Current Position :Home > News > Articels recommended > Understanding of Cosmopolitanism in Georgian Literary Thinking: From Goethe to Vazha-Pshavela

Understanding of Cosmopolitanism in Georgian Literary Thinking: From Goethe to Vazha-Pshavela

  Irma Ratiani

  Shota Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State

  University, 50-2 Abashidze str., Tbilisi 0179, Georgia

  Email: [email protected]

   Abstract A very important publicist work by Georgian classic writer of 19`"-20`"centuries Vazha-Pshavela匯“Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism" was published in1905 and became one of the most discussed topics among the intellectual society ofGeorgia. The publication of the essay with this kind of content was a considerablefact in the beginning of 20`" century when the controversy between the differentcountries and people revealed other types of essential controversies like: Nationaland Colonialist determinations, Free thinking and Ideology, Spirituality andScientific-Technical progress. Due to all these circumstances Vazha-Pshvela's ideawas assessed as a declaration of writer's strong position, expressed in his fictionalworks as well. But, was it just a declaration? Maybe it was a prophetic warning ofthe danger which was going to threaten regularly not only Georgia, but some othersmall countries throughout the world? What was the attitude of Georgian societytowards the writer's position and are there any analogies in the western thinking?

  Key words Cosmopolitism; Patriotism; Values; Intercultural communications;Identity

   Author Irma Ratiani is Professor of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University;Head of the department of General and Comparative Literary Studies; Directorof Shota Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature; Honorable President of theGeorgian Comparative Literature Association (GCLA). The major field of scientificinterest includes: literary theory, general and comparative literary studies in abroad cultural context; revision and analysis of literary processes of Soviet andPost-Soviet period. Author of more than 80 scientific works匯books, articles, andtextbooks. Editor in chief of the book匯“Totalitarianism and Literary Discourse.20`" Century Experience," published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2012). In 2012 was awarded the Grigol Kiknadze Scientific Award for the monograph匯“TheText and the Chronotop." Her last book is匯“Georgian Literature and the WorldLiterary Process" (2015).

   Literary heritage of Georgian classic writer Vazha-Pshavela (1861匯1915) withthe problems raised in it and its objectives is a valuable Georgian reflection ofa late European Realism, however, due to the tradition established on differentstages of the development of Georgian literature this model of reflection is aswell characterised by usual corrections and references: The new trends elaboratedwithin the frames of Georgian late Realism merged not only with the tradition thattook shape in the depth of European Realism of 19`" century, but also the realisticcontext of Georgia, highlighting a very interesting spectrum of problems, such as:

  Humans and their mission in the world;

  The individual will of a person and a society;

  "One's own space" as a marker of national identity.

   If we approach from this angle some central texts in Vazha-Pshavela's oeuvre匯Aluda Ketelauri, Host and Guest, Gogotur and Apshina, Snake-Eater匯we willhave to admit that despite different storylines, the untameable aspiration of humanslocked up in an immense universe to find their mission, the unabated desire tostruggle for personal dignity, and the undeserved pain from the fatal identificationwith "one's own space" connects and cements those texts with each other. There arenumerous reasons that make the author respect the main characters of those texts:They are people embellished with rare qualities匯notions that seem to be wornout, but are absolutely indispensable are important for them; notions like: "belief,""freedom," "love,""devotion," "spiritual firmness," and "the sense of native soil"(Kiknadze 149-150).

   They are convinced that: A person must be true first to hisown personality and then to others; he should be honourable first to his ownconscience and then to the public; he should be loyal first to his own land and thento the land of others. All those characters are given shape within the real Georgiancontext. However, they are not "one of many," but "one among many." Spiritualprojection becomes outlined as the only projection of personal freedom and thesense of homeland is based not on the vision of masses, but the moral criteria ofindividuals:

  I am the Home with my Dignity;

  My Dignity defines my Home;

   I move around the world with my Dignity, and therefore, with my Home.As Vazha-Pshavela would say, the main thing is that the deeds of such characters(people) are as useful for humankind (world) as they are useful and reasonable fortheir homeland (home).

  So who is Vazha-Pshavela: The greatest cosmopolitan or a man of geniusmotivated by national self-consciousness?

   Let us recall Marko Juvan's interpretation of the introduction of one of themost cosmopolitan term Weltliteratur (World literature), mentioned and establishedby Goethe in 1827:

  In Goethe's case, the historical consciousness of literature's worldwide scopethus had rather peripheral, partly nationally biased origin, notwithstandingits cosmopolitan pedigree and claims to universalism. The intellectualbackground of the idea was definitely established b post-Enlightenmentcosmopolitanism, a belief that in "their essence" people are equal, regardlessof affiliations to various states, languages, religions, classes, or cultures. Sincethe eighteenth century, cosmopolitanism has informed the lifestyle of urbanintellectual elites as well as conceptually inspired ethics and internationallaw, economic theories of the free market, political science, the arts, andthe humanities (Juvan 2010a). Coining the phrase Weltliteratur, Goethe匯as Marx and Engels later would匯expected "world literature" to transcendnational parochialism through cosmopolitan cultural exchange. Pursuing muchthe same cosmopolitan goals as Immanuel Kant did in his the Perpetual Peace(1795), but following a different path, Goethe also thought that knowledgeof other languages and literatures, their deeper understanding, and opennessto their influence would lead people from different countries to mutualunderstanding and peace. The ideologeme of world literature was invented tobuffer the dangers of imperialism, culture wars, and economic competitionbetween national entities in post-Napoleonic Europe.

  However, even Goethefuelled his cosmopolitan idea with nationalist anxieties and goals; after all, hisWeltliteratur aimed at the transnational promotion of German literature, whichwas facing strong international competitions and British or French culturalhegemony (Damrosch 2003:8; Pizer 2000: 216: Casanova 1999: 63-64).Encouraged by the considerable fereign success of his works and enjoyingan influential position in culturally prosperous Weimar, Goethe believed: "There is being formed a universal world literature, in which an honorablerole is reserved for us Germans. All the nations review our work; they praise,censure, accept, an reject, imitate, and mispresent us, open or close their heartsto us. (73-74)`

   It seems that even one of the most cosmopolitan thinkers of the world and theauthor of the cosmopolitan and currently global term匯Weltliteratur, JohannWolfgang Goethe, shaped the foundations of his cosmopolitanism on the basis ofthe layers of his national conscience and refused to forget even for a minute themission of the national literature (in his case, German literature) in this large-scaleliterary model: Communications between literatures as a circulation of differentlinguistic and perceptive models are the main targets of Goethe's cosmopolitan expemment.

  Vazha-Pshavela is a thinker of the post-Goethe era. Unlike Goethe, who couldonly presuppose at the level of intuition prospects for the development of the termhe had invented, Vazha-Pshavela could precisely see what results the voluntary interpretation of the cosmopolitan approach could produce. Despite the fact thathe, together with his family and animals that sustained the family, lived in a half-ruined but in a remote mountain area of turned into a province of the Russian Empire Georgia, rarely visited the city and was fully aware of the painful culturalweakness of his dishonoured country against the background of the global culturaland literary processes, he was strongly full of confidence in the potential of the Georgian culture and respected the country's stubborn vital energy frequentlykicked down due to historic ill fate. Georgia in the 19`" century was not indeed Germany. Promotion of theGeorgian culture depended on the sentiments and moods at the imperial court inSt Petersburg. Georgian writers were neither known nor translated. They wereneither imitated nor condemned. They were just stewing in their own juice, whichwas quite bitter and unpalatable. However, this was happening not only in orderto shout at each other and wake up the Georgian public that was slackened due totemporary liberal policy pursued by Russia in the second half of 19`" century, but also in order not to lose contacts with the international literary process and to createits distinctive Georgian wing, which was to find itself in the spotlight of the world sooner or later as something ancient, valuable, and important.

  Time and history have shown that Goethe's idea tended to be directed ongeographic expansion, but in Goethe's times, it was unambiguously equal toEuropacentrism and implied first and foremost European literature and, of course, German literature as one of its major components. From the 19`" century, theGoethean term indeed started to broaden its own historic and geographic scopeand step by step reached out to all continents and cultures of the world (Marino31)Z. The rise of capitalism accelerated the opening of national borders, whichgradually increased chances of interaction between national literatures through translations and various types of cultural dialogue. Goethe's idea was that all thesedevelopments were to make all valuable cultural models equal irrespective of theirlinguistic and national origin instead of oppressing them. However, it was the threatof the disappearance of this important function of conscience that never left Vazha-Pshavela, a Georgian writer and thinker, in peace, because: Georgia was isolated with double borders from the global cultural space-national border and border of Russian Empire;

  He lived in the pragmatic era of rising capitalism and speedy scientificand technical progress;

  He witnessed the speedy devaluation of spiritual and moral values ofsociety of his time;

  He encountered nihilism and the lack of faith;

  He worried about the weakened patriotic spirit of Georgians.

