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).
Connection between the mother and the daughter is a special connection, full of warmth, hope, and care. In the pink room that Catherina created for her daughter with a rare, mellifluent name Evelina, all dreams should come true. Fairies, unicorns, barbies, princesses, and all the inhabitants of the world of wonder, world of fairy tales, would witness the growth and development of the happy Evelina’s life.
The girlhood. The desire that the happiness would come true, is so pronounced.
The soft light envelopes the tiny figure on a toy horse. And it seems like all the pink shine in the pink room emanates from this source of light.
The pictures are taken by the author in the village of Anosovo, Siberia
Photograph by Craig Campbell
Visual material of my presentation (Academia.edu)
this text is an exercise in creative writing further blurring the lines between prose and poetry
if ever those lines existed
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, 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.
 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.
I uploaded my article on “active ruination” (namely ISIS’s affective ruining the space practices) on academia.edu. Years will pass before I get it published so it might as well just dwell there
As atrocious actions, public executions and world-making endeavors of ISIS analyzed in terms of performativity open the space for questioning the dominant ideas of history and politics. ISIS released the video of the shooting of 25 Syrian soldiers at the Palmyra ruins in the beginning of June, 2014. On the video, the executioners, most of whom appear to be teenagers, parade the soldiers on the scene of the amphitheater, kneel them down and shoot. The Palmyra amphitheater is present as a visible two-fold reminder of spectacle: as arena of violence and the metaphor for the arena of violence. A crowd, children among them, watched the execution. I argue that the public executions serve several goals for ISIS: not only does ISIS compose propaganda messages, but the very lawlessness and atrociousness of the executions function as a powerful claim of the group’s legitimacy as a state in the ISIS imaginaries. Through the staged executions, ISIS seeks to create the world of power which is alternative to the Western world. In the process of creation of this world, ISIS generates landscapes of violence, and produces spaces haunted by killings. An attempt to redefine ancient ruins and to reenact medieval executions, is a claim to build a world of alternative historicism.
Walter Benjamin visited Moscow in the winter of 1926. Here is a map of places he mentions in his diary as shown on the today Moscow’s map.
Interactive link to google.maps: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1dVk5nX1H_0MyDt39L_m7HERYx60&ll=55.75893499535194%2C37.62163820000001&z=13 [retrieved 12/1/2016]
The same places marked on the map of Moscow as it appeared in 1925 (for the absence of a 1926th map available).
I think Sofian Merabet’s book “Queer Beirut” was the only book that I encountered so far, which had a selfie of the anthropologist included in the narrative. I think that must be a feature of the new ethnography as a genre.
“Queer Beirut” is an intricate and brilliantly written account of queer bodies and queer stories functioning and circulating in city spaces—beach, downtown, different locations, architectural fantasies, and other culturally important localities where socialities happen, like cafes demanding tight on money people enjoy intricately concocted “overpriced cappuccino” (Merabet, 2014, 30). It is an analysis of “ever-so-intricate exclusions” (13), novel in methods—as new, I’d classify two things: flânerie along the roads which are not supposed to be traveled on foot, and “ethnographic montage,” which, the author argues, serves to “assemble anew disassociated, yet very much related, elements in an effort to cover the whole panoply of the metonymies that define the complexities entailed in the practice of inhabiting socio-cultural space” (246).
I was interested in flânerie (first problematized by Benjamin drawing from Badelaire) as a method, which in Merabet’s justification is a particularly important way to engage with “urban jungle”: “It is, therefore, only as a person on foot in a city that almost makes natural locomotion virtually impossible that the observing anthropologist can start to think about distinguishing many of the urban spaces in Lebanon that bear the potential of creating alternative, and perhaps queer, discourses.” (7). I think it is fascinating in what way exactly and why only as a person on foot does anthropologist penetrate the overlapping layers of the city which are simultaneously a space weirding, space queering, space domineering, and space escaping, and a space yielding to understanding. As a connoisseur of city spaces and an untiring flâner myself, I could not fail to appreciate the take.
“Participant objectifier,” which Merabet creates by adapting Bourdieu’s “participant objectification,” becomes a welcome alternative to an overused anthropological figure of “participant observer.” Participant objectifier emerges as a gazer, explorer of one’s own enchantment. Merabet points out the readiness to flirt of a “queer stroller” as a social scientist conducting the field research—I could add, initially in Benjamin’s work, flâner was an easy buyer of a prostitute’s services. This is not a call to gleefully engage into participant objectification that we read here, but rather a call to participant objectification, that is to say, a fair assessment of the process already happening, the process which demands to be reflected upon rather than taken for granted.
On many staggering examples Merabet shows struggles of queer Beirut in which horror stories and funny episodes alternate, not omitting the pensive use of certain aspects of what might be called auto-ethnography, something which I think makes ethnographies deeper and richer.
These struggles are shown in their complexities—“Yet, by being a potential motivator, queer space and its production also function as a frustration device, namely in the shape of a catalyst that every so often reinforces the very social normativities it wants to defy.” (247).
Beirut, with its balconies and streets, protests and fights for prestige, little worlds which coincide and contest the space, visibly emerges, in all its glimmer and spectacular misery, out of this work.
Merabet, Sofian. Queer Beirut. Austin, University of Texas Press, 2014.