Diasporic Flânerie: From Armenian Ruinenlust to Armenia’s Walkscapes
This chapter shows how Walter Benjamin’s 1929 critique of the nationalistic obsession with ruins can unsettle an especially powerful element of the Armenian diaspora’s discourse on genocide: what in German is called Ruinenlust, or the melancholic love of ruins and the manic efforts to recognize, restore, and repair them. The diaspora’s fascination with the ruins of Armenian culture’s distant past scattered throughout Turkey, Armenia, and the wider Mediterranean world carries a capacious presumption about Being in the wake of a catastrophic history: that one can only be fully human once what was shattered by genocide is made whole. One can see this fascination in Armenian cultural representations from the elite to the kitsch as well as in well-funded international efforts aimed at generating cultural tourism. In turn, the chapter shows how Karen Andreassian’s experimental, web-based artwork “Ontological Walkscapes” enacts the Benjaminian critique, taking the viewer into the ruins of Soviet Armenia’s brutalist public spaces, where the romantic ideal of Ruinenlust is replaced by a cinematic stroll through neglected concrete spaces that have been repurposed by activists opposing the Armenian state’s authoritarian rule.
I would like to thank Joan Wallach Scott, Massimiliano Tomba, Fadi A. Bardawil, and Linda M. G. Zerrilli for their remarkably generous and refreshingly challenging comments on an early draft of this chapter. I also thank Michael Pifer and Kathryn Babayan for their interest in and encouragement of this work. An early version of this work was given at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology at the conference “Surviving Genocide: On What Remains and the Possibility of Representation,” organized by Fazil Moradi, Maria Six-Hohenbalken, and Ralph Buchenhorst, to whom I am also grateful for their extended interest in this work at an early stage. Dillon Vrana has offered me singular and ongoing discussions about this chapter and the issues it addresses, for which I am so very grateful.