   And there were indeed grounds for fears. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were thefirst in the 19th century to respond to Goethe's theory with their "common propertytheory." They skilfully used the ideas of the great German author to introducethe main principle of the Marxist ideology. Marx and Engels transformed theprinciple of overcoming the short-sightedness characteristic of national cultures,which was part of Goethe's cosmopolitanism, into the theory of eliminating classdifferentiation, which posed a real threat of a utopia that was to come true. No onerecalled that the Goethean idea of cosmopolitanism was based on national self-conscience and implied the latter's rise to the level of "overall humanism."

  Only dozens of years later, Rene Wellek and Austin Warren reverted tonational conscience and the Goethean theory of cosmopolitanism linked to thecultural and literary values. However, before that happened, the threat emanatingfrom a distorted interpretation of the cosmopolitan idea was quite tangible and itis no surprise that it runs like a scarlet thread through the work by the Georgianhumanist Vazha-Pshavela,Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism, published in 1905.

  It is noteworthy that this essay meant for Georgian readers could successfullybe referred to the whole of the contemporary world that was on the threshold of great disappointments and the citizens who lived in the times of "dead God"(Nietzsche), revolutions, wars, and great disappointments. Vazha-Pshavelaaddressed everyone, absolutely everyone and not only Georgia that had become aprovince of Russia with its head bowed:Some believe that genuine patriotism is contrary to cosmopolitanism, but thisis a mistake. Every genuine patriot is a cosmopolitan just like every reasonablecosmopolitan (not those in our country) is a patriot. How? It is as follows:The person, who reasonably serves his own nation, trying to enhance his ownhomeland intellectually, materially, and morally, thus producing best membersand friends of the whole humankind, promotes the development and well-being of the whole humankind. (104)

  National energy is the support point of the essay by Vazha-Pshavela and all othervalues are based on it. Pascale Casanova wrote almost 150 years later: "Eachwriter's position must necessarily be a double one, twice defined: each writer issituated once according to the position he or she occupies in a national space, andthen once again according to the place that this occupies within the world space"(81). Vazha-Pshavela knew precisely back in 1905 that "all geniuses emerged andwere raised on the national soil and grew to such a scale that even other nationsaccepted them as their own children. Correspondingly, geniuses found homelandsoutside their own homelands" (104).

  Everything is in order up to this point: The projection of Vazha-Pshavel'sidea is in line with Goethe's vision and his understanding of cosmopolitanism, butfurther on, the stream of the Georgian author's thinking switches to some otherroute:

   However, in spite of this, works by geniuses are more useful and appropriateon the national soil. Sons of no other country will be able to get as muchpleasure from Hamlet and King Lear, particularly if they are translated, asthe English. Why should we go on too long? Will sons of another countrybe able to get so much pleasure from The Knight in the Panther's Skin andunderstand it so well, no matter how good a translation they may read or howwell they may speak Georgian, as Georgians themselves? Never. A geniusas a personality and individual has his own homeland, which he loves andadores, but his work does not, because it belongs to the whole of humankindlike science. (105)

   On the one hand, Vazha-Pshavela refuses to recognise the omnipotence oftranslations, but on the other, he admits that they are necessary to make textsaccessible to the world. The rhythm of Goethe's everyday life was defined bylinguistic activities匯reading in various languages, translations, studies incultural distances, monitoring of the international receptions of his own works, andintellectual research, where translations played a major role in the creation of auniversal literary space. Vazha-Pshavela was not so interested in such endeavours.He regarded translations as a means of communication rather than a means forthe creation of a universal literary space, as he believed that translations providedan opportunity to any national literature to become available to readers in othercountries and various national literatures were able to establish close contacts witheach other precisely through translations. However, at the same time, he believedthat high-quality reading was possible only in a national language.

