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Five The Thin Line of Modernity: Some Moroccan Debates on Subjectivity Stefania Pandolfo In epigraph, two unresolved stories of illness: In March 1991 / traveled to the small community in southern Morocco where I had lived and conducted research for a number of years, with a young woman who was making this journey instead of visiting a psychiatric institution. Suad had been an inpatient at a Moroccan hospital once already in the past, and in moments of sudden lucidity—fragments of presence snatched from the other world into which she lapsed—was aware that she might end up there again. Her relapse had shattered the fragile balance in her family, unleashed fears, and become intolerable. Fearing that a second hospitalization would impose on her a permanent seal of insanity, her mother was determined to prevent it. The mother knew that 1 kept in touch with a fqih, a Quranic teacher and healer,in a region of the south and asked me to accompany them to visit him. The space of our journey was a detour of waiting, a postponed verdict, the hiatus of a dream. This was the first time Suad had traveled south. From the point of view of the middle-class urban neighborhood where she had been raised, the south was almost another world. (Much later, we recall that journey together. She explains to me what I did not understand then, what she thought I understood, and tells me about the 'alam akhur, the "other world" of her illness.) 115 116 Stefania Pandolfo When we arrived at the fqih's house, Suad was out of reach. Fora long time the fqih sat there silently, as though aware that with her his customary ritual acts would not work. Finally he asked a question. She turned to him as if seeing him for the first time, and started to tell—stories of losses and feelings and dreams. A fqih's ritual economy is parsimonious with words and time. I wondered how he would take her urgent request, expressed in such a different style. He listened, asked questions, offered advice. I felt I had no right to be there, and left. When I returned, he was giving her his prescription—a fragment of Quranic writing to dilute in water and drink, another to burn. Suad tried to follow his prescription, but failed. Later, the fqih expressed his sense of deception at the failure to help her with his methods . She did not return to see him. Yet something had happened, both to him and to her. She had not found a cure, a resolution, a deliverance , but, perhaps, for a moment, what in the language of psychoanalysis is called an ecoute—an active listening, and a recognition. And he had found himself in a place that was novel for him, a place where the assumptions of his ritual acts were suspended. The second story travels in the opposite direction, from that southern village and healer, to the walls of the psychiatric ward at the Hospital Ibn Roshd in Casablanca. It concerns a young woman I knew well from the village, who for several years had suffered from intermittent seizures and absences that were attributed to the jinns through the intervention of sorcery. Fatna had recently given birth. Her husband telephoned from the village and asked me on her behalf to accompany them to the psychiatric hospital in Casablanca. She wanted to go to the hospital, talk with a psychiatrist, "sit" there. When I met them at the bus station, Fatna did not recognize me. She seemed not to know her husband either, or their newborn daughter , whom he carried in distress. At the hospital we sat in the lobby, waiting to be received. She sat sunken in her state, rigid as a statue, elsewhere. A nurse came, took her by the arm, and led her into a room for a clinical interview. When she came back a little while later, as though by the effectiveness of a rite, she was back to presence as her usual self, without even a prescription for drugs. She took her daughter , gave her her breast, greeted me, and we walked back to the bus as if nothing had happened. The Thin Line of Modernity 117 I wondered whether the fear of institutionalization fueled in her a desire to belong, to rejoin a community of speech. (I remembered the face of a woman, beating the glass surface of a closed door,) I posed the question to a...


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