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Accepted Paper:

A Mkhedruli-Armenian Manuscript and Day-to-Day Cosmopolitanism in the 19th-Century Caucasus  
Alex MacFarlane (Tokyo Metropolitan University)


In the late 19th-century Caucasus, an Armenian anthology printed in Constantinople, Kolkata and Tiflis was hand-copied in the Armenian language, but written in the mkhedruli script typically used to write Georgian. This unusual manuscript is ripe for symbolic reading. At a time of nation-making, when each singular ‘nation’ was being schooled to read in its one ‘national’ language, this manuscript evinces the persisting vernacular practices of the multilingual 19th-century Caucasus.

With this paper, I situate the mkhedruli-Armenian manuscript in an idea of day-to-day cosmopolitanism that draws on Pnina Werbner’s articulation of vernacular cosmopolitanism. In this view, the meetings, commercial exchanges, acts of hospitality and vulnerability that comprise the doing of cosmopolitanism (à la Sheldon Pollock) can take place in the small-scale movements of urban and rural life. This mkhedruli-Armenian manuscript participates in these cosmopolitan interactions as an object at once transcultural and local.

This paper is based on study of the manuscript and the stories it anthologises. Its contents belong to the centuries-long translation and transmission of literature across the Armenian cultural landscape, from Arabic wonder tales to Greco-Syriac saints’ lives. Meanwhile, its reproduction in the 19th-century Caucasus takes place alongside the transference of shared tales such as Köroğlu and Hoja Nasreddin between oral and written milieux, in multiple languages. While the manuscript is a ready symbol of multiculturalism, I argue that it also arises from the ordinary desire to read and share stories. Not every print-adjacent act in the second half of the 19th century perched precociously on the cusp of nationhood. It belongs, instead, to the common spaces where people lived.

Panel LIT01
Literature in Pre-20th Century Eurasia
  Session 1 Thursday 6 June, 2024, -