The Criticism of the Soviet Ideology in the Novel ― "Der Kantakt"

DOI: 10.55804/jtsuSPEKALI-16-8


One of the meta-fictional works by the German-language Georgian migrant author, Giwi Margwelaschwili, in which we encounter criticism of the  Soviet Union ideology, is meta-novel Cantact, A Resident Writer Reads for a Living(Der Kantakt, Aus den Lese-LebenserfahrungeneinesStadtschreibers, 2009). The novel consists of three thematic levels, two of which are based on the book Rheinsberg: A Picture Book for Lovers (Rheinsberg: Ein Bilderbuch für Verliebte, 1912) by the German writer and publicist, Kurt Tucholsky. It is noteworthy that in the said two levels of Cantact that have a meta-fictional character, the author himself acts as the protagonist. The third level of the novel, which is of an essay type, closelyresemblesother works by Giwi Margwelaschwili and at the same time, reflects his personal experiences; it is devoted to the discussion/criticism of important issues, such as the Soviet Union and its violent system, the Communist ideology, repressions, the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, etc. It is the very third levelthat comes under the spotlight in this article. 

A specialist of the German language and literature, a writer and a translator, Naira Gelashviliis the one who greatly contributed to the study and dissemination of the works by Giwi Margwelaschwili .Alongside Naira Gelashvili, we should also acknowledge Georgian scholars of Giwi Margwelaschwili’s works such as AleksandreKartozia, Nana Gaprindashvili, ZaalAndronikashvili, NugeshaGagnidze, Levan Tsagareli, etc., who examine mainly Giwi Margwelaschwili’s early writings in their study.

The German publicist Dominik Irtenkauffairly notes that each text by Giwi Margwelaschwili is a triumph over the secret service of the Soviet Union and Stalin [Irtenkauf, 2018]. This phrase genuinelyfits the novel Cantact. When discussing works by Giwi Margwelaschwili, the German scholar KarstenGansel finds it difficult not to mention the Soviet Union and Stalinism. Giwi Margwelaschwili’s experiences are precisely from the epoch dominated by “monologicity”; this was the epoch of Stalinism, a period when rather specific schemes of thought and ideologies were dominant and social values and truths were being falsified, which ruled out all kinds of dialogue [Gansel, 1992:21][1]. It is important to note Giwi Martgvelashvili’s personal attitude to Stalin, whom he calls a monster. “After his death, a “spring” slowly started in the Soviet Union” [Sundermeier, 2017:75], says the author in an interview with his German publisher.

Giwi Margwelaschwili, whose destiny was shaped by the violent regime of the Soviet Union, criticizes and fights against “monologicity”, “monothematicity”, dogmas, ideologies dominant in the closed space of the Soviet Union, and all kinds of violence in general; the author uses his words, the technique of meta-fictional writing, and his writing in general as the “weapon” of resistance. 

A “reading material” (German: „Lesestoff“), i.e. a text, according to the discussion unfolding in the novel Cantact, exerts a great influence on the state order. It is capable of causing great changes and revolutions: „In most cases, the reading material has necessarily assumed the force of a reading-explosive material, which has contributed quite a lot to the explosion of walls surrounding the ugly place” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:57]. And the “ugly place” unequivocally denotes the Soviet Union in the novel. According to Cantact, one of the types of text, which prompts changes and renewal is the autobiographical novel, a “mirror-text”, which reflects the historical context and events, and personal stories and is full of metaphors. The novel considers the creation of a “reading material”, including an autobiographical text, as a means of a person’s self-determination and rehabilitation. 

“It is quite normal for a reader to pick up a pen and start writing, […]. He writes about the calling of his soul, about everything that torments him. All this, when put on paper, has an advantage; you can tear it up and throw it away, just as you would treat a sorrowful place because of which you are suffering so much” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:55].

This quotation echoes the life of Giwi Margwelaschwili. As is known from his biography, he had been reading a lot before he started writing. He read a lot of important books when he was in the Sachsenhausen camp, which had quite a rich library. As the author remembers in an interview with  publisherYorgZundermeier, he was reading books that helped him overcome the grave period in the Sachsenhausen camp; he “found a shelter” in books and managed to survive this way [Sundermeier, 2017:51]. Several years after being exiled to Soviet Georgia, Giwi Margwelaschwili started writing in his native German language. Initially, he worked on philosophical, ontotextological, and narratological issues; then he moved on writing prose and started to put his traumatic experiences on paper and, in the words of the author himself, went into the “emigration of writing” [Sundermeier, 2017:73]. Giwi Margwelaschwili likens writers to birds. In his observation, writers mainly have one topic to write about – and one direction. So are birds - they emit one and the same sounds. Granted, their chirping differs according to their species, although each species still whistles the same melody, “[…] and look, this is also the case for certain writers. They only express what suffocates them and they can’t help expressing. In my case, these are empty places. I will not abandon this topic as long as I’m alive, as long as I can read and write” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:23]. We should also explain the semantics of the “empty place”; in Cantact, the “empty place” (German: Der leere Platz) refers to the Soviet Union, whose criticism is one of the main topics of the majority of texts by Giwi Margwelaschwili, including the novel Cantact.

