The Minoritarian Linguist in Translation:
Homebody/Kabul's Answer to Deleuze and Guattari

Michael Y. Bennett
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater


This article develops two parallel lines of thought: 1) first, it examines Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari's idea of the minoritarian linguist; and 2) then, just like the map in the play marked "Grave of Cain?", I argue that this play is about what it means to conceptualize the world with a question mark attached to it. Like translation, where everything is inaccurate because a true translation is impossible, Kushner posits a world (with a metaphoric question mark attached to it) where everything is utterly unknowable. Knowledge is gained only through translations—personal, literal, social, cultural. And thus, although much is lost in these translations, so much is gained in these hybrid moments. What I am arguing in this article is that Homebody is a minoritarian linguist whose own language is a forgotten language, but she speaks in English. What she creates is a minor language that is marked by its hybridity. Homebody's own unique lingual position mimics the art of translation, with its possibilities and impossibilities. Translation becomes a metaphor for cultural hybridity. As a minoritarian linguist, performance yields power, but the inability to perform at Homebody's comfortable level turns out to have disastrous consequences. Because Homebody is imagined, I argue, as "Homebody?" in Afghanistan (similar to "Grave of Cain?"), Kushner's play ultimately asks the question that Deleuze and Guattari never ask or answer themselves: what happens to a minoritarian linguist when read in translation? In a line from the play, Kushner suggests that the results of translating a minoritarian linguist are "bloody, beautiful." Homebody becomes "Homebody?" when read in translation and is therefore susceptible to being "traumatically separated."


[1] Tony Kushner's prescient play, Homebody/Kabul, was written only shortly before September 11th. "The play takes place in London, England and Kabul, Afghanistan just before and just after the American bombardment of the suspected terrorist training camps in Khost, Afghanistan, August 1998. The final scene, Periplum, is set in London in the spring of 1999." [1] The play is divided up into two acts. Act I is a lengthy monologue by a verbose housewife named Homebody, who talks about Afghanistan and her desire to go there. The plot in Homebody/Kabul takes a rather complex turn after Homebody's lengthy monologue. In Acts II and III, the reader finds out that Homebody's life came to an end in the most brutal way on the streets of Kabul, where she ventured by herself. Finding out about Homebody's death, her husband and daughter go to Afghanistan to retrieve the body only to be given the runaround by the Taliban concerning the location of her body. While Homebody's husband, Milton, gets high on opium and other narcotics with a British aid worker, her daughter, Priscilla (who is full of doubt about her mother's death) meets a Tajik Afghan Esperantist poet named Khwaja who helps her find out that her mother is actually alive and well: faking her death in order to marry a "pious Muslim man of means." [2] Priscilla is told of Homebody's reasoning: "She wish to remain in Kabul, not to see you nor the father of you, her husband of the past." [3] Khwaja arranges for Priscilla to meet the wife that Homebody replaced, Mahala. Mahala corroborates the story that Homebody is in fact alive and living with her Muslim husband. Mahala wants Priscilla to take her back to London. Priscilla does not want to but is eventually convinced to try to take Mahala back to London. For his help, Khwaja, also through much convincing, gives Priscilla some of his Esperanto poem to deliver to a fellow Esperantist in London. When Priscilla, Milton, and Mahala are finally ready to depart from Afghanistan, the Taliban search their belongings and find the Esperanto poems in Priscilla's suitcase. The Taliban say that they are not poems but Tajik information in codes concerning the placement of weapons, and they claim that Khwaja is a spy. Thinking Mahala has more papers, the Taliban threaten to kill her. Eventually talking the Taliban out of killing Mahala, Priscilla and Milton are told that the story that Mahala told them about Homebody was made up: "They have tell you this woman is wife of Muslim man, Kabuli man who have marry dead British woman, she have not die . . . This woman is Pashtun woman, crazy woman, who she is? She is doctor wife, Doctor Qari Shah." [4] Before the three are allowed to go free, they are told that Khwaja has been arrested and executed. Almost a year later, we find out that Mahala is living with Milton in the same house that Homebody once lived in.

[2] As Jenny Spencer argues, much of the plot of Homebody/Kabul hinges on translation and the difficulties surrounding it. [5] The need for translation serves as a plot device where confusion can abound. But much more central to the play, the need for translation is only one of the symptoms plaguing the two clashing cultures. Priscilla and Milton are not merely having trouble finding out where Homebody is because they are having trouble getting a decent translation: the poor translations are only symptomatic of the impossibility of translating one culture to another, performing cultural hybridity. It is in both the failure and attempt of translation that, at least, some hope is born in this play. True, most meaning is lost in translation, but there is something new that is created in the act of translating. In this play, Mahala's new life represents that new creation: the byproduct of two cultures coming together. Homebody/Kabul recounts translation as tragedy, but from that tragedy springs hope and growth.

Translation, Minor Language and Hybridity

[3] In their chapter, "What is a Minor Literature?" in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari discuss Franz Kafka's "geopolitical triangle of German-Czech-Jews" by noting how "people [in Prague] reproached [the Jews] for not being Czechs, and in Saaz and Eger, for not being Germans." [6] What this means is that Kafka was in a very unique lingual situation: he was a minoritarian linguist. In an indirect response to Benjamin, Deleuze and Guattari discussed the untranslatability of language. Instead of relying on the task of translators, being a Jew, living in Czechoslovakia and writing in German, Kafka wrote "minor literature:" "A minor literature does not come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language." [7] Deleuze and Guattari note the three characteristics of a minor literature and a minoritarian linguist. First, for Kafka, writing becomes an impossible activity, an impossible one to avoid, and it is also impossible to write in German. [8] It is impossible for Kafka to write not in German because then he will feel cut off from his German Czech territory. It is impossible for Kafka to write in German because then he will not be speaking to the masses but only the oppressed minority. And it is impossible for Kafka not to write because, as an oppressed person, he must develop a national consciousness by means of literature. Second, everything for a minoritarian linguist is political: "the family triangle connects to other triangles—commercial, economic, bureaucratic, juridical—that determine its values." [9] And third, everything within a minor literature takes on a collective value. Because minor literature comes from a minority, there is not an abundance of voices where each voice can be heard separately. In this case, each voice takes on the voice of the masses. And "because collective or national consciousness is 'often inactive in external life and always in the process of break-down,' literature finds itself positively charged with the role and function of collective, and even revolutionary, enunciation." [10] The minoritarian linguist, then, finds it impossible to speak and not to speak in a major language, is always political, and always speaks collectively. They have the unique position of subverting the major language and culture by using the major language to work for their own purposes. This is a powerful move that avoids the need for translation and the pitfalls that accompany it. The author controls the original language. This admixture of minor culture and major language produces a culturally and literally "hybrid" text.

[4] The idea of hybridity works nicely with the current conversations surrounding the play: there is a focus on geopolitics and history. Spencer argues that translation becomes the point of contact between cultures and serves as a "broader trope for contemporary geopolitical struggles." [11] Judith G. Miller also sees the global scope and conflict of the play. Miller argues that the play gives off feelings of a murky international scene, a global future without a vision and, "an inability to locate and name the 'enemy.'" [12] Framji Minwalla examines the collision of a personal, private history and a sociopolitical, public history. [13] A similar collision can be seen in M. Scott Phillips' argument that the play explores a cultural and political apocalypse as a "binary opposition" is created "between a consumer-driven western imperialism and a misogynistic anti-western theocracy represented by radical Islam." [14] The struggle of binaries can be seen further in Catherine Stevenson's argument that the play constantly deals with the "central dialectical struggle between past and future, stasis and progress . . . [that helps to] dramaticize acts of creative negation." [15] This article fits into the conversation by addressing aspects of geopolitical hybridity through the trope of translation.

Homebody as a Minoritarian Linguist

[5] It needs a bit of explaining as to how Homebody is a minoritarian linguist. After all, Homebody is British and is addressing us in English. Kafka, meanwhile, was Jewish and instead of writing in Czech, the language used where he lived, Kafka wrote in German. Homebody's minoritarian position becomes the most obvious when she begins talking about the guidebook to Afghanistan. For Homebody, her language is that of the "guidebook. Its foxed unfingered pages, forgotten words: 'Quizilbash.'" [16] Homebody is deterritorialized because her words come from another time. And though the place may be the same physical location (England), it is difficult to argue that late 20th century England is the same place as 17th century England, from where words like "gigantine" come. Thus, her native language of forgotten English words is deterritorialized by time and, thus, by place. The language of 17th century England (metaphorically like Kafka's Czech) is subsumed by the dominant language, 20th century English (metaphorically like Kafka's use of German).

[6] She, however, does not address us entirely in her native language of forgotten and made-up English words (like "Quizilbash"). She tries to address us in modern English—creating a story and a minor literature that "doesn't come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language." [17] The resulting language that she creates is a hybrid between forgotten and made-up English words and modern English that is structured around modifiers and modifying clauses. She is "a person who uses words like gigantine," a nearly forgotten and obscure version of gigantic, making her "impossible-to-clearly-comprehend." [18]

[7] Furthermore, her monologues spin to the political, because as Deleuze and Guattari say, "its cramped space forces each individual intrigue to connect immediately to politics." [19] This same word, "Quizilbash," stirs up the feeling of something "So lost; and also so familiar." [20] It is in this gesture of connecting the here and the there—by connecting that which is "lost" to that which is "familiar"—that Homebody asserts individual agency:

The home (She makes the gesture) away from home. Recognizable: not how vast but how crowded the world is, consequences to everything: the Macedonians, marching east, one tribe displacing another... [21]

Homebody's life, even in the comfort of her home, her most natural environment, is thereby connected to the Macedonians. That which is lost, "the home away from home," is still connected to Homebody. And, in fact, as Homebody argues, her actions today can even affect the past, as there are "consequences to everything." [22] This inevitability of the political infused in her language is followed by one collective enunciation after another:

What after all is a child but the history of all that has befallen her, a succession of displacements, bloody, beautiful? How could any mother not love the world? What else is love but recognition? Love's nothing to do with happiness. Power has to do with happiness. Love has only to do with home.

Where stands the homebody, safe in her kitchen, on her culpable shore, suffering uselessly watching others perishing in the sea, wringing her plump little maternal hands, oh, oh. Never joining the drowning. Her feet, neither rooted nor moving. The ocean is deep and cold and erasing. But how dreadful, really unpardonable, to remain dry.

Look at her, look at her, she is so unforgivably dry. Neither here nor there. She does not drown, she... succumbs. To Luxury. She sinks. [23]

Homebody's minoritarian language becomes clear. She has created a hybrid language that is both political and speaks collectively; however, Deleuze and Guattari's analysis of minoritarian linguists and literatures falls short. What I think Tony Kushner seems to address that Deleuze and Guattari do not address in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature is what happens when Kafka, for example, is read in English and not in German, or more specifically, what happens when a minoritarian linguist, such as Homebody, is translated.

[8] In her home in London, when telling the dream-like tale of her affair with the Kabuli hat vendor, Homebody controls her language. She speaks, as she describes it, "Elliptically. Discursively." [24] But once she is in Kabul, where she must rely on translations, her self-acknowledged limited knowledge of Farsi makes lingual control unavoidable. Translation becomes,

The touch which does not understand is the touch which corrupts, the touch which does not understand that which it touches which corrupts that which it touches, and which corrupts itself. [25]

In Kabul, Homebody becomes the child who, through translation, has stepped in front of the gaze of the public window, exposing her dislocations—exposing "the history of all that has befallen her, a succession of displacements, bloody, beautiful." [26]

[9] Homebody is susceptible to these dislocations because, even though she is a minoritarian linguist, she cannot be a powerful minoritarian linguist in Kabul. What, however, is a minoritarian linguist? Minoritarian linguists would answer the following questions "no," only because they have created their own language for themselves:

How many people today live in a language that is not their own? Or no longer, or not yet, even know their own and know poorly the major language that they are forced to serve? [27]

The minor linguists, rather, create their own language by subverting "the major language that they are forced to serve," by subverting it from within.

