent sociology. On the contrary, the Analytic of the “act of presence”, of the da-sein - within which the future of the past emerges, for it “actuates” that which in the past was still to come - ought to have the virtue of liberating us from the mirage of this passion for historicity, the passion for making by-gone history to which we will have the glory of belonging, and this precisely because it dissipates the mirage of the very idea of the past through its transfiguration.
Let us recall once again the extraordinary vocabulary before which Heidegger places us in asking the question: do the acts of human-presence come to pass purely and simply in the past? Or do they not remain in the present in the sense that they “are” “having been”? But if they are, it is that that presence which “enacts the act of presence is always yet to come, a future yet to come which will not cease to constitute itself in the present (Gegenwartigendes-Zukunftiges). The “having-been” cannot presently be-having been (Gewesenheit) except as born endlessly out of the future. There would be no present if it were not for the “future yet-to-come” endlessly becoming “having-been” (Gewensend). The present is that: it is the yet-to-come having-been-yet-to-come, but because the future is having-been, it retains all its virtualities and possibilities in the present. Everything depends upon the act of “being-there” (da-sein) by which the having-been is there (da-gewesen). And this process is the very “temporalizing” of time. But of course one would do well to compare this with the profound intuitions of the Iranian theosophers concerning this process. It begins with pre-Islamic Iran and with all that is connected to Zervanism. In Islamic Iran, a certain Semnani (XIVth century) distinguishes between the zamân âfâqî, the temporality of the “horizons” - that is to say the time of the macrocosm, of the physical universe - the zamân anfosî, the temporality of the souls - that is to say psycho-spiritual time. A certain Qâzî Sa’îd Qommî (XVIIth century) would later dinstinguish between an opaque and dense temporality (zamân kathîf), an already subtle temporality (latîf), and an absolutely subtle temporality (altaf). I have dealt with this subject in my books.
What I have been trying to evoke permits me to explain how the grand project undertaken by the young philosopher Suhravardî, in the 12th century - very intentionally proposing, and this right in the middle of an Islamicized Iran, to “resuscitate the Light of the ancient Persian Sages”- might not have appeared to me as it were invested with its fulgurating aura, had I not been exposed to and instructed in this phenomenology. From the perspective of the historian as such, the Suhravardian project could appear as a “piece of idle fancy” to use a common expression, an arbitrary project without historical foundation. But Suhravardi himself neither thought nor acted in the manner of a “historian”. He does not deliberate upon concepts, upon influences, upon discernable or contestable historical remnants and vestiges of the past. He is quite simply there: he engages himself in an “act of presence” [of being-there]. He takes the past of the old Zoroastrian Iran in charge, thereby rendering it present. It is no longer a by-gone irretrievable past, the material lineage having been interrupted. To this past, he restores the future yet-to-come, a future that begins with himself because he feels himself to be responsible for this past. The spiritual tie defies all historical rupture for it is strong enough in itself to constitute a legitimate filial connection. Henceforth, the ancient Persian Sages, the Khosrovaniyun, are in truth the precursors to the Ishraqiyun (the Platonists) of Islamic Iran. “In this I have had no precursor”, wrote our Ishraqi Sheikh. The intrepidness, no doubt, of a young thinker of thirty five years whose “act of presence” (the da-sein) provokes and legitimates the reversal of past into future, because it is all the future yet-to-come of this past which is constituting itself anew as present, in the present of his act of “being-there”. And it is this that is the historially true
The young Ishraqi Sheikh, Suhravardi, has long since been, in my eyes, the exemplary hero of philosophy. Following his example, I have attempted to understand the whole spiritual culture of Iran in such a way as to give it the fullness of that dimension which is still yet-to-come. I have, perhaps, helped more than one Iranian friend, known or unknown, to “find himself”. I have, at any rate, heard testimonies to this effect on more than one occasion, and have always found them staggering. But I am persuaded that such an “act of presence” must be accomplished by anyone wishing to transmit a message such as that of the Iranian spirituals to the West. Nor do I think that any more direct testimony [than this act of transmission] can be brought forward in support of what I was saying earlier about that which I owe to Heidegger and have subsequently conserved throughout an entire career of research and philosophical investigation. And that ought to be enough to dissipate the serious misunderstanding [by which Corbin was considered to have renounced Heidegger’s philosophy] that we have already dealt with here, at least to the extent that this misunderstanding has come about in good faith.
It has long since been observed that the “Analytic” - which is the application of the Heideggerian Hermeneutic - already tacitly posits a fundamental philosophical choice, a conception of the world, a Weltanschauung. This choice announces itself at the horizon within which the “Analytic” of the Da of the Dasein is deployed. But it is not at all necessary to adhere to this tacit Weltanschauung to make use of all the resources of an “Analytic” of this Da-sein which I translated earlier as to “engage an act of presence”. If one’s Weltanschauung does not coincide with that of Heidegger, this will translate into the fact that you give the Da of the Dasein another situs, another dimension, than that given it in Sein und Zeit. A while ago I drew a comparison [between the Hermeneutic] and the key that one is handed in order to open a lock. This key is indeed the hermeneutic, and it is up to you to give to this key the form adapted to the lock you have to open. The examples I recalled a few moments ago show us how, when adapted in this way, the clavis hermeneutica opens all the locks that close access to the veiled, to the occulted, to the esoteric. It is with the clavis hermeneutica that Swedenborg opens the locks of the Bible’s Arcana caelestia.
This key is, if I may say so, the principal tool with which the phenomenologist’s mental laboratory is equipped. But to make use of this clavis hermeneutica - Heidegger having shown one how it might be used and adapted - does not in any way demand, nor in any way mean, that one therefore shares the same world view, the same Weltanschauung as Heidegger. In fact, when it was insinuated that I had “mixed” up Heidegger with Suhravardi it was not with reference to this clavis hermeneutica - of whose very existence such detractors were ignorant - the intention was to insinuate that I had operated some type of syncretic conjunction between Heidegger’s Weltanschauung and that of the Iranian philosophers. The insinuation is so inept that I have questioned its being made in good faith. I have made use of the clavis hermeneutica in particular and I have written reams of pages to show the differences between the possible “doors” it might open. But to what end? The feeble minded critics don’t read them and persevere in their ineptitude.
As an example of my efforts to illustrate these differences and prevent confusion, I will refer to the work of one of the greatest Iranian philosophers, Mollâ Sadrâ Shîrâzî (XVIIth century), himself one of the great hermeneutic interpreters of Suhravardi’s Ishrâq. I have dealt with Mollâ Sadrâ in many of my books; have published and translated one of his treatises in its entirety, and given several courses on his works, as often in Paris as in Teheran. Mollâ Sadrâ is the author of a veritable metaphysical revolution in traditional Islamic philosophy. He was the first to shake the venerable metaphysics of the Essence from its moorings, replacing it by a metaphysics according priority and primacy to the act of Being: to Existence over Essence. Nothing more was needed for me to hear students and researchers in Teheran proclaiming with conviction that Mollâ Sadrâ was the true founder of Existentialism! Others, impressed by Mollâ Sadrâ’s cosmogony and grandiose psychology proudly found in his works that which they had more or less successfully assimilated of evolutionism. Of course, the Johannine element which one finds in the works of Mollâ Sadrâ and so many other Iranian philosophers -“Nothing returns to Heaven save that which has from it descended”- is completely alien to evolutionism. Mollâ Sadrâ’s philosophy of the active imagination as a purely spiritual power might well authorize certain comparisons with developments in Bergson’s Matter, Memory and Spiritual Energy. But the eschatological horizon of our Iranian philosophers is not a Bergsonian horizon.
So, in each instance I have had to go to great lengths, to double back and take up the charge again and again to avoid such confusions as ruin all serious attempts at comparative philosophy. And I have done so with the use of the clavis hermeneutica, which is to say by showing that, certain consonances notwithstanding, there subsisted fundamental differences in that we were dealing with modes of understanding (modi intelligendi) proceeding from entirely different modes of being (modi essendi). It was necessary to show that the respective ambition in each case corresponded to hermeneutical levels of differing degrees. Moreover, in translating and publishing Mollâ Sadrâ’s work, the “Book of Metaphysical Penetrations”, I had had the opportunity to insist at great length upon the particularities of the vocabulary ofBeing in Greek and in Latin, in Arabic and in Persian, in French and in German. There is no question, the translators of Toledo in the XIIth century, to whom I was referring a little earlier, have given us the elements of an Arabo-Latin philosophical vocabulary in which we find such words as mâhîya (quidditas, essentia), wojûd (esse, existere), mawjûd(ens), etc. One needs hardly refer to such consonances to understand that, with Mollâ Sadrâ, there is no trace of what has called itself “Existentialism” in France. I mean, nothing of that particular philosophy of existence, which has taken over the name. The fact is that the modes of being which are considered to be the supports of the primacy conferred upon “existence” are in both cases radically different. And they are so even without the added prejudice of the judgement past by Heidegger himself upon “existentialism” a word which the early Heideggerians would never have pronounced.
We are now touching upon the fundamental difference that underlies the passage -“my passage”- from Heidegger to Suhravardî, a difference upon which I would like to conclude. I have just indicated how the use of the clavis hermeneutica which Heidegger has handed to us in no way implies an adherence to his Weltanschauung. The hermeneutic proceeds from the “act of presence” signified in the Da of the Dasein; its task is therefore to illuminate how, in understanding itself, the human Being-there situates itself, circumscribes the Da, the situs of its presence and unveils the horizon which had up until then remained hidden. The metaphysics of the Ishrâqîyûn, and par excellence that of a Mollâ Sadrâ culminates in a metaphysics of Presence (hozûr). Around this situs Heidegger arranges all the ambiguity of human finitude characterized as a “Being-toward-Death” (Sein zum Tode). With a Mollâ Sadrâ, or an Ibn ‘Arabi the Presence as they experience it in this world - as it is unveiled by the “phenomenon of the world” lived by them - is not that Presence whose finality is death, a Being-towards-Death, but a “Being-towards-Beyond-Death”, let us say: Sein zum Jenseits des Todes. One may see quite clearly that the conception of the world, the pre-existential philosophical choice, whether it be that of Heidegger, or that of our Iranian “theosophers”, is itself constitutive of the Da of the Dasein, of the act of Being-there present to the world and its variants. From hereon in, all that remains to be done is to hold and press this notion of Presence, as closely and as intently as possible. To what is this human presence, this Being-there, present?
The investigation will begin, as well it ought to, with the gnoseology of the Ishrâqîyûn. They distinguish the following: there is a formal knowledge (‘ilm sûrî) that is the common form of knowledge; it is produced through the intermediary of a re-presentation, of a species, actualized in the soul. And there is a knowledge which they designate as a presentialknowledge (ilm hozuri) which does not pass through the intermediary of a representation, of a species, but is immediate presence, that by which the soul’s “act of presence” itself gives rise to the presence of things and renders present to itself, no longer objects but presences. It is this same knowledge that they typify as “Oriental” knowledge (‘ilm ishrâqî), which is at one and the same time the dawning of the Orient of Being upon the soul and the dawning of the matutinal illumination of the soul upon the things which it reveals and which it reveals to itself as co-presences. It is important that we always conserve the original signification of the word Ishrâq, that of the dawn and Orient of the Heavenly body, the rising sun. But here we are dealing with an Orient that one should not try to locate on our geographical maps, it is the dawning Light, a Light prior to all revealed things, to all presence, for it is that which reveals them, that by which the Presence is.
