Lali Avaliani

Besik Kharanauli’s Literary Portrait

Abstract: The article deals with the importance of Besik Kharanauli, a nonconformist contemporary, Georgian poet, who no wonder had difficulties during the soviet epoch, when freedom and independence of thought was under threat. Besik Kharanauli is portrayed as a an innovator by nature, brisk, wise and eternally youthful, who managed to survive the Soviet pressure and his works even nowadays is important and valuable. The article drives several parallels to different authors, such as Galaktion Tabidze, Ilia Chavchavadze, Alexander Pushkin, etc.

Key words: Besik Kharanauli, nonconformism, contemporary literature, totalitarianism, freedom of thought

            It is difficult to imagine a more nonconformist poet, than Besik Kharanauli is. He has been faithful to this “method” for almost half a century. He writes the way his heart prompts him. The freedom of word, “permitted“ in the last decades has not had any essential influence on Besik Kharanauli.

            The author must have saved his poetry himself in the Soviet times by being inconspicuous, despite the not concretized “asocial” or “apolitical” realities. He saved himself by being not ambitious and by his other personal features or merits that did not irritate big or small censors at all.

            However, his poetry did not suit any of the Soviet norms.

            Free a solitary spirit, seeking novelty up to the present day, thirsting for it, one of the founders of today’s Georgian free verse, careful and sober dissident, extremely sincere (too much frankness is like nakedness, it is shameful, said Galaktion) and at the same time the owner of a rich collection of masks; an innovator by nature, brisk, wise and eternally youthful this is how I see Besik  Kharanauli today, the writer of poetry and prose.

            The feeling that the universe, whole and harmonious, cracked up as early as in the 19th century at the end of the 20th changed its character completely: “the universe, considered to be “Godless” and the world of absurdity seemed to return to the chaos. Various kinds of cataclysms and the giddy rhythm that drew us into its revolution like a hurricane, the ambivalent commotion of the greatness of mind and senselessness made the author the son of his time, and marked him with its brand.

            An extremely strong feeling if his contemporaneity,  of the devaluation of morals, the painful feeling of man’s helplessness and insignificance, and in addition the substitution of cheap pathetic feelings by a moderate, deeply emotional verbal influence create the essence of Besik Kharanauli’s literary work.

            He tells us about the tragedy of the “determined” generation from their very birth (1939): it is the agony of the end of the 20th century, the agony of a helpless man, standing face to face, quite naked, with soulless techniques; the agony of the enslaved man, tortured by the misfortunes if his home-country or suffering from his own personal worries, the depreciation of humanism, or the agony . . . and their eternal existence and rising from the ashes like Phoenix.

            Both as a poet and thinker he is joined to Georgian roots with all his nerves and drops of blood. Pshav by origin, he has no match in knowing and worshipping the folk poetry. It is this very connection and closeness to his native culture, to Tianeti, to his mother and, on the other hand, the aspiration to innovations, the contrast of the traditional world with the modern urbanistic civilization, caused “a short circuit” and made Besik Kharanauli what he is now – an original poet, paving his way in life himself.

            He is not perceived as the author of “unhappy consciousness” (Hegel) or the one deepening Dionysian principles: his “small” or “big” poems, dedicated to his motherland, love, his mother, also to his idyllic, pure childhood belong to Apolloean poetry. Here he has appeared as a delicate lyric poet.

            In the poet’s opinion, the disharmony of the universe is found in man as well, not only events, feelings and emotions are broken up, the lyrical hero is “dismembered and broken up”.

            The fragmentary, broken character, sketches of separate pieces of life alongside philosophical judgment-meditation and aphoristic lines reminds us of the poetics of “a clip” which makes quite a great influence upon today’s young post-modernism (when these poems were published it is beyond any doubt that in the Soviet Union and in Georgia too there was no sign of “clips”).

            Besik Kharanauli’s poetry up to the recent time when he got interested in intertextualization was quite free not only from the distinct literary influence but one would rarely find cases of allusion or reminiscences in his poems.

            He seems to be a “black and white” poet, as Guram Assatiani would say “without ceruse”, with the speech sometimes simplified on purpose, speaking on lofty themes in a low manner; sometimes he speaks on the issues of the day ironically.

            Some of the aspects of Besik Kharanauli’s poetry (the disharmony in the universe or a personal disharmony, alienation, egocentrism and narcissism, play, a mask, and quite often cynicism, passing at a hair’s breadth’ . . .) and the ways of expressing them find their place in the world literature space without difficulty.

