Manana Kvataia                                                                                                                                 # 6

 West - East Paradigm and Grigol Robakidze

The problem of West-East relations and spheres of influence has been of cardinal importance throughout the centuries. Historically the notion itself has undergone basic modification. According to the Brokhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, the first record relating to the “East” as geographic wholeness is found in ancient Egyptians and Jews sources (Dictionary 1892: 285). The ancient Egyptians changed the West-East dichotomy by Hellenes and barbarians confrontation and attach pure astronomical importance to the understanding of “Anatolia”. Unlike the Romanized West, the Romans under the “East” implied the countries with Hellenistic culture and perceived it as a single wholeness. After collapse of the Roman Empire into east and west parts Orient termed Asian provinces, Egypt, Media. In the following centuries the Europeans gradually discovered and familiarized with the boundless sights – the world of wisdom, exotics and wonder. The maxim Ex orientem lux is adopted even today and it doesn’t have such astronomical meaning.

Today’s world has entered completely different phase of development, correspondingly, western and eastern notions and understanding of their civilizations have also significantly changed. According to Samuel Huntington’s interpretation, “The western civilization exists in the form of two basic variants: European and North American, and Islamic is divided into Arabic, Turkish and Malaysian variants” (Huntington 1997: 8). According to the American scholar’s observation, the formation of present day image of the world is determined by the interaction of the Western, confessional, Japanese, Islamic, Hinduistic, Christian-Slavic, and, maybe African civilizations. In A.Toinbi’s view, the history of humankind knows about 21 civilizations. Six of them exist in contemporary world (ibid, 8-9). What is most important, there is an opinion that the “future conflict between civilizations is the final phase of evolution of contemporary world global conflicts”, and the “break between civilizations is just the line of these future frontiers (ibid, 6).

According to the observations done by the culturologists, the West and East is that twin category which expresses the polarized dichotomy of the world culture; it simultaneously characterizes the cultural ambivalent unity and principal difference from each other, though mostly confronted models of cultural identity too” (Kononenko 2003: 141). According to the researcher’s estimations, East and West specify each other and exclude. In this paradigmatics, the additionality and ambivalence of polar foundations are incarnated, dialectics of culture as complicated unity and diversity.

At the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, when the resistance to the colonial system and, between the west and east, extremely aggravated and acquire irreconcilable character, the greatest English writer R.Kipling put forward his “categorical imperative “ in the following way: “Oh East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. As a result of analysis and comparison of civilizations of these two different spaces the following categories have been associated with the “west”: democracy (freedom, equality), asceticism, scientific knowledge, rationality, dynamism, development, modernization, innovation, “Logos”, individualism, personality, active technical and technological transformation of the world, etc. Different values have been ascribed to the “east”: despotism, mystic, intuition, penetration into the world, motionless, stability, traditionalism, ritual, “Dao”, collectivism, meditation, achievement of harmony, communism, and classless society.

The Russian thinker N.Berdyaev wrote that Russia is the great integral unity of East and West claiming that the “two flows of the world history –West and East come into collision and interaction with each other here (“The Russian Idea”). And G.Robakidze remarks that “West-East is not only geographic division, but this dichotomy is a double order of things. This idea runs through the entire Russian world outlook”, (Robakidze 1918: 15).

Historically, the question: East or West? - was also topical for Georgia. At the beginning of the 20th century this alternative - European or Asian orientation became a subject of wide discussion here. From this viewpoint three major directions were singled out: 1) European (K.Gamsakhurdia, V.Gaprindashvili, T.Tabidze, G.Kikodze…); 2) Asian (S.Kotetishvili, V.Gunia…), 3) their synthesis (G.Robakidze, P.Ingorokva, Sh.Apkhaidze).

In the earlier creative works, Grigol Robakidze’s preference inclined to the world of the rising Sun. The writer’s attitude at that time is clearly expressed in the following quotation: “But Georgia is also a fragment of the east: and we ought not to forget our cradle. The west Europe is good, though we won’t yield East because of Europe. The best thing would be to celebrate their wedding with a real Georgian fest”. In Robakidze’s view, an example of this is Rusatveli who “makes the synthesis of the oriental shadowed thought and creative scope of the Italian Renaissance” (ibid).

G.Robakidze explains such dualism by peculiar geographical location too. The interest to both spaces is manifested in the Georgian’s world outlook because, as the writer underlines, “Georgia is a mystic meeting point of East and West. The East/West wedding is celebrated with Georgian fest” (“To the Georgian Writers”, 1017) (Europe 1997: 285).

To the artistic study of the West and East paradigmatics essential features is devoted Grigol Ropbakidze’s essay “The East-West Perception of Life”, which is included in his book “Demon and Mythos” written in German (Jena, 1935). Here the ontological problems of these two worlds, existential differences expressed in their natural environment, living area, world outlook, perception, emotional experience, difference of religious concepts, and different attitudes to technique, civilization are considered conceptually.

The image of the Iranian plateau landscape for Grigol Robakidze is huge cliffs standing on the right and left, with various fantastic colors. The calmness of the eastern landscape and motionless covers everything around: here things or creatures are peacefully absorbed in themselves, “as if the first man breathes again eternal breath”. This is the breath of Genesis that always penetrates even lumps of earth. Time stops here, the presents faded away, only the past exists which appears in garment. Astral phantoms hold their breath around, and the earth is a cosmic existence in which the breath of myth grows up” (here and further the essay’s quotations are given in accordance with Robakidze 2003).

Against the background of this vast and boundless landscape a man is small, one inch. “Here time is not flowing, it is elevated in space, motionless – and an instant contains eternity in oneself as a noise of waves retreated long time ago”.

As the writer observes, splendid and beautiful landscapes of the West are closer though the breath of genes is hardly felt. The earth here is just the land for cultivation. There is not anything in the west left untouched, neither totem, nor taboo. The writer strongly believes that “certain part of the area must be left non-arable in order for the earth not to stop cosmic breathing”. Just because of this, “splendid and stable western landscapes have only aesthetic attraction”. Here everything is unfolding heavily: “A wide scope is felt here but it is impossible to hear the quietness, even at a moment of pose”.

Time sense is also different in the west. “An instant is not an inhalation in which the fragrance of eternity is absorbed; it is just a fragment of chronology measured almost in hours which has no duration”.

The phenomenon of existence is also different: in the east the sprout is more stressed than a plant. “The East is unfolding oneself in the Uhr Beginn (Beginning), each beginning is the Beginning. The West is developing in personal stream and the Beginning means almost always one-time new Beginning”. The east breathes in the beginning where all things are separate. In the west each thing has its own generally essential own reality. Therefore, for the Westerners things are perceived in light and strict shape, whereas in the east they are perceived dim and dull outline. Correspondingly, in Robakidze’s view, the Easterner being sunk into infinity failed to create completed work because completed means bounded. In contrast to this, the Westerner has the feeling of a boundary and creates the works as if for one’s own self in finiteness (as an example, Robakidze mentions “The Divine Comedy”). In return, instead of this the Easterner sunk in the infiniteness has something what the Westerner lacks: the Eastern creation stores the breath of infiniteness. For the writer, the Babylonian epic is an example.

The phenomenon of perception differs in the west and east. "In the eastern consciousness things follow each other as vague phantoms… The reality and poetry in East is one”. In the east inherently restricted drunkenness is experienced and the stronger is intoxication the quieter the state of comfort. In the west, dynamic drunkenness is likable and a state of comfort is revealed in restlessness.

The attitude to religion is also different: the Easterner experiences God with closed eyes and the Westerner – with opened eyes as if trying to touch with hand. For the European mystics the inner vision is thought-out contemplation rather than experienced state.

In the east they say: “the action of non-action” and with it the boundaries between the things are washed out, they are lost in nirvana. The Westerners interfere with the subject and projection of the “I” occurs outwards, in the external world.

As a result of study and analysis G.Robakidze arrives to a conclusion: “The West and East are two worlds or, more precisely, two forms of existence. What lacks one that the second has”. They are opposed to each other but do not exclude each other, on the contrary, cosmically arranged they fill and condition each other. “West romantically strives for East and East gazes intently on West with expectation”.

In Robakidze’s view, the breath of the Uhr Beginn (the Beginning) comes from East, and West gives the shape to this breath. Correspondingly, these two worlds fertilize each other. “The one-sidedness of each of them bears danger which can be settled with the help of the second one”. The writer’s supposition is based on the awareness of the problem of techniques: “Techniques belongs to the west. It is its magic power which if used improperly, might turn into disaster”.

G.Robakidze explains the fatal essence of techniques: Techniques in itself does not mean disaster but if a man, who is creating something, forgets that he himself is created then there immediately arises a temptation and danger”, warns the writer. This threat is also seen by the writer in the case of legendary pilot –Lindberg. “It is here that imminent threat: hybris (an excess of self-pride, arrogance) is waiting for the pilot flown over the Atlantic Ocean with such self-assurance that makes him villain and his contact with cosmic forces immediately breaks.

Such devil “drunkenness” the writer sees in every great poet, each prophet and telepathist that transcendentally contemplates, in each general before the fatal battle, leader of the tribe who carries the will of the whole tribe in himself. “Blessed are those who managed to overcome this temptation. The spiritual contact with cosmic forces will remain strong further” But who can do this? Only the one who was destined to store the Beginning constantly and modestly inside”, writes G.Robakidze. In the final part of the essay, he finds a kind of synthesis for different worlds, i.e. West-East: each time the Westerner, especially due to the development of techniques, appears in danger of hybris, though does not subordinates that danger because he is protected by the eastern forces of the Beginning.




Europe 1997: Europe or Asia? ( compiled by Nino Khoperia). Tbilisi, “Literaturis matiane”, 1997 (in Georgian).

Dictionary 1892: Encyclopedic Dictionary, v.VII (publishers F.A.Brokhause and N.A.Efron). St.Petersburg, 1892 (in Russian).

Kononenko 2003: Kononenko B.I. Culturology. Thesaurus. Moscow, 2003 (in Russian).

Robakidze 1918: Robakidze Gr. Portraits. Tbilisi, 1918 (in Russian).

Robakidze 2003: Robakidze Gr. “The East-West Perception of Life” (Translated from German by M.Kvataia). Jubilee volume, Tbilisi, 2003 (Georgian).

Handington 1997: Huntington S. The Clash of Civilizations. Tbilisi, Association of Young Political Scientists. Center of Pluralism, 1997 (in Georgian)



Volume 3, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature