Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Dr. Craig Campbell and PhD Candidate Vasilina Orlova Present & Publish Their Research

Tue, December 20, 2016
Dr. Craig Campbell and PhD Candidate Vasilina Orlova Present & Publish Their Research
Bratsk hydroelectric station

Dr. Craig Campbell and PhD candidate Vasilina Orlova present and publish:

“Gifts of Nature: Everyday life, Geoengineering and the Industrial Spectacle in Soviet Siberia”


Associate Professor Craig Campbell (Anthropology/CREEES) and Vasilina Orlova (Doctoral student, Anthropology) will be presenting a paper at the upcoming conference for the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) in February 2017. Their research will be included in a special issue of the journal Russian Literature.


Project Description

The militarized language of labour that attended the great industrial projects of post war USSR was matched by the tremendous ambition of large-scale industrial endeavor. Armies of labourers (counted in the tens of thousands) were mobilized in unprecedented acts of geoengineering: deep underground metro systems, gargantuan mines, trans-continental rail systems, and river altering dams. They worked on so-called ‘century projects,’ one of which was the Bratsk hydroelectric station on the Angara river in Eastern Siberia. The century projects were praised by “shestidesyatniks” [sixtiers], a generation of servile, albeit not untalented, poets. One such poet Robert Rozhdestvensky called Baikal-Amur Rail line “a bell calling the hearts of our youth,” and another poet, known for his quick responses to the demands of the political moment, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, composed the eloquent panegyric to the Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station which flooded vast territories along the Angara river.

Along with the corpus of literature praising achievements of Soviet industrialization, there existed tales of real people, including Komsomol workers, who constructed the Dam; one of such stories was recorded by V. Gavrilov and published in Veche under the title “Bratsk-54” (1974) referring to the year of the beginning of the Bratsk dam construction, and subtitled as “Rasskaz molodoi zhenshchini” (“Tale of a young woman”). The identity of the young woman whose story Gavrilov recorded is unknown, but it stands at a startling contrast to Yevtushenko’s piece, since it is also about a young woman.

If anything, the Anthropocene was welcomed and hastened by the Soviet project of rapid industrialization: ‘man’ was supposed to overwhelm the dark forces of nature, and use them economically but fully to his own advantage. Our research is concerned with exploring the key characteristics of Russian prose which reacted most avidly to this project (so-called “derevenskaya prosa,” “village prose”). Our work focuses principally on Hydroelectric projects which are characterized by dramatic flows of concrete, construction of monumental structures, mobilization of labour, resettlement of whole villages. They were projects that (in the language of MacKenzie Wark) subordinated the molecular in the celebration of the molar, they were projects in which central planning dictated the broad strokes of everyday life.


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