AN ADVENTURE BEYOND WHICH EVERYTHING IS
POSSIBLE , EXCEPT REPETITION
(Nae Ionescu and Constantin Noica)
"In the history of this people's spiritual life, Nae Ionescu is one of its major achievements."
"There has been no other professor in the Romanian university life," said Virgil Ierunca, " that had disciples so prominent [...] Which of our university professors can boast a gallery of successors such as that including Mircea Vulcănescu, Constantin Noica, Mircea Eliade, George Racoveanu, and Emil Cioran?"
At the time Ierunca was writing these lines (in 1965), C. Noica (1909-1987), Petre Țuțea (1901-1991), N. Steinhardt (1912-1989), and many, many others were the shadows of the human beings they had once been, recently out of the communist prisons, M. Vulcănescu (b. 1904) had passed away since 1952, in the Aiud prison; M. Eliade, Emil Cioran and George Racoveanu had taken to exile, as did Virgil Ierunca himself.
Nicolae Steinhardt, having refused to testify against Noica at the latter's trial, had been also prosecuted, in 1959, a few months after Noica' arrest. Steinhardt had graduated Law School, but also the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy.
From him, and only post-mortem, as he did not live up to the anti-communist 1989 revolution, we could find out what felt a certain audience, "not seduced or warned a priori," attending one of Nae Ionescu's lectures: "They would feel something very strange and quite exulting: that nothing matters more in this world and to people's lives, even to the less sophisticated ones, than the passion of culture. He was not as good an orator as Iorga, Goga, Titulescu, Duca, Istrate Micescu (I reveled in listening to them all). However, he would surclass each and everyone of them. He would put them to shame through that matchless gift he possessed of conveying, of proving the absolute conviction that nothing was more topical, more urgent, more passionate, more pragmatically bearing than culture and its culminating point, philosophy. No one got so fervently and intensely involved in the issues, dilemmas, implications, traps, calls of culture as he did [...]. To Nae Ionescu, culture was a matter of life and death, urgent, capital, decisive and practical, an everyday matter! [...] No trace of pedagogical rigor, of doctoral politeness, of masterly imperturbability. Only flame and passion [...]. He understood better than anyone else, before existentialism had become a trend and a quasi-official doctrine, that we were all sentenced to freedom... There is no Ariadna's thread for the reflexive labyrinth. You have to find your own way, alone with your self and being, as unknown to you as it is to the ones around you [...] Nae Ionescu did not teach Logic or Metaphysics, he taught culture as an anti-refuge, anti-quietude, anti-isolation, as a state of tension. He was not taking you by the hand, he was not forcing you, or solving your problem [...]. He would leave you alone, he would only give you advice in order to make you understand that there is no way you could take it easy or postpone it, that the Faculty of Philosophy was one of the hottest and most dangerous places on Earth, where your being, endowed with brain and judgment power (Urteilskraft), does not come to take notes and peruse a certain number of thick volumes, but to clear its thinking and come out of the slumber. Therefore, he was not teaching a system, but a liberty."
His cultural apostolate-through which Noica, after having been released from prison, put his imprint on the communist age in a most beneficial way, if we heed what those who lived around him said, breathes the same feeling. Like Nae Ionescu, Noica too was trying to make the people around him take sap from true culture. Because Noica also saw culture, and especially philosophy, as a matter of major topicalness and urgency.
Nevertheless, it goes without saying that there is one thing to see philosophy topical in a period governed by total freedom of expression and another to deal with the topicalness and urgency of true philosophy at a time when a certain way of thinking was imposed. To say nothing about the censorship in the publication of any kind of work by extra-cultural factors, so common in the communist period.
The day after Nae Ionescu's death, Noica wrote a letter to his friend, Emil Cioran, who was in France. Here is an excerpt thereof: "I'm going tomorrow to his funeral with the feeling that a curse had been placed on us and that no other thing could have impoverished the Romanian being more than that [...]. It's for the first time that I experience your feeling of the exile, and of the Romanian orphanhood and non-being [...]. And now, only now do I sense that you were right to speak about the possibility of surviving through memories alone [...] I feel today that something is coming to an end, an adventure beyond which everything is possible, except repetition. I'm giving you a hug into the memory of Nae, I'm giving you a hug because you too are hurting even though you're not aware of it."
In Noica's letter one can detect a first use, even unprecedented we might say, of that "into" (întru) that the philosopher was to subsequently deem to be his "ontological operator." Placed on a pedestal, the "întru" operator was to be included as a key piece in his treaty of ontology The Becoming into Being(Devenirea întru Ființă) published in 1981.
