Kahlil Gibran: Godfather of the “New Age”

From JSTOR Daily:

In September 1923, Alfred A. Knopf brought out a slim, hundred-odd page volume. The publisher did little to promote it, yet its first print run (some twelve hundred copies) sold out within a month—unheard-of for a poetry volume, then and now.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet was a slow but steadily growing burn, one that has continued, year on year, for ten decades.

Interspersing twenty-six short prose-poetic pieces with original illustrations, The Prophet has made Gibran the third-bestselling poet in history—behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu. To date, The Prophet has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide (over 10 million in the United States alone) and has been translated into more than a hundred languages.

Yet The Prophet has always been and remains uniquely troublesome, and to call it the bestselling “poetry book” of its century might be misleading. Is it poetry? Or is it (in today’s language) Inspirational Fiction, wisdom text, a spiritual guide of New Age wellbeing or self-help? Perhaps (to deploy a paradox, Gibran’s favorite device) it is all these things and none of them.

Gibran wrote once of his desire “to write a book that heals the world.” The Prophet was that dream’s fruition. Yet his other work—eight English language collections and more books, poems, and other writings in his native Arabic—is largely ignored in the Anglosphere. The Prophet is thus a bestseller with an almost anonymous author. Gibran’s book has outlived him in more than one sense. Though it has had the kind of afterlife of which he himself can only have dreamed, there is in this a strange irony. Gibran was so successful in his likely aim—absorbed into the figure of “The Prophet,” imitating the unknown authors of scripture—that, for many readers and lovers of his book, he remains irrelevant.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily