Siberia 2006, 2013, 2016 (a selection of fieldwork photographs)

Landscapes of Dreams

The “remittance landscape,” the term explained by Sarah Lynn Lopez in the book of the same title, refers to the spaces created in the absence of their inspirators–“dream houses” and projects, such as restaurant buildings, subsided through the migrant money by the migrant, a figure of political transformation who work slowly at her own rate on creating “not the product of generic top-down “globalization” but of the enterpreneurial opportunism of remittance space “from below.” (264). He changes the face of the world, so that it even becomes a question, “To what extent is the American metropolis predicated on the rapid transformation of sending communities throughout the world?” (265). S/he is a figure fully endowed with agency, “influencing both what is possible and what is probable” (265) in a nicely observed by the author duality of the future as a bunch of possibilities and probabilities.

Lopez looks at buildings: “Buildings crystallize historic moments like no other artifact–technologies are required, desire is enacted, capital is expended, all to create objects that shape future life-worlds.” (11). Remittance buildings–in an analogue to “remittance landscape”–buildings constructed with remittance money in an evocation of often if not American than Americanized dream of migrants from Mexico, returning to their communities or having plans to return, either for aging and dying or for living. Migrants, simultaneously envied and despised by their own community, have contradicting desires which define the way they structure landscapes of their living both in the adopted country and in the home community, so there is a blurred distinction between “home” and something that is not home, as well as between “here” and “there.” They won’t to preserve the spaces of their childhood, but also to improve and modernize them, they want to create an image of American dream success but they keep allegiances to their markedly distinct way of living; they want to demonstrate their success, but they want to be accepted by their community. They want to improve their communities by bringing other ideas, as their ancestors brought wristwatches, sewing machines, and cars–but these other ideas do not always work on a different soil. Such position is fraught with paradoxes, ironies, promising failures, and devastating successes.

Plenty of remittance houses, dream houses, end up abandoned for various reasons, and so there is a creation of ruin, dreams unsustainable, economically questionable, demanding expenditures, and bringing not the results which were expected or hoped for.

In a Benjaminian understanding of architectural space in a way of, as Susan Buck-Morss reminded in her guide (1989), a space of collective dreaming, remittance landscapes are also collective dreams, even if not dreams of collective dwelling.

As I read Lopez, I thought about the house which Alina and Alexander (names changed) who lived in the village of Anosovo, have been building in Irkutsk with a thought of once living in the Irkutsk house, as Anosovo fits Lopez’s fomula “the necessary institutional, economic, and political support to bring infrastructure to such places did not exist” (19), unfortunately, all too well. How would one call such project? This is only one example of such projects, which Anosovians, those who have a job in timber industry, create and sponsor in Irkutsk, while for years remaining in their village. Muscovites were known at some point to buy houses in Bulgaria, Spain, Greece, to create some kind of vocational / retreat spaces with the same or even still more unpractical considerations, since Moscow apartments and houses answering their demands were not affordable even for those who could buy villa-like houses elsewhere. Such displaced landscapes could hardly be called the remittance landscapes, although in the technical sense of the term they perhaps are. But those are the landscapes of dreams, and dreams should not be fulfillable to persist.

A sense of indecisiveness befitting a dream, precarity of living, temporality of all solutions, becomes itself a feature of certainty, constancy, a very fixedness of things in flux: “While Taylor was researching migrant housing conditions in California, he approached a couple living in a self-built shack under a tree and asked the owners why they did not invest more in their housing. They replied that they did not know if they would stay and that they might return to Mexico. He then asked, “How long have you been here?” to which they responded, “Thirty years.”” (19) In an expression popular in Russia, there is nothing more constant than temporary.

References

Buck-Morss, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing. The MIT Press, 1989.

Lopez, Sarah Lynn. The Remittance Landscape, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

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

 

The Human in People-Altered Landscapes

I’m presenting at “The Extra-Human” 13th Annual Graduate Conference in Comparative Literature on Sunday, September, 25th; University of Texas in Austin, SAC 3.106, Balcony A.

The panel starts at 12:15.

My presentation is entitled Russian Literature on Bratsk Dam: the Human in People-Altered Landscapes of Soviet Industrialization.

I’m going to display visual material which had never been shown before, and talk about rare texts which were never translated into English.

Affect: Nostalgia and Loss

Nostalgia is always connected with a sense of loss (Stewart, 1988). An acute feeling of having lost something might not be rational, it does not depend on the consideration that the loss was imaginative, or if the object sensed as lost did not exist in the first place, or if this loss has affected the future in a positive way. The contemplating of ruins easily begets nostalgia and the feeling of loss.

The concept of imaginative loss explains why it is possible to probe the waters of nostalgia being in a place you have never visited before. The question whether one would experience a surge of nostalgia is the question of having a particular swarms of associations evoked. Nostalgia verges on the border of déjà vu, slipping into recognition: what has happened, would not be happening any more, regardless of how often it had been happening before.

Ruination is the byproduct result of loss, the fixed material consequences of loss. Attempting to reconstruct, what it was that was lost, that was being lost right now, all sorts of arbitrariness take place. A sense that history might have go in other direction is vivid. The functionality of ruination is such that ruination has the ability to produce the image of the past in our consciousness. This image is very appealing, full of allure, and has very little to do with the actual past. It is the invocation of the past, reflected upon the future.

“Hegemonic and resistant nostalgias, “middle-class” and “working-class” nostalgias, the nostalgia of a “mass culture” and the nostalgia of and for local, nameable places are a three-ring circus of simultaneous images in the arenas of life-style, spectacle, and loss. The angst-ridden modern city is replaced by the delirious surround of consumer capitalism (Jameson 1983). Nostalgia, like the economy it runs with, is everywhere. But it is a cultural practice, not a given content; its forms, meanings, and effects shift with the context—it depends on where the speaker stands in the landscape of the present.” (Stewart, 1988).

This landscape of the present is not given also, but it is fluctuant and fluid, glitters vaguely; and the subjectivity experiencing nostalgia is shifting in the depth of it, now directed at the object, now at itself, but mostly reflecting itself and preoccupied with itself, and the object, or perhaps surroundings, the agglomeration of objects, the untold and not easily detectable but delectable characteristic of which triggers the avalanche of falsified memories, the atmosphere, the luminosity, the texture, the shadow, the trembling, the rapture and the twitch.

Nostalgia is a feeling that one is likely to have as a side effect of relocation. In case when ubiquitous ruins denote the bygone that was there, the relocation is happening without the change of locus, with all the force of emotion composing the feeling of being lost, the pressing necessity of re-finding oneself in the changed conditions of life; the despair, the regret, and the hope. Thus ruins reframe the ordinariness, making it possible for everyday life to hide the huge caverns of nostalgia where you can slip any time. Any day turns out to be charged with nostalgia for the moment that has just past. Nothing is stable, the certitude of the world is profoundly undermined.