We shall however notice how Noica's "ontological operator", first mentioned in his letter of March 16, 1940 beside Nae Ionescu's name, showed up, again related to the master's name, in an article written by Emil Cioran in 1937.
From Constantin Noica's letter one can also remark "the impoverished Romanian being" felt by the disciple upon his master's death, as if this side of his self would have actually lived "into" Nae Ionescu. It is most likely, same as all the other young graduates of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy who loved and worshipped the professor, that Noica would have endorsed with all his heart the lines that started Emil Cioran's article on Nae Ionescu: "I began deciphering the emotion I feel in Nae Ionescu' presence when I realized that there are in some people personal radiations to which you may wish to fall prey, ceasing to be your own self, dying in someone else's life. The infinite personal charisma makes you abandon all vanity and try to fulfill yourself in somebody else. [...] I can't keep count of the times Nae Ionescu seemed to me the only person for whom one can give up everything! The temptation, that is, of living his life. And I wouldn't be truthful if I failed to say that there are so many youngsters living within him. [...] Next to this tendency of losing yourself in him [...], I've never met a person who forced you to be yourself more than he did" (see E. Cioran, "Nae Ionescu and the Drama of Lucidity", published in "Vremea" magazine, 1937).
Recalling (during the interview granted to Gabriel Liiceanu) how Nae Ionescu used to chase Noica away from his seminars, Emil Cioran thought that it was a personal thing. Mircea Vulcănescu, understanding Nae Ionescu better, speaks (in his book Nae Ionescu as I knew him) about a "negative pedagogy". The Professor would use it to put his students to trial. The ones willing to get close to him were often rejected. The philosopher would not allow to his seminars those students that he thought had not shown enough passion for philosophy. M. Vulcănescu highlights the positive side of this attitude, which proved beneficial in the long run, "because Nae Ionescu formed many young people who practice philosophy today: Vasile Băncilă, Constantin Floru, Constantin Noica, Paul Sterian, Emil Cioran, Traian Herseni, Dumitru Cristian Amzăr, Mihail Sebastian, Costin Deleanu, George Racoveanu, Mircea Nicolescu" (see M. Vulcănescu, Nae Ionescu as I Knew Him, 1992, p. 29).
In 1943, after having carefully read Nae Ionescu's philosophic oeuvre, that he was preparing to publish (together with Mircea Vulcănescu and Constantin Floru), Noica wrote in an article published in the "Convorbiri literare" magazine about the abundance of ideas generously shared by Nae Ionescu in one of his lectures on the history of logic.
The title he gave to this article, "Nae Ionescu and the School Spirit", meant to suggest not so much the need to "rediscover Nae Ionescu", or the fact that "he knew how to think" and that "one had many a thing to learn from such a man", as the fact that Nae Ionescu had disciples gathered "in a philosophical Association that is to be named after him."
Differently put, by the title he chose, Constantin Noica advanced the idea that Nae Ionescu "bore fruit" through the disciples gathered in this Association. That the former professor of logic and metaphysics of the - then famous- Bucharest University created a school of Romanian philosophical thinking. And that was because he knew how to urge his students to have the guts "to be" themselves, to think through themselves and not through others.
In the opening of his 1943 article, Noica mentions how the professor taught them to go to the sources, giving them the "taste for poring over" philosophical texts that had not been translated, even when in question were works of the ancient Greek philosophers.
With communism in full swing, Constantin Noica unswervingly followed the path opened by Nae Ionescu, urging those who visited him to read philosophy directly from the sources, not through intermediaries.
Petre Țuțea would also send to the original texts those who visited him and who wanted to find out how one philosopher or another thought. Sometimes even by massive quotations, in German, from the writings of some German philosopher.
Only that Țuțea, during the communist regime, was not visited by those persons who would have thus put their careers at risk. His entourage of young people was different, sometimes in spite of the Securitate's warnings. Since, unlike Noica, Petre Țuțea as a philosopher was much more dangerous. Not only on account of his bright mind, but also on account of his full freedom of thinking thinking, that no one had ever been able to hold in check.
It is interesting to note that some of Noica's more assiduous visitors heeded their master's urge to go to the sources in a manner characteristic to the communist period, when censorship was often disguised by "anthologies."
In a downright bizarre way, after the 1989 anti-communist revolution, they practiced such a way of "going to the sources" precisely with regard to Țuțea's thinking. Under the pretext of making up an anthology, following Petre Țuțea's death (December 3, 1991), Gabriel Liiceanu assumed his role as mediator between the philosopher and his readers with so much dedication that he decreed his notes as "Țuțea's sole posterity" (see G. Liiceanu, Posterity in Fifty Pages, foreword to 321 Memorable Words by Petre Țuțea).
