Will

It is clear at this point that, no matter how hard I work for the rest of my life, I will not succeed in bringing to fruition the majority of writing projects that I already have, and that I will not be able to oversee them being published.

I am composing this list for my family and friends to know what to publish after I am dead. I would like to have my writings see the light. I will add things here as time passes.

I hope my husband and especially my son will make sure that these writings are being out in the world. If that is not possible to publish them on paper, they must at least be uploaded in the electronic form; that is at any rate possible.

I would expect the author’s marginalia to be deleted from the text, the manuscript copyread. Please work with the last versions; they are all dated (with negligible exceptions), some have numbers after the name of the title, use the file with the biggest number.

 

  • Debris of Utopia: Soviet Childhood and the Ruins of the Future
  • Pale Automaton (book of poems)
  • Compendium of Fieldnotes
  • On Methods in Sociocultural Anthropology: Production of Ethnography Through Observation, Recollection, and, Occasionally, Forgetting
  • Meanderings (particularly the third part, Texas Landscape; TL can also go as a separate text)
  • Handwriting project (with photos)–just type the handwritten text and let C.C. write the preface
  • Siberian Photo Diary
    Things below are in the folder MainProjects:
  • hologram and flamingo superimposed
  • Introduction to (delete the list of names at the beginning)
  • Notes 2018
  • Selfie
  • Soft Sheen
  • The Book of Lovers
  • Letters from the Depths of Solitude (including Alfonsina, Countess of Dolyna, and Monstrous Abbess–these are all in one file)
  • Sybil’s Book
  • System of Mirrors
  • Writing (text titled “Writing” in the folder “Writing”)
  • Episodes
  • The King of Autumn
  • Cities of the Future: Infrastructure of Nostalgia and Hope in Post-Industrial Eastern Siberia (I am actively working on this one right now and I certainly hope to make it work, but if I die tomorrow, it can be made into a PDF and uploaded anyway, this one with marginalia because such marginalia can help my fellow travelers).
  • Poems (let’s make sure that they are not only on Tumblr because platforms die)
  • One girl (https://twitter.com/onegirrrl)
    These are out there, but if the platforms that host them collapse, I would like them to still be accessible:
  • Anthro Notes
  • The Vicissitudes of Using English for the Purposes of Academic and Creative Writing in the Experience of a Non-Native Speaker: Convoluted Travelogue (Plus, Writer’s Change of Language: Nabokov and others–these can go together)
  • Lectures on Expressive Culture
  • Futures and Ruins: Eschatology of Devastation and Hope: Ethnography of the Duke University Workshop
  • You can also publish shorter bits and pieces, as well as poems, as you please, except for the ones that I sealed for the next 100 years; please respect my wish and do not look into folders I marked such.

    Please maintain my website or make sure that the texts available there are available somewhere else (http://www.vasilinaorlova.com/publications.html). I don’t mind all the works above being published on my website as well. If the “website builder” collapses, redesign.

 

In Russian

  • ПЯТЬ ЛЕТ XXI ВЕКА: Дневники на компьютере (дневники), другие дневники 2004-2008.
  • Мальгратский дневник (отсканировать).
  • Блог blog 2007-2010_on_vassilina_cih_ru (на полетевшей платформе, я скопировала всё, но там много текстов ошибок).
  • “Техасский дневник” и вообще всё в блоге после Лондона, после записи 28 авг. 2011 (см. “Лондонский дневник”, Издательский дом “Выбор Сенчина”, 2017. (http://vassilina.cih.ru/blog/)). (Файл Texasskiy_dnevnik в папке Newest_Russian_prose)
  • “Севочка” (в папке Seva, файл Sevochka02)
  • Стихи на русском языке (https://t.me/vasssilina и в фейсбуке – “Императрицын цыкл”, цикл про Франциска Сан-Францисского и т.д.)
  • “Одна девочка” (https://t.me/onegirrl)
  • “Сны о России”
  • “Какаду”, “Золотое зеркало”

 

Тексты ряда опубликованных повестей в папке vse-teksty-vyverennie (кажется, я все повести потом всё равно правила в других местах, но, по крайней мере, многие из них есть в этой папке, если вдруг надо для переизданий).

~

I am pleased to announce that I am all set and now ready to die any moment nonchalant.

The last edition 6/21/2019

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Anthro Notes

I kept these notes Spring semester of 2019–the semester I also taught Expressive Culture at the University of Texas-Austin, which was a profound and exciting experience for me. I decided to put them all together in one blogpost with the idea that perhaps later I will have some time for some of these embryos of texts.

 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Anthro Notes

Whenever the conversation is about these overlappings of post-ness(es), it’s someone else, not us, who are postcolonial or post-Soviet, is it not so? Such was my impression. We, on the other hand, are all neo: neoliberal. Stoler warns about excessive stress on the “post” in postcolonial. Siberia is an agglomeration of overlapping territorialities from tsarist / colonial, Soviet / Post-Soviet, with a thin but noticeable layer of the vaguely-Western vogues and mores.

 

 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Anthro Notes

I had one of the most surreal experiences sitting, back to Texas, with my laptop with notes and fragmented descriptions of my Siberian travels. At my desk at a grad office, when no one was there. I could barely remember where I was myself. Being-in-the-place felt like a difficult action to perform.

 

 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Anthro Notes

Humans are beautiful animals.

And if they wore short fur all over their faces, they’d be even more beautiful.

 

 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Anthro Notes

Last time we discussed humans’ dependency on social media and technology, there was a bit of info (in one of the videos I included) that human beings tend to interrupt themselves once they are interrupted. And according to some cognitive psychologists, it takes us on average 20 min to return to the concentration we maintained before being interrupted. Needless to say, the contemporary world is all about interruptions. The consistent concentration is a distant dream.

But I am thinking now what if the chain of these interruptions are simply a concentration of some sort. What if this condition of living is something we’ve been initiated into by “our” technology (that we didn’t invent and have no control over), and therefore requires adjustment–not the idea that somehow this technological turn could be undone and we can be back to long stretches of hours of uninterrupted reading (that I only remember by my childhood because it’s no longer a feasible option to read like that).

 

 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Anthro Notes: Attention Economy

The anecdote encompasses paradoxes of the developed Socialism: there is no unemployment, but no one works; no one works, but everyone fulfills the plan; everyone fulfills the plan, but there is nothing in stores; there is nothing in stores, but everyone has everything.

Similarly, one could talk about the grand paradox of attention economy: attention is a scarce resource, but everyone gets plenty.

 

 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

When I met a Siberian recluse, I wrote (it’s now in my diss in a reworked form):

The human being who consumes solitude so avidly, devours it in such quantities, what kind of human being are they? What is there to know about the human being who decides to hide from the society of others?

Are they at all knowable, if knowledge presupposes the knowing subject as well as the object of knowledge?

I have a suspicion, a thought, that the human being in solitude is completely unknown. Not only the fantastical creatures of one’s mind appear to one’s eyes, ears, and for one’s consideration. But the essence of the human could be any: everything and anything imaginable and beyond.

As Foucault insists, anthropology emerged not sooner than the “man” emerged as the object of science, which in turn happened not sooner than life, language, and labor emerged as such objects simultaneously. (Foucault, The Order of Things, 1970, 340, 344).

And the beginning of the man’s existence as such object is Decartean cogito ergo sum, which both Foucault (Ibid, 324-325) and Derrida (___) criticize as naive ascribing of the self-sameness of the fact of thought and the thinking subject constituted by means and in the act of thought, whereas the thinking in itself does not consitute the sovereignty of being but merely registers its own existence as a process.

 

 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Anthro Notes

I recently noticed, to my dismay, that I can’t help but analyze the structure of scholarly works where previously I’d just enjoy the read. “This opening is ethnographic vignette, then the author sets the problem, here she’s explaining why it’s relevant, that’s a nod to the urgency, here she’s bringing numbers, here she’s giving the second ethnographic example.” Can’t I just enjoy the ride? Apparently, not anymore. The enjoyment is irreversibly marred by the too-explicit understanding of how the thing is constructed.

