Knot of the Soul Book Event: Oscillation, Eschatology, Space

This final post in the book forum is by Daniel Colucciello Barber.

“What if the heteronymous agency of the drive were seen from the perspective of Islamic eschatological ethics as having the structure of the ordeal?” (5) With this question Stefania Pandolfo elegantly adumbrates a central aim of her profound book, Knot of the Soul: the elaboration of a certain affinity or resonance—what she at one point calls a “family relationship”—“between the psychoanalytic and the Islamic traditions” with regard to illness. (11) The stakes, implications, and challenges of this resonance, as Pandolfo articulates it, might be observed by means of another question, which emerges out of the same problem space: What is the end of illness?

There is, of course, a double valence intrinsic to this question: on one hand, end invokes the practical question of a cessation of illness, of what might be imagined in terms of reaching health or well-being; on the other, end invokes the theoretical or even metaphysical question—can one think being as that which is well?—of a meaning, a sense or direction, in relation to illness. Such a metaphysical register is catalyzed by the fact that, at least on my reading, one of the proposed resonances between psychoanalytic and Islamic traditions is the reality of what might be called an Outside—a denomination I present only provisionally, since there is no presumption of a distinct third term in which the two traditions participate. This is to say that the encounter Pandolfo articulates between psychoanalysis and Islam does not proceed in terms of a logic of one and many, where the difference between these two traditions would be mediated in virtue of a point of reference that transcends each.

Continue reading Knot of the Soul Book Event: Oscillation, Eschatology, Space”

Knot of the Soul Book Event: Encountering the Invisible

This post comes to us from Ali Altaf Mian, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Seattle University. His review essay on Knot of the Soul, forthcoming in qui parle, particularly considers how Pandolfo inhabits the “ethics of psychoanalysis” and the citational status of the Qur’an in her ethnography.

Say (O Muhammad): It has been revealed to me that a company of the Jinn gave ear [to the Qur’an], and they said: Lo! We have heard a marvelous Qur’an.

—Qur’an 72:1.

DJINN: according to the Muslim conception bodies (adjsam) composed of vapour or flame, intelligent, imperceptible to our senses, capable of appearing under different forms and of carrying out heavy labours (al-Baydawi, Comm. to Kur’an, LXXII, 1; al-Damiri, Hayawan, s.v. djinn). They were created of smokeless flame (Kur’an, LV, 14) while mankind and the angels, the other two classes of intelligent beings, were created of clay and light. They are capable of salvation; Muhammad was sent to them as well as to mankind; some will enter Paradise while others will be cast into the fire of hell.

The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd Edition, 2:546-7.

Their speech is an incised shape of silence, an intaglio,
in which the word is not a single, schisted bloc
of sense, like ours, but guards its pristine
opacity and is impossible
for any dragoman to approximate.

—Eric Ormsby, “The Jinn.”

Possession-form identities in dissociative identity disorder typically manifest as behaviors that appear as if a “spirit,” supernatural being, or outside person has taken control, such that the individual begins speaking or acting in a distinctly different manner. For example, an individual’s behavior may give the appearance that her identity has been replaced by the “ghost” of a girl who committed suicide in the same community years before, speaking and acting as though she were still alive. Or an individual may be “taken over” by a demon or deity, resulting in profound impairment, and demanding that the individual or a relative be punished for a past act, followed by more subtle periods of identity alteration. However, the majority of possession states around the world are normal, usually part of spiritual practice, and do not meet criteria for dissociative identity disorder. The identities that arise during possession-form dissociative identity disorder present recurrently, are unwanted and involuntary, cause clinically significant distress or impairment…and are not a normal part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice.

—American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition

What does it mean to assume a subject position in the context of the ‘therapies of the jinns’?

—Stefania Pandolfo, Knot of the Soul, 87.

The invisible figures of jinns populate Muslim-majority societies. They come up not only in Qur’anic verses that report of their astonishment at Muhammad’s recitation of sacred writ but also in folk tales that portray them as paranormal parasites that possess or perturb bodies but especially brains. The idea of the jinn, living beings that many Muslims hold to be invisible to human perception, indicates for many of us in the Western academy a limit of the ontological thinkable. To assume that jinns are real existents, to take them not as figures of fiction but of fact—of veridicality—flies in the face of “enlightened man.”

