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.

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116th American Anthropological Association Meeting in Washington, D.C.

This year’s anthropological meeting was productive; I like big gatherings; usually, I receive there notes and feedbacks that I am able to incorporate in my work because they are dense, to the point, and affirmative. Anthropology and science in general, particularly social science, but also its humanitarian incarnation, the socio-cultural anthropology, tend to come to any fruition (if they do) as collaborative processes, despite their continual stressing of the role of the author. We’re still privileging the singular, sole author, as opposed to some other branches of anthropology that are more explicit in doing things collaboratively–the socio-cultural anthropology is no exception; it is also a 100% collaborative process.

I participated in the 116th AAA with two projects that are linked in ways more numerous that I will be able to articulate in this quick blog post. It will suffice to say for the time being that they should end up as parts of my dissertation. Both these projects emerge out of my Siberian explorations; my interests in the phenomenological side of the materialities of the world; my suspicion that such materialities are mutable and multiple; and also from my interest in people and from me asking and re-asking the questions: How do I tell stories? How do I convey things I saw? How do I transport this audience, this group of people, this listener, this reader, into my own world, which incidentally, at least in part, is an unequivocally Siberian world?

My first presentation came out of the episode which I had been hoping to run in a group of anthropologists for a while. I wrote it down almost entirely right after these episodes had transpired. Yet it took me two years to work through some theory pertaining to that day, to two episodes / two encounters. The theory is there to make it all make sense, as it were.

The piece is about a never-completed architectural project, the Palace of Pioneers in Bratsk, and fantasies and ideas unfolding around it and in proximity to it. Two years is not the end of thinking about one day; this piece continues to be a work in process.

The piece is titled In Proximity of Ruins: Haunted Space and the Mutant Fantasy.

Here is the link to an MP3 recording of the presentation.

(The first one minute and a half of the recording is a lovely murmur of papers and a little bit of commotion; I considered cutting this part but then decided to leave it as is for the sake of a sensorial affect of presence).

The panel where I gave this presentation, is the result of a much-cherished friendship of mine–of an intellectual partnership, a connection between my colleague, the anthropologist Rick Smith and me. The panel was titled Summoning the Past: Contestations of Matter, Space, and Time in the Reproduction of State Power. The concentration on summoning, bringing together matter, space, and time, all in a focus of how the state uses these parameters of the “reality” in view of the reproduction of state power, had allowed us to bring together scholars from different, sometimes perceived as far-flung, wings of the discipline. I find such get-togethers particularly generative in terms of ideas and in terms of acquiring the new angles on the same matters.

We were extremely lucky to have Doctor Eben Kirksey, whose presence as a discussant on our panel was very welcome. Dr. Kirksey was extremely generous in providing the much-needed feedback.

It was an honor to present alongside with Rick Smith, Magdalena Stawkowski (whose work I use in my piece), Mary J Weismantel, and also to have Joanna Radin on our panel, who regretfully could not grace us with her physical presence, but whose amazing presentation Dr. Kirksey delivered himself. I am looking forward to seeing, reading, learning always more about, as well as celebrating the works, of all the participants on our panel.

picturebyCraigCampbell

Craig Campbell took this snapshot, a photographic evidence of the (already) past. In the picture: Dr. Rick Smith and I

My second presentation at AAA 2017 was titled Life and Death in a Siberian Village, and this is one of my favorite projects.

Here is a link to an MP3 recording of this presentation.

I will not upload the visual component of this presentation as I am going to convert it into a photo essay.

This is a project of handwriting that my scientific advisor, anthropologist Craig Campbell, prompted and encouraged me to do.

The curatorial collective Writing With Light put together a two-part roundtable. A diverse group of artists, photographers, visual and multimedia scholars, and anthropologists presented their projects where text and photography, sound and image, language and… language–come together to generate a bunch of different, often complex and ripe with tensions, relationships. It is with great interest that I observed the photo-essays in progress by participants of the roundtable.