 

 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Anthro Notes: Four Fields

One physical anthropologist insulted socio-cultural anthropologists by complimenting them that if they tried they could become psychical anthropologists as well.

And then one socio-cultural anthropologist insulted archeologists by pretending to compliment them suggesting that they could become socio-cultural anthropologists.

But no one insulted linguists. Although, we should add, no one complimented or pretended to compliment linguists either. Most of the time no one spoke to linguists while they were documenting the aforementioned interactions.

 

 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Anthro Notes: Artificial Emotional Intelligence

I am thinking about the concept of emotional intelligence in connection to “artificial intelligence.” It seems to me that the concept of emotional intelligence did not enjoy a heavy rotation as it does today when the conversation of AI began (Turing, Searle).

And if it did, the AI could’ve been imagined differently from the beginning. Now today AI—beginning with artificial life like Tamagotchi—performs a creature-like vulnerability just fine. But if we saw emotions as part of our intelligence, the whole discourse would be reconfigured.

 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Anthro Notes: Turing test

Turing test (1950) is completely predicated on the idea that it is possible, for a human being, to distinguish between the man and the woman based on the content of their answers without seeing or hearing them. Then in Turing’s thought experiment, the computer replaces the man, and the man replaces the woman, and the interrogator is continuing asking them questions.

Some machines as of now already pass or would pass Turing rest, but then some humans no doubt wouldn’t.

If Turing test was permanent and required humanlike presence at every second to produce humanlike reaction, we would all fail it.

 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Anthro Notes: Theory and Praxis

It is not easy to make ethnography and theory work together. it’s a dance, a continuous back-and-forth. Just when theory is at place, ethnography breaks it. When ethnography is there, the theory that spawned it into existence in the first place no longer works and needs to be reimagined. And also requires new ethnography. When the new ethnography comes, again it sheds theory like a skin glove that no longer fits the living organism.

 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Anthro Notes

Dominique was the first, I believe, who turned my attention to Halcyon. He included it in his writing. Even as I had visited the place before he read his fragment at a seminar (the writing was about meeting a stranger, something how he stumbled upon his community of study), and even as I mentioned a handful of different cafes in my own writings by that point, I was surprised at the thought that it is possible to include this place. Halcyon, like Spider House, is intentionally, Austin-like, erratically furnished (maybe here it wasn’t an intent).

There’s something special about its atmosphere. Its patrons will probably agree.

…But this is not about Halcyon so much as it is about the miraculous ways anthropologists stumble upon the subject of their strange research.

 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Anthro Notes / Locus of Writing

Everything is about the locus of writing. The locus that does not belong to you – any “you” that you previously knew. That’s why people struggle so much with finding the right first line.

My father once told me a story. When he was a boy, he watched a movie with Vysotsky’s songs. The boy came home and had this feeling of a poet “if not for me, no one will ever know.” The thought was all the more strange since all these songs were already written, arranged, played, copied, listened to, promoted all over the Soviet Union (which was something!). These songs had reached the remotest corners of the empire, even the village where he actually had just heard them. The feeling was just like it is with any new emotion that a poor poet tries to convey even when they know perfectly well it that it has been felt and expressed for years and perhaps even centuries by everyone whose laziness was exceeded by the urge, the itch, to write.

Trying to recollect these songs, the boy climbed on a chair and stood, close to a dim lamp, and then was back to the table with an open school blank notebook. He repeated this maneuver over and over again, until he had all the songs written down.

The locus of writing is not that type of locus, not geographical or space-related one, obviously, but I still think that story has something to do with the locus of writing.

 

 

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Anthro Notes: Podmoskovie

Out of many places, I miss Podmoskovie the most, at least on some days. Towns near Moscow living off of Moscow. To be sure, a difficult life to live (long commute for many). Those towns are different. Quiet, industrial, ancient, recent, once-scientific centers, spiritual places.

If only I had more time travel, live, write about them. I used to spend in those towns my every free weekend—with friends, family, and alone, on “writing retreats” I gave myself. Oh, now I’d write a splendid travelogue—but I have my Siberian project demanding time and energy.

 

 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Anthro Notes: To the Time Lost as a Woman

If all the time in a life of a woman that she’s selecting jewelry matching her attire and spent in cosmetics stores picking just the right shade of the lipstick was miraculously returned to her at the end of the year, like tax return…
How many hours do you spend in a woman’s body learning about body types, flattering colors, and alike nonsense, instead of learning about something else?

Colors are great… I’d rather learn about them less as a consumer of colors and more as a connoisseur of colors. Color learning as a woman is ultimately geared towards making oneself prettier as a woman and packaging oneself for the Great Customer, a man, not to any other end.

It starts early. In my Soviet elementary school, we were given presents for the 8th of March which at that late point was not as much the International Women’s Day as The Day of Spring and Our Dear Women. The book had a section on styles (I remember military) and colors.

I remember I was shocked and offended at how blatantly gendered it was, the rules of what a girl should and shouldn’t do, even considering that I was taught gendered rules from the early childhood. Girls were that, but boys were this. And even so, the book was blatant above all.

But then of course there were websites and websites of this, magazines, and TV shows. So much wasted time, thought, and energy at watching, selecting, buying, applying, choosing every day, having second thoughts, changing, looking in the mirror, asking others if that suits me.

And I prided myself as a girl altogether ungirly until my late teens. I was never “into it” to begin with, but gradually I was also initiated into everything there is. I know every context. Not only do I know my colors, but I know people’s colors probably better than most of them.

Am I a fashion designer or a beauty specialist? Nope. Do I need to know any of these? Nope. Was I specifically interested in learning any of this stuff? Nope.

 

 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Anthro Notes: The USA Anthropological Tradition of Despising Quotes from Continental Philosophers and Thinking Them a Sign of Pretend Moral Superiority and What Not

American anthropologists hate it, HATE when the new writers quote so-called “Continental philosophers.” This anthropological scorn is a tradition; it runs from Renato Rosaldo to our days.
The quoting is happening and even considered to be chic, but it is only allowed starting from a certain point in one’s career. I can illustrate my every statement here with quotes and quotes, but you’ll have to wait until I’m older. 😉

In “Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage,” Rosaldo makes a passing deprecating comment of “trendy amalgams of continental philosophy” denouncing the autobiographical snippets in anthropology before embracing his own foray into autobiography.

Recently, I read the article “Tell the Story” about how to write for American Ethnologist, one of the flagman journals in anthropology, and the authors said: “Much of this obfuscation (of the overwrought prose—V.O.) comes in the form of quotations, usually from Continental philosophers and their contemporary interpreters, whether or not their ideas are relevant to the argument.” (2018, 166). While you can’t argue with that, because obviously, the quoted ideas should be relevant to the argument, I couldn’t help thinking of Rosaldo’s “trendy amalgams.”

 

 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Anthro Notes: Travels

I miss Moscow in Austin and Irkutsk, I miss Irkutsk and Moscow in Austin, and I miss Austin and Irkutsk in Moscow. Balance. I miss the village of Dudarkov and the village of Anosovo everywhere, sometimes in Anosovo. I miss Kiev too. I miss Vladivostok, and I miss Dunay.

I miss London, Venice, and New York. I miss San Fransisco and Saint Petersburg. I miss Sergiyev Possad. I miss Candelaria that is in Tenerife. I miss Rome. I do not miss Madrid though. I do not miss Barcelona nor Helsinki.

I’m not a fan of traveling. Practically everywhere I traveled, I had to rather than wanted to. When I was younger, i enjoyed it more; that’s where my tourist explorations happened, but it’s been many years that I’ve been traveling only for fieldwork and conferences.

I’d like to live my life in one middle-sized place and often wonder what that’d be like, but this was not to be. Oh, but I miss Malgrat de Mar.

 

 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Anthro Notes: Generational

Gen X must be one of those rare generations that somehow completely missed the moment when they (we) were no longer young. It happened overnight. A joystick switched. Or maybe “we” (it’s also a generation that hates us-ness of all kinds) were already born boring adults? Perhaps.

At least, it’s painful to me to see Millennials still thinking that they’re young, with every self-infantilization and entitlement that it entails, whereas the Gen Z are far from still sucking toes in baby chairs. They’re actually in college. Short is the time of the man on earth.

