To introduce his 1990 memoir of the Moscow Gypsy choral scene before and after the Revolution, Romani intellectual RomLebedev
recalls a puppet: “A cardboard Gypsy hung over my bed — in a green hat, black jacket, blue, wide, baggy trousers, in
boots. [If] you pulled on the long thread that let out from the Gypsy’s back, he waved his arms and legs. Every evening before
sleeping, I looked at him for a long time, and tugging the string, made him dance. Because he submitted to me and obediently
danced, I was not afraid of him.”
This talk explores claims that others (“Soviets,” “voters”) are not feeling bodies or thinking agents, but merely vessels that
succumb to external programming. It resolves by suggesting that our convictions about original creativity —that it is forged by individuals, in competition — are illusions forged in the Cold War.
Alaina Lemon is a socio-cultural and linguistic anthropologist who works in Russia and the Former Soviet Union. She is interested in how debates about aesthetic techniques and communicative forms relate to struggles over political change or social hierarchies. She has conducted ethnographic research in directing schools, in theaters and backstage, on film sets, with journalists and press analysts, in the Moscow Metro, and, of course, sitting with people in kitchens and in front of television sets. She also sifts through archives and internet, broadcast, and print media texts. She has written a book about ways Roma in Russia are racialized through performance--even as they also produce social value through meta-communication around performance encounters.
She has published articles that connect racial discourses (with emphasis on non-referential ways to index race) in post-Soviet Russia to Cold War narratives, to counterfeit currency, to public transit, and to institutionalized forms of performance. Recent publications address the training of cultural producers in Russia, critically exploring categories of practice such as "Verbal Terror," "Empathy," and "Hybrid Chronotopes." Forthcoming work includes a study of ways people address both anxieties about mental influence as well as utopian hopes for a world of mental communion by linking theatrical practice with the spectacular techniques of paranormal science.
Presented as part of the Havighurst Colloquia Series - The Intimacy of Power: Politics and Everyday Life in Russia and Eastern Europe