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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Traditionalism and Islamic esotericism in Italy and in theory

A new issue of Correspondences has three articles of interest, all available open-access online. One deals specifically with the Ahmadiyya Idrisiyya that was established in Italy by Abd al-Wahed Pallavici, and two deal with the meaning of "esotericism" at a theoretical level.

The articles are:

Lenin was a mushroom

One of those who founded the National Bolshevik Party together with Alexander Dugin was Sergey Kuryokhin (1954-96), famous among other things for his claim, made during one of the strangest television programs ever broadcast in the USSR, that V. I. Lenin was in fact a mushroom. The most important parts of these broadcasts, with English subtitles, are now available on YouTube: Part 1 here, and part 2 here. Thanks to Jesse Walker in Reason for bringing these clips to light.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Guénon, Saint-Point, and Agarttha

A new collection in French casts light on the life of Valentine de Saint-Point (1875-1953), best known for the first part of her life as poet and novelist, Futurist and feminist, but also a convert to Islam (as Rawhiya Nour Eddine) and friend of René Guénon in Cairo. It is Valentine de Saint-Point. Des feux de l'avant-garde à l'appel de l'Orient (Valentine de Saint-Point: From the Fires of the Avant-garde to the Call of the Orient), edited by Paul-André Claudel and Élodie Gaden, and published by the Presses Universitaires de Rennes (2019) at €28.

The book consists of seven sections: artistic beginnings, artistic experiments, “Latin Sisters: Artistic and Theoretical Dialog with Italy,” feminism, politics, influences, and inheritance. Most of these deal with the avant-garde. The call of the Orient is dealt with primarily in the section on politics, in which three of four chapters cover the last three decades of Saint-Point’s life, spent in Cairo, and her Islam. They are by Frédérique Poissonier, Daniel Lançon, and Alessandra Marchi. Poissonier looks primarily at French diplomatic correspondence relating to the attempted expulsion from Egypt of Saint-Point for conducting Bolshevik propaganda, Lançon looks most importantly at Saint-Point’s short-lived Egyptian journal, Le Phœnix. Revue de la renaissance orientale (The Phoenix: Review of the Oriental Renaissance), and Marchi looks at Saint-Point’s conversion to Islam, which she compares to that of an Italian contemporary of Saint-Point, the Italian anarchist (and friend of Benito Mussolini) Leda Rafanelli (1880-1971).

The main source for the relationship between Guénon and Saint-Point is Saint-Point herself, writing in the newspaper L’Egypte nouvelle in 1952, on the first anniversary of Guénon’s death. She had been forewarned of Guénon’s arrival in Cairo, she wrote, and during the years before Guénon’s marriage in 1934 he had visited her weekly, and they spent many hours together. She was not, however, a disciple of his, having made her own study of religions and esotericism before she met him. His work contributed some details to her understanding that were interesting, but “not indispensable.”

One writer who seems to have been more indispensable for Saint-Point was an earlier French esotericist, Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre (1842-1909), who was also appreciated by Guénon. This, and the fact that the circles Saint-Point had inhabited in Europe connected with those that Guénon had inhabited, probably explains the close relationship between Saint-Point and Guénon.

Saint-Yves was best known for a political system, “synarchy,” that he proposed as an alternative to anarchy. He was also known for his description of Agarttha, a subterranean synarchical utopia located somewhere in Asia, probably in India. Agarttha was described in Saint-Yves’ Mission de l'Inde en Europe, mission de l'Europe en Asie. La question du Mahatma et sa solution (India's mission in Europe, Europe's Mission in Asia: The Question of the Mahatma and its Solution), written in 1886 but withdrawn from the press and then not published until after Saint-Yves’ death, in 1910. Its final publication was the work of Papus (Gérard Encausse, 1865-1916), the founder of the Martinist Order, to which Guénon had once belonged. Encausse had acquired Saint-Yves’ papers.

Mission de l'Inde does not deal directly with the question of the Mahatma, which may have been added as a subtitle by Papus to improve sales. This question was raised by the Theosophist Helena Blavatsky (1831-91), who claimed to be in receipt of communications from enlightened adepts known as Mahatmas. It was never made clear who these Mahatmas were. Saint-Yves’ book suggests an answer: they were inhabitants of Agarttha, initiates who guarded the ancient, esoteric Tradition (given a capital T by Saint-Yves).

Guénon addressed the issue of Agarttha (now generally spelled Agartha) in Le roi du monde (The King of the World, 1927), treating accounts of it primarily as myth, and comparing them to other, similar myths. It seems, however, that he did on balance accept that Agarttha, or something like it, actually existed. So did Saint-Point, who wrote of Sufism as “anterior to Islam” and as connected to Agarttha. Guénon, of course, also saw Sufism as a repository of ancient, esoteric Tradition, though he would not necessarily have drawn a connection through Agarttha.

Saint-Point and Guénon agreed on a number of other points, too. Both valued Oriental civilization over Western civilization, which both condemned, and both were French converts to Islam. Again, there were differences, however. Saint-Point’s commitment to the Orient was political and activist, unlike Guénon’s. This was the motivation for her journal and the cause of her political difficulties, resolved only through the personal intervention of the French foreign minister, Aristide Briand (1862-1932), who knew Saint-Point’s ex-husband, Charles Dumont (1867-1939), a member of the French Senate who was twice minister of finance. Briand knew that Saint-Point was not a Bolshevik. Her anti-colonial agitation was probably inspired by Theosophy.

Saint-Point’s Islam was also different from Guénon’s. She admired Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud (1875-1953), the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who she saw as a “young patriot” who was “returning Muslimism [Musulmanisme] to its origins, to the Spirit.” She evidently knew little of Ibn Saud’s Wahhabism, and he probably appealed to her romantic view of Islam as “the religion of silence, the Voice that speaks in the desert, the poetry of horizons framed by the sands.”

Those who are interested in Agarttha and do not read French may refer to the English translation of Mission de l'Inde, as The Kingdom of Agarttha: A Journey into the Hollow Earth (Inner Traditions, 2008, $14.95), with an excellent introduction by Joscelyn Godwin which is recommended even to those who do read French.

[This post has been edited to remove a quotation incorrectly attributed to Saint-Point that was actually from Rafanelli.]

Friday, May 24, 2019

Perennialism, hyperdiffusionism, and the end of the Kali Yuga in 2012

An interesting short article in Nova Religio contrasts perennialism and “hyperdiffusionism” in the context of understandings of the monuments left by vanished civilizations such as the Mayan and the Pharaonic. It is “The Highest Common Factor: Heterodox Archaeology and the Perennialist Milieu” by Kevin A. Whitesides, Nova Religio 22, no. 4 (May 2019): 27-43.

The term “hyperdiffusionism” was probably coined by Glyn Daniel in 1963, and denotes the widespread idea that contemporary human cultures all share a common origin in an earlier grand civilization. The difference between hyperdiffusionism and perennialism, Whiteside says, is that a hyperdiffusionist needs to show some sort of physical transmission, while a perennialist does not, as for a perennialist metaphysical knowledge is in some sense innate.

Whitesides gives three examples of approaches to ancient monuments and their civilizaitons. One, that of Augustus Le Plongeon (1826-1908), was purely hyperdiffusionist, arguing for a Mayan origin for all human wisdom and culture. Another, that of John Major Jenkins (1964-2017), was purely perennialist, arguing that the Mayans “independently tapped into the same doctrines also found in ancient Vedic and Egyptian cosmology.” A third, that of R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz (1887-1961) mixed both hyperdiffusionism and perennialism in his interpretation of Pharaonic monuments.

The contrast between perennialism and hyperdiffusionism is an interesting one, as the case of Schwaller de Lubicz is not unique: while the two understandings are logically distinct, they can easily be combined, and perennialism often contains traces of hyperdiffusionism.

Jenkins himself is also interesting. He is best known for his part in promoting the idea, widespread during 2011 and 2012, that 21 December 2012 would have major eschatological significance—an idea that apparently helped boost sales of private underground blast shelters in the US. Jenkins based his arguemnts mostly on the Mayan calendar and the idea of “galactic alignment,” but he also drew on Ananda Coomaraswamy and René Guénon, identifying 2012 as the end of the Kali Yuga, in Galactic Alignment: The Transformation of Consciousness According to Mayan, Egyptian, and Vedic Traditions (Bear & Company, 2002).

