The Department of English, Gauhati University, has been organizing a series of international seminars on literature emerging from India and its neighbours, with two seminars already held on Sri Lanka and Pakistan. This year, we are shifting our focus to Afghanistan, the nation, and its diaspora.
Modern Afghanistan is often regarded as an isolated, troubled, violence-ridden territory in the global imaginary, in the light of its occupation by the Soviets in the Cold War era and by the US in the aftermath of 9/11. However, this representation, as with any representation, comes with its own political and ideological baggage. Seamus Heaney, in “Crediting Poetry”, his Nobel lecture, in speaking of the violent history of Northern Ireland, said that “history is about as instructive as an abattoir; ... peace is merely the desolation left behind after the decisive operations of merciless power”. This suggests the ‘universal’ nature of violence in the history of any race, and to speak of certain parts of the world as being prone to more violence is politically motivated.
In terms of language and culture, Afghanistan retains a rich heritage that not merely dates back to thousands of years but also charts a transnational trajectory in the form of a Persian literary culture that includes countries like Turkey, Iran and India in its ambit. Apart from Dari (Persian), Pashto, the other major language of Afghanistan, also possesses a wealth of literature, both oral and written. Afghan writing in English, however, seems to be a relatively recent phenomena compared to the rich literary histories of Dari and Pashto, with only a few writers like Khaled Hosseini and Nadia Hashimi writing in English. Other eminent contemporary writers who are visible globally, like Atiq Rahimi, have had their writings translated into English. Given this, to merely look at Afghan fiction in English would be to ignore the larger literary scenario that includes not merely Pashto and Dari but also other genres like poetry. In fact, poetry and fiction have been the dominant forms through which Afghan writers have articulated the trauma of violence, terror, displacement and loss of identity and home. A discussion of politics and the political cannot be avoided in speaking of representation; this is all the more so when one looks at contemporary Afghan literature, especially the fact that the writers choosing English as the medium of their representation are diasporic rather than resident writers. This is not to say that writing in English is not possible in Afghanistan itself but to underline the fact that the particular political engagements of writers are consciously undertaken to provide alternative versions of reading and representing Afghanistan rather than the politically dominant Western view of the nation being just a den of violence under Taliban rule until it was occupied by the United States of America and transformed into a ‘democratic’ nation. A similar preoccupation can be seen in the works of writers looking at the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in a similar light. Another important aspect is the experiences of women who find themselves repressed in terms of tradition, religion and politics. Writers as well as journalists highlight the grim challenges that women in Afghanistan face in present times. Even though the thrust of this series of seminars is on fiction in English, we would, however, like to welcome papers on texts translated into English as well as on forms other than fiction, if they conform thematically to the central focus of the seminar, which is, to attempt to understand the specific ways in which contemporary Afghan literature has responded to and addressed the drastic political and cultural changes in Afghanistan since the second half of the twentieth century as well as certain repressive aspects of tradition that perpetuate from the past well into the present.
We invite papers that look into the complex cultural, historical and political contexts that underpin the literature emerging from both within Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora since the last two decades, roughly under, but not limited to, the following sub-themes:
- Gender and the nation
- The body
- Exile, migration and displacement
- Identity, nation and literature
- Religion and violence
- Narrative and history
- Orality and culture
- The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan
- The Taliban occupation
- 9/11 and the US presence in Afghanistan
- Politics and literature
- The folk and the popular
- Terrorism and children
- Everyday life in Afghanistan
- Tradition and modernity in Afghanistan
- Afghanistan and the West
Interested participants are requested to submit a 300-word abstract by 30 June 2018 to:
Participants whose papers are selected for presentation will be notified by the first week of August 2018. Paper presenters will get 20 minutes each to present their papers, followed by 5 minutes of discussion. The full papers should be e-mailed to us by 31 December 2018.
For further details, please contact:
Manashi Bora (+91 9864034773)
Dolikajyoti Sharma (+91 9864111289)
Department of English
Guwahati - 781014