An Interview with Irakli Kakabadze
Added: September 2007 to ICORN Featured Writers
Irakli Zurab Kakabadze was born in Republic of Georgia (in former Soviet Union). Having been reared in a literary family-his father and uncle both renowned writers- it came as no surprise that he would become a writer.
Kakabadze studied 20th century philosophy and sociology at Tbilisi State University and during late 1980's, he was a key leader of the student opposition to the Soviet government.
By the age of 20, he was the youngest member of the National Forum of Georgia, the leading national liberation movement. Kakabadze was as a correspondent for the Voice of America's Georgian Service at the United Nations, and as a language and culture instructor for the Foreign Service Institute, and from 1997-2002 he worked as a Program Associate at the National Peace Foundation and SC office coordinator for the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in Washington, DC where he focused his efforts on coordinating various peace conferences and forums for the South Caucasus region of Eastern Europe. Kakabadze holds an M.S. degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University in Virginia.
Kakabadze is a multifaceted artist and has collaborated with a number of other writers and performers to establish ongoing projects such as the Polyphonic Blues Band and the theater group Theater for Change.
In 2006 one of Kakabadze's collaborative partners died under mysterious circumstances and Kakabadze was arrested three times for voicing his criticisms of the government.
Listen to Irakli Kakabadze's: "Natalie Avery ".
When did you begin writing and what/who were you influenced by?
I began writing when I was 12 years-old. I remember I showed this piece of writing to my father, who was a Georgian Philosopher and who influenced me very much (he died when I was 13 years-old). It was called "Industrial Civilization and Its Victims". My parents were very amused by it. They thought it was interesting, but silly. It is actually kind of significant that the word "industrial" became one of my catchwords. Twenty-two years later my poem "Postindustrial Boys" was transformed into a song by a brilliant Georgian musician Gogi Dzodzuashvili and it is probably my best, internationally known work.
Of course there were number of people who influenced my writings: my father, Zurab Kakabadze and my uncle, Chabua Amirejibi. My uncle spent 17 years in Gulag and wrote number of amazing books afterward. His books are translated into several Scandinavian Languages, too. Also influential to me are the Georgian Authors Vajha Phavela and Ilia Chavchavadze. The work of Vajha Fshavela, "Guest and Host", is one of my main inspirations. The works of Albert Camus, Franz Kafka and Leo Tolstoy have also inspired my writings very much when I was just starting out. There are many more influences that I could list here, but it would take a lot of time and a lot of space - and I won't bother you with very detailed account.
You are very engaged in politics and studied philosophy and sociology at university. You also have a degree in conflict analysis and resolution. At what time did your writing become political and activistic?
I became politically engaged in National-Liberation movement in 1988. I was19 years-old then, and that's when I started to write about social issues and politics as well. One of my heroes, Georgian writer and Social activist Ilia Chavchavadze, was also a conflict resolution clerk in Dusheti county in 1860s. He was helping poor residents become more independent. So this inspired me to follow the track of conflict analysis and resolution, and frankly I was very happy when I was studying at schools like George Mason University. My teachers there were incredible: Johan Galtung, Richard Rubenstein, Dennis Sandole, Christopher Mitchell, Wallace Warfield and many other incredible people. That is when the Shmazi method of facilitation and creative performance started. My and My ICAR classmate Daniel McFarland co-authored the work and I am very proud of it, even today. All these people have had a great positive influence on me and I want to thank them.
The Shmazi Manifesto can be found here .
(in collaboration with Ketato Pop and Irakli Charkviani)
Shmazi, Shmazi Shmoozization,
Human race unification,
No nonprofit hesitation,
No bourgeois alienation.
We just want a Shmoozization,
Our lovely integration,
No more class gentrification
No more one's discrimination.
Get together all the nations,
Make a Shmazi Shmoozization!
No more people's fragmentation,
No more public urination.
Shmazi, Shmazi Shmoozization
Human race unification,
Overthrow the domination
And declare fraternization.
Please, help our generation
To become a graceful nation
No more arms proliferation
No more ugly segregation.
