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Cities without Palms Modern Arabic Literature. Mohamed Berrada. Like a Summer Never to Be Repeated. Hamdi Abu Golayyel. A Dog with No Tail. Red Wine. Khairy Shalaby. The Hashish Waiter. Gold Dust Modern Arabic Literature. Cairo Swan Song. The Traditional Crafts of Egypt. Khaled Khalifa. Latifa al-Zayyat. The Open Door: A Novel. Diary of a Jewish Muslim: A Novel. Tales of Yusuf Tadros: A Novel. Rabai al-Madhoun. Mark Currie has argued that the logic of prolepsis parallels the logic of supplementarity: both function as additions that deine the whole.

Copying is a practice with a long history in the life of Al-Ghitany, whose earliest memories are those of copying books that he could not aford during his childhood, and who continues to use this method to capture the voices of writers whose style he wants to imitate. Such is the intensity of their orientation towards the divine presence, and so overwhelming is this relationship, that they are completely unaware of any worldly sensation.

Everything is in perpetual departure: the newborn leaves the womb, the human being leaves the world for a neverending afterlife [. If the believing writer cannot rival God in creation khalq , he can nevertheless innovate — an activity that is deined as a voyage by Al-Ghitany. Exodus ]. How many voyages have you not made, passing through various forms that iniltrate the genes of your father and your mother, and when they met — by accident or design — and you came out of their union, irst as sperm, then a clot of blood, then a fetus, then cartilage.

In all of these situations, not to mention in other novels by Al-Ghitany, life and death — now seen as intertwined rather than opposing activities — are seen as voyages in the same way as reading and writing. On the contrary, long, sad passages describe the arrival as much as the departure. Exile can be spiritual or moral without entailing physical exile. Exile is the separation from the fatherland, and my father was my land.

When he left me I felt like a stranger, which is why I started my search and made my inquiries, which is why what happened to me happened to me.

Khaled Fahmy: Open up a Few Corpses

I did not let any answer keep me from interrogating myself. Al-Ghitany would have been twenty- three in One topos central to this process is that of following a master or imitating a saint. We might regard the divided body of the narrator in the second part of the novel, or the divided psyche of the narrator following his spiritual ascension during the conference in Fez, as markers of the two poles of this mapping. We alluded above to some of these limitations — that autobiography depends as much, if not more, on its reception as its production; that it has more to do with the ear of the other than the tongue of the I.

Why do you ask this of me now? It is not me [lit. I am not I] and never will be. Worse yet, the self-exploration that took place under the guise of various spir- itual travels and ascensions did not yield the self-possession that he thought it would. Instead he rediscovers the same despair wrapped in shouts and tears.

Indeed, he is advised by his spiritual masters that this self-division is false, and that he is one single person despite his numerous alienations from himself. Nor is this all. I refer, of course, to the many questions that the narrator asks the igure of Gamal Abd El-Nasser, though the responses never satisfy him. In one early episode, their conversation combines almost all of the identities in play in the novel.

One last question that imposes itself is, as the novelist himself puts it, why? Why does he not abandon his Nasserist beliefs after his experience of imprisonment and torture? Why does his political credo survive the collapse of all that he held sacred? Despite the diference in context, we would not be far wrong in saying that Al-Ghitany inhabits a state of injury.

As in pharaonic eschatology, death is seen as the start of real life rather than its end. Dissolution in what is becomes the pinnacle of human existence. As a writer who is caught up among rival belief systems, Al-Koni often turns to Sui language and ideas as a way of negotiating the sometimes dif- icult passages between the laws of the desert, the laws of God and the laws of humanity. Instead the emphasis is on what might be called a mystical ecology, tracing the wanderings of individuals in the desert. His is an enchanted universe full of possibilities and perspectives impossible in its rational counterpart.

His writing strives to undo the oppositions between the reasonable human and the non-human, be it spiritual or animal. To read a novel is to inhabit a ictional world, for a time, and allow oneself to be sub- ject to its laws and values. And it is precisely as a maker of ictional worlds that Al-Koni teaches, or rather narrates and recites, the entities, laws and values of the world to the reader. In a recent interview, Al-Koni identiies writing with two aspects of indi- vidual identity outlined by Dumont: ascesis and the sacred.

