Nidal Khaddour: “Formation”, Acrylic on canvas, 150x120 cm, 2022, courtesy of the Artist.

Perennial Philosophy:
Why Was Deconstruction Analogized with Sufism?

In the first sentence of the book “Perennial Philosophy,” Aldous Huxley says that Leibniz was the first to use the expression ‘Perennial Philosophy’ (Huxley, 1947, p.1), or, in other words, ‘Permanent Philosophy.’ However, the phrase was earlier used by the Italian philosopher Agostino Steuco in the title of a book he released in 1540 AD. It was the beginning of the Italian Renaissance which caused a great shock in the European awareness with the gradual decline of the Middle Ages, and the return of man to light after being obscured by the long theological eras. In these preliminary harbingers in which some philosophers like Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola took it on themselves to search for man whose image had vanished due to the negative theology of the Middle Ages. Such image should be sought again in the ‘ancient theology’ (Prisca theologia) via considering the transcendent wisdom that has recurred throughout time according to local designations which are simultaneously identical and different- preserving traditions and transcending them at the same time according to Hegel’s ‘Aufhebung’ (repeal). Transcendent wisdom and its sister, perennial philosophy, cannot be intuited with the means of physical time ‘Chronos’ that made all the values ​of modernism, most prominently ​​progress and reason, possible. Nevertheless, the transcendent wisdom and perennial philosophy can be intuited on the basis of the perennial time ‘Aion’ in which some currents and trends like Sufism and deconstruction (manifestation of postmodernism) are involved. It is worth noting that Sufism and deconstruction have many points in common, some of which will be illustrated in reference to the perennial philosophy.

1. The Fold, the infinite, and the Baroque

Why did Huxley believe that Leibniz was the first to coin the term ‘perennial philosophy?’ Leibniz was, in fact, a landmark of this philosophy, and he is a modern version of Cardinal Nicolas de Cues and his ‘The most in the smallest’ which Leibniz coined as the ‘Fold’ or ‘Monada’ (spiritual atom) that carries the world and its scattered things. It is the fold open to infinity, just like opposing mirrors in which things are reflected to infinity (Deleuze, 1993, p.3-4). The Fold is the other side of what perennial philosophy is; it is the other name for the Baroque which is open to the final and the eternal. Baroque invests in the emotional and sensory economy at the same time and sometimes in contrast to the mind- a value of modernism. Baroque is a postmodern value although it was temporally restricted to the dawn of modernism with the discovery of America (1492 AD) until the twilight of modernism with the French Revolution (1789 AD); that is, nearly three centuries.
However, Baroque is not thought of in terms of Chronos- the physical, rational, and sequential time in periods or eras, but rather in terms of the Aion system- the timeless, intuited, and in-motion time with leaps and transformations, just like the Fold in which its farthest and nearest, highest and lowest, and smallest and largest ends coincide according to de Cues’ rule pertaining to the time coincidence of opposite ends ‘Coincidentia oppositorum.’ De Cues’ rule was earlier coined by Ibn Arabi as ‘The Science of Harmony between Two Fellow Wives.’ The Baroque Aion is the active energy scattered in the convolutions of time, the sheets of texts, and overlapping ideas. It is subject to the ‘logic of culture’ (Lambert, 2004, p.8) which refers to the principles of transformation, leaping, and fold- a ‘tectonic’ path in Lambert’s terms as it is a cultural structure and civilizational foliating, revealing living and immortal contents that are embodied locally in each time period with its authenticity, uniqueness, and momentary bestowment. This civilizational foliating is clearly highlighted by the logic of the ‘text’ that operates geologically by superimposing critical and theoretical sheets on top of each other through the chronological sequence required by Chronos. Yet, doesn’t Aion infiltrate the folds of Chronos as an expression of perennial wisdom that transcends times and regions?

2. Text, texture, and geo-textual layers

One of the mistakes that led to a misunderstanding of deconstruction and referring it to demolition and sabotage is the failure to consider the ontological and aesthetic value of the ‘text.’ The text does not only convey the semantic, semiotic, and cultural value of a discourse and the signs embodied in a text, but it also expresses a complex process of geological accumulation and textural overlapping. The text is a fabric of signs (tissu, fabric), and based on its Latin root ‘textus,’ it is possible to identify the overlapping of the threads and their regularity according to a scheme of cutting and bending, similar to fashion design. The process of ‘cutting’ in its double sense of shredding and boring is a process that ends up with creating something new from the cloth raw material. Derrida refers to the textual overlay that can be called geo-textual, “Concealing the texture might take centuries to be unraveled. The texture involves other texture and it takes centuries to unknot it by reshaping it as a living body […]. It is not about embroidery unless we consider that the knowledge of embroidery encompasses the ability to follow the stretched thread” (Derrida, 1998, p. 13). Following woven threads is the counterpart of following manufactured ideas, and the text system is similar to the mind system, being based on mazing, junction, overlapping, and overlaying, all of which are values of Baroque ​​par excellence.
Derrida adds, “What we call ‘deconstruction’ is undoubtedly subject to the exigencies of analysis, and at the same time, critical and analytical exigencies. It is always about untying, removing sedimentation, and dissolving or drenching sediments, artifacts, hypotheses, and establishments” (Derrida, 1996, p.41). Derrida looked like a ‘weaver’ in the first text and as a ‘geologist’ in the second. He removes the accumulated textual sediments in search of the first origins that are not enveloped in the dust of time and conflict, but they are rather in a present that escapes towards the future; that is, in a trace that we lose ‘here’ and search for ‘over there’ with perpetual delay and inexhaustible obscurity. At this juncture, the manifestations of perennial philosophy whose beginning, current situation, and future are ambiguous, appear. This philosophy that stems from the abyss of ‘Aion’ or the timeless time, is also, in its realistic and local designations, the shatters of Kairos moments- the spontaneous, emergency, and fleeting time in its instantaneous consumption, great opportunities, and abundant returns.

3. Aion and Kairos: the textual depth as of geological excavation

The deconstructive process that Derrida was practically calling for is a practice that works on the text in a similar manner to how a weaver works on cloth and how a geologist works on sedimentary layers and overlayed plates with what is known as ‘stratigraphy.’ In a similar way, deconstruction reads the history of writing manifested in the layers and plates of text- not only pertaining to the archive and dates to determine the time and characteristics, but also the installation and stacking processes. We are in front of a practice that includes knotting and unknotting, linking and unraveling, connecting and disconnecting, and patching and cutting. The materials for these processes are provided by the language and its richness in signs, implications, and rhetoric, which are plots of ideas and images, devoid of identity in composition and empty of process in synthesis because they originate from the unconscious layers of human memory- the perennial philosophy. This philosophy is free from any confined identity or dominating will, and this freedom refers to the Aion with its vast and cosmic ages (periods) that curves toward the Kairos with its transforming daily times (moments).
This dual nature of time is the flip side of Leibniz’s and de Cues’ conception of the presence of the infinitely large in the folds of the infinitely small, with a procedure of permutation, interference, or ‘chiasmus,’ which was immortalized by philosophy through the image of the ‘big man’ or the world, and the ‘small world’ or man, starting from Nemesis to Brethren of Purity (Ikhwanu’s-Safa). The temporal procedure is a fold in the system of motion and destiny, linking the universal to the local, or the Aion to the Kairos. Similarly, the textual procedure is a fold in the system of idea and image, which, upon unfolding, reveals the overlaying of textual times with their heterogeneous contents, opposite to the radical difference that Derrida called ‘differance.’ The radical difference is the ‘disintegration’ that characterizes every existential fact (e.g., reptiles shed their skin like snakes do). ‘Deconstruction’ is nothing but the activation of this disintegration which has a ‘sculptural’ value in the sense that sculpture is the removal of marble appendages to reveal the complete and aesthetic image of the statue. In this process of sculpture (analogous to weaving and geological description), we omit by addition, which is called ‘Aufhebung’ (repeal) in Hegel’s terms.

4. Repeal, Sufism, and perennial philosophy

Derrida’s deconstruction is a non-Hegelian ‘Aufhebung,’ escaping from the logic of the absolute and comprehensiveness implied by the Aion towards the logic of scattering and dispersal, the emergency and the unexpected, which characterize the nature of the Kairos. Deconstruction is of a Kairos nature in terms of structure and task: spontaneous, obscure, and rapid, all of which are manifestations of ambiguity and confusion- the basic commonalities between Sufism and deconstruction (Almond, 2011, p. 85 onwards). The mentioned features are also the ontological aspect of the entanglement and overlapping between threads and fibers (weaving), and between ideas, images, and statements (the mind). The outcome is confusion resulting from the amazement by the excessively aesthetic system of the world’s majesty in its complexity, transformation, and disintegration. When such amazement lasts in the Aion, it turns to ‘Sufism,’ and when it lasts over the chronological system and the epistemological patterns, it turns to ‘philosophizing.’ How do we define Sufism and what connection does it have with the perennial philosophy? Frithjof Schuon talks about the perennial philosophy in terms of universality which includes comprehensive truths that maintain their transcendence without specific belonging to space, time, exclusivity, or possession (Schuon, 2007, p.243). The connection to these facts is not performed via the mechanical or computational mind (ratio, reason) but rather through the intuitive mind (intellectus, intellect) that communicates with the universal mind (noos), which is a paradoxical mind field (noosphere), in a way that simulates the paradoxical airspace around the Earth.
This mental field endows every reason and speculation with the spiritual images and the embodiment of ideas, dreams, and phantoms in the world. It allows direct access to metaphysical facts without the mediation of discourse or ‘logos-’ the field of mechanical mind in the logical sense of contemplation, reasoning, and arithmetic. This hierarchy of minds is necessary to understand the pattern of knowledge extracted from the hierarchical system of existence. This hierarchical knowledge in terms of the hierarchical existence is not new as its philosophical manifestations have prominently appeared with Plato, Al-Farabi, Ibn Bajjah, Ibn Arabi, and de Cues. However, the contemporary revival of ancient topics is what justifies the value of perennial philosophy, which is also ‘perennial wisdom,’ transformed in history into various and distinct images- Ibn Arabi’s ‘existential unity,’ Ibn Sab’een’s ‘absolute unity,’ Hegel’s ‘absolute,’ and Derrida’s and Deleuze’s ‘difference.’ This perennial wisdom is like the one and paradoxical sun, manifested in the scattered fragments of the mirror. Every fragment reflects the sun and does not divide it because there is no way to reach sun or look at it without unquestionable perdition. All Sufi metaphors of this kind denote ‘unity’ (divinity, for example) to which the mind has no way, and realizing it is through manifestations in history in the form of separate and scattered fragments reflecting the one sun.

