Knot of the Soul (Stefania Pandolfo, 2018)

Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam

The 72nd chapter of the Qur’an entitled Al-Jinn (The Jinn), as well as the heading and introductory bismillah of the next chapter entitled al-Muzzammil (The Enshrouded One).

In Knot of the Soul, Pandolfo ties together seemingly disparate areas of study such as madness and cartography to address, among many others, the compatibility of modern psychology and Islamic eschatology. Towards this end, she draws on Freud’s precis between historical sequence and spatial terms, and begins her essay through an anecdote about following a patient who walks onto the map—an atlas of the world—and realizes how historical time collapses and is inscribed on the surface of the city. The layers of psyche emerge in the same way as ruins that are unmoored from the structures they supposedly represent. Pandolfo then writes about how both the psyche and urban geography illuminate the workings of decolonization. In this regard, she reads Fanon’s descriptions of colonial violence in Algeria, and the trauma of culture that renders world-making impossible. She applies both Freud and Fanon to the specificity of the medina and the nafs in Morocco. I wonder how Pandolfo would have made use of another variable: Guy Debord’s notion of psychogeography (which is a yet-to-be defined theoretical set). How would it translate or be enriched in this particular ethnographic context? A question of subjectivity threads through the selection we read and goes deep into the amount of exemplarity that can be manifested in such an encompassing atlas; the stubborn knots of philosophical anthropology. Pandolfo grapples eruditely with such entanglements and also with the modes of empirical research and theorization. The patient she follows through the crumbling roof, is a metaphor for her method. By allowing oneself to be led through rabbit holes of otherness and insanity she also shows us how specificities of medicine act in the same way as specificities of language. Not so much as hallmarks of civilization but more about how they reveal alterities and their embedded contradictions.