The Politics of Exception: The Life of Beggar Rose, the Vilnius Queen

Neringa Klumbytė (Miami University, Ohio)

In Everything Was Forever until It Was No More (2006), Alexei Yurchak in his explorations of late Soviet youth culture introduced a concept of “a de-territorialized public.” This public neither supported nor opposed the state, but lived in a de-territorialized milieu that they perceived as “normal.” In this paper I look at politics in exceptional places that fail to capture social scientists’ attention because of their idiosyncrasy. Exploring beggar’s Rose’s life (born in 1940) in socialism and post-socialism, I ask how power regimes are produced in exceptional spaces and by extraordinary individuals, and what they tell us about the nation-state, individual, and the community. Rose, whose life I have been following since 2008, has been called the spirit and the queen of Vilnius. Dressed in colorful fancy clothing purchased at the second hand stores, she strolls everyday through Vilnius downtown asking for money in a graceful manner. Drawing on the works of Agamben and Deleuze and the anthropology of becoming (Biehl and Locke), I argue that because of its idiosyncrasy, the socialist and post-socialist state failed to subject Rose to its power regimes. She has lived both periods in a very similar way as her own masterplans guided by desires to become beautiful and by her everyday attempts to find connections in the deterritorialized milieu of the normal people.

Keyword: Klumbyte

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