Här är Lennart Parknäs inte helt färdiga bidrag till sufismseminariet. (Till bakgrunden hör att Lennart Parknäs var redaktör för den årsskrift som Aguélimuseet i Sala ger ut.)
Lennart Parknäs med en replika av "La Manu", skulpturen av Liss Eriksson till minne av de svenska frivilliga som stupade på republikens sida i spanska inbördeskriget 1936-1939. Lennart som spelade tenarsaxofon fick den att överlämna till sin orkester i Stockholm, Vänsterns Blåsorkester, som i många år på 1 maj spelat vid monumentet på Katarinavägen.
Foto: Gunilla Hansson
Sufism as a bridge builder for peace
A practical example of taking personal responsibility
I will tell you about a Swedish artist and art theorist. He converted to Islam and became a sufi, member of the Shadiliyya order. As such he became a mukkudim and in Paris he initiated the French philosopher René Guénon.
My contribution may seem a little odd.
But I think that in an assembly of theorists as this, it is necessary also to turn to the non-theorists, to the practical people, to the common man. I hope I will not insult you (I am a theorist myself!). Anyway I beg you to listen to me before you judge.
Another oddity in my contribution is that I will be talking about a special person and his use of sufism to build a peaceful world. He is not world known, he is not a representative of an organisation, he is not speaking on behalf of someone else. He is just there. Alone. It is a question of personal responsibility.
I love to be here, even if I realize my thinking may seem contradictory.
Now: his name was Ivan Aguéli.
He was born in 1869 in Sala, a little town in the middle of Sweden. His father was a veterinary, all his life strongly opposing Ivan´s plan to became an artist. His mother Anna supported Ivan all her life, sending him money and always emotionally supporting him. On the pretext of studies he came to Gotland, a Swedish island, where he took the opportunity to paint and study painting.
He succeeded in going to Paris, returning to Sweden several times. He became a pupil of the artist Émile Bernard, a symbolist and syntheist painter. Very early he got to know the artists Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso among others. He wrote about art and became well known in Paris cultural settings and was appreciated by people in culture circles as Félix Fénéon, Le Faconnier, Guillaume Apollinaire among others.
In four periods during the years 1894-95 and 1914-1915 he was living in Egypt. In around 1898 he converted to Islam. He was initiated in The Shadhiliya order by Abdarraman Iles and took the name Abdal-Hadi. He became a mukkudim which means he could initiate others in the order.
He was a language genius. It is said that he knew about 15 languages. We know that he was writing fluently in French, Italian and Arabic and – of course – Swedish.
He was attracted by anarchist theories, especially by their non-authoritarian thoughts (surely grown in his relation with the authoritarian father!). He was even jailed for about four months for his contacts with anarchists.
He had a relation with the French poet Marie Huot who also fought for animal rights. Inspired by her Aguéli tried to shoot a toreador. As a result of this, bull fights were prohibited in France.
Many of the communards from 1870-71 and also several anarchists were turning to esoteric thinking. So also Aguéli.
He wrote about art, art theory, religion and other subjects in journals as L´Encyclopédie Contemporaine Illustré, Il Commercio Italiano and Il Convito.
He had a wide correspondence with Swedish and other artists, art theorists and museum people.
In 1915 he was expelled from Egypt by the British authorities. On his way home he arrived to Barcelona where he had to stay. He made a lot of paintings. In 1917 he was killed in a train accident. Some say this was arranged by the Spanish military police.
Now – how did he work, which were his messages?
I will let him talk by himself:
”Let us begin by saying that pictorial art is not a blasphemous attempt to make something better than the Creator did, but a way to understand His deed.”
There is no doubt that these words are directed to Muslims as a defence for the the western pictorial art. But he is also directing himself against western artists:
”Painting that only is copying things could be blasphemous work … the lower mind depicts things … Painting that is depicting things without the higher impression, I see as a vain effort, even injuriuos … the higher sort of painting depicts a mental state and a spiritual development stadium … and is leading the mind through a vision of the things to a degree of greater sensations.”
This is somewhat unclear but may be made clearer in this formulation of my own:
Each thing in the physical world has a correspondance in the esoteric world, which Aguéli calls ”impression”. The painting that only copies the thing is a vain effort, if not even injurious. The painting that is able to depict the higher impression is depicting a mental state and can contribute to our esoteric development.
In Aguéli´s youth he learned about Emanuel Swedenborg, the great Swedish scientist: Swedenborg also was channeling books (over 20 000 pages) about esoteric subjects. Aguéli was strongly influenced by him through all his life.
Especially of his ideas of correspondance. Every thing in the pysical world has a correspondance in the spiritual world. This had a great impact on the French poet Charles Baudelaire in the second half of the 19th century and all the followers, especially in the 90´ties. Baudelaires Le Fleur du Mal contains the poem Correspondance:
Comme des longs échos qui de loin se ce confondent,
Dans une ténébreuse et profond unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent.
In 1892 when Ivan Aguéli was in Gotland in Sweden he brought Le Fleur du Mal with him.
”… in what material should we sculpture the following lines, the most beautiful in all French poetry from its beginning:
La gloire du soleil sur la mer violette
La gloire des cités dans le soleil couchant
As late as 1908 he says: ”You have to know that I have three persons to thank for my inner life and my belief, Swedenborg who has given me the mystic education through which I have defended myself against all protestantism and germanizing, and …” In esoteric circles in Paris Ivan Aguéli was appreciated as an expert on Swedenborg.
Except Swedenborg Ivan Aguéli was specially interested in the Anadalusian sufi Ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240). The nucleus in al-Arabis teachings is that ”God is in everything and is everything”. You here have a presentiment of the connection to correpondance theories. Ivan Aguéli says: ”This belongs to my believes: above all, a monoteism, that I believe and long for after The Highest. A superlative centre of highness and unsity and a source of life. … It is very difficult – in the chaos of modern life – to be honest to God and to – in your inner life – give him the absolute loneliness which is a part of his being …”
”To be is to be seen and then to see because it is the light that gives things an existence … The landscape is changing so hurridly, that it hardly seems to be but an excuse for showing the sun, or if you want, for showing the gestalt of the world. You see nothing but the reflection of the sky; what the details of the landscape can be without its suncarrying function, that is a question that no longer is interesting.”
The monoteistic landscape is very sunny, enlighted by a penetrating sun, by a light strong enough to force aside the linear perspective for the air perspective because the mind reigns matter. … Is it in fact so that the painted truth only is to be found in the light? I answer that that is the case. All French painting (hela det franska måleriet) confirms that the tones, the correct and intelligent distribution of light, is the most important thing in a painting) … Wisdom is just to give each thing its correct place, to put it into its correct light. :::
Here I stop quoting Ivan Aguéli.
As you see Ivan Aguéli was a thinker of the highest intellectual level. But he also turned to other media of art for sending his messages. In Il Convito he wrote about feminism, criticising both West and East for their way of thinking about the differences between the sexes. He tried to let Eastern poeple know about sagas of Sweden and Finland. And more.
Oriental art and architecture very much use geometrical ornaments. They contain a sublime and intricate system of strictly geometrically arranged lines. It is often called the spider of God. Titus Burckhardt has said that they are an expression for the Islamic thought about the omnipresent Unity.
In Ivan Aguélis work you can often see geometrical patterns in the composition. Let us have an example:
WILL COME LATER
I will put another question.
Can ordinary people in the West understand sufism?
The corresponding question is: is it possible for a Muslim to understand i.e. Christianity?
Honestly said: it is impossible. But the answer is not that simple. I will tell you about some concepts that have helped me much in thinking about these problems.
We have to talk about different thinking systems, different paradigms.
One example is the two paradigms we in the West have concerning the solar system.
Before Copernicus and Galilei people thought that the earth was the centre and that the sun moved around the earth. Within this paradigm it was possible to explain the movements of the earth and the sun in a coherent way. Everything was in accordance – inom paradigmet. Then the new thinking arrived: that it was the earth that moved around the sun. Within that paradigm all is in accordance.
But paradigms don´t need to follow each other historically where one paradigm is substituted by an other. They can also exist side by side as Islam and Christianity or Catholicism and mysticism.
Paradigms are not comparable. This means that we cannot say that one paradigm is more true than another. A paradigm has to be judged from a place within that paradigm. We have to be extremely careful when we judge another paradigm. There is a greed that our paradigm will influence our interpretation of the other paradigm.
Just think of how the old ptolemaic paradigm still is living within us. We still say today that the sun is rising, is walking over the sky and is setting down. BUT IT DOES NOT!
I cannnot give you a prescription aginst falling into this trap. You yourself have to let your carefulness grow, you yourself have to be on your guard not to reject another thought too easily.
Ivan Aguéli succeeded but the prize was high: he changed paradigm, he converted, he became a sufi himself.
As such he made many trials to explain for Muslims how Christian people are thinking – especially about art. Or to explain to Western people how Muslims are thinking. In a way we can say he gave up. Consciously he stopped explaining the thoughts of shadilism. Just if someone was ready to change paradigm he was ready to explain. This happened with René Guénon whom he initiated in The Shafiliyyah Order in Paris 1911.
So, be careful!
How is a paradigm shift done?
It begins with that new research results or thoughts that do not fit with the paradigm. The number of unfitting facts grows and at last it is clear we have to have an a paradigm shift, a new paradigm. As it best it will come as with Galilei. In our operative paradigm in the West, which is called the postitivistic paradigm, we already have seen some inexplicable facts. Light can be seen as a wave motion or as a moving particle. This doesn´t fit our paradigm, a thing cannot be two different things. We have also found that a particle can disappear if we check it – also impossible according to our paradigm. We are not come that long that we have found a new paradigm that also includes these exceptions. But they are on there way!
Within religious movements the paradigm shifts look in an interesting way. There is in people always a yearn for having a personal relation to God by prayer, meditation, dance, song … We yearn for unity. When the outer forms of our believes – called the exoteric – as rites, canonic texts, church buildings tend to be more interesting and force out the inner – the esoteric – this yearn will find its way in a protest and they are seeking a change, a salvation. This is what we call revivals. I have to say that the same thing often happens with the new revival, it will be petrified by new exoterism and then it is time for a new revival!
As Maria Parknäs Ljunggren has pointed out, it is possible to just accept a part of another paradigm. A Christian can i.e. accept oriental forms of meditation without leaving his paradigm.
Is there a way out?
Perhaps, if you look upon Ivan Aguélis art in the way Viveca Wessel do in these lines:
”Aguélis vision means that art in itself has a potential force to bridge oppositions through entering our inner lives and give respect to the culture that has contributed to form the impression. In the foundation is the stressing of unity mystics of a beyond all communion and primordial reality. By a high degree of abstraction the principles behind the deed of the Creator will become visible and the humility before his deed be kept. In this light you can see the continuing work of Ivan Aguéli as a painter of landscapes and portraits, in spite of the restrictions valid for a believing Muslim and artist.”
This seems to give us possibilities to use the art of Ivan Aguéli in the work of bridge builing for peace. I hope our discussion here and following work may be able to give us more concrete guidelines.
In all work with this paper my discussions with Maria Parknäs Ljunggren has been very valuable.
Här är två essäer som Lennart Parknäs skrev 2002 och 2009 om vännen och medkämpen Jan Myrdal.