The image of the ethnographer in the field who observes his or her subjects from a distance while copiously taking notes has given way in recent years to a more critical and engaged form of anthropology. Composed as a polyphonic dialogue of texts, Stefania Pandolfo's Impasse of the Angels takes this engagement to its limit by presenting the relationship between observer and observed as one of interacting equals and mutually constituting interlocuters.
Impasse of the Angels explores what it means to be a subject in the historical and poetic imagination of a southern Moroccan society. Passionate and lyrical, ironic and tragic, the book listens to dissonant, often idiosyncratic voices—poetic texts, legends, social spaces, folktales, conversations—which elaborate in their own ways the fractures, wounds, and contradictions of the Maghribî postcolonial present. Moving from concrete details in a traditional ethnographic sense to a creative, experiential literary style, Impasse of the Angels is a tale of life and death compellingly addressing readers from anthropology, literature, philosophy, postcolonial criticism, and Middle Eastern studies.
"[Stefania Pandolfo's] nominal subject is a small village in southern Morocco where she did fieldwork in 1984-1986, 189 and 1990. This is as much as we learn, however, about the ordinary details. Who Pandolfo is, why she chose this subject, who paid for the fieldwork, how she gained access to her informants -- even how she, as a woman, entered the all-male enclaves she listens in on -- are absent. What we get instead is a theatre piece, consciously constructed to avoid confronting the relationship and subject and object....The paratactic structure of the book is a series of fragmented monologues -- some by informants, some by Pandolfo.....[She] speaks not to the other speakers in the village but to other academics who have read certain texts her speech references....There is a convention of trust between a reader and a narrator that impels the reader to continue reading, to go on the narrative journey with the teller. When the narrator refuses identification with her own speaking voice, then the craft in the language itself has to do all the work of keeping the reader interested. Language studded with academic jargon rarely has the power to impel, and this language is no exception. I found myself rewriting this play to exclude Pandolfo....I'm afraid the general reader is likely to close it sooner rather than later." -- The Women's Review of Books