Field Notes, Summer of 2017 in Siberia

During this summer I spent as much time as it was possible in Siberia. I brought notes from there, that I now offer to your attention. I hope to work on the photographs that I took; some of my best shots were taken there this year.

Without further ado, Stenography of the Itinerary on the Academia.edu.

“Suddenly (and I have to fly tomorrow) I am not excited to go to “the field,” which is also “home.” The distance is never a stable measure. The distance grows. With time, it deepens. I am clinging to things: a kerchief that I have not been wearing for months, I definitely need to take it with me. All the colorful pens. All these books I have not finished. The pages of handwriting I did not have time to type; I am spending the last day before the departure trying to determine what I might be missing the next day. A futile wonder. I will miss nothing in particular and everything at once, but I probably will also be too occupied with what immediately arises in my sight to ponder over anything that I have left.

My phone is suddenly broken, of all things–my phone, which prosthetic qualities are never as evident as they are now, when it is not “here,” out of order. I suspect that I inhabit the screen: Evernote, messengers, colorful icons of familiar apps–icons and anchors of familiarity itself. To go without the phone, a false body member, is to be derived of the instrument, of techne, of the possibility of art, which is only available through technology. To have a new phone on the eve of flying from one country of another is more like changing planets. Now I will have to spend at least two hours and likely more recalling all the passwords that open myself to myself.

Derrida doubtlessly did not anticipate the development of technology which by a peculiar twist favors writing–for the first time in human history writing seems ubiquitous, everyone is writing, it is not going to last long, I think, when the advance of video will take over. Derrida issues old-fashionable laments on the death of love letters (as a genre) that he predicts tirelessly in his own love letters–little did he know. He would have been thrilled by sexting.

Itineraries deprive one of that little sense of home which one might possibly have after having moved from one hemisphere to the other. Every travel is a little bit of death, death foreshadowed, half-disclosed, hinted, promised–a rehearsal of how you’ll leave everything at once on a certain day to come. The inevitability of it is monotonous: it is not the event itself but the inescapability of it which is gruesome. To think about all the orphaned objects you will leave, and of the facelessness, the indiscernibility of these objects.”

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read the rest here: https://www.academia.edu/34156517/Stenography_of_the_Itinerary

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Summoning

Summoning Ghosts: Mutant Sensibilities and the Politics of Haunting

I am going to devote this writing to claiming the existence of instances and procedures of summoning. People summon certain discourses in order to establish the narrative of everydayness. I offer this term, summoning, as defining the evocation, mobilization, or materialization of the past. Different actors conduct such evocations with a goal, whether conscious or not, of influencing the present and changing the delineation of the future. For instance, the state summons a “glorious past” to create a sense and feel of national unity at the face of some threat, oftentimes fictional. An example of such threat might serve a foreign influence which seeks to corrupt Russia through imposing the politics of acceptance of “homosexual body” (Somerville, 1994). An ethnographic center of this essay will be a case of “mutant sensibilities” in Bratsk, to which we will arrive shortly. This episode will be analyzed in connection to a sci-fi novelette by Ivan Yefremov “Nur-i-Desht Observatory,” first published in 1944 in the Noviy Mir literary journal and then republished several times; it was also translated. In this short story, a group of scientists, including an archeologist, a geologist, and a “professor,” are working on the remnants of an ancient observatory. There, people feel an unusual rise of energy in them; the ruins make them happy. Soon they find an explanation for their joy. Radium used in the details of ornamentations is what impacts the organisms in a positive manner and makes humans feel good. At the time, it was unclear whether the influence of radiation on humans is positive or negative. These “mutant sensibilities” summoned suddenly in 2017, are the examples of the use of a certain narrative that people create and uphold, for them to work around the pollution of the atmosphere. The literary story functions as an example and a counterpoint, providing a historical context to this particular way of summoning.

In Proximity of Ruins Talk

In Proximity of Ruins: the Generative Potential of Deteriorating Space and Utopian Visions. Presentation at the New Directions in Anthropology,  April 8, 2017, UT Austin: audio

NDIA

Photograph by Craig Campbell

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Visual material of my presentation (Academia.edu)

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

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.

Siberian Survivors

Siberia, a severe, beautiful land. The place of my power, the place of my weakness. Unobservable vastness, limitless territory, the universe within the universe, the world within worlds. What is to be said about it? Is it possible to say something meaningful in the face of such space, enclosing unnumbered stories: stories of life, struggle, victory, and loss? It breathes with the air of serenity.

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The rural spaces there are hardly pastoral. There their very calmness, there is a threat. One in infinitely small amid Siberian landscape, lost in space, and at the same time meets oneself. Everydayness in Siberian rurality costs efforts to which the urban citizen is not accustomed. But it is natural for those who live there. They do not dramatize their living, they do not perceive it as struggle. They are survivors who do not take pride in being survivors.

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The first photograph: a girl on the shore of the Kluych River; the second photograph: the village of Anosovo on the shore of the Angara River, the house of Ded Gosha (“Grandpa” Gosha). Summer 2013

About My Research, Briefly

In 1961-62 the Bratsk Hydroelectric dam was constructed, inundating thirty-thousand square kilometers of agricultural land. My fieldwork site, the village of Anosovo, was brought to life in the process of relocation. It is situated on the shore of the Angara River in the Irkutsk province of Siberia. In my research, I draw from theories of affect, ruination, infrastructure, and new materialism, as well as literature on the consequences of dam construction and histories of Siberian development. Using ethnographic methods (participant observation and interviews), I examine the day-to-day interactions and “everyday economies” (Humphrey) in this human-made landscape. I also plan to work in the regional archive. I am a native speaker of Russian and I visited Anosovo in 2006 and in 2013; my connections there, including the contact with the local administration, have been established.

What does everydayness look like? What is the mundane and the spectacular in these settings? How does ruined infrastructure shape social practices? What is rural, and how does it relate to the urban? What is nostalgia and what is the sense of belonging to “imagined community” (Anderson)? The singularity of Anosovo tells us a very particular story, one about living and struggling, which unfolds in hundreds of places scattered throughout Siberia. The vast territories of Siberia are populated with peoples of diverse ethnicities, religions, languages and cultures, who live on the margins of urban life, in the post-Soviet edgelands. These places provide models for understanding why the persistence of Soviet histories still matter and how they are summoned as a politically powerful nationalist discourse: life there is navigated among the ruins of socialism. The actual rubble of Soviet projects defines the structures of feeling in abandoned places.

Around two thousand people were living in Anosovo at its heyday in 1970s. In 2014 the population was around six hundred. According to statistics the number of deaths outstripped births, making depopulation even more critical. During Soviet times, the state-owned timber industry employed local people, but over the course of the last twenty years, since the collapse of the USSR, there is no job security. People make do by hunting, fishing, and scavenging for rusty tractors they can sell for scrap.

Currently, the village of Anosovo has no hospital, nor police station or post office, and a big part of the year it is an isolated, inaccessible place, because there is no road through the forest, and the Angara river is not always passable, either by ice or by water.

So how do global transformations affect a rural settlement in Siberia? What practices of healing spring up in the absence of accessible regular medical institutions? What kind of religion do people practice there? How has the positionality of women changed? How do people survive? Anosovo is one of numerous places in Siberia and in Russia today, which challenge our understanding of an increasingly globalized and networked world.