 

 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Anthro Notes: Black Hole

Black hole took a selfie.

It carried its invisible hand to its absent face and photographed it.

Humanity is the black hole and the black hole is humanity.

 

 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Anthro Notes: Laughter

I have neighbors who, I suspect, are students, and every Friday, and sometimes on weekends, there are parties at their place, and what astonishes me is that there is always laughter. I forgot when was the time and where I heard so much laughter.

Probably when I was 16 and had parties in Moscow, but they, too, were tragic, everyone read poetry and thought of suicide. And these guys are not 16. Another land.

 

 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Anthro Notes: April

Beautiful springtime in Texas. Heaps of flowers everywhere. A bit too hot for my tastes. Memories of the cold Moscow April, all that.

 

 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Anthro Notes: Britney Spears

Idk about your taxonomies, but on the working outskirts of Moscow, in the nightmarish neighborhoods consisting of multistory buildings of the late 1990s, Britney Spears was the sexiest little thing on the planet.

There’s something depressing in the endlessness of the supply of young, aggressively energetic bodies that is humanity in general and mass media in particular.

She endeared herself to me, like to many others, because she had that legendary “mental breakdown” (a manic episode of the bipolar disorder, no doubt–no harm in me speculating about it; I know and wish to know nothing about it, I am fully guided by rumors and my own preconceived notions here).

When the world was at her feet, she went on to having that breakdown–isn’t this cool? There was something so real about it. It placed her immediately in a different category of singers, that later was to include Amy Winehouse.

Rewatching her videos now because she trended on Twitter recently, since she checked herself in a mental hospital again, I could not help but think that there is a place in the Western pantheon of goddesses: golden hair, big eyes (Britney was special because her eyes were brown, not blue), Barbie-like childish face and fully developed feminine figure: a lot of successful climbers of the Olympus were undoubtedly indebted of their triumphs to their agreeable exterior.

The divine place could never be empty, Russian saying goes: svyato mesto pusto ne bivayet. People inhabit this place with less and more certainty and right, they can be more and less talented. Public enviously accuses them of mediocrity with more and less ground, like Taylor Swift and other deities–but never ceases to reaffirm the agreeable candidates in these invisible but tangible positions.

 

 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Anthro Notes: Not All Men

Men are kind, warm, sensitive, sympathetic, strong, supportive, generous, ready to give you the last drop of their blood, smart, funny, smell beautifully, delightful, entrancing, exquisite, gorgeous, stunning, deep, powerful, and did I mention funny?

Not all men, of course. Not all men.

 

 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Anthro Notes: Curling Hair

I’m mesmerized by the ad where several strange white American women curl their hair. Every time I see it, on Facebook and Instagram alike, I’m hypnotized. Sure I’m targeted because of my sex. There’s something sinister about the process of sitting there methodically curling hair.

I’m not wording it properly, but is this not a weird activity? I know many women do it, I did it too several times. I don’t know how to explain it, but suddenly it looks very weird to me. I guess the watching of the ad has the effect of weirding you out.

I suppose if that was an ad of a toothbrush, brushing teeth would also appear strange to me. When you pause your mind on ordinary procedures that we do to our bodies, the ordinariness trembles and gaps and opens an abyss beneath.

 

 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Anthro Notes: Na Zdorovie

Whoever told your gullible ass that “na zdorovie” is a Russian toast, was clueless and cruelly deceived you.

The host says “Na zdorovie” after you eat and thank them: “Spasibo.” Never as a toast, like, literally not once in the entire Russian-speaking world. Only in America and alike places.

The alternative Russian language of people also believing that Russian has two different alphabets.

 

 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Anthro Notes: Classics

I am particularly lucky to give lectures on: Judith Butler, Renato Rosaldo, Bronislaw Malinowski, Clifford Geertz, and Benjamin Lee Whorf. I could only have hoped about such a privilege. I would like to give lectures on Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Barthes, and Derrida, too.

I could have included fewer contemporaneous writers and more classics in my course, but I feel like it’d be too boring. There needs to be a balance. Social sciences change quickly.

What was written in the last century is archaic.

 

 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Anthro Notes: Show Don’t Tell

(From the excesses of the writing assignments I give students):

Paint a picture with words (It’s when instead of “he was very beautiful,” the author writes: “a young man in green slacks studied a menu, a lock falling on his forehead”).

 

 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Anthro Notes: Already Seen

Not to be surprised, but Facebook has the option of searching in posts that you’ve already seen, and it just showed me the post by someone from 2012. So this data was collected from back then. I can’t help but be impressed. So the browsers where you “delete” your history…

In the time immemorial, Zuckerberg expressed a sentiment that is shared by owners of some questionable website that, if one has multiple accounts to interact with one community (i.e. on one platform), one must be dishonest and/or has something to hide. Maybe so, maybe not, but it also makes it more difficult to make coherent sense out of one human identity for corporations, that is partially why (but not only) I’ve always had multiple accounts on all social media that I graced with my luminous presence.

 

 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Anthro Notes: Uber Ride

Every Uber ride is a world in and of itself.

Today, I was riding with a driver who showed me her artwork. She was carving stone and produced a gigantic egg out of stone that she was showing me excitedly in a video on Instagram and missed the right turn. She was wearing dark eyeglasses,

introduced herself confidently as an artist, and was going to apply for residencies and workshops, but first had to build her website (because she was also art curator and an organizer of exhibitions), but that was in the future because she had to drive Uber full time

and that was ugly that capitalism makes artists to work like that instead of doing creative stuff that they really wanted to do, and didn’t I agree? I agreed wholeheartedly. Was I also an artist? I wasn’t; I didn’t have that much talent. A lot of people who didn’t think

that they had talent but who appreciated art were artists at heart, so how long was I living in Austin? I’d lived in Austin for something like seven years. I was from Russia. Actually, that was exactly what my driver intended to do with her life, meaning, she was going to go

to some other country, not the country of her origin, and live there because travel inspired artists and she would be in a position to trust herself in a totally different culture that spoke a different language, and wasn’t this my destination? This indeed was my destination, and I wished her best in her artistic pursuits.

 

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Anthro Notes: Ringing

Yesterday during a group conversation discussing serious issues my phone started dinging with messages and because it’s a new phone I had trouble diminishing the sound (the button silencing the phone did not produce, to my surprise, the desired effect). I asked them to keep quiet (well, truth be told I wrote, shut up I am dinging at a meeting), and they gleefully proceeded to send me joking messages after that. I momentarily plunged into a rage and finally was blessed with the idea to turn the phone off. Later, I apologized to the speaker, but I could feel the heat of humiliation in my face.

 

 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Anthro Notes: Social Media and Affective Attachments

Imagine I’ve been writing on Facebook for the previous 8 years (2011-2019). What a damned joke. Zuckerberg owes the writers of my generation a reparation for making us write for our aunts and uncles (sure, I love mine). That was not the vision we had in the 1990s.

I’ve one of my biggest audiences on Facebook (*exasperated emoji*), and for the Russian-speaking audiences this is one of the still-indispensable social media outlet (*another exasperated emoji*).

The Groundhog Day forever. When I just came to the web, I quickly gained 500 followers on LiveJournal, and a lot of my professional contacts came with it. Yet now it’s 2019, and I still have 500 followers on Twitter. As Oushakine said about the Russian period of “transition,” achievements do not translate into a life-long success worthy of efforts.

Sure, I also changed the language of writing, a country of living, had a child meanwhile and wrote a number of books, but it’s still not satisfying at all, and some responsibility for it lies in the field of what is beyond my control (can be called “the politics of social media”)

The interesting thing about social media is that people get affectively attached to the platforms, despite having only several behemoth platforms, and you cannot really transpose your audience from one place to another at least until a certain point is reached.

Another thing about social media is that writing on social media is inevitably a metacommentary on writing on social media. But, if we are to consider centuries of writing on paper, we’ll be in a position to recall hundreds of examples of metacommentary on writing on paper.

(As well as the typewriter and so on and so on, the medium of writing was always a subject of writing).