In order for writing to occur, he tells us, the writer must sacriice his life in the full sense of the term; otherwise creation becomes impossible. Sanctuary, purgatory but also freedom, which is a synonym of death: that is what the desert is to me. I think, however, that God is more present there than in a lot of other deserts; for God is pre- sent wherever nature is found.

I have always been interested in the problem of the unity of creation and even of the unity of the Creator and creature. God, the human and the animal are united in a single body called the Sahara. Together they form one body, and in fact I have always been looking for the secret of their union that resembles the fusion of two lovers in the intoxication of love. As a child I sought God in this fusion, and through it, with the understanding of a child, I understood the Unity of Being.

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As such its rules and epistemologies are not those of the rational universe. Cavell claims that ever since Kant, Western philosophy has been stuck in a mode that enables certain epistemologies at the cost of other ways of knowing: we can know the world, but only on condition that we give up any knowledge of the thing-in-itself. In order to make sense of all this, Touareg society depends on those who can shuttle back and forth between the two orders. Tent and camp are enclosed with essuf, an outside, immense territory. How could the creative soul not identify with the reality of Christ as he wandered from this world, thereby deserving the punishment of this world?

And how could the creative artist not feel close to the Messiah when he sees himself from the minute that he accepts artistic creation as his fate as a victim sacriiced by this world in order to proclaim the extra-worldly reality, thereby recalling to mind the deadly experience of the Messiah as a teacher of pain and an innovator in spiritual exile? And the artist is a Messiah [sacriicial victim] of the world through reality. Due perhaps to the extremity of the experience, the language of the artist as messianic outsider necessarily takes on peculiar forms. One of the more striking references to the law comes in his recent novel, Anubis Al-Koni maps this equivalence of existence and fatherless- ness onto the Touareg ontology that identiies the earth with the mother and heaven with the father.

We must kill the father in order to ind the father.


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It is as if the novel only existed to enable the pronouncement of the law. In this respect, Anubis is strongly reminiscent of a key Touareg ritual: the pronunciation of the enni, the aphorism, at the end of a conversation. As Dominique Casajus puts it, the point of the aphorism is to anchor the conversation, to give it an indisputable point of arrival and a centre of grav- ity. Elsewhere, Al-Koni describes this process as one where the human self is situated and deined with respect to the divine.

Al-Koni relates this question to the phenomenon of ancestor worship: the conjunc- tion of personal origins and orientation with respect to the divine results in a conlation of the objects of worship. Once they reach the chosen location, the man kills his son and then himself. In a great deal of Sui literature, this is often modulated through the topos of the Abrahamic sacriice, which tropes the sacriice of the lower, animal self and base desires as a way station towards self-perfection and the eventual encounter with God.

Typically, the environment functions as an important, if inscrutable, character. For the protagonist this is only as it should be, for by taking his son he is in fact saving him from a life of servitude. If he were left in the oasis, the sedentary son would not inhabit the same ethical world as his nomadic father. Furthermore, the leader adds, even if the protagonist broke this rule, his tribe would always regard his son as a servile peasant. On this point the diference remains irreconcilable: the protagonist sees such attachments as being inevitable, while the leader, having equated liberty with death, sees them as being necessary only for the purposes of procreation.

On their approach the desert takes on strangely fertile dimensions, with every turn suddenly revealing vast expanses of herbs and plants not usu- ally associated with arid environments. As the father kneels to touch it, he tells his son to put his hand in his, and together, trembling, they dig it up.

Belief varies according to the capacity and nature of the believer. Security only arrives after the earthly span has been traversed, and the nightmare negotiated to return to the kingdom of forgetting. Derrida proposes the distinction between particular duty and universal ethics as a paradigm for reading the Abraham story in both Genesis and Kierkegaard.

In the process Derrida foregrounds the moment of undecidability inherent in this decision, and the way in which the fulilment of any one obligation to one entity necessarily entails the sacriice of the obligation to all others. As fathers go, therefore, he lives up to his obligations; indeed, he is more than dutiful. And yet his sense of obligation brings him into open conlict with every ethical code and custom that holds sway in the human, social world.

As Derrida reminds us, it is only by tackling the animal head on that we understand just what it is that deines the human. It is not a question of losing the distinction between human and animal, but rather one of displacing the former with respect to the latter.

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He ends up lost in the desert. As he nears death, he sees the male gazelle approach with a threatening gleam in his eye. Ukhayyad accepts this bargain, and leaves with his camel only to ind that he has a disgraceful reputation throughout the desert as the man who sold his family for a camel.

Once he lets go of everything, including the gold dust al-tibr that he pours in the stream where he kills Dudu, he returns to heaven, but only after paying a heavy price. Gold Dust thus narrates the failure of the individual, who attaches himself to the things of this world to the point of losing himself, and the fact that this is a necessary failure once the irst step attachment has occurred. Cain to the end of his rampage in the Fezzan. Asouf is named after the desert wilderness essuf. In other words, the novel centres on the Sui as a personage of the liminal space between habitation and wilderness.

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From the outset, Al-Koni makes it clear that we are in this hybrid space: the protagonist is born in the valley of the spirits, which is also called the valley of awal. Now, awal means, as Ibrahim Al-Koni kindly points out to the reader, speech, chat- ter, language. Like Al-Ghitany, Al-Koni aims at mastering death through writing, albeit in a more aggressive, less conciliatory mode. As Blanchot reminds us, writing is only possible once the writer has established a relationship of sovereign domination with respect to death. Over the course of the narrative the protagonist consistently inds himself in situations that exemplify the solitude of the other-worldly individual, the writer and the Sui.

You are alone in your world. Because the artist can see what others do not, he is condemned to live on his own. And because the desert only communicates with those who see it with the inner eye, the eye of insight, he is condemned to simultaneously see and remain on the margins of society: he desert hides its truth from those who see with physical sight, and reveals its beauty to those who see with spiritual insight rather than sight.

How can he relate to them what they cannot see as long as they will only acknowledge what they do see? Indeed, the word daylam could, conceivably, refer to a multitude of human beings or an army. Feeling trapped by the former, and weighed down by the sense of guilt that he has betrayed the source of his prophecy heaven, the stars and the desert , he decides to commit suicide.

Is this what the tribal magicians call freedom? Is this what the lovers of solitude describe as calm? Or is it that puzzle that the masters of mystery describe as a second birth? Everything seems closer, more intimate, an integral part of who and what he is: Only now does he see that these objects in which he only used to see bodies, names and things are neither bodies nor names nor things, but something else whose name he does not know.

Something closer than friend or inti- mate or companion. Something else that he now sees with the eye of insight after his eyesight kept it hidden all these years. Something else not separated by distance, not obscured by darkness, something that has no existence outside himself. And the water racing into the hollow of the river did not spring from the depths of the earth, but from his own heart. For Al-Koni, the writer becomes who and what he is by braving death. In the space of writing where death has been overcome there are no ends; merely a timeless literary survival that ensures proliic literary creation.

It is, in other words, a sanctuary for prayer. Not prayer of the prescribed sort, but the far nobler prayer that we call artistic creation. Expression is a letter, and the letter is a body, and the body the talis- man that kills. Yes, expression reveals. Al-Koni ends the chapter with a reference to Heidegger, for whom the work of art is precisely the locus of the revelation of the truth. For Al-Koni, writing cannot happen without a direct confrontation with death; indeed, without a foretaste of death, going so far as to call biological birth false and the second birth, the one that comes after the brush with death real, insofar as it leads to the birth of the soul.

It is especially signiicant that what Dostoyevsky acquires at the moment of death is not mere creativity; it is prophecy. For Al-Koni, unlike Al-Ghitany and Mahfouz , the writer, the novel- ist, as an individual, has no place in the world. He studied in Algeria and Tunisia, maintaining a strong commitment to Arabic literature and culture throughout his life in opposition to the practice of writing in French, which was widespread in the Maghreb even after independence from France. His iction features bold relec- tions on Algerian history and the failures of post-independence Algeria and the Arab world, frequently turning to satire and allegory to communicate a sense of profound dismay with the betrayal of the revolutionary socialist ideals of the FLN.

In his history of the Algerian Civil War, Luis Martinez points out that war is the scene not only of violent conlict but also of the reinterpreta- tion of national memory. On both sides, there is a serious claim being made on the minds and memories of the Algerian people, in whose name the war is being fought. I did not add an ending, but rather I suggested several. I contented myself with an epilogue: a forced landing and another point of departure. All along the course of the novel the novelist asks — via his protagonist — what Marx and Lenin would have made of late twentieth-century Algeria.

In his introduction to the novel Ouettar makes clear that the events of the novel precede those of With that he gave the zero a value that rivalled the value of the one. Indeed he went beyond that: he made the one lose its value without the zero, so that everything except the one became zero, and everything except zero became one.

Even though we think that it is illuminated by several forms of knowledge, it is dark, mysterious and frightening. All questions are in it simultaneously, forming a permanent storm that grows darker the harder we try to look at it [. You will not ind a single door to open without seeing entire mazes and basements opening up before you [. His Light is like a niche containing a lantern, the lantern in a glass, the glass like a star glittering, set aglow by the oil of a blessed olive tree, neither Eastern nor Western, its oil almost aglow even if untouched by ire. Light upon light! God draws comparisons for humanity and is all-knowing.

Sui exegetes underline the trope of illumination as a representation of the heart and mind of the believer. Khaireddine Barbarossa [c. Donatus the rebel and Augustine the conservative. Her recognition of the poet as a waliyy stands for Algeria naming him as one of her patron saints. Only your eyes are disclosed. It therefore makes sense that religion, as a driving force, will at some point dominate the social praxis of the society that they inhabit.

May Ibn Rushd die. May [the scien- tist] Ibn Al-Haytham [—] die. You interpret things in a manner unlike that of our pious ancestors. You must die. Prosperous are those who purify themselves, remember the name of their Lord, and pray. As an act of remembrance, dikr recalls the memory of the divine presence recol- lection of God , and re-enacts the awareness of the divine immanence commemoration of God within man.

Needless to say, the choice of these two verses is not haphazard. Precisely because the waliyy cannot come to terms with his past, it comes to him in dreams and visions. And precisely because it comes to him in dreams and visions, it remains dis- tant, unavailable, unknowable, misunderstood but simultaneously, and most troublingly, always there, ready to reappear. For him, the earliest breach in the narrative comes with the wars of apostasy al-ridda that followed the death of the Prophet. For Ouettar, therefore, the Arab world is still ighting the wars of apostasy, on a catastrophically larger scale and with no end in sight.

Both the waliyy and the poet stand in for the novelist Tahar Ouettar. It is as though Tahar Ouettar were proclaiming his idelity to the Algerian republic precisely through all these moments of failed mourning with the waliyy at their centre. She insinuates herself into his plan to save the world, seducing him with stories about how they will proceed to populate the world with their children.

She is, actually, the seductive avatar of peace, come back to the world to warn its residents of the horror of war and bloodshed. What is stored in your head will be erased and will not be restored to you for centuries. It will only return to you drop by drop and bit by bit. You will wander in the desert here for centuries without inding your way, and once you do you will start all over again. I warn you, master, against spilling my blood. You will be chased by the curse of beheadings, strangling children, the elderly and the disabled, and burning people alive.

You will die a thousand and one deaths, your blood will irrigate every land in which the call to prayer is heard, and every time you return you will be chased by the curse of looking for me without knowing what you seek. He turned in his irst books [i. Both Mahfouz and Ouettar synthesise Islamic and global culture, which is why they prove to be so threatening: In an instant I saw myself in him.

I saw Egypt and the Arabs and the Muslims in him. In us. I saw myself torn between myself and another self. I tried to get rid of the other, but I failed. Let me die, then. Let me be slaughtered.

Furthermore, in so doing and through his literary activity, Mahfouz keeps adding syntheses to this rich cultural ferment that he then transmits to readers such as the igure of the waliyy-assassin. Nuwayra; he is the Islamists ighting in nearly every faction of the Afghanistan war in the s, as well as Kosovo and Chechnya; he is there during every chapter of the history of the Muslim world. Far from being exceptional or unusual or perverse igures, Ouettar seems to be saying, they are all normal; they are all part and parcel of an Arabo-Muslim world that has repeatedly rejected unity and reconciliation.

For Ouettar, the Arabs, the Muslims, are doomed to wander the desert in a state of astonished amnesia; a people who, having destroyed their history, have deprived them- selves of a future.

