Vakhtang Kebuladze
by Justina Dobush
Short profile

Ukrainian philosopher, phenomenologist, professor, publicist, member of the PEN Ukraine.

When I read the collection of essays The Future We Strive For, which you are the compiler of, I constantly had the feeling that among the representatives of my generation there are very few people who are able to write this type of complete essay. That is, in the sense of structuring thought, stylistic design of their own thinking, etc. And in general, it seems that essay writing is becoming a kind of endangered genre of art.
You know, it's hard to say, but there are a few points. On the one hand, the pace of life is now accelerating, and such a short form as an essay is in line with this trend. I, by the way, partly under the influence of Nietzsche translation, began writing shortly, even began to write aphorisms. On the other hand — I don't want to sound like some old, wise guru — but I think essay writing is a genre that still requires some life experience. You seem to write in the first person. That is, here you will not hide behind a lyrical hero, and everything you say will be attributed to you. But at the same time, there must be some distance. Therefore, this optics is quite complex, because you have to convey some of your emotional and very deep experiences, but from a certain distance. Could I write an essay that I wrote in my 40s, or in my 30s? I think not. This does not mean that a person in his 30s is incompetent. That's not the point because a person at that age can write a brilliant story, a novel, a scientific article, or already have gotten a PhD degree.
Besides, what is a real essay? Thank God, this year I was no longer on the Shevelyov Prize jury, but before, every year, when we were just receiving the contestants' books, discussions began about whether or not this was an essay. Because what is the criterion of essay writing? For example, Volodymyr Yermolenko's brilliant book Flowing Ideologies won an award in 2016. We have almost unanimously supported it, but in the end, it was a scientific monograph. Then Olya Hnatyuk made a very cool argument, saying that he mostly writes in French, and in France, such a book could definitely be called a collection of essays. That is, it still depends on the cultural background of each country and its traditions because what can be considered an essay in French literature will not be considered an essay in German or English. Therefore, this is a rather vague concept. For example, Taras Prohasko published a fantastic book of essays, Yes, But, which after reading I called him and told him that it is no longer literature, but magic. But this essay is radically different from that created by a scientist, historian, philosopher, or art critic. 
Yes, and when you read the book The Future We Seek, it is especially interesting to compare, for example, Taras Lyuty's essay and Volodya Yermolenko, who has a completely different background and still a more scientific approach. I mean these are two completely different essays in one collection.
Well, in some of Taras's essays there are also references to other authors. They are simply not so explicit and not made in the footnotes, which are a specific feature of academic writing. Therefore, there may be such an invasion of academic fiction, but academic essays must also include fiction because if there is no fiction, then any non-fiction becomes only “non”, and it becomes uninteresting to read. Why, for example, did I start writing essays? There were many motives in general, but one of them was that here you can relax, you can have fun, and you don't have to confirm every word with a bunch of quotes. Even if you use a quote, you can lie about it, you can cite it inaccurately, and you can not refer to the sources.
You can joke, hide these references, and make paraphrases.
Absolutely. Therefore, essay writing is a marginal genre in the sense that it is between genres, between styles, and the individual who knows how to combine all of this can make great essays. For example, the same Taras Prokhasko's essays are quite intellectual; you feel the background in them as well as his knowledge of the history of literature and philosophy. This is felt in his other works as well. For example, what he did in the novel The UnSimple with Wittgenstein's "Logical-Philosophical Treatise" is super; it is absolutely cool and appropriate. Although I am always very careful about when the writer is trying to integrate some philosophical thoughts into a purely artistic narrative. Or, for example, take a short prose by Andriy Bondar. What is it — stories, essays, meditations, auditions? Finally, why these questions? Just read and enjoy, because it's coolly written. Therefore, I am generally against clear distinctions — this is an essay, but that is not; this is fiction, and that is not; this person can write an essay, but that person cannot.
Well, collections of essays are often born as a result of a long writing of columns, because now it is rare for someone to sit down and write for themselves just such a long essay.
Recently, something has not been the same with me. Maybe it is because the book Cells of Fate was indeed formed from different columns and articles. When I was writing them, I was not thinking about the book. Now, even when I write on a topical subject, I keep in mind the structure of the future book, and I think about whether this essay will fall into it or not. According to the plan, it should contain not only essays but also aphorisms. Sometimes I write an essay with not only a latent reader in front of me, but also a latent publisher. That is, I know where I can publish this essay. But then I understand that this is something too intimate, that I do not want to print it as a column, and that perhaps later in the book I can hide it among other essays. Or vice versa — you are trying to write about something very topical, but then you realize that you do not want to offend someone, or in general you can offend different people from those whom you wrote this about. Therefore, I have a few essays just with the understanding that I can print them here or there, but in the end, I have decided not to print them yet. There are some that I just keep for a future book. But will this imaginary book happen, and will it be as I envision it? Who knows?
Don't you have such a thrill from the fact that some texts will never be published at all?
No, I want to publish everything that I write. There just remains a question of format and a question of time. I was still brought up in an academic ethos, that is, I learned to write as a philosopher, scientist, and humanitarian. And there are two points here: the first is that my non-academic essays sometimes consist of what remains after a certain scientific study or what cannot be built into serious scientific research. And this is, say, something more emotionally colored, or I just understand that I don't want to express these thoughts in the slow rhythm of a scientific article. Therefore, my essays are often born from what remains on the margins of some kind of research, and then I select all this and turn it into an essay. True, sometimes it can be just an emotional reaction to some event. Another point is that real humanitarians — and not those who pretend that they are political scientists or futurologists and say some nonsense on television every day — require temporal and emotional distance. A balanced scientific text cannot be written with a rash temper, to do this you still need to cool down a little. In the case of an essay — especially when an essay is on some vital, very relevant topic — it also happens: you wrote something, put it off, and decided that you need a little wait. Then, when you return to it, you understand that it is better to let it lie down for another month, and later it will be a reminder of the events that led you to such thoughts.