Even though the social media are ephemeral (they lose relevance after a time), they still seem to be doing not worse and maybe better than plenty of more traditional outlets thanks to what any Western journalist would judgementally call a “regime” and to other circumstances.

Whatever; everything is going to be eaten by the silent darkness.

 

 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Anthro Notes: Atwood and Phones

I saw a company of people in the street. They all were staring in their phones. I was thinking about words by Margaret Atwood that over time people will stop looking at their phones just as they stopped (well…) gazing at the tv-screen and listening to portable transistors.

When I heard this, I was skeptical, and I remain skeptical now. How could one lost interest in what is a tv-screen, radio, a book, a writing table, a photo camera, and a lot of other different things? Unless something conceptually different and better (perhaps more immersive,

more encompassing) comes to substitute phones, phones are not going to go anywhere. It’s been years now we’ve been observing people staring in their phones intently. Margaret Atwood might be right about phones after all, but this is a remote futuristic vision.

 

 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Anthro Notes: Star Wars

I wonder what role Star Wars play in the shit that unfolds today and every day in the USA.

Zizek had an interesting rant about it.

He offered to read Star Wars as if the opposite was true: bad guys were good guys and vice versa. For a mental exercise. Just in order to think a little outside of the box. I continue insisting that Star Wars was about the Cold War. But now it’s something else entirely.

Yet it is still a movie about the American exceptionalism. No exceptions to the rule according to which all the dreams produced by the corporation of imperialist dreams are just that.

 

 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Anthro Notes: The Arcades Project

Imagine The Arcades project at the time when the computer and electronic libraries already existed though. Instead of just one several-hundred-page volume that manages to include a number of earlier versions, the reader would’ve had several-hundred-volume work at their disposal.

 

 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Anthro Notes: Author’s Prerogative in Interpretation

Why is everyone insisting on the tragic reading of the story “Baby shoes for sale never worn” just because the author said it is tragic? What prerogative in interpretation does he have? It’s a standard situation for many who ever had a baby.

Babies grow up so fast that shoes (that babies don’t need because they don’t walk and that parents buy for their own amusement) often end up being never worn, just tried on a couple of times at most.

 

 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Anthro Notes: Being-in-the-World

Being-in-the-world beyond the “in and out” of slippages in language, beyond self-imposition of concepts, is hardly possible for us, language creatures. A tinge of speech always trembles at the periphery of one’s mind, nudging to stain even the ever-so-not-pristine soundscape of nature with an unneeded sign of admiration. Even in solitude, we are never but with ourselves–always in a continuation of the multiplicity of dialogs, always bearing in mind shreds and fragments of what has and has not been uttered.

 

 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Anthro Notes: Time and Writing

The most important part of writing for me time, but not the tracking of the time spent writing or even time that you always try to find for writing and that is always lacking, but the time that passes in between the versions of the manuscript. It is so necessary for the time to pass in order for the author to see the flaws. I like forgetting my writing, but the constraints of time (again), the system of deadlines makes it so difficult to give yourself the most important time: the time between revisions when you do not, in fact, revise or revisit the text.

 

 

Thursday, May 3, 2019

Anthro Notes: Of Vanity

I need to stop being so vain. The later I get my English books out the better. Ideally, I would get them out after death. The second best option is in ten years, and not “now”—as I want—in a year or two. Realistically. I must prove that I have not been so patient for nothing, and I must work on the manuscripts as long as I can, instead of shortcutting and calling it a day. I should resist this culture demanding you to produce fruits before you can get your leaves unfolded.

~

These notes are more personal than professional, intimate rather than written for a collective, but it’s been a joy to compose them.

Anthro Notes: Of Vanity

I need to stop being so vain. The later I get my English books out the better. Ideally, I would get them out after death. The second best option is in ten years, and not “now”—as I want—in a year or two. Realistically. I must prove that I have not been so patient for nothing, and I must work on the manuscripts as long as I can, instead of shortcutting and calling it a day. I should resist this culture demanding you to produce fruits before you can get your leaves unfolded.

~

Recently, I began a series of note titled Anthro Notes on my “prose” Tumblr. I’ve been wondering if this blog is not a better place for them, and this is the first installment. They are more personal than professional, intimate rather than written for a collective, but it’s been a joy to compose them.

The rest is here: https://weirdmirrors.tumblr.com/tagged/anthro-notes

 

 

Academic Precarity Now

I collected several testimonies online regarding the difficulty of getting a stable academic job in the USA (and English-speaking world in general). While this is news for none of us, I find these testimonies deserving of attention. The source is the academic wiki “venting_page.” Most of these are from a while back (I assume venting moved somewhere else (I read a stable flow of it on Facebook and Twitter).)

1) “First off, I’m really thankful for having a job and being able to use my training, because, as most of you know, there are so many people who are overqualified for the jobs that they have, they’re working in another industry just to survive, or they’re struggling to get by on unemployment. That being said, it’s frustrating to know that even after spending four years on the market and landing the coveted tenure track job, in many cases you will be struggling just to make ends meet and living like a college sophomore. No one goes into academia (at least not people in the liberal arts) expecting to make a corporate salary, but there’s definitely a bit of a sticker shock when you realize that you’ll need to live with a roommate and sell your car just to make rent every month. Maybe this is simply a case of supply and demand (universities and colleges know that they can always find someone willing to take your job) or a state of the post-post-Boomer economy, but as a young first generation working class kid, I was led to believe that a university professor was a highly esteemed middle class, white collar profession. I’m supposed to be the one who “made it” in my family, but I’m embarrassed to say that nearly every day I regret my decision to have pursued this career path.”

2) “Perhaps I am naive but in my field (in the arts) it seems a little easier to get a job than in many other, more academic or research oriented fields (this based on observations of friends/colleagues getting positions). I came so close last year only to watch one position go to a friend, another (for which I was told an offer letter was on its way) go to someone else, and a third never schedule the on-campus interview with me. I’m currently working professionally in my field and supporting myself with a day job. I watch traffic on my portfolio site every day and I can see that a lot of places are looking at me, some multiple times. I’m trying to be patient, I know the process takes a long time, but it’s hard. One university in particular…the job was perfect for me, the description just seemed to have been written with my CV in mind. I hope every day that they will contact me but I know that the reality is that there are factors (like the expense of bringing me in as a candidate from across the country) beyond my control. I’m trying very hard to come to terms with the fact that it may not happen for me this year either. I might be facing another year of day jobbing. How can I stop the obsessive need to have THIS YEAR BE THE YEAR, and be ok if it eventually doesn’t pan out for me?”

3) “I’m an academic historian married to artist. Arts jobs, in our experience, are just as hard to get. The numbers are similar–my wife has been a finalist for jobs that had more than 700 applicants, and I don’t think I ever faced such odds. The arts are also inherently more subjective (though, admittedly, not much more). Even in positions that advertise “Painting,” whether you are classical, observational, post-modern, conceptual, and so on–according to someone else’s definition, mind you, and depending on the preferences–will get you culled or advanced automatically at most jobs. Don’t forget, also, that “MFA, Yale” trumps a whole lot of other factors. My wife has not landed a TT (in fact, I just landed my first ever TT position a few weeks ago), and she is probably leaving academia. She applied very selectively, but in the end it comes down to the fact that she would rather be making her art than teaching, anyway.”

4) “Academics, forgive me! For as bad as you all have it, I have it much, much worse. I am the spouse of an academic. Is there anything worse on this planet to be?

My spouse has been on the market, in one form or another, for the past decade. She has applied for TT positions, and only gotten nibbles at non-research institutions (she’s in the sciences). She tried one — which involved a move of 2,000 miles — only to find out that there were so many politics that she had no hope of surviving with her research intact. She fled and landed in a non-TT location with great research facilities but no TT prospects, and has spent the past six years working, publishing, and looking for work.

And now, now she gets the call from a university only 150 miles away. Hooray! Ha. So now we interview, and we interview again, and we interview a third time, and we follow up, and we send updated CVs with new publications, and we provide proof of grants, and we do just about every damn thing in the world….

And now we are down to two candidates, and so, every day, I get to come home, after working 12 hours to support this insane career of my spouse, and my spouse cries inconsolibly and informs me that there has been no news, which can only be bad news, and that her job will probably collapse.