The novel Cantact pays particular attention to autobiographical texts written in the Soviet Union, which mainly expressed veiled criticism of the Communist regime, while, due to censorship and expected danger, it was impossible to publish anti-Soviet “mirror-works” at that time, and authors had to keep the manuscripts in their drawers until a change of the political regime brought about a suitable time to publish them: “Who knows the number of those autobiographical –  and, at the same time, critical of the regime – manuscripts, […] that were written in the Soviet Union and are kept in drawers until a suitable time comes when they can be read publicly?” [Margwelaschwili, 2009: 171]. According to Cantact, the autobiographical texts kept in drawers describe the regime of the Soviet Union as the “murderous regime” (German: Das mörderische Regime), „an incorrigible, irreversible evil” (German: Das unabänderlicheÜbel), „a desolate, uninhabited, sorrowful place” (German: Der öde Platz), “a utopian lie” (German: Die utopischeLüge). This alone clearly shows the author’s negative and critical attitude to the Soviet Union.

“The manuscripts critical of the regime, […] describe the empire of the Soviet Union as an incorrigible evil, which cannot be changed even in the long run. The characters are trapped in a lifeless place and ardently await salvation that never comes, as even the warmest of weather cannot melt the ideological ice age; attempts at melting and renewal become victims of freezing sooner or later” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:172].

One of the autobiographical “mirror-texts” criticizing the Soviet regime is Captain Vakush (KapitänWakusch), a cycle of novels by Giwi Margwelaschwili – “The book was written in the Soviet Union and is not exactly what could be called pro-Soviet” [Margwelaschwili 2009:225], reads a comment about Captain Vakush in the meta-novel Cantact. It became possible to publish Volume I and Volume II of the cycle of the autobiographical novel Captain Vakush in Germany only in 1991-1992, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union: “The novel […] was published in Germany in 1992. It had bad sales, so bad that the publisher abandoned his plan to publish one more of my volumes about my life in the Soviet Union” [Margwelaschwili, 2009: 221].

“This is the characteristic of mirror-books. The more they reflect, it seems to me that the fewer readers they have. I’ve also experienced this myself, because, by the way, I’m also the author of at least one such mirror-book, to be more exact, of one mirror-work, because it consists of several volumes. […] An autobiographical novel, no matter how much fiction it contains, is always a mirror-book as it describes the life of its author” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:438]. 

In the auto-intertextual and auto-reflexive passages cited above, we read that it only became possible to publish the autobiographical “mirror-work” of Giwi Margwelaschwili, Captain Vakush, from the beginning of the 1990s, even though it attracted hardly any readers. Literature scholar Levan Tsagareli believes that it was its belated publication that made the work underrated. In his opinion, Captain Vakush, like the other works by Margwelaschwili, was significantly ahead of the common context of that time and, accordingly, its reception was not adequateeither [Tsagareli, 2019:47]. Giwi Margwelaschwili is saddened by the underappreciation of his works and also discusses this issue in his writings. In Cantact, we encounter a commentary of an editor of one of the German publishing houses about Giwi Margwelaschwili and his works: “Why does he need roundabout ways to talk about the book and its characters? Why doesn’t he say what he wants to say directly? The stories that are anyway very exciting and, at the same time, interesting would only benefit from it” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:180]. The cited passage shows why German publishers ignored Margwelaschwili and his works. The stories told in roundabout ways by an ontotextologist and a philosopher were less profitable for them – “I posted these words on the wall of my small Wartburg in Tbilisi as a noticeable warning for me, so that I wouldn’t have much hope of the publication of my writings” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:180-181], reads an auto-commentary in the novel. In another auto-commentary, Giwi Margwelaschwili remarks that his works did not get much attention in Soviet Georgia not only because of the German language but also its imaginary, surrealistic and unrealistic content, and only had readers in his circle of friends, in the so-called “micro-cantact”.

