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Accepted Paper:

The Unknowable, Known: Abai Zholy and the Soviet Representation of Tsarist Colonial Knowledge  
Gabriel McGuire (Nazarbayev University)

Paper long abstract:

Near the end of the first volume of Mukhtar Auezov's novel Abai Zholy (The Path of Abai), the Tsarist police set out in pursuit of a group of Kazakh horse-thieves, only to become hopelessly lost within the depths of the Kazakh steppe. The officers peer through telescopes, but far from making the space legible, these instruments simply leave them ever more-disoriented, literally unable to see the steppe for the grass. Still later, the Tsarist authorities are confounded in court, unable to grasp the generations deep webs of enmity and alliance that had produced the feud which culminated in the horse-thefts. The paradox of the novel is that even as Auezov memorialized Kazakh culture and the Kazakh steppe as somehow always outside the ken of Russian colonial knowledge, he also offered multiple moments of cross-cultural amity and communication: the novel's titular hero, Abai, learns the Russian language, is inspired by Russian poetry, and even succeeds in explaining the lives of the Kazakhs to a Russian court. In turn, the novel itself was arguably a similar act of successful cross-cultural communication: when the first volume was published in 1942, Auezov was feted not only for his skill in fathoming the complexities of pre-Soviet Kazakh life-ways, but especially for his ability to make these life-ways legible to a readership that spilled beyond the borders of the Kazakh SSR. This article examines these contradictory politics of legibility and illegibility within the context first of broader scholarship on the power and limitations of colonial knowledge, but more specifically, within the context of the cultural politics of the Stalin-era.

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