Think about this: I’ve moved 2,000 miles twice for her job. I’ve given up a decade of my life to support her. There seems to be no endgame, no end, just do this until finally I collapse from exhaustion, and I can’t work any more.”

5) “It’s my last year on the job market in the humanities — if I don’t get a TT position this year, I’m out. My fellowship is ending, my book is coming out, and I can’t keep wasting my time working and hoping for a job that will probably never materialize. It’s so demoralizing to still be on the market with a CV that got people in my PhD department tenure, and so frustrating to be ineligible for big grants for my next project, etc, because I still don’t have a TT or permanent position. I’m ageing out of postdoctoral roles, in career stage terms, but nobody wants me for anything else. Ugh, ugh, ugh.”

Source
img_20130707_211548
In the photo: the ladder to the top 
(Photo was taken by me during one of my travels, in Irkutsk)

Update: 2019

I am inviting everyone to follow my work by following my website www.vasilinaorlova.com, my pages on Academia.edu and ResearchGate.com, as well as my Twitter and Instagram.

The main event of 2018 was coming out of my book, Anthropology of Everydayness (Antropologia povsednevnosti), in Russian. Nezavisimaya Newspaper included it on the list of best nonfiction books of 2018 (even though it contains poetry, among other things–syncretic genres have always been my main vein of writing).

In 2018, I presented my work at the ASEEES conference in Boston, Massachusets.

I spent 7 months of 2018 in Russia in my field: Moscow, Irkutsk, the village of Anosovo (Irkutsk district) and visited more than ten towns and villages on my ways throughout the region.

One of the significant parts of my travel was the train journey Moscow-Irkutsk. The last and only time I took this journey before was in 1998, that is to say, exactly twenty years ago. Back in 1998, I was taking notes even more copious and detailed as I do now as an ethnographer, and I am wishing for this valley of time where I can superimpose these two almost week-long train travels following the same route with the distance of twenty years in one work.

The next year promises to be even more fruitful in terms of the collecting of data. Because I won the Wenner-Gren dissertation fieldwork grant (and I uploaded my winning proposal for the benefit of my colleagues seeking information on the grant writing process and favorable result), I get to spend another year in Russia beginning May 2019 and ending possibly May 2020 (or later, depending on circumstances).

Meanwhile, I began deciphering and transcribing my field recordings. I have 828 recordings collected in 2018 alone (smaller numbers for 2017 and 2016). Some of my recordings are no longer than several minutes, others stretch for hours (sometimes with embedded long pauses). Transcribing is a long and meticulous work that requires supreme attention to the details of the speech texture. I made the decision to transcribe my recordings just as they were made: in Russian first, and only then to translate (of course, not all, but some of them, most interesting little fragments). I am transcribing in Russian for two reasons: translation will obliterate the greatest part of the unique value of the speech. It is only possible to translate a silhouette of the speech, as it were. Perhaps I will include the Russian original alongside the English translation as Don Kulick did it with the language(s) he was working in Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture Among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (1998); I find this attention to the language instructive even when I don’t speak the language. The second reason why I am transcribing my recordings in Russian is that they are valuable as is, and I am open to the possibility to consider that they in themselves are more precious than anything that I will be able to write about or around them. In the end, working through these recordings–deciphering, careful editing of them to eliminate repeated words and leave what needs to be left, cutting things that distract attention, introducing the speakers and providing descriptions for the settings could be my main work as an anthropologist and a writer.

The Spring semester at UT I am teaching Expressive Culture course. Together with my students, I am planning to (re)read some of the foundational works in anthropology that allow us to understand the differences between cultures. I am therefore anticipating the beginning of the semester with excitement, and I am planning to upload to Academia.edu the syllabus that I am still tweaking.

I have a big chunk of my dissertation written when it comes to the initial framing–I anticipate a lot of the writing that I already have will serve me in this capacity–but absolutely unedited. My dissertation is not my concern though, my concern is writing articles introducing my work to the anthropological public. I have been writing steadily beginning with 2014-2015 when I started writing prose and started writing ethnographically in English, and I continue organizing my material. The nature of anthropological work is such that it takes time; unfortunately, there is no way around it, one has to be ready to invest a lot of effort and be patient. No quick results are possible in this field.

 

In the photo: the cover of my book Anthropology of Everydayness (Moscow, Nookratia, 2018)

New Directions in Anthropology 2018, UT

3.31.2018 I gave the presentation “Affective Infrastructures” at the New Direction in Anthropology conference at UT-Austin. The cohort of the brilliant Cortney Morris organized the first New Directions in Anthropology, 11 years ago.

There was a lot of wonderful presentations: by Samantha Archer, Alex Kreger, Jinok Lee, Daniel Ng, Alexander Menaker, John Duncan Hurt, Lilia Loera, Robyn Morse, and Mona Mostofi (that’s who I got to hear) and others (there was a lot of interesting things I, sadly, had to miss). I am thankful to our wonderful discussants Professor James Slotta and Ph.D. Candidate José Guadalupe Villagrán, as well as to Dr. Maria Luz Garcia for her very engaging and invigorating keynote. Grateful to the organizers who tirelessly worked day and night and made it all happen.

You can listen to and/or read my presentation on my website.

bell hooks About Love

I rarely read with pleasure for the sake of reading, for the sake of enjoyment. More often I read because I need to read in general (my soul demands) or I need to have a concrete text read. It does not mean I do not derive a pleasure from the process but it does mean that I am not enjoying it for the process’s sake. However, sometimes (rarely), I do enjoy reading in the plainest way imaginable. It is this state, familiar to the readers when you are reading and forgetting the fact that you are reading. You are somewhere else, in a kind of meditation but also existing somewhere in between the immediate reality that surrounds you and in the dreamworld of the book. Lately, bell hooks’ All About Love produced such an impression on me. I could not deny myself a pleasure to type some of the things that struck me in particular from the book. I present here a collection of quotes alternating with my comments.

bell hooks, All About Love. William Morrow: An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. 2000.

 

Longing

“I have had a taste of true love. That experience intensifies my longing and my desire to search.”

—bell hooks, 180

~
She’s a prophetess. It’s a gospel in her mouth.

 

 

Confidence

Poignant, and, I don’t like the word but cannot think of an analogy, em-po-we-ring. Brutally empowering, almost against your will, by tapping into childhood memories when you knew you can do everything:

“When writing poetry in my girlhood, I felt the same confidence I would come to see in my adult life only in male writers.” (xxi)

Remember that?

Cynicism

“Ultimately, cynicism is the great mask of the disappointment and betrayed heart.” (xviii)

 

Risks

“So many of us long for love but lack the courage to take risks.” bell hooks, 11.

 

Love

“If we were constantly remembering that love is as love does, we would not use the word [love] in a manner that devalues and degrades its meaning.” bell hooks, 14
*

“The heart of justice is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.”

—bell hooks (33)

*

“Widespread cultural acceptance of lying is a primary reason many of us will never know love. It is impossible to nurture one’s own or another’s spiritual growth when the core of one’s being and identity is shrouded in secrecy and lies.”

—bell hooks, 46

 

My Mom

So much of the work and love given by women goes unacknowledged and unappreciated. I myself am bad at acknowledging and appreciating of love and labor that I am benefiting from tremendously and blindly. I will never be able to express how grateful I am to my mom for everything she’s done for me and continues doing without even being asked. But I will go on trying.

 

Craving

“Fixating on wants and needs, which consumerism encourages us to do, promotes a psychological state of endless craving.”

—bell hooks, 111

 

Withholding

“I have had great sex with men who were intimate terrorists, men who seduce and attract by giving you just what you feel your heart needs ten gradually or abruptly withholding it once they have gained your trust.”

—bell hooks, 176

I have a theory why this happens. The game loses its appeal once it’s won. They are simply done with you; they could no more force themselves to continue than they could fly. I had myself irreversibly lost interest in people: one day you talk, another day your mind is not there; it has turned to other matters. If you try to drag yourself through a process, continuing the conversation, you’ll lose patience and will hate the other person and yourself. This loss of interest does not vindicate you from responsibility but it explains the mechanics, I believe.

 

Effort
“Many people want love to function like a drug, giving them an immediate and sustained high. They want to do nothing, just passively receive the good feeling. In patriarchal culture men are especially inclined to see love as something they should receive without expending effort.”

—bell hooks, 114

 

Love

“When greedy consumption is the order of the day, dehumanization becomes acceptable. Then, treating people like objects is not only acceptable but is required behavior. It’s the culture of exchange, the tyranny of marketplace values. These values inform attitudes about love. Cynicism about love leads young adults to believe there is no love to be found and that relationships are needed only to the extent that they satisfy desires. How many times do we hear someone say “Well, if that person is not satisfying your needs you should get rid of them?” Relationships are treated like Dixie cups. They are the same. They are disposable.”

—bell hooks, 115-116

Hooks’ is a powerful disavowal of the consumerist world. So potent and poignant, I am thrilled. I am thinking about my Siberian rural place where love is treated differently. Trying to think what my research can really bring. Trying to locate where the thirst is. Love is a cultural concept. Love is a cultural thing.

Forgiving

“Forgiving means that I am able to see her as a member of my community still, one who has a place in my heart should she wish to claim it.”

—bell hooks, 140

 

Task

“Initially, as a young militant feminist, I was thrilled to find a man who was not into being a patriarch. And even the task of dragging him kicking and screaming into adulthood seemed worthwhile.”

—bell hooks, 150

Paradise

“When love’s promise has never been fulfilled in our lives it is perhaps the most difficult practice of love to trust that the passage through the painful abyss leads to paradise.”

—bell hooks, 160

Christian beliefs are so misleading they dim the brightest sights.

 

Forgiveness

My mom often repeated: “A woman can forgive anything except for a lack of love.” I don’t know if this is so, nor do I know what exactly it means, but it always sounded compelling to me, as something worth unpacking.

 

The Love We Want but are Not Prepared to Give

“To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships.”

—bell hooks, 169

~

All About Love

It happens every so unoften that I am compelled to copy whole passages–and it is from bell hooks’ All About Love. I took this book on purpose as an antidote to a the male literature a lot of which I was reading and felt how it suffocates me with its ever-nuanced hints and unbreakable assumptions that are designed to make the reader believe that the white man is the paragon of creation and that women and people of color, women of color doubly so, are somehow inherently less human. I felt I was being poisoned and wanted to detox, but even knowing bell hooks’ writing already and knowing what she stands for as an author, I did not expect to find such an abundance of wisdom that addresses as if me directly.

“Our hearts connect with lots of folks in a lifetime but most of us will go to our graves with no experience of true love. This is in no way tragic, as most of us run the other way when true love comes near. Since true love sheds light on those aspects of ourselves we may wish to deny or hide, enabling us to see ourselves clearly and without shame, it is not surprising that so many individuals who say they want to know love turn away when such love beckons.” (186)

Love is a trial. It is impossible to sustain when we present what bell hooks calls “a false self, one we believe will be more appealing to the person we want to attract.” (184).

For the first time I think that I should write a treatise on love as opposed to the novel I have been thinking about (and even began writing).

 

Stranger to Death

“There is no one among us who is a stranger to death.”

—bell hooks, 199

 

Unworthy

“Embedded in our shame is always a sense of being unworthy. It separates. Compassion and forgiveness reconnect us.”

—bell hooks, 217

The sense of being unworthy will undermine all. It’s a serious flaw from which not only the individual but those who are around will suffer.

 

Overindulgence

“Estrangement from the realm of the senses is a direct product of overindulgence, of acquiring too much.”

—bell hooks, 218

~

Let us admit that Bell hooks is very didactic. She is a rhetorician of the gospel.

 

Earlier version of this blog post misspelled the name of the author as “Bell Hooks.” Corrected 4/14/2018

Additional omissions noticed and corrected 1/3/2019

 

In the photo: one of the Siberian little sightings

ASEEES 2018 (December, Boston) Abstracts

For the American Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies convention in 2018, I am planning to do two things:

Present the paper “Affective Infrastructures and Mobility: the Soviet Sublime, post-Soviet Concrete, and post-post-Soviet Recursion” at the panel Alexandra Simonova and I organized, Politics of Belonging for Hybrid Identities: in the Shadow of the Soviet Sublime.

Here is the abstract of my paper:

I examine the tensions in the everyday life of people who engage with the morally outdated and sometimes malfunctioning infrastructures in remote Siberian villages on the shore of the Angara River. These villages came to life in their current form as a consequence of the Bratsk dam construction in 1954-61. Although the villages emerged as the result of infrastructural development, the infrastructures locally have been lacking from the start. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, their existence has drastically changed. How do people make decisions regarding their mobility in a place where the infrastructure is failing? Making use of what I call “affective infrastructures,” I connect the theories of affect (Deleuze and Guattari, Stewart) and the theories of infrastructure (Larkin, Simone) through the analysis of the intersecting points such as network-like structures, flow, exchange, and connection. I show how infrastructure generates affects as well as affects partake in the construction or repurposing of infrastructure.

The panel’s framework is as follows (Magdalena Stawkowski took part in polishing it):

How do tensions between new and old infrastructures throughout post-Soviet space, affect the ways in which people build and perform their identities and make everyday decisions? This panel brings together scholars of anthropology and regional studies (working in Crimea, Kazakhstan, and Siberia) doing interdisciplinary research on infrastructures and material objects in their production of hybrid identities, politics of belonging, and citizenship in the context of disparate and conflicting allegiances. Considering the Soviet period as a “lingering reverberation” that creates identities, sameness, and differences, we examine how old Soviet and new post-Soviet categories of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, health, and class, as well as generational divide, express themselves in practices of working through and reconstructing the narratives of living.

Taking into account the spatio-temporal phenomenon of the Soviet collapse allows us to not only concentrate on the peculiarities of performing hybrid identities in contested socio-cultural contexts, but also to speak to broader concerns of infrastructural development, ideas of progress and modernity, mobility, and precarity. The USSR-related experiences acquire a new importance in the today’s volatile political climate worldwide. The construction of infrastructural and architectural projects brought to life the affect of the Soviet sublime connected to a grand Soviet narrative. Today’s infrastructures are in disarray. Still, they are a part of the material and environmental settings where hybrid identities emerge and are performed. How people are making the everyday decisions in these material settings are the focus of this panel’s inquiries.

 

For the roundtable on literature and gender, I put together the final version of this talk just now; the talk is titled “‘I am a Little Poetess with a Huge Bow:’ Female Poets in Contemporary Russia.”

In this talk, I am reciting the originals of the poems by contemporary Russian poets Dana Kurskaya, Inga Kuznetsova, Irina Ysn, Alina Vitukhnovskaya, Luba Makarevskaya, as well as by Irina Odoyevtseva (1895-1990), alongside translations of these works by me and others. It is done in order to open the space to think through emergent poetics and points of imaginary cross-references. Imaginary, because these poets are from different groups; they are not connected to one another. What connects them then? A translator and reader’s arbitrary will. But is it arbitrary? Irina Odoyevtseva is a poet who foreshadowed some of the creative practices of the contemporary Russian poets by and large, and she is not as often spoken or widely read as Tsvetaeva or Akhmatova. Other poets all present different ways and tactics of navigating the cultural and “real” world; they build different universes of meaning and affect. I will analyze their creative practices (which are very different and include, for Kurskaya, a publishing project; for Kuznetsova, prose; for Ysn, jewelry making; for Vitukhnovskaya, political self-representation, and for Makarevskaya, art) in connection to their poetry. I will look at whether they position themselves as feminists, and if not or yes, why, and what does it tell us about positionality of female writer and poet in Russia, and why this positionality matters in regard to feminism. I will use the answers by the poets to the questions that arise in connection to their creative practices. My talk will enable other participants of the roundtable and the public to talk about different ways of navigating, expressing, or denying gender-related ideologies in poetry, but that will not be the center of it. The center of my talk will be poetry itself. I will show that all these poets are working with the aesthetics positioned on the edges of the respectability; in their writings, they consistently push the boundaries and limits of acceptable.

