Field Notes, Summer of 2017 in Siberia

During this summer I spent as much time as it was possible in Siberia. I brought notes from there, that I now offer to your attention. I hope to work on the photographs that I took; some of my best shots were taken there this year.

Without further ado, Stenography of the Itinerary on the

“Suddenly (and I have to fly tomorrow) I am not excited to go to “the field,” which is also “home.” The distance is never a stable measure. The distance grows. With time, it deepens. I am clinging to things: a kerchief that I have not been wearing for months, I definitely need to take it with me. All the colorful pens. All these books I have not finished. The pages of handwriting I did not have time to type; I am spending the last day before the departure trying to determine what I might be missing the next day. A futile wonder. I will miss nothing in particular and everything at once, but I probably will also be too occupied with what immediately arises in my sight to ponder over anything that I have left.

My phone is suddenly broken, of all things–my phone, which prosthetic qualities are never as evident as they are now, when it is not “here,” out of order. I suspect that I inhabit the screen: Evernote, messengers, colorful icons of familiar apps–icons and anchors of familiarity itself. To go without the phone, a false body member, is to be derived of the instrument, of techne, of the possibility of art, which is only available through technology. To have a new phone on the eve of flying from one country of another is more like changing planets. Now I will have to spend at least two hours and likely more recalling all the passwords that open myself to myself.

Derrida doubtlessly did not anticipate the development of technology which by a peculiar twist favors writing–for the first time in human history writing seems ubiquitous, everyone is writing, it is not going to last long, I think, when the advance of video will take over. Derrida issues old-fashionable laments on the death of love letters (as a genre) that he predicts tirelessly in his own love letters–little did he know. He would have been thrilled by sexting.

Itineraries deprive one of that little sense of home which one might possibly have after having moved from one hemisphere to the other. Every travel is a little bit of death, death foreshadowed, half-disclosed, hinted, promised–a rehearsal of how you’ll leave everything at once on a certain day to come. The inevitability of it is monotonous: it is not the event itself but the inescapability of it which is gruesome. To think about all the orphaned objects you will leave, and of the facelessness, the indiscernibility of these objects.”


read the rest here:

Pink Girlhood (Stenography of the Itinerary 83)

Connection between the mother and the daughter is a special connection, full of warmth, hope, and care. In the pink room that Catherina created for her daughter with a rare, mellifluent name Evelina, all dreams should come true. Fairies, unicorns, barbies, princesses, and all the inhabitants of the world of wonder, world of fairy tales, would witness the growth and development of the happy Evelina’s life.

The girlhood. The desire that the happiness would come true, is so pronounced.

The soft light envelopes the tiny figure on a toy horse. And it seems like all the pink shine in the pink room emanates from this source of light.

The pictures are taken by the author in the village of Anosovo, Siberia

Anthropology of the Everydayness in the Izmaylovo Gallery in Moscow, 03/26/2017 – photosАнтропология_повседневности – text (in Russian)

“Aнтропология повседневности” – текст выступления в галерее “Измайлово” в Москве 23 июня 2017 года. О методах антропологической работы, автоэтнографии и о субъективности антропологического знания, не означающей, впрочем, произвольности. Об использовании поэзии как научного метода.

In this talk on autoethnography, anthropological methods, and subjectivity of anthropological knowledge (which does not mean arbitrariness), in Moscow on the 23rd of June, 2017, I am mentioning Courtney Morris, Chelsi West Ohueri, and S.C.

Thank you for your all-defeating radiance.

Robots Between the Past and the Future

Сегодня на 12-ом Конгрессе антропологов и этнологов России, проводимом в Ижевске 3-6 июля, был прочитан мой доклад “Робот: фигура будущего или ностальгический объект?” Читала его Elena Sokolova. Спасибо ей за это, а организатору, Sergey Sokolovskiy, – за приглашение участвовать.

Today at the XII Congress of Anthropologists and Ethnologists of Russia in Izhevsk, conducted in the 3-6 of July, my presentation
was delivered. It is titled “Robot: a Figure of the Future or Nostalgic Object?” It was read by Elena Sokolova. I am grateful to her, and to the organizer Sergey Sokolovskiy for the invitation.


Summoning Ghosts: Mutant Sensibilities and the Politics of Haunting

I am going to devote this writing to claiming the existence of instances and procedures of summoning. People summon certain discourses in order to establish the narrative of everydayness. I offer this term, summoning, as defining the evocation, mobilization, or materialization of the past. Different actors conduct such evocations with a goal, whether conscious or not, of influencing the present and changing the delineation of the future. For instance, the state summons a “glorious past” to create a sense and feel of national unity at the face of some threat, oftentimes fictional. An example of such threat might serve a foreign influence which seeks to corrupt Russia through imposing the politics of acceptance of “homosexual body” (Somerville, 1994). An ethnographic center of this essay will be a case of “mutant sensibilities” in Bratsk, to which we will arrive shortly. This episode will be analyzed in connection to a sci-fi novelette by Ivan Yefremov “Nur-i-Desht Observatory,” first published in 1944 in the Noviy Mir literary journal and then republished several times; it was also translated. In this short story, a group of scientists, including an archeologist, a geologist, and a “professor,” are working on the remnants of an ancient observatory. There, people feel an unusual rise of energy in them; the ruins make them happy. Soon they find an explanation for their joy. Radium used in the details of ornamentations is what impacts the organisms in a positive manner and makes humans feel good. At the time, it was unclear whether the influence of radiation on humans is positive or negative. These “mutant sensibilities” summoned suddenly in 2017, are the examples of the use of a certain narrative that people create and uphold, for them to work around the pollution of the atmosphere. The literary story functions as an example and a counterpoint, providing a historical context to this particular way of summoning.

Robot: a Figure of the Future or Nostalgic Object?

I was kindly invited by Sergey Sokolovskiy to participate in the XII Congress of Anthropologists and Ethnologists of Russia which will take place in the city of Izhevsk, 3-6 July, 2017

Была любезно приглашена Сергеем Соколовским участвовать в 12-ом Конгрессе Антропологов и Этнологов России, который состоится в Ижевске 3-6 июля 2017 года. Он пригласил меня подать заявку на секцию, им организованную, которая называется “Технологии и телесность: новые концепции и методы исследования”.

Тема заявлена следующим образом:
“В докладах секции предполагается обсуждение таких междисциплинарных тем как телесность и техника в философско-аналитических и феноменологических подходах, влияние современных технологий на человеческую телесность (ко-эволюция техники и тела), инженерные усилия по созданию гибридных биосоциотехнических систем, киборгизация, развитие способностей и возможностей человека с помощью новых технологий (human enhancement), влияние на тело техносреды с ее протоколами и ограничениями (дисциплинирование тела и т.н. воплощение/embodiment), современные подходы в рамках STS к исследованию взаимодействия человеческих акторов и техники, новые технологии и сенсорная антропология, онлайн-телесность и др.”

Я только что дописала план своего выступления. Не знаю, получится ли у меня съездить в Ижевск нынче летом, но я хочу поддержать этот замечательный проект хотя бы текстом (я давно интересуюсь темой; на встрече Американской Антропологической Ассоциации в 2016 году мой доклад назывался “Археология робототехники: останки Советских роботов”). Я бы говорила приблизительно о следующем:

Робот: фигура будущего или ностальгический объект?

Археология роботического, если такая наука будет существовать, реконструет робота как объект, пронизывающий пространства и времена. Уже сегодня гуманоидные, человекоподобные роботы 60-х годов — ностальгические объекты. Роботы возникли “вчера”, у них есть история. Будут ли роботы с нами завтра? И если да, то в каких формах? Какие функции у них будут? Будут ли они человекоподобными? И что это значит: быть “подобными человеку”?

В работе “Манифест киборга: наука, технология и социалистический феминизм конца двадцатого века” (1984), философ технологии и антрополог Донна Харауэй предложила такое прочтение фигуры киборга, которое послужило развитию дискуссии вокруг вопросов: что такое человеческое и нечеловеческое, живое и мертвое, одушевленное и неодушевленное, и где между данными категориями пролегают неверные границы?

В эсхатологиях антропоцена, эти границы, пористые и проницаемые, мерцают и дышат. Границы нарушаются каждый день. Люди погружены в телефоны, которые создают аффект связанности всего мира и взаимовлияния вещей в нем — взаимовлияния, осуществляющегося при посредстве технологий. Одновременно, новые технологии отчуждают человека от ей подобных и от нее самой, от того, что может быть названо “реальным” опытом присутствия. Люди взаимодействуют с роботами — машинами, инструментами, технологиями — и в этих взаимодействиях, возможно, сами становятся киборгианскими сочленениями.

Роботы существовали с незапамятных времен — если не как сконструированные создания, то как создания воображенные. Они прошли через эпохи, меняя внешность, пол, функции: андрогинные, выраженно феминные, электронные гейши (иногда бестелесные, как Сири), и подчеркнуто маскулинные, подобно трансформерам с планеты Киботрон. Роботы населяют не только реальный мир, но и утопические видения, будь то захватывающие галлюцинации массовой культуры или пророческие мечты изобретателей. Как роботы меняют представления человечества о человеческом? Как человек изменяется в процессе конструирования роботов и со-трудничества с ними?


Narcissus Taking a Selfie

I posted on my short playful writing on selfies. it is currently under consideration in one new anthropological internet venue; I have not heard from them for a while. I first presented my selfie project at John Hartigan’s class last year as a talk, and here is finally a writing:

Selfie in the Interior: Narcissism and Its Cultural Critique

“Persistency of mirrors is known to everyone as a quality of re-demonstrating a looker, always, to the looker. Narcissism, “destined to oneself” (Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, 1968, 249, quoted by Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind, University of Chicago Press, 1993), is the plague of the modern times, critics fear. Self-portrait in the time of proliferation and ubiquity of technology emerges on a verge of narcissism and cultural critique of narcissism, as [that] what appears to be a result of the collaborative struggle between two discourses, disproving and supporting each other. The cultural critique of narcissism is a Narcissus itself: it is undetachable from the object at which it looks. Whenever Narcissus turns, it is always Narcissus that he sees. Whenever the conversation about selfies starts, inevitably someone points out or implies that it’s a morally questionable enterprise. (“Self portrait of NN knows it,” Derrida would have said.) Yet… What is there to be painted except for self-portrait? What is there to be taken if not selfie?”

Selfie is an ideal ruin. For tomorrow self is dead.

A Bit Lengthy Abstract for the New Directions in Anthropology (UT Conference) 2017

In Proximity of Ruins: The Generative Potential of the Deteriorating Space and Utopian Visions

In my work, I look at the history of ruins as a notion and in motion. The goal of such examination, the examination of the cultural etymology of “ruins,” is to ask, or rather to pose, two inter-related questions: “what is ruin?” and “what do ruins do?”

Since the shift of the conversation around ruins from the ruin as an object towards the ruin as a process (Stoler, 2008), the writing around ruins, which has been existing for as long as ruins exist, that is to say, from the beginning of humanity,[1] exploded in inquiries of all kinds: post-colonial past and its perseverance within the shifted selves of the same practices, imperial ambitions, “white man’s burden,” and other structures of thought and mindsets that possess a great potential of ruination. I think it might be useful to get back for a moment to the looking at the ruin as the object, albeit the-object-in-flux. For what is object?

Likewise, humanity has long been persistently, nostalgically, and pensively charmed with ruins as the material remnants of the past. The material remnants are important because it is by reconstruction of the past that we forge our identities and create contesting scenarios of the future. In recent decades, socio-cultural anthropology unpacks many different and perhaps conflicting interpretations of ruins, connecting “ruins” to the “adjacent territories”: theories of materiality, affect, infrastructure, power, memory, utopia/dystopia/heterotopia, precarity, history, progress, modernity, museumizing gaze, ruin porn, archeology, practices of belonging and political affiliation, and so forth.

On the ethnographic material that I collected during the summer 2016 travel to Siberia, in particular related to the Bratsk “house of pioneers” lying in ruins, I theorize how space differently produces ruins in connection to its changing political and social formations, and how ruins, in their turn, generate miscellaneous types of cross-species socialities while weirding pre-existing notions / divisions between “human” and “non-human,” “dead matter” and “living organisms,” “separate entity” and “assemblage/hybrid,” “animate” and “inanimate,” “acting” and “acted upon,” “subjected to” and “possessing agency.” In proximity of ruins, private and public, individual and collective, reclusive and social, misanthropic and sociable, melancholic and hopeful, always already abstract and questionable, acquire additional flickering, blinking distinctions, as well as glitching similarities.

I am conducting this project in hopes to achieve a better understanding as to why ruins are the metaphor actively deployed in the recent scholarship, particularly in connection to the imperial formations, and I am doing it full of suspicion that the figure of ruins in fact stands for a grander figure of absence of something.

[1] In some sense, ruins foreshadowed their own emergence. Consider Susan Sontag’s maxim: “Many buildings, and not only Parthenon, probably look better as ruins.” On Photography.

To the Problems of Visual Anthropology

I published on the our project Ryzyka: A Curated Conversation, created in co-authorship with Irina Oktyabrskaya, Valeriy Klamm,  and Craig Campbell. This work came out on the website of Cultural Anthropology. This is the opening entry of the collaborative project between Cultural Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review, titled “Writing with Light” and meant for publishing photos(+)texts. My contribution as I saw it, was to ask on the ethnographic Siberian material, or rather “to continue to ask,” to use the Derrida’s expression, the question: What is the difference between photo-essays and visual (anthropology) essay?

“In our framing of this photo-essay, we let our conceptual approach revolve around affect rather than historical meaning. We are interested in situating the reader in the midst of a carefully assembled collection. We want to invite her to navigate an assemblage that renders multiple superimposed stories of life, that neither subordinates the rich complexity of the world made visible through photography to a single hermeneutic goal nor abdicates the role of critical description. Historical frames are hinted at, but are ultimately secondary to a visually rich narrative of everyday life that punctures through the social orchestrations of annual festivals and holidays. In addition to its focus on affect, the photo-essay composes a kind of story that refuses any attempts to extract form from content: neither is available for perception, as it were, without the other element.”