“A rich indetermination gives them the function of articulating a second, poetic geography on top of the geography of the literal meaning.”
So it was for place names in Afghanistan. No one knew why one place was a Bak and another a Shimbowat. This place a Sabari, and that a Nadir Sha Khat. What was the geneology of Khowst? But the foreign names achieved a lyric suggestiveness even-the-more-so, forever linking phonics with memory and ideas.
“A whole series of comparisons would be necessary to account for the magical powers proper names enjoy. They seem to be carried as emblems by the travelers they direct and simultaneously decorate.”
Well, yes. Gerde Serai was where SFC Dupont was killed. Yum Toy was where the rockets came from. Zormat and Narizah were places that we could never get to, no matter how hard we tried.
“Numbered streets and street numbers orient the magic field of trajectories just as they can haunt dreams.”
True also for the names of towns and districts scattered about Khowst, Paktia, and Paktika. Important to the day-to-day accomplishment of missions but all the time accruing symbolic second meanings in the mind. Shwak, Jani Kheyl, Sharana. Margha, Gardez, Terra Zayi. The most evocative of all was Tani. It was just such a pretty name and all our visits there were so pleasant. As you drove out, on a paved hardball road past some of the more interesting houses in Khowst, the children waved. Nothing bad ever happened there, or could happen there, it seemed. The locals were friendly and helpful. The police were orderly and efficient. Beyond Tani, the hardball gave out, and the IED-infested gravel road rose up toward the deadly mountain passes on the Pakistan border. But nothing bad could happen in Tani itself.
“Linking acts and footsteps, opening meanings and directions, these words operate in the name of an emptying-out and wearing-away of their primary role. They become liberated spaces that can be occupied….” The constructed order, that of place names on a map and political organization of the land and people, is “everywhere punched and torn open by ellipses, drifts, and leaks of meaning” of the individual traveler.
That’s sort of a violent, but still poetic, way to talk about how we personalize our life circumstances, but I’ll buy it, sure. Seems about right for Afghanistan.
NOTE1: All quotations are from Michel de Certeau’s “Walking in the City” (1984).
NOTE2: RIP MCA Adam Yauch. There’s a song or musician lurking in the background of almost all my posts. Today I’m making the architecture and inspiration visible. Beastie Boys songs such as “A Year and a Day”–Yauch-dominated from start-to-finish–reflect the bravery, beauty, drive, and smarts that I’m trying to channel here. Trying, I said, trying.