Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sign of Life

I am temporarily home, as planned, and am reveling in the temporary comfort of family and familiarity.

However, not as planned, I’ve been busy dealing with some unexpected paperwork. My apologies for the delay in posting! Please bear with me; I should be back to my regular schedule by next week…

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wukal Ramadan - Eating Ramadan

A curious story has been traveling the internet and Moroccan newspapers for the past three days. I am certainly not the first to report on this story and don’t want to bore you with what by now is pretty old news – but I do want to briefly highlight this incident, because it constitutes an interesting perspective on the meaning of Ramadan in Morocco.

This past Sunday, a group of young protesters that calls itself MALI (Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertés Individuelles – the alternative movement for individual liberties) gathered at the train station in Mohammedia (between Rabat and Casablanca) for a public picnic in broad Ramadan daylight. Their intent was to protest against the Moroccan law that forbids Muslims from eating in public during this month of fasting – because, they say, not all Moroccans are Muslims. According to the latest news, it seems that this group will be persecuted for their violation of said law.

They are right, of course, and in making this point they highlight a sticky issue that complicates the enforcement of a number of Moroccan laws. The Moroccan legal code includes a number of ordinances that are inspired by and based on religious proscriptions. An example is this particular ordinance against eating in public during Ramadan; another is the prohibition against the purchase of alcohol. In recognition of the fact that not all Moroccans are Muslims, the law officially applies only to those who abide by the tenets of Islam. But the issue is this: how does one determine, exactly, who is Muslim, and who is not? The Moroccan Carte Nationale (National Identity Card, affectionately called “la carte”) does not document a citizen’s religious affiliation, and as far as I know there is no other moment or way in which such affiliation is recorded. In the end, it is simply assumed (and every much expected) that all Moroccans are, in fact, Muslim.* And that is where the problem lies: without official documentation, religious affiliation is ultimately judged by appearance. If you look and behave as a Moroccan, you are expected to abide by Islamic proscriptions – in the same way that a European attempting to enter a mosque will be subjected to extreme testing in order to prove his or her Muslim identity.**

This particular incident points out that this kind of legal arrangement doesn’t work. You cannot enforce a law that applies only to a select group of people, if you have nothing but appearance to go on in distinguishing this group from any other. Appearance is always an imperfect measure, and even more so in the case of religion. Headscarves and burkas aside, religion cannot be read on someone’s body; it is not a biological trait.

This group is not the first to call attention to the problems involved with such legal arrangements. I remember a brief article in TelQuel a few months ago, in which the author called attention to the flawed logic behind the enforcement of the prohibition against buying alcohol. Just like this group of protesters, this writer remonstrated that you cannot and should not judge religion by appearance.

Yet in practice, the laws on alcohol do not lead to that much daily conflict, and most Moroccans have little trouble purchasing their alcohol. The infraction of drinking ranks much lower on the scale of gravity than does the ingestion of food during Ramadan. I’ve written before about the incredible cultural weight of fasting during this month. More so than any other pillar of Islam, participation in Ramadan is essential to the reinforcement of Moroccan identity. I suggested in that piece, and still think, that Ramadan embodies the essence of what Moroccans consider to be the hallmark of their culture: hospitality, openness, community-orientation, solidarity – and religion, of course. The result is that eating during Ramadan, unlike the drinking of alcohol, is much more than a religious infraction. Fasting is not just about God, but about the community – about cultural belonging.

It is this cultural weight, I think, that explains the gravity of this particular incident. These protesters did much more than violate a religious law – they flouted one of the pillars of national identity. A few reactions to the various blog posts that reported on this incident seem to read these actions as just that. They denounce this incident as detrimental to the country, or as a betrayal of the laws and of society. According to one commenter, what MALI did was “défier la loi, défier la société” (defying the law, defying society); Jillian C. York quotes another who writes that these protesters “should put this energy and effort into CONSTRUCTIVE actions, making our country better instead of Stupid events like these. Go out and DO something good for your country instead of finding everything wrong with it.”

How to evaluate this incident? Yes, these protesters violated a law, but does this law make sense? We may disagree with the application of this law, but who are we to judge? Should religious proscriptions be enforced by national law, or could one argue that religion becomes much more than a personal choice when it’s been woven so tightly into the fabric of cultural practice and social organization? And then, was MALI’s action the most effective way to claim religious and cultural freedom, or was it mostly an unproductive form of provocation?

What do you think?

* According to official statistics, about 99% is, in fact, Muslim. Of course this includes all those whose affiliation with Islam is no more than cultural.
** simply donning a headscarf will not work, I’ve ascertained from people who have tried this. You will, at the very least, have to recite something from the Qur’an.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Blank State of Mind

I am late in posting this week, and I apologize. I’m temporarily (hopefully…) suffering from a lack of inspiration – and a corresponding lack of excitement in my daily life. After three weeks of fasting I’ve comfortably settled into the rhythm of Ramadan: the highlight of my day now falls between 8 pm and midnight, while days are spent in a stupor of semi-wakefulness. Being an absolute morning person, this means that my habitual circadian rhythm has been turned completely upside down.

I’m still glad that I decided to participate in Ramadan. I think that joining in has helped me discover aspects of this tradition that I don’t think I would have picked up on as easily, had I remained a spectator. I may still not fully understand what Ramadan is like for the average Moroccan individual (there are certain boundaries between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ status that can never be crossed, I think, no matter how hard you try), but fasting has allowed me to come a little closer to that comprehension than I would have, otherwise. I ‘get’ how acute that feeling of solidarity is, during the first week of fasting. I ‘get’ how strong and motivating the cultural imperative to fast really is, and I think I ‘get’ how intensely participation can reinforce one’s identity as a member of Moroccan society.

It has felt good to participate – despite the hunger. It feels good to join in a custom that seems to be so fundamental to the Moroccan sense of cultural identity. I enjoy the thought of being a part of something so full of meaning for Moroccans, of sharing both in its larger significance and in its smaller manifestations. Of standing in the kitchen making harira, as I smell the soup being made in kitchens across the street. Of eating that first date, knowing that everyone else in the neighborhood is likely doing the exact same thing. Of lying on the couch watching Mexican soap operas with the members of a Moroccan family, whiling away the last hour until ftour. It simply makes me feel part of something – and this is a feeling that I often miss, living alone here in Rabat.

But in all honesty, my body is – literally – exhausted and worn out by the rhythm of Ramadan. Lack of nutrition and lack of sleep have turned me into a daytime zombie whose body happily comes alive only at night, right when it should be winding down to sleep. It’s beginning to frustrate me – because while my circadian rhythm has been turned upside down, my work schedule has not. This has resulted in a complete lack of productivity that is beginning to really worry me.

To give you an idea, let me describe an average day for you – starting at 6.45 PM, the hour of ftour (the breaking of the fast):

A cannon shot and the call for sunset prayer are our sign that we are allowed to eat. Gratefully, I immediately down a full glass of water, while Farid tells me to slow down: “it’s not good to drink too fast!” he will warn, in vain, as I ignore him.

I follow the water with a date, and then turn my attention toward the hot bowl of harira (made from a package, most days, with some of my own ingredients added in) in front of me. Usually, my stomach is quite satisfied with one bowl of soup, but because our mental hunger has grown exponentially with each hour of fasting, we have filled the table with multiple plates of other delicacies that beg to be eaten. I’ll eat a croissant or a piece of quiche, some salad, and (of course) some chebakia. I’ll drink more water, then have a glass of juice.

At 8 PM, stomachs stuffed to capacity, we come alive – and thus become restless. We leave my house and take a walk downtown, reveling in the lights and activity of Ramadan evenings. We’ll stop at a café and drink our daily coffee, as we sit and do some work on our laptops.

Around 11, I come home, still full of energy. I won’t at all be hungry, but I’ll convince myself to eat some fruit – to build up some reserves for the next day of fasting. I’ll read the news online, do some writing, and then make myself go to bed. Still energetic, I’ll lie awake for an hour and a half before I fall asleep.

I’ll wake up every two hours to go to the bathroom – the liter and a half of water that I’ve had over the course of four hours will need a way to leave my body. During the first week of Ramadan, I’d also wake up at 4.30 for shour – the last meal before sunrise. I’d have some yoghurt and a date, but even with this modest amount in my stomach, I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep for those last two hours until morning. In the interest of a few more hours of sleep, I gave up shour halfway through week two.

At seven thirty, I am woken up by my alarm. A shower does wonders to wake me up, and I usually enjoy about two to three hours of mental clarity after that. This is when I try to do the bulk of my work – because after 11 AM, I become a yawning mess of semi-wakefulness. I will continue to try to be productive despite the haze that then seems to have settled over my brain, and let frustration mount as my frequency of typing errors rapidly increases and my ability to focus on what I’m reading falls to the bare minimum.

