Golden Mountain, Iron Heap: A Poetic Ethnography of Extraction in Eastern Mongolia

Lecture: Institute of East Asian Studies: Mongolia Initiative | December 5 | 4 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Jessica Madison, Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz; Jessica Madison, Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz

 Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS), UC Berkeley Mongolia Initiative

This paper explores Mongolia’s mineral extraction boom through an examination of local concepts of landscape. In order to engage seriously with local place-making practices, it analyzes the steppe topologically, looking at attributes of landscape that transcend material upheaval. In eastern Mongolia, poetry is a primary means of mediating human interaction with space, and thus poetic literacy is necessary for producing and understanding knowledge that turns space into landscape. The paper focuses on a central puzzle: how does what otherwise appears to be a closed and harmonious magical ecology accommodate a zinc mine? I ask: how can a tradition that sacralizes the unbroken earth also name mines after mountains? Considering both mountain and mine as ovoo, nodes that function as both “energy centers” and “sacrifice zones” within the landscape, the paper interfaces with local theories that illuminate poetry to be a creator of worlds, and highlights the ambivalence, ambiguity, and poetic irony of mineral extraction in Mongolia.

 ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-643-6492; ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-643-6492

Altan Ovoo in winter, Dariganga Soum, Sukhbaatar Province