Bare Bones of Neoliberalism

What could be learned by “learning from Lagos” (Gandy, 2005) a megalomaniac city stretched as a “continuous urban corridor” (Davis, 2004, 73), “the biggest continuous footprint of urban poverty on earth” (Davis, 2004, 76)?

First, that things are not what they appear to a Western eye, which vision is predicated on linguistic ideologies of post-Enlightenment ethnocentrism, privileging “a single conception of the good” (Scott, 1999, 220): what appears to be an agglomeration of squalor, dirt, debris, detritus, rubble, garbage, and ruins, turns out to be “heaps of similar materials and colors. The actuality taking place was actually not a process of sorting, dismantling, reassembling, and potentially recycling” (Koolhaas, 2002, 117)—the reality which merits two “actual” in the sentence, in a tautology perhaps subconsciously reflecting on the surprising quality of such discovery. Hence the inadequacy of habitual Western tools of dealing with the new worlds, emerging cities and futures, which resist being captured and described in categories and notions of “traditional” architecture as well as social thought. And therefore, there is a need of new lexical inasmuch as socio-political apparatus of cognition in order to dealing with the alternative reality of what Davis calls “urban poverty ‘Big Bang’” (Davis, 2004, 77). I am sympathetic with this claim, but I am unsure how we can say that our tools of thought are not applicable if for saying so we use these exact tools of thought—linguistically, politically, socially, culturally, and otherwise.

The practical approach to postcoloniality requires a new language, a new subject grappling with the legacy of the colonial, imperial world saturated with metropolia-periphery and colonizer-colonized dichotomies. New kind of figures emerge in the process of “self-fashioning,” to use Scott’s impression. It is not a Benjaminian flâneur who takes precedence over political imagination of bourgeoisie expurning out of its stratum a city dweller, but Fanonian ruud bwai (rude boy), as David Scott offers (Scott, 1999, 195)—young, black, impoverished, angry, armed with hand-made or illegally acquired armor. Ruud bwai is the masculine figure whose body, by very virtue of its untamed existence, becomes a site of violent struggle with the colonial implications in the process of confrontation of the new kind of selves: colonial versus post-colonial subject, rather than colonized versus colonizing subject. A native of the urbanity for the conversation of whom the current language and mindset of social science is dramatically lacking in precision, the inhabitant of the new loci of “collective dwellings” (to use Benjaminian expression for the lack of a better term), such as dancehall, in a seeming disorder of movement, rhythm, gesture, and movement, which, again, might turn out to be just a new type of order, a clandestine order of things.

The rapid post-industrial urbanization that the Third World lives through, was once a utopian project of Soviet empire. After the construction of Bratsk dam in Eastern Siberia in 1961, for the clearing of territories for the Bratsk reservoir (currently the second-largest people-created water reservoir on the planet), in the Bratsk district alone sixty-three settlements were consolidated into six towns (Chepel, 2014), as the state plans of consolidation were moving inhabitants of the villages into newly built urban-type settlements of what might be called “nascent urbanity,” the prospective cities of the future. Half a century later, with the dismantling of the Soviet project, these prospective cities represent the zones of abandonment. Not only the economic dream of prosperity was not fulfilled, but the transformation of environment in the absence of infrastructure led to revelation of the bare bones of Russian neoantiliberalism in a very literal sense. The level of water in the Bratsk reservoir have been lowering down for the last three years for reasons not altogether known. Aside from barren shore, of rock and stone, appearing from under the water, old cemeteries were being exposed, graves burst open. In a number of rural places, during the summer of 2016 one could see bucolic and Apocalyptic landscapes: children playing with skulls and bones on the shore of the retreating river.

Thus “rural-urban continuum” (Davis, 2004, 73) undergoing a social and ecological transformation, unfolds as a theater of a spectacularly uneven distribution of power, income, and rights. Which in different sense (that connected to a massive outburst of population and to a slow dwindling down of a community, respectively) is likewise apparent in slums of Lagos and streets of a Siberian village.

 

References

Davis, Mike. Planets of Slums. New Left Review, 26 March-April 2004.

Gandi, Mathew. Learning from Lagos. New Left Review, 33 May-June, 2005

Chepel, M. Preparing the Bed of Bratsk Hydro Power Plant Reservoir for Water-Flooding of a First Stage (1956 – 1961). Thesis. Bratsk, 2014.

Koolhas, Rem. “Fragments of a Lecture on Lagos” in Under Siege Four African Cities, 2002.

Scott, David. Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality, 1999.

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The Human in People-Altered Landscapes

Talk at “The Extra-Human” 13th Annual Graduate Conference in Comparative Literature, September, 25th, 2016; University of Texas in Austin

 

The Human in People-Altered Landscapes

I’m presenting at “The Extra-Human” 13th Annual Graduate Conference in Comparative Literature on Sunday, September, 25th; University of Texas in Austin, SAC 3.106, Balcony A.

The panel starts at 12:15.

My presentation is entitled Russian Literature on Bratsk Dam: the Human in People-Altered Landscapes of Soviet Industrialization.

I’m going to display visual material which had never been shown before, and talk about rare texts which were never translated into English.

Pokemon Go as a Political Endeavor

Pokemon Go is a game which revealed deeper political structures and became a socio-political action of self-surveillance, a topic of reflections on racial dynamics in the modern society, an artistic hijack used in order to draw attention to / capitalize on children’s sufferings, a border-breaching endeavor, and recently, an anticlerical practice.

Pokemon Go and Race Self-Awareness

I invite you to read my piece.

Pokemon Go and Mass Media Usage of Children’s Suffering

“Syrian graphic designer Saif Aldeen Tahhan has also used Pokémon Go to highlight the devastation in the country.

He created images — each carrying a ‘Syria Go’ logo — to show the impact of the war on the Syrian people over the last five years.

“I created these images as a way to turn attention to the Syrian war, and to focus on Syrian suffering instead of Pokémon, which people are crazy about,” he explained.” (Molloy, 2016).

Pokemon Go and Border-Breaching

I read two young man crossed a border chasing a pokemon, which hints that Pokemon Go was invented to breach state borders. It’s a modern space game (not the first of them). We mustn’t forget that eventually borders will be obliterated.

Among predecessors of Pokemon Go I’d name creating pictures in the canvas of urban space using GPS-navigator; have you seen those? Phalli were most widespread to draw.

Pokemon Go and Anticlericalism in Russia

Pokemon Go quickly went out of fashion but before that a scandal erupted in the Orthodox Church in Russia, and a trial over a man who was catching pokemons in a church is about to unfold, with church officials officially refusing to plead on his behalf and ask for mercy.

As someone who attended closely to a memorable punk band Pussy Riot performance and a trial, I would point out on the stylistic and aesthetic correlations between the performance videorecorded by Alekhina and Tolokonnikova (leaders of Pussy Riot) and a video made by “pokemon-hunter” Ruslan Sokolovsky.

 

References (Incomplete)

Mark Molloy “Syrian Children Hold Pokemon Photos Praying World Will Find Them.” Telegraph. 21 July, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/21/syrian-children-hold-pokemon-photos-praying-world-will-find-them/ [retrieved 7/22/2016]

Reliable Robot

Magdalena Stawkowski, a scientist who works on “mutant sensibilities” and radiophobia, established during her two-year fieldwork in Kazakhstan, that people believe they should be subjected to radiation in order to to feel good.

I encountered similar sentiments in the town of Bratsk, Siberia, known for the smelly exhaust and pollution of the chemical manufacture.

Magdalena told me that once robots in Chernobyl, which were supposed to liquidate the consequences of the catastrophe, went out of order, humans were sent there instead, but the word “robot” was retained and dangled in the air. The entities working at the site were still called “robots” despite being human.

The most reliable robot is the robot of bones and blood.

 

Mother in Academia

A question or remark every once in a while disrupting seamlessness, dropping as if from a ceiling–it might be even said, pleasantly diverting–still, it is difficult to spend time hour after hour in one room with a child being busy with anything but said child.

When he was younger, all my attention was concentrated on keeping him from harm that he was about to inflict on himself every other minute. I remember in London I leaped several meters catching my baby jumping from the journal table, noticing him already in flight from another room. (I am not particularly fast, nor do I have a good reaction generally).

Now it is a talk about Minecraft. Easier on me but still.

A child, as I discovered, is a small but potent generator of chaos.

The 1st of September

school

 

The 1st of September is the beginning of the school year in Russia. This is a precious piece of ethnographic evidence, a fascinating photographic fragment of the epoch, which I obtained during my fieldwork in Siberia during the summer of 2016. It has not been shown before.

Here the opening of a new school in 1957 is set in the photograph for eternity.

Craig pointed out today that it goes along well with the 1st September celebration, so I have it, reluctantly, out for your I’m sure utter enjoyment.