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.

Mushroom Meanderings

Mushroom at the End of the World : On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. by Tsing, Anna. Princeton University Press, 2015

“I’ve read that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, thousands of Siberians, suddenly deprived of state guarantees, ran to the woods to collect mushrooms.” (1)

Ha, ha, ha. Ok.

Well, perhaps they did, but mushroom gathering is a joy, an entertainment, and it was a source of additional nourishment in Soviet years as well. Mushrooms always were a profound supplement for those who live in the woods, Siberians no exception.

Mushroom represent the object that triggers and arouses the excitement of the hunter and the amusement of the gatherer. Is not it fun to discover in leaves, in mud, in grass, under the tree, near the stump, something valuable, solid, crisp, shiny, edible (delectable)? Mushroom found is a surprise, a discovery, a prey, a finding, and a treasure. The hunt for mushrooms is saturated with small joys of encounter, revelation, and detection. When under the dying leaves you find a sturdy little thing, tangible, emanating the wet aroma of the sweet decay of the fall, resistant to your urge to unscrew it out of its nest, you experience a surge of pleasure.

For our family, living in Moscow, mushroom hunting (or gathering) was indeed a source of additional nourishment — not that we were starving, unlike many our contemporaries, we weren’t — but what drew us to them is an appeal of entertainment.

“When Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb in 1945, it is said, the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape was a matsutake mushroom.” (3)

I am fascinated here with the correspondence of the imagery: the cloud of dust and debris emerging and unfolding in the air as the bomb is dropped, famously reminds humans the mushroom popping out. Thinking about rhizome, the biological concept that was philosophized by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in “Capitalism and Schizophrenia,” mushrooms have the deliberate root system which presupposes the emergence of mushroom in any given point. “Rhizome” corresponds with the unpredictability of emergence of things, as opposed to arborescent structures, which have stems, vertical as opposed to horizontal connection, and characterized by hierarchical connections as opposed to nonlinear.