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Much like the shifting surfaces of Wolfson’s abstract paintings, magic can thus be seen as a dynamic artform that evokes transformational possibilities in the blink of an eye. These shimmering, transmutational relations are also reflected in Wolfson’s poem “winged purple”: “winged purple” appears in Footdreams and Treetales , p. 3.

winged purple
starlite dust
ending day
night must

In the doubling of words that comprise the four lines of this quatrain, Wolfson presents a transient image of temporal evanescence in which twilight emerges as a threshold between worlds, an ephemeral corridor between liminal states of time and being. In so doing, the poem invites its readers to rethink the familiar relations between dualism and doubling. Just as this interval incorporates falling light and ascending darkness, the etymology of the word “twilight” is suffused with paradox. The prefix “twi” is related to the German word zwei , which denotes not only the numerical value of two, but the analogical concepts of doubling, doubled, and twice. Viewed from these multiple perspectives simultaneously, twilight is at once a time of two distinctive lights—a hinge between the diurnal and the nocturnal worlds, the discernible point where the falling light of day meets the rising darkness of night. Twilight thus encompasses a time that is twice light, as fading sunlight and emerging starlight meld into a two-fold unity of doubled light.

A complementary pattern of doubling is also expressed in Wolfson’s painting Purple Angel (2003). In this abstract canvas, the absent presence of the eponymous abstracted angel appears through just such a sparkling play of doubled light. Wolfson has noted that one of the primary iconographic reference points for the painting concerns “an Ismaili tradition about the active intellect, or Gabriel, who…is the highest angel in Islamic lore having dictated the Qur’an to Muhammad.” Elliot R. Wolfson, in correspondence with the author, April 17, 2006. In Language, Eros, Being , Wolfson discusses the ways in which the prominent scholar of Islamic religion, Henry Corbin, engages the exegesis of “the Jewish mystic Joseph ben Judah” Ibn Aqnin regarding the Genesis story of Jacob’s struggle with the angel (who, in some rabbinic sources, is identified as Gabriel). This narrative relates to “the soul’s quest for union with the Active Intellect, personified as the angel in the form of an anthropos…. Corbin insightfully discerned that the philosophical interpretation of the Song [of Songs] as a figurative account of the conjunction of the human and Active Intellect may be demarcated as a form of speculative mysticism.” See Wolfson, Language, Eros, Being , p. 536, n. 332; and Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Şūfism of Ibn ‘Arabī , trans. Ralph Manheim (1958; Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XCI, 1969), p. 35.

In the Sahih Bukhari , a collection of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, the Archangel Gabriel is described as having six hundred wings. See Sahih Bukhari , trans. M. Muhsin Khan, vol. 4, book 54, no. 455, at the University of Southern California’s website of a “Compendium of Muslim Texts”: http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/054.sbt.html. This mystical imagery seems to inspire the question of how one might see the unseeable, namely the indescribable radiance of such a shimmering multitude of angel wings. In turn, the vivid imagery associated with “envisioning the invisible” has profound resonance in kabbalistic texts, particularly as an expression of a state in which opposites become identical in the blink of an eye. When commenting on the angelic and temporal dimensions of these themes, Wolfson has observed that Abraham Abulafia, the thirteenth-century Spanish kabbalist who is known as the leading exponent of ecstatic kabbalah, has expressed the “idea that the difference between good and evil, the angel of life and the angel of death, is like a split second, less than the blink of an eye, an indivisible point. He relates this to an earlier Talmudic image that compares twilight to the blink of the eye. For Abulafia, the paradox is that this time of the moment, the blink of the eye, is the no-time of twilight, and in that time that is no-time, the cut of the sword, lies the difference between the holy and profane. As I recall, [the poem] ‘winged purple’ is right in that interval of time that is no time—‘ending day / night must.’” Elliot R. Wolfson, in correspondence with the author, August 26, 2006. For an extended discussion of these themes, see Elliot R. Wolfson, “Kenotic Overflow and Temporal Transcendence: Angelic Embodiment and the Alterity of Time in Abraham Abulafia,” Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 18 (2008), pp. 133-90. It should also be noted that these aesthetic formulations resonate with the conception of divinity expressed in the writings of the thirteenth-century kabbalist Azriel ben Menahem. In Language, Eros, Being , Wolfson notes that this author writes of “the fullness of being beyond the polarity of being and nonbeing. Azriel alludes to this point when he situates unity ( ha-yihud ) at the moment of transition ‘when the light disappears and darkness comes or when darkness disappears and the light sparkles, to attest that the Lord is unified in all the opposites.’” See Wolfson, Language, Eros, Being , p. 97. Enveloped within the doubled folds of these passages is a quintessentially transitional domain, a diaphanous site where the existential realm of the spectator meets the numinous presences of the painting and the poem in an exchange that can be envisioned as a conjunction of two lights. Regarding the blink of an eye as the time of no time, see also the Postface of Wolfson’s Open Secret: Post-Messianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson .

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Source:  OpenStax, Flowering light: kabbalistic mysticism and the art of elliot r. wolfson. OpenStax CNX. Dec 09, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10611/1.1
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