The specificity of our rhythm of thinking is also important. Journalists, for example, react to everything more quickly. We also have the phenomenon of journalistic essayism. There are many cool journalists who write cool essays, for example, Miroslava Barchuk, Pavlo Kazarin or Vitaly Portnikov. Journalists react quickly to events, and, it seems to me, their rhythm of writing and distance from events is less than that of scientists or writers. That is, writers seem to be somewhere between journalists and scientists.
Listen, when you started writing your aphorisms, either under the influence of Nietzsche or under the influence of Facebook, did you not have any inner feeling of betrayal of a scientific style?
Firstly, I stayed away from Facebook for a long time and appeared there, it seems, a year ago — that is, this is definitely not its influence. About Facebook, I realized that it is a rather convenient tool for testing my texts on the audience in order to understand what kind of feedback I will receive, take a look from the outside, what causes the reaction of readers as well as what does not in addition to what kind of reaction. This is because an instantaneous and sometimes completely unexpected reaction arises to the aphorism as a result of which you do not understand why general people had such an idea about this aphorism. And, of course, I feel that it all started under the influence of Nietzsche's translation and his aphoristic writing because I started writing aphorisms as soon as my translation of his Morning Star came out in 2018.
But you didn't show them to anyone?
Well, at first I didn’t even understand why I was doing this. That is, something arose, I wrote it down, and then I appeared on Facebook and started throwing it on there. Then I realized that this could be part of the next book, but by the way, the essays I am writing now have also become smaller. In the end, this is understandable. For me, the usual form is a scientific article of 15-20 pages; for an essay this is a bit too much. As for me, the essay should still be 3-5 pages long — maximum 10 — because a text of this volume is still perceived as a kind of unity, and it can be read in one sitting
without delay. Therefore, my form is getting shorter, and I don't know if my essays will not turn into just aphorisms over time.
Wait, but how did it happen? You finished translating Nietzsche, a couple of days or weeks passed, and you suddenly had a thought in this form. Or how did it happen at all?
Sometimes, even in a dream, a thought appears. That is, you wake up and remember some phrase from a dream or when you were half asleep. In addition, it happened to me that some short thought could suddenly arise, and it seemed that an essay or an article should be made of this. But suddenly I realized that nothing needed to be done of this thought. It was self-sufficient — nothing needed to unfold. You could leave it, and it would get better. But, again, I repeat, this is definitely a consequence of my translations. Nietzsche — it was generally to a certain extent a painful experience. That is, I have never been a fan of Nietzsche, and now I am not a fan of him. But his writing is very suggestive and infectious.
Yes, I have recently started to reread it, and after it you always inadvertently notice how involuntarily some clearly Nietzschean thoughts and formulations begin to appear as if he is sitting in you above your soul. Have you ever wondered why he has such an influence?

Translating Nietzsche, you really begin to understand how much he initiated in the modern German literary language. At least, it seems to me so, because after Nietzsche I almost immediately began to translate Husserl.

