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Research at St Andrews

"The Karakum Canal in the Russian Imaginary: Writing Out Possibilities of Rust and Resistance," at the biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation

Katharine Mansfield Holt - Speaker

This presentation explored the relationship between Russian imaginative writing about Central Asia and one of the major Soviet environmental interventions undertaken in the region: the construction of the Karakum Canal in Turkmenistan. Built between 1954 and 1985, the Karakum is one of the largest irrigation canals in the world. A spectacular, and spectacularly inefficient, feat of engineering, it diverts the Amu-Darya River towards cotton fields and the capital city of Ashgabat. It has also been a major contributing factor in the desiccation of the Aral Sea, one of the great ecological disasters of our time.

In the course of my talk, I provided an overview of the kind of Russian cultural products that helped prepare the way for the regulation of the Amu-Darya in the decades before the Karalum Canal was constructed. I then drew attention, with a few brief close readings, to how the rerouting of the Amu-Darya was envisioned as an act of revivification and restoration in both the Russian imperial period and the early Soviet era. I emphasized, throughout my remarks, that possibilities of both resistance and “rust” (broadly construed) were written out of Russian narratives about this undertaking, which proved—to adopt Stephen Brain’s terms about management of the Russian forest—to be an instance when the “promethean” strain of Soviet environmentalism won out against the “technocratic.” I concluded my presentation with comments on the place of this research in my larger project and in the wider fields of Russian environmental history and postcolonial studies.
21 Jun 2017

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