Blog Post

Irakli Charkviani against POMO - POSTMODERN BOURGEOIS MATERIALISM

The postmodern world is filled with different contradictions. By 2001 it became obvious that the discourse of postmodern civilization is deeply entrenched in the so called Identity Politics that feeds different kinds of religious fundamentalism, ethnocentric nationalism, xenophobia and other social ills of our times. Towards the end of his life even Jacques Derrida himself was admitting that the world is divided as never before. According to different statistics today, about 1 billion people (925 million to be more precise) are at the edge of starvation. Approximately 22 thousand children die every day as a result of malnutrition. The postmodern world is facing an imminent threat of annihilation by proliferating ethnic and religious conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Sudan, etc), those conflicts are having an impact almost on everyone, be it in terms of lost loved ones and relatives or economic grievances. Unfortunately, traditional methods of diplomatic involvement, negotiation and mediation have so far failed to respond to the needs of conflicting parties and halt violence and antagonism between different cultures. Postmodern discourse accepts these kinds of catastrophic events as normal—in many cases it even fails to mention them.

It is obvious that Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism did not work. Former members of the Eastern Block became some of the most fierce protagonists of wild capitalism and ironically many of the “new bourgeoisie” are former communist party apparatchiks and high nomenklatura. Today, divisions of the cold war merged into one discourse—that of 21st century Social Darwinism—the strongest survives. In many cases in former Soviet Union those strongest are mostly criminals or representatives of former elites—communist party elite or KGB or Military Intelligence. These people control almost entire economies and sustain militaries that ensure that this “new bourgeoisie” of Eastern block keep the power from their own people. Exploitation, hunger, economic inequality, inequality in opportunities, cultural imperialism coupled with militaristic policies contribute to the formation of contemporary conflict between North and South. But at the same time in this new postmodern time the new type materialism has emerged Bourgeois Materialism. Michel Foucault predicted this kind of an advance of Greedy Civilization and Herbert Marcuse talks about it in his “One Dimensional Man”. Many terrorists today are not necessarily from only the class of the poor. Some of them, most notably Osama Bin Laden came from well to do families and had the privileges at their disposal. But the protest against bourgeois materialism which is solely based upon consumerism and non-spiritual values turned many well to do members of society against the New World Order after the Washington Consensus.

It is also ironic that Marxist-Leninist and other dogmatic communist regimes after the collapse of the Eastern Block have embraced new Bourgeois Materialism and embraced new type of Materialist Imperialism. While the “liberal-democratic” Russia was committing war crimes in Chechnya, the old Liberal democracies were busy torturing people in Iraq. There was nothing dialectical left in the new Bourgeois Materialism, which is trying to impose careerist and consumerist dreams upon the rest of humanity.

One of the greatest Georgian artists and writers, Irakli G. Charkviani in his last book “Swimming calm” wrote about the desire of the privileged young man to become a suicide bomber to protest his existence within the bourgeois materialist domain. His hero always went to Rumi’s poetry as an asylum in his life from a ruthless dominion of all encompassing materialism of 1990s and early 2000s. He was a young man growing up in  a relatively well to do family in traditionally Atheist Society, which Soviet Union was until the end of its days when he started to escape to Sufi romanticism. Charkviani’s hero also resists the scattered life of a contemporary young careerist business owner—he cannot reconcile with his dreams being so low. And that is why he decides to become a suicide bomber. He makes it very clear that he does not believe in any kind of pseudo spiritual fundamentalist version of God. This is his mute and very powerful protest against bourgeois materialism of our new age. In his last chapter talks he about his real reason of committing suicide—he is very unfulfilled in the society of materialist consumerists and careerists. He desires more noble dream and he isn’t able to find it.

During our meetings Irakli Charkviani would often site some of the Rumi’s poems. One of these that I could remember called Search The Darkness.

Sit with your friends; don’t go back to sleep.
Don’t sink like a fish to the bottom of the sea.
Surge like an ocean,
Don’t scatter yourself like a storm.
Life’s waters flow from darkness.
Search the darkness, don’t run from it.
Night travelers are full of light,
And you are, too: don’t leave this companionship.
Be a wakeful candle in a golden dish,
Don’t slip into the dirt like quicksilver.
The moon appears for night travelers,
Be watchful when the moon is full.

Tragically, Irakli Charkviani, one of the greatest Georgian artists, passed away few days before his last book “Swimming Calm” was published in February, 2006. This book was his verdict to the new civilization of absolutely non-spiritual consumerist-careerist age non dialectical bourgeois materialism. “I don’t want to have a standardized dream, where I become a business owner and start exploiting other people. I am not a clerk either. I don’t have other choice but to serve the system that I despise”—instead the hero chooses to say no to this kind of a lifestyle—say no to the bourgeois materialism.

It is ironic that many people have nostalgia towards Soviet Times as the times that were more spiritual. Going to church was prohibited, but people were nevertheless going there. Now everything is swamped by consumerism and the Church is becoming one of the biggest corporations. Alternative cultural figures are also swimming in this new discourse of careerist greed.

It is very difficult to believe but Stalinists find justification for their belief system as opposed to total pragmatism of today. Irakli Charkviani’s grandfather was a chair of Georgian Communist Party during Stalin’s last years. Irakli himself was always a rebel during Soviet times and one of the founders of “Reactive Club” together with his colleagues Kote Kubaneishvili and Paata Kurdadze. These people rebelled against Soviet materialism, only to find that what came after the collapse of the Soviet Empire was even more outspoken materialism that was not even ashamed of being greedy and was being proud of being ‘successful’ murderer and exploiter. So they have refused to serve this new class either.