On the one hand, I exhaled with relief, despite the fact that this is a very difficult academic style with very large sentences which sometimes begin on one page and end on a second. But I just sat down and translated, without looking anywhere, two pages at once. With Nietzsche, this is simply impossible. With Nietzsche you stumble over every word. You have to stop and look in the dictionary to see if you grabbed the right meaning or not and if he really meant it or maybe this, or that, or another one....
So his short passages are harder to translate than the whole text of some other philosopher?
Definitely. In general, I think, although it may sound paradoxical, that the short form is harder to translate because on long segments somewhere the author is tired, and you are moving at the same rate as him, or even where you surpass him. In short ones, when it’s an excerpt on a page, but at the same time fantastically saturated with meaning and emotions, then there you have a point and that's it, and a new passage begins, and you can't go back. In such large texts as Husserl or Scheler, whom I am now translating, there is always an opportunity for flexibility, but in Nietzsche there is not. Nietzsche leaves you no chance. Besides, he is a really brilliant writer. Husserl is not always a great writer. Sometimes the work is just badly written, and it makes the task easier because if it's badly written in German, then you shouldn't translate it into Ukrainian too coolly. But when you realize how brilliantly something is written in German, and you just do not have enough talent to translate it into Ukrainian — that is different.
Well, as a result, after your translation of Morning Star, I fell in love with Nietzsche again because before that most of his works were read mostly in Russian, in which he is sometimes completely different, illegible and very incomprehensible.
When I was translating, I had English and Russian translations next to me. I used Russian mainly to understand how not to do it. At the same time, I used English when I was really lost, when my thoughts were scattered, when I understood what he meant for this piece and that piece, but did not know what to catch on to. In the English translation, the strategy is as follows: we cannot convey this stupid German language with all its stylistic possibilities and inner poetics, but we will try to reproduce the meaning of what Nietzsche wanted to say. Such a conditionally analytical approach is very effective for any translator into another language because when you are unsure, when you simply lose ground under your feet, you don’t understand where to go next. Then the English translation tells you: calm down, here it is, but here he had in mind this — you can continue to work with it. As for me, there is actually no Morning Star in a Russian translation — they have just some kind of stupid retelling and some kind of experiment. The idea of ​​which was how would Nietzsche write if he were a Russian writer of the early 20th century. But Nietzsche was not a Russian writer...
I think I understand why the Russians took this path because Nietzsche greatly influenced what we call the Silver Age. That is, in the end, almost all the writers and philosophers of this period and the language in which they wrote were also formed under the influence of Nietzsche. There was such a reverse movement here: if they formed their language under the influence of Nietzsche, then, probably, they should try and translate Nietzsche into this language. As a result, it looks very artificial because when you put the Russian modern translation and the German original of Morning Star in front of you. You understand that he wrote in modern German in every sense — stylistically, linguistically, and rhythmically. Moreover, modern German literary language from Thomas Man and Hermann Hesse to Patrick Suskind, say, and further — this is Nietzsche's speech. It is written in one language. And when you read in Russian, you get the impression that this is some kind of archaism. In addition, returning to those Russian authors who allegedly wrote in such a language, you notice that they did not write their own works in such a language either. Therefore, I immediately set myself the task of translating Nietzsche into a normal, modern Ukrainian language without any archaization.
But let's get back to my question. Why is Nietzsche so contagious?
Because he's really crazy, but brilliantly crazy, is all I can say. You know, I usually stop translating when I just get tired, but I paused translating Nietzsche when I was scared. That is, I realized that I was not physically and mentally tired. I could translate a few more pages, but I was just somehow scared. I realized that something was wrong with me, and I had to stop, take a little more distance and not see it for some time. Taras Lyuty, who offered to me the task of this translation and was its scientific editor, in general then had the idea to publish all of Nietzsche's works in Ukrainian at the Tempora Publishing House. I should have switched to another one of his works immediately after Morning Star, but then I said that I would not be able to master it — not as a translator or an expert of the German language, but emotionally as a person.
And how did you get out of this state of fear?
Well, I drank a little more wine ... The main thing is to fall asleep after that.
Listen, how important is wine for a philosopher? Can you be a philosopher if you don't drink wine?
This question is not for me because I love wine very much, and therefore I cannot be objective. I also have a course "Philosophy of Wine", and in the end, we are now drinking wine too. But, firstly, there are different philosophies, that is, wine and non-wine philosophies. My philosophy is precisely wine. This somehow connects me to Ancient Greece, and in general, I really love Southern Europe. And despite the fact that I am mainly engaged in German philosophy, I still feel organic there, and not in Central or Northern Europe. How can you imagine Southern Europe without wine? It is simply one of the essential elements of life in this region. So I see my mission not only in bringing German philosophy here, but also in promoting elements of southern European life.
And what philosophy isn't wine then? Russian, because it is vodka?
Hard to say. Russian religious philosophy ended long ago. Everything else is just secondary receptions of some other philosophies. At the same time, I am not saying that there is some kind of original Ukrainian philosophy. As for the wine, the further north you go, the less wine there is, and it’s hard for me to say something here. I’m not such an expert in, say, British or modern American philosophy, but I think there’s less wine there than even in German philosophy ... By the way, I am engaged in German transcendentalism, and there is evidence that the founder of transcendentalism, Kant, despite the fact that all his life he lived in Konigsberg, where they drink mainly something else, he loved specifically red wine, which we also drink now with you. Therefore, I feel absolutely organic when I drink red wine because the founder of transcendentalism loved it too.
I associate philosophy in general with red wine. Is red wine most suitable for thinking, or is it just tradition?
You know, it seems to me that wine is a separate topic and a separate reality. Indeed, any wines in certain contexts are both important and necessary. Personally, I don't care about red or white because for me there is only wine or no wine. In some situations, on the contrary, you need white, sometimes even rosé. For a long time, I did not understand what the essence of rosé wine is, but there are situations, food and mood when rosé wine suits perfectly. Therefore, I will not develop — red, white, pink. I will simply say: wine, because it changes your attitude towards reality a little. That is, you get a little drunk — like we are now — and you understand that your attitude towards reality has changed a little, but not enough to completely lose touch with it. 

