Ma'na and War

23 May 2022
16:00 UK time
Dr James Caron
South Asian Intellectual History Seminar
Organiser contact
This paper contrasts two Afghan Pashto critical-literary responses to one of modern war's main characteristics: ontological devastation as a tactic. Large-scale violence over 40 years of occupations in Afghanistan not only destroyed material worlds, but in the process broke the chains of signification embedded in those worlds, creating landscapes in which meaning and reality themselves broke down. Afghan literary authors, however, have long had available tools that link meaning, affect, and ontology, which they use to combat this tactic. Chief of these is the art-science of ma'na-afirini, or 'meaning-creation'. The work of the poet Pir Muhammad Karwan, located in an aporic borderland forest-scape, reimagines ways that material and imaginational regeneration can be linked, creating non-war worlds through a bio-poetic peace activism. Meanwhile Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost--traditional literary theorist; Islamic State-Khorasan ideologue and chief outreach officer--builds on his disorienting experiences in Afghanistan's devastated landscape but also in Guantánamo prison to envision a world in which language and affect take primacy over all materiality. As Muslim Dost becomes every bit a spin-master as Karl Rove was, the metaphysics of the War on Terror fractally replicates itself in its abjected other, Islamic intellectual history. Examining different ways that the same Islamic intellectual resources respond to ontological destruction allows us to better understand both the dynamism of South Asian intellectual 'tradition', and the metaphysics of modern globalized violence.

James Caron is Lecturer in Islamicate South Asia, in the Department of History, Religions, and Philosophies at SOAS University of London. He specializes in borderland studies, empire, violence, and the politics of poetic knowledge, embodiment, and metaphysics. His research centers on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Persianate world from 1550 to now, and draws on Pashto, Persian, and Urdu forms of knowledge.

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