Modernist Tbilisi (1917-1924)

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Most of the material for this period is hosted at our sister website Modernism.Ge

Modernist Bohemia

Georgian Modernism as a literary-artistic movement closely mirrored the technological process of modernization, involving material infrastructures such as cafes, streetcars, and electrification which were celebrated and aestheticized in modernist literature.  While cultivating a bohemian sensibility that derived from European and Russian sources, the Modernists were also engaged in a dialogue with the vernacular culture of the city. It was the fusion of vernacular and elite bohemias that gave Modernist Tbilisi its sharply cosmopolitan feel.


Tiflis Modern: The early 20th century

In many ways, the colonial city can be understood as a species or forerunner of the modernist city. The classic literature on the modern metropolis, from Baudelaire to Benjamin (Berman 1982), Simmel (1903), Wirth (1938) and Park (Park 1925, Pile 2006) characteristically conflates the specifically Western city with the condition of modernity. However, like the colonial city, the modernizing impulse that seeks to create a thoroughly modern city cannot help but do so by physically erasing or abjecting its traditional residuum. Here we draw on case studies from European (Kostof 1994) as well as Asian cities (Edo/Tokyo: Jinnai 1995, Maeda 2004, Inoue 2006; Shanghai: Lee 1999, Wasserstrom 2008) as part of our theoretical context, in an attempt to "provincialize" the Western city and modernity (Pile 2006): What does modernity look like under the conditions of "peripheral modernism"? Here we seek to see how Tbilisi modernists were haunted by their position on the peripheries of modernity.  How do the material infrastructures of "peripheral modernism", in which aspirational and abject infrastructures coexist, produce a modernism always haunted by its abject position on the periphery?  How does the construction of the "urban bohemia" in Georgian modernism, through its appropriation of urban infrastructures of sociability like European cafes and "Oriental" taverns, gesture ambivalently at a not-quite-present European modernity and an all-too-present Oriental backwardness? Here we attend to parallel constructions of the material affordances of the city as a basis for two distinct conceptions of "bohemia" as sociotechnical assemblage: a European bohemia whose model is Paris, whose logical home is the electric-lit modernist cafe, whose urban emblems are modern infrastructures like electric lighting and streetcars, and whose literature primarily hearkens to European models, and an "orientalist" bohemia whose logical home are "oriental" spaces of sociability like the dukan (tavern) and qavakhana (coffeehouse), whose urban emblems are "oriental" baths, cavanserais, bazaars, and whose literature is precisely the Persianate poetry discussed above.

Image sources: Slide 1. Kirile Zdanevitch 1920 : Slide 2.