Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Language and Waiting

Words, power and how language defines us.

“The tongue is mightier than the blade” *
“The pen is mightier than the sword”

This idea has appeared time, and time again through -out different cultures, times and religions and has settled here in the West as a euphemism for polite negotiation. Hopefully, this is in preference to passive/aggressive power struggles.

Not so, it would appear, in Georgia.

The menacing sword held in the right hand of  Kartilis Deda, a huge statue which stands at the top of Sololaki Mountain, can be seen from most of Tbilisi  and is impressive. The translation into English gives the statue another name. Known as 'The Mother of Georgia' the statue represents a philosophy which gives the Georgian people both power and keeps them powerless. In her left hand this giant Deda holds a bowl for wine which is synonymous of the great traditions of wine-making and hospitality that Georgia is notably famous for. The sword, clutched in her right hand is meant to be a warning to any potential invaders. Georgia will defend her lands, territories and rights.

Here is double-think at work again; the power of the ideas presented in this statue, loyalty to kin, honour and hospitality keep the culture alive but which actually, only succeeds  within strict and rigid cultural and orthodox guidelines. However, without an ability to relax or remove the metaphorical sword many aspects of that culture become powerless, the way women are perceived, for example or the way the certain phrases define such perceptions of who the Georgian people are.

There is a phrase I have heard 1000’s of times in Georgia and it transcends the different regions, tribes and traditions.

“ I (we) am (are) waiting for you”

Ok, that’s great but what does it mean? It seems full of power yet feels powerless at the same time. It seems out of context, out of time.  It gives and it takes in the same instant and assumes an intimate connection with you, as a potential guest, but also makes you, the guest, responsible for that connection and any action needed to arrive whilst being waited for. Your action will ensure the statement is a success  or a failure. That phrase, followed by a shrug of the shoulders and another utterance, “What can I do?” seals the double-thinking process  which continues, to this day, to put my head in a spin.

The potential guest is never quite invited, but is always welcome, the potential guest is placed in a passive/aggressive position and like Kartilis Deda, is kept trapped in a never ending cycle of hand holding the cup of wine and offering friendship but from behind a sword, which threatens to kill should they come too close. If the guest fails, or offends, as they inevitably will, the shoulder shrug confirms the low expectation of the guest in the first instance whilst absolving all responsibility or initial instigation and the side-stepping phrases which started the cycle, will be spoken again. At this point neither the pen, nor the sword can offer any answer, or comfort.

I first saw Mother Georgia as part of a night-time drive/walk through Tbilisi. The air was electric with both sexual tension and confusion. That  night in September 2009 had started with the phrase, ‘I am waiting for you’ and had ended with a shrug, palms up, and a, ‘What can I do?’ as I had tried to understand, through heated conversation, the contradictory ideas presented in the Deda, with a Georgian man who then (and now) had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

Recently large statues of Stalin have been returned to their original plinths both in Tbilisi and through-out Georgia. This process has been funded by the new government. As Kartilis Deda looms over Tbilisi, defining and confining, I wonder, if statues are symbolic of a Georgian identity, then what does the return of Stalin all really mean? Head spin time again.

Georgia prides itself on great art, literature and culture so I hope that eventually she is able to begin to see that there are alternatives to the passive/aggressive- powerless/power conundrum that is self-perpetuated by the symbolism of Deda. Of Mother.

Taking Deda down could be an act of powerful redefinition but might just be a step too far. Choosing different phrases to define an identity however, is not.

*From the Greek playwright Euripides d 406BC

“We're waiting for you.”

            Wait then. Keep waiting – and make sure you enjoy it, because you might be waiting forever.

            Reciprocity is something we seem to hold sacred these days. Scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours. Love me and I'll love you back. Do as you would be done by. It takes two to tango. We hold our demands for reciprocity up as strength, as sassy, savvy, empowered and liberated. I am no fool – you cannot fool me – I will not be taken advantage of. Do not think I will make the first move, do not expect me to expose myself. You cannot fool me.

            “We're waiting for you.” said one man to another. “We're waiting for you.” came the reply, with a smirk. “Um, no, actually, we're waiting for you – AND we said it first! Jinks! No returns!” The two men stand and look at each other, for quite a long time. They shift slightly, chew their lips and furtively look at each other, making sure not to inadvertently be caught looking.

            “We're waiting for you,” said the host to his guest, an unreadable smile on his lips. “Oh,” said the guest, smiling falteringly and looking at the array of food on the table, the bottles of exquisite wine and the empty chairs. The guest looked at her host once more and saw a twinkle in his eyes, hard as glass. “We're waiting for you!” he said again, no impatience, just amusement. Declare you hand, he means to say, show us your weakness, he's thinking, give us an excuse to slip a dagger between your ribs when you accidentally slight us, she reads in the lines around his glittering eyes.

            “I'm waiting for you,” she says to her lover, staring at the space above her collar bone because she's too afraid to look her in the eye. “I'm waiting for you,” she murmurs as she runs her fingers over her lover's skin, every touch screaming I love you. “I'm waiting for you,” she says silently, a lump in her throat, her heart freezing over, all the while unaware that her lover is peacefully sleeping.

            Don't wait.


No comments:

Post a Comment