Untranslatable Words and Incommensurable Worlds: Word Circulation in Shifting Language Ideologies

In this paper, “Untranslatable Words and Incommensurable Worlds: Word Circulation in Shifting Language Ideologies,” I follow the trajectory of two Russian words over several cases of use: byt and poshlost. While poshlost is well recognized in the English language, byt remains a mystery.

“In this paper I am looking at two “untranslatable” Russian words that may or may not have made their way into English. I discuss language ideologies emerging in connection with the “domestication” of a new word. How do words make their way into language? What regimes of circulation, acceptance, and discard make them used or rejected by the speakers of the recipient language? What politics of translation surround these transitions? Drawing from theorization of language ideologies by Kroskrity and Silverstein, and theorization of untranslatability by Jacobson, Benjamin, and Povinelli, I am trying to trace two “untranslatable” words in their new contexts – “poshlost” and “byt” – and reconstruct what does the “untranslatability” do to the actual practices of translation and dissemination of notions and discourses in sociopolitical context.”

This is a fascinating kind of work, and I am happy to have been privileged to spend some time on tracing these words and layering out my ideas in connection to them. This is a class paper written back in the day that will likely exist as such and won’t have any continuation in my own work. I have so many writing projects, I have to abandon a lot of them at a certain stage and moment; it is a pity, but there is only a relatively narrow spectrum of my work that I can devote my attention to.
I attempted about incorporating its part on “byt” in my dissertation (as a more pertinent part), but what it boiled down to is that I think I have a footnote somewhere around my writings that I continue working on, mentioning Svetlana Boym and Jacobson who considered the word “byt” untranslatable.
I think we should not marry to the idea that untranslatable words are a thing, in a sense that every word is untranslatable from the language of one individual into the language of another individual, but that does not preclude us from understanding each other in a sufficient measure.
~

If you are interested to know what I am working on right now, pledge me a +$1 on Patreon and get access to protected content. I am not putting it out for everyone to see because of prematurity of such measure, but I plan to showcase the documents that will work for everyone to see and glean the use relevant to their own tasks. And I invite you to follow me on this journey.

 

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Reflections on Translation in Literary, Everyday, and Anthropological Practice

I put on academia-e-d-u my reflections on translation that I prepared for a seminar in linguistic anthropology. I might not be able to attend the seminar scheduled for October because of the delay of my student visa, but I figured, if I won’t record the thoughts that this invitation prompted in me, they will remain in the noosphere.

Thanks to Professors A.W. and C.H. for the opportunity to think about it.


Whenever we think about translation, it is about (mis)translation inasmuch. Vladimir Nabokov famously required another Vladimir Nabokov to translate his own work (the list of qualities of his ideal translator that he named narcissistically centered Nabokov himself, who, at least in his own assessment, of course, possessed all these qualities).  Some writers refused to translate themselves. Others, translating, transformed their own work to the degree it became an independent new work. The funny stories of mistranslations abound. In a sense, the situation when a speaker ventures into the unfamiliar territory of the new language brings risks. These risks are not unlike the risks that anthropologist experiences stepping onto the land where she did not live before—or even if she lived, in her new capacity of the researcher that defamiliarizes the familiar to her. The speaker of a language not mastered fully is in a similar situation. They are definitely outside of their comfort zone and up to surprises.

In my own practice, I used translation for the literary impossible purposes of recreating “the violet in the crucible,” by Percy Shelley’s expression, in my daily experience of living abroad from the country of my native language—Russia—for more than seven years, and in my anthropological practice. All these versions of translating things from one language into the other, from one culture into the other, were closely intertwined. I will begin with literary translation, talk about everyday translation, and finish with the translation in anthropological practice. The different ways to translate things lead to the Babylon point of bifurcation of the languages that might be not a curse but a blessing. All these instantiations are called into existence in order to be considered in the light of the main idea of this writing: there are no different languages; “language” is a social construct.

Before you frown at the triteness of the expression “social construct” or say “so, is everything social construct nowadays?”, allow me to elucidate my thesis. When I first heard myself to profess this conviction, which happened at a lecture of Expressive Culture at UT, Spring 2019, I was probably more surprised to hear it than anyone else in the audience. Yet,
~
Unfortunately, academia-e-d-u acting out and does not show the preview. I already wrote them about this and another piece that I uploaded and that I will introduce here soon, but it remains to be known how quickly they will fix it. But you can still download my talk (and write me a comment about it, too!)
Translation is a mystery that will never stop bothering me! I wish the same to you.

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.

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)

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

To the Cultural Differences in Writing

In the book titled “Getting Your Writing Out of the Door: Strategies of Publishing in International Journals for European Social Scientists” (don’t ask; some books I read it will be even more embarrassing to admit I did) there is a universally familiar, palpable sense of superiority of the American thought in regard to any other thought.
 
“‘We’re different, we’re different, as you can clearly see,’ and just as clearly you can see that we’re better in every aspect.”
 
But, apart from it, there is one thing that I found curious: the author insists that there are major cultural differences in the ways scholarly writings are structured in “the West” and anywhere else.
 
In the Eastern cultures (the writer vaguely waves her hand towards “the East,” uniting it generously into one region), it is an affront to the reader’s intelligence to say everything you meant exactly like you meant it. There are beautiful digressions, anecdotes, and stories, and fragments that leave you genuinely puzzled by how they got there and what functions they bear. The reader is supposed to be an active participant in reconstructing the meaning of the text. The reader is supposed to put the book away and contemplate the universe gazing at the landscape framed by her window, slowly sipping tea with jasmine sitting on her straw mat, while cicadas around cool her forehead with paper fans.
 
In the West, says our writer, if you don’t explain at least three times what it is that you’re trying to say, exhaustively, first and foremost things that seem obvious to you, you’re not doing a good job as a writer. There are no digressions. Anecdotes and stories may be present, on occasion, but they know their place; they play the role of the evidence and illustrations to your main point. In the West, the reader has no time for tea. She is dressed in the robotic uniform and is too busy mopping the floor. The reader is supposed to put the book away and know exactly how to mop the floor, what instruments to use, and why she needs to mop the floor in the first place. She might be told how much more often those who mop the floor find themselves distracted by reading than they find themselves finishing their work on time, but that requires a separate article.
 
~
Interesting observation… I wonder where’s my green tea with jasmine. I think I had a tiny, beautiful octagonal tin box somewhere in this house.

Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)

I am very excited for the today’s lecture in the Culture and Communication class at the University of Texas at Austin that I am going to give: “Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not).” 9/28/2017

I am going to upload the text of the lecture later on my page on the Academia.edu.

Wish me luck!

Perpetual Nabokov

Writer’s Change of Language: Nabokov and Others

In the journal of proceedings of the linguistic anthropology symposium in 2016 at UT, my first writing on Nabokov out there.

He is at the interception of identities, which coincides for the writer with the interception of languages and ways of writing: English as opposed to Russian but also as opposed to American (as opposed to French).

Gendered Speech

Certain ways of speaking, not only in terms of content but also prosodywise, are gendered as feminine, and, accordingly, stigmatized as degrading, condemned, castigated, censured, disapproved, publicly subjected to improvement and extermination, and reprimanded.

“Schoolgirl speech” in Japan, as Miyako uncoveres, was reconstructed as having a number of characteristics polluting the purity of educated Japanese speech: “From approximately 1887 through World War I, a surge of commentaries were written and circulated in the Japanese print media about the “strange” and “unpleasant” (mimizawarina) sounds issuing from the mouths of schoolgirls. Male intellectuals of various affiliations located the source of their dismay in utterance-endings such as teyo, noyo, and dawa which schoolgirls used. They called such speech forms “schoolgirl speech” (jogakusei kotoba). It was jarring to their ears; it sounded vulgar and low class; its prosodic features were described as “fast,” “contracting,” and “bouncing with a rising intonation”; and it was condemned as “sugary and shallow.”” (Miyako, 2006, 37).

Such telling examples do not belong solely to the pre-WW 1st Japanese past, they also mark the Western present. The discussion around “uptalk” bears remarkably misoginystic overtones. “Uptalk,” the employment of rising intonation in statements, supposedly transforming statements into questions, is intensely gendered as characteristic to women’s speech. Highly gendered public spheres of modernity intensely police feminized ways of speaking.

A brief overview of youtube videos regarding uptalk would yield to “The Weird Way Women Downplay Their Success” (https://youtu.be/fs9QhpmjWLs), a nameless video about “degradation of English language” (https://youtu.be/hjKMNyZ2oTc), and multiple videos of young women “uptalking” (for example, https://youtu.be/Tj4EIGje4dA) with comments as follows (numbers below the comment indicate “likes”):

“Tavor Runner 274 months ago
If you are contemplating suicide, this vid may very well push you over the edge.
9

echolot1 month ago
as annoying as they talk, i’d still love to be the meat in that sandwich.
1

væmpaɪər Lestat2 weeks ago
makes me wanna cut their fucking throat”

Women, on one hand, are socialized into presenting their opinions as ready to be retracted any moment, but on the other hand women are ridiculed exactly for that. Language ideologies of modernity require women to employ cadences of speech reconstructed as men’s cadences, as well as men’s manner of talking, in order to be construed and recognized as a confident, “successful” speaker.

Reference

Miyako, Inoue. Vicarious language: Gender and linguistic modernity in Japan. University of California Press. 2006

Genre and Power

The question of genre is, I believe, extremely important.

The piece "Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power" Bauman and Briggs begin with delineation of the history of ethnographic writing in order to arrive to understanding how genre plays out in power relations. Evoking Vladimir Propp, who discovered that the structure of fairy tail is preserved albeit the content may vary, and engaging with Boasian writing (produced by Boas and his students; for them, the genre of ethnographic writing was primarily the means of organizing gathered material), they identify the differences between approaches to genre, among which "The most significant dimension of contrast among formal perspectives on genre distinguishes those approaches that identify the formal organization of genre as an immanent, normative, structuring property of texts from those that view generic form as a conventionalized but flexible and open-ended set of expectations concerning the organization of formal means and structures in discursive practice." (144).

This division seems to not necessarily be so contrastive in nature. Genre might be a structuring property of texts and simultaneously a flexible set of expectations. The lack of clarity of the defining genre is telling, in the authors’ consideration, of the fat that it is the under-theorized problem in linguistic anthropology. (The article is written in 1991 but the clarity of the issue, I’d suggest, has only diminished, if anything, since then.) For Bakhtin, genre was an important subject of constant writing. With the shift from text to performance, the question of genre has only increased in its significance. Bringing the discussion to the discourse of intertextuality and dialogism of creative forms, the written work begins to exist on the "intersection of textual surfaces" (Kristeva), that is to say, within multiple intersecting (competing, interchanging, contesting each other and supporting each other) contexts. 

Therefore, "We would argue, similarly, that genre cannot fruitfully be characterized as a facet of the immanent properties of particular texts or performances. Like reported speech, genre is quintessentially intertextual" (147), that is to say, does not exist "objectively," as given, but depends on context.

"When viewed diachronically or vertically, the fit between a particular text and its generic model—as well as other tokens of the same genre—is never perfect; to paraphrase Sapir, we might say that all genres leak. Generic frameworks thus never provide sufficient means of producing and receiving discourse. Some elements of contextualization creep in, fashioning indexical connections to the ongoing discourse, social interaction, broader social relations, and the particular historical juncture(s) at which the discourse is produced and received. […] The process of linking particular utterances to generic models thus necessarily
produces an intertextual gap." (149)

Ultimately the question of genre is political: "Invocations of genre provide powerful strategies for building what Anderson (1991(1983]) terms "imagined communities." (150) For example, "As in the Weyewa case, the
speech genres that comprise the "talk of the elders of bygone days"
among Spanish speakers in New Mexico play a key role in this process" (150).

The question of power, therefore, is a question of powerful narratives the production of which is structured around the axis of genre. "Intertextual gaps" are widened, narrowed, erased, deepened, and downplayed depending on goals of the ruling classes.

"Naturalizing the connection between genre, gender, and emotional experience can in turn rationalize the subordinate status of particular social groups or categories of persons; Lutz’s (1990) discussion of the association between "emotionality" and the female in Western society provides a case in point." (158)


Reference

Briggs, Charles and Richard Bauman (1991) "Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power." Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2(2):131-172