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  • Sufism and Deconstruction: A Comparative Study of Derrida and IbnʿArabi
  • Recep Alpyagil
Sufism and Deconstruction: A Comparative Study of Derrida and IbnʿArabi. By Ian Almond. London: Routledge, 2009. Pp. vii + 166. £24.95.

In an interview in 2002, Jacques Derrida said "I can imagine Buddhist, Jewish, or Muslim theologians saying to me, 'Deconstruction—we've known that for centuries.' People have come to me from far Eastern cultures telling me just that. And I'm sure that there are Jewish theologians and probably Muslim theologians who would say the same thing." I am not sure about Ian Almond's teleological tendency, but it is certain that with his Sufism and Deconstruction: A Comparative Study of Derrida and Ibn ʿArabi we are face to face with one of the most challenging books about the relationship between deconstruction and Islam.

Sufism and Deconstruction is a comparative study that has to solve the problem of historicity. The logic of a comparison (com/with + parare/prepare) needs to see beyond the historical restrictions. However, to juxtapose Derrida and Ibn ʿArabi—one a modern thinker and the other a thinker from the thirteenth century—is to arouse the charge of incommensurability. Almond, a professor in a Department of Comparative Literature, seems aware of the dangers of the comparison: [End Page 270]

It is certainly not the object of this book to claim that IbnʿArabi was the existentialist—or post-structuralist—of all time, as Pamuk jokes. Rather, we will be trying to understand Sufism and deconstruction, to abuse an analogy from Benjamin, as different fragments belonging to the same, long-shattered vase. In dealing with texts whose origins lie almost eight hundred years and many more kilometres apart, it is not the intention of this study to turn a thirteenth-century Sufi into a postmodern theorist, any more than it is our desire to 'islamicize' Jacques Derrida or transform his writings into a form of Islamic mysticism. . . .

(p. 2)

Ironically, the main importance of Sufism and Deconstruction is this anachronism, and its main contribution is its being against khronos/time. For a long time, Islamic scholars have been very familiar with the historical approach to Islamic philosophy, especially in Middle East Studies departments. Issues arise such as when did IbnʿArabi live, where and when did he die, and so on. However, the important question is whether there is anything beyond history in the legacy of Ibn ʿArabi. Sufism and Deconstruction gives us a wonderful example of positive anachronism. Actually, deconstruction relates to this anachronism and places itself within an "incalculable number of ages, hours, and years, of untimely histories." And for Sufism, there is no yesterday, or tomorrow: there is always now. This weak relation with history makes deconstruction and Sufism comparable. In a deconstructive sense, this citationality, this duplication or duplicity, this iterability, is neither an accident nor an anomaly; on the contrary, it is the exact condition of making philosophy today/this day. And in this way, it is possible to build a bridge between historical, cultural, and academic gaps.

Almond very briefly summarizes common points between IbnʿArabi and Derrida: both share an analogous mistrust in the ability of rational thought /metaphysics to talk unproblematically about God/meaning; an insistence on the ultimate ungraspability of the Real/writing, despite all philosophical/metaphysical claims to the contrary; a parallel interest in and positive appraisal of 'confusion' as a genuine means of 'breaking through' to the Other/the Real beyond our metaphysical constrictions; a deceptively similar belief in the infinite possibilities of the text and a corresponding idea of the 'illusion' of such identities; and finally, a related disbelief in the autonomous substantiality of the self (p. 117). Although Derrida and IbnʿArabi are very different thinkers, they have one thing in common: an awareness of how obstructive and ineluctably misleading representations can be. No surprise, then, that both thinkers speak of metaphysics in terms of chains and 'knots'—and of their own projects as attempts to untie these 'knots.' Neither is it surprising how both thinkers seem to see in the state of confusion a possibility for 'truer' knowledge, or how they come to see texts as...