Saturday, September 17, 2011

The View from Within | Writing From Afghanistan

Guest Editor: Anders Widmark

In a discussion at the House of Culture in Stockholm just over a week ago, the Afghan writer Atiq Rahimi, having summarized the last three decades of Afghan history, concluded laconically that the present state was: “un chaos total”—a total chaos. Rahimi is far from alone in his assessment, but he is unusual in that he speaks to the situation as an Afghan, rather than an outside observer. It is the “chaos” this issue has tried to put in words—this time voiced from within.

From within I say, and this is important. Much of what is said and written about Afghanistan in the West today is still tainted by an outside perspective on the situation—a narrative that keeps repeating and reformulating earlier misconceptions and generalizations. With regard to the ongoing conflict, it is completely incomprehensible to me, even as a layman in the field, that policy-makers on Afghanistan have failed so utterly in understanding this country after a decade of interference. No one seems to listen to the people. No one seems to hear what they are saying or read what they are writing.

Contemporary Afghan literature rests upon a rich heritage of both oral and written traditions. The two major languages of Afghanistan, Pashto and Dari, with approximately sixty million speakers altogether (including those outside Afghanistan), possess a wealth of literature, unfortunately mostly unstudied, marginalized, and known to few. Hopefully, this issue on Afghan writing will help to introduce its treasures to a broader public.

Talking about Afghan literature, you are often forced into a discussion on politics. In a “poeticized community” such as Afghanistan, much of what is written, especially poetry, is in one way or another related to politics; not necessarily being political or ideological, but politicized to various degrees. This will be seen clearly in the texts selected for this issue. Much of the country’s history is channeled through literature; in both written and oral literature, in the canonical as well as in the noncanonical, in the past and in the present. When one considering the nature of poetry and fiction produced over the last three decades of war and conflict this becomes clear. What is also interesting and can be said to epitomize Afghan literature of today, is its high degree of responsiveness and immediacy—in many other literatures a national trauma often demands some sort of “incubation period” before the topic can be processed; in Afghanistan, traumas are attacked by the pen simultaneously as they occur. “The Idol’s Dust” by Zalmay Babakohi, as an example, was written only a month after the destruction of the Bamiyan statues in March 2001.

To finish the introduction click here.

Full Issue: Writing from Afghanistan

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