The Polymath: A Modern Arabic Novel

Writing the nightmare of history is impossible due to the repeated ejection of the writer — the saint, the waliyy — from that history. He gives the reader a sarcastic reading of an Arab world plunged into the dark ages, quite literally by the appearance of a black mass in the sky cover- ing the entire region except Jerusalem. A Once there, he attempts suicide. His commitment to his political and aesthetic values quickly led to both an active career in the cultural sphere and increasing pressure from the Egyptian authorities.

From to he took a position with the United Nations in Geneva. His lucid prose frequently presents apparently simple plots and language to unmask the morally and politically troubling aspects of the everyday. In both texts, the other-worldly space serves as a refuge for the protagonists, removing them from a world in which their values cannot operate.

Although the narrator is sceptical of these claims, his relationship with a young woman named Anne Marie bears them out: she dreams of him, and after meeting him and asking him for help with her unstable emotional state, commits suicide. Martine is a gentle, other-worldly creature. She cannot wait to return to Egypt permanently so that she can be baptised in the Nile and the temple with her beloved, thereby inding the completion she desires. His research into ophthalmology moves in a more mystical direction, investigating ante-natal timeless visual memories. He is joined by his Irish wife, Catherine.

Catherine describes the Pharaonic temple accurately as a miniature representation of the Egyptian Kingdom that also operates as a gateway to the divine, open- ing up a location for the manifestation of a God who would then inhabit the temple and protect the kingdom and its inhabitants. A sudden visit from Maleka, a young Siwan woman with an active intellect, leaves Catherine wonder- ing whether she loves her or Mahmoud.

When Fiona dies, Mahmoud destroys the temple with dynamite, deliberately seeking death in its destruction. If, as Taher argues in an interview, he writes narratives where human solidarity trumps individual salvation, that solidarity must all too often cross boundaries that go well beyond the physical and the temporal. Far from being an ahis- torical, apolitical or politically disengaged undertaking, therefore, the turn to Suism in contemporary Arabic iction faces the intractable forces of history head on, though it does so without turning the novel into a political agenda.

It remains to be seen what the cultural outcome of these events will be. It would be even more interesting to speculate about the impact of these events on the incidence of Suism in literary production. As long as there are writers and artists, the self-relexive mode of writing will persist, and as long as self-relection informs literary production, Suism will continue to afect and inform that output. Derek Attridge, he Singularity of Literature, Attridge, Singularity, Attridge takes his distance from the idea of the absolute, wholly transcendent Other, but this is a key part of the semantic ield attached to the term as it operates in my study.

Attridge, Singularity, 27, n. Est-ce possible? Mandelkow, , 10 July See William C. Chittick, Sui Path, n. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, It is brought into existence by the other, invented by the other. Frank Kermode, he Sense of an Ending, Muhammad Siddiq has recently emphasised the fraught relationship between realist Arabic iction and the idea of individuality in Arab Culture and the Novel, — Siddiq also has much of interest to say about the refrac- tion of religious identity in the Egyptian novel —53 , but his focus is not necessarily on Suism alone.

In my view it is no accident that this statement is made by one of the most important scholars of Suism of the past century. EM, Derrida on the relationship between writing and survival in Parages, —2; a question to which I will return below. Since my focus in this study is on the aesthetics rather than the politics of Suism, and because my position is that Suism is used as a tool for working out aesthetic rather than political problems in the Arabic novel without, how- ever, maintaining that either Suism or the novel are apolitical , I will not deal with the opposition to Suism in the social and political sphere.

Despite state and institu- tional opposition to Suism, there have been multiple attempts at a modus vivendi and reconciliation between Suism and its opponents. Michel de Certeau, La Fable mystique I, 42—4. Massignon, Passion, Freilich bleibt dann eben keine Frage mehr; und eben dies ist die Antwort. Wittgenstein, Notebooks —, 51—51e. Kermode, Sense, 93— Kermode, Sense, Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying.

Demeure, Attridge, Reading and Responsibility, 19— Neither focuses on the novel, however. Cooke, Anatomy, El-Enany, Arab Representations, In the context of the authors that we are studying, including Haqqi, the term is used to designate a Sui master. Cooke, Anatomy, 67— While she builds a strong case, my reading of the story deviates signiicantly from her conclusions. Islam on the Street, — On this aspect of Sui life, and with speciic reference to the musical culture of Suism in Egypt, see Earle H.