I am grateful to Kate Schneider and Camilo Leon-Quijano for their insightful comments on my essay.

Photographs Taken During the Partial Solar Eclipse 8/21/2017 in Austin, Texas

As solar eclipse approached, I was thinking about making an exit, an escape out of it, into the city, in hunt of the everydayness, the experience where the mundane collapses and coagulates with spectacular. There were gazers in Austin that did not make it into my objective; they were exchanging eclipse glasses, and one young pregnant woman stood with her swollen belly, bared, offering it to the sun obstructed by the moon, perhaps in search of some sort of connection for her unborn baby with the forces of the universe far exceeding the limits of our imagination and knowledge, with forces non-human, powerful and divine.

I was looking at the familiar space of the city that has been hosting me for the last six years, and these six years were a pinnacle in its existence: during this time Austin rapidly grew and skyrocketed to the first positions of all kinds of ratings, from most-desirable-cities-to-live in America to cities-that-offer-the-best-ratio-of-entertainment-fun-and-prices-for-rent, or so I’ve been told. Austin is continuing growing and will do so in the observable future, but it is no longer the pioneering city in terms of exchanging comfort for money or best prospects for young professionals. Austin is still one of the desirable place to live but its paradise-like attraction is nearing the end as it is gradually taken over by corporations and undergoes yet another after another wave of gentrification.

I am planning to document through photography several streets in Austin that encompass its spirit best, and I open this project with this series of photographs: Austin during the partial eclipse. The eclipse span nearly three hours, from 11:41 AM to 2:39 PM, with a pinnacle at 1:10 PM.

I enjoyed the light on this day, which seemed unusual to me–and finally I was able to free myself from the idea that I observed a partial solar eclipse before. If I observed the eclipse before, it was not during this earthly life (not that I believe in this shit).

Talks and Presentations in 2016

2016    “‘Village Prose,’ Propaganda, and ‘Human Document’: Contesting Representations of Environmental Transformation.” Talk. Cultures and Ecologies. UT. December 3.

2016    “Archeology of the Robotics: Remnants of Soviet Robots.” Presentation on the organized panel. 115th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 17.

2016    “Methods in Socio-Cultural Anthropology: Fieldwork.” Invited talk. Center of Russian and East European Studies, UT. November 8.

2016    “Robot as a Subject (Object) of Ethnographic Study.” Invited lecture. Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. UT. October 14.

2016    “Russian Literature on Bratsk Dam: the Human in People-Altered Landscapes of Soviet Industrialization. Presentation. “The Extra-Human” 13th Annual Graduate Conference in Comparative Literature. UT. September 25.

2016    “Russia, USA, and the Islamic World: Multiplicity of Feminisms.” Talk. Feminist Society ONA (“She”). Moscow, August 14.

2016    “Writer’s Change of Language: Nabokov and Others.” Presentation. Symposium on Language and Society. UT, April 15.

2016    “ISIS: Use of Atrocity in State Formation.” Invited Lecture. Expressive Culture. UT. Austin, April, 6.

2016    “ISIS: Active Ruination and Performativity of Public Execution.” New Directions in Anthropology, UT, April 1.

2016    “Late Soviet Childhood.” Futures and Ruins Workshop at Duke University, March 25.

2016    “Pussy Riot: The Contest of Performances and Political Affect.” Utopia and Reality. Gender and Feminisms. UT, March 3.

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.

 

Robotic Producers

In the Soviet modernity, not only mechanisms should have been exploited beyond their limits, not only workers were expected and were trying to surpass themselves in effectiveness of their labor, but living beings, cared and mediated by humans, were also enhancing beyond belief the hidden capacities of their bodies.

The instruments of the rising biopower were eugenics, active human-led environmental change, and husbandry loaded with the ideological demand of demonstrating the superiority of the Socialist governmentality.

When Foucault described what he called “anatomo-politics of the human bodies,” which presupposed “the body as a machine,” processed through different stages of disciplining and optimization (Foucault, 1978, 139), he did not mention that the bodies going through all the stages of the cycle which had to make them more efficient and more docile, were not only human. The non-human body was also a cog of the state gear wheel.

