THE TIME OF ERANOS

~Henry Corbin 

Possibly in a century or two, perhaps a little less or a little more, some historian of ideas,
if any historians of ideas are still left, or some student with a thesis to write will find an ideal subject for a monograph in the phenomenon of Eranos in the twentieth century. And perhaps his monograph will turn out to be like so many others that, ever since the rise of historical criticism, have been devoted to the "schools," the "ideological currents" of the past, demonstrating their "causes," explaining their "influences," the "migrations of themes," and so on.

But it is to be feared that, if he in his turn is content to do no more than to apply a scientific method which will have had all the virtues, except the primary virtue that would have consisted in establishing its object by recognizing the way it gives its object to itself—it is to be feared that our future historian will completely miss the phenomenon of Eranos. He will perhaps believe that he has "explained" it by a profound and ingenious dialectic of causes. But he will not have divined that the real problem would have been to discover not what explains Eranos, but what Eranos ex-plains by virtue of what it im-plies: for example, the idea of a true community, bringing together speakers and listeners, a community so paradoxical that it displays none of the characteristics that are of concern to statistics and sociology.

This is why, if the eventuality of our future historian is forecast here, the forecast is made from no vanity of an expected fame, but rather in fear that the soul of Eranos may one day be lost in such a venture. Had he not felt this fear, he to whom it has fallen to play a soloist's role at the beginning of the present volume would have hesitated thus to step out from the chorus of his confrères. But he has become convinced of one thing. This whole volume is devoted to the question of Time, which each of us has envisaged from the angle of his habitual meditations. Now, if it is true that, while they explain things and beings by their time, historians as such are not in the habit of beginning by reflecting on the nature of historical time, the theme of this volume perhaps contains the best warning against the dubious formula that would try to explain Eranos "by its time." It would be well to meditate on the possible meaning of these words: the time of Eranos. For it will be no explanation of Eranos to say that it was "very much of its time," that is, of everybody's time, in accordance with the formula that is so soothing to alarmed or hasty conformisms. Nothing indicates that Eranos ever tried to "be of its time." What, on the contrary, it will perhaps have succeeded in doing is to be its time, its own time. And it is by being its own time that it will have realized its own meaning, willingly accepting the appearance of being untimely. It is not certain things that give its meaning to Eranos; rather, it is Eranos that gives their meaning to these other things. How, then, are we to conceive the proposition that it is not by "being of our time," as so many well-meaning people say, but by ourselves being our own time, that each of us explains and fulfills his own meaning? Can this be suggested in a brief summary? To return to our hypothetical future historian: why, undertaking to explain Eranos by the circumstances, the "currents" and "influences" of the period, would he miss its meaning and its essence, its "seminal reason"? For the same reason, for example, that the first and last explanation of the various gnostic families referred to in the present book is those gnostics themselves. The historian may suppose every kind of favorable circumstances, draw all possible conclusions, he would be merely reasoning in vacuo if there were not the first and signal fact of gnostic minds. It is not the "main currents" that evoke them and bring them together; it is they that decree the existence of a particular current and bring about their own meeting.

Probably, then, the word "fact," as just used, does not signify quite what our current speech commonly means by the word; rather, it signifies what current speech makes its opposite, when it distinguishes between persons and facts, men and events. For us, the first and last fact, the initial and final event, are precisely these persons, without whom there could never be anything that we call "event." Hence we must reverse the perspectives of the usual optics, substitute the hermeneutics of the human individual for the pseudodialectic of facts, which today is accepted, everywhere and by everyone, as objective evidence. For it was only by sub mitting to the "necessity of the facts" that it became possible to imagine in them an autonomous causality that "explains" them. Now, to explain does not yet necessarily mean to "understand." To understand is, rather, to "imply." There is no explaining the initial fact of which we are speaking, for it is individual and singular, and the individual can be neither deduced nor explained; indimduum est ineffabile.

On the contrary, it is the individual who explains very many things to us, namely all the things that he implies and that would not have existed without him, if he had not begun to be. For him to explain them to us, we must understand him, and to understand is to perceive the meaning of the thing itself, that is, the manner in which its presence determines a certain constellation of things, which hence would have been entirely different if there had not first been this presence. This is a very different matter from deducing the thing from assumed causal relations, that is, from taking it back to something other than itself. And it is doubtless here that the reader will most readily mark the contrast with our current modes of thought, those represented by all the attempts toward philosophies of history or toward the socialization of consciousnesses: anonymity, depersonalization, the abdication of the human will before the dialectic net that it began to weave itself, only to fall into its own snare.