 

In the photo: an interior of a house in the village of Atalanka, Siberia. The picture is taken by the author in 2013

Great Expectations

Because I received the Global Research Fellowship, I am planning and actively preparing for my final fieldwork research for the dissertation during the summer of 2018 and possibly beyond. I am planning, as of yet, to depart the USA in the early May.

By that time, my new book Antropologia povsednevnosti (The Anthropology of the Everydayness), forthcoming from Noocratia (Noocracy) publishing house in Moscow, should be out. (I should still proofread it and to send the publisher my wishes regarding the cover.) The publisher, Stanislav Ivanov, known by the Russian reading public under the pseudonym Zoran Pitich, is planning a small presentation of the book in the Tsiolkovsky bookstore in Moscow.

I will go then, in June, to Siberia for my final round of fieldwork for the dissertation. I am going, from what it looks now, to linger in Siberia throughout the fall semester of 2018; I am very much looking forward to the extended period of fieldwork.

In December, I will be back to the States for the ASEEES 50th annual convention in Boston. I participate in a roundtable on Russian literature and gender that Olia Breininger and Susanna Weygandt organize. Additionally, or perhaps most importantly, I should say, I am going to present on a panel that Alexandra Simonova and I are putting together. Our panel is titled Politics of Belonging for Hybrid Identities: in the Shadow of the Soviet Sublime, and I am going to give a presentation titled “Affective Infrastructures and Mobility: the Soviet Sublime, post-Soviet Concrete, and post-post-Soviet Recursion.”

As for the American Anthropological Association gathering, I will likely record a video, as the AAA gathers in November, and to arrange a Skype presentation from a Siberian village… will be difficult. For the AAA, Rick Smith and I are currently putting together the panel The Apocalypse Я Us.

Let’s see if everything I am thinking about will come to fruition. I am currently working on several writing projects: one is a rest from the other, and the other is a rest from the third. I have to write and read all the time, and I discovered the way to be on top of each of these things. You cannot spend 12 hours a day on each of them anyway. Therefore, you can rotate them and refresh one of them with the ideas that come to you while you are working on another.

Meanwhile, I have updated my website with visual essays–please check them out; I have American Dream and Abandoned Mansion posted, the fruits of my restless roaming through Texas.

 

In the photo: a stream flowing into the Angara River that I snapped in 2006

Elizabeth de Marigny Asked Me Questions

Graduate Student Spotlight: Vasilina Orlova

Thu, February 8, 2018
Graduate Student Spotlight: Vasilina Orlova

The Department of Anthropology is excited to share the following interview with Graduate Student Vasilina Orlova, conducted by Elizabeth de Marigny. We will continue to highlight the amazing works our students are doing, in Austin and around the world, a few times each semester.

Your work in Siberia focuses on the lives of people living in settlements that you refer to as “stranded communities.” Can you tell us a little about these settlements, and the people who inhabit these places? Why call them “stranded communities?”

The term “stranded communities” is not mine, and I do not refer to the communities of my study as “stranded.” But this is a term in circulation; that is why I brought it up. The Economist discussed “stranded communities” in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I used this term, because it is illustrative of the “chronocentrism” that is a part of the discourse on territories of daily struggle. What I call “chronocentrism” is something that works in parallel with ethnocentrism- a notion that some places live in the present whereas others fall behind and maintain some version of the past. That there are countries, regions, and zones left behind as progress advances elsewhere. This is deeply embedded in the discourse of what progress means and its perception as an ultimate good. The term “stranded communities” demonstrates that in the U.S., not only are some foreign nations perceived to be some sort of backwater place left behind in the process of modernization, but also that within certain political imaginaries, portions of the U.S. are seen as left behind. These political imaginaries are imbued with all kinds of class-based feelings and resentments that are expressed in both subtle and obvious “othering” practices, or to put it another way, there is an idea that “we” are directed into the future, whereas “they” are stuck in the past and should be helped or taken into the future by force. My research works against these ideas and notions, against the brutal social evolutionism and fast-discourse approaches. My research draws parallels between the U.S. and certain Siberian communities, where in both cases, individuals lost their livelihood when places ceased to be economically productive. In the capitalist and post-Socialist worlds, the processes that result in community hardships are different. I refer to these differences as “developed-capitalism processes” that are characteristic of the U.S., and “restarted-after-the-Socialist-period-capitalist processes” that are unique to Russia.

For example, the villages along the Angara River lost a significant portion of the state-provided support that they received during the Soviet period. They also lost or are on the brink of losing the natural resources that provided a way of life for a much longer period than the Soviet Era. The Siberian villages in my study are situated in the taiga, a dense pine forest. Russian settlements began there in the seventeenth century. Whether settlers from Russia had a state-building task or not, they worked towards the establishment of the Russian Empire. The taiga was an endless source of productive resources that provided for the livelihoods of a diverse population. These resources included animals for furs and meat, medicinal plants and edible mushrooms, the wood that can be used in the development of the timber industry and for the construction of homes. But these resources were not endless, and in 2008 the lespromkhoz (a timber enterprise) in the village of Anosovo was disbanded. By that time the forest as people knew it was also gone, although for my eye, as a city dweller, the forest is still dense. An old hunter described to me that the realization of the change came when he realized that the birds that once inhabited the taiga were no longer waking him up at the early morning when he was away from the village for hunting and sleeping in his hut.

The places that I am working are the places of hard living. Right now, two of the three diesel generators in the village of Anosovo are out of order. And yet, life goes on. This illustrates how what would typically be considered an emergency situation is actually an ordinary occurrence within these places. So, my question is how- how does life go on? What directions and forms does it take?

This research is interesting because it uses the day-to-day lives and decisions made by individuals living in these settlements as a lens to try and understand how attachments to place make people stay. How are you conducting your fieldwork, and what have you learned or encountered thus far?

My project explores the fates of the people who continue to live in settlements devoid of state support, industrial settlements in Siberia. I ask how people navigate the disrupted infrastructures of the Soviet period, and how the material world and environment facilitate making decisions, particularly the decisions regarding mobility-moving in and out of places. My methodology employs participant observation, open-ended interviews, and documenting oral histories. My research uses visual anthropology methods such as photo-aided elicitation of narratives. My interest in this topic really began when I first visited the village of Anosovo in the Irkutsk District in 2006, but I did not know at the time that it would become the focus of my research. Historically, Anosovo emerged in its present form with the construction of the Bratsk hydroelectric dam. The Bratsk dam was the most powerful dam in the world at the time of its construction in 1954-1961. Its construction displaced villages, which were relocated but left without electricity. My father was born in one of these villages, and he lived in Anosovo as a child. He and his mother, my grandmother, moved away after the death of her husband. So I have this intimate family connection to Anosovo, it was a Siberian place that would not let me go. In 2013 I revisited and found that the children I met in 2006 had become young adults, that some people stayed, but many had left or died. During the 2016 and 2017 summers I again returned to Anosovo to conduct fieldwork supported by the McWilliams Fellowship and several professional development awards from the Center for Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies, and the Department of Anthropology.

What I expected to hear in the narratives was a strong nostalgic sense of the Soviet past. Its history during the Soviet era is complex, where prosperity and relocation are felt as layers of nostalgia for the lost world. What I have found is somewhat expected, but I also learned through the stories I heard in Anosovo and what I witnessed is that people reflect a lot on their prospects, on the future, on their plans. And a lot of these plans were connected to moving somewhere, but occasionally there were vows of never leaving this land- an expression of attachment. To me, Anosovo is a place of freedom. In all the hardships that people face, a remote Siberian village is also an image of a green future, of self-sustainability that people have been talking about for so long. People find their ways of belonging, of relating; they create, inhabit, and switch identities. One of the arguments that I am making in my work is that we need to quit thinking about the collapse of the USSR as an event that took place, and begin to take it as a dynamic process that goes on. This collapse will take about as much time as we can imagine. For the next hundred years we are going to be talking about it, returning to it. But it does not mean that we are going to be stuck with all the paradigms and beliefs that we now entertain. So, the question is: what is really going on? Where is the language to talk about it and name things?