Marshalled by the regimes of biopower, pigs were becoming reproduction machines, cows—biorobots, chickens—egg conveyers, rats—laboratory instruments, sheep—fur-generating automatons, and dogs—alive mechanisms of cosmic exploration. Cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, geese, and all the breathing beings had to be useful, give what was demanded of them, and reproduce themselves; they were counted, weighed, measured, compared, exhibited; their products calculated, scaled, pasteurized, and distributed; their offsprings enumerated, examined, and their further trajectories decided.

The ubiquity and wide implementation of the process was like a mass madness, a lunacy of daydreaming caught in a swarm of hectic, frenetic activity giving no rest nor respite to humans and nonhumans alike. Seven-year-plans of developing of the Soviet economics were finished in five years, and five-year-plans in three years. The central and regional newspapers were dappled with “949 liters of milk for each cow in four months received milkmaid Nosova”; “milkmaid Melentyeva is taking an obligation to milk 2900 liters per cow” in a year; animals almost took Socialistic obligations as well: at least a sheep of the Ust Uda region in one kolkhoz was planned to produce 2,6 kg of fur a year; one hundred ewes were expected to bring one hundred five lambs a year; one sow bred 12 piglets; plants did not hang behind either: one hectare was supposed to produce 12,5 centners of crops, and so on (examples are from “Angarskaya Pravda” #42 (2093), 1960).

All across the Soviet Union individual milkmaids, steelmakers, coalminers, conveyer operators, and well as collective farms and enterprises, were taking on “raised obligations” (povishennie obyazatelstva) to produce, manufacture, assemble, make, complete, and accomplish. Every new achievement, were it a number of tons of steel or eggs per chicken, was soon surpassed, record broken, and it seemed that there will be no ending to enlarged capacities of the body, plant, machine, and metal.

Milkmaids were not just milking and taking care of cows, but “created milk rivers,” transforming the trope of fairy tales into the Soviet reality. Delicate corn was all of a sudden growing in Siberian taiga, Northern tundra, and Central Asia semisavanna for that sole reason that such was the wise decision of the Party. Michurin’s amazing apples not only were about to bloom in the regions which were historically too cold or too dry for them previously, but it was only a matter of time, and of several decades at that, until said apples would adorn the Mars’s rusty surface with the carpets of their shed petals and then fruits.

In such context, it was only too reasonable that prairies were transubstantiated into arable land and rivers had to be turned around and rush towards their streambeds, irrigating deserts. In 1947, the project of the near-Pole Salekhard-Igarka railway, which had to be built in permafrost, began emerging as a parallel to Baikal-Amur Mainline; the construction of Salekhard-Igarka was necessary not only in order to develop communications in the scarcely populated region, but also to shield the country from the enemies’ backstabbing blow which they could deliver any moment from the unprotected lands of the Arctic. People who were working on the railroad, imprisoned and converted into forced labor, were thrown into naked, barren landscapes, and expected to protect themselves by extracting out of thin air the shelters and sustenance, much as they were expected at other sites of the “constructions of the century.”

“Breathers” became robotic producers of goods and themselves; when the body is a machine, its frailty is but an annoying obstacle, and the stock of such bodies is practically inexhaustible, but recreatable, refillable, and restorable. Those had to be bodies brimming with enthusiasm, euphoric exaltation of living and participation in a great project of building the Sovietopia: the model of the future for the whole world.

Dog’s Heart

In 1928, Soviet scientists Sergey Brukhonenko and Sergey Chechulin revitalized a cut-off dog’s head, which lived, connected to a pump engine imitating the contraction of the heart, fusing the blood vessels with blood enriched with oxygen. As a journalist of the regional newspaper “Angarskaya Pravda” wrote in 1959, “The cut-off head exhibited all the features of live: it swallowed food, it blinked with its eyes, moved its ears, and smacked its muzzle.” (Salnikov, 1959)

“In our times, (Salnikov continues) Moscow scientist V.P. Demikhov succeeded in transplanting a new heart to the dog, and to transpose the head of the puppy to the neck of adult dog.” (Salnikhov, 1959).

The goal of these Frankensteinian experiments, was to exceed the known limits of longevity, and to build a new resilient breed of fighters for the Communism.

With a provisional force of a genius, Mikhail Bulgakov wrote the novel “Heart of a Dog” in 1925,  known to the late Soviet general public mostly by the film of the same title, directed by Vladimir Bortko (released in 1988).

In the process of bioengineering, akin to the social-engineering process of creation of the new Soviet man, professor Preobrazhensky transplanted a part of the brain of some drunkard to the ill-bred dog, and the dog became a man: with no manners, no education, no heart, and no brain (as these qualities so often go together).
Endowed with his practical knowledge of eugenics, racial ideas of blood purity, nobility, and aristocratism, Professor Preobrazhensky represent the former, pre-Revolutionary Russia. He is a mediumic medic, a member of intelligentsia, compelled to conduct such an experiment and afflutter with the possible result. He is the symbol of the old world, the best part of it–the one that had a chance of survival and even career in the new Soviet state.
However, Sharikh, his creature, barely speaks or conducts himself as a human being; despite and because of it, he is actively socializing and with excitement discovered that the new world is ideal for him. He starts building himself as a less-than-human being would, and at one point even appears at the Professor’s doorframe drunk and, what is worse, with a gun and in a leather coat, famous attributes of the ChK officer.
The Professor admits the failure of his experiment, and makes another surgery, this time transplanting the dog’s brain back into the skull (which by now is a human skull, strictly speaking). The transformative power of science is not omnipotent for Bulgakov, even armed with devilish tools of eugenics and racial theory, and the social experiment is doomed to failure.
Far beyond the novel, in the Soviet society, the idea of the classless future, of the new man and manlike woman, as well as the not unakin to the USA’s resurfacing popular trope of “melting pot,” idea of the “brotherhood of the nations,” in which national differences in the long run should be erased, live.
Reference
Salnikov, E.T. “Kak nauka i religiya obiasnyayut zhizn i smert’.” Angarskaya Pravda, N23 (1943), 1959

Archeology of the Robotic

The archeology of robots unfolds robotic creatures as an object traversing spaces and time; humanoid robots are nostalgic objects. Employing Donna Haraway’s (1991) notion of cyborg, I ask where is the division between human and non-human, alive and dead, animate and inanimate, is situated now, in the anthropocene eschatologies? Where do we transgress these digressions, with our fascination with phones, which create the affect of interconnectedness with the world but simultaneously alienate us from what might be called “real” experiences of presence? How do we interact with robots?

The phones and other devices, starting with electronic pet prosthesically standing for the figure of lack and allowing to become a caregiver of nonbiological entity, like Tamagotchi (Allison, 2006, 2013), account for our fascination with self-representation online, including the practices of selfie-taking and checking-in-ing in the places visited and consumed. By constructing identity through the means of sharing and reblogging and thus co-authoring of the content, we are thoroughly less (or more) or rather otherly human than we were but twenty years ago.

However, robots already existed at the time, if not constructed, than envisioned. They went through the epochs changing appearances, gender, and sexuality: androgynous, manifestly feminine, like early “maids,” and exageratedly masculine, like transformers from the planet Cybotron. Racially, contemporary robots are overwhelmingly “white,” which corresponds with the politics of racializations and power dynamics.

Cyborgs emerge as a response to disability in cases of the transplantation of artificial heart or employing prostheses. Robots still belong to the future, yet they visibly mark our presence. The transformative power of the machines, toys, gadgets, tools, has been long employed by humans in order to enhance the capacities of the body and increase production of goods. Humanoid robots were envisioned as forms intendedly anthropomorphic, and pet robots are often caninomorhic (see BigDog).

The feeling of mysterious horror, which robots excessively resembling humans, trigger, is known as uncanny valley; a poetic and space-related metaphor. This is the affective state where curiosity, fear, dread, and denial are mixed together.

Robots challenge our understanding of moral and become the subjects in courts, changing practices of law and producing precedents (Calo, 2016). Robotic disembodied voices, like Siri, are interrogated by users to fulfill erotic fantasies, and become the absolute geisha in the frustrated dreamworlds of unattainable desires.

Robots explore the surfaces of planets and depths of the oceans, are used in military actions, droids become the ideal apparatus of surveillance embodying state sovereignty, driverless cars and planes provoke fear, spell checkers influence writing, ubiquitous video cameras entice paranoia, agglomeration of devices serve as the machinery of collective memory and archives. This is the nascent world we are inhabiting, technology creating infrastructure and shaping interactions merging public and private into what I would call pubvate. As is often the case, while science, computational and engineering technologies build towards creation of the anthropomorphic robot, the quick, liquid imagination of mass culture generated tremendous amounts of multifarious robotic creatures.

Robots are hypothesized to replace the whole clusters of human laborers which were previously considered within the realm of human creative genius, such as doctors (Cohn, 2013) and translators, and even writers, lately, with a program having written a novel metapragmatically called “The Day A Computer Writes A Novel.” As during the industrialization the machines had replaced the weavers, dispossessing human workers, the new wave of technologization might dispossess the new clusters of workers. Additionally, biomimicking robots start replacing animal agents in scientific research, including medicinal. What does the world of the future look like, with the the increasing presence of robots and humans’ drift towards becoming more cyborgian, and how this vision of the future influences and shapes our presence?

References

Haraway, Donna. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century. Springer Netherlands, 2006.

Allison, Anne. Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. University of California Press, 2006

Allison, Anne. Precarious Japan. Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2013

Calo, Ryan. Robots in American Law. Talk at the University of Texas in Austin, 3/22/2016

Cohn, Jonathan. “The Robot Will See You Now.” The Atlantic, March 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/the-robot-will-see-you-now/309216/ [retrieved 4/2/2016]

Mushroom Meanderings

Mushroom at the End of the World : On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. by Tsing, Anna. Princeton University Press, 2015

“I’ve read that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, thousands of Siberians, suddenly deprived of state guarantees, ran to the woods to collect mushrooms.” (1)

Ha, ha, ha. Ok.

Well, perhaps they did, but mushroom gathering is a joy, an entertainment, and it was a source of additional nourishment in Soviet years as well. Mushrooms always were a profound supplement for those who live in the woods, Siberians no exception.

Mushroom represent the object that triggers and arouses the excitement of the hunter and the amusement of the gatherer. Is not it fun to discover in leaves, in mud, in grass, under the tree, near the stump, something valuable, solid, crisp, shiny, edible (delectable)? Mushroom found is a surprise, a discovery, a prey, a finding, and a treasure. The hunt for mushrooms is saturated with small joys of encounter, revelation, and detection. When under the dying leaves you find a sturdy little thing, tangible, emanating the wet aroma of the sweet decay of the fall, resistant to your urge to unscrew it out of its nest, you experience a surge of pleasure.

For our family, living in Moscow, mushroom hunting (or gathering) was indeed a source of additional nourishment — not that we were starving, unlike many our contemporaries, we weren’t — but what drew us to them is an appeal of entertainment.

“When Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb in 1945, it is said, the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape was a matsutake mushroom.” (3)

I am fascinated here with the correspondence of the imagery: the cloud of dust and debris emerging and unfolding in the air as the bomb is dropped, famously reminds humans the mushroom popping out. Thinking about rhizome, the biological concept that was philosophized by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in “Capitalism and Schizophrenia,” mushrooms have the deliberate root system which presupposes the emergence of mushroom in any given point. “Rhizome” corresponds with the unpredictability of emergence of things, as opposed to arborescent structures, which have stems, vertical as opposed to horizontal connection, and characterized by hierarchical connections as opposed to nonlinear.