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Isabela Vasiliu-Scraba

 

CULTURAL INTERFERENCE
IN PRESENT-DAY EUROPEAN LITERATURE

 

         About Roumanian influences in Eugen Ionesco's work. The risks pertaining to the problem of influences. Aparadigmatic case of cultural interference: Alexandru Cior[nescu. A few traits of the European culture. An erroneous understanding of the West/Est opposition. Four famous friends: Mircea Eliade, Eugen Ionescu, Emil Cioran, Constantin Noica. A recent consequence of the erroneous understanding of the West/Est opposition.

 

         In general there are not many writers to admit to have models. Eugen Ionesco  cuts a distinct figure. In his Jurnal en miettes he openly admits his descent from Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1919) and Urmuz (1883-1923). He also mentions that he was influenced by the surrealist poets and especially by Tristan Tzara. The memory of his youth, nostalgia for the country  where he had first met with literary success(81) and, maybe, a certain amount of vainglory make him state in an interview that Romania gave France a great many celebrities: Anne de Noailles (born Princess Brincoveanu), Constantin Brancusi, George Enescu, Stefan Lupascu (Stephane Lupasco) Panait Istrati, Barbu Fundoianu (Benjamin Fondane), Ilarie Voronca, D. Trost, Isidor Isou, Tristan Tzara, Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran.

         The mere number of these names proves that the Romanians have not remained on the fringes of European culture. Reading practically in all the important modern language, the Romanians were allways in an intimate contact with the world of culture. By translating the masterpieces of the other european literatures, the have them made well known in Roumania, as has did all his life the eminent translator Dan Dutescu (1918-1993), at his time professor of english at the Bucharest University, and many other gifted translators.

         The great poets of the contemporary Romanian literature also did a lot of translation work: Lucian Blaga, George Bacovia, Ion Barbu, Tudor Arghezi, Radu Stanca, Stefan Augusti Doinas, Eta Boeriu, Ion Caraion, Barbu Brezianu, Dan Botta, Ion Frunzetti, Gellu Naum, Alexandru Philippide, Vasile Voiculescu, Romulus Vulpescu (*to mention only the poets).

         We believe there is no great writer, in any European country, who should read exclusively in his mother language. There is no wonder that the German Schopenhauer read the Upanishades in the French version of Aquentil-Dupperron; but it is perhaps  less unusual that the French read the entire work of Schopenhauer for the firs time in the French version of the Roumanian J.D. (Zizin) Cantacuzino.

The subject of foreign influences in the works  of the great Roumanian writers seems to have a much too wide  sphere. Moreover, it is a risky problem, given the routine established in the communist era which was quite hostile to culture. This period marked a peak in point of studies on the inspiration sources of various writers, meant to underrate their original contribution. Genuine feats of erudition were meant to artificially diminish the personality of a writer, by decomposing his work to the end of better evidencing the influences. it was not only the differences that were neglected, but also the irreducible substratum of the work, which accounts for its originality and its value and which is above any influence.

         Yet this scholarly reasearch also yielded positive results: the foreign sources were pinpointed so that today there is no need to dwell on them any longer.

         In connection with erudition we shall highlight here a case which is at the same time unusual and paradigmatic for the <<interference of cultures>> in Europe.

         For the purpose of drafting (in French) the seven volumes that included the BIBLIOGRAPHY OF FRENCH LITERATURE IN THE 16th CENTURY (Paris, 1959, 747 pages), BIBLIOGRAPHY OF FRENCH LITERATURE IN THE 17th CENTURY (Paris, 1965, 3 volumes, 2231 pages), BIBLIORAPHY OF FRENCH LITERATURE IN THE 18th CENTURY (Paris, 1969, 3 volumes, 2371 pages),  Alexandru Cioranescu (born in 1911 in Romania) read 60,000 titles.

         In his youth, he was a disciple of the Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940), a professor at the Bucarest University) who in hs turn had impressed his contemporaries with his vast erudition in the fields of history and Romanian literature.

         A specialist in comparative literature, Alexandru Cioranescu (who made his debut with articles published in the review of the Spiru Haret High School in Bucharest, just like Mircea Eliade) did not exhaust his forces by acheving this widw-scope project. He also wrote BIBLIOGRAFIA FRANCO-ESPAGNOLA 1600- 1714 (Madrid, 1977, 707 pages) and  DU BAROQUE ESPAGNOL AU CLASSICISME FRANCAIS (Geneva, 1882, 611 pages).  Also he found enough  resources to translate Dante (LA DIVINE COMEDIE, Lausanne, 1964), to compile an etymological dictionary (DICTIONNARIO ETIMOLOGICO RUMENO, La Laguna, 1966, 1184 pages), to write studies on the history of Romania and of the Tenerife island, studies of Spanish and Romanian literature, of aesthetics and comparative literature, as well as three volumes of poetry and a novel. The list of praises he received is impressive: the <<Cultural Merit>> (Romania, 1943), <<Padre Anchieta>> (Brasilia, 1955), <<Gustave Brunat de l'Académie des Inscriptions de Paris>> (1960), <<Palmes académiques>> (Paris, 1960), <<Ordre National du Mérite>> (Paris, 1980), etc.