And so it will make all the difference, when we pose the question as follows: which presences does the human presence, render present to itself, in enacting its own presence? In other words, with which constellations of presences does the Daof the Dasein surround itself when it reveals itself to itself? To which worlds is it being present in its being there. Should I limit myself to the phenomenon of the world analyzed in Sein und Zeit? Or should I intuit, accept and amplify my presence to all the worlds and “inter-worlds”, as they are dis-covered and revealed to me by the “Oriental” Presence of our Islamic Iranian “theosophers”? In posing this question, I am merely illustrating the difference that I posited earlier. If Heidegger teaches us to analyze the Da of the Dasein, the “act of presence”, you can see that this in no way implies that the limits of the Heideggerian horizon impose themselves upon this “act of presence”, nor that it must immobilize itself in premature fashion. This is why, sometime earlier, I was evoking the decisive moment in which I was drawn towards hermeneutical levels that had not been foreseen by the Heideggerian Analytic that I had at my disposal. I am speaking of a dimension of the “act of presence” in which we feel ourselves to be in the company of the divine hierarchies of Proclus, the great neoplatonist, as well as those of Jewish gnosis, of Valentinian gnosis, of Islamic gnosis. Thenceforth it is the future yet-to-come, and the dimension of the future, which are being decided. If the “act of presence” is in fact the future ceaselessly constituting itself in the present, if the process of the yet-to-come constituting itself as my being-present is dependent upon my act of presence, then what is this yet-to-come future to be? The choice cannot be avoided – the philosophical option is there even before the hermeneutical process - for this choice is decisive: the hermeneutic merely discloses it.
On the one hand, we are made to hear the pathos-laden adage of the Heideggerian Analytic: to be free for one’s death. On the other hand we have the firm invitation to a freedom for the beyond of one’s death. Let us hold onto the wordEntschlossenheit: the resolute-decision [la decision résolue]. Today this term is translated by decision without withdrawal [decision sans retrait]. This is even better. For it is a question of knowing whether and in what measure this resolution is not a movement of withdrawal, of retreat, before death, an impotent inability to be free for that which is beyond one’s death, to render oneself present to and for that which is beyond death. I’m afraid that, having become the victims of widespread agnosticism, the humanity of today falters before the freedom for that which is beyond death. We have invested such a great measure of genius in building up all possible defenses: psychoanalysis, sociology and dialectical materialism, linguistics, historicism, etc., everything has been put in place to prohibit all perspective on, concern for, and signification of the beyond. Even an infinitely evolved humanity, after the hundreds of millennia imagined by Franz Werfel, in his immense and moving novel “The Star of the Unborn” (“Stern der Ungeborenen”), does not cease -with the exception of those few initiates of all eras, the “chronosophers”- in its too great fragility and age, to fall short of assuming the weight of its future in the beyond. And that is, after all, the metaphysical meaning of the word “Occident”: the decline, the setting, a meaning that Suhravardî typified in his “Tale of the Occidental Exile”. One day, perhaps, I will tell how this “Tale of the Occidental Exile” presented itself as the decisive moment in which I cast off the weight of finitudes that weigh beneath the overcast sky of Heideggerian freedom. I could not avoid perceiving that, beneath that somber sky, the Da of the Dasein was an isle of perdition, was precisely the isle of “Occidental exile”.
People tranquilize themselves by repeating: “ death is a part of life”. This is not true, unless one means to limit life to its biological expression. But biological life is itself derived from another life which is its independent source, and which is Life in its very essence. So long as the “resolute-decision” remains simply “freedom for one’s death”, death presents itself as a closure and not as an exitus. And so we will never take leave of this world. To be free for that which is beyond death, is to foresee and to bring about one’s death as an exitus, a leave-taking of this world towards other worlds. But it is the living, and not the dead, which leave this world.
I hope I have succeeded, in the course of these brief comments, in communicating how one and the same philosopher can be the first French translator of Heidegger and the hermeneute of the Iranian res religiosa. By this I mean, to have made understood all that I owe to the armament with which Heidegger’s hermeneutic has equipped me, and how and why I have used it to attain other heights. I believe that it has been an experiment of a different order than the more or less successful attempts that have been made to link Heidegger’s philosophy with theology. One must also understand, you see, how after my long years of Oriental pilgrimage, far from Europe, it was difficult for me to renew my ties with both Heidegger himself and his philosophy.
P.N. Now, Henry Corbin, you’ve just been speaking of the Heidegger whom you translated in 1938. You’ve underlined the contrast between the Heideggerian hermeneutic of the Dasein and that which you were led to discover by the mystics and philosophers of Iran. You have illustrated the extent of this contrast by referring to the meaning of the words “Orient” and “Oriental” as they are employed by these same philosophers. But are we to understand that Heidegger’s works subsequent to 1938 bear witness to a full stop and fixation upon positions already acquired? Are we to understand that the second half of Heidegger’s works, after the period of “Sein und Zeit” and of “What is Metaphysics?”, has changed nothing with regards to the closure that you experienced in the first part of his work?