The novel Cantact, which is saturated with auto-intertextual episodes and auto-reflexive commentaries, discusses Captain Vakush quite extensively and in detail. It is an autobiographical work full of metaphors, allegories, and symbols – “[…] The symbolic words in my books are mainly concepts of play for me” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:226]. It is precisely with “concepts of play” (German: Spielbegriffe, – concepts that can be “played” with) that Margwelaschwili reflects on and criticizes life in the National Socialist Germany in the period of the Second World War, in the Soviet punishment camp, and then in Soviet Georgia. In Cantact, we also encounter interpretations of symbols given in the cycle of novels Captain Vakush. One of the most important symbols is “kogelmogel”, which is used to denote ideology:

“The Georgian word kogelmogel is the name of children’s dessert: egg yolks scrambled with sugar. In our text, it is a mirror-word, which denotes the ideological “mental porridge” that the population was forced to eat” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:439].

According to sociologist and philosopher Herbert Marcuse, by imposing ideologies, we get a “one-dimensional man”, “one-dimensional society” – a mass that can be ruled easily [Marcuse, 1967]. Following the concept of the French structuralist, culture theoretician, and semiologist, Roland Barthes, ideology is an illusory formation that draws a veil over the reality, rules over the members of society, and hinders them from perceiving the reality. Totalitarian political ideologies assume the form of myths. And a myth contributes to the pursuit of the interests of the dominant groups and the strengthening of their values in society. It should be noted that R. Barthes pays particular attention to the myth of Stalin created in the conditions of socialism, his real and historical personality, and, at the same time, to the sacralized epithets that described him[Barthes, 1964]. When we call something ideological, we believe that it is incorrect, false, and dogmatic from the very beginning. Ideologies (and, accordingly, ideas) that emerge on purpose in a certain social context falsify the reality and public consciousness and protect/legitimize the falsified reality with false theories. They have the character of a common doctrine, belief, religion, and are perceived as universal and the only truth. This is exactly what Giwi Margwelaschwili fights against and opposesvia his works.

As already noted, inCantact, there is a particular emphasis on the cycle of autobiographical novels Captain Vakush by Giwi Margwelaschwili. Alongside “kogelmogel”, the meta-novel also explains other symbols of key significance:

“The composite Mamasakhlisi (father of the house, father of the family) means the head of state in my book. The word Mamasakhlisimus denotes Stalin. The term ex-Mamasakhlisi denotes an emigrant in my novel. The word ex-Mamasakhlisimus denotes the head of the Georgian colony in Germany, the position held by my father towards the end of his life. I call myself the nickname Captain in the text, as I often played the role of the leader of a small group of young people; this word comes from “caput” (Latin: head) and is a humorous addition here; nevertheless,  it is also perceived as the antonym of the terms Mamasakhlisimus and ex-Mamasakhlisimus” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:223].

Thus, as we read in the quotation, “Mamasakhlisi” means the head of state; the word “Mamasakhlisimus” denotes Generalissimo Stalin – the Georgian head of the Soviet Union, and by “ex-Mamasakhlisimus” the author means Giwi Margwelaschwili’s father – TiteMargwelaschwili, who, as a National Democrat, was involved in active social-political life. After the Red Army invaded Georgia in 1921, he was forced to flee to Germany. TiteMargwelaschwili also continued social-political activities in emigration; at various times, he was in charge of the Georgian Association of Fellow-Countrymen in Berlin and tried to contribute to his homeland’s advancement and development with all possible means at his disposal. In February 1946, the representatives of Soviet Georgia who came to TiteMargwelaschwiliby the order of the security service took him together with his son, deceiving him that they were taking him to a ceremonial reception of Georgians, and locked him up in the Commandant’s Office of East Berlin. He was allowed to stay with his son for only one day; then they were separated. Giwi Margwelaschwili was forced to stay at the Commandant’s Office for six more weeks and then was transferred to the Sachsenhausen camp, and after 18 months of imprisonment there, he was exiled to Georgia - the country that was foreign to him. As it became known later on, since the security service failed to persuadeTiteMargwelaschwili to cooperate with them, he was recognized as a dangerous person for society and was shot in October 1946 [see Margwelaschwili].

Cantact also pays due attention to the forcible exile of people to Central Asia and Kazakhstan in 1951 by the order of Stalin:

“[…] By the personal order of the Mamasakhlisimus of Kolkhoz, in 1951 they exiled undesirable Mamasakhlisis (those considered as suspicious for the Kolkhoz kogelmogel), their “pipos”, “pipis” and captains from Georgia to the Far East of the Soviet Union”[Margwelaschwili, 2009:442].

It is unequivocal that the Mamasakhlisimus of Kolkhoz implies Stalin, while the Kolkhoz kogelmogel- the Soviet ideology. Similar - partly Georgian, Russian and Italian – symbols are used to construct the cycle of autobiographical novels Captain Vakush. It contains meta-thematic content – criticism of the Soviet Union, which, as we read in Cantact, the Kolkhoz-Colchis KGB, the Soviet security service, was unable to recognize, thanks to the fact that is was written in a foreign language, German:

“[…] In 1986, the agents unexpectedly knocked on my door and demanded to show them my autobiographical manuscript. They knew that I had fully completed three partsout of the six volumes. It is understandable that they demanded this particular manuscript: among my writings, this very piece of work echoes my real story the most; it describes my real-life experiences, which I had in relation to and in the Soviet Union. It was impossible to expect otherwise from the son of a kidnapped opponent of the regime; in it, you can encounter anti-Soviet maxims, humiliating conclusions about the Soviet life-style, violations of fundamental human rights and the like. The gentlemen from the state security service were on the right track; they had been told correctly - my autobiographical text contains it all: it criticizes the reading-life in Soviet Russia (in Soviet Georgia) as well as all places made desolate due toitsideological isolation”[Margwelaschwili, 2009: 177].

This auto-reflexive and auto-intertextual passage deserves particular attention. It shows the motivation behind the works of Giwi Margwelaschwili, as the son of TiteMargwelaschwili, and tells the reader in a straightforward manner that Giwi Margwelaschwili, in his cycle of autobiographical novels, Captain Vakush, critically describes the regime of the Soviet Union. It is noteworthy that for Giwi Margwelaschwilireading and life itself (“reading-life”) (German: „Lese-Leben“) are identical and inseparable concepts, and living in the process of reading is the main concept is his poetics, i.e. ontotextology. 

It is obvious that the novel Cantact by Giwi Margwelaschwili is an extensive commentary on his own cycle of autobiographical novels, Captain Vakush, which, in its turn, points to the meta-fictional character of Cantact. However, this is not the only feature that makes the novel meta-fictional. The main part of the work is meta-fictional[2] while the essay-like narration periodically takes over. Meta-fictionality has an important purpose in Giwi Margwelaschwili’s works. It is precisely by meta-fictional narration that the author criticizes the ideology of the Soviet Union while in the case of this very work, he places the main message of the text between meta-fictional levels.

The German scholar Frank Thomas Grub was the first to use the concept of “meta-fictionality” to describe the characteristics of Margwelaschwili’s texts. He also pays particular attention to Mutsali: A Georgian Novel (Muzal:Ein Georgischer Roman, 1991) and Volume I: The Evil Chapter (Das böse Kapital, 1991) of the cycle of novels Great Correction (Die großeKorrektur) as miniatures and poetry. In the scholar’s opinion, Giwi Margwelaschwili gives us the reason to think about narration with the meta-fictional writing technique and about what is narrated and this is when the universally known narratives and canonical texts come under question [Grub, 2010:49-58].

In the novel Cantact, the author pays a particular attention to discussing the political philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, which is presented as a massively imposed, fatal, and hypocritical ideology, as a misleading utopian “mirror-book”: 

“If there ever was hypocrisy in philosophy, it was here. The people of a word [German: „Wortmensch“, see below. T.M.] of the Soviet Union regarded the Marxist-Leninist mirror-book as a book in comparison with which other books – first of all, books by western philosophers – were either miserable broken pieces of mirror, which only reflected broken pieces of reality, or blind mirrors - mirrors without reflection, or even cartoons that showed the most decadent qualities of people” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:404].

Marxism-Leninism dictated scholars what direction they should give to their research. Scholars living in the Soviet Union were compelled to cite the expressions of classic Marxist-Leninist authors in their works, regardless of the scholarly value of the quotation. Citing from the classics of Marxism-Leninism was considered an agreeable form of the scholarly language and, what is most important, pointed to the ideological credibility of the dissertation [Margwelaschwili, 2009:404], writes Giwi Margwelaschwili.

When a person becomes a member of an undemocratic political party, he/she ceases to exist as an individual, because he/she joins the ideological spirit of the party and becomes obedient to it. The ideological hypostasis and ecstasy is the most terrible thing that can happen to a person [Margwelaschwili, 2009:319] – „This is the manifestation of slavery, absolute restriction of his right, obedience. Such a person is ready for anything; if need be, he will even sacrifice himself to the ideological falsehood” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:319]. An enslaved (stupefied by the Soviet ideology) person did his/her best for the party. If needed, he/she would even have no hesitation in betraying his/her friend.

“In the Soviet Union, at the time of the Red Terror of the 1930s, when they were conducting the so-called purges of the Soviet Union from anti- and meta-thematic elements, which meant mass deportations and shootings of people suspected of being in sympathy with “anti-cosmos” ideas, everyone fell silent from fear (In order to take revenge, it was enough to notify the then Soviet secret service that a certain person had spoken disrespectfully about the State and the Council; if somebody overheard such a conversation and failed to notify the authorities, they would also be in trouble; this was the logic of these repressions). Anti- or meta-thematic ideas were either not expressed at all or were expressed very seldom, only in private conversations” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:114-115].

The quotation above reflects the crimes committed by the Soviet Union, including the well-known repressions, deportations, exiles and shootings of the 1930s, which intimidated people, silenced them, and made them lose trust in one another.

The novel presents the so-called “man of a word” (German: „Wortmensch“) as the opponent of ideology, dogmas, and monothematicity. “Men of a word” are representatives of the humanities – writers, poets, philosophers and people who deal with the language, the word in general - the word that should be written, uttered, and assume a certain form and force.

“[…] The man of an anti-thematic word, who is opposed to the dominant ideology, does not avoid raising his voice. […] He criticizes the dictatorship, restrictions on thinking, speech and travel, the miserable economy, and its ideological pseudo-culture that has been turned into an object of ridicule; he cannot and is not willing to be equated with it and tries to distance himself from all this. Such a man of word, especially if his relatives were among those subjected to repressions, will not forget the ideological repressions of the bloody 1920s and 1930s in his country [...]” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:316-317].

The passage cited above once again demonstrates criticism of the Soviet Union as a dictatorial regime, a regime where violence, censorship, and ideology are dominant and, accordingly, human rights are restricted. In addition, the author criticizes the socio-economic situation. And the so-called “anti-thematic” “man of a word”, who thinks critically and is not a slave stupefied by ideology, tries to distance himself from all this. The quotation unequivocally echoes the repressions carried out by the ideologues of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. Emigration abroad is shown as survival, salvation, and the horizon of hope:

“It is logical that for such a person, the horizon of hope is a foreign country, where the values rejected and reappraised by the dictatorship dominant in his country have been preserved, where he may have relatives who timely managed to flee, before ideological and political monothematicity exploded at home” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:317].

“If a “man of a word”, who is against the dominant ideology, is lucky enough to survive the repressions, then he is doomed to a bleak and rejected life in the claws of the Soviet regime. If he is a scientist, he won’t be able to defend a dissertation, he won’t get a normal job and salary. No one will mention him, no one will take interest in what he thinks and writes about” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:317]. We can say that this passage echoes the experience of GiwiMargwelaschwili as he himself was not allowed to defend a dissertation.

In Cantact, the author expresses a hope for the future, a hope that one day all this will come to an end; the borders will open, and everyone will be able to find their way, to express dissenting opinion freely and without fear in the society that has different ideological attitudes. However, the author also asks a rhetorical question: “The only question is whether we are going to reach this happy hour in good health and whether we will be at the age when reading and living freely brings us joy”[Margwelaschwili, 2009:55]. Giwi Margwelaschwili’s captivity in the Soviet regime came to an end in the period of the so-called Perestroika. From 1988, the author could payregular visits to the German Democratic Republic, and then already to the united Germany.

“The Iron Curtain ceased its existence together with its smaller sister, the Berlin Wall. It again became possible to travel, to visit one another, and to return to one’s birthplace – as was managed by the author of these lines – to settle again in the place from where people had been cruelly uprooted 50 years ago because of a cataclysm” [Margwelaschwili, 2009:59].

The phrase from the passage – “as was managed by the author of these lines” – is auto-reflexive and relates to Giwi Margwelaschwili, as the author of the novel Cantact, who moved to Berlin after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The author stayed in Germany until 2011, after which he had to return to Tbilisi due to health problems; he resided in Tbilisi until the end of his life.

Thus, on the basis of the discussion presented above, we can conclude that one of the main topics of Cantact, the novel by Giwi Margwelaschwili, is the criticism of the Soviet regime and its ideology. It should be noted thatthe author skillfully puts this criticism in a kind of framework of the meta-fictional novel and, by interchanging realistic and meta-fictional narration, encourages the reader to reflect on rather serious issues.

[1]The quotations have been translatedby me (T.M.) throughout this article.

[2]See my article: Cantact, A Resident Writer Reads for a Livingby Giwi Margwelaschwili, as a meta-fictional novel. Scientific peer-reviewed journal Language and Culture. Kutaisi, 2021. No. 25. pp. 90-102.



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მარგველაშვილი ტიტე თადეოზის ძე. საბჭოთა წარსულის კვლევის ლაბორატორია. (ბოლო წვდომის თარიღი: 06.10.2021)
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