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The “Myth” of the Self:

The Georgian National Narrative and Quest for “Georgianness”

Nutsa Batiashvili
Department of Anthropology
Washington University in St Louis

Paper for the conference “Memory in Transition.”

Schloss Wartegg, Rorschach, Switzerland, April 22-24, 2009

“This is some kind of experiment that they are trying to conduct on Georgia…you are trying to raise

global citizens and uproot patriotism in this country…that’s what it is!” – with these words Mr Tavadze1, a

historian teaching at the University of Georgia, responded to the presentation on new history textbooks given by

Simon Janashia – director of the National Curriculum and Assessment Center at the Georgian Ministry of Education.

I was one of the initiators of this talk that took place on December 29, 2008 at the Center for the Study of the

Caucasus and Black Sea Region (CBSR)2.

Mr Tavadze’s words and his performance throughout the discussion exemplified the emotional turmoil that

often characterizes the debate on the new history textbooks. His remarks expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that

someone else in his words had a “monopoly”– “over what kind of collective memories will be instilled.” “Who gave

you the right?” he exclaimed.

In Tavadze’s confrontation with Janashia, his outcries shifted back and forth from general and abstract

concerns (like the one mentioned above) to more technical issues having do with the textbook itself. In the first case

it was hard to identify what in particular his argument referred to or even who he was addressing. Every once in a

while throughout the seminar someone from the audience would express their confusion as to what his question or

comment concerned.

It was not the existence of criticism itself that surprised me, given that general negativity toward all state

projects is more the rule than the exception in Georgia. Instead, I was curious as to what line of reasoning was

behind the disapproval, what the grounds for this criticism were, what the logic behind the argument was, how much

collective memory played into all of this, and finally how history textbooks could make people so nervous.

Not a real name
The Center for The Study of Caucasus and Black Sea Region was launched in the summer of 2008 and its goal is
to develop a network of scholars working in the area as well as to create a venue for interdisciplinary collaboration.

One of the most interesting moments of the discussion turned out to be at the end of the meeting. In his

closing remarks on a general conception of history instruction, Simon Janashia displayed a slide showing a list of

‘values’ (“girebulebebi” Georgian) that he thought students should be taught at school. There were eight points.

Respect of human values and rights, empathy and care, and love of homeland were the top three items on the list.

For Mr Tavadze such ordering epitomized what “the state project” was all about: “This is exactly what I am

saying…” he exclaimed. “How can you have ‘love of homeland’ in third place?...So what?… We are getting rid of

patriotism now?” For me Mr. Tavadze’s astonishment epitomized what his logic was all about, something that

was not just about history teaching.

The theme of this debate goes beyond the concerns of history teaching. It has to do with a number of other

issues, including conceptions of future citizenship, democracy, Georgian statehood, and above all how knowledge

and collective memory of what it means to be a Georgian deal with people’s imaginaries of the country’s changing

future. Much of the discussion on this issue has taken place as if the textbooks were much more a matter of political

ideology than teaching history to children. This can be seen by taking into account the larger context of the

discussion of history textbooks.

Soon after gaining power as a result of peaceful revolution in 2003, the new ‘western oriented’ government

of Georgia embarked on educational reform intended not only to modernize and enhance the educational system but

also to eliminate deep rooted corruption3. Presumably it was this larger context of transformation and change

that Mr Tavadze had in mind when he mentioned the ‘experiment’ to be conducted on Georgia. His

sentiments speak to a more widespread public criticism toward the projects of the ministry of education that had

been framed in terms of the threat that these changes could present to the ‘value of knowledge’, especially how

standardization of the examinations could distort ways of knowing.

These concerns mainly targeted two subjects – Georgian literature and history. In other words, these were

concerns over protecting the language that we speak (language and literature) and the memories of who we are4

(history) – two essential elements of what makes someone a Georgian. From this perspective culturally valued

knowledge is not an issue of guaranteeing universal intelligence or analytic skills. Instead, it is an issue of providing

culturally specific knowledge about the group. As such, Georgian literature and history are principal factors

The reform first and foremost intended to fundamentally transform entrance examinations for higher education.
This involved standardization of tests that entailed applying changes to exam subjects and the way they are tested.
I cannot cite any specific reference to these formulations but these are commonly used expressions in public or
private discussions.

considered to define “Georgianness” (Georgian: qarTveloba), and their protection is the primary task of those who

care for the country’s future. As a part of the wider discourse on cultural knowledge Mr Tavadze’s argument

addresses these concerns of what Georgians should know, or in what form they should pass on this knowledge to

future generations, and finally, who ‘should have the right’ to decide. Not only does his argument have these hidden

meanings, but Janashia’s project is designed as a response to them.

As such, this entire discursive encounter reflects what Mikhail Bakhtin calls hidden dialogicalism

and implies some chain of texts that is addressed not only to Janashia in this particular case, but is part of a

“generalized collective dialogue” (Wertsch, 2005). It is constructed as a response to another ‘chain of texts’

circulating within the community. The logic and the arguments on both sides are mediated by cultural frames that

make things thinkable in a certain way. The hidden dialogue bears a relationship not only to the specific subject

matter under the discussion but indexes larger frames of cultural cognition. These frames are linguistically and

semantically embedded formulations for conceiving Georgian history and politics. They are what Maurice

Halbwachs calls “collective frameworks of memory [that] do not amount to so many names, dates, and formulas, but

truly represent currents of thought and experience within which we recover our past […]” (1950:64). As outlined

here, these frames are fundamentally characterized by the sort of dialogic organization proposed by Bakhtin. Along

with shaping the imagination of the past, collective frameworks operate as social matrixes into which

cultural, social, and political meanings are woven. As such, they do much more than recover the past; they

mediate collective imaginaries of the future and quite frequently shape how we respond to ongoing events.

By introducing this short encounter between Tavadze and Janashaia, I want to unravel the deeply rooted

beliefs and conceptions that stem from the memories of Georgia’s past and that underlie not only this particular

history textbook debate, but almost any debate in Georgia. Furthermore, I want to acknowledge that collective

memory represents and is articulated in the form of a national narrative that mediates processes of a group’s self-

imagination in the here and now. This amounts to saying that the purview of these frames is not limited to

representing the past but extends to symbolizing collective selves. The stance that I take in this respect addresses

theoretical questions raised on the emotional dimension that is usually characteristic of narrative tools. Namely, the

attempt is to address the question of how can something that is supposedly a practical tool for organizing

information, make people so emotional?

In my view Ernest Cassirer’s point on the nature of symbolic forms can provide interesting insight into the

topic. His philosophy examines how humans in the process of creating the objective world produce “self-contained

communities of meaning” (Coskun 2007:153). What is especially relevant here is his view that symbolic systems, in

the process of serving as interpretive tools, become much more than practical mechanisms; they come to represent

human efforts at self-expression or self-conception. Cassirer’s essay Language and Myth provides entries into his

view on myth as a special mode of human thought which not only transforms reality by representing it through

certain prism but is impregnated with self-expressive emotions. Processes that lead into the mode of mythical

thinking have to do with the idea that the human mind is not necessarily concerned with facts. Its “prime talent” is

not “discursive reason”; instead, “language is born of the need for emotional expression” (Langer, 1958:384).

Following Humboldt’s notion of “inward form of language” Cassirer explains that linguistic conception –

naming objects, endowing significance – comes from the same process as mythic ideation. Among the properties

that language and myth share is their ability to give names and by that process endow significance to objects in the

world. But as Cassirer points out, “the name is never a symbol but is part of the personal property of its bearer,

property which must be carefully protected” (1953:50). A similar line of reasoning is applied to his characterization

of mythical conception:

The mythical form of conception is not something superadded to certain elements of

empirical existence; instead, the primary “experience” itself is steeped in the imagery of

myth and saturated with its atmosphere. Man lives with objects only in so far as he lives

with these forms; he reveals reality to himself, and himself to reality, in that he lets

himself and the environment enter in this plastic medium, in which the two do not merely

make contact, but fuse with each other.” (Cassirer, 1953:10, italics in the original)

This paragraph summarizes some principal tenets of Cassirer’s philosophy. He emphasizes that myth as a

symbolic form is an essential, central part of human existence; it is an instrument that mediates our relationship with

the external world, but furthermore, the only way symbolic systems, or what Cassirer here calls “plastic mediums”,

can achieve this mediation is through embodying, fusing human experience – humans self – into its form and


Following Cassirer’s line of reasoning, I argue that narrative modes of collective remembering as forms of

mythical thinking take linguistic and symbolic form that he believed to represent a symbolically “objectified” or

“externalized” self. This makes it possible to contemplate several things in the case I am considering from Georgia.