Becoming "Homebody?"

Cain is the founder of a city as well as a fratricide, the father of the arts as well as the first person to usurp God's power of determining mortality, the first person to usurp the role of the angel of death.

Tragedy is the annihilation from whence new life springs the Nothing out of which Something is born. Devastation can be a necessary prelude to a new kind of beauty. Necessary but always bloody. [28]

[10] Cain serves as a reoccurring symbol of tragedy in Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul. As Kushner wrote in his essay, "An Afterword," found after Homebody/Kabul, Cain represents a paradox of sorts. Even though he is the first murderer, the first destroyer, the arts and all of its creations, sprung up through him. The resting place of Cain, as legend has it, is somewhere in Kabul. The tragedy of Cain, then, comes to symbolize the tragedy of Afghanistan. The tragedy of Cain is the extended metaphor of which meaning is derived in this play. As, ultimately, an extended metaphor, this parable locates its theme in the map of Kabul. Priscilla, having possession of her mother's guidebook tries to find the Grave of Cain. However, her mother wrote a question mark next to Grave of Cain. Khwaja, Priscilla's guide, comments:

Yes. This says, not "Grave of Cain," but rather, "Grave of Cain?" She was pursuing a rumor. On no official map is there ever a question mark. This would be an entirely novel approach to cartography. The implications are profound. To read on a map, instead of "Afghanistan," "Afghanistan?" It would be more accurate, but—." [29]

The question mark is puzzling on a map because a map is supposed to be authoritative. Thus, the question mark denotes uncertainty. The Grave of Cain becomes, not a definite place, but a rough idea. If the grave cannot be located with precision, it may not exist, and therefore the nature of the grave itself is left in doubt. Reading Afghanistan as "Afghanistan?" dislocates the very nature of the country. The country is not a set place, but a rough idea, one without solid definition. So too, then, is Homebody. If Homebody cannot be located with precision, she may no longer exist, and thus Homebody's nature is left in doubt. Homebody is an amalgam of memories, artifacts she left behind, and rumors. She is impossible to locate and thus she must be read with a question mark, for she is a shifting and indefinable idea, just like the Grave of Cain.

[11] Because of Homebody's physical transplantation, the plot hinges on interpretations and translations. Like the many literal translations in the text, Homebody is a body who is first transplanted and then necessarily translated. Besides the translation that was needed due to her journey, we are told by Priscilla that, "She was a mother who demanded interpretation." [30] Indeed, as the plot suggests, the word "Homebody" needs as much interpretation and translation as the story that is being told about Homebody to Priscilla and Milton (through translation). So how exactly does Homebody become "Homebody?"

[12] At a October 24, 2002 lecture on translation, translators, and translating at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst called "The White Company: The Construction of English Ethnicity in the Nineteenth Century," Robert Young carefully pointed out (though he was by no means the first to say it) that the respective Latin and Greek roots of the words translation and metaphor have the same meaning: "to carry or bear across." (The Oxford English Dictionary shows that roots of both words contain the verb "to transfer." Robert Young must have been acting as a bit of a translator himself, for only metaphor has the root meaning "to bear, carry.") But he went further than other scholars by calling metaphor a "creative lie," implying the same for translation.

[13] The key to metaphor, and thus translation, is that they are open signifiers that are socially and historically determined, and they even afford an opening for agency. Of course, I am ignoring the "lie" inherent in these two words. There are countless instances where the lie is intentional (speaking of translations). There are also countless instances where good-faith attempts have been lies. It is these good-faith attempts that are interesting because they adhere to Foucault's famous maxim—everything is not bad, but dangerous—for, "The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue." [31] What can be translatable then becomes a lie.

[14] In London, Homebody is a powerful linguist whose control of her own language firmly helps her establish her own identity. In some way, she performs her identity through language, but her language also performs her identity. She claims to have no control over her speaking, saying that she has read too many books and they are responsible for her manner of speech, however she makes it very clear that, besides one dreamy love affair, only books have broached her, books which she freely read on her own. Since she acknowledges that her speech might be difficult to understand, she is constantly rephrasing her own phrases. She acts as her own translator, translating "for readers who do not understand the original." [32] Thus, she ensures that she is correctly understood, that nobody can read her incorrectly. However, one time she does let something slide without attempting a translation:

There is an old Afghan saying, which, in rough translation from the Farsi, goes: "The man who has patience has roses. The man who has no patience has no trousers." I am not fluent in Farsi, of course, I read this, and as I say it must be a rough translation. [33]

Unlike other times when the reader may question her meaning, she at least acknowledges the question mark by attempting to rephrase a line; here, the question mark remains. Though she may be able to remove, or at least acknowledge, a question mark in her version of English, when she faces a translation, the question mark is not even addressed.

[15] Therefore, in Afghanistan—where 1) it is difficult to tell a translation from a "creative lie," and 2) Homebody is not present—she, her actions and her body are translated (by a number of translators with varying degrees of talent in translating) without the question mark being considered—how else can she be read other than "Homebody?"

[16] Though the United States is never the center of action, or even remotely close to it, Homebody/Kabul is about countries like the United States, countries filled with minoritarian linguists—hybridizers of language. The play, then, is about how bodies who are constantly putting up a fight against Universal Drift are read in translation. It is particularly revealing then that Homebody is not even American. The United States' touch, "the American bombardment of the suspected terrorist training camps in Khost, Afghanistan, August 1998"—"a touch which does not understand"—is translated so poorly that it confuses those being touched to the point where even different nations become indistinguishable. The United States, a country whose potential for being a minoritarian country of language and literature is great, becomes the "United States?": just as Homebody—a minoritarian linguist—is translated to the point where she becomes "Homebody?" "Homebody?" is a wavering idea: one that cannot be pinned down and defined with any certainty.

[17] There is something wholly uncontrollable about the minoritarian linguist and Homebody, and this inevitable mistranslation produces a shifting border that neither Homebody nor anybody else can understand. Therefore, a thick border has enveloped Homebody: this deaf line produces "Homebody?"

Getting Swept Up in the "Universal Drift": Homebody in Kabul

...does that nebula know it nebulates? Most likely not. So my husband. It knows nothing, its nature is to stellate and constellate and nebulate and add its heft and vortices and frequencies to the Universal Drift, un-self-consciously effusing, effusing, gaseously effusing, and so my husband, and so not I, who seem forever to be imploding and collapsing and am incapable it would seem of lending even this simple tale to the Universal Drift, of telling this simple tale without supersaturating my narrative with maddeningly infuriating or more probably irritating synchitic expegeses. Synchitic expegeses. Jesus. [34]

[18] "Universal Drift" works like a dominant language that "un-self-consciously" pulls minor languages into "its heft and vortices." The "drift" implies something almost nonchalant, but powerful. Languages and people in the presence of a dominant language are swept up. This is a universalizing gesture: one that negates difference, thus negating the particulars and peculiarities of individuals and languages. Occasionally there are individuals who, with strong lingual control and play, can avoid being swept up in the Universal Drift of language. Someone or some language that "implodes and collapses" may be resistant to the Universal Drift, but at the price of or because of, a dislocation, which is "always bloody." [35] This is the drive behind the phrase "perform—or else" from Jon McKenzie. [36] Perform cultural lingual norms or be sweep up in a bloody dislocation. "Dislocation" comes from "dislocate" with its root meaning "to put out of place." Homebody is marked by "supersaturating [her] narratives." In a world that does not understand her "synchitic expegeses," Homebody is dislocated to the home. She is put out of place by her language and thus relegated to a space where dangling modifiers and made up words are allowed. She is "redeployed." She is allowed to have her own lingual rules in her house, out of the reach of the public and its Universal Drift of language.

