“Picnics with the Mujaheddin”

Paratexts and Personal Motivation in Travel Writing about Afghanistan

in Journeys
Author:
Kerry Featherstone Loughborough University k.featherstone@lboro.ac.uk

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Abstract

This article considers the stated motivations for travel in the case of three examples of travel writing about Afghanistan. Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light documents his travel in 1984 during the war between the Afghan Mujaheddin and the Soviets; Jonny Bealby's For a Pagan Song, first published in 1998, takes place during the civil war between Mujaheddin and the Taleban; Rory Stewart's The Places In Between was written about travel between 2000 and 2002, during which time Operation Enduring Freedom was launched against the Taleban. The article deploys Genette's concept of paratexts in order to show how the acknowledgments, blurbs, and other paratextual material, when read against the grain, undermine the relationship between the writer and their stated motivations and, thus, destabilize the self-representation of each writer in the course of the narrative. The outcome of these readings is a critique of the three texts, arguing that each one works to justify their travel through a combination of self-narration and paratextual material but that none of them address the implications of their travel for the Afghan people or that the purpose of the travel is to write the text.

Contributor Notes

Kerry Featherstone is lecturer in creative writing at Loughborough University. He has presented conference papers and published essays on Bruce Chatwin, representations of Afghanistan, and the experimental landscape poetry of Mark Goodwin. He is a widely published poet, writing about landscape and memory, often moving between French and English and playing with ideas about translation. In 2017 he was appointed as the first poet in residence at Bradgate Park, an 850-acre site that is the former home of Lady Jane Grey. E-mail: K.Featherstone@lboro.ac.uk

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Journeys

The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing

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