  If we recall one phrase by the founder of Dialogic Criticism, Mikhail Bakhtin,the depth of Vazha-Pshavela's idea will become more amazing:It is only in the eyes of another culture that foreign culture reveals itself fullyand profoundly.…A meaning only reveals its depths once it has encounteredand come into contact with another, foreign meaning: they engage in a kind ofdialogue, which surmounts the closeness and one-sidedness of these particularmeanings, these cultures.…Such a dialogic encounter of two cultures does notresult in merging or mixing. Each retains its own unity and open totality, butthey are mutually enriched. (334-335)

  Boundaries do exist and they are observed in conditions of valuable dialogue. Itis quite clear that according to Bakhtin, a cultural product does not belong onlyto the culture, within the boundaries of which it was created. It is part of an openinter cultural space that is equal to the "great time" of history and enables any cultural item to undergo multiple reconstructions and renovations (both in contentand perception) at every stage of the history of culture. Vazha-Pshavela's positionis permeated with precisely these ideas: On the one hand, it is necessary to beengaged in dialogue between cultures and on the other, it is necessary to admit thethreat of possible losses, which is, of course, due to the imperfection of translationor, to be more precise, due to the fact that it is impossible for one type of mentalityto precisely reflect another type of mentality.

  Patriotism is for Vazha-Pshavela a notion bearing very sharp markers: The native tongue, historic past, and childhood. In other words, it is all that the "mostglobal author," Vladimir Nabokov, described as "inherited memory" years after(Nabokov 40).

   Patriotism is a sentiment and cosmopolitanism is a result of thinking and it isvery important to direct the thinking in a correct direction:

   God save us from understanding cosmopolitanism as if everyone shouldrenounce their nationality. In that case, the whole humankind will have torenounce their own selves. Every nation seeks to be free in order to be mastersof their own fate, take care of themselves, and develop relying on their ownforce. Separated development of nations is an indispensable precondition forthe development of humankind. (106)

   Vazha-Pshavela's Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism was assertion and warning atthe same time. It was moved not only by the pains of the country, but also a tragicperception of the overall crisis of values.


   1 .In this quotation Marko Juvan refers to the following works: Juvan, Marko"`Periperocentricism': Geopolitics of Comparkative Literatures between Ethocentrism andCosmopolitanism." In: Bessiere, Jean and Judit Maar, Histoire de la literature et jeux d'echangeentre centres et peripheries: Les indentities relatives des litterqatures. Paris: Harmattan. 53-63, 2010; Damrosch, David "What is World Literature?" Princeton, N. J.: Princeton UP. 2003;Pizer, John "Goethe's `World Literature' Paradigm and Contemporary Cultural Globalization."In: Comparative Literature 52.3:213-227. 2000; Casanova, Pascale "La Republice mondiale desLettre." Paris: Seuil. 1999.

  2. We rely upon the Georgian translation of Adrian Marino's book匯Comparatism si teorialiteraturii, translated and published in Georgia in 2010.

  Works Cited

  Bakhtin, Mikhail. Estetika slovesnogo tvorchestva(Aesthetics of Verbal Art (in Russian)]. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1979.

  Casanova, Pascale. "Literature as a World". New LeftReview, 31, Jan-Feb(2005): 71-90.

  Juvan, Marko.Literary Studies in Reconstruction. An Introduction to Literature. Peter Lang Publishing, 2011.

   Kiknadze, Grigol Five Poems"Vazha-Pshavelas xuti poema" in Liteaturis teoriisa、istoriis sakitxebi ["Thelby Vazha-Pshavela" in Issues of Literary Theory and History (in Georgian)].Tbilisi: Tbilisi State University Press, 1978: 144-182

  Marino, Adrian. Comparatism si teoria literaturii (Comparative Studies and Literary Theory (inGeorgian)]. Tbilisi:Nabokov, VladimirInstitute of Literature Press, 2010

  Nabokov, Vladimir. Speak Memory: An Autobiography Revisited.McGraw Hill 1966.Vazha-Pshavela. Rcheuli txzulebani xut tomad [Selected Works in Three Volumes (in Georgian)]Vol. III. Tbilisi: Institute of Literature Press, 2011.

Recommended article