Saturday, April 27, 2019

E. F. Schumacher's path to Traditionalism

A new article in the Journal of the History of Economic Thought traces the path followed by E. F. Schumacher (1911-77, pictured) from being a “relatively conventional economist” to writing the iconoclastic best-seller Small is Beautiful, and then to Traditionalism. The article, “E. F. Schumacher and the Making of ‘Buddhist Economics,’ 1950–1973,” is by Robert Leonard, Professor of Economics at the University of Québec.

Leonard is more interested in the origins of Small is Beautiful (1973) than in Schumacher’s Traditionalism, which from his perspective is justified, as it was Small is Beautiful that had a major impact; Schumacher’s later, Traditionalist A Guide for the Perplexed (1977) was less widely read. Even so, the article shows clearly how Schumacher encountered Traditionalism—and it was not, nor at least not mostly, through Lord Northbourne (1896-1982), as I suggested might have been the case in an earlier blog post.

What lay behind Small is Beautiful was first the impact on a German (Schumacher was born in Bonn) who had spent the Second World War in England of seeing what had happened to Germany in his absence. This led Schumacher to difficult questions and then to the Fourth Way of George Gurdjieff (died 1949). He translated The New Man by the Gurdjieff teacher Maurice Nicoll (1884-1953) into German, and spent time with the Gurdjieff teacher and one-time Sufi J. G. Bennett (1897-1974) at Coombe Springs (later famously acquired by Idries Shah, 1924-96).

When he went to Burma on assignment in 1955, Schumacher initially agreed with another German-British former follower of Bennett living in Burma, the anthropologist and film-maker Gulla Pfeffer (1887-1967), that Gurdjieff’s teaching was really Buddhism—an interesting counterpart to those who were at about the same time concluding that Gurdjieff’s teaching was really Sufism. Pfeffer suggested that Gurdjieff had learned his teachings from “a monastery in Upper Burma," but Schumacher did not go so far: “What we in England call ‘Work’ [the Gurdjieff method] is everywhere here a living thing,” he wrote. “I find that the G./O. [Gurdjieff/Ouspensky] teaching… is remarkably accurate. ‘Self-remembering’ is identical (as far as I can see) with ‘Sattipatthana’ [awareness] as it is being taught here.”

The next ingredients were Gandhi (1869-1948) and swadeshi (self-sufficiency), a nationalist doctrine of local production that Gandhi modified and promoted, and which was then much discussed. It has echoes in today’s local source and ethical trade movements--and, of course, in Small is Beautiful.

Schumacher's path, then, is clear. It was the war-time devastation of Germany, Gurdjieff, and Buddhism, then, that helped structure his reaction to Burma. Next come Gandhi and swadeshi. This gives us Small is Beautiful, and also gives us an interested reader of Ananada Coomaraswamy’s Art and Swadeshi (1912). Coomaraswamy then naturally leads to René Guénon, Traditionalism, and A Guide for the Perplexed. Clear.

Friday, April 26, 2019

New work on Dugin and conspiracy theory

The Russian scholar Victor Shnirelman has published a chapter on “Alexander Dugin: Between eschatology, esotericism, and conspiracy theory” in the Handbook of Conspiracy Theory and Contemporary Religion, edited by Asbjørn Dyrendal, David G. Robertson and Egil Asprem (Brill, 2018), pp. 443-460.

Shnirelman starts by describing Dugin as “a remarkable figure in the dull Russian political scene,” which is certainly true. He then looks at Dugin’s writings on conspiracy from 1991 to the present, paying special attention to the changing roles ascribed to the Jews, and showing how Dugin’s views on conspiracy reflect his eschatology and thus, by extension, his Traditionalism. The Kali Yuga, after all, can become a version of the end times. Conspiracy, argues Shnirelman, is a “contemporary, secularized version” of eschatology. "Whereas eschatology can be satisfied with an obscure image of... 'dark forces,' conspiracy demands an image of more definite enemies."

