Somewhere in Eurasia there is a street named after George Bush. It’s just a setting.
Voices of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg reverberated dramatically in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, on August 14, 2010. Three Georgian poets: Alexi Chigvinide, Shota Gagarin and Irakli Kakabadze – a well-known Georgian-American writer and lecturer at Cornell University, got arrested at a peaceful rally. Young protesters performed a kind of ritual by chanting “polyphonically” Whitman’s “ O Captain! My Captain!”, Ginsberg’s “Howl” and their own poems to purify the street from George Bush’s neocon aura . The protesters demanded to call it Walt Whitman street, but were detained by a police in the name of G.W. Bush, as reported by Irakli Kakabadze. “The so-called postmodern authoritarian regime led by Mikheil Saakashvili has intensified its intimidation campaign against free thinking writers and publishers in 2010.”
Alexi Chignividze started his recent post with a shocking revelation: “I would never imagine to get arrested for Walt Whitman”. But it did occur and goes against everything Mikheil Saakashvili promised to his people.
The Georgian president, who claims to follow the blueprints of American democracy, apparently places politics above culture. But the blueprints he so fondly cherishes are of exclusively neocon mold – sort of a Procrustean bed for stretching out and slicing his country in order to fit the model that more than half of Americans disapprove, found unproductive, undemocratic and even dangerous.
Joseph Brodsky wrote, “Every individual ought to know at least one poet from cover to cover: if not as a guide through the world, then as a yardstick for language.” Out of all the cultural abundance in a world, Saakashvili had to choose a yardstick for a neocon lingo of arrogance, which is self-centered, one-dimensional and represents a cultural homunculus in Dostoevsky’s sense :“There is no soul, we say, and no people, nationality is nothing but a certain system of taxation, the soul is tabula rasa, a small piece of wax out of which you can readily mould a real man, a world man or a homunculus”. In other words, semantically it’s a black hole from where grows only its own replica. For some reason, these replications orchestrated in the center, occurred mainly somewhere very far-off and remain obscure in regards to geographical clarity for most of Americans – – only to underline a worldwide unresponsiveness to the foreign policies of the previous administration. Furthermore, these so called homunculi of democratic reproduction are bred irresponsibly as when replicated, the clones imitate only the rhetoric and are totally unmindful of the cornerstone on which American democracy was founded – checks and balances.
In stark contrast to Saakashvili, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first democratically elected president, opted for poetry or at least tried to combine the two efficiently. During his presidency, Gamsakhurdia drew harsh criticism for his policies against the ethnic minorities. Perhaps poets make bad presidents and end up as political losers, but they still make difference by creating cultural landmarks.
In 1978, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was nominated by the US congress for the Nobel peace prize as a vehement dissident fighting for Georgian independence and political freedoms during the Soviet era. He had post-graduated with PHD in the American studies and authored numerous outstanding translations of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Allen Ginsberg and other American and European writers. His deep and prolific essays and monographs published in the 70’s contributed largely to popularization of the American literature in Georgia. Not an easy undertaking given that the iron curtain and information scarcity encased the country.
Gamsakhurdia’s legacy opened up a society to embracing American literature. Nino Darbaiseli, Georgian literary scholar, noted that Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s research and translations of the American poetry can be viewed as the major breakthrough in Georgian American studies. It was back then, in the early 70s, when a remote mysterious American identity with its unique poetry and culture, charged with a genuine creative spirit and true, not a chimerical freedom, was revealed to a Georgian reader for the first time without ideological overtones.
Everybody knows that poets like Walt Whitman don’t need a power to be powerful, a pulpit to be high-minded and a heavy artillery of the mass media to invade ; and even the streets to be named after him. What for? After all, they are heard and admired anyway – even through the iron curtains.
Georgia is a country that had learned how to indulge in “la jouissance du langage” of its ancient and splendid literature and lose itself in poetry long time before Roland Barthes wrote his “Le Plaisir du Texte”. The nation that is so famous for its polyphonic singing, perhaps, should not fret over a single street named after the neocon because, from a semiotic viewpoint, it’s still a meaningful landmark, and it has to be acknowledged. Besides, the neoconservative ideology in terms of structuralism, has only one voice, which is its own , and it does not generate intertextuality, dialogues, allusions and hedonistic pleasure of reading, that the great texts bestow. The neocons and their replicas are the products of time and are perpetuated as long as the time allows. In a sense, they exist solely thanks to time. Considering the rarity of Bush-made replicas worldwide, their value may increase with time in quantitative sense. Whereas Walt Whitman is timeless regardless of time, like the founding fathers of American democracy. Renaming Bush street into Walt Whitman street would to some degree amount to a semiotic incongruity as the two belong to entirely different galaxies.
What if somewhere overseas, a future semiotician, studying the signs of the past starts wondering what Bush street is doing in Tbilisi. Let’s not deny a researcher a pleasure in giving an academic clarification of this peculiar singularity.