The Temporality of Selfhood: Azhdaha-i Khudi as an Allegory of History

A lecture by Wali Ahmadi, UC Berkeley, part of the Afghanistan in Ink Conference

 The Temporality of Selfhood: Azhdaha-i Khudi as an Allegory of History

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Duration: 21:35

This paper deals with Azhdaha-i Khudi (The Ego Monster), a seminal 4-volume philosophical “novel” written by the late Sayyed B. Majruh, a former professor of Western philosophy at Kabul University. The paper attempts to read Majruh’s “novel” not so much as a philosophical allegory – with its emphasis on the metaphysics of subjectivity as transcendence and the valorization of the idealist concept of the subject – but as an allegory of history and a critique of ideology. The paper attempts to contextualize Majruh’s text within the framework of historical incidents of far-reaching socio-political consequences in contemporary Afghanistan, such as the “Communist” coup, the (former) Soviet invasion, and the emergence of a fractured, and thus deeply flawed, “resistance” movement. Through a close analysis of the narrative elements and possibilities that form the fictional discourse of the allegory, the paper traces the sequentially paradoxical journey of the principal character – Rahguzar-e Nima-shab (the Midnight Traveler) – from the apparent “conquest of the ego” and the certain “death of the [ego] monster” to the “return and resurgence of the [ego] monster,” leading to the “reign of [egocentric] Reason.” The intricacy of the journey, despite its disjunctive schemes, both reflects and generates an ideology of self-hood that is profoundly historical. Majruh appears as to neither denigrate any one specific ideological tendency nor valorize its rival ideology. Nevertheless, he painstakingly discovers illusory “idols” – mainly, as he maintains, “idols of raw Reason,” “idols of Progress,” and “idols of Revolution” – within the very fabric of each and every ideology and ideological inclination in the time of enormous traumas, such as the one Afghanistan has been enduring for so long. Thus, as this paper will illustrate, the temporality and historical topicality of Azhdaha-ye Khudi consist of the fact that it critiques the equally “idolatrous” motives of both the progressive “Communist” revolution as well the reactionary motives of the opposition “resistance” groups who used to wage an “Islamic” revolution in Afghanistan.