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Literary Representations of Central Asian Ecocatastrophes: Orientalist Imagination, Collective Trauma, and Post-Soviet Nostalgias 
Azhar Dyussekenova (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
Alexey Shvyrkov (Columbia University)
Assel Uvaliyeva (USC)
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Christopher Fort (American University of Central Asia)
Gabriel McGuire (Nazarbayev University)
Ismael Biyashev (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Hall of Turan civilization (Floor 1)
Friday 7 June, -
Time zone: Asia/Almaty


This cluster is dedicated to literary representations of Central Asian Ecocatastrophes. In our comparative approach to Czech and Kazakh authors, the panel addresses potential challenges and limitations within their narratives. We first discuss how European writing depicts the environmental catastrophe of the Aral Sea. By deconstructing temporality and geography depicted in Bianca Bellová’s debut novel Jezero (The Lake), the first paper interrogates the relationship between European orientalist tropes and Soviet modernization. The coming-of-age genre of the novel is viewed as central not only to the construction of individual characters in the text, but a larger dichotomy between the Soviet “East” and Moscow. We then turn to the Kazakhstani artistic accounts of the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing and its effects on the native population in the works of Keshrim Boztayev, Roza Mukanova, and Satybaldy Narymbertov. Building on selective nostalgias and the function of individual in the grand Soviet narrative, the next two panel presenters attempt to locate the role of eyewitness and firsthand account within the collective memory surrounding the history of the polygon. Finally, by highlighting the differences between documentary writing, autobiography, fiction novellas, and cinema, the papers locate the effects of genre and medium on these firsthand and secondhand accounts.

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Friday 7 June, 2024, -