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  • The Opening of the West
  • Steffen Stelzer (bio)

For the opening of the West (fatḥ al-maghrib) is unrivalled by any other opening, since its allotted time is the night (al-layl), and [the night] precedes the daytime (al-nahār) in the glorious scripture in every passage.

—Ibn ‘Arabi, Risālāt al-Intiṣār

Dear Friend, I don’t know at which time of the day or the night you were born. Would you allow me to choose a time? If I could say you were born at midnight, if you would let me imagine that you were born at that time, I would have a good pretext for beginning to write to you in the way I’d like.

I could then say: These lines are to celebrate your birthday. Or one of your birthdays, after many birthdays, at a certain age, at a certain time.

And I could say, as Deleuze said and you read: this time, midnight, is a good time to speak and to ask about philosophy, a time to speak, as he puts it, “concretely.” That is, to ask “in a moment of quiet restlessness, at midnight, when there is no longer anything to ask” (1994, 1). [End Page 215]

Let’s imagine such a nightly conversation about philosophy, how it might turn to Europe, and how one would then speak and hear of old age and of youth, of travels by land and by sea, of oceans and shores, of directions and headings. Perhaps, one could invite some guests from the northern and western shores of the Mediterranean and some from the southern and the eastern shores, that is, some of those who seem to be always around, in the air, when there is talk of Europe and of philosophy, but somehow are never quite there. Perhaps, there could be a guest like the old Oriental sage mentioned by Deleuze as a foil against the Greek type of the philosopher-friend, the old Oriental sage who is older than the old philosopher and doesn’t speak a word. Which makes me, of course, curious about how he “maybe, thinks in figures,” as Deleuze says (1994, 3). Or, maybe, we could have some of those guests Derrida regretted not having in a “more apparently Christian and hardly Judaeo-Christian” round that met to speak of religion: a woman, a Muslim. “Mute witnesses,” he called them (1996, 13).

Conversations that pursue clearly or even vaguely determined goals, questions that need answers, have, of course, to take place under well-defined conditions. The nightly conversation Deleuze spoke of, that is, the philosophical conversation, is not of this kind. Moments of quiet restlessness, questions asked when there is no longer anything to ask, do not follow straight lines from start to goal or even roundabout ways to an end. They may be said to waver or flicker. Nevertheless, this does not imply a complete lack of traits, and it is telling to which extent these traits are shared by both, questions about thinking and questions about Europe.

Although not pursuing a determinable trajectory, this “quiet restlessness” is, therefore, not still. It travels. And as long as it travels there are recognizable times, specific spaces, particular elements, particular means. Being a nightly conversation, the room, or should one say, the space in which it takes place, is usually badly lit or outright dark. This explains the need for orientation, when traveling by land, or for navigation, when traveling by sea or air. The former is addressed by Kant when he speaks of “the right of reason’s need . . . for orienting itself in thinking, solely through reason’s own need, in that immeasurable space of the supersensible, which for us is filled with dark night” (1996, 10). The latter echoes in Derrida’s remark about proposing [End Page 216] the title of his talk in a colloquium on “European Cultural Identity” when he says that “while on board a plane [I was thinking at first] of the language of air or sea navigation” (1992, 13). Furthermore, as much rationality and, therefore, objectivity, may be claimed for both endeavors, for orienting oneself in thinking and for navigating the sea...


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pp. 215-236
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