First published in the UA Journal, November 2014
Using Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ (1962) and Varlam Shalamov’s ‘Kolyma Tales’ (1980) this essay follows the everyday experiences of life as a ‘zek’, a Gulag prisoner, in prison narratives. The focus here is less the human produced elements of suffering within a suppressive system, but rather the presence of the Siberian environment and its relation to bodies, identities and day-to- day living. The landscape is at once the source of repression and freedom. It is within this indistinct zone that we find the daily experience of a ‘wild’ power. Through the concepts of landscape and environment, we gain a powerful insight into prisoner life as it was in the experiences of the two authors and the words they produce. Crucially, the complicated, intimate and dialogic relationship shared between humans and the environment necessarily breaks apart notions of inside and outside, object(ive) and subject(ive). The ongoing of experience of life and ‘the taiga’ is is emergent and embodied (Agamben, 1993; Harrison, 2000). These ideas launch a semiotic critique of ‘stable’ concepts such as Siberia, ‘the taiga’, Nature, time and ‘the wild’. What happens when these boundaries collapse, when out-there and in-here become indistinguishable?
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