MESA Book Awards
University of California, Berkeley
2019 Fatema Mernissi Book Award Honorable Mention
Knot of the Soul is an exemplary work of postcolonial scholarship on the Middle East. It is based on two decades of ethnographic fieldwork at a Moroccan psychiatric facility, in Sufi circles, and with a Muslim scholar-practitioner of Quranic cures for afflictions of the soul. Oscillating between the psychoanalytic and the theologico-mystical approaches to the nafs, or soul, approaches that occasionally encounter one another in contemporary Morocco, her research sensitively maps a traumatic present and brilliantly demonstrates the closures and potential openings of the postcolonial condition. Seamlessly moving from the Imam-therapist to the works of Freud and back, Pandolfo goes beyond comparison, in ways that postcolonial critiques from the late 1970s onward could only gesture towards in the negative. The material and imaginal space of becoming, of violent disruptions, of possessions and dispossessions form sites at which the knot of the soul is (de)formed. Pandolfo reveals how the quest of Moroccan healers to find a cure at the level of the soul/self tells a much bigger story if we listen carefully.