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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the Problems of Visual Anthropology

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

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

Punk Band Pussy Riot’s Story and Political Affect

The text of a project on Academia.edu.

I examine the performance of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow, 2012, and the immediate political context of this performance. Three members of the group were arrested, accused of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, and sentenced to two years in prison. One member was released on probation, the others were granted amnesty after they served nearly the full sentence. A relative harmlessness of the crime in comparison to the severity of the punishment was striking. Looking at the feminist activist group Pussy Riot and their most famous performance, I examine how political and civic activism can be read, interpreted, and practiced in the neoliberal context. I suggest that Pussy Riot is a telling story revealing the nature of Putinism as a Russian multicultural neoliberal project. By exercising state power over the female bodies of Pussy Riot protesters, the political imaginary of the Putin Modern strives not only to discipline the bodies of political activists, but also to perpetuate a patriarchal oligarchic regime maintaining a status of the second-class citizenship for women and sanctioning and condoning the genderization of those whom it deems fit. I argue that the reason Pussy Riot’s performance generated a political affect was that they, consciously or not, worked with Russian “cultural memory.” A spiritual practice and a tradition of the Orthodox sanctity called jurodstvo underpinned their actions in the given cultural context. The trial, in turn, evoked a specter of the show trials conducted by the Soviet state. The power dynamics at play during the performance followed by the trial, made many people co-participate by interpreting the events, articulating positions, and changing sides. The “meaning” of the action was, and still is, intensely contested.

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.

The Human in People-Altered Landscapes

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

 

Pokemon Go as a Political Endeavor

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

Pokemon Go and Race Self-Awareness

I invite you to read my piece.

Pokemon Go and Mass Media Usage of Children’s Suffering

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

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

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

Pokemon Go and Border-Breaching

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

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

Pokemon Go and Anticlericalism in Russia

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

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

 

References (Incomplete)

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

Several Fieldwork Photographs

I have to return the photo camera that I used during the field work, tomorrow, and so, downloaded the last series of photographs that I took in Siberia during the endless, shiny, everlasting summer of 2016.

Mostly, these pictures are taken in the town of Ust Uda, but some, in the village of Anosovo. I did not process the photographs; they are in their rough initial form.

 

 

The Only Poem Mentioning “Grant” in Existence

Preface of the Publisher (That is to Say, Me)

A while ago I had a project, called Poems by Famous Anthropologists They Were Unaware They Wrote. “Poems” consist of broken into lines passages from anthropologists’ works, which the authors themselves never had an intention–a wild idea–to break into lines.

Also recently, I got on Skype, which I do not do that often. And this is not a remarkable event worth mentioning by itself, but only in connection to the poem, which I found there to my amazement. This poem was written by my scientific advisor, Professor Campbell, during our conversation when for reasons of unstable internet-connection he could hear me but I could not hear him. Which made it a one-side communication poetry often is. The text is already broken into lines, and, although it was not intended as poetry, in this it shares the feature of many pieces of poetry. Even more, perhaps poetry written with an intention to write poetry is not poetry. And perhaps poetry is only poetry when it is written by chance and without intention. Without further ado, here is the piece (with the title I gave it):

 

Skype Poem

there are many
visual documents
photoessays
on soviet ruins

a grant
I received to copy
many slides
this is a good idea
it seems to me a strong visual component would be good for this project.

your photographs
plus archival documents
it is important because of
a very strong contemporary record of ‘ruin porn’

this is your response.

Repertoire of Stories

I have known long and well enough some of my acquaintances to get to know the repertoire of their stories, which they repeat on different occasions with slight alterations. These modifications tell more than the stories themselves. The storytellers know I know their stories, but it by no means prevent them from repeating them, and me from listening. I forget details too, and listening to them over and over again, I am involved in a process of recollecting and re-membering. With stories polished by the author to the point that their flow is never interrupted, it is sometimes difficult to tell if they adjust the details, or I mis- and dis-remember them. Either way, into these discrepancies, inconsistencies, and gaps, something important fells. Ideally I’d like to decipher several recordings of one story and analyze them. It could make a compendium, an ideal book of one story, perhaps a story not even significant itself, but acquiring meaning through attentive reading.

In detecting the repeated stories, timing, a personal timing, becomes of substance. Kathleen Stewart in her “A Space on the Side of the Road” describes her method as follows:

“The project has itself been a process of re-membering and retelling, and the resultant account stands as an allegory of the cultural processes it is trying to represent. In began with two years of fieldwork from August 1980 to September 1982 and continued through a dozen return visits in the years that followed and through the twists and turns of field notes, tape recordings, memories, photographs, phone calls, postcards, letters, telegrams, and professional papers. One time, it has become a process of long dwelling on things re-membered and retold, forgotten and imagined.” (Stewart, 1996, 7)

As she was forced to rely on memory on a number of occasions, she fell in the gaps by re-listening to the same stories time and again. (Stewart, 1996, 8)

I had long imagined a book which would envelop all variants of “Leaves of Grass,” for example, not only the first and the final versions of it, but all the intermediate versions. (And this is, too, not the first time I speak about such an edition. My second or perhaps even the third reiteration of this next to impossible for materialization, idea, adds a metapragmatic tinge to the project of collecting a compendium of one story; a collection of stories consisting of infinite repetitions of one episode.

Why people repeat stories, might be another question to ask. Does not life in its overabundance of stories offer us infinite possibilities to create and recreate themselves through different narrations, why focus on the same plot? What is in the repetition? Why we prefer to stick to the same stories, retelling them over and over again? Perhaps by way of repetition we create a space of certainty, a reliable narration, and, in the end of it, a reliable narrator–the narrator who could be believed precisely because she deviates and digresses, and her story forks into a bunch of stories, tale bifurcates into a spectrum of tales without losing its identity.

 

Reference

Stewart, Kathleen. A Space on the Side of the Road. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey, 1996.