At four or five PM, I head home and start preparations for that evening’s ftour. I’ll mince some vegetables, cut up a piece of meat, and add it to the harira from a package. I’ll put some dates on a plate, cut chunks of bread, and arrange croissants on a platter. I’ll mix work in the kitchen with brief stints of relaxation in front of the television until Farid comes over. We’ll set the table, sit down, and wait for the cannon shot – the sign that another long day of fasting is over.

It seems to me that if you persist in maintaining a regular work schedule, participation in Ramadan seems to require a trade-off between sleeping and eating. When I make sure I get enough sleep, there is no time to eat enough – and when I make sure I eat, I don’t get enough sleep. The result, so far, has been that I do not get enough of either. I am not sure how to remedy this situation, other than to stop fasting – which, with less than a week left to go, would feel like giving up.

I want to keep going. And I’m sure I’d be fine for one more week – if I didn’t have an impending important presentation to prepare for. This Tuesday, I will be presenting my research proposal to all psychiatrists at the Clinic. In French. It’s at 9 am, which luckily falls within my brief window of productivity, but I’m a little worried that in this state of mind (both the haze and the frustration over my lack of productivity), I won’t be able to prepare as well as I’d like.

Oh well. It’s only a few more days, right? And luckily, the rest of next week promises to provide a considerable share of new excitement: I’m getting my hands henna’ed on Wednesday evening, will go see some interesting art during Rabat’s annual Nuit des Galeries on Thursday night, and on Friday, finally, I fly home…

Monday, September 7, 2009

'Authentic' Moroccanness

Today’s post on The View from Fez pointed my attention toward a travel article published yesterday in The Guardian. In this piece, author Stephen Emms defends Casablanca against those who argue that the city, with its grand boulevards, 20th century architecture, fast pace, and skyscrapers, is not truly ‘Moroccan’.

In response to these critics, Emms points to the authentically ‘Moroccan’ aspects of Casablanca that lie hidden beyond this “westernized” exterior: 

“Yes, there are the tower blocks, and the five-star hotels, and the businessmen swarming around Place Des Nations-Unies, but the old medina, which dates only from the 19th century (although its ochre walls are older), spirals with timeless neighborhood life. Slip past stalls flogging teapots, watches and jewellery, all blinding in the glare of the sun, and you will discover pencil-thin alleys and tiny squares, where bleached towels cling to window sills and old men inch past in white djellabas, the shuffle of their slippers syncopating the sizzle of squid in oil. … The elegant “new medina,” called Quartier Habous, a layout of Provençal-style squares and arches built by the French as a place for Muslims to live and trade, is a clean and inviting souk selling anything from oil paintings to art deco statuettes. But even here, the “real Morocco” is nearer than you might imagine – just over the railway bridge is Rue Taroudant, from the dusty stalls of which dangle dried chameleons, hedgehogs, and live baby tortoises. “No photos!” the bearded sellers cried in unison as I whipped my camera out; these are ancient charms, after all, with their own magical powers.”

Emms here paints a stark contrast between ‘old’ and ‘new’ – between ‘western’ and ‘Moroccan’. It is precisely in the complexity of this juxtaposition that a former US Embassy worker, interviewed by Emms for this piece, finds Casablanca’s authenticity. “It’s the real deal,” she says, “like Marrakech was more than 10 years ago.” However, Emms himself seems to wonder what this mix of old and new, modern and traditional, really means for Casablanca’s status as an ‘authentic’ Moroccan city: 

“Does Casa's roving eye to the future negate its past? Its art deco and neo-Moorish heritage certainly isn't as valued as you might expect: the Hotel Lincoln, opposite the Marché Central, collapsed earlier this year, and there don't appear to be any plans to salvage it. Other buildings on and around Boulevard Mohammed V (which boasts some of the most dazzling period architecture) languish unloved, as does the Parc de la Ligue Arabe. But perhaps there's something honest about such disregard - should Casablancans have to bow to their colonial past? And anyway, isn't Morocco's "real" past more than represented, as I discovered, in the medinas and back streets?” 

I am impressed with the appreciative way in which both Emms and the people he’s interviewed speak of Casablanca. However, I don’t think I agree with the way in which Emms defends Casablanca’s status as a ‘real’ Moroccan city – and by extension, what he implies about what constitutes ‘authentic’ Moroccanness.

