The Kartvelologist” is a bilingual (Georgian and English) peer-reviewed, academic journal, covering all spheres of Kartvelological scholarship. Along with introducing scholarly novelties in Georgian Studies, it aims at popularization of essays of Georgian researchers on the international level and diffusion of foreign Kartvelological scholarship in Georgian scholarly circles.
“The Kartvelologist” issues both in printed and electronic form. In 1993-2009 it came out only in printed form (#1-15). The publisher is the “Centre for Kartvelian Studies” (TSU), financially supported by the “Fund of the Kartvelological School”. In 2011-2013 the journal is financed by Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation.
Degradation of cultural and social values occurring in Europe in the second half of 19th century and the crisis in the philolsophical and aesthetic thinking on the verge of the 19th-20th centuries preconditioned the character of the literary narrative of the period as well as the development of various literary tendencies. Although this process started in Georgia, later it proved to be organic to the national literature of the beginning of the 20th century. The urge for its modernisation was felt equally well by the writers of different generations, tastes and viewpoints. The process was complex and controversial and involved the contentious desire to overcome the existing tradition as well as to continue observing it while rethinking the European literary experience.
Along with Western literature, in the Georgian prose of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century realistic and modernist movements coexisted although the latter occupied an increasing space in the culture and enriched the national literature with new topics and expressive means. It is natural that aesthetic values of Symbolism and Impressionism became part of the Georgian art at the beginning of the 20th century which, among other specific typical features, denied the existing reality and refused to contemplate the social and national issues. While doing so, refined forms and subjective perception of the reality were given preference and both self-sufficient and self-sustained values of the art were emphasised.
In the process of creating a new reality, the creator-demiurge put their own egos above everything and distanced themsleves from reality. It is known that the philosophical concept of the contradiction between pure art and life was reflected, in most remarkable artful mastery, in the works of a prominent English writer Oscar Wilde. Naturally, the author of The Portrait of Dorian Grey became popular in Georgia along with Meterlink, Malarme, Verlain, Hamsun and other writers.
The process of the modernisation of Georgian literature of the 20th century was organically connected to the name of a prominent writer, Niko Lortkipanidze. Upon returning from Austria at the beginning of the last century, Lortkipanidze introduced into the Georgian literature an impressionist vision together with a number of tendencies of primary importance brought about by the factors conditioned by the atmosphere of the epoch. One of the ideas was the actualisation of Oscar Wilde's intertext in his works (The Singer, The funeral, Venus’ First Step, God has been killed, The Creator, The Verdict of the Omnipotent) and its original interpretation which added to the overall originality and uniqueness of the writer's works.
It is not coincidental that Niko Lortkipanidze gives explanations in some of his works: borrowed [2, p. 59], imitation [2. p. 116], translated into Georgian reality [3, p. 453]. It is also interesting that a similar method was used by Shalva Dadiani, another well-known prose writer of the period. For instance, Dadiani classed some of their miniatures as “belonging to other's [writers] but made mine by myself”.
Such inscriptions made by the writers do not indicate that the works are not original and also, we are far from claiming this. However, they do indicate the creative rethinking of foreign literary tendencies as one of the characteristic features of the national literature of the period.
From this point of view, it is noteworthy to explore how the issues widely interpreted in Eurpean literature are transformed in Niko Lortkipanidze's works. More specifically, we are interested in some aspects related to the prose of Oscar Wilde. Like Wilde, by employing different pictures of reality, Lortkipanidze convinces the reader that life is a nightmare, sheer suffering and art makes it beautiful. “Life is horrible but picturesque, art is eternal”, as noted by literary critic Soso Sigua [4, p. 46]. By the detalied analyses of the works created on this topic I will make an attempt to persuade the reader of this.
The issue of the interrelation of art and reality is interestingly interpreted in Niko Lorkipanidze's story First steps of Venus, which is classed as a legend by the author. The ultimate question posed in the work is common, at first sight: “Why does the human being want to live? I am 60 years old. I have been among the Egyptian wise men, I have sampled the caresses of Indian beauties and while searching bliss, I lost my slaves, cattle, boats... but thinking about all this, I always desired death. I live just to find out, what forces the human being to go on living” [2, p. 549]. By this passage which is expanded in time and space, the author indicated the eternity of the issue and difficulty of finding the only correct answer to it. The ultimate message is formulated by the fascinating alternation of real and unreal plans.
The speaker was carried away by listening to the murmur of the sea-waves and saw the beauty, a fascinating creature made from mother-of-pearl, white sea foam, rose petals and gold thread, who was referred to by the standing-aside sculptor as a goddess. According to the story, everybody was happy with her appearance, love was born and hope was born in people's hearts. The sculptor had carved her body from marble and called her Venus. He fell in love with her. “The sculpture was beautiful, people said, God himself had entered her body and it was he who shone like the sun through the marble statue. The sculptor sincerely believed that he saw the Goddess alive instead of the statue created by himself” [2, p. 551]. Reality and imagination were merged into one in this vision.