First, it makes it possible to establish the relationship between Georgia’s national narrative (something that also

corresponds to Cassirer’s notion of myth) and the concept of “Georgianness” – a collective effort at self-imagining

that is frequently deployed or implied in public or private discourses. Second, it allows to acknowledge how and

why these two important aspects of Georgian culture – national narrative and ideas on inherent nature characteristic

to Georgians - shape modes of thinking and define the emotional character of instances such as history textbook


The Georgian National Narrative:

A constant but thwarted attempt to return to the ‘Golden Age’

On the basis of numerous political discussions and conversation, as well as through observations of history

textbooks and media sources in Georgia, I have identified three main prisms through which people view and

highlight general trends in Georgian history. Depending on the topic of discussion people may refer to one or more

of the following: a) Georgia’s unending effort to reintegrate its historic territories into a powerful state, the

precedent for which existed from the eleventh to thirteenth century Golden Age; this effort is portrayed in the form

of repeated attempts that are thwarted by the appearance of a ‘new enemy’; b) Georgians’ ability to preserve

national culture, namely language, religion (Orthodox Christianity), and national identity despite the efforts of the

external enemies to defeat and culturally assimilate Georgians; from this perspective, encounters with the external

world entail some sort of danger for Georgian statehood and traits that constitute “Georgianness.”; and c) Georgians

have been able to preserve their culture because of their nature that makes them irreconcilable to external

domination, thus resulting in constant resistance to enemies.

The mechanism that underlies such conceptions about Georgia’s past has to do with meaning structures that

serve as representations of the past and constitute narrative templates. The notion of a narrative template has a

lengthy history beginning from the writings of Frederic Bartlett on ‘schemata’ to the studies of Russian formalist V.

Propp (1975). More recently Wertsch has argued for the conception of collective memory as a form of mediated

action. Building on the insights of Bartlett he has emphasized the active processes that are involved in

‘remembering’ and proposed a two level-analysis when considering narrative organization of the history or

collective memory (see this volume). He reintroduced the notion of a schematic narrative template as a cultural tool

that mediates processes of collective remembering.

Three themes, outlined above, are constitutive aspects of Georgia’s national narrative template. As an

interpretive cultural tool, national narrative is not a linear text which can be read only in one way. Instead, it

provides different angles that can serve as different prisms from which to look at the past. An “initial situation”

characterized by movement toward integrating Georgian territories

1. “Trouble” in the form of a “new enemy” appears that thwarts this movement. The external threat is

supported from within by internal collaborators (traitors).

2. Through steadfast resistance against external domination and acts of individual martyrdom Georgians

manage to maintain their cultural values (especially language and religion) and free themselves of the

enemy’s domination.

3. Once this domination is removed efforts at territorial reintegration are restarted.

Typically such a schematic formulation of the past is employed when Georgians engage in political

discussions or try to analyze ongoing events such as Russian-Georgian war of 2008. Indeed the same template of

external intrusion may be used when considering the West’s intervention in Georgia’s political matters. Writings of

Ross (1989) on the psychology of “implicit theories” suggest that schematic templates are not “readily available to

consciousness” (Wertsch, 2002:62), and Bartlett made a similar claim in relation to ‘schemata’. In short, Georgians

are able to produce similar formulations of Georgian events, and almost certainly they are unaware of the pattern

behind these formulations. In cases like the history textbook debate outlined above, where claims were made based

on this narrative template, participants may not have been consciously aware that the narrative was serving them as a

framework for formulating and justifying the argument.

