Avicenna and the Visionary Recital – Book Sample
Avicennism and Philosophical Situation – Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
It is perhaps ambitious to propound such a theme at the beginning of a necessarily limited study. Nevertheless, we should not have wished to undertake the present investigation had we not entertained the hope that it would contribute to a better posing of the problems that become apparent upon a first attempt to develop the theme thus formulated.
This theme can be understood in two senses. There is man’s philosophical situation, as the Avicennan system defines it. And there is the situation of Avicenna’s work itself in the pleroma of philosophical systems, his work as it appears to the philosopher who meditates on it today.
In the first case, we must meditate on such problems as posed themselves for Avicenna himself. In the second, we must meditate on the problems that Avicennism in its turn poses as an organized system.
In the first case, Avicenna’s thought is to be regarded as situative: its premises and their application themselves define a particular situation of human life in relation to that cosmos.
In the second case, it is the Avicennan cosmos that is taken as a magnitude to be situated: the task of meditation is to understand and define its situation in respect to all the spiritual universes that the human being has borne within him, has expressed and developed in the forms of myths, symbols, or dogmas.
Now, in the case of Avicennism as in the case of every other system of the world, the mode of presence assumed by the philosopher by reason of the system that he professes is what, in the last analysis, appears as the genuinely situative
Part I. The Cycle of Avicennan Recitals
element in that system considered in itself. This mode of presence is usually concealed beneath the tissue of didactic demonstrations and impersonal developments.
Yet it is this mode of presence that must be disclosed, for it determines, if not always the material genuineness of the motifs incorporated in the philosopher’s work, at least the personal genuineness of his motivations; it is these that finally account for the “motifs” that the philosopher adopted or rejected, understood or failed to understand, carried to their maximum of meaning or, on the contrary, degraded to trivialities.
But it is not very often that the philosopher attains such a consciousness of his effort that the rational constructions in which his thought was projected finally show him their connection with his inmost self, so that the secret motivations of which he himself was not yet conscious when he projected his system lie revealed.
This revelation marks a rupture of plane in the course of his inner life and meditations. The doctrines that he has elaborated scientifically prove to be a setting for his most personal adventure. The lofty constructions of conscious thought become blurred in the rays not of a twilight but rather of a dawn, from which figures always foreboded, awaited, and loved rise into view.
Avicenna’s cycle of visionary recitals has precise I y this meaning and this bearing. The recitals situate the man Avicenna in the cosmos that the philosopher elaborated, now in such an imposing monument as the Kitab al-Shifa’,1 now in many another major or rumor treatise.
By substituting a dramaturgy for cosmology, the recitals guarantee the genuineness of this universe; it is veritably the place of a personally lived adventure. At the same time, they seem to dictate an answer to the question of where to situate Avicennism in the pleroma of philosophical systems
They make it impossible to relegate it to a definitively dead and transcended past. They are the repository of an imperious lesson, the lesson that we must assimilate when, philosophers of the Orient and philosophers of the Occident, we together interrogate ourselves concerning the significance of Avicennism for our destiny as philosophers, that is, for what we are bound to profess in this world. Avicennism had different destinies in the
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