In wartime, the more obvious powers of language are overtaken by one language (English) that demands its own translation, and signifies what Afghans cannot express (or commit to) in Persian or Pashto. But even as translation demands exchange, it is experienced by subjects of military campaigns as the most profound harbinger of death. At the same time, the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency campaign relies on the fetishistic misrecognition of speaking as inspiration, and of linguistic expression as the dissemination of terroristic violence through oral networks of exchange and emboldening. This talk examines linguistic and representational practices of war deployed in intercultural translation within military campaigns, and argues they are newly commodified and bear much greater and more devastating consequences. It considers the scenes where the exchange of words and sense-making (including of audio-visual propaganda) participate in the construction of a rural life-world as the ineradicable scene of danger and cultural excess. These sites are made more complex by intense forms of counterinsurgency, and speech has come to signify collaboration or guilt (apostasy or terrorism). The discourses that emerge here are of anxiety about linguistic particularism, and of generalized forms of death-dealing and tragedy which necessitate distinguishing between what is real and imagined, and speaking only about what one really knows.
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