Apart from its schematic nature this narrative template has sufficient plasticity to ‘stretch out’ like rubber

and mold itself around the many contexts in which it is harnessed. In so doing, it reveals some elements that are not

evident in the simple formulation but still maintains features necessary for narrative structure. In certain settings

people can emphasize some aspects of the narrative template and downplay others. Certain discourses are framed in

terms of Georgia’s unavoidable destiny to struggle with a big enemy; in other cases the element of internal

collaborators – traitors – is highlighted; and then there are instances where this narrative template evolves into an

almost triumphalist story – accentuating Georgians’ ability to endure centuries of assaults and invasions and

somehow survive, while preserving their cultural essence.

The variations on the basic themes of collective memory quite often depend on the general setting in

which it is articulated as well as on the purpose and motivation of the presenter. Narratives typically are

devised to make a point, to put up an argument. In such instances they are constructed as a response to somebody

else’s words and reveal what Mikhail Bakhtin calls the addressivity of a text (Todorov, 1984). For instance, when

Georgians present themselves to the world or engage in self-reflection in response to foreigners, they emphasize the

antiquity of Georgian culture and history, the importance of its geographic location, and its beautiful nature.

Consider the following passage from the preface of a history textbook (7th-10th grade) published in Soviet Georgia in

1974: “The historical development of the Georgian people took place on the territories that it currently occupies …

it is part of Caucasia that connects Europe to Asia… Rich and diverse is the nature of Georgia… Georgia – one of

the leading Soviet republics – is a country of a heroic past and a very old culture […] The Georgian people have

gone through an extremely difficult and long path … This book will tell us about the heroic past and present filled

with many rich interesting events” (pp 3-4).

It would be natural to assume that much has changed since 1974, and what was written under the strict

censorship of the Soviet state would not apply to 21st century Georgia. Nevertheless, the image that this passage

presents is still one that is commonly employed. Testimony to this can be found on virtually any Georgian website

that features the country’s profile. Consider the following passage from the website written by Georgians titled

“About Georgia5”: “The sea, mountains, desert, plain - this is the landscape of Georgia. Diverse is the nature of

Georgians, defined by these contrasts. The history counting five thousand years and Christianity of fifteen hundred

years reveals why Georgian nation is so unique. Georgian alphabet is one of the few existing in the modern world.

The oldest writings in Georgian language is easily read and understood by modern Georgians without any

translation (almost unprecedented).” (www.aboutgeorgia.net).6

The general themes conveyed in these two passages are quite similar, but contemporary accounts tend to

emphasize the importance of Christianity and the Georgian language in cultural heritage over anything else.

Georgia’s geographically ‘strategic’ location is presented as part of the reason for the continuous assaults from

Organizers of the website as they state themselves are “small group, but with wide experience in sphere of
Information Technology, [who] have decided to create a site About Georgia.” http://www.aboutgeorgia.net/about/

external enemies, and this is also a central constituent of the uniqueness of Georgian culture. The following quote

from a website that provides investment advice for the businessmen interested in the country expresses these

sentiments: “Archeological data points to the existence of the Neolithic culture in the territory of Georgia since 5000

BC till the Christian era. In the closing centuries of pre-Christian era Georgia's culture came under a strong

influence of Greece from the west and Persia from the east. The adoption of Christianity as an official religion by

King Mirian in 354 contributed to strengthening multilateral ties with Byzantium. Although Arabs invaded Tbilisi in

645, Georgia managed to preserve high degree of its independence, its language and religion. In 813 King Ashot

established the Bagrationi royal dynasty which ruled until 1801.” ( www.investmentguide.ge ).

Most frequently these presentations are meant to respond to the general assumptions on ex-Soviet

countries, as the ones that emerged due to the Soviet disintegration and had no history of prior existence as

independent states. The fact that all of the texts provided here (from the internet sources) were originally written in

English language, speaks to the assumption that they are intended for foreign audience with certain presumptions

and even prejudices and not for the native Georgians.

Levan Zvambaia, a young men from the city of Kutaisi, makes comments “about his homeland” on his

website. According to him, “Georgia is one of the most ancient countries of the world. This millennium is the

fourth in the history of Georgia … Many great and tragic events occurred in this land during these centuries.

Situated between the Black and Caspian Seas, right at the boundary of Asia and Europe, the crossroads of the

world's commercial routes, at the junction of world's cultures and religions, Georgia attracted like a magnet

many a conqueror. The century in and the century out waves of invasions and inroads rolled across Georgia.”


A remarkable thing about this narrative is the extent to which it can condense events that stretch out into

centuries into a few lines. What is included and what is omitted very much depends on the context, but the general

story-line is retained throughout. Narrative can be applied to various settings by emphasizing one element or

another. For instance, discussions of Georgia’s struggle for territorial integrity are most frequently couched in terms

of its longstanding effort to regain the might and glory of the 11th-13th century Golden Age state. In the general

formulation of the template that I have outlined the struggle for territorial integrity is the primary force that drives

the Georgian people, and The Golden Age provides an image of an ideal state that is generally assumed to have been

part of the Georgian agenda since the beginning of time. But in addition to being a reminder of greatness it

represents a state of normalcy, a realization of Georgian potential, or a triumph of the true Georgian nature and

essence. It is not simply a story of success but a story of “who we truly are”. As Aleida Assmann points out “the

myth of a golden age … acquires the status of a normative past that reminds and admonishes a nation of its

former greatness” (2005:18).

The movement toward the “state of normalcy” or realization of this true self in the Georgian case is taken

to be constantly thwarted by external enemies and internal collaborators. Wertsch and Batiashvili (in press) have

identified this narrative as “foiled attempts to return to the Golden Age”, suggesting an essentialist formulation of

Georgian history. Most of the history textbooks, even the ones from the Soviet era (or it even might be more

appropriate to say: especially the ones from Soviet era) “presuppose an essential character of Georgian tribes leading

toward a natural tendency of state formation” (Wertsch & Batiashvili, in press). The movement that was set in

motion when King Pharnavaz I founded the first Georgian state in the third century B.C.E: “the period of Pharnavaz

is the beginning of the long process of integrating the territories inhabited by Georgian tribes in a single state. […]

Henceforth, an integrated Georgian ethnocultural system was formed based on the political and economic organism

founded in the Kingdom of Kartli (Iberia) founded by Parnavaz” – states on of the textbooks (Lortkipanidze &

Asatiani, 2001:44).As the authors of this textbook further note “the long process of unification of the Georgian land

was completed by David the Builder” (p 67). The middle centuries in Georgian collective memory are marked with

the rule of this iconic figure (1089 – 1125). His significance has still not diminished in twenty-first century Georgia.

The Golden Age narrative has served as a national moral compass for defining political goals and weighing

strategies for reaching them (Wertsch & Batiashvili, in press). As a period that represents the ‘state of normalcy’ in

Georgians’ imagination, the emphasis in this epoch is on the ‘flourishing’ of Georgian culture, the development of

literature, poetry, and building of monasteries and temples, along with the emergence of democratic institutions.

For most Georgians, this is the most accurate account of their history. There is no doubt that Georgia

indeed has had to endure a number of assaults and invasions throughout the centuries. What is striking about the

collective memory of these episodes is that they are all emplotted by using the same basic narrative template. In

contrast, “from the perspective of formal history each episode was unique in some way and involved a host of

complex motives” (Wertsch & Batiashvili, in press). Collective memory seldom acknowledges these differences,

and in this particular case this means that the narrative template reduces various invaders of different epochs into a

single category of ‘enemy.”Romans, Turks, Mongols, Arabs, Persians, or Russiansare taken to be nearly identical.

“Georgiannes” and the World Beyond it

Two fundamental beliefs arise from the perceptions of reality that stem from the Georgian National

Narrative: first, Georgian statehood is a natural phenomenon and second, the external world always presents some

sort of threat not necessarily to Georgian statehood, but what for most Georgians is even worse, to Georgian cultural

values. This prism may define Georgianness as far more important than subscribing to a particular political system.