[19] The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "homebody" as "a person, etc., who prefers staying at home to going out or traveling." [37] This is not the type of person who you would expect to say, "Oh I love the world! I love love love love the world!" [38] Thus, we are immediately led to question Homebody's status as a homebody. The home, for a homebody, connotes a retreat from the outside world. The world, for the homebody, is divided, primarily, into a private inside and a public outside. These spheres remain separate by choice. The homebody is one who is not forced into solitude but one who "prefers" it. Thus, there must be something in the outside world that makes the homebody prefer the inside world, or the benefits of the private, inside world must outweigh the benefits of the public, outside world. It comes as no surprise, then, to find the character called "Homebody" situated in the home. What is surprising is her obsession with a land so far away, her obsession with Kabul. The obsession does, as she says, take the form of reading and research, and this type of solitary activity is in line with a homebody. [39] But for a woman who has "never strayed so far from the unlit to the spotlight," Homebody certainly spends a lot of time in both the literal and figurative spotlight. [40]

[20] What becomes troubling for Homebody is that though she is in her house, the very place that she should theoretically "prefer" to be, she clearly fantasizes about being somewhere else—in some other place, in some other time. Homebody says, "The Present is always an awful place to be." [41] Her object of attention, then, becomes both the past and Afghanistan. This past and Afghanistan are dangerous places for her. Homebody understands the safety of her present situation: "Where stands the homebody, safe in her kitchen, on her culpable shore, suffering uselessly, watching others perishing in the sea, wringing her plump little maternal hands, oh, oh. Never joining the drowning." [42] In this "safe" place, she "live[s] with the worlds utter indifference." [43] But she wants this to change. She fantasizes about "joining the drowning." The tale that she tells is when she visited the "holocaustal effacement" of Kabul. [44]

[21] Homebody—the protagonist in Tony Kushner's most recent play, Homebody/Kabul, which is about a woman who goes over to Afghanistan and is reportedly murdered—first performs this implosion and collapse for us in London, not on the streets of war-torn Kabul, but in her "comfortable chair, in [her] pleasant room." [45] Her language is unique: a pastiche of eclectic words. After Act I, Scene I, Homebody, we have discovered, has performed this same implosion and collapse again, but in Kabul—"a gossipy city...full of windows." [46] Away from the safety of her home, and in the city where the Universal Drift is public, open, and transparent like a window, Homebody has intentionally dislocated herself. She left the safety of her own home and went to Kabul. Upon travelling to Kabul, she let her body be mangled in such a way that Kabul "ripped her open" to reveal "her fucking secrets." [47] This is the "or else" of not "performing" normalcy. Her dislocations are revealed in the gaze of the public:

In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so to-be-looked-at-ness. [48]

In front of the "windows" of Kabul, Homebody is framed. She has allowed herself to take on the passive female role without agency. In Kabul, a male-dominated society, she gave up her one powerful tool: her language. Her language made her a powerful linguist in London. But here in Kabul, she is ripped open by others because she is not fluent in Farsi. She could not control the image behind the window. She lacked agency because she could not speak. She was silenced, and therefore, could only take on an exhibitionist role. Her body, thus, becomes no more than a text to be read by a male doctor in dire need, himself, of a translation:

The conoid tubercle of the left clavicle was found to have been traumatically separated from the conacoid process of the left scapula following severe damage to the conoid ligament . . . After dislocation of the humerus form the glenohumeral joint, there was separation and consequent calamitous exsanguination from the humeral stump. [49]

