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Friday, April 03, 2020

Obituaries

Four of this blog's eight posts for 2020 so far have been obituaries. Although this feels like the passing of a generation, the four deaths were in fact of people from three different generations: Michel Chodkiewicz (1929-2020) was from the generation that grew up immediately after the Second World War, Eduard Limonov (1943-2020) was of the generation that made the 1960s, and James Cutsinger (1953-2020) and Yahya Bonnaud (1957-2019) were of the following generation.

What is striking, however, is that three of these four were interesting primarily in religion, while today's leading Traditionalists often seem to be interested primary in politics, not religion. So something is indeed changing.

Michel Chodkiewicz (1929-2020)

Michel Chodkiewicz died on 31 March 2020, at the age of 90.

Chodkiewicz was a leading French scholar of Ibn al-Arabi, a Muslim, and by origin a Traditionalist, once a follower of Michel Vâlsan, the Rumanian Traditionalist who broke with Frithjof Schuon and led  an important tariqa in Paris for many years.

As I wrote in Against the Modern World,
Among other early followers of Vâlsan were a penniless marquis of the pre-Napoleonic nobility and a young French student named Michel Chodkiewicz. The son of a magistrate, Chodkiewicz read Guénon's Crise du monde moderne at 18 while doing his military service at Tours airbase, and then the rest of Guénon's work, and became Muslim in 1950 after being introduced to Vâlsan by the nephew of the penniless marquis. Chodkiewicz was the first French Traditionalist to begin what may be called the revenge of Traditionalism against the Sorbonne. His initial project of a Ph.D. thesis on Ibn al-Arabi had to be abandoned in the face of resistance from Louis Massignon, who dominated French Islamic studies in the 1950s and who had no sympathy for Ibn al-Arabi, and also in the face of the need to support a young family. Chodkiewicz followed his shaykh in many things, but not in his spartan lifestyle. He got a job with the major French publisher Editions du Seuil and remained there until his retirement in 1989, by then du Seuil's president. Despite this career, he continued work on Ibn al-Arabi, publishing various high-quality translations of and studies on his work, and also on his later follower, the Amir Abd al-Qadir (in whose Damascus circle Aguéli's shaykh Illaysh had once been). Chodkiewicz's work received the academic recognition it deserved, and beginning in 1982 he taught as an adjunct professor at the Sorbonne while also running du Seuil. After his retirement from du Seuil he was appointed to a full professorship, from which he retired in 1994, generally accepted as one of the leading figures in the French study of Islam (pp. 134-35).
 His most important works were:

  • An ocean without shore: Ibn ʻArabî, the Book, and the Law (originally Un Océan sans rivage. Ibn 'Arabî, le Livre et la Loi, 1992). 
  • The spiritual writings of Amir ʻAbd al-Kader (originally Émir Abd el-Kader, Écrits spirituels, présentation, traduction et notes 1982). 
  • Seal of the saints: prophethood and sainthood in the doctrine of Ibn ʻArabī (origianlly Le Sceau des Saints, Prophétie et Sainteté dans la doctrine d'Ibn 'Arabî, 1986).

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Eduard Limonov (1943-2020)

Eduard Limonov died of cancer on March 17, 2020. Limonov was not himself a Traditionalist, but between 1993 and 1998 he worked with Russia's leading Traditionalist Alexander Dugin (seen here in an early photograph with Limonov, R) in the National Bolshevik Party (NBP). Limonov was also editor of Limonka (Grenade), the NBP newspaper, in which Dugin wrote.

Alexander Chernykh noted in the Russian newspaper Kommersant that an obituary was meant to tell the story of the life of the deceased, but in the case of Limonov, every Russian already knew that life anyhow. For those outside Russia who do not know the story, Limonov was a dissident poet and writer who went into exile from the USSR in New York, a period of his life that formed the basis of his best-known novel, It's me, Eddie (Это я — Эдичка), written in 1976, published in Paris in 1979, and then in Russia in 1991. It's me, Eddie, with its foul language and highly-colored sex scenes, both shocked and entertained the Russian public. It is available in English translation.

After returning to Russia following the collapse of the USSR, Limonov combined writing with political action that was quite as shocking and, for some, quite as entertaining as his writing. He started the NBP with Dugin and the musician Yegor Letov in 1993, and another musician, Sergey Kuryokhin (1954-96), soon also joined the NBP leadership. Dugin, however, broke with Limonov and left the NBP in 1998.

The NBP carried out a number of dramatic provocations, and Limonov was arrested in 2001 under terrorism charges. The terrorism charges were dismissed, but Limonov was still convicted for illegal possession of weapons, and jailed until 2003. On his release, he continued to write and lead the NBP, which was banned as an extremist organization in 2007 and then refounded as Other Russia (Другая Россия), which still exists.

In an interview after Limonov's death, Dugin described him as "a man of his time, of a world that no longer exists," and as an eternal teenager. "He remained true to himself," said Dugin, and "died at the age of 14."

