Laura U. Marks works on media art and philosophy with an intercultural focus. Her most recent books are Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image (MIT, 2015) and Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art (MIT, 2010). She is Grant Strate Professor in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
Taqiyya and Unfolding: A Genealogy of Arts of the Secret
A genealogy of Deleuze’s conception of Being as a manifold, in which actual and virtual constitute unfolded and enfolded aspects of an infinite disjunctive unity, finds one of its most important sources in Islamic Neoplatonism. Classical Islamic philosophy and theology, synthesizing Qur’anic thought and Greek Neoplatonism, characterized a divine multitude so vast that an ocean of ink could not begin to describe it—which, however could be glimpsed by various methods, including art. I have demonstrated (Marks 2013, 51-72) that Deleuze’s conception of univocity of being, and resulting conceptions of actual and virtual, originate with the synthetic philosophy of Avicenna (ibn Sīnā, c. 980-1037). In this paper, I pursue another aspect of this rich Islamic genealogy of Deleuzian concepts: when knowledge of the infinite is considered a secret that disguises itself, folds up, goes into hiding. Termed in Arabic bātiniyya, the search for inner secrets, this method was most highly developed in Shi‘a thought. Taqiyya, strategic concealment (usually to avoid persecution), informed the practice of concealing such knowledge. The Shi‘a theory of the secret as fold became the basis of European Renaissance esoteric practices and travelled, in concealment, into modern Western philosophy. I will deploy it to analyse contemporary artworks that maintain some immanent infinity in a state of secrecy, until they can be received with ta‘wīl, or skilful unfolding.