Nidal Khaddour: “Silence”, Acrylic on canvas, 100×120 cm, 2021, courtesy of the Artist.

5. Perennial philosophy between Sufism and deconstruction

Perennial philosophy starts from the idea that truth is one and that existence is one (the Aion system), and the designations are many, varied, and organized into schedules and eras (the Chronos system), and they are scattered and carry great potentials (the Kairos system). Hence, this philosophy is more of a system of existence or an ontology than a system of knowledge or epistemology. It expresses humans’ position in the world and how they perceive facts intuitively (on the existential level) before realizing them mentally (on the cognitive level). In existential or ontological perception, man reaches the perennial and one truth that enters into the system of historical time, and which is identified in visions and doctrines that may distort it by monopolization and the resulting conflicts. That is, perennial truth penetrates the computational mind through a series of computations and maneuvers that end with dispute (calculations, comparison, envy, conflict, and finally fighting) according to what Jean-Jacques Rousseau explained ‘On the Origin of Difference between Humans.’ Perennial philosophy would not acquiesce to this computational scheme (Schmidt-Biggemann, 2004, p.29) but would require an intuition of a Sufi kind, or a paleontological and geological attention of a deconstructive kind. Ian Almond did not refer to perennial philosophy in his book ‘Sufism and Deconstruction: A Comparative Lesson between Ibn Arabi and Derrida.’ Nevertheless, when he analyzes and compares Islamic Sufism to Western deconstruction which are far from each other, he inexplicitly refers to the perennial philosophy which is manifested in similar considerations between Sufism and deconstruction, even if the times, methods, and cultures differ.
While comparing the two, Almond says, “I will try to deal with Sufism and deconstruction (using the analogy of Benjamin) as different fragments scattered from one vase, all of which were shattered” (Almond, 2011, pp. 24-25). The writer refers to the idea of ​​the ‘one vase’ that was shattered, which can be seen metaphorically and symbolically as the timeless philosophy that is set in the fragments of texts and cultures. Walter Benjamin mentioned the idea of the (fragmented) vase in reference to translation in the search for origins and linking the textual fragments to those origins. The (fragmented) vase belongs to the Kabbalah heritage and its origin goes back to Isaac Luria who uses it to depict the story of creation and the issuance of the world from the One who hides or shrinks before being manifested and expanded by the act of creation. Luria, who lived in the Renaissance era in which the idea of ​perennial philosophy was widespread, is a translation in the Kabbalistic heritage (reduction-expansion) of ​​de Cues’ idea about the synchrony of the two opposites (contraction-extension), and the idea of ​​Leibniz about the Fold (Monada) between flexion and expansion.

