A Shortcoming

If we were to maintain that the erotic language as an independent writing mode has at present been obliterated from Romanian literature, we would, perhaps, make a serious overstatement, but not lie entirely: it might seem peculiar, but this European literature, which is now rubbing shoulders with its continental counterparts, carries a perceivable deficiency at its very heart (i.e. in its language). It is not a criminal omission, as so many literatures survive without it! The consequences of the perpetuation thereof are manifold.The most vexatious: almost always when our literary language, especially that of prose, finds itself in a position to depict an intensely erotic scene, the Romanian writer has two puny options on hand – edulcorating innuendo or an unmasked roughneck approach. Between them – no visible territory. For a century and a half, when the author takes up a love scene, the down-to-earthness of the text suddenly fades away in favor of poetical-philosophical innuendos (utterly misplaced in their occurrence), by the mediation of which the readers are courteously invited to fancy by themselves the goings-on acted out by the heroes. This has been the case for one entire century in Romanian novel, from Filimon, Bolintineanu, and Vlahuta to Ionel Teodoreanu, Cezar Petrescu, Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu or even Liviu Rebreanu, the "crudest" amongst the novelists, but who also paused at the thin line of "the unspeakable". Neither did the generation of Mircea Eliade, M. Blecher, and Anton Holban, highly appraised in the name of stripping taboos, innovate language at its crux level. If this is the state of things in prose, the situation of poetry is easy to guess: here, the erotically charged language is next to non-existent. Only Eminescu, in the previous century, tried to intuit it in its incipient forms of manifestations (in Ghazel or in Anthropomorphism), but had no followers in this respect.As if in a naïve and belated echo, this state of things has been mirrored in a part of young contemporary prose, which very determinedly opted for the other side of language, for the unmasked vernacular. Unfortunately, the modest literary endowment of these authors (the majority – late teenagers that cannot sport anything of significance besides hormonal excess), carries the fact that sampling voluntary vulgarity does not go beyond the level of experiment. No language will be, stylistically, patented, before it does embody itself in a work of exception. The clearing of this idiosyncrasy in Romanian literature remains of an historic nature: our literature became modern from Romanticism onwards. The first synching of it with European literatures becomes discernible around 1920-1930. Adversely, Romanticism, based on the convention of "purity", instinctively banned any expression that would not befit the visual-auricular perception of a young maiden, i. e. of the exemplary Romantic reader. Official prudishness found terrain in Romanticism and survived more than one century by dint of scriptural inertness.It is no more than futile to specify that Romanian literature has borrowed merely the superficial-suave traits of Romanticism, notably that of the French movement, without fathoming out the "Romantic inferno" conjured up by self-same Romanticism – concurrently and clandestinely. Never have the violent-sensual stanzas written by Béranger, Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier or the novel of rustling pornography by Alfred de Musset (Gamiani) been known by Romanians.In this respect, English or French Romanticism were taking further an undercurrent tradition, that of great 18th-century erotic literature; before somewhat subterraneously traversing Romanticism, to reach a fresh level of permissiveness in La Belle Époque, the English, French, but also Italian or Portuguese language had manufactured a linguistic instrument appropriate for the wording of Eros. The quality of literary servants within did not always rise to the same height, but the primordial instrument for delivering well stayed within the writer's reach. When modernism came into power in French literature, once the long Romantic interlude had been concluded, the gallery of great names of the time picked up on the tradition of the 18th century. It spanned from Apollinaire and Pierre Loüys to surrealists, Georges Bataille, A. P. de Mandiargues or Jean Gênet. Herewith, French Literature manifests an impressive continuum that begins in Renaissance (Clément Marot, Ronsard, Rémy Belleau, Etienne Jodelle) and extends to contemporary days.What then? No hope for the poor Romanian literary language? Great reforms do not come about in one day – not even in a decade! It will take a great deal of patience for the generous territory between prudishness and salaciousness to be gradually peopled by genuine talent (think of Emil Brumaru or Serban Foarta) whom, now, no censure can stop or… castrate.

from Dilema veche 59/4-10 March 2005

by Mihai Zamfir