Continue reading Knot of the Soul Book Event: Encountering the Invisible”

Knot of the Soul Book Event: Knotting South Asia

The following post comes to us from Rajbir Singh Judge, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life with affiliations in the Department of Religion and Institute of South Asia at Columbia University in the City of New York. He specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of South Asia, with a particular emphasis on the Punjab.

Is psychoanalysis doomed to fail, sullied, as numerous scholars remind us, by its colonial stain? Against this unavoidable historicization, there has emerged a different and important endeavor that undoes this originary moment by fragmenting psychoanalysis itself, unable to be contained within a singular historical trajectory emanating from the West. In Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam, Stefania Pandolfo embodies such queries, challenging historicist concerns without reproducing psychoanalysis as an atemporal universal. But, in her exploration of the “time-space of ruins”[1] and “the never-ending work of ethical struggle,”[2] another difficult question emerges that fragments the ordering of the first: Is it possible to “carve a path towards an encounter with the divine, as a possibility open at the very site of [colonial] agony?”[3] Here, in this unresolved space, the ground is no longer a void enacted by the colonial regime’s epistemic violence nor the tracing of a residual historical genealogy and, therefore, a continued symbolic belonging in relation to the void. Instead, our attention is forced to openings of the very temporal order, suspensions in the symbolic enacted by the Divine, which haunt the anguish that clouds the historical.[4]

I want to tentatively consider how Pandolfo’s insights enact this shift by questioning two interrelated concepts, the subject and historicity, in relation to literature on South Asia. Though brief, I hope to demonstrate how Pandolfo’s insistence on the dissonant and, thus, open encounter between psychoanalysis and Islam provides an opportunity to rethink our troubled conceptual terrain. Importantly, such an encounter reorients our disavowal of alterity, compelled as we are to take easier routes to more comforting destinations through a palatable and recoverable inheritance. A psychoanalytic approach offers another possibility, refusing ontic concerns masquerading as ontological ones that provide satisfaction in the production of meaning, heterogeneous or otherwise. Instead, the task of psychoanalysis provides an opportunity, as Alenka Zupančič tells us, “to slowly but thoroughly deactivate the path of this satisfaction, to render it useless,” through what we can think of as an “object-disoriented ontology.”[5] Pandolfo grapples within this disoriented space itself through ethnography, theology, and poetics, turning our attention to the Islamic tradition. And, rather than enact a satisfying closure through psychoanalysis or Islam as ontological totalities or multiplicities, Pandolfo guides us to the encounter between the two, which requires we consider “the productivity of taking seriously this overlap, and the participation of the knowledge of the unconscious in the ontology of the Invisible (al-ghayb) and divine knowledge.”[6]

Continue reading Knot of the Soul Book Event: Knotting South Asia”

Knot of the Soul Book Event: A Poetics of Infraction

The following post comes to us from Aaron Eldridge, PhD candidate in Anthropology and Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. His dissertation research, staged in Lebanon, concerns the foreclosures/inheritances of revival in Arab Orthodox Christianity.

“Lost in the rift of classification, there remained the question of the soul” (309). Knot of the Soul forays into the rift of thinking itself. Just as in the now famous preface to The Order of Things, wherein the “et cetera” of Borges’ Chinese encyclopedia, “the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.” But the question of the soul remains. It does not present an epistemological limit (for that is not what thinking is), a horizon of knowledge whose beyond can only be understood as the critical boundaries of interpretation. Instead, the question of the soul, as rendered here, is an enfolded extimacy that striates the necessarily assumed borders between psychoanalysis and Islam, madness and sanity, visible and invisible, the secular (immanent) and the Divine (transcendent). It is a wound, or, more precisely, a wounding. The question of the soul remains, addressing us through scenes of marginalia: immiseration, the ruin of community, the traumatic history of the subject.

Continue reading Knot of the Soul Book Event: A Poetics of Infraction”

A Space for Thought – Recalling the Caliphate Book Event

Settling in to write this introduction to our new book event, I was led on a memorial YouTube detour through the late 1990s/early 2000s. An LA hip hop group called “Soldiers of Allah” was then popular among young Western Muslims. Their politics are clear from their song titles — 1924, Bring Islam Back, Muslim for Life, Imaginary Walls, Fake Scholars, Political Manipulation, Method of the Prophet. Their lyrics were blunt and their music unexceptional. Looking back at that moment now, the albums I had downloaded over dialup, it is easy to focus on how shortsighted was their faith in a politics militant. (The New York Times mentioned the group in the course of an article on “internet jihad”.) But they captured something else: an appeal to the ethical. Against the ruin wrought by nation and state, race and ideology, against the corruption of the world, of fatal divisions and scholarly misguidance, a claim for the possibility of justice.

Articulated with far more poetic finesse and in a more scholastic register, a similar possibility is the passion of the “Sword of Ibn Nasir,” Muhammad al-Dar’i‘s (d. 1085/1674) “Nasiri supplication” (translations by Aisha Bewley and Hamza Yusuf) to be freed from the aggression of foreigners, that wrongs be righted, that righteousness reign, that the destitute be restored, the adversary be crushed, divine mercy extend and sustain – a poem which so inspired Maghrebi resistance against the French occupation that they banned its recitation in mosques (it also exceeds whatever appropriations of it by Sunni quietism today). This is the echo of the tenderness and admonition in Q 27:62: Is He not Who answers the wronged one when he cries to Him and removes the evil and has made you caliphs (khulafa’) of the earth? Is there any god beside God? Little do you heed! Continue reading “A Space for Thought – Recalling the Caliphate Book Event”

Abusing the Proper — Blood Book Event

Closing out such a productive book event, first I must confess the difficulty of trying to read Blood this summer. In transit for six weeks between cities on opposite sides of this continent, my efforts to read the book were constantly distracted. These were Ramadan nights when my twitter timeline was filled with blood, pictures of blackened faces rubble and the black billowing clouds of hell loosed onto the earth. All (certainly warranted) criticisms of the pornographic consumption of the dead aside, the futility of such witness (perhaps the futility of every such witness, no matter how fervent, never again and the responsibility to protect), this is the evening redness in the west. But Darwish wrote, “we do injustice to Gaza when we turn it into a myth, because we will hate it when we discover that it is no more than a small poor city that resists” (ونظلم غزة حين نحولها إلى أسطورة لأننا سنكرهها حين نكتشف أنها ليست أكثر من مدينة فقيرة صغيرة تقاوم; full excerpt here, trans. Sinan Antoon). And so these lines eventually proved steadying against news of other crimson tides, these lines from the Darwish prose poem titled Hayrat al-‘a’id (“Perplexity of the Returned”) proved a steadying guide (dalalat) to those at a loss in these bloody times (dalalat al-ha’irin), trying to read Blood. Somewhere in that texture there is a pun or at least a tired gesture about Maimonides and Anidjar, namely the power of a line of prosody to exceed itself beyond its context.

Someone (Anthony?) rightly commented earlier that the book resists being disciplined into history or theology or political theory, being utilized and cited to other ends. I can see people working with certain of its close readings (Benjamin, Freud, Melville), folding these moments of the book into their scholarly arguments. Beyond this segmentary approach, I think it’s also possible to respond broadly to its ambition. One example of this kind of work is Kevin O’Neill’s forthcoming Secure the Soul (2015). This decentered ethnography finds Christianity beyond the limits of religion alone, in (indeed making up) the soft security apparatus of postwar Guatemala. Like Christianity, because of Christianity, confounding whatever differences between secular and Christian security, the logics of pious gang prevention show that it is possible to ethnographically demonstrate the idea of an anthropology of Christianity as compulsive — even in the Christian science that is anthropology.

