Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Wendell Berry, Soft Traditionalist

Photo from the New Yorker
Wendell Berry
(born 1934), the American writer and agrarian, has spent much of his life siding with the land against the industrial exploiters of the land, and of farmers, and of the American rural way of life. He has written essays and books, notably The Unsettling of America (1977), as well as poetry and novels, notably Nathan Coulter (1960). For some, he follows in the steps of Henry David Thoreau. In another way, he also follows in the steps of the English Traditionalist and environmentalist Lord Northbourne (1896-1982), who combined Traditionalist perspectives with the biodynamic theories of the founder of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). 

In 2008, the Maryami-affiliated publisher World Wisdom Books published a collection of Lord Northbourne’s writings, and Berry wrote a foreword to it. In this he noted that Northbourne had aligned himself with René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Marco Pallis, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Titus Burckhardt, and Martin Lings, and added “I have read the four last-named at length and have been strongly affected and influenced by them.” 

That Berry did not describe himself as affected and influenced by Guénon and Schuon makes sense: he generally keeps away from religion in his writings, as “religion is a far more difficult subject than agriculture,” as he wrote. Yet “those who take agriculture seriously enough and study it long enough will come to issues that will have to be recognized as religious.” 

What, then, was the influence of the Traditionalists on Berry? It is hard to say, as he does not often name them in his writings. He is certainly a “soft” Traditionalist, drawing on the body of Traditionalist thought without dedicating himself to it. He values quality and form over quantity, and is as critical of modernity as any Traditionalist, following Coomaraswamy (and before him Ruskin) in associating it with industrial civilization. In opposition to modern industrial civilization he places not tradition but the rural, but with reservations. 

In one essay he quotes at length a late-eighteenth-century Methodist minister describing the behavior of a group of men from Kentucky (where Berry was born and lives) who passed the time after dinner by fighting each other. “The significance of this bit of history is in its utter violence,” notes Berry. And not just the violence of the men fighting each other, but of the way they also fought the “Indians,” and also the way that they treated the land they were occupying—far more brutally than the Indians, or “the peasants of certain old agricultural societies, particularly in the Orient.” The difference was that the Indian and the peasant “belonged deeply and intricately to their places,” while Americans of European origin, did not belong in any place, and on the whole still do not. And from this results the environmental crisis, the loss of topsoil that Berry often laments, and the loss of the life properly lived.

My thanks to Travis Kitchens for drawing my attention to Berry.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

New article on Traditionalism in South American Literature and Academia

Just published (online first): Mark Sedgwick, “Guénonian Traditionalism in South American Literature and Academia,” International Journal of Latin American Religions. Online first https://doi.org/10.1007/s41603-021-00134-6. Free view (not download) available on https://rdcu.be/ckZ0Z

According to the abstract,

Perennialist or Guénonian Traditionalism is a global esoteric movement that is found in South America as it is in North America and Europe. Its major religious form, which is Sufi, is also found in South America, as is its major political form, which is on the Right. This article investigates what further impact Traditionalism has had in South America and finds that this has been primarily in Argentina’s literary and artistic milieu during the 1920s to 1940s and among philosophers and anthropologists in Argentina and Peru from the 1950s until today. The literary impact in Argentina is comparable to that which Traditionalism had in France at the same time but is more significant, perhaps because the period is so important for Spanish American literature. The academic impact in Argentina and Peru is comparable to the impact that Traditionalism had in the USA, at the same time, but differs in its disciplinary profile and religious forms. In the USA Traditionalists are found in departments of religious studies and Islamology and are often Sufis. In Argentina and Peru, there are few Sufis and more alternative religious forms. The difference, it is suggested, may reflect the special status of indigenous peoples in Peru, the historic strength of the Gurdjieff movement throughout Latin America, and differences in the structure of South American and North American universities.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

New collection on Ivan Aguéli

Just published: Anarchist, Artist, Sufi: The Politics, Painting, and Esotericism of Ivan Aguéli, edited by Mark Sedgwick (Bloomsbury). 

14 chapters by 13 scholars, plus English translations of some of Aguéli's own writings. Sections on art (and anarchism) in Paris, Sufism in Cairo, and Traditionalism--influence on René Guénon. and Traditionalist theories of art. 

Chapter 13, "The significance of Ivan Aguéli for the Traditionalist movement," looks directly at Aguéli, Guénon, and later Traditionalists, but the chapters on Aguéli the Sufi will also be of interest to those who are interested in Traditionalism. And the chapters on Aguéli the Anarchist Artist place everything in a wider context.

And as the blurb says, the book shows that "Islam occupied a more central place in modern European intellectual history than is generally realized. [Aguéli's] life reflects several major modern intellectual, political, and cultural trends. This book is an important contribution to understanding how he came to Islam, the values and influences that informed his life, and-ultimately-the role he played in the modern Western reception of Islam."

The table of contents is:

1. Ivan Aguéli: politics, painting and esotericism, Mark Sedgwick (Aarhus University, Denmark)

Part I: Ivan Aguéli, the Anarchist Artist
2. Ivan Aguéli's life and work, Viveca Wessel (formerly Moderna Museet, Sweden)
3. Exploring the territories of the avant-garde: Ivan Aguéli and the institutions of his time, Annika Öhrner (Södertörn University, Sweden)
4. Ivan Aguéli the esotericist in reality and fiction, Per Faxneld (Södertörn University, Sweden)
5. Ivan Aguéli's monotheistic landscapes: From perspectival to solar logics, Simon Sorgenfrei (Södertörn University, Sweden)
6. Painting the sacred as an initiatic path: Art and Cubism in the eyes of Ivan Aguéli, Thierry Zarcone (CNRS, Paris, France)
7. “Kill the audience:” Ivan Aguéli's moralistic utopia of anarchism and Islam, Anthony T. Fiscella (Formerly Lund University, Sweden)

Part II: Ivan Aguéli the Sufi
8. Ivan Aguéli's second period in Egypt, 1902–09: The intellectual spheres around Il Convito/Al-Nadi, Paul-André Claudel (University of Nantes, France)
9. Sufi Teachings for pro-Islamic Politics: Ivan Aguéli and Il Convito, Alessandra Marchi (University of Cagliari, Italy)
10. Ivan Aguéli and the legacy of Emir Abdelkader, Iheb Guermazi (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA)
11. Ivan Aguéli's humanist vision: Islam, Sufism and universalism, Meir Hatina (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)
12. Feminism and the Divine Feminine: An exploration of female elements in Ivan Aguéli and subsequent Traditionalist thought, Marcia Hermansen (Loyola University, USA)

Part III: Ivan Aguéli and Traditionalism
13. The significance of Ivan Aguéli for the Traditionalist movement, Mark Sedgwick (Aarhus University, Denmark)
14. What is esotericism in art? Ivan Aguéli's art versus the Traditionalists' “traditional Art,” Patrick Ringgenberg (University of Lausanne, Switzerland)

Part IV: Writings by Ivan Aguéli
15. Letter from Paris
16. Letter from Ceylon
17. The Enemies of Islam
18. Pure Art
19. Universality in Islam

Bibliography
Index

The book is currently available only in hardback at £85 or $137.60 and on Kindle at £51.11 or $82.80, so get your library to order or it or wait for the paperback. And in the meantime you can read the introduction and bits of some other chapters on Google Books here.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

A new book from Louis Charbonneau-Lassay

Louis Charbonneau-Lassay
(1871-1946), a specialist in Christian symbolism, was a friend of René Guénon, whom he told about the Estoile Internelle, an Christian initiatic organisation that at one point interested the early Traditionalists.

In addition to the Charbonneau-Lassay archives (see earlier post here) we now have a reconstruction of his final great work, Le Vulnéraire du Christ: La mystérieuse emblématique des plaies du corps et du coeur de Jésus-Chris (Gutemberg, 2018), and in English translation, The Vulnerary of Christ: The Mysterious Emblems of the Wounds in the Body and Heart of Jesus Christ (New York: Angelico Press, 2020). A vulnerary is, of course, something used in the cure of wounds. 

The Vulnerary has been reconstituted by Gauthier Pierozak, the manager of the invaluable René Guénon archive at www.index-rene-guenon.org.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Traditionalist sympathizer resigns as Brazilian Foreign Minister

Ernesto Araújo, probable Traditionalist sympathizer (see earlier post here), resigned as Brazilian foreign minister on March 29, 2021.

The resignation came as part of a major cabinet reshuffle and in response to growing criticism of Araújo's record, notably in connection with relations with China (and former President Trump) and thus with obtaining supplies of Covid vaccine.