Similar ground is covered by Shnirelman's “Эзотерика Александра Дугина: возведение моста между эсхатологией и конспирологией” (The esotericism of Alexander Dugin: Building a bridge between eschatology and conspiracy), Форум новейшей восточноевропейской истории и культуры 15 (29), no. 1-2 (2018), pp. 29-50, which is itself a development of “Александр Дугин: возведение моста между эсхатологией и конспирологией” (Alexander Dugin: Building a bridge between eschatology and conspiracy), Государство, религия, церковь в России и за рубежом 34, no. 4 (2016), pp. 194–221.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Guénon and the Salzmanns

Time for an update to the discussion that started in April 2008 with my post on “Guénon and Jeanne de Salzmann?” The conclusion seems to be that there was a long and even respectful relationship between René Guénon and both Alexander and Jeanne de Salzmann, two of the leading followers of George Gurdjieff.

The main sources for this are the letter from Guénon to Jacques Masui of March 15 1950 that an anonymous reader kindly posted almost in its entirety as a comment to my original post, and a comment in Roger Lipsey’s Gurdjieff Reconsidered (2019).

In his letter to Masui, Guénon concludes that Gurdjieff’s school was not “authentically initiatic” as Gurdjieff was not “attach[ed]… to a particular traditional form.” Despite this, Gurdjieff was “something other than a charlatan.” Further, Guénon tells Masui that he had once known “Salzmann” well (presumably Alexander de Salzmann) and that he had read Peter Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous (1949) in typescript before its publication. In Search of the Miraculous, one of the key texts of the Gurdjieff school, had been circulating for some time in typescript among Gurdjieff's followers before publication, and so was evidently available in more than two or three copies, but even so it is significant that someone had lent a copy to Guénon.

For the other side of this relationship we turn to Lipsey, who reports that Guénon’s works were once “all but ‘required reading’ for participants in the Gurdjieff teaching” (p. 279). Lipsey does not give his source for this, but it fits with the reported visit by Jeanne de Salzmann to Guénon in Cairo after Gurdjieff’s death, i.e. in about 1950, for which the source is Whitall Perry’s Gurdjieff in the Light of Tradition (1978). If Guénon had known Alexander de Salzmann well, that would have been in Paris before Guénon left for Cairo in 1930, so a visit by Jeanne de Salzmann in 1950 indicates a friendship lasting more than twenty years.

As Lipsey notes, Gurdjieff in the Light of Tradition is an attack on Gurdjieff, and was presumably approved by Frithjof Schuon, so we can conclude that the relationship of mutual respect between Traditionalists and the Salzmanns had ended by 1974, when Perry published (in Studies in Comparative Religion) the first of two articles on “Gurdjieff in the Light of Tradition” that later became the book.

My thanks to whoever posted the comment with the letter to Masui, and to Xavier Accart for help with the letter and for the reference to Perry for the 1950 visit.

Friday, April 05, 2019

New article on Aguéli and Swedenborg

Simon Sorgenfrei, a Swedish scholar, has just published an article on "The Great Aesthetic Inspiration: On Ivan Aguéli’s Reading of Swedenborg," in Religion and the Arts 23 (2019), pp. 1–25.

The article starts with the personal links between Aguéli and Adolph Boyesen (1823–1916), a notable Swedenborgian pastor in Stockholm. It follows Aguéli to Paris and into the Theosophical lodge Ananta, and then into anarchist circles and jail. The main point of the article, however, is to review Aguéli's views on aesthetics, esotericism, modernism, monotheism, painting, and religion, mostly from Aguéli's correspondence, and to compare these systematically with the views of Swedenborg, and with some other influences of the time.

The article is fascinating, and totally convincing. Sorgenfrei knows both his Aguéli and his Swedenborg well.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Olavo de Carvalho honored by Steve Bannon and President Bolsonaro

The Financial Times reports a new movie (which its correspondent did not much like) about the Brazilian philosopher and ex-Maryami Olavo de Carvalho. This previewed last week at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC at an event co-hosted by Steve Bannon and attended by Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.

President Bolsonaro himself did not attend the movie screening, but when he held a dinner for conservatives at the Brazilian embassy during his visit to the US, he placed Carvalho on his right and Bannon on his left. Brazilian Foreign minister Ernesto Araújo sat on the other side of Carvalho.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Remarkable new book draws on Guénon

A remarkable new book, Wael Hallaq’s Restating Orientalism: A Critique of Modern Knowledge (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), draws heavily on the work of René Guénon. Hallaq is a distinguished Palestinian-American scholar and intellectual, and his use of Guénon represents a Traditionalist breakthrough into the Western intellectual mainstream.

Hallaq’s title is slightly misleading. His book does indeed revisit Orientalism (1978), the highly influential book by another Palestinian-American scholar, Edward Said (1935-2003). But the emphasis is more on the critique of modern knowledge than on the critique of Said, and the critique of modern knowledge is embedded in a fundamental critique of modernity.

Hallaq is the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University in New York. He was born in Nazareth, did his PhD at the University of Washington, and embarked on a distinguished career as a scholar of Islamic law, initially becoming famous for a 1984 article, “Was the gate of ijtihad closed?”
Since then he has written a number of books, most notably A history of Islamic legal theories: An introduction to Sunni usul al-fiqh (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and The origins and evolution of Islamic law (Cambridge University Press, 2005). Recently, he has turned towards more contemporary issues. His The impossible state: Islam, politics, and modernity's moral predicament (Columbia University Press, 2013) argued that an “Islamic state” is an impossibility, and was widely read, also in the Muslim world, in English and in Arabic and Urdu translations. Restating Orientalism moves even further from classic scholarly topics towards contemporary issues.

Restating Orientalism is, as has been said, in part revisiting Said’s Orientalism. As Orientalism has been revisited before by many authors, this is not in itself very remarkable. What is remarkable is that Hallaq challenges Said on two points. One is a point that has been made before, that not all Orientalists were as Said paints them. Another point is a more far-reaching one. Said, according to Hallaq, failed fully to understand the phenomenon he was discussing. He placed Orientalist scholarship and literature within the framework of European imperialism, but he did not then put European imperialism within any suitable explanatory framework. The appropriate explanatory framework, argues Hallaq, is modernity. His prime example of an Orientalist who was not as Said paints Orientalists is René Guénon, and Guénon is also an important source for the understanding of modernity that Said missed out.

Hallaq discusses and explains Guénon’s thought at length. He also does something that has never really been done before: he introduces Guénon into the intellectual mainstream. At one point, for example, he gives us Guénon’s views on the Is/Ought distinction, referring also to Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre. The Is/Ought problem is a philosophical classic, raised by David Hume (1711-1776) and most recently addressed by MacIntyre. Guénon did not, of course, address the Is/Ought problem directly, so Hallaq has to interpret Guénon somewhat to bring his thought to bear, but he does this—successfully and repeatedly.

In order to bring Guénon into the intellectual mainstream, Hallaq not only has to interpret him in this way, but also to address another problem that has so long kept Guénon out of the mainstream—or, at least, out of mainstream texts and footnotes, since many people have been reading Guénon without citing him. “That his ideas are esoteric in the extreme and at time outright objectionable,” writes Hallaq, “is of no relevance here.” “Translated into the idiom of the twenty-first century, and transcending its eccentric and unconventional style of expression, Guénon’s critique synoptically captures much of the best in recent social theory, Critical Theory, and cultural criticism.” So: yes, in current scholarly terms Guénon may be eccentric and unconventional, esoteric and even objectionable, but let us not bother with that, let us see what he actually gives us.

Restating Orientalism does much more than simply restate Guénon’s Traditionalism, of course. It develops a new critique of modernity, and as well as drawing heavily on Guénon’s work, also draws on a range of other thinkers—Michel Foucault, Carl Schmitt, Antonio Gramsci, and Hannah Arendt, to name a few.

It will be very interesting to see how Restating Orientalism is received.

Click here for Amazon.com.

My thanks to Andrew Booso for drawing my attention to this book.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Film on Aguéli seeks funding

Peter Östlund, a Swedish film-maker, has put together a pilot for a film about Ivan Aguéli, the Swedish painter who introduced René Guénon to Sufism. The pilot, which can be watched here, consists largely of readings from Aguéli's correspondence, mostly in Swedish, which will limit the film's international appeal. The pilot lasts 11 minutes, and has quite appealing photography and music. The opening scene is in Spain at the end of Aguéli's life, from where the film moves to the young Aguéli paining on the Swedish island of Gotland.