Moreover, I do not understand what kind of wasted you have to be and how much wine you need to drink in order to get so drunk so as to completely lose touch with reality. And, by the way, countries
where wine is very important, also have a culture of wine consumption. For example, in Georgian culture — and I was partly brought up in it — they drink not in order to get drunk, but in order for a specific communicative situation to arise. For example, such is an interview situation, and philosophy is, first of all, a dialogue. Do not forget that one of the main sources of European philosophy is Plato's dialogues.
Only the genre of interviews with Platonic dialogues still shows inequality, because here the journalist usually stands a little lower and the speakers cannot be considered equal.
Plato tried to make both speakers equal in these dialogues, but all the same, as a result, Socrates always turns out to be slightly higher.
Nevertheless, Plato's most interesting approach for me is to formulate questions.
And he formulated them through the mouth of Socrates. And that's probably why you like him because in those conversations the smartest one always turns out to be an “interviewer”, and those with whom he speaks, as a result, understand that they don't understand anything. Therefore, Socrates, who allegedly interviews others, turns out to be the smartest. Although, again, in Plato, everything is not so simple and what are called dialogues are often not dialogues because, say, "Apology of Socrates" is the speech of Socrates at trial, and one of my favorite dialogues, "Feast", is not a dialogue at all, but a series of speeches in honor of the god Eros.
I would say that there is some kind of gangbang.
It begins rather at the end, when a drunken Alcibiades appears. By the way, I'm starting
my course "Philosophy of Wine" with "The Feast" because I think that this is one of the best dialogues of Plato, and in literary terms, it is just fantastic. It also says that he wins the competition for the best tragedians and convenes a feast; everyone is going to celebrate it. Well, in my course, trying to update this work, I usually say that it looks as if someone won an Oscar, and there was a party in Manhattan where all the celebrities gathered. Well, and Socrates — who is also a celebrity — suddenly visited there and said that we needed to remove the wine and remove these girls with flutes. That is, there was no need for music either, no disco — fuck the DJs — and we would speak in honor of Eros. Then a drunken Alcibiades appears there, maybe this is already an outdated image, but a few years ago I said that this was Brad Pitt, Macron and Beckham in one man. So, a handsome man, a rich man, a politician, an athlete, and a warrior — he appears drunk and asks what they are doing, why they are not drinking, and where the music is. He hears in response that Socrates suggested talking about Eros, to which Alcibiades says, “I will not be in favor of Eros, I will be in favor of Socrates”. And, finally, he confesses his love for Socrates. All the same, in the end, it ends with drunkenness, they still bring wine back, but the dialogue itself ends with the fact that everyone has already fallen asleep. Socrates ends the conversation with someone who almost falls asleep in his arms, and then goes to the gymnasium — that is, in modern language, to the gym. He is already such a normal old man — and ends the day as usual. That is, at first he offered to remove the wine, then they made speeches, then they still drank wine almost all night, and then he left, then he worked out a little, and ended the day as usual.
Probably, with whiskey such a booze this would not work out for them.

I gave up hard alcohol altogether, although I really liked whiskey and other strong drinks, but now only wine. . .

Look, but there are still all sorts of LSD that can be taken in microdoses and without losing touch with reality…
Maybe I’ve just become old, but I don’t want artificially altered states of consciousness at all. My fantasies, my fears, my memories and my dreams are enough for me.


translated from Ukrainian by Kateryna Kazimirova


Short profile

Ukrainian philosopher, phenomenologist, professor, publicist, member of the PEN Ukraine.