Teaching Literary Theory in Georgia: Soviet and Post-soviet Experience
Abstract: In the epoch of Soviet Totalitarianism teaching Literary Theory was restricted and people were threatened not to teach anything but the state propaganda and those books praising Soviet ideology. Writers and Literary Theorist, who did not obey these rules were executed by the merciless Soviet Regime. They were labeled as ‘enemies to the ideology’ and their books and articles were destroyed.
The article aims to give a clear picture of how literary theory was taught and of how it is developing after the fall of the Soviet Union. Although many scholars nowadays are actively promoting Literary Theory in Georgia, there is still much to be done in this discipline.
Key Words: Soviet Epoch, Literary Theory, Teaching, Totalitarianism, Ideology
Soviet Regime dominated in Georgia for over 80 years (1921-1992) and no wonder, that it had an impact on all fields of science and intellectual thinking. Literature due to its intellectual and representative freedom was oppressed the most. Totalitarianism, as an enforced rule, created ideological dictatorship, formed clichés and what is more implemented it. For decades the Soviet Union was a symbol of historical and cultural eclecticism, even though that the incongruence was successfully masked by the smooth work of the hypertrophied state mechanism and the centralization of power, which meant that, all people must have the same needs, obey the same rules and live exactly alike; Individualism was changed by Collectivism, where only the centre was capable of taking an individual decision, which others had to bring into practice. Nationality, history, tradition, thinking, aspirations were considered to be useless especially if large-scale Soviet marker is taken into account. It should be admitted, that by destroying spiritual values, the political course of ‘Builders of the Soviet Union’ came into antagonism with the literary process that was going on and which partly high lightened the crises of that times. Common skepticism and Nihilism dominated in the society that was undergoing intellectual terror. Noteworthy is the fact that a small group of enthusiasts excited (or intoxicated – I.R.) with the aspiration of ‘saving the masses’, establish the Soviet Ideology and influence life through emotional-psychological zeal. Various aspects of influence should be noted. The very first is the ideological zombification of writers, through terror making them servants to dictatorship. Fear performed the function of, so to say, Hermes between the machinery of state and art. As for the result, ideological texts deconstructed the artistic value of the text, creating the literary model of Soviet Discourses. The classical definition states ‘Soviet discourse is a socio-cultural phenomenon of linguo-rhetorical nature’ (Vorozhbitova 2000: 1). The anthem should be considered as the socio-psychological key to its mentality.
On one hand, there was a discourse of ‘new democracy’ and leftist intelligentsia, with word-fiction dominating over the word-object and on the other hand ‘superficial discourse’, without any depth and discouragement of one’s national identity. Highlighting the fact of radical manifestation in literature, makes it an ideological junk ‘normalising the proletarian psychology” through merging thought with objectification” (Gastev 1919: 10). Not only creation, but even the interpretation of the literary text was strictly under control. The concepts such as Soviet Literature, Socialistic Realism, the Soviet Critical School were being underlined both in Literature and Literary Criticism, giving the clear picture of what kind of Literature and Literary Criticism existed under the Soviet Totalitarian Ideology. Fear and the guarantee of well-being were the two factors stimulating authors to be more ideological. Poems and Novels praising either Soviet Leaders or collective work, heroism of Soviet Workers, were admired by the Soviet Criticism. Soviet Criticism was aiming high: it tended to isolate Soviet Literature from the rest of the world regarding them as “bourgeois” and “aristocratic”. The 20s and 30s showed more Soviet critical experiments: Special books of Literary Theory and History were established, focusing on Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist cornerstones. What is more, soviet version of literary theory was taught at universities. Political correctness was a basic requirement for every course on literary theory and history of literature that had to be fulfilled. They, Tutors as well as the Students, were forced to provide appropriate passages from Lenin’s and Stalin’s works, in order to strengthen their scholarly research. If in some cases similar arguments could not be found, they wither had to change their position or to find another aspect that would fit in the research. Soviet ‘red professors’ were mostly demanded at that time. Tbilisi State University, being established in 1918 during the three-year sovereignty of Georgia, lost its autonomy. The rectors were no longer elected, but appointed by the government taking into consideration their relationship and attitudes towards soviet authorities.
Nevertheless there was still some place for resistance: The fearless nonconformists, mainly writers or critics, opposing the superficial illusion of forced happiness and giving a clear example of anti-Soviet thinking. Striving for representational freedom, the artistic tendencies of quest for truth and establishment of individuality – were the major issues they were bothered about. In spite of the Soviet Demagogue, they were open to chances new ideas. No wonder that such people were regarded as obstacles to the Soviet leadership. ‘Different Minded’ as they were regarded by the Soviets were soon announced as ‘enemies’ of the Soviet State, their work being regarded as anti-state activity. A rather long list of Georgian critics and university professors punished for this reason can be drawn. An outstanding Georgian scholar, critic, professor Vakhtang Kotetishvili was executed in 1937 by Stalin’s regime because of his educational skills, gained in France, and attraction towards the western literary thinking, especially, method of psychoanalyses. The trivialness of the situation was created not only by the ruined fate of individual persons, but by the total break of the whole paradigm of the process of literary creation, as well as literary studies, which as a rule needs long cultural rehabilitation. All in all, in conditions of Stalinism the Soviet society suffered unequivocally from the deficit of conceptual and artistic innovations, as well as the intellectual freedom.
