Afghani US Military Translators | An Exquisite Exercise on Derrida’s Diffe’rance

Read the full article here | PBS NewsHour

It is hard to overstate the importance of Afghan employees, particularly translators, to the US war effort. Translators accompany military and special forces in everything they do, from night raids and helicopter insertions to route clearance, and they are often unarmed. They’re also critical to the work done by the State Department, the US Agency for International Development and US government-supported NGOs.

All that mean they are also targets. Taliban checkpoints are often set up expressly for the purpose of catching such men. Translators casually swap stories of Afghan employees of the US military who have had limbs or heads cut off by insurgents.

Now, with the US scheduled to largely withdraw from Afghanistan later this year, Afghans still waiting on visa applications fear their time is running out. Critics describe the process of applying for a visa as opaque, prohibitively complicated and painfully slow, putting the applicant’s lives at risk with each passing month that their visas aren’t approved.

“It has been a disastrous program,” said one former USAID official.” It’s embarrassing.”

But the State Department says they’ve implemented a set of changes to revitalize the process.

Jacques Derrida writes in Of Grammatology:

Spacing as writing is the becoming-absent and the becoming-unconscious of the subject. By the movement of its drift/derivation [dérive] the emancipation of the sign constitutes in return the desire of presence. That becoming-or that drift/derivation-does not befall the subject which would choose it or would passively let itself be drawn along by it. As the subject’s relationship with its own death, this becoming is the constitution of subjectivity. On all levels of life’s organisation, that is to say, of the economy of death. All graphemes are of a testamentary essence. And the original absence of the subject of writing is also the absence of the thing or the referent. [The Outside is the Inside]

Thus, the years of waiting to receive a US visa while the Taliban threaten the local linguists, kidnap their relatives, while, occasionally, they cut a head or two. “Absence”,  translator as the referent, as the subject’s relationship with its/his own death. An excellent intellectual exercise on diffe’rance, for the rest of us.



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