My upcoming talk at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs comes from the East European strand of my research.

The talk will be called “Becoming Tuteishyi: Peregrinations in the Zona of Ukraine, with Walter, Gloria, Andrei, Bruno, and Other Explorers.”

The description reads as follows:

Drawing on the author’s research and travels, this talk will consider Ukraine’s ambiguous positioning within global cultural discourse by recourse to theories of borderlands (via Walter Mignolo and Gloria Anzaldua), hybridity and amodernity (via Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway), postcommunism and postcolonialism, and to images of anomalous zones and errant wanderings, with particular attention to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

Here’s some background…

The word “tuteishyi” is a Ukrainian* word that literally means “from here” or “those who are from around here.” I’ve used it before as an indicator of the borderland identities one finds in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, particularly at the European Union peripheries, and as an analogue to the “mestizos,” “creoles,” and hybrids celebrated by Latin American and other borderland theorists. The difference is that “tuteishyi” emplaces its carrier in a way that mestizo, creole, et al., do not. Rather than a nomadism in movement in a striated, territorialized world, it is a nomadism in place in a moving world, a world where movement itself is territorialized.

(*More precisely, one could say that “tuteishyi” is a pre-Ukrainian word, or a pre-anything word: it is “pre-” to the identities that get constructed in processes of nation-building. In my experience, it’s used by people who live in the peripheries of Ukrainian ethnographic territory, where Ukrainian — or a language close to it — is spoken, but is not necessarily called “Ukrainian,” because the 19th century nation-building movements that coalesced around the term “Ukrainian” bypassed these regions. Ruthenians/Rusyns and Lemkos are among the ethnic affiliations who make up this not-quite-Ukrainian fringe.)

I’ll argue in this talk that “tuteishyi” can not only be considered a form of being, a “being from around here” — an “essence” that is opposed to, and imposed upon, by imperial, national, or other kinds of constructive and territorializing (de/reconstructive, de/reterritorializing) projects — but that it could also be a form of becoming. A becoming-tuteishyi might avoid the kinds of dilemmas in which the “located” find themselves in a world of modern and postmodern delocalizing processes.

In Ukraine — as visible on the streets of Kyiv (Kiev) this past week — these include the dilemma of choosing between becoming-European versus becoming- (or remaining-) Eurasian (Russian, Soviet, et al.).

Becoming-Ukrainian is a third option, one that has been articulated by some as a point of national pride, a kind of new/old Ukrainianism in a global cultural economy that — they hope or assume — makes room for such pride. (I’ve discussed a few of these articulations here, here, and here.) It has also been incorporated, to varying extents, into the political projects of Ukrainian politicians, from the country’s first post-Independence president, Leonid Kravchuk, to Yulia Tymoshenko and others in today’s political elite.

(Tymoshenko, as is well known, has been in jail for over two years now because she is the main rival to current president Viktor Yanukovich. As for the latter’s moves toward and away from Europe and Russia, respectively, what can one say… except that in the face of a divided world, the unadulterated desire for power comes to look deeply schizophrenic.)

What, then, is a “becoming tuteishyi,” and how might it offer some compromise between becoming-European and becoming-Eurasian? And how might it be different from becoming-Ukrainian? That’s what I’ll try to answer in my talk. And I’ll do that by referring to Ukraine’s postcolonial and amodern conditions.

There’s been some writing in recent years about the similarities and differences between the postcolonial condition — as defined by Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, and others — and the “postcommunist” or “postsocialist” condition. (See, for instance, this special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing.)

But there hasn’t been much linking the “amodernism” and “cosmopolitics” of Bruno Latour, Isabelle Stengers, and others (such as Haraway) to the post-Soviet world.

Chernobyl (Chornobyl, in Ukrainian) and its role in post-Soviet imaginaries of technology and ecology offer a particularly apt entry point for thinking about this nexus of meanings surrounding the modern, the postmodern, the premodern (as imagined, for instance, by some nationalist Ukrainians), and the amodern. (Adriana Petryna’s Life Exposed moves into this territory somewhat.)

Made several years before the Chernobyl accident, Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker (1979) has provided one of the most commonly used templates for making sense of that accident. (I describe that in my book, and here.) I’ll argue that Stalker and its Zone offer not only an evocative metaphor for the techno-ecological “in-betweenness” of the Chernobyl Zone — it’s a flourishing “bounced-back” ecosystem now, despite still measurable heightened radiation levels — but for Ukraine as a whole, an in-between Zona into which a series of wanderers — like our Walter, Gloria, and Bruno — might find themselves drawn.

Ukraine is such a Zone as would compel and utterly perplex such theorizing wanderers. What might they have to say to it (this Zone) and each other? That’s my challenge.

 

The lovely image at the top is from the Romanian blog Spectatorial Gaze, specifically from a post dedicated to Geoff Dyer’s wonderful book on Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Zona.

 

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