Beatrice Bottomley is a doctoral student at the Warburg Institute, University of London, supported by a studentship from the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP). Her research examines the relationship between language and existence in Ibn ʿArabi’s al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya, “The Meccan Openings”. By bringing together philology with approaches from intellectual history and the study of material culture, Beatrice’s research throws light on the work of a non-canonical thinker and poet in order to contribute to discussions of language, translation and ontology taking place across disciplines. Beatrice also works as a translator from French and Arabic into English.
Recreating Existence in Ibn ʿArabi’s al-Futūhāt al-Makkiyya, “The Meccan Openings”
Translation is a regenerative practice, which enables ideas from other languages, times and spaces to inhabit an afterlife of meaning and interactions. I will explore this aspect of translation by examining how we can define and translate the concept of wujūd (often translated from Arabic into English as “being” or “existence”) as it is used by Ibn ʿArabi in his masterwork al-Futūhāt al-Makkiyya, “The Meccan Openings”.
Ibn ʿArabi (1165, Murcia – 1240, Damascus) was a thinker and poet, who is probably best known through the mystical school of thought that took inspiration from his ideas. Despite the importance of his work in the study of literature, philosophy and religion in the Middle East and Asia, its reception in Europe has been limited and heavily filtered through an orientalist gaze. Al-Futūhāt is itself a product of regeneration. Its exists in two recensions, which in turn gave birth to many manuscripts that were used in the assembling of a number of editions of the text.
In this paper, I examine the multiple ways in which Ibn ʿArabi uses and defines wujūd in al-Futūhāt al-Makkiyya and ask how we can thus translate it. Polysemy is not only essential to how Ibn ʿArabi constructs his thought, but also prompts us to reflect – how do we negotiate the continuity offered by standard translations versus the change and opening out offered by recognising the ambiguity of certain words and the concepts they denote? How can translation enable us to recreate our understanding of philosophical concepts, such as existence?