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CREES Lecture - "Feeling and Speaking States: The Politics of and in Kazakh Aitus Poetry"

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
12:00 AM
1636 II/SSWB, 1080 S. University

Eva-Marie Dubuisson, doctoral candidate, Department of Anthropology, and 2008–09 Institute for the Humanities Fellow, U-M. Sponsored by the Center for Russian and East European Studies and Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies.


Dubuisson's research in linguistic anthropology investigates new forms of authority and social sentiment in post-socialist Kazakhstan which arise in the verbal art of Aitus (Kazakh, shared talk), the improvisational dueling of two akundar (Kaz; poets). In an authoritarian climate of repression and censorship, poets have emerged in the last two decades as a consistent voice of sociopolitical critique. Poets' long term training with mentors and other poets, their self-characterization as bearers of the people's (khaliq) truth, as well as the argumentative form of the poetry itself, all serve to allow multiple personae to "speak" in the context of performance, and to directly criticize the established regime. By sponsoring cultural forms like Aitus, various factions of the Kazakh political and economic elite can become part of these voices of dissent, and thus indirectly but concretely challenge the current regime. They can also use their support of Aitus to bolster their own sociopolitical careers and agendas. Social actors from radically different walks of life collude in "successful" performance, to create an emergent authority outside of and beyond an authoritarian nation-state, and a sense of satisfaction for those involved. Dubuisson argues that "satisfaction" is a political participatory act.


Eva-Marie Dubuisson discussed many of the characteristics and implications of Aitus, or poetic duels, in contemporary Kazakhstan--analyzing both what these poets do in their performances and how it is possible for voices of criticism to be aired so openly in a political arena so often characterized as "authoritarian." This poetic form is linked with notions of cultural and national authenticity; it takes place in a dialogic and conflictive frame; and is enabled by particular structures of patronage and sponsorship in post-Soviet Kazakhstan.

Discussion after the lecture focused on the social and economic side of Aitus, and probed in particular the many linkages between this poetic form and ideas about Kazakh nationhood--how lower-level dissonances and disagreements fit into an ostensibly unitary cultural ideal, how Russophone and diasporic Kazakhs fit into this scheme, and how new technologies of dissemination (both printed and electronic) could alter the meanings of this oral art form.

Summary by Douglas Northrop, director, Center for Russian and East European Studies