The Swedish title, "Frände av Ljus," may be translated "Kin of Light." The text on the home page reads: "The film revolves around the dramatic life of Ivan Aguéli, his versatility, genius and experimental painting. We want to show Aguéli as the multifaceted man he was, with strengths and weaknesses. A seeker, both after real life and higher things. The continuation of the project now depends on funding. In that process we are also seekers..."

My thanks to Anthony Fiscella for drawing the film to my attention.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The on-line archives of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay

The archives of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (discussed in an earlier post) are now available on-line at an excellent and user-friendly site (if you know French). There are special sections for the correspondence between Charbonneau-Lassay and René Guénon, and for the Estoile Internelle, the Christian initiatic organisation that at one point interested the early Traditionalists. A very useful resource for researchers.

Friday, March 08, 2019

New TV program on Guénon

TV Liberté, a French internet TV channel associated with the right, broadcast a one-hour program on Guénon on February 27, 2019, entitled “René Guénon et la Tradition primordial” (René Guénon and the primordial Tradition). The hour-long program was hosted by Alain de Benoist, the leading intellectual of the French New Right, in conversation with France’s leading academic experts on Guénon—Jean-Pierre Laurant, Xavier Accart, and David Bisson—and with the publisher Pierre-Marie Sigaud, also an authority on Guénon.

Discussions covered Guénon’s life, work and influence, mostly at a fairly introductory level, to the disappointment of Guénonian commentators on YouTube, where the program is also available, who felt that a serious presentation of doctrine would have been more interesting, and criticized the biographical approach. The program was definitely accessible to non-experts, however, which I assume was the intention.

Many of the most interesting comments were made by Accart, author of Guénon ou le renversement des clartés. Influence d'un métaphysicien sur la vie littéraire et intellectuelle française (1920-1970) (Guénon or the overthrow of enlightened knowledge: The influence of a metaphysician on French literary and intellectual life 1920-1970; 2006). This excellent book studies the impact of Guénon on the French artistic and intellectual circles in great detail, and it is unfortunate that it is not available in English.

Towards the end of the program, when de Benoist asked about Guénon’s influence today, Laurant also made some interesting points about Freemasonry. Guénon, he felt, had been the central reference of French Freemasonry when it came to symbolism earlier in the twenty-first century, but this influence had faded, as it had inevitably come up against the “liberal” strains in Freemasonry that, being opposed to religion in general, were also opposed to the Guénonian approach. I have never seen these developments discussed in writing, and if anyone should know about them, it is Laurant.

The even tone of the program was interrupted only when de Benoist, who knows his Guénon almost as well as the experts, said that after moving to Cairo “Guénon converted to Islam.” Laurant, Accart and Bisson all objected. Accart pointed out that Guénon had received his Sufi “initiation” many years earlier, and had also said that “conversion” was impossible for anyone who truly understood the unity of the tradition. Laurant went further, asserting that for Guénon it was possible to be Sufi without being Muslim, and suggesting that it was only “the Islam of today” that had a problem with this. I think both Accart and Laurant were partly right, but only partly. Accart was right that Guénon did not consider himself to have converted, and Laurant was right that the Guénon who received a Sufi “initiation” in about 1911 considered Sufism to be separable from Islam. There are reports that Guénon followed the practices of Islam in Cairo, however, and no reports suggesting that he did so in Paris. So even if de Benoist was perhaps wrong to use the word “converted,” he was right that something very close to what most people would call a conversion did happen after Guénon moved to Cairo.

All in all, a good program, at least at the level that it chose to address.

My thanks to Steven Engler for drawing my attention to it.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Evola on show in Zagreb

For anyone in Zagreb: Evola is going on show in an exhibition, "Futurism, Dynamism and Colour," at the Museum of Contemporary Art. See the write up, in English, in Time Out Croatia. Very interesting to see Evola's work in this context. Friday March 1 2019 - Saturday April 20 2019.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Criticism of Guénon's understanding of Hinduism

Renaud Fabbri has published an unusual critical re-evaluation of the work of René Guénon in its relationship with Hinduism, written from within the Traditionalist perspective. This is René Guénon et la tradition hindoue. Les limites d’un regard (René Guénon and the Hindu tradition: The limits of a view; Lausanne: L’Age d’homme, 2018).

Fabbri knows his Traditionalism well. He is a former editor of a Maryami journal, Vincit Omnia Veritas, and (former?) webmaster of religioperennis.org, a Maryami website. He seems to have distanced himself from the Maryamiyya, however, and is is now director of the Aditi Center for Study of the Hindu Tradition (Centre Aditi d’Etudes sur la Tradition Hindoue) in eastern France, which describes itself as being “within the perspective opened by the work of René Guénon but without being attached to any particular school.” His René Guénon et la tradition hindoue is critical primarily of Guénon, but also of Schuon, noting for example that while Guénon resisted the temptation to see himself as an authoritative figure above the great spiritual authorities whom he interpreted, Schuon did not, with “catastrophic” consequences (p. 69, n. 2).

René Guénon et la tradition hindoue asks to what extent the teachings that Guénon presented as of Hindu origin are actually compatible with that tradition. After an introductory section, “René Guénon: Topicality and Paradox,” Fabbri moves on to “Metaphysics and Non-Duality,” and then to “Tradition and Millenarianism,” where he makes his most serious criticisms. He starts with the primordial tradition, which he argues is not really a Hindu concept, and moves on to the Axial Age, arguing that Guénon’s understanding of transcendence was characteristic of the post-axial. Then comes the Kali Yuga, which Fabbri argues is not, in its Guénonian form, compatible with Hindu understandings. Guénon’s understanding of the Kali Yuga is, in Fabbri’s view, characteristic of the millenarianism of the monotheistic faiths, and quite alien to Hinduism. This section is followed by “The Spiritual Path,” where Fabbri starts with the “Hindu masters” of Guénon, whom he thinks may not have existed except perhaps in some sort of vision, and continues with initiation, Ramana Maharshi, and initiatic work. In the final section, on “Sacred Femininity,” both the views of Guénon and Schuon are considered. Fabbri ends by concluding that Guénon’s work finds its greatest significance today in the Sufi forms that Traditionalism has taken, not in any Hindu forms. Given the major criticisms of Guénon’s understandings of Hinduism that the book has previously made, this is a relatively mild conclusion.

Fabbri’s thoughtful and thought-provoking book is something that is found relatively rarely within the Traditionalist movement: an understanding of the work of Guénon as a historical construct that cannot be accepted in its entirety, but that still contains much of value. Though rare within the Traditionalist movement, this type of understanding is actually the way in which human thought normally develops.

The book is short (136 pages), made up of 18 very short chapters, some no longer than three pages. These are collected into the five sections mentioned above. Unfortunately, the book does not give source references.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Schmidt-Biggemann on the earlier philosophia perennis

I have just come across an interesting book on the earlier philosophia perennis, written by Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann, professor of philosophy at the Freie Universität Berlin. It is Philosophia Perennis: Historical Outlines of Western Spirituality in Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Thought (Dordrecht: Springer, 2004). This is a somewhat modified version of an earlier book in German,  Philosophia perennis. Historische Umrisse abendländischer Spiritualität in Antike, Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1998).

Schmidt-Biggemann does not consider any modern perennialists, so there is no mention of Guénon or even Blavatsky. His starting point is the Renaissance, from where he proceeds backwards to Proclus and Plato, and then forwards to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. There is a special focus on the Christian Kabbala, on which Schmidt-Biggemann published a monumental three-volume work, in German, in 2012-2013. 

The book is about what Schmidt-Biggemann calls "theological ideas that cannot be separated from philosophical speculation," notably God's self-revelation and the theology of time. This is what gives the book its organisational scheme. Within this, he looks at all the main thinkers of ancient, medieval and early modern perennialism, including--as well as Proclus and Plato--Dionysius the Areopagite, Raymond Lull, Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico, Guillaume Postel, Giordano Bruno, Jakob Böhme, and, finally, Leibniz. He also mentions al-Kindi, whose name he consistently misspells (as "Khindi"), but then he is not a specialist in Arabic thought.