Waugh, he Munshidin of Egypt, 6— Histoire, Chapter 1 1. In a later interview Mahfouz lists Hafez whose verse plays a key role in he Haraish and Tagore as two of his favourite poets. Naguib Mahfouz, Naguib Mahfouz: he Pursuit of Meaning, Peculiar Language, 1— Chittick, Sui Path, 89—90, —8. William M. Massignon, EM, Mahfouz, Haraish, Mahfouz, Haraish, [. Mahfouz, Haraish, —6. Aii, Mystical Philosophy, 29— Claude Addas, Quest for the Red Sulphur, n. Michel Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints, 90—8. Adham d. Equally worthy of note is the use of the vocabulary of hospitality in creating the image of all creation welcoming and receiving the arriving reality.

He believes her to be an angel incarnate, and refuses to speak to her due to the immense gap separating the human from the divine. Haifa Saud Alfaisal ofers much that is useful by way of situating the Suism in Bandarshah in a historical context in Religious Discourse in Postcolonial Studies, — Both of these sources will only be cited in the case of a direct quotation or necessary recollection.

Salih, CW, Salih, CW, —7. Hassan, Tayeb Salih, Salih, CW, —3. Salih, CW, —8. Salih, CW, , Salih, CW, —5. Salih, CW, —2. Although it frightens Hasab ar-Rasoul at irst, the appearance of the demonic stranger thus returns him to himself. Massignon, EM, — See my reading of he Wedding of Zein below. Salih, CW, — Hassan, Tayeb Salih, — Tayeb Salih, Holt, he Mahdist State in the Sudan, 17— Sanderson, England, Europe and the Upper Nile, —, As in the lightning and the voice that beckon him towards his irst vision of Bandarshah.

Chapter 3 1. Nationalism, — For my present purposes I will focus only on the questions of witnessing and eternity, and will only cite Omri in case of a direct quotation. Omri, Nationalism, n. Omri, Nationalism, Passion, n. Odes, 3. Q—4: 23 22 21 20 24 Moses showed him the great sign, but he denied it and refused [the faith].

Massignon, Passion, —6. To You I turn in repentance! I am the irst to believe! A clear, thorough account of this aspect of the Moses story is found in Sands, Sui Commentaries, 79— Massignon, EM, —6. Massignon, EM, —5. Omri, Nationalism, —1. Massignon, Passion, n. En Islam iranien, See Corbin, En Islam iranien, —5, —2, , —7. Corbin, Corps spirituel, In this framework the conclusion of the story would plead against the validity of the mundus imaginalis in favour of the world of the here and now.

Corbin, En Islam iranien, Chapter 4 1. Al-Ghitany, CW, — Al-Ghitany, CW, Derrida and Autobiography, i. Al-Ghitany, CW, —9. Chittick, Sui Path, 4; Self-Disclosure, xxiv—xxv, 96—8. James W. Derrida, Donner le temps, 22—9. Derrida, Chaque fois, Mark Currie, About Time, Typically, Chodkiewicz ofers the clearest synthesis of the concept in Seal, 54—5, — Chittick, Sui Path, 18—19, , Corbin, Corps spirituel, — Il fait aller plus loin, ailleurs.

Fable, Al-Ghitany, CW, , Edward Said, Relections on Exile, —2. Al-Simadi, Gamal Al-Ghitany, —3. Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues, — Peter Hallward, Out of this World, 4, 30— Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues, 47—9. Smith, Derrida and Autobiography, 37—8. One key consequence is the absolute uniqueness of the spiritual trajectory travelled by every mystic. Al-Ghitany, CW, —8.


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Al-Ghitany, CW, —1. Chodkiewicz, Seal, 78—9. Chapter 5 1. Stanley Cavell, In Quest of the Ordinary, 30—3. Novel of Worldliness, 4. Casajus, Gens de parole, Chittick, Self-Disclosure, 29—38, Chittick, Sui Path, , —4. I am deeply indebted to Dr Lewisohn for his assistance with this reference. Ritter, Ocean, Kashf, 39—40, Aii, Mystical Philosophy, —3. It is no accident that we ind in this passage the same pharaonic idea of death as the start of life. Tout autre est tout autre. Caputo, he Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida,