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,
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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.
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Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, San Francisco, November 2019

My abstract for the ASEEES Convention in San Francisco 2019 was accepted and presentation scheduled. Unfortunately, as of now, I do not know if I can attend due to my visa delay about which I wrote on my Tumblr wierdmirrors.

I want to share the title and abstract of my future presentation, however.

Title: “Affects of (Im)Mobility in the Remembrance of the Soviet Sublime: Staying in a Siberian Village.”

Abstract: This work investigates mobility and moving that people conduct in agential and affective infrastructures in the rural industrial Eastern Siberia. How do people make decisions regarding their mobility and what conditions these decisions? While literature and the public habitually assume that precarious actors stay put in post-industrial places because they lack resources to move for better opportunities, this work uses ethnographic methods to demonstrate that the sensorium of staying is better explained by people’s desire for a separate state—a microsovereignty—as well as by the affinity to the Soviet sublime, the lack of want to submit to the official government and absence of desire to enter the regimes of the ordinary available elsewhere.

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My presentation is scheduled to take place at “Promises of Infrastructure” panel(s). The title of the panels evokes (perhaps a little bit too closely) the title of the book “The promise of infrastructure” by Nikhil Anand, Akhil Gupta, and Hannah Appel that came out in 2018. But they were not the first to use this phrase either.

I think the “promise(s) of infrastructure(s)” nicely encapsulates the tangible, phenomenal side, which is the materiality of infrastructure, and affective, noumenal, and, if you wish, feelings-related, desires-hopes-dreams-and-fantasies-related side of infrastructural and technological development.

The panel, which is planned to happen in two separate sessions, involves a lot of Sibirianists, so this is going to be a loss for me if by that time I will still not be able to attend.

New Directions in Anthropology 2018, UT

3.31.2018 I gave the presentation “Affective Infrastructures” at the New Direction in Anthropology conference at UT-Austin. The cohort of the brilliant Cortney Morris organized the first New Directions in Anthropology, 11 years ago.

There was a lot of wonderful presentations: by Samantha Archer, Alex Kreger, Jinok Lee, Daniel Ng, Alexander Menaker, John Duncan Hurt, Lilia Loera, Robyn Morse, and Mona Mostofi (that’s who I got to hear) and others (there was a lot of interesting things I, sadly, had to miss). I am thankful to our wonderful discussants Professor James Slotta and Ph.D. Candidate José Guadalupe Villagrán, as well as to Dr. Maria Luz Garcia for her very engaging and invigorating keynote. Grateful to the organizers who tirelessly worked day and night and made it all happen.

You can listen to and/or read my presentation on my website.

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

Great Expectations

Because I received the Global Research Fellowship, I am planning and actively preparing for my final fieldwork research for the dissertation during the summer of 2018 and possibly beyond. I am planning, as of yet, to depart the USA in the early May.

By that time, my new book Antropologia povsednevnosti (The Anthropology of the Everydayness), forthcoming from Noocratia (Noocracy) publishing house in Moscow, should be out. (I should still proofread it and to send the publisher my wishes regarding the cover.) The publisher, Stanislav Ivanov, known by the Russian reading public under the pseudonym Zoran Pitich, is planning a small presentation of the book in the Tsiolkovsky bookstore in Moscow.

I will go then, in June, to Siberia for my final round of fieldwork for the dissertation. I am going, from what it looks now, to linger in Siberia throughout the fall semester of 2018; I am very much looking forward to the extended period of fieldwork.

In December, I will be back to the States for the ASEEES 50th annual convention in Boston. I participate in a roundtable on Russian literature and gender that Olia Breininger and Susanna Weygandt organize. Additionally, or perhaps most importantly, I should say, I am going to present on a panel that Alexandra Simonova and I are putting together. Our panel is titled Politics of Belonging for Hybrid Identities: in the Shadow of the Soviet Sublime, and I am going to give a presentation titled “Affective Infrastructures and Mobility: the Soviet Sublime, post-Soviet Concrete, and post-post-Soviet Recursion.”

As for the American Anthropological Association gathering, I will likely record a video, as the AAA gathers in November, and to arrange a Skype presentation from a Siberian village… will be difficult. For the AAA, Rick Smith and I are currently putting together the panel The Apocalypse Я Us.

Let’s see if everything I am thinking about will come to fruition. I am currently working on several writing projects: one is a rest from the other, and the other is a rest from the third. I have to write and read all the time, and I discovered the way to be on top of each of these things. You cannot spend 12 hours a day on each of them anyway. Therefore, you can rotate them and refresh one of them with the ideas that come to you while you are working on another.

Meanwhile, I have updated my website with visual essays–please check them out; I have American Dream and Abandoned Mansion posted, the fruits of my restless roaming through Texas.

 

In the photo: a stream flowing into the Angara River that I snapped in 2006

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.

Triggering Political Affect: Generating Identities

At the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies convention I presented the work “Triggering Political Affect: Generating Identities” (on the example of Pussy Riot). Chicago, 11/11/2017

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This is the screenshot of a snapshot taken by Olia Breininger, and it means to illustrate and support with undeniable visual evidence the claim made above.

The audio recording of my presentation is here (MP3).

Enjoy.

 

Writing With Light

I am presenting a photo essay at the Writing With Light event at the American Anthropological Association meeting. I selected photographs. It’s only an eight-minute presentation. Photos will switch by themselves every 10 seconds. 48 photos in total.

These pictures I’ve been collecting over one decade. I’ve been to the village of Anosovo in 2006, 2013, 2016, and 2017. I collected a visual archive.

Some of these pictures are profound. Not because I am a photographer; I am not. But because of what is in them. They are grand, for the sake of their subjects. And some of the people in the pictures are no longer among the living.

There will never be a text that will match and do justice to the amazing world I was lucky to witness. I am humbled by the grandeur of the transience, evident in every “now,” and the future of Siberia is sublime.

I called the collection “Life and Death in a Siberian Village.” And the simpler will be the words, the better.

Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)

Here is a recording of my lecture “Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)” read for the course Culture and Communication at the University of Texas at Austin 9/28/2017. I listened to some of it; I promise, it is fun.

I will upload the text (which is slightly different from the talk) a bit later to this very same blog post; watch this space. UPD: Here it is, 10/2/2017: the text of my talk on Academia.edu. I still think to listen to the talk is more fun, but as matters go in all writing-related fields, what is unwritten, does not exist (see Derrida for the elaboration).

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For my other recordings, please visit my page on SoundCloud. I am over the limit there though; to upload more, I must convert into a customer, and I am not ready for such a decisive step. I will upload my recordings here (I have one so far), all gathered under the title “Presentations and Talks.” Enjoy.

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!