As much as Emms acknowledges, and even appreciates, the complexity and the dynamic juxtapositions that dominate modern Moroccan society, he ultimately concludes that what is truly ‘Moroccan’ lies in the country’s traditions – represented in this article by crowded medinas, jellaba’d men, and haggling for dried chameleon in dusty souqs. And that, I think, is dangerous. It superimposes one pair of polar opposites – old versus new – on top of another imagined polarity: Moroccanness versus Westernness. It creates a binary view of the world that may simplify matters, but ultimately blinds us from the complexities of reality, and minimizes a people’s agency in defining its own sense of authenticity.

First of all, associating ‘authentic’ Moroccanness with tradition, or with the past, brings up some logistical problems of definition. To start with, how do you really separate tradition and modernity, or distinguish foreign from native? Where do you draw the line between ‘authentic tradition’ and ‘foreign invasion’ – which historical influx of foreign peoples ended true and pure Moroccan culture and opened the door to foreign influence? Was it the French? Or was it the Andalusian Muslims who returned during the Reconquista? Was it the Arabs, perhaps, or even the Romans? If Morocco’s authenticity lies in the past, how far back do you have to go to find it, exactly?

Moreover, are ‘tradition’ and ‘modernization’ that easily separable? Is Morocco’s current development a manifestation of purely Western influence, and have Morocco’s ‘traditions’ remained completely untouched by outside influences? Can we really say that Casablanca’s skyscrapers are purely western, the likes of which you’d find in France, England, the United States, while the old medina of Fes has remained pristinely Moroccan? In other words, how ‘foreign’ is Morocco’s modernization, and how ‘authentic’ have its traditions remained? I think this simple juxtaposition of ‘modern’ versus ‘traditional’ blinds us to the complex reality of Morocco – the unique brand of development that has given a distinctively Moroccan flavor to Casablanca’s modernity, and the dynamic adaptation of old traditions to current circumstances. Imagine the distinctly Moroccan patterns of hierarchy and social organization that may structure a company housed in one of Casablanca’s high rises, or the traditional carpenter in the Fes medina whose work has reached a wider audience through the website he’s been able to create with a laptop and wireless internet.

But above all, the association of ‘authentic Moroccanness’ with traditions from the past is a dangerous one. By relegating Moroccanness to “timeless” traditions and picture-perfect scenes from the old medina, we deprive Morocco of a present – let alone of a future. It is the same process of thought that legitimated French colonial rule in the first half of the twentieth century. Our perception of authentic Moroccanness is a nostalgic image of medieval Arab life that we seek to preserve by freezing Moroccan culture in time and characterizing all development as ‘foreign’, and therefore invasive. It is an Orientalist process of thought that deprives ‘real’ Moroccan culture of any belonging in (or compatibility with) a modern, developing world.

This is not to say that Morocco’s medinas and traditions should not be preserved. They should – they are a part of ‘authentic’ Moroccanness that should not be forgotten. It is also not to say that foreign (Western) influence was not invasive. It was. What I mean to say is simply that we should not so starkly oppose tradition and modernity, or past and present, and attribute ‘authenticity’ to a single pole on that binary scale. Cultures, like human beings, are living, breathing, porous things, and change is a fundamental strategy of survival. Cultures, like human beings, adapt to their ever-changing environment. No culture has ever been static, and no society has ever developed in complete isolation from foreign influences. It may not always have been the pervasive, imperial, and certainly destructive, influence of the West – but foreign influence has always been a fact of life. 

The notion of authenticity is ultimately a difficult one that brings up more questions than it does answers. I think that a certain tension between past and present may be inherent to the state of postcoloniality, with national identity and notions of ‘authenticity’ stuck in the middle. How do you determine what is ‘real’ and what is ‘foreign’? What parts of history constitute the foundation for national identity, and which have been written by alien conquerors? To what extent should ‘foreign’ influence be resisted, and can (should?) traditions always stand the test of time? And who has the authority, anyway, to determine the answers to all these questions? Questions of what is ‘authentic’ are persistently and consciously present in the Moroccan public consciousness. There is a palpable preoccupation with the issue of how to define the relationship between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’, and nearly every political or social issue becomes a pretext for debates about the value of each for Moroccan society and identity. These are not debates that will be resolved any time soon, and I’m sure notions of ‘authenticity’ will be discussed for decades to come. But I don’t think this means that authenticity is lost, or under threat of extinction.

