In September-October, 2017, Coldnoon celebrated six years of publishing, and travelling with you. To mark our anniversary, we got together with writers, intellectuals and stalwarts of the art of thinking (and travelling). Here is an interview with Sami Ahmad Khan.

 

We believe, in making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate  possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquette or norms, or occasions. Our understanding of travel is based on premises that define what travelling is not. Is writing for you a similar activity, where you are conscious of what writing is not? If so, what according to you is not writing?

What something truly ‘is’ and what it ‘isn’t’ are questions that have flummoxed better brains than mine for a time span much larger than what I could probably conceive. They’ve not succeeded in finding any conclusive answers – at least, not yet. The debates between essence and existence, idealism and materialism, perception and cognition, noumenon and phenomenon, and mind and matter – just to name a few broad, rather ambiguous terms – still rage on. Perhaps that is why I won’t even pretend to answer your question. This clear cut demarcation between ‘X’ and ‘un-X’ is something that makes me squirm. I’m more the ‘non-X’ type. Moreover, as some recent theorists remark: there is nothing outside the text, and reality is accessible to us only as – and perhaps through – a text. To categorize something as either unworthy of being tagged as ‘writing’ or to acknowledge the existence of an entity called non-writing would not only be predicated on the clear cut (and problematic) binary of writing and not-writing (which I disagree with), but also ignore the fact that everything around – and inside us – is writing. I’m not sure there’s something which can be labeled ‘not-writing’ thus. While dialectical binaries, with all their theses and anti-theses, somehow manage to instigate conflict, generate friction, and thus propel growth, I am not comfortable with this distinction. Everything is writing, and at the same time, nothing is. I believe that the ontology of writing – like pretty much else in this universe – depends on how one chooses to perceive its epistemology. And as the Romans said: cuique suum.

 

Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?

I’m happy with a certain cloak of anonymity surrounding me. If knowledge is power, then to be unknowable is to remain unconquerable! On a more serious note, the last thing I want is to be known. For ‘being known’ (notice that I don’t use the word ‘fame’: it’s too pretentious and pompous for my liking) puts too much pressure on the self. If one is ‘known’, then one is already categorized in a certain manner, observed and perceived from pre-designated lenses, he/she has to conform to certain pigeonholes and stereotypes, and he/she has to live as per the notions usually constructed by those who are the ‘knowees’. So, known? No, thank you.

 

In 1794, the French author, Xavier de Maistre, wrote the renowned book, Voyage Around my Room, during a month and a half of solitary confinement, in consequence of a duel. Besides being a satire on the contemporary literary culture of voyages and adventures of colonial sailors to prospective new worlds, the book proved to be a demonstration of how an individual is almost always travelling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand travelling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?

It’s futile to consider ourselves as static beings, whether in the realms of ideas or materiality. Even if we just sit in a certain corner, and try hard not to move an inch, our minds will still move – our location, mental or physical, will change, and so will our coordinates in the space-time continuum, thanks to the constant planetary and galactic movement. I see travelling not only as a clichéd journey within, nor the bohemian journey without, but as a modification in mental states, chemical imbalances, and voyages across the space-time continuum taken in the TARDIS called human brain. Thus, if we’re all travelers (since there’s nothing called static-existence), if we’re all writers (since there’s nothing which isn’t writing), we’re all space-time travelling writers with one goal (as Tennyson put it): to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?

The greatest stride in history of English literature came with Douglas Adams: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

 

Do respond to the following words: 

“The longer and more carefully we look at a funny story, the sadder it becomes.” ― Nikolai Gogol.

Gogol perhaps preempted aspects of the Chaos theory, one that seeks to foreground the underlying patterns amidst ostensible randomness. After all, there is order in disorder when seen over a larger interval of time (or scale). Simultaneously, there’s disorder in order when seen from a different scale (or interval of time). Perception of reality, and its cognition, become primarily about comprehending the spatio-temporal context, about the interval of its observation and the minuteness of its scale. Sorrow and smiles thus emerge not as fixed ontological entities but as epistemological entities in flux, the barriers between them wither away in a cosmic nothingness as the time or scale zoom in or out. Perhaps this is why, to take a crude example, Orwellian “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” rings so true for these Hard Times – for our times.

 

Ques) What do you think of Coldnoon?

Under the dedicated, able leadership of a tireless, competent man, I have seen Coldnoon grow by leaps and bounds in the past few years. In this cut-throat world of grades, cut-offs, and EMIs, it takes a special sort of brain, nay, soul, to actually do something that is so missionary, sans its immediate utility. Scholarship for the sake of scholarship, and knowledge for the sake of knowledge – and not for their monetization. Coldnoon is doing some terrific, cutting-edge work, and has carved a niche for itself with its pioneering articles, ideas and editions. I wish Coldnoon all the best, and hope it continues to enjoy even more of the creative and critical success it so richly deserves!

 

Sami Ahmad Khan

Sami Ahmad Khan

Sami Ahmad Khan is a writer, academic and documentary producer. He studied Literature at Delhi University, completed his master’s in English at JNU, and then went to the University of Iowa on a Fulbright grant. He holds a PhD degree in techno-culture studies, and has taught at IIT Delhi, JNU, JGU and GGSIPU. Red Jihad, his debut thriller, won two literary awards, and his second novel, Aliens in Delhi, has recently hit the stands.

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