The Village of Karda, Siberia

Choy, Tim. Experimental Futures: Ecologies of Comparison. An Ethnography of Endangerment in Hong Kong. Durham, NC, USA: Duke University Press, 2011

I’d begin with stating that I am absolutely charmed by Tim Choy’s writing. I don’t know if it’s his gentle personality that accounts for that — I heard his talk at UT and was introduced to him after the talk — but actually no, his and his colleagues’ and “co-conspirators’,” to use his word, writings — I refer to Anna Tsing and Donna Haraway here — make me pause frequently and read slowly. The kind of dense durée that they create in their books (especially Choy and Tsing, Haraway is another matter, she liquefies and speeds up the time and condenses things in a different manner), speaks to the amount of effort that was invested by the authors in thinking and writing.

Soft humor and attention to detail that Choy exhibits in his writing, are especially appealing: “Not one to waste food, even of dubious genetic origin, he ate his way through the mountain of chips and candy bars while working at his desk for the rest of the day” (20). Choy portrays one of his interlocutor working on a campaign against genetically modified food. One could see behind that funny, endearing, and somewhat poignant phrase a real person, the glory and doom of his cause, and “local and translocal ecologies of gender and expertise” (14), emerging through “ongoing practices of self-care and self-comparison” (14).

An example especially speaking to me that Tim Choy gives in his book, is the plot around the village Tai O, for which the Hong Kong Planning Department had a strategy of “revitalizing.” Too often the administrations’ plans of “revitalizing” of the territories brings further destruction. In this case, the project included “the planning proposal’s suggestion that a strip of stilt homes adjacent to Tai O Bridge be demolished.” (25). It aroused the resistance, and the government drove back claiming it revokes the plans. “Then, on July 4, a runaway fire in Tai O burned one hundred families’ stilt homes to the ground.” (27)

It reminded me of the fate of the village of Karda in Siberia, in fifty kilometers from the village of Anosovo, my primary field site. The village of Karda was evaluated by the government to be a settlement with no prospects. The government provided people who lived there with apartments in tenement housing in the city of Ust’-Uda. In 2008, Karda ceased to exist. However, after different periods of living in the city, some former residents of Karda returned to their half-ruined homes. I am spending the summer of 2016 in Siberia, and I hope to uncover some of the dramas that are connected to, in a number of cases, double relocation.

The change of social practices when one moves from the rural space to the urban is drastic. How much more difficult it is, if the change is not fully voluntary? How hard it is, if there is no place to return, because the government deemed your land hopeless and decided it’s easier to deprive the village of the last care? Right now, I could only guess. Perhaps some of the meetings during the summer would bring me heavy answers to these questions.

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Do Robots Only Matter in the Context of Our Humanity?


In "A Cyborg Manifesto" Donna Haraway employs the notion of cyborg in order to question what it means to be human, but engages with it rather on the level of metaphor, I think. "By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated by hybrids of machine and organism. In short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics." (Haraway, 2006, 118)

It is fair to claim we are cyborgs but I think the justification to this claim should be extended and developed. We transplanted a part of our mnemonic functions into machines, and extended all kinds of facilities, but in essence we remain pitifully human, which is most evident in human/nonhuman interactions. Many people think that it would not be morally right to torture the robot (Calo, 2016). What is telling is how we anthropomorphize robots and why this way and not some other. Why is it wrong, for example, to torture robot, whereas it feels no pain, and why it is not wrong to shower a robot with your affection, whereas it is an inanimate object?

The first time I became fascinated in robots, I think, was at the time when Tamagotchi became ubiquitous. You had to care about them. This electronic creature required to be loved: fed, cleaned, and played with. It could also die. Terrible tragedy. Mortal robot.

The relationship which you built with a Tamagotchi was an extension of breather/breather interactions. Breather is the term which Tim Choy proposes to employ instead of "life form," as well as instead of definitions reinforcing hierarchical structures, like "human/nonhuman," "animate/inanimate," and other possible dualities. Breather becomes a figure of life connected to other breathers through the medium of air. Now robots are in a strange realm in regard to breathers, because some of them also need air for functioning, they consume air and therefore in some sense breathe.

The relationship between a Tamagotchi and a human carer is the relationship between an imagined breather and a real breather. The robot becomes a prosthesis of our own humanity, empowering but also signifying absence, injury, wound, loss, deficiency and lack.

References

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

Haraway, Donna. A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late 20th century. Springer Netherlands, 2006.

Choy, Tim. Breathers Conspire! Drawing Breath Together. Talk at the University of Texas at Austin. 3/7/2016