I don’t think that change, dynamism, or foreign influence have to undermine any culture’s status as ‘authentic’ or ‘real’. What makes a culture ‘authentic’ is not its resistance against foreign influence, but simply its particular way of developing, its reality and meaningfulness for the people whose lives it frames. What is authentic is every society’s particular way of making sense of change, of foreign influence; its way of processing, internalizing, mixing new elements with what’s already there to create new meanings, new realities. In its very combination of incredible modernity and development with a high premium on the preservation of tradition, Morocco is, in every sense of the word, authentic. Morocco is a living, breathing culture in the flux of constant change and development. Casablanca, in all its economic enormity and modernity, is as much an example of true Moroccanness as Fes is in its preservation of traditions. And it’s time that we all not only recognize, but celebrate this unique kind of authenticity.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Power of Language

Over the course of my conversations with the psychiatrists I interviewed last month, each practitioner explained that individuals mostly come to see them in search of la parole. Rather than a pill, in other words, patients consult a psychiatrist in private practice in the hopes of procuring a ‘talking cure.’

I found it interesting to hear that Moroccans – many of whom, according to my observations so far, seem very eager to solve an instance of bodily malaise with a quick pill – would prefer lengthy psychotherapy to pharmaceuticals. I found it surprising that there seems to be less stigma attached to counseling than there is to medication, as these psychotherapists claimed.

But what also struck me, and what I want to write about today, is the psychiatrists’ choice of the word ‘parole’. This French word can be translated as ‘speech’, or ‘spoken word’. Of course, ‘talking’ has been widely proven to be an effective form of psychiatric treatment. But what interests me here is the fact that ‘parole’ suggests such a strong emphasis on the linguistic dimensions of that activity. I don’t think that these psychiatrists ignore the myriad other dimensions of communication, but in general, I am getting the sense that Moroccan psychiatry focuses heavily on the issue of language.

Any time these psychiatrists spoke about establishing a sense of mutual understanding – and the importance of having a shared discourse on which to base that understanding – they would mention the importance of defining certain words, of ‘speaking the patient’s language’. In his writings about the history and practice of psychoanalysis in Morocco, Dr. Jalil Bennani even conceives of cultural beliefs as a kind of ‘language’. He suggests that a particular way of understanding and experiencing illness should be understood as a particular language, used to express feelings that are ultimately universal:

Il convient d’accorder à la tradition magico-religieuse la place qui lui est due en interprétant celle-ci comme un effet de langage et non pas comme un effet ethnique. Il convient de reconnaître dans le discours magico-religieux du patient le signe d’un autre discours afin de réussir à dépasser la frontière stérile du magico-religieux et du rationnel et déplacer les conflits en vue de faire retrouver au sujet une capacité de liberté par rapport à sa propre parole."

Freely translated, he says the following: “we should see magico-religious tradition for what it is, conceiving of it as an effect of language, rather than an effect of ethnicity. We should recognize the patient’s magico-religious talk as marker of a different kind of speech,* so as to enable ourselves to transgress the sterile boundary between the magico-religious and the rational and to dissolve their conflict, so as to allow the subject to recover a capacity for liberty with regard to his own speech.”

I’ve noticed this psychiatric focus on language before – at the Clinic, for instance, when Dr. Rachidi lamented that with so few diagnostic tools available in Moroccan Arabic, doctors and patients forever risk getting stuck in a cycle of mistranslation. And this focus makes perfect sense, given the particulars of the Moroccan context.

Mutual understanding is always a crucial issue in psychotherapy. Doctor and patients may come from different (cultural, educational, economic) backgrounds, may ascribe to different ideologies, and may explain experience (and illness) in very different ways. Therapy is effective only if communication is; and in order to truly communicate, it is always important that these two participants understand the framework of assumptions and beliefs that the other is speaking from. In Morocco, where an incredible heterogeneity of beliefs characterizes not just society in general but most doctor-patient interactions as well, a difference in cultural background is often accompanied by a difference in language. Whereas the professional language of Moroccan psychiatry (and biomedicine) is French, the average patient who interprets his or her experiences as a form of spirit possession will not master this language, and will choose to explain said experiences in Moroccan Arabic – or in Tamazight, Tashelhit, or Tariffit.