            Opposing the pure village to the “evil” city in the Georgian poetry began from the tens of the 20th century  (an illustrative example: Paolo Iashvili’s “A letter to Mother” which in spite of the Georgian futurists’ “accusation” had been written several years earlier than Esenin’s poem with the same title) and is still going on. We come across this motif in Besik Kharanauli’s poetry as well (the contrast between the village and the city), only without any evaluation or moralizing. In spite of having spent all his childhood in the country the poet’s literary outlook is urbanistic. As for the lyrical hero, he is as alien to the village as to the city.

            There was no clearly expressed “patriotic motif” in Besik Kharanauli’s poetry; when he was reproached because of it in the period of the development of the national movement, he said imperturbably: “a real poet always does what is necessary for the national cause, even if he does not write patriotic verses”. (from the interview given in 1989). The word motherland was tabooed in his poetry.

            Unlike his works of the Soviet period, clandestine and non-traditional, sometimes masked with irony, at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries he, as he mentioned in one of the interviews wrote poems about Georgia. We can suppose that the unbearable hardships, the immortality of the greedy and grasping sons of “independent” Georgia, the fratricidal wars, and lack of discipline almost all around, the diminution of the common and thinking personal affairs more important, made Besik Kharanauli take up his pen for “the patriotic motif.”

            The poet’s nonconformism was revealed in the following as well: Those who have caught the disease of the national nihilism consider patriotic motif backwardness.

            Besik Kharanauli took the “Silver Period” of the Georgian poetry, the 19th century, as an example. He did not find any better precedent of living one’s fatherland either in the near past or in the present. He expressed the hope and expectation of the society’s responsibility by the virtual contact with the great poets of the 19th century.

            Besik Kharanauli who had already used some of the devices of the post-modernism arsenal (auto commenting, collage. . . ) before now purposefully and consciously turned to reading and interpreting his predecessors’ works in a new manner”, in the so called manner of citation or intertextualization.

            The slogan “Go ahead, towards Pushkin!” coincided with the period of openness in Russia, As for Georgia, the slogan “Go ahead, towards Ilia!” became actual here. In our country Ilia’s road in the first place means serving the revival of the great triad (language, fatherland, religion), it is a sign of the future. It must also be said that today even the founders of the world postmodernism and its researchers admit that literature has found itself, in a deadlock and are trying to revive “the cultural memory” again. Thus, “Go ahead – towards the past!” is a universal phenomenon and points to the eternal unity of the past, present and future as well.

            The poet has left this stage behind too. “Perhaps, it is because I moved into the depths of the 19th century poets that there is not a single line behind which nobody is standing. I wrote, wrote expressed what worried me and my heart closed, and I won’t be able, to open it.”

            The idea of serving one’s own country and preserving one’s own identity was this time expressed in the author’s newest long poems (“The book of Amba Bessarion”, 2003; “Both sheets of the sky and the earth”, 2005). They were, written with unprecedented passion and pathos, exposing publicism, this time without “contacting” the classics. Besik Kharanauli’s new verses are also permeated with the zeal of seeking something new, here the author’s wonderful productivity in the 21st century must also be mentioned. We have just begun speaking of the danger of already inevitable globalization, as for Besik Kharanauli, he felt the danger of leveling earlier, and “taking by the wind” of what had been preserved by so much bitterness, suffering and fighting and what is still unchanged, or the jeopardy of losing it, it was at the border of the 20th century, at the turn of 80-s – 90-s (the poem “Agonized”, verses “The corridor,” “Where are the children?!”, etc.).

            This danger has become stronger today, partially it is also the reason for creating two rather long prosaic works by Besik Kharanauli. These are as follows: “Epigraphs to forgotten dreams” (2005) and, as the author explains it, an “ethnophilic” novel “Sixty knights, riding mules, or the book of hyperboles and metaphors” (2010). I will say convincingly: both novels can be said to belong to the oldest genre of confession”, and they are as innovational as his poetry.

            These books caused the readers’ shock and admiration. These novels are the reflection of the author’s soul, his year-long thoughts, pain, sorrow and joy. They will be the readers and critics’ point at issue.

            I think, that the author, facing globalization, decided to retain the Georgian world and the Georgian spirituality in his works, especially what is considered to be a relict and faces the danger of extinction. And did it with his usual irony. “Big countries, don’t swallow small ones, there may be a chance of one of them being made of a diamond (The chapter “The Decalogue for big countries” from the novel “Sixty knights, riding mules”. . . . . ).

            We hope that Besik Kharanauli, acknowledged as a 21st century poet as early as in the 20th century, will again surprise us with his works, for talent never grows old.



Volume 5, Issue 2


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature