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[cyberscribes] WOID #V-41. The Ballot [IV]: Bamiyan
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- Subject: [cyberscribes] WOID #V-41. The Ballot [IV]: Bamiyan
- From: Paul T Werner <paul.werner@NYU.EDU>
- Date: Sun, 4 Mar 2001 21:47:26 -0500
- Message-Id: <200103111248.EAA15296@palimpsest.Stanford.EDU>
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A reader has asked me to talk about the destruction of the great
Buddhas of Bamiyan. Which is like asking why I haven't talked about it.
These are enormous statues, carved in the rock some ninety miles
outside Kabul. As we talk they are methodically being destroyed by
orders of the Taliban government of Afghanistan.
Why should I care? In the fourth century of our era Bamiyan was at the
end of several major trade routes. The region was widely receptive to
Roman art, Sasanian (Middle Eastern) art, the art of the local
Gandharan rulers. Pilgrims and merchants on their way to China passed
the massive statues, up to 175 feet high. The model for the Chinese
Buddha comes directly out of Bamiyan, often through small copies that
pilgrims carried with them: the haloed body, the haloed head,
especially the "string drapery" which, in the original, was created
from strips of wood inserted into the Buddha's stone body. I haven't
seen these statues - the textbooks call them "extraordinary," "superb,"
and "of inestimable importance." One of the heads was surrounded by
frescoes. There are other, similar works in Bamiyan, which no doubt
will be destroyed as well.
And how should I care? Dostoyevski says that the greatest masterpiece
ever produced cannot be worth the tears of a single child. How should I
care, then, in a way that neither belittles the child nor the art? A
quondam friend of mine has bragged of the book he produced to protest
the edict against Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses:"
"I [...] went to the Brooklyn Museum and studied their 15th and 16th
century Koran bindings, [...] and saw that they were entirely covered
in pattern, filled in to the point where there was no room for any more
filling. I realized that this paralleled the fundamentalist state of
mind behind the Jihad, as all the spiritual, temporal, and
methodological spaces had been filled in, leaving no room for new
This is odd: are we to understand that Celtic art, which also uses
tightly organized space, is an art of terrorism? That all of the Qu'ran
is terrorism? That fifteenth-century Islamic binders, whether from
Herat, Cairo or Baghdad, were terrorists? There are no children, only a
single child, and each child is unique in her suffering, as each one
who inflicts suffering is unique, and inflicts suffering in a unique
way. After the first death, there is another.
I refuse to protest the destruction at Bamiyan "in the name of Art." I
refuse to mourn. I can only protest the destruction at Bamiyan by means
all of the knowledge at my command. When memory is our only weapon we
keep it sharp.
Paul T Werner, New York
WOID: A journal of visual language
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