We will have a Shmoozization,
Making love between the nations,
Bring us joy and liberation,
Shmazi, Shmazi Shmoozization!
Titoooo, baby, Titooooooooo!
Reprint: Copyright 2003 Shmazi Productions
How do you feel your convictions regarding peaceful activism have affected your writing in terms of subject matter and style? In a related question, do you feel that the act of writing, that is the mental process of creating poetry or prose, affects your convictions?
Everything in this world in interconnected, of course. Writing is affected by convictions and it affects convictions as well. It is not new to say that writing is an extremely intimate experience and it is very much like making love. And if someone is human, it is impossible not to be affected by the act of making love and creating.
I guess, whole my life is striving to express love and create something very dear and I think I am not different than most human beings on this earth. So desire to justice and to achieve as much as we can is definitely part of human nature. Writing as a tool to express this, is one of the best ways to express ones own feelings about justice, fairness, compassion, love, creation or destruction. I do not consider writing a completely mental part of our being - I do think there is much mental activity involved in it, but I also think this is a cry of soul and this is at the same time an extremely erotic process. For me it is like a relationship building - it's a combination of soul and mind. There is no great love without both being involved - and art is reminiscent of the act of love - erotic or platonic - as a matter of fact. It is a nurtured cry of the spirit to express its admiration and adoration of the beauty. And also to express disappointments.
You also are one of the founders of the Theatre for Change in your home country, whose performances helped fuel the Rose Revolution. Were you inspired by Augusto Boal and his Theater of the Oppressed? And, how did that experience affect your writing/performances?
These experiences in 2003 have been some of the best in my entire life. It was an incredible creative process, where everybody was participating. First of all, I want to mention a main instigator of this initiative Karen Chapman Clark, who has worked every step of the way, enabling us to create Theater for Change. Karen has been a wonderful inspiration through her work. And our wonderful theatrical Director, Giorgi Sikharulidze, did an outstanding job with young and amateur artists. I already had the experience of Shmazi performances in the United States and Georgia, but Theater for Change opened my mind to new horizons and dimensions in creative work. It showed me that everybody, in any given community, is able to participate and create - everything just depends upon our effort to find the wonderful gift of creativity in each and every human being. Of course, Augusto Boal is a great inspiration in this work. This was one of the most challenging assignments in my entire life, and it was one of the most satisfying and gratifying experiences. I was absolutely mesmerized, seeing how many people were able to participate creatively and how many of them made a positive contribution. These kinds of events have made a bloodless transformation possible.
You have been stabbed and beaten for expressing your opinions. Has this ever tempted you to censor yourself? A related question: In what way does fear fuel your writing? Can you describe the relationships among hope and fear and literature?
Of course, I have been scared many times when there were life threatening experiences. On the one hand, this is something that gives you adrenaline and the will to drive the difficult road of life, but at the same time it is a very frightening experience. To fight for justice when you are unarmed is a great experience that is also extremely scary.
The process of overcoming fear is also a creative act - and it is a long process. And again, there is a combination of mind and spirit involved in this. One has to experience fear to understand humanity. When I was faced with incredible amounts of adversity and threats, it absolutely did not affected my writing nor my lifestyle. More than anything, this [experience] brings me more appreciation of human life and sensibility. Without having experienced personal risk myself, I was unable to have empathy with others who were oppressed by different injustices. Learning to understand others and oneself is a life-long process. Living with risk is also a life-long process that ends with death. The more risk we experience, the more alive we feel. That is what I feel about this.
In 2004 you published your third book Compassionata, in which the character compares his own country with the US. How do you feel your experiences as an exiled writer have changed you, and by extension, your writing?
Being in exile gives one a new perspective, of course. This is an outlook that gives as an opportunity to compare. Those who have been in exile for a long time start to compare and think differently.
Being in a different culture definitely affects all of us. It has made me see that there are different worldviews, and that we have to understand each and every culture. Each human life is absolutely different and unique - yet at the same time there is so much that we share.
This is something that makes writing so interesting.
© 2007 Irakli Kakabadze
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