Under the Global Research Fellowship, my goal for the 2018 summer is to collect narratives of mobility that I can then summarize and analyze. To get to Anosovo I will fly from Austin to Moscow, then fly to Irkutsk, which is a four-hour journey. From there I will travel for eight hours on a minibus and a river tram to Anosovo. This journey will take 24 hours, taking me to the opposite end of the world from Austin, when I fall asleep in Anosovo, Austin will be waking up. What I have learned from these travels is that some people go to Anosovo and to abandoned villages, like the village of Karda near Anosovo, to escape the relative comfort of city life. This is put into perspective when you realize that Karda formally ceased to exist in 2008, it is no longer shown on maps. But some people choose to live there, in the officially-non-existent village in the taiga.

One of your many interests as an anthropologist is digital self-representation through selfies. Have you noticed differences or patterns in the ways people present themselves? Are there specific forms of digital self-representation that are unique to one culture, but not others?

I think this is one of the advantages of the anthropological tool kit: once you have it, you can use it for many things. Some of the fieldwork that I am doing is also in the U.S. I have been living in the U.S. for 7 years, but everything is still strange for me here, as opposed to Siberia, where many things are intimately familiar even though I was born in the Russian Far East and grew up in Moscow. The anthropologist is in a position to occupy a space in two or more cultures and be socially fluent in every world they inhabit while retaining an inner distance from each. Selfie-taking practice is very gendered and is subjected to gendered critique. It is a global practice that, I believe, has more similarities across cultures than differences. A lot of content on social media is in the form of selfies, and a lot of selfies are taken in a way where you cannot even tell where the shot was snapped. It could be Irkutsk, or Moscow, or San Francisco. What becomes important is the body, telling of gender, race, age, sometimes, often pointedly, class and the ways the body signals many ways of belonging, affiliation, or affinity. But there are cultural differences for sure, Dress, hair, clothing- it is all important. Surroundings, as much as they are in the selfie, a landscape or an interior, become a context to read a person. A gym signals “I work out,” or a car says “look, I am mobile,” or a pet weaponized as a means of building trust on a dating site- “I have a dog, therefore, I am a nice guy.” The media theorist Theresa M. Senft offered the term “microcelebrity” describing such a phenomenon as the “instafamous”- people becoming famous for being known. Famous for being famous. Fame is an achievement in its own right and merits no further confirmations; fame could, in the “attention economy” exist on its own. You don’t have to write books to become famous or create music, or be a movie star. To take selfies is enough. While not everyone achieves this status, those who efficiently emulate celebrities, have a chance.

In Anosovo you would not be surprised to learn that there is no such infrastructure for a universally accessible Internet connection. There is one spot that gives Wi-Fi away for free, and in the evening around the spot, on a bench, you see people staring into their smartphones, as you would observe them any other place in the world. But the selfie-taking practice does not make sense in the absence of the environment that affords for an intermittent and ubiquitous interconnectedness. People do take selfies though. What I have learned is that essentially is you give a human a photo camera, they are going to snap a self portrait. Therefore, the cultural critique that is built around selfie practices as being superficial, vain- that Millennials indulge in because of their self-conceit, is in fact rather superficial and indulgent. On another note, but one that is relevant to make my point, I have a memorial of selfies from one girl who died in Anosovo at the age of 14. Her page on a Russian social media site is the only document she shared throughout her short life, and she shared it with the rest of the world. How is that not worthy of appreciation?

Part of your work in Siberia explores how people’s networks of social relations extend past their town. What are these social networks- are they made up of friends, family, employers? How are these relationships maintained, and is there any conflict?

One thing that I realized in thinking through this project and research is that remoteness does not mean the absence of mobility. On the contrary, people can live a sedentary life should they so desire, but there is a lot of travel and moving around. For everything, like buying wallpaper for your new home, or seeing a dentist, you have to travel- and in this case, travel becomes an adventure in its own right. For example, there is a mooring in Anosovo where people gather to meet their friends and relatives, or during their own departure and arrival. It is one of the most important places for community gatherings and exchange of news, greetings, rumors- things that need to be passed to someone, good, and so on. That Anosovo keeps diminishing in population means that the network of those who stayed has actually expanded. Some of the human connections are fleeting, and some are strong and are maintained over great distances for decades. The older generation tends to rely on paper correspondence, but this is also difficult. I learned that it is impossible to send a post card from Anosovo. The old building that was the post office burned down, so the post is now in a banya, and there are no post cards. It may seem trivial, and probably it has been awhile since you have sent or received one, but imagine a world where you are deprived of this simple possibility. So there is this clear divide between generations, and in the way that they maintain their connections, but the ability to communicate in either way is still difficult.

From what you have seen in your fieldwork, do forms of digital self-representation play a role in maintaining these networks of social relations?

Digital activities in Anosovo do not play as much of a role as they play in Austin or in Moscow. You’re definitely not going to be excluded from some events there if you don’t have a Facebook account. In Russia, the most popular social networks are Odoklassniki and Vkontakte. I am in connection with many of my younger interlocutors in the field through Vkontakte. They are all absent from Facebook, remarkably. But my Moscow friends are overwhelmingly using Facebook. There is a certain divide between how Russian villages, small towns, and big cities are represented on this social-network map. But you know how places like Anosovo may skip a moment of everyone’s connection via telephone. Technology is visceral and worked into a body, it is also an embodied practice. For example, the first thing that I and people who used spiral-cord telephone receivers do is press it to my ear, lift my shoulder and hold the receiver squeezed between my shoulder and head. It is a gesture that I do automatically. It allows you to free your hands and do something while you’re still talking on the phone. People who did not spend as much time as I did with this form of telephone that now belong to the past do not do this gesture automatically. Anosovo did not have a central telephony. They have satellite phones here and there, but not in every household. And because of the remittent Internet connection, where not everyone is initiated into it, you have to agree on things in person. I have found this to be strangely invigorating- you begin to suddenly plan your time, and you know you don’t have an option to drop out at the last second. The Internet made even short-term contracts impossible. But I have found that you have to learn and re-learn how to navigate these different ways of communication.

I imagine there is a tension between old and new (technologically, generationally, socially) in these towns. Is this true? How does this tension challenge an individual’s decision to remain or leave, and what are the effects it has on individual and community identity?

What constitutes such a big decision as whether to leave or stay (and the “stay” decision is also a decision which is reaffirmed every day) is a complex factoring out of many things. And these things are not easy to separate from one another.

I see two main tensions between generations in post-Soviet spaces in general: one of them is along the time divide related to the Soviet era. Those who were alive during the Soviet Era, who participated and were active in practices specific to that time, have a different set of bodily experiences. Those who were born in 1988 or later did not experience that world at an age when they could account for themselves. From one side the disruption of continuity was dramatic, with borders emerging all over the place- not only state borders, but social borders as well, no less policed or more penetrable. It was a process lived through by active individuals. It reverberated through their family relations and their relationships with their loved ones. It resulted in friendships ruined and new social circles acquired. Sets of beliefs collapsed, and new ideas emerged. But on the other side, it is not that the next day suddenly all the daycares in the Soviet Union had different people caring for the same children. A trajectory continued through multiple disruptions: ethic conflicts, family dramas, parents losing jobs, committing suicide, and so on. Life goes on. The shift in the state governance happened alongside the technological revolution. And in this case revolution is not too strong a word to call the advent of personal computers and mobile phones coming into almost everyone’s possession. We are talking about dramatic changes here. In fact, in 2012, the historian Donald Raleigh published a wonderful book titled The Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia’s Cold War Generation. Geographically, Moscow and Saratov “baby boomers” who were the subjects of Raleigh’s book do not represent the Soviet baby boomers as an entity (the USSR consisted of 15 Republics). But I wonder if there should be a book on The Post-Soviet Millennials– this would be a charming hybrid. Precisely because of this hybridity it makes perfect sense. We speak about social categories in the language that we think we understand, even if in the process of speaking many things are lost in translation not only cross-culturally, but also within the language. The translation is impossible, but it also happens all the time. Misunderstanding is a potentially productive way of understanding.

 

Source: The University of Texas at Austin, department of anthropology website. February 8, 2018.