As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.
October 9, 2014
Uneven Modernity and the “Peripheral” City: Between Ethnography, History and Literature in Tbilisi
Harsha Ram (Slavic Languages and Literature; Comparative Literature)
Video of the conversation available here.
Ram discussed the literary culture of Tbilisi as it relates to modernism and the unique history of Georgia.
by Elisa Russian
Tbilisi, the current capital of Georgia, was founded in the 5th century on one of the main trade and travel routes that historically linked West and East, Europe and Asia. It was for a long time the stage of important cultural encounters and economic exchanges, a city where goods and people from different areas came into contact and interacted in a variety of ways, shaping a unique environment. Due to its strategic location, Tbilisi was repeatedly contended for between empires, until its annexation by Russia in the early 19th century, a factor that is to be taken into consideration when accounting for the city’s complex ethnic identity and urban fabric. Professor Harsha Ram’s analysis of Tbilisi’s particular history casts new light on the center-periphery paradigm, leading not only to the rejection of this dichotomous model in favor of a crossroads one, but also to the rethinking of the very notion of modernity.
Trying to understand the late 19th century from the point of view of a reality like Tbilisi, a reality which is very different from metropolises such as London and Paris since it is neither a Western city nor an industrialized one, is a challenge worth taking on. In fact, this change of perspective may provide a new understanding of what being modern means and may lead to the discovery of how complex and multi-layered modernity is. Indeed, unevenness – or “the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous,” to quote the German philosopher Ernst Bloch – may be considered the defining quality of what we call modernity, and the crossroads model invites us to approach this issue in terms of hybridity and new discursive formations, where adaptation and resistance to novelty imply a collective renegotiation of meanings.
Elisa Russian is a first year Ph.D. student in the Italian Studies department.