Autobiographical International Relations began for me as, what Rumi might call, a falling without wings. Following the 2001 US bombing campaign against Afghanistan, people in my hometown of Ithaca started searching for experts on Afghanistan. They had suddenly acquired a thirst for information on the Afghan people and their landscape. Bombing begets pedagogy, we might say. I found myself naively stepping into this lack, first, by filling the role of “expert.” I accepted nearly two-dozen speaking engagements in October and November of 2001. I also then wrote my first autobiographical essay (Inayatullah 2003a). Despite voraciously reading on Afghanistan, and despite the absence of any Afghanistan specialists in a town that contains three institutions of higher learning, I could not convince myself of my specialist status. But I did find claims to authorize my speaking voice: Louis Dupree and Nancy Hatch Dupree, two of the world’s most knowledgeable people on Afghanistan, were my teachers; I was raised in the city of Peshawar; and I had twice visited Afghanistan in 1972 and 1973. Close enough, no? Even prior to the bombing, I had been edging towards the cliff of auto-

biography – having been enticed there by the confessional political writing of Minnie Bruce Pratt, moved there by the graceful historical fiction of Sorayya Khan, and gently pushed there by my colleague Zillah Eisenstein who urged that I take some risks with my writing persona. But it was the bombing itself that triggered my jump and my fall. In my essay, I hoped to convey a simple idea, that there is something there: something real and intangible that the soon to be saturated media coverage would not provide. Afghanistan was not for me an abstract bombing zone. Its astounding mountains and rivers and its magnificent people were materializations of a profoundly important history and spirit. In my not altogether un-romantic view, Afghans had a quality I had not seen elsewhere, a quality without which I felt the world could not

thrive, and a quality that I badly needed but which, I sensed, had eluded me my whole life. I began to call this quality warm indifference, a way of life that seems unconcerned about the West, modernity, and capitalism but nevertheless sustains a sense of hospitality to external values. Prior to writing the essay, I had not sensed my need for Afghanistan. What I had earlier was anger and rage at those perpetrating the bombing. As I formulated the essay, I felt the need to make myself the target of my

words. I wanted to show rather than tell, I wanted to exhibit a process of discovery, rather than steer towards a conclusion. In an elliptical and roundabout fashion, I illustrated how I diminished Afghan culture by placing it lower on the developmental scale, how my prejudice came to be challenged, and how this challenge forced a re-assessment, not just of my view of Afghanistan, but of my life altogether. My fervent need to convey something about Afghanistan forced me beyond my professional training towards what I hoped would be a more persuasive form of communication. In 2002, my friend and colleague Meili Steele helped me craft the essay and

then gave me ample time to present it at the fourth annual conference on the “The Future of Cultural Memory.” I was surprised by the positive response I received from the audience. One colleague said, “I don’t know what else you work on but you must continue this work.” Initially, I was puzzled, annoyed, and angered by these reactions. I was puzzled by my inability to grasp what made autobiography so engaging, and I was annoyed at my suspicion that some form of orientalist exoticism was at work in my audience. (A noted scholar on autobiography commented, “Your life is so interesting.” Aren’t all lives interesting? I asked myself.)2 And, I was slightly angered that after working on classical political economy and international relations theory for decades, it was my life and not my work that garnered attention. These irritations remain with me. The circulation of my Afghanistan essay led to requests for more such

writing – by Christine Sylvester and by Stephan Senders.3 Having stepped off the cliff, and still falling, I seemed to have been lifted and given flight by unexpected sources. As I continued to harbor my suspicions, I also wondered if this form might not enable something. But I am getting ahead of myself because, as is always the case, my tale is thoroughly embedded within a collective story. Cut to the lobby of a Montreal hotel during the 2004 International Studies

Association conference: four or five of us converse intensely – off-panel, of course. As the conversation about our lives, journeys, and ideas spirals and then rockets, we note what is obvious to any conference participant: off-panel conversations are fascinating and enthralling whereas the formal presentations too often are not. We all seem struck that the life trajectories of our coconversationalists are far more remarkable and more complex than what our theories can permit or carry. We wonder how we can exploit these contrasts between on-and off-panels sites and between on-and off-theory talking. We start planning.