Review of A Heresy or A Heretic Review


The following book review was written a few years back by Cergat for the series Suspensions of The Islamicate Society, but as it was never submitted and has since grown into a larger body of work (about 8,000 words for Part I) than demanded by their guidelines (I believe the top was 3,000 words), we will publish it here instead. Part II, to which we will publish only the first section, constitutes a much larger work, and will be published separately and in its entirety as a book.

Children of the Alley

Naguib Mahfouz, Children of the Alley, A Novel, 1st Anchor Books, 1996, 448 pp., $10.87, (pbk), 978-0385264730




Table of Contents:

i. Outline

ii. Introduction

iii. Part I: Paralysis–The One Who Swallowed the Universe

Delusion I: Mental Time Travel

Delusion II: The Arbitrary Stoppage

Delusion III: The Big Crunch

iv. Part II: Split/The Sign

Illusion I: Suspicion


Open as pdf: review-of-a-heresy-or-a-heretic-review

Ouroboros image created by Zarathus on DeviantArt:


  1. I would no longer call this a book review, even though it started out as such. It no longer follows any of the Suspensions’ Series guidelines, not only in its length, but also in its format and content. In a way, this review was only an excuse to write what I wanted, and Mahfouz provided that. The second part steps into heresy proper, i.e., it cuts across all of our thoughtscape from the history of religion to philosophy and science, as each one is granted a final hour through which to shine once more, brighter than in all of their existence, before falling one after the other into the abyssal depths of the gaping void.

  2. Žižek too, mentions the void, the gap, and nothingness in “Less Than Nothing.” They all seem to differ somewhat, for example, “nothing” is related to space, or a lack of something, while “the void” is completely unstructured. Is your conceptualization related at all to his analysis of these concepts, or are they entirely different things?

    1. Insomnya,

      Yes and no. I have yet to finish reading his book, but so far I am perplexed at his sustained analysis on the one hand, and his almost intentional inconsistency on the other. For instance, with all his love for the correct etymologies (for example he spends a considerable amount of time telling us what “den” really means (or doesn’t mean)), he never so much as hints at the etymology of the word “gap,” which is the crux of his analysis.

      From the etymology online:

      gap (n.) from Old Norse gap “chasm,” related to gapa “to gape,” from PIE *ghai- “to yawn, gape” (see yawn (v.)).

      yawn (v.) from Old English ginian, gionian “open the mouth wide, yawn, gape,” from Proto-Germanic *gin-, from PIE *ghai- “to yawn, gape” (cognates: Old Church Slavonic zijajo “to gape,” Lithuanian žioju, Czech zivati “to yawn,” Greek khainein, Latin hiare “to yawn, gape,” Sanskrit vijihite “to gape, be ajar”).

      chaos (n.) “gaping void,” from Old French chaos or directly from Latin. chaos (n.) from Greek khaos “abyss, that which gapes wide open, is vast and empty,” from *khnwos, from PIE root *gheu- “to gape, yawn” (cognates: Greek khaino “I yawn,” Old English ginian, Old Norse ginnunga-gap; see yawn (v.)).

      chasm (n.) “deep crack in the earth,” from Latin chasma, from Greek khasma “yawning hollow, gulf,” related to khaskein “to yawn,” and thus to chaos.

      Even Aleister Crowley, the magician, who longed to reach the primal nothingness (“the one or none,” as he says), has a space for chaos in his system, the dwelling place of the demon Choronzon. Crowley is ultimately wrong in locating this space between the nothing, which in his system stands for noumena, and phenomena. If the demon can be located anywhere, it is within noumena itself, for it is precisely the disturbance of noumena that brings about phenomena. Žižek seems more than equiped to make this connection on his own, yet he never does. Isn’t that what Žižek really means when he says, “However, this nothing is not the Oriental or mystical Void of eternal peace, but the nothingness of a pure gap (antagonism, tension, ‘contradiction’), the pure form of dislocation ontologically preceding any dislocated content”? (38)

      There is great confusion among his readers as to what Žižek means, or how to conceptualize his schema, but ultimately it is the simpliest concept of all, it all follows from this: “In order to get from nothing to something, we do not have to add something to the void; on the contrary, we have to subtract, take away, something from nothing. […] ‘Nothing’ is the generative void out of which othings, primordially contracted pre-ontological entities, emerge […] This, perhaps, is how one can imagine the zero-level of creation: a red dividing line cuts through the thick darkness of the void, and on this line, a fuzzy something appears…” (65). Italics added. This red dividing line is the fissure, the rupture, that Žižek does not seem to ever name correctly, not the nothing. The double-edged dagger of chaos, to use Negarestani’s words. Now, as I said, I have not yet finished the book, and I may be criticizing prematurely. I hope he finally ventures into what “chaos” as opposed to “gap” implies, though I doubt he will, which is why my reading is always slowing down as I am more disappointed with every page I turn. I think much unnecessary confusion is caused by his attempting to differentiate his philosophy from “the Oriental mystical” teachings and their “mystical void of eternal peace” by making his void “the nothingness of a pure gap (antagonism, tension, ‘contradiction’)”, yet at the same time his void is the “generative void” that forgets about the Eastern notion of the “pregnant void.” Endless reversal. Žižek does not end up too far from Buddhism for anyone that cares to follow the implications.

      On an unrelated note, another disappointing element is his blatant refusal to give credit to Jean Baudrillard for his theory of simulacra, instead crediting his teacher and friend Jacques Alain Miller for it, “The key formula of semblance was proposed by J-A. Miller: semblance is a mask (veil) of nothing. (46). Miller of course wrote that in “Of Semblants in the Relation Between the Sexes,” Psychoanalytic Notebooks 3 (published in 1999) from which Žižek quotes it. Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Silmulation was published in 1981, the opening words in that book are, “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

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