The rationale is that as long as Georgia preserves its national identity through language and religion, no matter how

much time passes, it can always regain its state and territories. According to this logic, the Georgian state exists

regardless of its current political status or formal governance over its territories. An emphasis on the dangers that

ensue from contact with the external world is another crucial point in this narrative and an important aspect in Mr

Tavadze’s criticism. His statements imply this fear of alien intruders in the Georgian cultural system and suggest

that they may be more harmful than any threat to Georgian statehood. The power of such a world view renders what

some see as a benevolent ‘west’ – something that Georgian nation is aspiring to become part of - into an alien force

that can infiltrate and pollute cultural values. As a result, the notion of the west appears as a double edged sword –

something that will assist the Georgian effort of territorial reintegration, at the same time that could potentially

damage cultural or even spiritual integrity. However, ambivalence toward the west tends to be implicit than explicit.

It is doubtful that Mr Tavadze was conscious of any convoluted logic in saying, “this is some kind of experiment

that they are trying to conduct on Georgia…you are trying to raise global citizens and uproot patriotism in this

country”. He probably did not know that he shifted between ‘they’ and ‘you’ because he knew he was referring to

the ‘west’ and to its agent, namely a ‘western-oriented’ government in Georgia, respectively. But the logic on which

his utterance rests is so deeply rooted and powerful that it does not necessarily require conscious awareness.

Mythologized views of the past obscure concrete details of what was happening on the ground, how the

past is different from the present, or what the role of community or even an individual is (apart from powerful

monarch) in building a strong state. The conception of the new history curriculum, presented by Simon Janashia at

the December seminar was based on similar claims. He began by listing what kind of images and beliefs (old)

history textbooks produce. His slides displayed all of the central aspects of Georgia’s national narrative that I have

outlined above. His speech indirectly implied that some things should be revised if Georgian education is to be

successful. His suggestions mainly focused on rethinking Georgia’s place in the world, how to deal with images of

an enemy, how to emphasize collaboration and not only self-defense, and how to accentuate values of civil society,

institutions, and civil rights. Janashia did not suggest abandoning the idea of glorious state or Georgian culture, but

somehow in the eyes of critics his project was taken to be part of the state’s westernization agenda and epitomized

an ‘experiment’ to exterminate Georgian culture and its essence. These claims are hardly grounded in any kind of

substantive evidence. Far from it, they reflect beliefs in an ever present external threat that is at the core of the

national narrative.

But what is even more fascinating is the fear reflected in this case of destroying Georgian culture and

polluting the Georgian essence by changing the narrative structure of collective memory. This suggests that

narrative structures as symbolic means have intrinsic value beyond their capacity to convey or represent something.

As Cassirer notes symbolic forms do not merely represent things, but they present them. Symbols become the

organs, inseparable parts of the objects they convey. To repeat Cassirer’s own words, through symbolic forms man

“reveals reality to himself, and himself to reality, in that he lets himself and the environment enter in this plastic

medium, in which the two do not merely make contact, but fuse with each other.” (1953:10).


The debate I introduced above implied that the criticism of new history textbooks is not so much directed

specifically toward the textbooks or any of their aspects, but were claims of a more general nature concerned with

the ‘rights of history’. An underlying assumption is that whoever decides what kind of past people remember also

has the power over deciding what kind of Georgians will become products of this memory. People’s concerns with

the past, in this case embodied in the debates on history teaching, bear a direct relationship with imagining

Georgia’s future. For the two individuals in the episode – Simon Janashia and Mr. Tavadze – the primary

issue was not the knowledge that history teaching could provide, but what kind of Georgians will come out of

the process – ‘global citizens’ or ‘patriots’? Their concerns are based on a concept of what is involved in an

essentialized Georgian nature that seems to be at stake when it comes to rewriting Georgian history. The term that

people sometimes use “Georgianness”, (qarTveloba) denotes some characteristic traits that are common to all

Georgians – that “makes us us”. So at the intersection of past and future is the notion of “Georgianness” which is

embedded and embodied in collective memories and internalized by members of a collective. Any effort to re-

imagine Georgia’s history, to re-arrange its narrative could fundamentally transform its essence.

Although the term Georgianness can be heard in a number of contexts, it is related primarily to collective

memories of a common past rather than to anything else. As a cultural conception, the history of the Georgian

people is at the same time a product of this ‘character’ as well as a structuring force or producer of it. In one way or

another, the relationship between these two cultural constructs – history and Georgianness (history as cultural

construct, operative at an interpretive level) – is convoluted and complicated.

