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  • A Deceptive God of Dazzling Whiteness
  • Peg Birmingham (bio)

In the conclusion of The Honor of Thinking, Rodolphe Gasché argues that the task of thinking is to respond to a call, to a demand, or to an event that “causes philosophical discourse to submit to shock after shock and to traumatism after traumatism” (2007, 359). Thinking is therefore the experience of an open wound; it emerges in a violent, unpredictable, and traumatic encounter with the unforeseeable and unconditional coming of the other; it is a responding to the other in its alterity prior to philosophy’s cuts of separation, decision, and division that promise knowledge of their objects. As such, the open wound of thinking is an encounter with the unpresentable and untamable. And because thinking responds to the unpredictable and unforeseeable event of the other, there is no single origin to thinking. We must begin where we are, and where we are is held in shocking and wounding captivity within a language and a logic that nevertheless overtakes us with surprising resources. Thus, Gasché argues that the duty of thinking today is “to catch unawares and overtake those discourses that are today [End Page 107] dominant—among which one may count not only philosophical discourse, but also more particularly juridico-political discourses, by confronting them with the available resources of our philosophical heritage” (362). Still further, the task of thinking is to recall to those in charge that “this heritage carries with it a certain responsibility and promise” (362).

Gasché’s new book, Europe, or the Infinite Task, attempts to accomplish this task of thinking by engaging with what is perhaps the most shocking and violent event for thinking today: the event of Europe. In other words, through a thinking summoned from out of a violent and shocking trauma of Europe’s history, from out of this open wound, Gasché thinks the irreducible alterity at the heart of this singular event and recalls that the heritage of this event named Europe carries not only a responsibility but a promise.

Prior to her abduction by a disguised and dazzling Zeus, Gasché reminds us that Europa was Asian. She was born the daughter of the Phoenician King Ageno and his wife Telephassa in the port of Tyre on the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean (2009, 10). Kidnapped and taken far from home, Europa then is “not the proper name of a land, but the name for a movement of separation and tearing (oneself) away in which everything proper has always already been left behind” (11). Moreover, in the seventh century BC, Gasché tells us, Europe “stands for Central Greece” and signifies a direction (a sense), an obscure landmass somewhere in the direction of the west. Ereb signified the “western land where the sun set—[a name] given to the Greeks by the Phoenicians living on the coast of Asia Minor” (9). Europe—Ereb—is the Occident, the land, the evening. From its beginning, Europe is a border-situation, a limit, the horizon where the evening sun meets the earth’s surface.

At the same time, following Husserl, Gasché argues that Europe is congruent with the event of philosophy, the idea of a universal rational science. Europe, then, is not only a limit and a horizon, it is also the advent of an idea of a universal philosophy responsible to humanity as such: “For, indeed, the legacy with respect to which the task of contemporary philosophy becomes intelligible, to and for which Europe is responsible, is none other than the Greek founding conception of philosophy as a universal task, a task that is not only one of individual and collective, but universal responsibility toward what is universal to mankind” (2009, 36). As the inaugural event [End Page 108] of philosophy, Europe is both a factual origin and a universal essence. As with so much of his work, the question that occupies Gasché is a question of origins: how the factual origin of Europe is inseparable from its universal sense, a universal that tears Europe away from all factual places and familiar ports of call. Beginning with Husserl’s insights in The Crisis of the European Sciences as well as in Origins of...


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pp. 107-117
Launched on MUSE
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