At a glance it seems that the main streams of the world literary criticism were abolished in Soviet Georgia. But if we explore a bit deeper, we will see that from the end of 30s Georgian literary society began to emerge from the “soviet shock” state, they found and learned indirect ways to resist and to struggle; the totalitarian political rule was assessed as an inevitable historical reality, and getting out of it - a long-term political process. To say it more properly, it resembled rather a guerrilla fight, marked by the festina lente principle. Writers and critics fought with all weapons available: satire, allegory, irony; on their own territory and beyond it – in emigration – openly and underground, learning how to transfer Lenin’s and Stalin’s notions on the surface of the text, and submerge their opinions. The obstacles created by soviet regime were overcome by Georgian critics: Geronti Qiqodze, with the introduction the depth of aesthetic criticism, Shalva Nutsubidze, with his innovative ideas of how to analyse medieval literary processes, Simon Kaukhchishvili, delivering new interpretations in the field of classics, Akaki Gatserelia together with Grigol Kiknadze managing to establish the principles of structural poetics. Although the attitude of Universities towards them was milder that it was in the 30s, still their academic carriers and studies were banned. Many barriers were created for them, such as not appointing on appropriate position, not conferring academic degrees, not publishing their works.
Literary theory was regarded as one of the most threatening spheres for Soviet ideology and moreover was not singled out as a separate field; it had to exist within frameworks of other departments. Although it was a compulsory subject it was only taught for one semester, underestimating the role of literary theory.
After liberating from the Soviet dictatorship in the 90s, Georgian critical school started overviewing the situation that existed towards the teaching of literary theory at universities. The ongoing process of demolishing boarders gave chances to the new generation of Georgian critics to approach closely the world and European experience of literary studies and teaching literary theory, as well as writing text-books and books in this field. The hard period of filling gaps began, primarily meaning to keep pace with Western achievements. The first step taken, was to provided Georgian society with efficient information, defined the terms, concepts, tendencies. For the first time from the 90s, Georgian readers were given opportunity to read works concerning Russian formative school, Bakhtin’s dialogic criticism, structuralism of the Prague school, psychoanalysis, American “new criticism”, post-structuralism, deconstruction and many other theoretical tendencies; New terminology, novel aims and scholarly strategies emerged. The 21st century turned out to be a cornerstone in the further development of literary theory and the stabilization of the university. Accumulative stage was replaced by analytical one, with Georgian scholars attempting not only to describe the achievements of western literary studies but to use them in practical researches. In 2006 it became possible to establish the department of literary theory and comparative literary studies at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University and its active participation in the curricula of the university. The process appeared to be not that easy – with several problems needed to be settled urgently: replacement of Soviet type of text-books, renovation of the post-soviet university curricula in this subject, improvement of the translating work, evaluation of student’s intellectual level. Settlement of those problems needed some time. Thus professors of the universities were going through several technical and intellectual difficulties, like: teaching the course without the text-book, relying on one’s personal professional experience; making more active the work with students at the seminar and practicum time to extend the intellectual communication with them; encouraging students to learn foreign languages (unfortunately, in the 90-ies, because of civic war and economical crisis, displayed in Georgia, parents were not able to provide the desired education for their children). Due to these activities some significant results are already achieved: new text-books in the field of literary theory are published. Among them: Already has been published “Literary Theory”; periodical edition of “Literary Studies” is being released, covering separate topics on literary studies; two volumes of the chrestomathy of literary theory has been published (the project envisages publication of five volumes); an important text-book “Comparative Studies and Literary Theory” has been translated and published; the chrestomathy of comparative literature is being prepared for publishing. Various courses of literary theory are introduced on different levels of the university education. Among them: on the BA level – the elements of literary studies, literary theory, the issues of artistic style and stylistics, poetics of a novel, poetics of the verse; the MA program - “General and Comparative Literary studies” was launched which entails in itself contemporary theoretical courses. For example: Modern Literary Tendencies, 20th century theoretical schools and conceptions, interdisciplinary methods of text analysis, poetics of drama, narration, comparative studies and others. On average 5-7 students are admitted at the program annually. The evidence suggests that the level of interest towards this discipline is high. Comparative literary studies are wide4ly accepted. PhD in “Comparative Literary Studies” is also introduced, placing emphasis on interdisciplinary and intercultural analysis. The academic staff of the department is actively engaged in the program and on average three students are admitted each year. The studying process corresponds to international standards; students are given the opportunity to be fellow workers at foreign universities.
Obviously, there still are a lot of problems. Firstly, human resources. The development of the field is a long-term process and the preparation of qualified staff requires time; foreign language proficiency is still unsatisfactory among students of humanities; the development of MA and PhD programs on international level requires further refinement; more intensive involvement of students in exchange programs is required; the translation and creation of course books on Georgian language is essential. There is a need for a qualified lecturer, who will be able to work in prestigious scholarly centers and libraries. All these are preconditions for the creation of a high-level course-book. We do hope that Georgian Universities will strive to develop literary theory in Georgia as an essential contemporary international discipline for intercultural communication.
Gastev 1919: Gastev, A. On the Tendencies of Prolearian Culture // Proletarskaya kultura., 1919, N9
Vorozhbitova 2000: Vorojbitova, A. A. The “Official Soviet Language” of the Period of the Great Patriotic Was: Linguorhtoric Interpretation //http://www.philology.ru/linguistics 2/vorozhbitova-00.htm
Volume 5, Issue 2