- Политика и литературная традиция: Русскогрузинские литературные связи после перестройки by Елена Чхаидзе
Any reader of this book is likely to be impressed by the very personal tone that characterizes the first paragraphs of its introduction, which may seem unexpected in light of the plain, straightforward title of Elena Chkhaidze's volume. The author, who is currently a member of the faculty of the Slavic Department/Lotman Institute for Russian Culture of the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, explicitly states the importance of her research for herself and other people in her situation, using both the first-person singular and the first-person plural. The author ascribes herself to the social group of those who have been neglected, or utterly forgotten, in the obsessive– and violent–search for clear-cut national identities in the post-Soviet world, both in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse and in more recent years. This is especially true of those neighboring nations that have experienced armed conflicts and cultural estrangement after centuries of peaceful cohabitation and mutual [End Page 326] cultural enrichment, in spite of political repression and forced assimilation. This can be read as a paradox that either anticipates or follows the renewed and more or less violent appetite for nationalisms that have been gaining ground in the West in the past few years, (re)uniting the historical West, Central-Eastern Europe, and the post-Soviet space in common sympathy for borders.
Chkhaidze's firsthand knowledge of the political and social background of her literary research, her mastery of the two main languages involved in her project, and her knowledge of postcolonial theory guarantee her familiarity with the breadth of approaches and methodologies necessary for such an ambitious and innovative work. The impressive number of interviews (340) that Chkhaidze conducted with both Russian and Georgian writers and scholars is a further demonstration of her status as an authority in this field of research.
Chkhaidze provides names, works, and entire literary cultures that many readers are likely to be unfamiliar with, while at the same time exploring lesser-known aspects of the work of prominent writers such as Andrei Bitov (1937–2018) and Viktor Astaf'ev (1924–2001), with his shocking Catching Gudgeon in Georgia (1984). Moreover, Chkhaidze's approach is commendable for her acknowledgment of the role of literature in shaping and reflecting political and social changes in the post-Soviet world.
The volume is divided into three main chapters, preceded by an author's note and introduction and followed by a conclusion. After her initial note, in which Chkhaidze declares her very personal reasons for undertaking a project of this kind, she uses the introduction to focus on the main theoretical tenet of her book, which she defines as the analysis of the imperial literary tradition (imperskaia literaturnaia traditsiia) and its evolution in Russian–Georgian dialogue (or lack thereof). The bulk of the book is devoted to an in-depth analysis of the various ways in which the imperial literary tradition that has shaped Russian–Georgian literary contacts from the early nineteenth century to the late Soviet era has survived the shock of the fall of the Soviet Union and the ongoing Russian–Georgian conflict in its various forms.
The first chapter focuses on the establishment of the imperial literary tradition after the signing of the Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783 and the incorporation of Georgia into the Russian Empire in 1801. The author reflects on both the imperial phase of Russian–Georgian literary contacts and their continuation in Soviet times. Chkhaidze stresses how the formation of the imperial literary tradition was the result of [End Page 327] a habit (privychka, P. 31), perhaps even a routine, that in a few decades had established Georgia as Russia's paradise (Gruziia-rai, P. 47), making it an essential part of the Russian imperial cultural imagination. From the subaltern point of view of Georgia, which has traditionally been silenced by the dominant perspective of the center of the empire, Georgian history is divided into two main periods, one characterized by Russia's presence (prisutstvie) and the other by Russia's absence (otsutstvie, P. 24).
The second chapter, which occupies more...