         An astounding creation force was also evinced by the former professor of the Department of the philosophy of Culture and Aesthetics of the Complutense University in Madrid, George uscatescu (1916-1995), author of more than one hundred volumes, an essayist awarded with many a prize, a writer disputed by two cultures: the Romanian and the Spanish one.

         Yet only Mircea Eliade, with his overwhelming erudition in the field of the history of religions, can impress one to the some extent as Cioranescu does.

         Member of five academies and professor honoris causa of ten universities, Mircea Eliade, him too a great admirer of  Nicolae Iorga, is the author of a scientific work comprising 40 titles and of a literary work numbering 20 volumes.

         Reverting to the cultural interferences, the problem arises whether the culture of the European countries indeed developed in isolation, in a hothouse climate. The only acceptable answer is negative.

         European culture,  Cristian since its beginnings, because Europe itself began its existence at a time with Christianity, is being constituted permanently through a dialogue of cultures. Interiorized and conveyed by those who take part it in, European culture turns into a common thesaurus of values that feeds the cultures of the European countries.

         After all, European culture exists on the basis of the Roman and Greek cultures, as well as of the Christian culture. All nations, big or small, have inherited the same values.

         Today, with the present dominated by the planetary dimension of the American culture, a discussion on European culture may pass for a nostalgical evocation of the past. In our opinion, this is but a false impression. The times are gone when Paul Valéry observed bitterly that Europe's dream was the one of being governed by a commission of Americans.

         This being so, we can now ponder on certain problems that may create misunderstandings. At  a time with the expansion of the Soviet domination over the states in the centre and East of Europe, after Yalta (1945), the opposition between East and West began being used as an opposition between  communism and capitalism.

         That idea unfortunately rose to fame in political speeches that paid little attention to nuances, but from the cultural point of view it is absolutely meaningless.

         The three friends, Mircea Eliade, Eugen Ionesco and Emil Cioran, left Romania to live in France. They had studied at famous high schools in Bucharest; they had spent their university years in Bucharest, around Nae Ionescu (1890-1940), their philosophy professor, a fascinating personality interwar Romania. After his Indian episode (1928-1931), Mircea Eliade was his assistant for several years.

         It would have been impossible for those young men, had they been moulded in an oriental culture, to become all famous in a Western culture.

         But in fact, their group was made up of four friends, also including philosopher Constantin Noica (1909-1987) who remained in Romania. After 12 years of prison and house arrest, he became the most important Roumanian philosopher at the end of this century. A disciple and admirer of Nae Ionescu's  Constantin Noica succeded in carring on the tradition of the Romanian school of philosophy in an epoch of restraining dogmatism, without manifesting in his writings any sympathy for the official Marxism. This amazing performance was possible owing to the extraqordinary poetical style of his philosophical writings. But, since Romania is not France, his glory is almost insignificant compared to the one of his friends. To have suffered for this reason, Noica should have had the great vainglory of his friend  Cioran,  which of course he did not have. At the time when he could publicize in France the name of a Romanian philosopher, he chose the philosophical  work of Lucian Blaga (1895-1961) and not his own writtings.

         Again in connection with the opposition between East and West, one should note a recent consequence of this formula being used erroneously, i.e. the false problem of <<Europe's CULTURAL reunification>>.  The proposal is put forth that we should help reunify something that has never ceased being a unity.

         Over the forty-five years of communism, the books written on order, the poems praising the single party had enough time to fade away in a quite natural manner.  Only the genuine spiritual values, which arise under any political regime, stand the test of time. A decisive argument in favour of such an assertion is the Nobel Prize (1996) that  crowns the literary activity of the polish writer Wislatwa Szymborska (b. 1923), who wrote and published her entire work in communist Poland.

         Finally, we may say that one needs to be not only a Romanian but also an exile in order to think like this:  <<Spiritually, Greece won only when it ceased being a power and even a nation; its philosophy and its arts were plundered, others ensured  them the fortune of its creations, yet without being able to assimilate its talents>> (Emil Cioran).

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(81)  See Gelu Ionescu, LES DEBUTS  LITTERAIRES ROUMAINS D'EUGEN IONESCO (1926-1940), translated by Mirella Nedelcu-Patureau, Heidelberg, Carl Winter - Universitaetverlag, 1989.