As Jan Assman notes, “history turns into myth as soon as it is remembered, narrated, and used, that is,

woven into the fabric of the present” (2005:14). Narratives as symbolic, linguistic forms exemplify the human

tendency of mythico-poetic ideation. They are analogous to myth in selecting certain aspects of a group’s social

experience (what we call history) and endowing significance to certain events by giving them linguistic form. In

essence narratives are linguistic ‘names’ of certain aspects of a group’s existence. They are names in a sense

outlined by Cassirer, who wrote that a “…person’s ego, his very self and personality, is indissolubly linked, in

mythic thinking with his name. Here the name is never a mere symbol, but is personal property of its bearer;

property which must be carefully protected, and the use of which is exclusively and jealously reserved to him”

(1953:49-50). Myths too are linguistic/symbolic signs that name objects in the environment and define the

relationship between these objects. By doing that myth gives meaning to reality. On the expressive or emotional

level linguistic signs and their meanings make up an indissoluble expressive whole and the meaning-bearing matter

of the sign is fused with the object.

Rather than being a mere symbolic portrayer of humans’ surrounding reality, which includes a past

experience in the case of national narratives, a significant aspect of myths is their ability to symbolize the human

apprehension of values. As such, myth is not so much an account of objects in humans’ environment as the story of

their feelings about the objects it describes. Nevertheless, the images of myth are usually not taken as images, but

are accepted as a reality that allows no criticism or doubt. As one of Cassirer’s most insightful interpreters Susanne

Langer argues “human beings actually apprehend values and expressions of values before they formulate and

entertain facts … All mythic constructions are symbols of value …they are charged with feeling, and have a way of

absorbing into themselves more and more intensive meanings, sometimes even logically conflicting imports”

(Langer 1958:388, italics in the original). In the Georgian context, the emotional dimension of national narratives as

mnemonic myths is defined by how they shape a sense of Georgianness.

As a cultural concept, Georgianness presupposes a belief in the essential, inherent nature of Georgians and

as such falls under the heading of a mythical construct for Cassirer. The concept of Georgianness and its nonrational

(Cassirer’s “non-discursive”), but persistent mythical nature leads to attempts by Georgians to imagine some kind of

collective self. In other words, it represents an attempt to find and articulate those commonalities of traits that

characterize Georgian individuals, and through that process make sense out of ‘self.” It is an attempt to find

meaning and invest a single concept with all these meanings.

The significance and cultural value of this concept is in many ways manifested through collective

memories and national narratives. The national narrative or what in general discussion is referred to as “our

history” is the ‘organ’ of the concept of Georgianness, one of its symbolic expressions. As language, narrative also

“is essentially hypostatic, seeking to distinguish, emphasize, and hold the object of feeling rather than to

communicate the feeling itself.” (Langer, 1958:386). This amounts to saying that narrative is a symbolic form that

represents or conceives of the nature of collective selves – Georgian selves.

In my view, efforts to conceive collective self are most often driven by a desire to understand one’s own

past but more frequently by the human attempt to define the situations they find themselves in. Contemplations on

who we are relate past and present experience of the people in a way that lets them explain, rationalize, and deal

with whatever is happening now, global, local or existential that challenge the reality that people have to face. In

this attempt to contemplate, define, and fit into situations, a consistent pattern becomes culturally established in

public imagination that links the nature of the group to its past and present experience. In the Georgian context this

usually finds manifestation in public rhetoric concerned with the country’s political matters. The attitude is one that

focuses on how “we always end up like this, because of who we are, because of our character!”, and the underlying

assumption is concerned with a culturally accepted pattern revealed in national narratives.

Each culture has its own constellation of symbolic systems, especially myths that express the group’s

individuality and constitute ways of interacting with others. As such, national narratives are one of the dominant

symbolic forms that shape our political perceptions and actions. A national narrative is a nation’s autobiography, its

attempt to understand its personality and life. It is an effort to make sense of what happened and project this

understanding into the future.


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