H.C. Careful now! I certainly don’t want to employ the term “closure” in reference to a philosopher who, in his interrogation of Being, has on the contrary taught us to open so much that was hitherto locked shut. But the question which you posed concerned my own personal experience: what have the works and thought of Heidegger meant to one who was known at the same time, or has come to be known since, for his inquiries into and interpretations of an Iranian Islamic philosophy that had until then remained Terra incognita in the West. I have done my best to answer your question, and it should be understood that I have been referring to the works of Heidegger such as were at my disposition in 1938, and already of considerable weight. The question that you are now asking me, is in relation to the entirety of Heidegger’s work. To answer this question one would have to undertake a comparative study of the whole of Heidegger’s works and those of Iranian Islamic philosophy. Such a task may one day be conceivable, but I must admit that for the moment it exceeds my ambitions. There is still so very much for me to do on behalf of our Iranian philosophers, precisely in order that such a project of comparative philosophy may one day be possible. This task will concern our young philosopher colleagues, on the one hand those who will have maintained contact with Heidegger’s later work, a contact which I have inevitably lost over my many years spent in the East, and on the other hand the young philosophers, my own students and others, who for their part I have encouraged to study Arabic and Persian, in order that they may work - as philosophers - to tear Islamic philosophy and theosophy out of the ghetto of what has come to be called “Orientalism”.
As you well know, Heidegger’s work achieved considerable proportions. Is there not talk of a complete edition, which, with seminar transcripts included, will count some seventy volumes? This is, in fact on the same scale of the in-folio productions of our Oriental philosophers. There are thus great possibilities, vast works to envisage, unlimited “potentialities” to understand. It is time to repeat the call: Philosophers, to your stations! In any case, I believe it may be relevant here to offer a somewhat personal account in view of an eventual answer to an often-posed question, one that will perhaps remain an enigma. The question concerns the fate of what would have been the second part of “Sein und Zeit”, second part without which the first is nought but an arch deprived of its spring, and which, there can be no doubt, would have completed the ontological edifice of what we have referred to as the “historial”. Indeed, I saw the manuscript of this second part, with my own eyes, on Heidegger’s work desk in Freiburg in July 1936. It was contained in a large sheath. Heidegger even amused himself by putting it in my hands that I might weigh it, and it was heavy. What has since come of this manuscript? There have been some contradictory answers to this question: as for myself, I have none to offer.
Returning to your question. Just as I cannot speak of a definitive “closure” in Heidegger’s philosophical proceeding, the sheer extent of his work will not permit us to speak of a halting or of a fixation. In fact, the question does not lie therein. The real question is whether or not the Heideggerian Analytic, in the multiple aspects of its distinct applications and throughout its far-reaching proceedings, has not maintained the tacit presuppositions underlying a distinct Weltanshauungin evidence from the very beginning. To analyze the being-for-death as anticipating the very possibility of a human-being’s forming a completed whole, does this or does it not already imply a philosophy of life and of death? I believe that for the “Oriental” philosophers to whom I’ve been referring, the idea of such a completion, proclaims on the contrary an acceptance of the incompletion of a being condemned to fall behind, to fall short of himself. This is why I preferred to speak of a hermeneutic of human existence immobilizing itself prematurely upon an achievement which is in fact forever unattainable without a leap forward (vorlaufen), a leap into the beyond.
Henry Corbin, I would like to ask you one last question. You have clearly distinguished between the horizon of Heidegger’s Analytic and the “Oriental” horizon. Nonetheless, if it is true that in Heidegger’s work there is no place for the notion of God, since for him God may be assimilated to a metaphysical concept - that of the supreme existent Being - Heidegger still reserves a place in his thought for the dimension of the “sacred”, for a difference which he calls the ontological difference between Existence and the existent, which is to say the difference between two worlds, the eternal world above and the provisional world below. Is there not, therein, the means of bringing about a convergence between religious thought and Heidegger’s own thinking?
H.C. I’m under the impression, my dear Philippe Némo, that the question as you have posed it would tend to make of Heidegger a great Platonist. It would thus place you on a scabrous path where you would have to watch every step you made. I am not sure that I am able to follow you in this direction. Let us first recall that Heidegger did indeed have a presentiment of the “Oriental” dimension, even if not entirely the “Orient” as understood by the Ishrâqîyûn, “Persian Platonists”. You yourself must certainly have heard some echo of the striking declarations made by Heidegger concerning the Upanishads, declarations that leave one with the feeling that it was ultimately something along those lines that he was in search of. That said, we must recognize that the relation between Existence and the existent is not at all equivalent to the relation between the world above and the world below. It does not suffice to establish an opposition between a world of Existence and a world of existents, to gain access to the sacred. The world of existents does not signify eo ipso a provisional world of decay, for each and every universe of the gods and of the angels is an eternal universe of the existent. At the same time, you have put your finger upon an essential point by recalling that for Heidegger the concept of God is the metaphysical concept of the supreme existent Being (Ens Supremum, Summum Ens) and he was aware of the difficulty, among others, which arises when one questions the relation between the Summun Ens and the non-ens, thenihil, the nothingness, when we say that the ens creatum is created ex nihilo, from nothingness, by the Ens increatum. Here we are touching upon a fundamental difficulty, so radical in fact, that it throws in question the very meaning of monotheism. I believe that this difficulty has been observed best and above all by the Islamic “theosophers” whose unparalleled vigilance stems, I believe, from the fact that the horizon of Islamic thought and spirituality is dominated by the tawhîd, the affirmation of the Unique. And what is the nature of this “Unique”?
A catastrophic confusion is prone to arise, and one that has been denounced with lucidity by our Iranian mystic “theosophers”. The confusion in question has been committed by many Sufis and, following these, by many an Orientalist. This is the confusion between the Esse or Existence/Being (wojûd in the Arabic) and the ens or the existent (mawjûd in the Arabic). Here, no question, we have not left Heidegger’s company. In Islamic theosophy, Ibn ‘Arabi (XIIIth century) firmly established the difference between the theological tawhîd (olûhî) and the ontological tawhîd(wojûdî). The exoteric theological tawhîd effectively affirms the “Unicity” or Oneness of God as Ens Supremum, as the Existent which dominates all other existents. The esoteric ontological tawhîd affirms the transcendental “Unicity” or Oneness of Existence/Being. Existence/Being or the esse, is essentially one and unique. The beings (existents) which Existence actualizes in their very act of being are essentially multiple. The one and unique Existence, and the one and unique Divine Existent, ineffable in the depths of its mystery, is the Absconditum and can only be addressed from afar by an apophatic or negative theology. It cannot be positively known except in its theophanies: the Theophany itself is therefore essential for an affirmative theology to be possible. And that is precisely why, if the Divinity is one and unique, the Gods - which is to say the Divine Names, the Divine Figures, the theophanic Figures - are multiple. No one of their number needs to fulfill the function of the supreme Cause. To confound one of these necessary Figures with the one and unique Divinity is to instate a unique idol in the place of the others, and monotheism thus perishes in its victory. To affirm the unity of the Esse, the unique Esse being the divinity itself, is to affirm the very essence, but that is in no way equivalent to affirming the unity of all that is existent. It would be monstrous to say that there is only one existent being. It would be an instance of metaphysical nihilism which reality would take upon itself to disprove. If we make of God a Summun Ens, the Ens unicum, the unique existent being, all the other existent beings fall into abysmal indifferentiation and nothingness, and the entire order of Existence in the hierarchy of beings disappears. It is perhaps this illusion which has intoxicated many pseudo-mystics, and which certain Occidental interpreters have designated as “existential monism”, without realizing that the very term itself involves a contradictio in adjecto, the existential being essentially multiple. As for the relation between the Esse unicum and the entia (this Unicum in fact transcending the Esse which it makes to-be in the existents themselves), this has been best formulated by our great philosopher Proclus: it is the relation between the Henad of Henads and the hierarchy of beings that he monadises in bringing them into being. There is in fact no existent-being in any other form than that of one being (whether it is a question of one God, of one Angel, of one human, of one species, ofone constellation, etc.). Ens et unum convertuntur. This is the reason our great speculative theosophers (“speculative” in the sense of the word speculum, mirror) have always posited that the active Subject of the tawhîd, is the One itself. It is the Uni-fier. It is That which makes each being, each one of us, one being, a unique one in relation to which the One is the Source of its singularity. This is what the mystic Hallâj was formulating when he said: “the simple economy of the Unique is to be made unique by the Unique”.
