Research Project: Voyage Toward an Impossible Exteriority // Crossings of European Philosophy and Arabic Rhetorical Theory

Sarah Doebbert Epstein spent a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the OIB, from October 2016 until the end of this month, to develop the core of a book on the basis of ongoing research in a new area she terms ‘comparative critical thought’. Engaging trends in continental philosophy and Arabic theory, as well as their intersections, this book project considers the work of moving between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of ‘philosophy’, while interrogating Eurocentric conceptions of those limits. It thus opens a critical conversation, in which a new ethical/political opening towards the other is at stake. The goal of the book is to begin articulating a new type of critical intervention that could arise from between critical tropologies of thought and their mutual (linguistic/historical) displacements.
One approach to this endeavour involves radicalising the implications of certain Derridean and Heideggerian observations about the necessarily schematic and figurative nature of abstract thought, as it relates to conceptions of the universal, the particular and the meaning of philosophy itself, in a world in which there is arguably no universal language of abstract thought (aside from mathematical logic), and in response to demands articulated from within the realm of postcolonial studies and across the humanities for decentring the relationship between one particular critical tradition (that of European philosophy) and its others (including, in this case, Arabic critical discourses).

Of central concern is how to think across different linguistic, historical and theological/metaphysical contexts. This is not to suggest that the different traditions of critical thought are absolutely separate or distinct from each other, either conceptually or historically, nor would it entail defining essences to be compared – but it does entail recognising that their framing categories must not always be assumed to be the same, and that these conceptual categories or headings have particular schematic histories. Rather than translation, in a traditional sense, the project involves theoretical work at what Derrida calls ‘the philosophical frontier between languages’ – resulting in philosophical invention, or ‘the gift of a new idiom’. This image of a bridge evokes the potential trans-schematisation of thought across critical contexts, via the construction of a series of conceptual crossings or linkages – a process which encapsulates the core of this project, and to which the subtitle alludes.

The book will be structured in relation to both the classical qasīda and to a series of abstract rhetorical concepts (jinās, iltifāt and majāz) – all of which are categorised as instances of taghyīr (or change), understood by Ibn Rushd to comprise a central facet of the poetic (considered in relation to the potential plasticity of philosophy itself, beyond its traditional ‘margins’). Philosophical analysis is interwoven throughout, via the trans-schematic network of conceptual crossings. Philology crucially facilitates this possibility by making visible the processes by which schematism occurs and by which words become concepts (consequently enabling their conceptual plasticity across linguistic/historical trajectories, chapter by chapter).

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