What concretely exists is wills and relations between wills: failing will, imperious or imperialistic will, blind will, will serene and conscious of itself. But these wills are not abstract energies. Or rather, they are and designate nothing but the willing subjects themselves, the subjects whose real existence postulates that we recognize the individual, and the individual as the first and only concrete reality. I should gladly admit that I am here in affinity with an aspect of Stoic thought, for is not one of the characteristic symptoms in the history of philosophy in the West precisely the overshadowing of the Stoic premises by the dialectic that derived from Peripateticism? Stoic thought is hermeneutic; it would have resisted all the dialectical constructions that burden our most current representations: in history, in philosophy, in politics. It would not have surrendered to the fiction of "main currents," the "meaning of history," "collective wills," of which, moreover, no one can say exactly what their mode of being may be. For the fact is that, outside of the first and final reality, the individual, there are only ways of being, in relation to the individual himself or in relation to what surrounds him; and this means attributes that have no substantial reality in themselves if they are detached from the individual or individuals who are their agents. What we call "events" are likewise the attributes of acting subjects; they are not beings but ways of being. As actions of a subject, they are expressed in a verb; now, a verb acquires meaning and reality only from the acting subject who conjugates it. Events, psychic or physical, do not assume existence, do not "take shape," except through the reality that realizes them and from which they derive; and this reality is the acting individual subjects, who conjugate them "in their tense," "in their time," give them their own tense and time, which is always essentially the present tense and time.

Hence, detached from the real subject who realizes them, facts, events, are merely something unreal. This is the order which had to be inverted to alienate the real subject: to give, instead, all reality to facts, to speak of the laws, the lesson, the materiality of facts, in short, to let ourselves be trapped in the system of unrealities that we have ourselves constructed and whose weight falls on us in turn in the form of history, as the only scientific "objectivity" that we can conceive, as the source of a causal determinism the idea of which would never have occurred to a humanity that had preserved the sense of the real subject. Detached from the real subject, facts "pass away." There is past, and there is past that has been "passed beyond," "transcended." Hence the resentment against the yoke of the past, the illusions of progressivism, and, conversely, the complexes of reaction. Yet past and future are themselves attributes expressed by verbs; they presuppose the subject who conjugates those verbs, a subject for whom and by whom the only existing tense and time is the present, and on each occasion the present. Thus dimensions of the past and future are also, on each occasion, measured and conditioned by the capacity of the subject who perceives them, by his instant. They are dimensional to that person, for it depends upon him, on the scope of his intelligence and his largeness of heart, to embrace the whole of life, totius vitae cursum, to totalize, to imply in himself, all worlds, by falling back to the farthest limit of the dimension of his present. This is to understand, and it is a totally different matter from constructing a dialectic of things that have ceased to exist in the past. It is "interpreting" the signs, explaining not material facts but ways of being, that reveals beings. Hermeneutics as science of the individual stands in opposition to historical dialectics as alienation of the person. Past and future thus become signs, because a sign is perceived precisely in the present. The past must be "put in the present" to be perceived as "showing a sign." (If the wound, for example, is a sign, it is so because it indicates not that such and such a one has been wounded, in an abstract time, but that he is having been wounded.) The genuine transcending the past can only be "putting it in the present" as sign. And I believe it can be said that the entire work of Eranos is, in this sense, a putting in the present. Neither the contents of this book, nor that of all the other volumes previously published, offer the character of a simple historical dictionary. All the themes treated acquire the value of signs in them. And if it is true that, even at some future date, the act of Eranos, whose initiative has persisted for twenty-five years, could not be explained simply by deducing it from the circumstances that would justify the historian in saying that it was "very much of its time," this is because Eranos is itself a sign. It cannot now or in future be understood unless it is interpreted as a sign, that is, as a presence that ceaselessly and on each occasion puts "in the present." It is its time because it puts in the present, just as each acting subject is his time, that is, a presence that puts in the present whatever is related to it. An active presence does not fall "into its time," that is, it is not "of its time" in the sense of the oversimple theory that thinks it explains a being by situating it in an abstract time which is "everybody's" time and hence no one's.

In short, the whole contrast lies here. With signs, with hierophanies and theophanies, there is no making history. Or rather, the subject that is at once the organ and the place of history is the concrete psychological individuality. The only "historical causality" is the relations of will between acting subjects. "Facts" are on each occasion a new creation; there is discontinuity between them. Hence to perceive their connections is neither to formulate laws nor to deduce causes, but to understand a meaning, interpret signs, a composite structure. So it was fitting that C. G. Jung's study of synchronicity should be the center of the present book, since that study is itself the center of a new problematics of time. To perceive a causality in "facts" by detaching them from persons is doubtless to make a philosophy of history possible; it is to affirm dogmatically the rational meaning of history on which our contemporaries have built up a whole mythology.

But it is likewise to reduce real time to abstract physical time, to the essentially quantitative time which is that of the objectivity of mundane calendars from which the signs that gave a sacred qualification to every present have disappeared. It remains for us to gain a better awareness of the abdication of the subject who thus alienates himself in objective history. The first step will necessarily have been ceasing to perceive events on the plane of signs and putting them on the plane of data. It is in this way that signs have been laicized. But our entire theology will, by an unconscious and fatal complicity, itself have had to prepare the laicization of which it is the victim. The meaning of history: no longer need a God be born in the flesh to reveal it. A textbook philosophy claims to be in possession of it and to impose it, because that philosophy is after all only a lay theology of the social incarnation.

The caricature of our own Image (Ivan Karamazov seeing himself in the looking glass) fills us with all the more terror because we have nothing to oppose to it except precisely our own features, which it mirrors to us in caricature. Now, it is impossible to compete with and against a scientific, materialistic, and atheistic socialization by a conformism of well-meaning people who can find no justification for their being except in their social activity nor any foundation for their knowledge except the "social sciences." The no that must be cried aloud proceeds from a different imperative. It draws its energy from the lightning flash whose vertical joins heaven with earth, not from some horizontal line of force that loses itself in a limitlessness from which no meaning arises. For what is called "evolution" would have meaning only on the cosmic scale; but our philosophers are too serious to make themselves responsible for the curiosity that is, at most, excusable in Gnostics and Orientals.

And yet, will the reader be so good as to consider for a moment the signature at the end of these few pages? Together with the name of a place, it comprises a double date incorporating three calendars: a date of the Christian era, an Iranian date in which the official name of the month corresponds to that of the ancient pre-Islamic Persian calendar, while the year is that of the solar Hegira (all the rest of Islam, outside of Persia, reckons in lunar years). This is a mere example. Is it to be supposed that putting these eras in correspondence, putting them together "in the present," conjugating them in the present, can result from a simple mathematical equation, with the aid of a table of correspondences? The answer will be yes, if one is naive enough to suppose that all human beings everywhere are of the same age, have the same desires, the same aspirations, the same sense of responsibility, and that good-will and proper hygiene would suffice to bring them into accord in the frame of abstract objective time, the uniform mathematical time of universal history.

But the answer will certainly be no, if one has an acute awareness of differences, a concern for the rights of pluralism against all monism, whether a well-intentioned or a brutal and unavowed monism. What is in question is a relation between qualitative times. The Occidental may be much the elder, and he may often be younger than the Oriental, according to the realms in which they meet. But it is perhaps also true that only the Occidental is able to secrete the antidote, and to help the Oriental to surmount the spiritual crisis that the impact of the West has provoked in him, and which has already forever ruined several traditional civilizations. This simple example suggests the true task of which we have perhaps not yet even begun to be aware. It is a matter of perceiving the same signs together; it is a matter of each one of us on each occasion interpreting them according to the meaning of his own being, but it is also a matter of constituting a harmonious hermeneutics of signs, as once the fourfold and sevenfold meanings of the Scriptures were in harmony. To accomplish this, there must be no more escaping into an abstract time, the time of anonymous collectivities; there must be a rediscovery of concrete time, the time of persons. And this, at bottom, is only opening the living spring of unconditioned sympathy, the sympathy that, existing before our deliberate and conscious purpose, causes the grouping of human beings and alone makes them "contemporaries."

What we should wish to call the meaning of Eranos, which is also the entire secret of Eranos, is this: it is our present being, the time that we act personally, our way of being. This is why we are perhaps not "of our time," but are something better and greater: we are our time. And this is why Eranos has not even an official denomination nor any collective name. It is neither an academy nor an institute, it is not even something that, in the fashion of the day, can be designated by initials. No, it is really not a phenomenon "of our time." And this is why it is likely to confound the future dialectical and deductive historian. It will not even interest the devotees of statistics, the probers into opinion.

If curves and graphs are demanded at any cost, I can suggest only one reference: the great planisphere that Dr. Daniel Brody, our courageous publisher, had the idea of displaying on the walls of the exhibition commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Eranos-Jahrbuch in the offices of the Rhein-Verlag, at Zurich. It was a planisphere scored by lines in many colors, all meeting at the same center: an invisible point on the vast map, Ascona, on the shore of Lake Maggiore. The uninitiate would at once have supposed it something familiar—curves indicating airplane routes, the great lines of traffic. Nevertheless it expressed nothing of the kind, but simply the journey that each one of us had taken, from various points in the world, to the center that unites us. The lines had no statistical meaning: they were signs, the sign made to each of us, and by each of us. The result of the response to that sign was the meeting of acting, autonomous individualities, each in complete freedom revealing and expressing his original and personal way of thinking and being, outside of all dogmatism and all academicism; a constellation of those wills, and a constellation of the worlds that they bring with them, that they have taken in charge by putting them into the present, the present of Eranos. A composite whole, a structure, not a result conditioned by the laws of the period or by fashionable crazes, but a whole made strong by its one inner and central norm: a woman's generous, energetic, tenacious will, that of Mme Olga Froebe-Kapteyn, every year propounding a new theme and thus inviting to a new creation.

And that is why even those who in the sense of current speech "are no more" nevertheless do not cease to be present in the present of Eranos. An immense work has been accomplished: essays, books, have seen the light of day, books that perhaps would not have come to birth if Eranos had not put them in the present. Its meaning, finally: that of a sym-phony whose performance would each time be repeated in fuller and deeper sonorities—that of a microcosm, which the world cannot be expected to resemble but whose example, one may hope, will spread throughout the world.

Teheran
21 December 1956
30 Azar 1335