Ironically, Irakli Charkviani became immensely popular when he was writing his “Swimming Calm”—many of his friends told him that he was becoming a “PoP-Star”, which he always protested. He was just so nostalgic of the “End of the Socialist Dream” when people idealistically aspired to have a better world.

So today it appears that unquestioned bourgeois materialism isone of the main points of oppression against not only poor, but the rich as well. Pseudo-Religious movements around the world, the US, Middle East, Afganistan, Russia, Eastern Europe and other parts of the world fail to provide the Spiritual Revolution that Michel Foucault aspired so hard back in 1979.

In the 9/11 report the terrorists have stated: We love death more than you love life! Searching for Darkness in this age became a normal thing, since many of inhabitants of our planet are turning away from consumerist and imperialist societies and resorting to armed resistance. If the Bourgeois Materialist Dream is not worthy, then death seems to be a better option from a transcendental standpoint.

Irakli Charkviani believed that human beings could have a better dream than just a materialist dream. That is why he refused to live that life. He did not turn into a suicide bomber like his main protagonist in his book, his life ended quietly. But he did not lose his idealism and did not accept the ‘end of socialist dream.’ He refused “time terrifying, merciless” and left us still being idealist.

This song of Irakli Charkviani is called "I know that.." It is in Georgian Language, but through music you can feel his cry. "I am as much consumable as this Cigar".

This song is in English Language and words and music both tell us the story of contemporary "Wooden Monkey" tired of postindustrial life on the information highway.

Charkviani refused to succumb to Postmodern discourse of Bourgeois Materialism—he chose to die rather than be in “One Dimensional Man”. He chose to be with those whose voice we are forbidden to hear. His longing towards Sufi romanticism in times of pragmatic careerism was especially attractive to many young people in his country.

I had the privilege of working with Irakli Charkviani and Ketato, his wife and wonderful musical partner. I cherish those memories as some of the brightest moments in my life. These were the moments when I felt that there was a true passion for life. That is when he wrote:

Jet Engine Loneliness
Strained,
Tense,
Inexpressible fear of contact
With things, lovers
Vanished.
This is the end
Of a romantic path,
Of rhyming words
And socialist romanticism.
The Rose has bloomed
Into a Nuclear Mushroom
The matured Maugly
Steeped into
The Concrete and Street Jungle
With Parra Bellum gun
In his hand.
Bidding farewell
To the forest.
The time has come
Time of true colors,
Time to paint,
Red things Red,
Time merciless, terrifying
Like any other,
True Time.

This words sound so prophetic—he stood at the Rose Revolution for peaceful change in 2003 like most of us and did sing for revolution. But two and half years after revolution he passed away, leaving us “Swimming Calm” and unfortunately and truly, “The Rose has bloomed into a Nuclear Mushroom” two years after his death, when bourgeois, materialist governments of Georgia and Russia went to war with each other and the whole world was watching scared for three years and fearing the return of nuclear nightmares.

His music and poetry is still alive and still helping us in dealing with contemporary world without ideals. Irakli Charkviani loved life more than terrorists loved death and that is why he died so young.

Irakli Zurab Kakabadze's picture

Born in 1969, Irakli Kakabadze is a Georgian writer, performance artist, peace and human rights activist. His first prize was awarded in 1990 by the TSISTAKRI MAGAZINE for the best creation of 1990 - Allegro or Chronicle of one Year. In 2009, he was awarded the Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Prize. Kakabadze's articles and stories have been published in Georgian, Russian, and English newspapers and magazines. In 2007 he received the Lilian Hellman/Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch. From 2008 to 2012, Kakabadze was based in Ithaca, NY, where he developed a new method of integrating performing arts and social sciences, called "Rethinking Tragedy" or "Transformative Performance." Kakabadze has also pioneered a multi-lingual and multi-narrative performing style, called Polyphonic Discourse. Irakli Kakabadze's work as an artist-activist is subject of an American verite documentary At the Top of My Voice filmed by Indian American Director Sudhir Venkatesh and Larry Kammerman.
In May 2008 Kakabadze shared a stage at PEN World Voices Festival in New York with György Dragomán, Hasan Elahi, Asli Erdogan, Péter Esterházy, Chenjerai Hove, Jenny Marketou, Ivy Meeropol, Francine Prose, and Ingo Schulze, at the Writers and Artists Against the Surveillance State. In November 2008 at the Miami Book Fair Kakabadze shared a stage with Sarah Mkhonza, Russell Banks and Derek Walcott to perform another piece of Polyphonic Blues. Kakabadze has performed his polyphonic style of poetry at the Frankfurt Book Fair (2009) and “Free the Word” in London (2010) (23). At the 2010 “PEN World Voices” Festival in New York Kakabadze performed Polyphonic Discourse at the Cabaret Show that featured the author with Natalie Merchant, Ben Okri and Ariel Dorfman. He has performed at many literary and peace festivals including in Berlin (2014), Palma De Mallorca (2016), Valencia (2016), ext. His book 'Umberto vs Ernesto' or 'Marginal Delirium' was published and has introduced polyphonic discourse in December 2013. In 2017 publishing house 'Intelekti' has published another book of his essays "Love Doctrine" that is highly influenced by the works of Mahatma Gandhi.