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lundi, 13 octobre 2014



Timotheus Lutz
Ex: http://www.hyperion-journal.net

Relatively recently, certain academics with an interest in those who admit a perennial tradition and expound esoteric doctrines have profiled what they call the ‘traditionalist school’. In their characterization, some individuals have been assimilated wrongly to this category, most notably the famous scholar of ‘comparative religion’, Mircea Eliade. Others, who should be aware of the fundamental differences in outlook between Eliade and modern exponents of traditional metaphysics, have seen him as a sort of sympathetic ‘Trojan horse’ who would subtly alter the course of his field of study in academia, by way of a ‘phenomenological’ view of spirituality in human history, contrasted with the sterile, purely analytical outlook that predominates in the universities.  
Eliade’s encounter with the works of René Guénon and Julius Evola certainly had a significant, or perhaps even a primary influence on his methods of research and ways of interpreting what he called ‘archaic’ systems, but, as he himself stated frankly in his journals, he always kept his distance and was apprehensive about endorsing the views of the latter.
It should be made clear that clarifying Eliade’s position is not necessarily a condemnation, as, obviously, one can accept some ideas of a given thinker without accepting all. However, given the importance and the rarity of the ideas of Guénon and Evola, and the incomprehension of some major ones displayed by Eliade, a firm appraisal is called for, since some are eager to assume an identity of substance in the thought of the former and the latter, where it is really only an appearance.
He states his position most directly in a journal entry on 11 November 1966:
What Guénon and the other ‘hermetists’ say of the tradition should not be understood on the level of historical reality (as they claim). These speculations constitute a universe of systematically articulated meanings: they are to be compared to a great poem or a novel. It is the same with Marxist or Freudian ‘explanations’: they are true if they are considered imaginary universes. The ‘proofs’ are few and uncertain – they correspond to the historical, social, psychological ‘realities’ of a novel or of a poem.
All these global and systematic interpretations, in reality, constitute mythological creations, highly useful for understanding the world; but they are not, as their authors think, ‘scientific explanations’. [1]
The classification of Guénon as a ‘hermetist’ is rather strange since, in his writings, he rarely discussed the hermetic doctrines. Since his main focus was metaphysics (a domain not subject to becoming), it is incorrect to classify him with a title pertaining to cosmological doctrines (which pertain to the domain of becoming). Comparing the formulations of Guénon and those similar in outlook to poems and novels is completely wrong: in poetic creations the subjective is primary, while in Guénon’s writings (as in those of Aristotle, Plotinus or Proclus) a precise objectivity is evident. As far as proofs, in this domain there cannot be empirical demonstration, only support by way of logic and analogy on one end, and identifying principles within oneself on the other. One either understands or does not. That this is a major obstacle for many is apparent. We assume the term ‘scientific explanations’ was not taken from Guénon or another’s writing, but used to imply erroneously that they would describe their interpretations as scientific; this is also an error since none of them would claim their interpretations could be explained scientifically.
We can assume this is Eliade’s basic view, since by 1966 his outlook was more or less fully developed, and since he shows similar opinions later on. This was also an opinion he had long held, as shown in an entry from 1947:
Only after you’ve studied Coomaraswamy’s writings in detail do you discover, suddenly, the poverty, the ‘elementarism’ [rom. primarism], of René Guénon’s œuvre. And the insufferable self-importance with which he hides, so often, his ignorance! [2]
We are not sure what he means here by ‘elementarism’, but perhaps it is Guénon’s focus on principial reality, which is the whole point of his works, contrasted with Ananda Coomaraswamy’s much greater emphasis on factual analysis and use of citations and academic sources. Although Coomaraswamy was indeed a (celebrated) academic, he was in agreement with nearly all of Guénon’s fundamental positions. If this is what Eliade means, it is simply another instance of his incomprehension of the primacy of metaphysics over confirming individual facts. We have found that Coomaraswamy’s writings do not reveal any significant ‘poverty’ in Guénon’s works, but instead complement them nicely.
Incomprehension of some major ideas is also apparent much later. In the early 1980s he writes: ‘Like René Guénon, Evola presumed a ‘primordial tradition’, in the existence of which I could not believe; I was suspicious of its artificial, ahistorical character’ [3]. To modern ears, the term ‘primordial tradition’ is likely to evoke visions of some perfect civilization in the sky, but first and foremost it is to be understood as atemporal (and thus, also, correctly described by Eliade as ahistorical) principles on which all genuinely traditional cultures are based. These principles are superior to, but are as immutable, in a similar manner, as the laws of logic or mathematics. To call them artificial is to demand that they be intelligible only as a particular, empirical example, and so displays, again, his incomprehension.
Worth quoting is his admission of a use for these authors:
I try once again, but I don’t succeed: Yeats’ ‘occultism’, over which so much fuss is made, doesn’t interest me. It’s cheap, ‘literary’, suspect – and, ultimately, uninteresting. Out of all the modern occultist authors whom I have read, only R. Guénon and J. Evola are worthy of being taken into consideration. I’m not discussing here to what extent their assertions are ‘true’. But what they write makes sense. [4]
And another, a response to a student of his interested in occultism: ‘. . . if one is truly attracted to hermetism, he ought to read the ‘authorized’, if not Cardanus, at least Coomaraswamy and René Guénon’ [5]. Clearly he still thought highly of some of their formulations, if only as comprehensible reference points for what is often and wrongly passed off as ‘esotericism’.
The critical attitude appears again in his dismissive appraisal of Evola’s intellectual autobiography. Eliade’s instinct to privilege academic authorities and those who have received wide acceptance is revealed clearly here:


I’m reading the intellectual autobiography of J. Evola, Il Cammino del mercurio [the title written is wrong: it is cinabro (cinnabar), not mercurio –ed.], with much melancholy. The chapter in which he presents and discusses the idealistic ‘university philosophy’, represented by Croce and Gentile: he speaks about his two theoretical volumes in which he supposedly destroyed those ‘professors,’ etc. etc. The naïveté (full of resentment) with which he situates himself in the history of contemporary thought – even though he states repeatedly that his volumes have not been reviewed and have not evoked any response . . .
There must be, indeed, several tons of printed paper in Italy alone on which the philosophy of Croce and Gentile has been discussed. Of what use, then, has Evola’s ‘radical criticism’ and ‘destruction’ been? And abroad, poor J. Evola is viewed as an ultra-fascist. The copy of the English translation of his book on Buddhism in Swift Library is disfigured with polemical annotations (written in indelible lead!): they say (even on the cover) that Evola is a fascist and a ‘racist’, that his theories about ‘Aryans’ were borrowed from A. Rosenberg, etc. I remember the brief, harsh review in Journal asiatique written by J. Filliozat in the same vein: J. E. is a racist, ultra-fascist, etc.
Evola tries to appear indifferent to such criticisms, although he prefers them to the ‘conspiracy of silence’ of which he claims he has suffered all his life. And yet, what a melancholic spectacle to see him talking about what he has done, how he has ‘destroyed’ and ‘surpassed’ everyone, even Nietzsche and Heidegger (whom he claims, moreover, to have anticipated . . .). [6]
Eliade does not admit that the soundness and truth of arguments are more important than how widely read, received and reviewed they are. The quantity of inferior and false ideas that are celebrated in the universities, then and now, is very high. Many are unable to comprehend, nevertheless, how curtly and effectively false ideas, however celebrated they are or however voluminously they are presented, can be dismissed. Of the mass of writings discussing the thought of Croce and Gentile, only Evola’s had looked at these philosophies from the traditional perspective, which is of use, simply, because it is the only one not subject to the movement of opinion and history. Mention of the idiotic slurs applied to him by those who have misunderstood his perspective are not relevant; if one does not take the time to adequately understand a given idea or formulation, his opinion does not matter. It is clear that Eliade is displaying a historicist prejudice; because his writings have been ignored (apparently, at least) and since no admission of the soundness of his criticisms has manifested visibly, the value of the writings in themselves, as formulations to be judged solely by their truth-value, is ignored, and Evola’s observation of this is considered a ‘spectacle’, the judgment of the history of ideas being obviously the decisive factor for Eliade. We might also add, like Eliade did when he compared Coomaraswamy and Guénon vis-à-vis other ‘occultists’ above, that, unlike Heidegger’s and much of Nietzsche’s writing, what Evola writes makes sense.
Despite praise of some aspects of his work, on at least one occasion he engaged in rather irresponsible gossip about Evola. In 1958, in a letter to the poet and former Iron Guard member Vasile Posteucă, regarding a request for information about Evola’s encounter with Corneliu Codreanu, Eliade warned him that Evola was a ‘racist’ and a ‘Nazi’, and liable to generate confusion if used as a source [7]. Never mind that he made it clear that his ‘racism’ was of a type quite different from that of the National Socialists, from whom he explicitly distanced himself ideologically, even during the war, and that several mainstream and semi-mainstream publishers in Europe found his works fit to print! A man of Eliade’s sophistication should have known better than to describe Evola so falsely and simplistically. One would not have thought that, being himself the target of similar slurs by certain elements in academia, he would engage in this kind of rumor-mongering. If the account of the exchange is not a fabrication or an exaggeration, then our opinion of Eliade is lowered considerably.
Evola demonstrated quite well the limits of Eliade’s formulations in a review of the latter’s book on Yoga:
Our fundamental opinion of Eliade’s work on Yoga may be expressed by saying that it is the most complete of all those that have been written on this subject in the domain of the history of religions and of Orientalism. One cannot mention another that for wealth of information, for comparisons, for philological accuracy, for the examination and utilization of all previous contributions, stands on the same level. But when once this has been admitted, some reservations have to be made. In the first place it would seem that the material he handles has often got the better of the writer. I mean to say that in his anxiety to make use of all, really all, that is known on the several varieties of Yoga and on what is directly or indirectly connected therewith, he has neglected the need of discriminating and selecting so as to give importance only to those parts of Yoga that are standard and typical, avoiding the danger that the reader lose track of the essential features by confusing them with the mass of information on secondary matters, variations, and side products. Looking at it from this standpoint, we are even led to wonder whether Eliade’s previous book Yoga, essai sur les origines de la mystique indienne (Paris, 1936), is not in some respects superior to this last one, which is a reconstruction of the former. In the first book the essential points of reference were more clearly outlined, they were less smothered by the mass of information brought together, and the references to less-known forms of Yoga, such as the Tantric and others, were more clearly pointed out [ . . . ]
After this glance at the contents of Eliade’s new book we are tempted to inquire of him a somewhat prejudicial question: to whom is the book addressed? As we have openly declared, it is a fundamental work for specialists in the field not only of Oriental research, but also in that of the history of religions. But in his introduction Eliade states that the book is addressed also to a wider public and he speaks of the importance that a knowledge of a doctrine such as that of Yoga may have for the solution of the existential problems of the modern Westerner, confirmed as that doctrine is by immemorial experience.
Here complications arise. To meet such a purpose it would be necessary to follow a different plan and to treat the matter in a different way. A Westerner who reads Eliade’s book may be able to acquire an idea of Yoga as ‘la science intégrale de l’homme [the integral science of man]’, he may acquire knowledge of a teaching that has faced in practice as well as in theory the problem of ‘deconditioning’ man; he will thus add yet one other panorama to the list of the many modern culture has provided him with. His interest will perhaps be more lively than the ‘neutral’ interest of the specialist; he may flirt with the aspects of a ‘spiritualite virante’. But on the existential plane the situation will be pretty much the same as it was before, even if the information available be deeper, more accurate, better documented. The possibility of exercising a more direct influence could only be looked for from a book addressed to those who have shown an interest in Yoga and similar sciences not because they seek for information but because they are seeking for a path; a book that in this special field would remove the misunderstandings, the popular notions, the deviations, and the delusions spread by a certain kind of literature to which we referred at the beginning of this article; a book displaying the accuracy and knowledge that we find in this work of Eliade, in as far as it is an exposition kept within the limits of the history of religions. Such a book has perhaps still to be written. But even so the essential need would not be met, for it is the unanimous opinion of the true masters of Yoga that the key to their science cannot be handed on by the written word. [8]
It could be said figuratively that if one who comprehends and adopts the traditional perspective can be said to have a view from the peaks that allows the most complete survey, then Eliade could be described as not having completed the ascent, his vision being obscured by clouds above or enamored by objects on the path to the summit. If he could see individual rocks on the path more closely, we must remember that the view from summit is still the most important one.
[1] Eliade, Mircea. No Souvenirs: Journal 1957-1969, p. 291.
[2] Eliade. Jurnal, 26 August 1947, M.E.P., box 15/2 (trans. Mac Linscott Ricketts). *
[3] Eliade. Autobiography, Volume II, p. 152.
[4] Eliade. Jurnal, 5 September 1964, M.E.P., box. 16/6 *
[5] Ibid., 4 March 1969, box 15/4 *
[6] Ibid., 20 December 1964, box. 16/6, pp. 2640-2641 *
[7] Posteucă, Vasile. Jurnal, in: Gabriel Stănescu (ed.), Mircea Eliade în conştiinna contemporanilor săi din exil, Norcross: Criterion, [2001], pp. 272-277 (275 – entry of 28 October 1958). *
[8] Evola, Julius. Yoga, Immortality & Freedom. East and West, vol. 6, no. 3, 1955.

* Quotes and citations from: Bordas, Liviu. The difficult encounter in Rome: Mircea Eliade’s post-war relation with Julius Evola – new letters and data. International Journal on Humanistic Ideology, IV, no. 2, Autumn-Winter 2011, pp. 125-158. Retrieved from: Academia.edu

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