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I came across this sentence:

Even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan morph into shapeless struggles, they have given birth to an extraordinary outpouring of writing that tries to make sense of it all.

I looked "even as" in the dictionary and found out that it is used to express time, manner or that the clause is concessive. However, I am not sure which one (if any) it is, as none seems quite right in this case (the tenses confuse me the most).

Could anyone please explain it to me?

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    Even as shows a contrast: Even as this is true, that is also true. You could say the struggles and writing are happening suprisingly at the same time. Oct 26, 2021 at 17:10
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    What @YosefBaskin said. More specifically, a contrast is being drawn between the fact that in the real world, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming more and more "shapeless" (incoherent and meaningless, as more disparate adversaries get sucked in, fighting for a bewildering variety of causes and paymasters), while in the "world" of writers, they keep publishing more and more books claiming to "make sense" of what's going on. Note that sometimes even as simply means at the same time - not necessarily implying any kind of "incompatibility / contrast", as applies here. Oct 26, 2021 at 17:28

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The relationship between the two clauses is one of contrast between negative and positive.

It is saying that the clause following the 'even as' phrase:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan morph into shapeless struggle

is a negative outcome, but that there is a positive outcome that is happening simultaneous with that negative outcome.

The positive outcome is the rest of that sentence:

they (the wars) have given birth to an extraordinary outpouring of writing that tries to make sense of it all.

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Even as is not a constituent in this sentence, except as one might consider it an idiomatic fixed phrase functioning as a subordinator. But even as isn't idiomatic; its meaning is completely compositional, given the meanings of even and as. Nor is it a fixed phrase, since the even is optional and can precede any temporal expression

  • Even as/when/before/after/a decade after the wars ...

The original example

  • Even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan morph into shapeless struggles

is a subordinate tensed adverbial clause, introduced by as, short for (and meaning) at the same time as.

  • (at the same time) as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan morph into shapeless struggles

Preceding this clause, which is fronted to the start of the sentence, is the concessive quantifier even. Even as isn't a unit, any more than big Victorian is a unit in big Victorian houses.

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Even as means at the same time as or, sometimes, surprisingly at the same time as:

even as idiom

: at the same time as
// They are finishing the job even as we speak.

Source: Merriam-Webster

And:

even, adv. and prep.

II. 5. b. (a) With reference to time; often followed by as, while. See also even now at Phrases 2.
Later use with as and while often has the effect of indicating that two seemingly contradictory events or circumstances are unexpectedly concurrent. Cf. sense A. 8.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

So:

At the same time as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan morph into shapeless struggles, the wars have given birth to an extraordinary outpouring of writing that tries to make sense of it all.

Sometimes contradiction is suggested (per the OED’s later-use sense), as in your example, but not always.

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  • Why this sense and not the contrastive one? I get the impression it's a 'splurged' usage here, intended to carry both the temporal and the contrastive/concessive senses, but being rather clumsy (the clash of present simple and present perfect). Oct 26, 2021 at 18:36
  • @EdwinAshworth: I added a definition from the OED that shows the contrastive sense. Whether contrastive or not, it still means concurrent. I agree that the tenses in the OP’s example sentence seem off. Oct 26, 2021 at 18:45
  • Here, but not always. 'Even as Newton laid down the principles of classical mechanics, Einstein ushered in the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics.' Oct 26, 2021 at 19:08
  • @EdwinAshworth: For what it’s worth, the OED calls that sense somewhat arcahic: II. 5. Exactly, precisely, just. In later use generally somewhat archaic. Oct 26, 2021 at 20:29
  • Somewhat archaic. Not as bad as 'fairly obsolete', I suppose. Oct 27, 2021 at 16:49

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