We are perhaps now relatively far a-field from the Existence and the existents as they concerned Heidegger. But this is only a question of appearance, since it is your question which had led us to bring up this theosophical aspect of the metaphysics of Being for which Ibn ‘Arabi remains our greatest teacher. You see, I have just said that the Theophany (tajallî ilâhî) is essential, and is so in multiple Figures corresponding to each of those for whom and to whom they theophanise. But the personal theophanic God does not have to assume the functions of the supreme Cause orAbsconditum. Monotheism can only save itself from this confusion, with its underlying political dimensions, through the esoteric paradox of the “multiple-One”. Existentially, we might say that it is the human being who reveals to him or herself something (or someone) like God. Theologically it is God who reveals himself to the human being. Mystical speculative theosophy rises above this dilemma by making these two simultaneous truths inseparable. In revealing Himself to the human being, the personalized God of the personal theophany reveals the human being to itself, and in revealing the human being to itself, He reveals it to Himself and reveals Himself to Himself. In each instance, the eye that sees is simultaneously the eye that is seen. Every theophany (from the lowest initial degree of mental vision onwards) accomplishes itself simultaneously in these two aspects. We may be witness here to something like a superceded neo-Platonism, but the surpassing is the work of Ibn ‘Arabî rather than of Heidegger. There remains, of course, much important research to be carried out along this path. But in the meantime, the impression I am left with - one that was formulated by a colleague, I believe it was Pierre Trotignon – is as follows: the Heideggerian hermeneutic gives the impression of a theology without theophany.
P.N. It is indeed necessary to push ahead with such research, for there is also the thematic of the Word which was ultimately inaugurated – in the modern era - by Heidegger, and which is nevertheless in such close accord with the Tradition, notably the biblical Tradition of the Word of God, and there, clearly, we are in the tradition of the sacred. Whether this sacred takes the name of God or simply takes the name of Existence, what is most fundamentally important is the ontological difference taken in itself, the difference between Existence and existents, just as in the various religions there is a difference between the world above and the world below. If we take this difference in and of itself do we not then find that a self-same inspiration exists between Heidegger and what is left of the Religious world?
H.C. I fully understand your concern. Your query brings us to question ourselves upon the relation between the Logos of Heidegger’s onto-logy and the Logos of theo-logy or better yet: the Logos of all the theologies of the Book. Firstly, I recalled some time ago that adage which is common among our mystical “theosophers” and which is nothing other than a reminiscence of the Gospel of John (3/13): “Nothing returns to Heaven, save that which has from it descended.” Has the Logos of the Heideggerian Analytic come down from Heaven to be capable of re-ascending? Because I think that your search for a common inspiration between Heidegger and the rest of the Religious world can be symbolized in this way. If it has been shown that we may, without too great difficulty, study the laicising processes that have profaned the sacred, wehave not seen testimony of any re-sacralisation of the laical. We are certainly witness to a frequent promotion of the laical, according the latter those privileges and prerogatives that once belonged to the sacred. This is however, nothing more than a demoniacal caricature. Metaphysical laicising merely takes care of the death of the Gods, and not of their resurrection. As such, we need to concentrate all our efforts on this word “resurrection”. All the meanings that it comports imply the rupture of the well-ordered system of things: a tearing away, a leave-taking of the tomb. The resurrection is announced to us after the fact: by the mystery of the empty tomb. On the contrary the laicising of our day, in its caricature of the sacred, contents itself with the pseudo-cult of the inhabited tomb. And I believe that the herald of any resurrection is par excellence the Verb – the Verb that sounds with divine sovereignty.
Your question also brings us back, and that most pertinently, to the theme of the Word, to the biblical Tradition of the divine Verb. There is no question that we find a thematic of the Word in Heidegger’s works. But let us not forget that, in this domain our Jewish Cabalist friends, as well as our Cabalists in Christendom and in Islam, have been our best teachers and guides for centuries now, and they remain so today. They have admirably analyzed the phenomenon of the Word: how the Word became Book, how the written Word is resuscitated as living Verb. By comparison, the thematic of the Word as dealt with by Heidegger seems frought with ambiguity: is it a twilight, - a twilight consisting in the laicising of the Verb? Or is it a dawn, announcing the palingenesis, the resurrection of the biblical Tradition’s Verb? The answer will depend upon those asking themselves the question, and the choices underlying these answers make me think that if the philosophy of Hegel has given birth to a Hegelian right and a Hegelian left the question which you are asking is among those that may bring Heidegger’s philosophy, volens nolens, to give birth to a Heideggerian right and a Heideggerianism left.
But the essential thing, as it appears to me for the moment, and one which attests to the coherence of this interview, is that your question brings us back to our starting point. I began by recalling the theological origins of the idea of hermeneutics that we find in Heidegger’s works. And now your question concerning the Verb, which is central to hermeneutics, brings us back to these same origins. We have thus come full circle within the hermeneutic circuit, and that’s a good sign.
I believe that my own experience, as I have tried to retrace it, is in accordance with the concern your question expresses, in the very measure in which the Heideggerian hermeneutic, a distant offspring of Schleiermacher, was for me the threshold of an integral hermeneutics. Let us recall its characteristics. I do not believe that the inoffensive “fourfold meaning” to which common medieval exegesis was attached has the virtue of leading us to an unforeseen level of being, into a hermeneutic adventure admitting of neither “withdrawal” nor return. Quite to the contrary, there is a hermeneutic of the Verb - imparted to the religions of the Book - that has always had as its very essence the virtue of producing a heightening, an exit, an ek-stasis towards those other invisible worlds which give its “real meaning” to our “phenomenon of the world”. I am thinking, in Christianity, of the great Gnostic Valentine, of Joachim de Flore, of Sebastian Franck, of Jacob Boehme, of Swedenborg, of F.C. Oetinger, and many many others. So many witnesses testifying together with their esotericist Jewish and Islamic brethren, that the phenomenon of the Sacred Book, far from immobilizing the initiative and development of thought is in fact its most lively stimulant. Only, just as others have spoken of the need for a “permanent revolution” I would suggest the need for a “permanent hermeneutic”. Nor do I mean thereby, an accommodation of historical and archeological discoveries – the latter leading most often to the reduction of the “historical recital” of the Holy Book to the banal dimensions of a cross-section of diverse facts for which we have a ready made sociological explanation at hand, at the same time eliminating the occasional superfluous word of a slightly embarrassing “sacred” nature – but quite to the contrary, the “permanent hermeneutic” does not alter even a single word within the Tradition, each word is to be conserved, for each word participates in a new fulgurating encounter between the Image and the Idea.
Only, would Heidegger, have followed our lead in this operation that would tend to convert the Logos of his ontology into a theological Logos? When the occasion arose for him to stage the confrontation between philosophy and theology (one of his articles carries the same title) in which direction did he operate the conversion? And firstly, who must the Theos be? I have tried to express it. But our uncertainty as to his possible response is merely secondary. A Heideggerian “orthodoxy” is out of the question, and we simply have to pursue our task as we understand it. Perhaps one day we will find - within the mass of his unpublished work, or in some recorded interview - the indication of an answer. But it is also possible that he has taken his secret with him forever.
That is why, today, I prefer simply to say, as we do in Arabic: Rahmat Allâh ‘alay-hi: May the divine Mercy be with him.
(This interview was recorded for Radio France-Culture, on Wednesday, the second of June 1976. The text was revised and completed with the use of notes taken on this occasion, both before and after the interview).