Although it is the NBP that matters for the history of Russian Traditionalism, Limonov will be remembered primarily for his writing.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Traditionalists and Neo-Tradtionalists

A new edited book has two chapters on Neo-Traditionalists, one of which also deals with a Traditionalist, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad in Jordan, and with the reading of Julius Evola by a Neo-Traditionlaist, Abdal Hakim Murad in England. The book as a whole deals with modernity in the Muslim world.

The book is Muslim Subjectivities in Global Modernity: Islamic Traditions and the Construction of Modern Muslim Identities, ed. Dietrich Jung and Kirstine Sinclair (Leiden: Brill, 2020).

The first chapter is Mark Sedgwick, "The Modernity of Neo-Traditionalist Islam," pp. 121–146, available https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004425576_008.
Abstract: The chapter discusses certain exponents of “traditional Islam” who are organized in an informal network spanning both the Arab world and the West and who are referred to as “Neo-traditionalists,” since the chapter argues that their traditionalism is, in fact, modern. The key figures are Muhammad Saʿid Ramadan al-Buti in Syria, ʿAli Gomaa in Egypt, ʿUmar bin Hafiz in Yemen, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and Nuh Keller in Jordan, Abdal Hakim Murad in England, and Hamza Yusuf Hanson in the USA. It is argued that Neo-Traditionalism is a product of what Peter Wagner would call a “crisis of modernity,” the reaction against one stage of modernity that gives rise to a new stage of modernity. 
And the second chapter is Kirstine Sinclair, "An Islamic University in the West and the Question of Modern Authenticity," pp. 147–165, available https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004425576_009.
Abstract: The aim of this chapter is to discuss how Islamic universities in the West facilitate and condition the formation of modern Muslim subjectivities in minority contexts with emphasis on the institutions as providers of guidelines for good, Muslim minority life. This is done through a case study of Cambridge Muslim College in the UK, its values and aims, as well as through interviews with the founder and dean [Abdal Hakim Murad], faculty members and students and participatory observation. Cambridge Muslim College sees itself as mediator between Islamic traditions and modern Muslims in the West, and as having a responsibility in engaging in the development of both Muslim minorities and the wider society within which it operates. 
For those who are interested in modernity, the blurb of the book as a whole is:
With critical reference to Eisenstadt's theory of "multiple modernities," Muslim Subjectivities in Global Modernity discusses the role of religion in the modern world. The case studies all provide examples illustrating the ambition to understand how Islamic traditions have contributed to the construction of practices and expressions of modern Muslim selfhoods. In doing so, they underpin Eisenstadt's argument that religious traditions can play a pivotal role in the construction of historically different interpretations of modernity. At the same time, however, they point to a void in Eisenstadt's approach that does not problematize the multiplicity of forms in which this role of religious traditions plays out historically. Consequently, the authors of the present volume focus on the multiple modernities within Islam, which Eisenstadt's theory hardly takes into account.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Heidegger, Traditionalism, and Iranian theories of art

A new chapter in a collection on Heidegger in the Islamicate World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) discusses the impact of Heidegger and on post-revolutionary Iranian art theory, and on the art theory of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the Traditionalist successor of Frithjof Schuon in the United States. It is “Heidegger’s Role in the Formation of Art Theory in Contemporary Iran” by Amir Nasri, an Iranian scholar (pp. 55-67).

Nasri’s starting point is the Hawza-i andishe ve hunari islami (School of Islamic Thought and Art), known for short as the Hawza-i hunari (School of Art), the Tehran-based organization that in Nasri's view was “the most important artistic school of the first decade after the revolution.” The Hawza-i hunari’s art theory was, according to Nasri, impacted especially by three pre-revolutionary intellectuals: Ahmad Fardid (1910-94), Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933), and Daryush Shayegan (1935-2018). All three were in turn impacted by the great French Iranologist, Henry Corbin (1903-78), who was himself a follower of Heidegger.

Fardid, who was a professor of philosophy and Heidegger’s great advocate in Iran, is not now widely known, but it was he, according to Nasri, who was the inventor of the seminal term gharbzadegi (Westoxification or Occidentosis) that was famously popularized by the novelist Jalal Al-e Ahmad. After the revolution, Fardid became an influential theorist in the Islamic Republic; Nasr and Shayegan went into exile, Nasr permanently, but even so were read at the Hawza-i hunari. Nasr, as noted, became a leading Traditionalist; Shayegan moved away from Traditionalism, questioning whether “the tradition” had ever actually existed.

Nasri traces the influence of Heidegger in Corbin’s concept of the “ideal space,” born of Heidegger’s emphasis on the importance of the Origin (Ursprung) in art combined with Suhrawardi’s understanding of the ideal world. For Corbin, the “ideal space” was key to understanding Persian miniature painting. In this he was followed by Nasr and Shayegan, who also cited Heidegger directly while arguing that the art of the East and of the West do not share a common language. Both Nasr and Shayegan thus looked for the revival of Iranian art through the rediscovery of tradition, as did Fardid.

Nasr then combined Corbin's partly Heidegger-derived concept with Guénon's important pair of quality and quantity. The two-dimensional ideal space is, for Nasr, qualitative rather than quantitative: the quantitative leads to naturalism. Nasr's mature argument is not just Traditionalist, then, but also Heideggerian.