My difficulty of reading Blood this summer abruptly raises the question of reading it among blood, that is, what is the relation between this book and the world, its Christianity and actually existing Christianity. Already Anthony has beautifully answered this question in a way I find entirely persuasive (Blood as index of an archive), and I should note that my question does not have to do with some of the more predictable historical or anthropological lines (what about historical change, what about non-Western Christianities) which I’ve heard raised by audience members at Anidjar’s talks (and which his book itself anticipates and sets aside). It seems clear in any case that while his book intersects with these registers it marks a more immediate claim (a further comment on this below). Rather I am curious first about the figure of this relation. This is a question Anidjar addresses throughout the book, from its opening to its close. My suggestion in short is that the way Anidjar characterizes this relation opens a window onto the formal status of Blood as critique of Christianity. And so although there is a lot more to discuss here, even at the end of this book event, I begin at the very end of the book:

Blood is not quite an object, not a thing either. It is neither old nor new; although it is also that and more. Nor is blood a discourse that would regiment, precisely, the course of blood through the realms of human and inhuman existence … As a ‘metaphor’ that does not relate to a literal term, whose referent is anything but granted, blood is, it should be treated as, catachrestic. (258)

Continue reading “Abusing the Proper — Blood Book Event”

Aviary Notes on Creatural Immanence (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

The book’s first chapters triangulate philosophy, theology, ecology; its later chapters undo this triangulation; they supplement and radicalize. The book self-consciously creates the space for its reading, not between or beyond philosophy, theology, ecology, but already torturously active among them. It is a book that actively resists argument. Instead it is a book to be worked with and through. Thankfully it teaches you how to read it. It has an idiom that is more intimate, closer to you than you first thought. “Ecologists are able to take people into a field and show them the teeming drama of what seemed hidden before. I will do the same now for this theory of nature” (217). Its scope is defined and chimerical: it opens onto itself. And it takes further reading. Continue reading “Aviary Notes on Creatural Immanence (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)”

On the Muslim question

i recently read Anne Norton’s On the Muslim Question (Princeton 2013), and thought i’d post some quick comments. A friend over last night to watch Seven Psychopaths and play a few rounds of dutch blitz noticed the book lying on the table and asked, “so what’s the answer?” What is the answer to the Muslim question? “All of the above,” I replied. “Yes to all of the above forms of life.” And like Colin Farrell in the film, a screenwriter who wants to make a life-affirming movie about carnage and destruction (serial killer serial killers), the book works through scenes of torture and drones and state terror to urge us finally to recognize what is already happening all around us. Not “war is over, if you want it”, because of course there is and will ever be conflict, but “snow removal and garbage collection, if you want it”. Norton argues that the figure of the Muslim today, much like the figure of the Jew earlier, is where a host of Western anxieties converge — anxieties about democracy, secularism, sexuality, equality, freedom. Yet these anxieties have less to do with Muslims per se than with problematics internal to the West and its history. And so Norton in elegant prose lays out just how unexceptional Muslims are. (How terrible that this is itself an achievement.) These are questions of living together, and people every day work out how to do so. She concludes:

Knowing these things, I see the Muslim question as the Jewish question of our time: standing at the site where politics and ethics, philosophy and theology meet. This is the knot where the politics of class, sex, and sexuality, of culture, race, and ethnicity are entangled; the site where structures of hierarchy and subordination are anchored. It is here, on this terrain, that the question of the democratic — its resurgence or further repression — is being fought out. (228)

And in this demonstration, for me as for others, there is a sort of relief. It means that the burden of these questions is not inexorable. It means they can be shared — with you, between us.

Almost the opposite strategy was offered by Martha Nussbaum in last year’s The New Religious Intolerance (Harvard). Continue reading “On the Muslim question”

History, Fictions, and the Politics of Justice

Chicago-area folks may be interested in “History, Fictions, and the Politics of Justice”, an event in two weeks with Saba Mahmood and Mahmood Mamdani.

Mahmood’s lecture is titled “Azazeel and the Politics of Historical Fiction: Sectarian Dramas Ancient and Modern”; Mamdani’s lecture, “Beyond Nuremberg: The Historical Significance of the Post-Apartheid Transition in South Africa”.

October 25, 4pm

International House Home Room

University of Chicago

Further details here.