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.

 

 

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.

Home

Home. A strange sense of home in Anosovo. I was surprised to find that I am actually glad to see its broken roads and small houses again. Walking up the street I recollected in the ten thousandth time how I wanted, in a fulfillment of an odd dream, to go in such a place after college as a school teacher.

I envisioned a Siberian village, and although it was silly and I knew it was, I toyed with the idea and started writing what should have been a limitless novel, with one plot around a young Moscow female dreamer, who was sent in a place like that, obligatorily, as was a custom of those times—it was called, distributed, raspredelena—but went quite consciously, curios and inspired, as also happened not unoften.

Music Box

On a ferry Balagansk—Anosovo, someone had a music box for a child’s entertainment. The child had long lost any interest in it, and did not open the lead. I was curious what it sounded like. Finally, the music box fell on the floor with a frail ringing, and started playing. It played a familiar melody. My aunt, being a maiden, had such a box, it looked exactly the same—black, plastic, with flat gleaming walls; opened, it displayed several red velvet compartments.

I once took off a cover which shielded the notched cylinder, and studied the mechanism. One had to tighten the spring for the cylinder to rotate. Thin metal plates which responded with pleasant sounds to the notches disturbing them, captivated my attention. I could look at their alternating bending and straightening for a long time.

Once taken off, the cover was never glued back. I saw other music boxes of this model, only with a plexiglass cover showing the secret mechanics. That was a smart invention; it probably saved a great deal of boxes from being taken apart.

Two Difficulties of My Summer Fieldwork

One of the main difficulties that I encountered during my summer fieldwork (mosquitoes aside), is the unified narrative which defeats the private accounts on all levels of information collections.

According to the Scientific and Collections Division worker E., in the museum’s collections, data that are related to the dislocation and dispossession of people living in the zone of the Bratsk dam flood, are absent because it was a matter of ideological choice. Only official propaganda documents relevant to the Bratsk dam construction, were carefully gathered; accounts of events that contradicted official narrative were avoided and excluded. It was noticeable for me throughout the museum spaces in Siberia. No complexity of events beyond the layering of the Soviet propaganda were ever introduced in the way the past was reconstructed in exhibitions and collections. Not only was the unified narrative held across different museums, but also little change is noticeable how events are narrated in regard to different dams’ constructions.

For instance, Ust-Ilimsk dam’s construction began in 1963, 9 years after the beginning of the Bratsk dam construction and two years after the first stationary generator of Bratsk dam, unit N18, started operating. Ust-Ilimsk dam, too, was magnificent in terms of amounts of energy it produced and also in numbers of the displaced and the dispossessed: 14.2 thousand of people in 61 settlements, were relocated. Nonetheless, Ust-Ilimsk dam was the product of the slightly shifted times, and people’s stories arguably received some more attention: Students of ethnographic laboratories recorded their narratives. The first piercing story of disenfranchised displacement which sounded loud and clear, was written by the writer who lived through what he, contradictorily to the established narrative, perceived as tragedy—it was the novel “Farewell to Matyora” by Valentin Rasputin, published in 1976.

There was a Science-Research Laboratory of Humanitarian Explorations (Nauchno-issledovatelskaya laboratoriya gumanitarnikh issledovaniy) in Bratsk State University, which collected oral narratives of the Bratsk relocation survivors, but according to the university official V., in connection to the crisis of 2008, the laboratory had lost the grant endorsements and ceased to exist in 2012. I tracked down the organizer of this laboratory, who now lives in Irkutsk, and also have a connection with a philologist who have been collecting stories, and I hope that both these lines would yield to results. A number of personal stories were published in the 1990s, and then some I am collecting myself in the village of Anosovo.

I sometimes think: Why do I do it? How could I make it matter, what these people felt and thought back then or are thinking now? Damage has already been done, my findings would not be incorporated by the state or private enterprises in their decision making process. Things about other dams have been written already, from the anthropological, ecological, sociological, geological, and a number of other perspectives. And that is the second of my main difficulties in the field. I feel powerless to justify this research, that has been a matter of my own inexplicable curiosity slowly fusing into the matter of… pain, I would say, if I wasn’t afraid of appearing too maudlin.

First Tooth

When I am in my fieldwork, the news reaches me that my child has lost his first tooth and checked himself twice in the mirror that day (which he usually does not).

It was a time of terror in my childhood when I was losing my teeth, and I wish I could offer him support and my presence at this difficult time. I saw nightmares; I am quite certain that everyone suffers through this time, and only later, as an adult, forgets about it. Something happens to your body that you do not control. A metamorphosis transfigures you, and it entails these painful and disturbing little losses.

My mom told me that when she or her brother or her sister lost a tooth, they ran to the room from which there was a ladder to the attic. They threw their teeth to the square entrance of the attic and said:

“Мишка, мишка, на тобi костяний зуб, а менi дай залiзний.”

(“Mouse, mouse, take my bony tooth, and give me back an iron tooth,” Ukrainian.)

“We all have iron teeth now,” She said smiling, referring to either veneered or prosthetic teeth she and her siblings have.