“The Literary Community Was Almost Dead Before the Taliban Takeover”; Exclusive Interview with Kawa Jobran

By: Amin Kawa

Dr. Kawa Jobran, a poet, author, and university professor is a well-known writer in Persian literature. He considers that literature should unchain people from capitalism‘s restrictions and serve as a social reformer. He contends thatliterature should be a direct result of the engagement between the author and his or her time. He also believes that opportunities for the advancement of our literature had long since died, and that September 30 killed them again. According to Mr. Jobran, colonialism was a major contributor to the modernization of Afghan literature. He claimed that Mahmoud Tarzi‘s literary contributions and experiences had inadvertently politicized literature. He retains his belief that the literature of the past 20 years is much more comprehensive than that of previous generations. Mr. Jobran claims that the idea of exile can be found in literary works from at least three generations earlier. However, literature has never been inspired by the anguish of exile and migration.

In the following interview, Amin Kawa and Kawa Jobran discuss the role of modernity in literature, the current crisis in Afghanistan, and the neglected possibilities of the Afghan literary community.

Hasht-e-Subh: How much has the literature in Afghanistan changed and been updated since the arrival of modernity? Generally speaking, has it contributed to the modernization process?

Kawa Jobran: Our native literature has not contributed to or influenced our understanding of the concept of modernity, according to our historical experience. Colonialism, particularly in the areas of politics and economy, is where modernity originally entered our cultural sphere, not literature. This experience had an impact on literature, just as it would have on any other aspect of society. Literature embraced politics as its guiding principle as a result of the works and experiences Mahmoud Tarzi created, in the sense that the direction of literature was determined by the dominant political discourse. Sadly, this tradition has persisted throughout history. Then, politics (ideological experiments) offered a platform for any novel during the modernist experience, and as a result, literature continued to be a follower of politics and political discourses. Every political discourse that achieved prominence transformed literature into its follower or rival. Eventually, literature was limited to its role as a tool for ideological discourse.

Hasht-e-Subh: Why has Mahmoud Tarzi had such a tremendous impact on literature that his works and experiences have compelled literature to become politically engaged, and contemporary literature cannot avoid Tarzi’s influence?

Kawa Jobran: Tarzi introduced modern literature to society, and his contribution was limited to this. He helped popularize writing, translations, and other genres, but he did not pioneer a new literary style. Rather, he encouraged poets to explore epic themes such as home, country, and progress. As a result, he was not referenced again in the narrative. This was likely due to the fact that modernity was a new concept at the time and literature had not yet discovered its social purpose.

Hasht-e-Subh: How has literature evolved over the past 20 years of the republic compared to the 20 years before that?

Kawa Jobran: Compared to other eras, the literature of the last 20 years is richer in every respect. On this richness, both qualitative and quantitative research can be conducted. Both in comparison to the produced and published works, as well as in terms of genre diversity and the diversity of discourses reflected in the literary works of this era. The audience, nevertheless, is one area where it is less significant than just its early pioneers. The writings of the authors were read extensively all through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The works of native authors were read; however, there were fewer readers of their works during the last 20 years compared to the reading population that existed in those eras. There was a large percentage of literate and bookreading people in this era. Therefore, I find it quite hard to find out the ups and downs.

Hasht-e-Subh: As you mentioned, while there are more people now who read books and are literate compared to 20 years ago, local authors’ works are still not highly regarded. What are the main reasons? What else do you believe is important in this situation?

Kawa Jobran: The proliferation of the Internet and social networks has been a major contributor to the decline in reading culture globally. This event has had an adverse impact not just on Afghanistan, but also on the rest of the world. Additionally, during the past 20 years, it has become considerably simpler to access the works of international authors either through bookstores, which have been expanding in recent years, or through the Internet. As a result, local authors have been in a close contest with international authors, with the latter often being favored.

Hasht-e-Subh: How would you evaluate contemporary literature in terms of how it addresses the current crisis in Afghanistan?

Kawa Jobran: I believe that a year is not a long enough period of time to make such a significant claim. However, literary developments do not occur as rapidly as political and social changes. The impacts of social and political change do not really appear in literature for a long time. As a result, there are no changes in literature to discuss yet.

Hasht-e-Subh: What literary elements have the potential to be liberated in the future?

