Some Notes On Ibn al-‘Arabi

It is, I devoutly hope, only typical of Hugo that one of his greatest allergies should be to a twelfth-century Sufi mystic, not exactly a household name. I have tried, I really have: I have read a book of his, in Spanish, and lot of English extracts, and half of an English biography that I had to give away when I dropped out for a while. Nothing helps; this man really, really gets on my tits.

My boyhood was formed by the short stories of H.G. Wells, one of which concerned a man who sucked up to a rich uncle in the hope of an inheritance. The uncle self-published tome after tome of boring, self-important Higher Thought, replete with capitalised nouns, hiding his new will in one of them (“my last word to the nations”, he sniffled), which the suck-up discovered only too late. Ibn al-‘Arabi reminds me of this sententious piffle, but he is taken more seriously. Another thing of which he reminds me is the secret societies in Terry Pratchett. Are the Thuribles of Cynicism Equatorially Burnished, Brother? Then I shall proceed.

He says his “whole purpose in writing” was to convey inspiration. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? In fact, what I read between the lines of all accounts of the Sufi masters is that it was a business, often a family business, a way of earning one’s living and acquiring status. As Saint Terry put it, “indoor work with no heavy lifting”. All you need is charisma and a facility with words.

His epitaph for himself was: “In every age there is one after whom it is named; for the remaining ages I am that one!” The biographer calls this “a remarkable awareness of his own stature as a spiritual master”. Really? Look at it again with fresh eyes: what sort of person has that opinion of himself? The sort of which the mental wards are full, of course; perhaps all the patients are really Ascended Masters after whom the age is named – it’s just funny how no one has heard of them outside the hospital, isn’t it? The age is named after the gibberer in a higher dimension, that must be it.

Ibn al-‘Arabi delights in telling stories about how as a boy he impressed the pants off – perhaps literally, there are some strange echoes here – the great and the good, and how they were astonished at his untutored enlightenment, all very Jesus-in-the-Temple. For this is a trope, but surely such tropes are less distasteful when told of a person long dead than crowingly of oneself? Take out the cork, as the Piedmontese say.

When he talks of the high, the middle and the low worlds, I note the way he assigns himself to the high world, his enemies to the low world, leaving the middle to his friends and the people who need to be sucked up to. How convenient of the universe so to arrange itself hierarchically around him! Doubtless the lowest of the low worlds is reserved to those who do not take him at his own semi-divine valuation, as the Seal of this and the Station of that, the Fabulous Gryphon, the Spirit of the spirit, and all the rest of the huckster trumpet-tooting. Excuse me while I shake in my shoes.

Posted on January 27, 2010 at 09:00 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion As Social-Status Tech

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