6. Ibn Arabi and Derrida: The fold of perennial philosophy comprising the shatter of the World

Ian Almond admits that nothing is in common between Ibn Arabi and Derrida culturally, linguistically, or religiously. However, from a perennial philosophy point of view (which Almond did not mention in his book), what is far and what is near may intersect just like the synchronization of opposites, and this is a Baroque’s characteristic par excellence- combining the world’s shatter of scattering cultures within one crucible. It is worth noting that the cultures are ‘similar’ in a double sense of ambiguity and analogy-similarity of forms despite the variation of materials. Almond was mistaken when he attributed this Baroque symbiosis to ‘theft,’ “Perhaps the history of ideas was nothing but an accurate documentation of thefts that took place in secret” (Almond, 2011, p. 23). However, the similarity between ideas is a Baroque procedure stemming from the folds of the timeless philosophy that travels through metaphysical times, and it cannot be said that a latter ‘stole’ a former, just by virtue of content similitude. Rather, they are ideas travelling across the paradoxical cognitive field from which the rhetorical mind derives the material for its reasoning and rational argumentation. The analogy between Ibn Arabi and Derrida is not read according to the chronological time (the causal sequence) as Derrida was not aware of Ibn Arabi’s existence, nor was he affected by Ibn Arabi even if he had known of his existence. Derrida did not master the Arabic language to read Ibn Arabi’s texts, so the analogy between the two can be read according to the Aion through the travel of ideas across the paradoxical mental field.

Almond raises the key question by which we reach the crux of the matter, “Is Derrida alluding to some deconstructive success in Jewish and Islamic spirituality which is different from its Greco-Christian counterparts that were entirely based on Logos?” (Almond, 2011, p. 27). It is known that negative theology, which nullifies the relationship between God and creatures, and hence the impossibility of knowing God in Himself (denying what He is according to human perception), resorted to Logos in its demonstrative part (from theology to Christian theology) to emphasize this impossibility. However, the demonstrative moment of negation, which is similar to removing the material excesses in sculpture, makes the positive moment possible in forming an image of the statue. The demonstrative and negating moment is the logos or the demonstrative mechanical mind that makes the intuitive moment possible in the non-knowledge form (like de Cues’ Docta ignorantia), which is Sufi and deconstructive, and hidden or concealed as it is not reasoned causally but in terms of the Aion. As the intuitive moment is revealing, it makes spiritual phenomena reveal themselves in the phenomenological sense, and it is only the intuitive mind that can seize these lights emanating from the Aion.
Almond refers to the Sufism’s and deconstruction’s rejection of the mind which is not based on the ‘hatred of the mind’ (Misology) but draws the limits of the demonstrative mind that is ‘reasoned’ according to the Chronos sequentially and causally. In similar lines, Ibn Arabi compares the demonstrative mind to the harness- a rope that is tied to the animals to prevent them from escaping. The Sufi and deconstructive endeavor is the intuitive mind that is ‘reasoned’ according to the Aion in its gigantic and timeless sizes and according to Kairos in its small and momentary dimensions; that is, according to the system of dispersing and cutting, inspired by the text that “returns to a ‘fold’ splitting the text and doubling it without repeating it” (Almond, 2011, p. 54). The ‘Fold’ (and its derivatives Baroque, Monada, synchrony of opposites, broken vase, …etc.) is the key word to understand the intersection of the finite and the infinite, the link between the universal mind and its specific parts, and the vast Aion’s connection with the instantaneous and momentary Kairos. Perennial philosophy is this enigmatic connection which is known and unknown at the same time.

Nidal Khaddour: “Vitality Life”, Acrylic on canvas, 150×120 cm, 2022, courtesy of the Artist.


  • ALMOND, Ian (2011). Sufism and Deconstruction: A Comparative Study of Derrida and Ibn Arabi, translated and presented by Hossam Nayel, reviewed by Muhammad Bariri, the National Center for Translation, Cairo.
  • Deleuze, Gilles (1993), The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, foreword and translation by Tom Conley, The Athlone Press: London.
  • DERRIDA, Jacques (1998), Plato’s Pharmacy, translated by Kazem Jihad, Dar Al Janoub Publishing House, Tunisia.
  • Derrida, Jacques (1996), Résistances de la psychanalyse, Galilée, Paris.
  • Huxley, Aldous (1947), The Perennial Philosophy, Chatto & Windus: London.
  • Lambert, Gregg (2004), The Return of the Baroque in Modern Culture, Continuum: London.
  • SCHMIDT-BIGGEMANN, Wilhelm (2004), Philosophia Perennis: Historical Outlines of Western Spirituality in Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Thought, Springer: Dordrecht, col. “International Archives of the History of Ideas, 189”. 
  • Schuon, Frithjof (2007), “The Perennial Philosophy”, in: Lings, Martin and Minnaar, Clinton (ed.), The Underlying Religion. An Introduction to the Perennial Philosophy, World Wisdom: Bloomington (Indiana).

Researcher, professor of philosophy at the University of Tlemcen (Algeria). Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Research and Study/ Mysticism and Interpretations, University of Provence (France) 2004, Ph.D. degree in Philosophy from Aix-Marseille University (France) in 2011 in the field of Practical Philosophy and Le quotidian.

“Al Tashkeel” Magazine

he first issue of “Al Tashkeel” Magazine was published back in 1984, four years after the formation of the Emirates Fine Arts Society. The fine arts movement was witnessing growth and gaining traction on all other artistic levels.