Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ordinary Sky

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ordinary Sky

Article excerpt

Events with contested provenance and form delimit the territory of this illustrated narrative. I trace out a triangle from the site of my research in central Siberia to the geographical center of Russia, to the epicenter of the Tunguska Incident, and then back to my field site. The lines are my own but they're not far off the lines carved through the taiga by countless passages of reindeer sleigh and snow machine. Paths of memory and experience push into the soft boreal landscape. Multiple and rich, they surpass my simple chronotopic triangulation--an entanglement of time and space I use to complicate the act of mapping. Sometimes the land pushes back so that only memory, when it is robust, prevails. Or else monuments intentional and otherwise leave trace of passage: the obelisk at the center of Russia, the town on the banks of the Nizhnaia Tunguska and Kochechum rivers, and the map-point epicenter of the Tunguska Event that never quite finds its mark on the land. Over hills and worn mountains the hardened soil and rock can hold tracks where recollections fail. Shattered glass bottles and other litter imprint the northern forest with evidence of passage. To a more careful and trained eye, old paths in the soft taiga are betrayed by different plant distributions and nearly invisible botanical differenced. Evenki peoples have lived in this territory since long before the czar's men came up the rivers searching for pelts and souls in the 1600s. Although they have their own historians, journalists, photographers, and artists, scripts of belonging in the Evenki territories of Central Siberia have by and large been written with feet and hooves, not ink.

THE GEOGRAPHICAL CENTER OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION

[66[degrees]25'N, 94[degrees]15'E]

The geographical center of the Russian Federation is located near the southeastern end of Lake Vivi in the Evenki Raion of the Krasnoiarsk Territory (Siberian Federal District). The Russian academic P. A. Bakut calculated the location in 1992 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The banal irony of this situation is that the geographical center, just below the Arctic Circle, is in fact located in one of the most culturally and politically remote areas of the country. The symbolic power of the post-Soviet claim on Siberia is monumentalized as an obelisk topped by a newly revived symbol of Imperial Russia, the two headed eagle. Within a year of the collapse of communism the truth of Russia's colonial claim on Siberia was no longer a public secret but a national assertion of patrimony and legitimacy in the face of uncertainty over post-Soviet borders: to mark a center is to mark with equal certainty a limit. In ancient Egypt an obelisk symbolized a petrified ray of sunlight, observed as a tine that directs attention to a distant place or entity, coming down and spreading out--signifying an earthly relation to a singular celestial point. The two-headed eagle atop the classical form of the obelisk looked out on lands that were meant to be indivisible; the Soviet Union was no more, and this seemed to be an assertion that Russia would not tolerate the erosion of its body, for any diminishment of the territory would necessarily reposition empire's center.

The quantification of space was a foundational tool of the Czarist Empire's Siberian projects in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Reappropriated by Soviet geographers in the twentieth century, communist cartography was imagineered as tool of liberation, although it was effectively deployed as a tool of governance and oppression. Such socialist imagineering might be seen as a curious blending of ideology, fantasy, and aesthetics, assiduously enacted as a nonironic act of closure made to appear as though it were an act of liberation. The taiga is yet again being reappraised in the twenty-first century, this time (and once again) for its capacity to enrich the lives of those who do not live there (currently the state's gaze has identified vast territories "valueless" enough to be flooded by hydroelectric projects). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.