Studies of radical social changes often point out persistent attempts to frame transition to a new form of social organization of state, society, or a cultural group in terms associated with mortality. Rejuvenation and revival, in other words, are often symbolized as decay and abjection. In my talk, I will focus on two examples of this obsession with tropes of graveyards. Through a close reading of Andrei Platonov’s early journalism, I will show how the creation of the new regime was perceived first of all through the discursive annihilation of the “old world.” The past did not gradually fade away; it was euthanized. Symptomatically, however, Platonov’s new brave world was also framed in terms of destruction: life was displaced by what the writer called “labor-death;” suicide was perceived as sacrifice. My second example shows a different strategy of dealing with images and rhetoric of death. By looking at letters and rituals of mothers, whose sons died in Afghanistan in 1979-1989, I trace how metonymies of death were used to retain some memory about the past. Graves were turned into monuments. Different as they are, both examples, nonetheless, expose the same method of sacrifiction – a narrative strategy that turns violence into a feat.
SERGEI OUSHAKINE studied history, political theory, gender, and anthropology in Russia, Canada, Hungary, and the US. He earned a PhD in anthropology at Columbia University in 2005, held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harriman Institute at Columbia in 2005-2006, and joined the Princeton Department of Slavic Languages and Literature in 2006. His work centers on Eurasia, where he explores how the collapse of state socialism has simultaneously undermined already existing communities and precipitated the emergence of new ones. In his book, The Patriotism of Despair: Communities of Loss in Contemporary Russia (Cornell UP, 2009), based on two years of fieldwork in Siberia, he analyzes the importance of experienced or imagined traumas for creating postsocialist identities and meanings. At the moment, he is exploring the emergence of postcolonial reasoning in former Soviet republics, using materials that he collected during his recent fieldwork in Minsk (Belarus) and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan).