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El Shakry, Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center & the Department of History, UC Davis

Thu March 14th 2019, 4:30 - 5:30pm
Building 200, Room 302

Psychoanalysis and the Imaginary: Translating Freud in Postcolonial Egypt

This talk imagines psychoanalysis geopolitically by way of an exploratory foray into the oeuvre of Sami-Ali, the Arabic translator of Sigmund Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, author of a large body of original psychoanalytic writings, and translator of the poetry of Sufi masters. Taken together, his writings enable a critical rethinking of the role of the imaginary, the mechanisms of projection, and the epistemology of non-knowledge in the workings of the unconscious. Significantly, such a rethinking of key psychoanalytic concepts drew upon the Sufi metaphysics of the imagination of Ibn 'Arabi. Yet such theoretical work cannot be understood outside of its wider clinical context and the conditions of (im)possibility that structure psychoanalysis within the postcolony. Reconstituting Sami-Ali's early theoretical writings alongside his work with the long-forgotten figures he observed, incarcerated female prostitutes in 1950s Cairo, I argue that his clinical encounters constituted the ground of his theorization of the imaginary within the embodied subject. Attending to the work of translation inherent within psychoanalytic practice – whether from Sigmund Freud's own German writings into French or Arabic, or from clinical practice into theoretical discourse – helps us conceptualize psychoanalysis as taking place otherwise at the intersection of multiple epistemological and ethical traditions.