This motif is interpreted in a very interesting way in the story by Lortkipanidze “God has been killed”. The whole village worshiped one god, decorated the statue of him with flowers, until one day a stranger “approached it and hit its chest with all his might, with a hammer” [2, p. 207]. Although it was only the statue that was destroyed, the villlage, considering the visible more important, mourned this as the death of God himself. However, there was one young man in the village who did not agree with the villagers and, while decorating the ruins of the statue with flowers, he said: “Only the statue, the marble, was destroyed! The crowd cannot either see or feel this. I do feel and see you, invisible God of Bliss” [2, p. 208]. This bliss is nothing else but pleasure provoked by seeing the true work of art. The broken statue may become whole again in a person's imagination and still give a paramount pleasure to the viewer as Wilde claims: “BAD and GRAND sound very much the same, indeed they often are the same” [5, p. 81].
Paradoxical thinking is not uncommon in Lortkipanidze's works. He also believes that “Rough is tender at the same time” and “a rough behaviour may hide a tender heart” [2, 52]. Thus, from the standpoint of the Georgian writer, the special imporance of the art is realised in the fact that the imperfect also indicates the perfect; one feature also presupposes its opposite and makes up one whole.
Niko Lortkipanidze's extremely interesting miniature The Creator refers to the issue of sacrificing life. After carving perfect statues of Paris, Maya, Hercule and Athena, the artist finally made a statue of “The Soul fighting against Death”. This beautiful and sorrowful masterpiece was significant because it revealed the process of the fight for life but the sculptor himself was nowhere to be seen to celebrate the victory, his soul could only be found in his works as physically, he was dead.
The finale of this story resembles the principle idea of Oscar Wilde's well-known novel The Portrait of Dorian Grey stating that genuine art always stands above the reality.
Niko Lortkipanidze echoes the philosophy of Lord Henry and if in The Picture of Dorian Grey time stamps the portrait made by Basil, in the work of the Georgian writer, the artist fades away while the picture keeps its beauty. The goal of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly – that is what each of us is here for [6, p. 37].
The essence of the sculptor is revealed symbolically through the statues of gods which the creator's soul had gone into. The question which arises here is whether all this is worth pursuing, if art is a malady [6, p. 231], love is an allusion [6, p. 231], religion is only the fashionable substitute for Belief” [6, p. 232] and Scepticism is the beginning of Faith” [6, p. 232]. Due to this, The Portrait of Dorian Grey was transformed back into a portrait of the exceptionally beautiful young man as soon as his soul got free from mundane sins. What remains eternal is the art which acquires higher value than reality itself in both works discussed above.
If these aesthetics developed by Oscar Wilde in his numerous works are reflected in Niko Lortkipanidze's stories discussed above, Lortkipanidze, the author of The Woman in a Kerchief' wrote a number of stories which directly reveal Wilde’s intertext. In one case it may be an epigraph whereas in the other, a miniature by an English writer inserted in the author's narrative. “Each man kills the thing he loves although the butcher does not punish all of them” [2, p. 485]. These words by Wilde serve as an epigraph to Niko Lortkipanidze story There has been Nothing which describes the suffering brought by love and disappointment increasingly felt after the fulfilled desire. This feeling accompanying a human being is testified by Indian wisdom and a fragment from one of Meterlink's works as well as by a letter found 4,000 years ago near Babylon and finally a small extract from Charles Boudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. All of these are found in a woman's block note jotted down side by side. However, the ultimate essence of the work was expressed by quoting Wilde. Great love can be reduced to one pleasant day and thus a sweetheart can be killed in this way. However, the Georgian author maintains that the essence and pre-condition of being a human being is to experience such feelings and if an artificial person is destined ever to be created, they will be devoid of such feelings.
Wilde’s A House of Judgment which, according to Lortkipanidze, was first read by the latter in Vienna in German, was inserted in his The Singer. The man awaiting God s’ judgement is going to be punished for the sins committed during his life. As it turned out, even God is powerless to punish a person who has lived his entire life in hell. What is more, the Saviour is not able to send him to Paradise either as the man has never imagined it [2, p. 348].
A House of Judgement is directly connected to the main storyline of Lortkipanidze's work. It reveals a life of once being a popular singer, later a depressed loser: “Two pictures kept changing in front of his eyes: one, showing a night lit with the moonlight, a sailing ship leaving a trail of white foam, a couple embracing each other on the deck and the other with a long-suffered face of a dishevelled man looking for something”, writes Lortkipanidze [2, p. 361]. According to the author, the life on earth also alternates between hell and paradise. Due to this, a man is no longer afraid of suffering in the other world because his will is not strengtherned by the promise of the kingdom of heaven.
It is worth noting that Niko Lortkipanidze's miniature Judgement of the Omnipotent, released in the same year retells a story of two people standing before God's final Judgement. One admitted that he had never read the Testament and knew nothing about the lives of Saints. He never killed a person though he did kill animals; he never told lies although made the dark reality look lighter and more attractive, never commited adultery although he was as one with his lover; he never condemned God although he worshipped one god - the god of love, hope and beauty. For being so honest and open, the man was given the kingdom of heaven whereas the other man, although he had never violated the Scripture, was not. “You have not lived: you were bound in my bands and I do not know what kind of person you are. You may be a villain and how can I give you final resting place in the kingdom of heaven? Go back to the other world!” God sends the man back [2, p. 345]. This is how Niko Lortkipanidze envisaged the final judgement.
Both of these works were created in 1913. It is difficult to argue confidently that the impulse to write Judgement of the Omnipotent was sparked by Oscar Wilde's miniature which Lortkipanidze had read in German and that he was overwhelmed with this to such extent that that he included it in his work. However, it cannot be denied that there is an obvious narrative link between the two works. What is more, while making a literary re-interpretation of the topic, the author argues with Wilde. This work may play a significant role in the process of determining the religious beliefs of Lortkipandze although it is not easy to argue relying on only one work. In addition, I believe that this issue demands a more thorough investigation and it is not my intention to do so in this article.
In order to cheer his sad and sorrowful daughter up, the King built a white palace from marble and ivory in which the ballroom was upholstered with silk and the kings' pictures were embroidered with pomegranates, pearls and diamonds... in the corners of the room there were bowls and cups full of emeralds, rubies and sapphires. A blue boudoir, a rosy living room and a green dining room were decorated with corn-coloured, precious stones [2, p. 135]. The King had decided to kill the goldsmith as soon as he had finished work in the palace. However, the goldsmith managed to conquer the princess' heart and stepped up to the throne. However his happiness was short term as this always happens when unachievable goals driven by only material wealth and power become reality.
Wilde’s fairy tale The Young King raised a social issue: although the upcoming exciting ceremony of inauguration pleased the young king's imagination and spirit, from the dream seen the night before he knew that his wonderful attire was a product of the weavers' hard work and that the pearls and rubies adorning his crown and sceptre had cost the lives to a number of slaves. Because of this, the young king refused to wear the outfit specially made for the day although he was aware that “Joy wears what Grief has fashioned” [5, p. 111] as well as that poor people believed that “To toil for a master is bitter, but to have no master to toil for is more bitter still” [5, p. 108].
In the final scene of the fairy tale the Sun itself weaves a cloak for the king with its radiant rays: “The people fell upon their knees in awe, and the nobles sheathed their swords and did homage, and the Bishop’s face grew pale, and his hands trembled” [5, p. 113]. The bishop must have realised that the young king was being inaugurated by God himself. What was meant by this was that social though unequal order cannot be violated as it reflects the regularities of the world order.
In spite of the totally different essence these two tales rely on, their aesthetics is still similar. I think that the inauguration of the goldsmith as a king must have been an echo of the changes ongoing in the 1900s in Russia. In spite of the obvious, implicit social plane it is still interesting to note that Oscar Wilde's fairy tale ends with the unshakable, positive attitude to the monarchy: God himself inaugurates the monarch and therefore this cannot be changed.
An interesting detail was introduced in a short story by Lortkipanidze written later A fairy tale in the King’s Palace. There are two simultaneous lines in this fairy tale: the characters of the story protest against the fairy tale they are listening to whereas the narrator believes that the tale reflects the existing reality and it is much harder and more serious than an unreal, imagined story. Objecting to this, the characters believe that the narrator's story does not correspond to reality. However, by expressing the narrator's regret for saddening the cheerful people [2, p. 542], the author reveals his own attitude to the issue inviting the question: should Art reflect the “confessions of a human being” or be purely entertaining? This is one more instant of confirmation of political indifference, individualism and worthiness of delimitation of the art's ultimate function. However, in this process social issues cannot remain beyond the scopes of literature and thus appear in this way.
It is obvious that Lortkipanidze echoes the issues relevant for European literature of the period in the most interesting way and creates the pattern of Georgian Modernist narrative employing the literary, expressive arsenal inherent to the epoch.
Georgian literary critics are confident that “Niko Lortkipanidze raised the genre of miniature to that of impressionist worldview: like Arthur Snitsel and Peter Altenberg, he subjected it to the idea, symbol and allegory [4, p. 44]. By doing so, he conferred a new value to it, which is only one of the parts of the contribution the writer made to Georgian literature. One of the charaters in his The Woman in a Kerchief, a singer who had just returned to his motherland from abroad, mentioned: “I wanted to spread the depth of Beethoven and the tenderness of Mozart here”[2, p. 345]. These words embody the desire of the author, to bring European prose into Georgian literature. Lortkipanidze, unlike his character, managed to achieve this goal by employing remarkable literary mastery and making this experience an organic part of the national literature. The intertext of Oscar Wilde is one of the best and most interesting instances of this phenomenon.