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Accepted Paper:

Ethnic Words and Soviet Things: Coming to Terms with Soviet Civilization in Esenberlin's Kōşpendiler.  
Christopher Baker (American University of Central Asia)

Paper long abstract:

Ethnic Words and Soviet Things: Coming to Terms with Soviet Civilization in Esenberlin's Kōşpendiler. My paper focuses on Kōşpendiler, a trilogy written by Iliyas Esenberlin in the 1960s and 1970s, and the relationship of this text to classificatory practices in the imperial and Soviet eras. It explores Esenberlin's understanding of the taxonomies that had classified his heritage and his imagination of the erudition that had marked and recorded it in uncertain, overlapping classifications. My analysis centers on the conclusion of the work, a part of the novel Esenberlin wrote with more than a century of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and taxonomies on his mind. Its culmination is replete with references to sprawling compendia and to individuals studied in the categorization of existing and historical things. This concluding section begins in a "room filled with books." It takes place in the headquarters of Russian Governor-General Vasilii Perovskii and among the paper instruments at his disposal for enumerating landscapes and peoples (the character was based on the real-life imperial officer who presided over the Orenburg region from 1833-1842, the same period in which Kōşpendiler's concluding section begins). "There is a large map of the Orenburg region on the wall" of the office in addition to "the thick leather covered volumes on the shelves and tables in the corners." There are also cabinets in his office filled with documents on the flora, fauna, and topographies of the vast steppe areas that sprawled out to the south and east of this administrative district.

There was nothing fortuitous about this setting or the books and maps with which Esenberlin surrounds the Russian governor-general in the novel. The conclusion was his effort to understand the erudition that had accumulated in the offices of men like Perovskii in the imperial era. It was his attempt to come to terms with this inheritance of paper and with the sediment of words and taxonomies in the steppe across which the Kazakh SSR sprawled. We know a great deal about imperial and Soviet efforts to classify Central Asian peoples and traditions. We know less about the indigenous imagination of these practices - the meaning of these classifications to those categorized by them or the ways in which indigenous artists perceived the tangled history of discarded and altered taxonomies that in some sense shaped Soviet civilization. Esenberlin struggled to make sense of this patrimony in Kōşpendiler.

Panel LIT-03
Representations of Self and Other in Kazakh Literature
  Session 1 Thursday 10 October, 2019, -