Asked once what he was working at, Petre Țuțea, with his well-known presence of mind, answered: "I'm working at my legend."
Taking the pain of copying and then publishing his fifty pages of notes, Gabriel Liiceanu may have not come to believe that he would scatter "Țuțea's legend." Although the naivety about the "posterity" of his notes that he did not shrink from raising to the rank of "work" born "in the absence of work and beyond any existent work" would make anyone have second thoughts about that...
Young Noica's assertion that "one can learn a lot from Nae Ionescu" seems to represent the main idea of the article written in 1943. As Noica resumes it and rounds it up with the remark according to which the History of Logic, as it was being taught by Nae Ionescu in the university year 1929-1930, would contain "some fifteen or twenty doctor's degree subjects that are valuable, as such, even beyond the Universities of Romania."
However, Constantin Noica enumerated briefly only half of the maximum advanced number of subjects, although he could have mentioned as many as he wanted, from the very subtitles labeled by Dumitru Cristian Amzăr on each lecture. Because Nae Ionescu's lectures are dense in philosophical thinking, at its highest level.
The first topic, "the Eastern origins of scholasticism", is, so to say, commented by C-tin Noica starting from Nae Ionescu's assertion according to which "scholasticism is doubtlessly a phenomenon of the West, but with obvious Eastern roots." Noica quotes the explanation provided by Nae Ionescu, in his 12th lecture, commenting only that this matter "would be worth the endeavors of a whole cultural moment in the life of the South-East."
Constantin Noica did not have to dig too much into the issue of the "Eastern origins of scholasticism". It had been signaled by the subtitle given by D. C. Amzăr to the first part of the 12th lecture, the 1929-1930 course of logic being a course for which the Board for the publication of Nae Ionescu's works had decided to keep the titles and subtitles devised by the first editor of the lithographed course.
What is strange is that Noica says nothing about the part of the lecture in which the professor was making clear to his students the "bottom line" of the issue, why the origins of scholasticism lying in the East or the West is not deprived of interest.
Constantin Noica overlooks precisely the part in which Nae Ionescu tried to remove the prejudice "of a prevailingness of the Western spiritual activity in Europe's philosophical development."
It looks like through the very quotes he gives, Noica pursues to suggest that Nae Ionescu would have grounded his revolutionary-like assertions on mere impressions. This can be clearly seen from the whole excerpt quoted below, and in which we signaled in capital letters the parts Noica chose to quote:
"Scholasticism is generally seen as a Western product. IT IS ONE MORE THING THAT IS TRUE BECAUSE EVERYBODY SAYS SO. Since the Western origin of scholastic thinking has not yet been proved. WERE WE TO FOLLOW OUR IMPRESSIONS, as do the theoreticians of scholasticism who uphold the Western origin of that period of human thinking, would we also let ourselves be guided by impressions, I WOULD RATHER SAY THAT SCHOLASTICISM IS, UNDOUBTEDLY, A MOMENT OF THE WEST, BUT WITH OBVIOUS EASTERN ROOTS.
That I am upholding the Eastern origin of scholasticism and that others say that this period in the history of philosophy has Western roots is not devoid of significance [...].
MY IMPRESSION IS THAT A FORMAL, PREVAILING, VIEWPOINT IS RATHER EASTERN THAN WESTERN, BY THE VERY ESSENCE OF THE SPIRITUAL STRUCTURE...."
As it is easy to note, Constantin Noica skipped over Nae Ionescu's remark according to which the Western origin of scholasticism had not yet been proved, being upheld in the West merely on the basis of "impressions." In the quotes selected for his article, Noica let only Nae Ionescu speak "according to impressions."
As regards the treaty of logic "that is the foundation of the scholastic edifice," Nae Ionescu had firmly stated that "through its inner structure, it bears more resemblance to the East than with the West." He said that after having found out that Psellos has on this treaty "as much paternity rights [...] as Petrus Hispanus."
In exchange, with Noica, in the absence of any arguments, things get relative in a formulation such as: Nae Ionescu reminds us that "at the foundation of scholasticism lies a treaty of logic, which might belong to Psellos."
Beside his genuine observations concerning the inner structure of the treaty of logic, Nae Ionescu grounded his assertions as to the equal share of credit of Psellos and Petrus Hispanus (1226-1277) for the paternity over this logic of Aristotelian origin-being inclined to grant the credit for it to the Byzantine philosopher Michael Psellos (1018-1078)-on the thesis advanced by Prantl. According to the latter, Parva logicalia (Short treaties of logic) attributed to Petrus Hispanus would have been a Latin translation of a treaty written by Michael Psellos, entitled Precis of Aristotle's Science of Logic.