Kawa Jobran: What you are saying is that the interpretation of literature you are using underlies your question, and that you believe what I said in my previous response about how literature should adhere to a particular discourse in order for it to be effective in achieving a task. You go on to say that determining the literary component of something entails that it should be a reflection of certain ideas, and that even the wordliberating has become commonplace among certain people. You argue that literature should be a force for social change, liberating people from capitalism‘s constraints. However, you concede that a work of literature would be both everything and nothing at the same time. Finally, you state that the only obligation you can think of for literature is that it should be a word that arises from discourse among people.

Hasht-e-Subh: What would you call the author’s dialogue with his or her time if it were to inhabit something unrelated to literature?

Kawa Jobran: Slogan!

Hasht-e-Subh: How realistic is the writing created amid the crisis?

Kawa Jobran: Realism is a type of perspective that is usually based on the artist‘s confrontational view of the external world. Political and social difficulties are not necessarily related to it. Being a surrealist artist in the middle of a heated conflict is possible, just as being a realist in your life‘s romantic setting is possible. This ratio only has an impact on the author‘s mindset. It should be noted, of course, that whether or not realism is effective depends on how utterly dominant the crisis is. However, dominance is simply another word for repression, and repression is what determines the nature of language. Let me give a clear example: consider the poems written by Wasif Bakhtiri and the tale of Babrak Arghand from the 1960s. Both were created at the same time and location. In contrast to the second, which is a red slogan that states the obvious, the first is full of metaphors and mythologies and is unconstrained by the outside world. It is a clear statement of the truth. Because the dominance of the Bakhti language has come in one way and the Arghand language has come in another, which has determined the attitude of these two toward the external world.

Hasht-e-Subh: You mentioned that an author’s mentality affects how realistic they can be in a crisis. Now, the anti-Taliban author criticizes the pro-Taliban author’s depiction of the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, which he views as critical and dangerous. Which author’s work is reality to someone who is unfamiliar with the Taliban or their adversaries?

Kawa Jobran: This is relative. Additionally, literary materials are not the only tool used to study history and comprehend historical events. Literature is one of the references, and disciplines of literary criticism, including hypertext, extratext, etc., measure the characteristics of reality in the literary text. Reality does not lead us to lose perspective on what is truly genuine because we are confronted with two polar opposites.

Hasht-e-Subh: What opportunities has literature lost, and what opportunities are still accessible to it in the first year of the Taliban rule?

Kawa Jobran: I have a somewhat negative perspective on this matter. In the second half of the 1990s, there was a clear manifestation of the political crisis in the literary community. The literary world was somewhat impacted by racial and political conflicts. Instead of producing creative works, many poets and authors were drawn into racial and political confrontations. This led to the sacrifice of many abilities. Several writers abandoned literature due to financial and living conditions, and some of them migrated. This was already the end of everything long before August 15.

Hasht-e-Subh: What kind of experiences did poets and writers in exile have, and what did exilliterature provide them with, given that the majority of creative people have been displaced?

Kawa Jobran: Our literature has used the termdisplacement for at least three generations. However, literature has never been inspired by the anguish of exile and dislocation. With this idea, there hasn‘t been any significant conflict. Authors and poets of the previous generation were typically merged into the host society or changed their memories’ reality into their mental utopia, continuing to write literature there till the end of their lives. They even occasionally replicated their prior ones. This term only acquired political significance among a generation of immigrants in Iran in the 1980s and 1990s; yet, no philosophical or epistemological approach that could really address the underlying reasons of this suffering could be found at the time. Despite the fact that some of these authors have done a tremendous job of creating the categories of exile and displacement, at this point it is still impossible to quantify the catastrophe that befell a subsequent generation of our authors and literary figures after August 15, and nothing about being exiled deserves discussion. Therefore, I am unable to anticipate any situation in the future.

Hasht-e-Subh: You said that no writing has ever been created to depict the anguish of exile and displacement. Why? Can you give me some background on this?

Kawa Jobran: The lack of essential knowledge is the key issue. It is difficult for an Afghan to break free from dominant historical narratives because they have infiltrated both our daily lives and our intellectual environment. Without the framework of these macronarratives, it is impossible to have a critical and indepth perspective on existence and phenomena. However, thinking within the confines of these macronarratives is pointless. It‘s been altered. We are all trapped, including our writers, mainly because they have not had the freedom to think and create opinions. They have conceptualized exile as a political and fateful phenomenon within the context of these mega-narratives. They have not been able to define it any further than these limitations.

Hasht-e-Subh: I appreciate your time, Mr. Jobran.

Kawa Jobran: Thank You.