As well as a very wide coverage, the book has some interesting insights. For example:
Seen from the modern perspective of philological historicism, philosophia pernennis was, of course, a syncretistic movement, for it adopted and assimilated all available philosophical topics into its theologico-philosophical system. This was, however, precisely the working idea of perennial philosophy. Since all possible wisdom stemmed from God's original Edenic revelation, no human philosophy could be conceived independent of this origin (xiv-xv). 

Friday, January 04, 2019

Panel on Traditionalism at European Academy of Religion

There will be a panel on "Dynamics of Local and Global Reception of Traditionalism: Reconsidering the Heritage of René Guénon" at the 2019 Conference of the European Academy of Religion, to be held in Bologna, Italy from Monday 4th to Thursday 7th March, 2019.

The panel is on March 7, 16:45-18:45.

Panel abstract:
One of the most influential Philosophers of the 20th century, René Guénon (1886-1951) has left a rich heritage, whose intricate history and ramifications are only beginning to be studied. The aim of this panel is to present some cases of this heritage, insisting on the local factors modeling its reception, as well as on its adaptation to metapolitical and global concerns. Attemptive typologies of the complex reception of Traditionalism will also be proposed and discussed. 
Chair: Ionuţ Daniel Băncilă (University of Erfurt)

Panelists:
  • Marco Giardini (Independent Scholar) - The Journal “L´Ultima” and the Reception of René Guénon in Catholic Italy
    The journal “L'Ultima” occupies a special place in the landscape of Catholic thought between Second World War and the Second Vatican Council, although it has been surprisingly neglected by the majority of scholars of Church History of History of Religions. Marked by a strong eschatological vocation, it gathered several authors who proposed original interpretations of Catholicism inspired by the “traditionalist” current that was taking shape in the mid-twentieth century around the works of René Guénon. In particular, contributors such as Attilio Mordini (1923-1966) and Silvano Panunzio (1918-2010) wrote a considerable amount of articles in which the main aspects of Christian doctrines re-interpreted in line with the metaphysical and cosmological principles that these authors “discovered” in Eastern traditions through the works of Guénon and his first followers. The paper intends precisely to highlight some aspects of Mordini and Panunzio's writings for “L'Ultima” in order to assess the original aspects of what may be called the first organic reception of Guénon's works within Italian Catholic circles, in a way that reveals a very positive stance to the “traditionalist” current in contrast to various forms of criticism leveled to the French metaphysician in previous decades.
  • Ionuţ Daniel Băncilă (University of Erfurt) - A Typology of Romanian Traditionalism
    While the reception of R. Guénon in Romania reached its peak in 30es, not one single profile of the intellectuals involved in this process (M. Avramescu, M. Valsan, V. Lovinescu, A. Dumitriu) was like the other. My paper aims to give these and other actors in this complex reception process their proper historical and cultural contextualization, but also to discuss affinities of other individuals and groups with guénonian thinking. Later reception of Guénon through the reading-group established by V. Lovinescu at the end of the 50es and its reactivation under different auspices after the fall of the Communist regime will also be discussed. The individual intellectual profiles marked by the thinking of Guénon are then to be summed up in a tentative typology of his reception in Romania.
  • Marco Toti (Independent Scholar) - Metapolitics as Esotericism Through Geopolitics. A. Dugin and C. Mutti’s Eurasian Perspective
    This paper aims to focus on the so called “Eurasian perspective”, by way of analyzing some of the most significant topics endorsed by two of its most important spokesmen, the Russian A. Dugin (1962-) and the Italian C. Mutti (1946-): their major sources and essential geopolitical purposes, with special reference to the “heterodoxically metapolitical” rereading of Guénon and Evola, “revised” through a wide spectrum of assorted ideological insertions. In particular, the paper aims to clearly distinguish their perspective from American “apolitical” perennialism (H. Smith, J. Cutsinger). This does not mean that the respective Weltanschauungen could not often converge, although “metapolitical purposes” are irrelevant to the latter. The main point, as we understand it, is the relationship between metapolitics and "pure metaphyscs".