Philosopher and logician Anton Dumitriu, in his book about the history of Logic, enumerates some more of Michael Psellos' logic works: Commentaries to Porfir's Isagogé, Commentaries to Aristotle's Categories, and Commentaries to Aristotle's On Interpretation.
In a long footnote (p. 329), Anton Dumitriu relates objectively the dispute raised by the paternity over these medieval writings, leaving it to the reader to draw the conclusions. Especially if they can appreciate the resonance of some prominent figures who granted the credit for it to Michael Psellos, theologian and philosopher, nicknamed the "Advisor of Philosophers." But, as his monumental History of Logic was to be translated in English, Anton Dumitriu speaks about the treaty lying at the foundation of scholasticism as they do in the West.
The way we see it, the dispute features two aspects, one funnier than the other. The first is that the fight over the paternity is waged around some manuscript notes on Aristotle's logic. They try thus to give a mediaeval father to a systematization of the ancient logic, which was indisputably fathered by Aristotle.
The second aspect, no less funny, is that in the East, more exactly in Byzantium, the study of Aristotle's logic was an uninterrupted undertaking, blossoming particularly in the 11th century, when the Academy of Constantinople was founded. "This academy," notes Anton Dumitriu, "stimulated the West to create similar academies, such as, for instance, the one in Paris (Lutetia)" (p. 325).
In exchange, in the West, Aristotle was to be discovered rather late, through the Arab philosophers, only after the Arab domination had been established in Spain. This dispute over the paternity over some manuscript notes about Aristotle's logic, not settled to the day, seems to evince the lack of sense of humor of those who want at all costs to impose "the prejudice of a prevailingness of the Western spiritual activity in the philosophical development of Europe."
The second doctor's degree subject highlighted by Constantin Noica would be: "where ends the history of the ancient philosophy." For this subject, the disciple points out (from the second lecture of the 1929-1930 course of logic) the remark of his master concerning the awkward division made in the textbooks of the history of philosophy, in which A.D. 400 years are left to the section of the history of ancient philosophy, being at the same time present in the chapter of the Christian philosophy, included in the mediaeval philosophy.
For the next possible doctor's degree thesis ("With Socrates and Plato all the material of logic is supplied"), Noica takes the end of the 8th lecture, where Nae Ionescu draws the conclusion of the whole lecture: "With Plato, therefore, all the data of logic are theoretically established. Everything that has followed thereafter, from Aristotle to date, is but the processing of this material. These two thinkers, Socrates and Plato, provided all the material of logic."
It would be pointless to go on since the other subjects promised by Constantin Noica to the reader are briefly presented, lacking the commentaries that would also evince the imprint of the disciple.
What is actually interesting about Noica's article is not so much the way he develops,-arbitrarily, or inspired by the recent reading of some philosophy book -, one subject or another but the accurate accent he knows to point out, meeting thus the reader's expectations.
For instance, after signaling the mixing up of the 400 years in the history of philosophy, as if he had discovered it himself, Constantin Noica quotes the title, otherwise utterly common, of a book that had actually been a doctor's degree (Marrou, Saint-Augustin et la fin de la culture antique, 1938), comparing its subject with the theme "so rich (and topical!) of the articulation between the two worlds."
When Petre Țuțea was asked (after December 1989) which of Nae Ionescu's disciples he felt solidary with, he enumerated Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Arșavir Acterian, Bucur Țincu, Mircea Vulcănescu, skipping Constantin Noica. Upon the insistence of his collocutor, who wanted to find out what the philosopher thought about Noica, the former said that Noica "got too contorted."
Certainly, given the circumstances he lived under for the last thirty-eight years of his life, if Noica had not got so "contorted", the Romanian culture would have been deprived of one of its prominent figures, in a period when its horizons had been clouded by a throng of mediocrities, riding on heaps of books published in overwhelming circulations.
Proof of the "contortions" that Noica was forced to experience is today the letter he sent to Anton Dumitriu after the publication of the second edition (1975) of the monumental History of Logic, letter in which Constantin Noica, a true former admirer of Nae Ionescu's, writes the following: "I suppose you don't think I'm an opportunist when I say (but only to you, almost): I judge him [Nae Ionescu] more severely than you do, not only as a person, but also as a scholar, although Nae Ionescu was--like no one else--a man of genius in the field of philosophical thinking."
Placing between brackets that "almost", it appears that Noica knew well that, before being read by Anton Dumitriu, his letter was to be read by the Securitate. (*).
Translated by Ileana Barbu