The detailed analysis of what happened to Homebody is "traumatically separated" from meaning because of the doctor's reliance on a language that is understood by only a select few. Though the doctor is speaking in English, the language is a hybrid language of modern English and scientific, anatomical terms, unknown to the vast majority of English speakers. Like the Esperanto that appears throughout Kushner's play, these anatomical terms are meant to serve as universal referents. What the Esperanto poet recognizes, and that the doctor does not, is that these referents are not universally understood. In the same way, Homebody is just as "traumatically separated" from the Afghani population as is the doctor speaking to Homebody's husband and daughter in English. Because she is not fluent in Farsi, as she admits early on in the play, she has no way to control the image behind the window. Her performance is a series of powerless speech acts. She is left exposed to the translation of others. Those in the world of windows read her and not the other way around. Whatever has really happened to her does not matter, but the "Homebody" that is created through language in London is out of her grasp in Kabul. That Homebody has a question mark on her. We must read Homebody like the map of Afghanistan is read in the play: "Afghanistan?" and "Homebody?" This paper and the play are about how bodies who are constantly putting up a fight against Universal Drift—or how minor/minoritarian linguists—are read in translation and how the result is "a succession of displacements, bloody, beautiful." In translation, minor linguists suffer the consequences of not performing. They suffer the "or else" of the mantra "perform—or else."

Performing Islam

I am reading the Quran again. For all those terrible years, I was too angry. I am myself becoming Muslim again. [50]

[22] Una Chaudhuri and Elinor Fuchs recently edited a book entitled Land/Scape/Theater. This collection of essays imagines the landscape as a new spatial paradigm for the theater. Inherent in the idea of landscape is the idea of representing space and place. Landscape is a useful concept over "space" and "place" because landscape "is inside space, one might say, but contains place." [51] In her chapter, "Land/Scape/Theory," Chaudhuri explains how invoking the landscape helped bolster nationalist ideologies:

...landscape was pressed into service of nationalist ideology by giving 'face' to the nation, a face sufficiently distinguishable from those of other nations and sufficiently simplified so as to be easily recognizable and 'quotable' as needed. [52]

We have already seen how the Grave of Cain brought confusion to Kabul's landscape. Kushner clearly plays off the above idea by ironically giving "face" to the opening scene in Act Two. Kushner creates a landscape that says that the scene can only take place in Taliban-run Kabul, but at the same time, it is 'sufficiently indistinguishable from other nations.' Kabul and Afghanistan become as indistinguishable as the United States and England:

On a street in Kabul.

Priscilla is in her burqa, trying to read the guidebook's small map through the burqa's grille, holding it close, changing angles so as to find the strongest light.

A group or women pass by, all shrouded head to toe in burqas, whispering. [53]

Giving "face" to the nation and to Islam in the presence of the oppressive Taliban regime becomes the shrouding of it for Kushner. In the Kabuli landscape, Priscilla is trying to read a landscape (the map). But even the authoritative map cannot be translated in this city. It is difficult to read the map, for Priscilla is trying "to find the strongest light." The burqa is literally shrouding the landscape. Under Taliban rules, Islam is conflated with confusion and shrouded landscapes:

...can you tell me where the Ladies Hospital is. Or the Red Crescent offices, or the U.N. compound, it's all turned around somehow. [54]

Under the shroud of the Taliban, the geography of Kabul is unreadable and "all turned "Even space becomes difficult to navigate in that society.

[23] It is only when the shroud is removed, in this play, that language can again resurface and work to form a strong identity. It is only after Mahala removed her burqa that she was able to become Muslim:

...In the same room as Act One. Mahala is dressed like a modern English woman.  She looks very different. She has been reading. [55]

Identity is wrapped up in language. It is only by reading that Mahala can assume her Muslim identity. She says, "The Book is so beautiful, even in English. In Arabic its beauty is inexpressible." [56] As Mahala says herself, her English has improved since she returned to London with Milton. [57] And now in Homebody's house, Mahala has "examined [Homebody's] library. Such strange books. I spend many hours." [58] The play has come full circle at this point. Homebody, the minoritarian linguist, began the play, and now Mahala, the minoritarian linguist (a native Farsi speaker who speaks in a language not her own, English), concludes the play. Mahala has been able to "[plant] all [her] dead" only in a place where she can read and "subvert the language from within." [59] Just as Homebody could only assume her identity by playing with language, Mahala can only assume her identity by playing the powerful minoritarian linguist after, or because of, a dislocation. Homebody dislocated from London to Kabul; Mahala dislocated from Kabul to London.

