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«December 2017»

Fellow Seminar

30 November 2017

Dr. Iuliana Matasova will present her research proposal on the topic: "(Minor) Popular Culture and the Apparatus of Area: The ‘Border' Work of Ukrainian Female Singer-Songwriters (1990-Present)" on 30 November 2017 (Thursday) at 16:30h at CAS Conference Hall.


The post-Soviet 1990s are easily a source of academic fascination. The ‘grey' area of potentiality, this dramatic spatial-temporal location allowed for attempts at constructing the new social imaginary for the new nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Arguing that popular culture was an important site and a powerful tool for imagining the nations in transformation with my ongoing research I turn attention to the generation of Ukrainian female singersongwriters debuting in the beginning of the 1990s, and namely Iryna Bilyk, Sestrychka Vika, Marichka Burmaka, Maryna Odolska, Katya Chilly, Yuliya Lord, Liuda Orlenko of DAT band and others.

I claim that the participation of female singer-songwriters in constructing the new Ukraine was crucial. I try to answer: (1) what enabled female singer-songwriters to imagine the Desired Ukraine (as a project in decolonial thinking and doing); (2) how the operation mode of a (minor) popular culture allowed them to participate in constructing the new social imaginary; (3) whether post-Soviet Ukraine had a chance to defy the logic of the apparatus of area; whether decolonizing was possible after all and what it meant under post-Soviet transformation and whether its logic is still valid today.

Important to me in this respect are notions of transformation and border. One of the most attentive scholars of post-Sovietness, Katherine Verdery, calls the patronizing reading of postsocialist condition as inevitable transit to capitalism, democracy and market economies (so common in post-Soviet area studies) a "fashionable transitology" (1996, 15). Instead, she states, we should analyse the 1990s as the decade of "transformation in the countries that have emerged from socialism" (15-16). Questioning the straightforwardness of ‘transit' and embracing the fluidity of ‘transformation' is in itself an attempt at decolonizing (involving not only critical attention to the tactics of de-sovietization, but also those of de-westernization).

Having to take into account the geographic location of Ukraine, the actual appearance of the border between Ukraine and Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union-border as line, in
this research I proceed from Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson's reading of border as epistemic angle: such approach, they rightfully claim, provides "productive insights on the tensions and conflicts that blur the line between inclusion and exclusion" (2013, viii), and "on the transformations currently reshaping power and capital" (ix). This study actualizes the concept of border in yet another respect. Grounding my thinking on Walter Mignolo and Madina Tlostanova's work on border, colonial and imperial difference, I subscribe to their conclusion that it is extremely difficult to conceptualize "the soft and blurred difference-the same, but not quite, different, but too similar" (2012, 68). This blurred difference (unlike that between West and radical non-West) is precisely at stake in analysing borders of what the scholars call excolonies of a subaltern empire (Soviet Union) (65). For the singer-songwriters, I argue, the work on the border begins with the re-definition of the Ukrainian.

Coming from the conditions of transformation and border is the condition of (minor) popular culture. I consider the non-institutionalized operation of popular culture in the first years of Ukraine's independence (as compared to the fully instituted Western, or global, popular culture industry). Important to me is drawing from Deleuze and Guattari's reading of minor literature: one of the characteristics of minor literatures, as they claim, is that "everything in them is political" (2003, 17). Indeed, popular culture in Ukraine in the first decade of independence functioned as political practice. Non-institutionalized popular culture's resistance potential also comes into focus of this study bringing in the West / non-West encounter as realized in the workings of a (minor) popular culture.

The aforementioned problematic is addressed with the case study of Iryna Bilyk, one of the most important representatives of the generation of women authors who were engaged in imagining the Desired Ukraine. Thinking the latter, both spatially and temporally, meant, first nd foremost, crossing the ultimate borderline-that of the previous Soviet circumstances, and further re-definition of the Ukrainian. The initial strategies for the re-definition were guaranteed by the specific conditions of post-Soviet Ukraine's popular culture industry and brought the following results. (1) Iryna Bilyk drastically reinvented Ukrainian popular music by introducing new musicality, new topology, as well as new looks, corporeality and performing techniques-all based on the poetics of the quotidian, with preference to ‘universalities'; (2) she was able to depart from the official discourse of Soviet Ukrainian popular music (estrada) due to her agency as author-a singer-songwriter, fully maintaining her production; (3) as woman author, she created and effectively utilized a comprehensive multi-layered non-hierarchical ‘language' to enable her transformative creative practices; (4) she chose to sing in Ukrainian, which was a decision driven by libidinal political logic; (5) all of these choices were backed up by the dissolution of Soviet Ukrainian popular culture industry-which ensured unprecedented creative freedom for singer-songwriters (not experienced by their Western peers), and, in fact, was one of the reasons for the very emergence of the generation of women authors; in a way, it was a ‘happy' precarious state.

The present time in Ukraine's development calls for a thoroughgoing study of the ‘job' of decolonization; the current research follows this call. Moreover, if "we are all post-Soviet," as Susan Buck-Morss has it (2006), then the study of Ukrainian female singer-songwriters' legacy (which is long overdue) suggests an attempt of perceiving the post-Soviet transformation outside the logic of the apparatus of area.


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