According to the Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein in his only book-length philosophical work “Tractatus”, author’s views about logic and linguistic led him to believe that some features of language and reality cannot be expressed in a senseful verbal manner, but only “shown” by the form of certain expressions. It is not uncommon to encounter such dilemma when translating Vazha-Pshavela’s works, as his signature dialect of native Pshavi is a big part of his artistic identity. There is also this gender-neutrality that Kartvelian languages have, especially Georgian. A few days ago, I translated “What created me as a human being?”, Vazha’s classic, for an acquaintance. The poem goes like this:

What created me as a human being?
Why did I not come as rain?
I could have been forever
On clouds core and chest, as bead and chain,
Always ready to fall on the ground,
As a cold or snowy little grain,
My elder would never sacrifice me,
In such a dreadful manner, as is he!
He would hold me up in the sky,
Carrying me as his son, high,
There would have been no need,
For me to always be careful, indeed,
I would walk in the sun, adoring its beauty,
Aggravation of death would have been my duty:
Up high-I would have the sky, below, I would rule the earth,
Having my share, fairly by birth,
I would have rejoiced in valleys and highlands,
Full of joy, would have been the sight of those green lands,
Watered by my sweat,
Flowers everywhere, them, I would never regret,
As I would unfold my core and chest,
For the sun to shine during the day, for the moon to rule during the night,
All while breathing life, with pride,
To those dying lands, left and right,
Morphed into snow,
I had hope in my heart as fire for it to overflow,
I knew that my death,
Would again, come as life, a fresh breath,
And wrap renewed nature,
Around its ears and neck.

According to Franz Kafka in his diaries known as “Blue Octavo Notebooks”, “One of the first signs of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die. This life appears unbearable, another unattainable. One is no longer ashamed of wanting to die; one asks to be moved from the old cell, which one hates, to a new one, which one will only in time come to hate. In this, there is also a residue of belief that during the move the master will chance to come along the corridor, look at the prisoner and say: “This man is not to be locked up again, He is to come with me.”
The poem that I am discussing in this article is a linguistical equivalent of the “He is to come with me”, trope, as it is in authors greatest desire to befriend his fate of being born as a human, the cruelest of all species on earth.

When I showed my translation to the above mentioned acquittance, I must say, he was quite pleased with the result, but little bit of ambiguity remained, as there are several language barriers that transcend the beauty of poetry, for example, identity of the “elder”: while both of us saw it as the ethereal being, towering over time and space, we had a small discussion about its pronouns and gender role. I already mentioned in the first paragraph that Georgian is gender neutral, so, to put it simply, it is very hard to get the feeling of the original in the translation. While everyone knows I love Vazha, I must admit that most of his work and expressions are largely phallocentric and his female characters are mainly presented as antagonists, so I began doubting when my acquittance suggested that the elder might have been a “she”, or an “It”, as the energy coming from the text was immensely masculine for me personally. In the end, we agreed with each other that the relationship in the text was largely paternal and had theological undertones, as it showed a relationship very similar to the one Jesus had with God the Father in José Saramago’s controversial piece of literature “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.”

While we resolved our “conflict”, the general issue remains. Georgia and Southern Caucasus has not been a part of the mainstream and mass culture for more than 70 years, so the English-speaking society has a very hard time adapting to what our region has to offer: be it politics, customs or art.

According to the picture theory of language, Wittgenstein claims that there is a gap between what can be spoken verbally and what can only be uttered in non-verbal ways. Picture theory of language positions that statements are meaningful only if they can be defined or visualized in the real world.
While this philosophical concept has been debunked by the author himself and replaced with the system of meaning, Vazha’s poems remains lost in the picture theory of language: unable to be expressed in both mainstream languages and in an uncommunicative ways.

Used literature:

Ludwig Wittgenstein-”Tractatus”

Franz Kafka-”Blue Octavo Notebooks”

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