The Dislocation of Culture

[24] Dislocations also have lasting effects because, unlike a break, where something is severed, the dislocation can many times continue functioning as it once had (only that some movements are more awkward or painful than others); for example, when a colonial power rules a colonized land, or even when the United States sets up puppet governments in the Middle East, the natives are merely being ruled in a manner which addresses their needs no better than the inefficient or corrupt rulers before the colonizers. Thus, in most cases, a colonial power's rule constitutes a dislocation rather than a break.

[25] And so "Homebody?" becomes the dislocation that pains the elbow, that houses the Afghani humerus and the Western ulna. "Homebody?" becomes the point of pain and misunderstanding. "Homebody?" does not break relations between the Afghanis and their Western counterparts, but their relationship continues, strained, more mangled than ever. "Homebody?'s" dislocation, however, produces a new life for Mahala, from whose hybrid identity springs a bastion of hope in a play of pain. The extended metaphor of a dislocation where two cultures have to live side by side with uneasiness works within the larger parable of translation. Two languages coexist and neither can truly find home within the other, but through translation, something new, a hybrid creation, can be born which is decidedly not the original, but says something about both languages, and ultimately, both cultures.


[1] Tony Kushner, Homebody/Kabul (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2002), 5.

[2] Ibid., 69.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 131.

[5] In "Performing Translation in Kushner's Homebody/Kabul," presented at the University of Massachusetts, April 2004, Jenny S. Spencer noted the absolute centrality of translation to any understanding of Kushner's play. See also Jenny Spencer, "Performing Translation in Contemporary Anglo-American Drama," Theatre Journal 59 (2007): 389-410.

[6] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 11.

[7] Ibid., 16.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 17.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Spencer, "Performing Translation," 393.

[12] Judith G. Miller, "New Forms for New Conflicts: Thinking about Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul and the Théatre du Soleil's Le Dernier Caravansérail," Contemporary Theatre Review 16.2 (2006): 212.

[13] See Framji Minwalla, "Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul: Staging History in a Post-Colonial World," Theater 33.1 (Winter 2003): 29-43.

[14] M. Scott Phillips, "The Failure of History: Kushner's Homebody/Kabul and the Apocalyptic Context," Modern Drama 47.1 (Spring 2004): 1.

[15] Catherine Stevenson, "'Seek for Something New': Mothers, Change, and Creativity in Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Homebody/Kabul, and Caroline, or Change," Modern Drama 48.4 (Winter 2005): 758.

[16] Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, 27.

[17] Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, 16.

[18] Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, 27.

[19] Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, 17.

[20] Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, 27.

[21] Ibid., 27.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 28.

[24] Ibid., 12.

[25] Ibid., 28.

[26] Ibid., 27.

[27] Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, 19.

[28] Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, 150.

[29] Ibid., 63.

[30] Ibid., 115.

[31] Walter Benjamin, "The Task of the Translator," in The Translation Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2000), 22.

[32] Ibid., 15.

[33] Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, 13.

[34] Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, 14.

[35] Ibid., 18.

[36] The concept of "perform--or else" is explored in great detail: John McKenzie, Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance (New York: Routledge, 2001).

[37] All dictionary definitions herein are taken from Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989.

[38] Ibid., 12.

[39] Ibid., 9.

[40] Ibid., 12.

[41] Ibid., 11.

[42] Ibid., 27-8.

[43] Ibid., 12.

[44] Ibid., 25.

[45] Ibid., 9.

[46] Ibid., 51.

[47] Ibid., 49.

[48] Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan Literary Theory: An Anthology (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1999) 589.

[49] Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, 31.

[50] Ibid, 134.

[51] Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri, eds. Land/Scape/Theater (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2002), 3.

[52] Ibid., 23-4.

[53] Kushner, Homebody/Kabul, 45.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 136.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., 136.

[58] Ibid., 139.

[59] Ibid., 139.