Coomaraswamy trilogy

Coomaraswamy 1: Selected Papers on Traditional Art and Symbolism

Coomaraswamy 2: Selected Papers on Metaphysics

The two volumes edited with an introduction by Roger Lipsey

Coomaraswamy: His Life and Work

By Roger Lipsey

(Published as a trilogy in the Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press, 1977)

I’ve sometimes said that to read Coomaraswamy’s writings for a year would be a vastly worthwhile education. I still think this true. I was willingly captivated in the late 1960s. AKC’s writings drew me to graduate work in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts (New York University). Certain of his writings were at the surface, easily found. Most important to me at the time, and enduringly so for many readers, were three books from his later years: Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art, The Transformation of Nature in Art, and Hinduism and Buddhism. But many books and essays were nearly unfindable; I had to search them out.

At the time I was deciding to write my doctoral dissertation about his life and thought—this in the late 1960s—there occurred a sad and fateful event: the passing of AKC’s widow, Doña Luisa, who had worked for years with the support of a Bollingen Foundation fellowship to edit and publish the complete works of her late husband. Though it was her life’s work, she had been unable to complete the task. She bequeathed to the Foundation AKC’s papers and library, and at the invitation of Bill McGuire, senior editor for the immense Bollingen Series published by Princeton University Press, I was asked to sort through the papers, understand and catalogue them, and prepare them for deposit in the university’s library. I had met Doña Luisa at her home in Rhode Island; I had understood something of the mystique surrounding her work. I shall never forget my conversation with this elderly woman wearing an accountant’s shade to spare her eyes. A most dedicated person, and most welcoming.

I want to take a moment to remember Bill McGuire. This was an authentic man of letters and a generous mentor. Quite apart from other things, he had overseen much of the huge edition of C. G. Jung’s writings in the Bollingen Series—a permanent contribution. Bill combined a no-nonsense approach to text with discreet appreciation for what the very special texts with which he worked had to say.

The initial cataloguing completed, the Press invited me to edit and introduce not the complete works of Coomaraswamy but a selection, to which in time we added a revision of the Life and Work study I had written as my dissertation. The overall project, buffeted by a fair share of life vicissitudes, took nine years.

Lines from my 2013 lecture in New Delhi: “Coomaraswamy in his later years conferred dignity on those who instinctively approach religious art as an epiphany, a transforming experience that teaches and touches both mind and heart. So doing, he was not arguing for an abandonment of scholarship, on the contrary. He was enlarging and refining a dimension that had been marginalized, forgotten, even scorned in the legitimate effort to construct an art history and modes of art historiography on a solid foundation. It was a dimension that had no voice—none that was thorough and persuasive—until he spoke. That dignity was his own, communicated through his writings as if they were a secondary but nonetheless powerful darshan.”

Coomaraswamy trilogy by Roger Lipsey

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