Communication training manuals, or books about interviewing techniques, often emphasize the immense importance of understanding messages that are communicated nonverbally. The ‘indexical meaning’ of a message (Briggs, 1986) – facial expressions, gestures, tonal inflections, and so on – carry important clues about the ‘real’ meaning of whatever is expressed in words. But as much as it is true that we shouldn’t underestimate the necessity of heeding this more easily forgotten layer of communication, these Moroccan psychiatrists suggest that we should also not forget what’s right under our ears.

The same was suggested in a recent article that appeared on CNN. It reported on a study conducted by medical journal The Lancet, which found that online psychotherapy may be as effective as actual, in-person counseling. A group of patients was given a remote form of psychotherapy: they communicated with their therapist online, through instant messaging. In comparison with a control group that received no form of counseling, this indirect form of therapy seemed to have as high a success rate as ‘traditional’ therapy does. This would suggest either that nonverbal cues may not be so necessary in establishing a therapeutically effective level of communication between doctor and patient, or that online therapy has a particular advantage that might make up for that lack. A therapist interviewed for the interview suggests that the lack of nonverbal communication may in fact be liberating for the patient. Through this indirect form of interaction, stripped of any social context, an individual might be less worried about the social repercussions of things he or she wishes to say. In his words I read the suggestion that a solely linguistic form of interaction – in which social norms, contextual factors, and other cues that alter the meaning of spoken words, do not come into play – may provide the patient with a therapeutic sense of agency, of power. Agency and power so often hide in the ability to be heard, and for one’s words to be accepted. If nonverbal aspects of an interaction make a patient feel as though his words are not openly accepted, even if a psychiatrists words do their best to convey that feeling, perhaps a strictly verbal interaction does create more openness.

So what does all this imply about the nature of communication? What does it imply about the way in which we connect to one another, and by extension about the nature of our interpersonal relationships? How important is listening, exactly, and how do listening (to verbal communication) and observation (of nonverbal messages) relate to one another in the process of (effective) communication? And, perhaps above all, how does each form of communication affect the power relationship between the two speakers? These are questions I would really like to explore further in my research. I want to examine the role of language in Moroccan psychotherapy: I’m interested in the importance of words in creating a sense of understanding or shared meaning. I hope to explore psychiatrists’ and patients’ conception of the role of language in communicating, in understanding, and more fundamentally in structuring personal experience. Most of all, I’m interested in the power of language – the role that linguistic (mis)communication plays in structuring power relationships between psychiatrist and patient within this Moroccan context, in which ideologies and accompanying languages constantly vie for dominance. I will need to study Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst who used Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralist theories of language to explain psychic structures and processes, and who has had a major impact on French – and thus Moroccan – psychoanalysis.

And I’ll need a methodology that creates room for the subtleties and conflicts of language. I’ll be using the format of person-centered interviews – a lengthy, open-ended and very unstructured genre of interviewing that, like Moroccan psychiatrists, assumes the power of words. It’s a psychodynamically oriented kind of interviewing, in which the point is not only to learn something from the interviewee about the cultural phenomenon you’re studying, but also to learn something about how the interviewee personally reflects on that phenomenon; what role it plays in his experience. The interviewee is thus not only informant, but also respondent, and person-centered interviews require heavy analysis of the meanings that do not lie immediately at the surface of the interaction. But aside from looking for nonverbal clues to those meanings, the trick is also to look for linguistic ones. Person-centered interviews encourage the respondent to structure the direction and content of the discussion, and to reflect on her experiences in her own words. The trick is to analyze the respondent’s choice of language, his “personally organized statements – clumping of themes, slips of the tongue, obvious defensive maneuvers, evidence of emotion, fantasy, and speculative thinking” (Levy 1973:xxii). Why did the respondent discuss that issue at this particular moment? Why did he choose that particular word, and the connotations it carries, to express that experience? What does all that suggest about the respondent’s feelings about the matter?

It is thus crucial for anyone hoping to carry out person-centered interviews to learn the language of her respondents. There is no way you will pick up on the subtleties of certain linguistic choices if your level of competence in that language is merely conversational. I have a lot of work ahead of me in that regard. I’m beginning to establish a kind of feeling for the subtleties in French (even if I myself haven’t actively mastered them yet), but I have a long way to go for Moroccan Arabic. I’m considering this post a re-dedication to that endeavor. I’ve created a bit of structure in my work life, and hope that this will create some time for renewed language study. And perhaps I’ll find some time for that psychoanalytic reading, as well…

* the French discours is not the same as the english discourse