B. Fundoianu / Benjamin Fondane (1898-1944)

B. Fundoianu began to publish persistently and regularly in 1918, when he was twenty; with the determination that characterized him, he embarked upon a tireless mission that took all the attributes of a vocation: that of a messenger of French – hence European – culture to his native culture. In fact, he said it himself in a 1922 article, in a sentence tinged with self-ironical humor: "For one instant, the idea of being a literary critic appealed to me. This activity was quickly smothered in the drawer by the national necessity (could it be transmitted by heredity?) of fulfilling in the first place the role of an importer of European culture."[1] Concerned with efficacy, the messenger outfitted himself with an appropriate style and his discourse took the appearances of a pedagogy for his own and his contemporaries' use.For the most part, the articles he published all round in the journals of the time are proof of his preoccupation: to create and express his epoch. Towards the end of the second decade, the 20th century became clearly delimited from the previous century, and acquired its own substance. The metamorphoses of life, society, collective psychology, and the renewal of artistic language were the themes that animated the reflections of young Fundoianu. Relying on "Remy de Gourmont's intellectual constant and Bergson's dissociations", Fundoianu wished to believe that "civilizations are all equal, without being identical though."[2] Thus he opposed modernity to myth: what used to be a "feast of instinct", an "exaltation and transgression of the daily" was destroyed, effaced by industrial civilization. "A rally, political elections, or an aircraft contest – those are the elements which have an impact on the collective imaginary, rather than old, prehistoric myths, which came from Asia with Mother Goose."[3] That vision of modern society, in 1921, in a country that was still dependent on rural economy, was like a prelude: several years later, Fundoianu's philosophical remark became the raw material of manifestos, programs, declarations of intentions, creeds that fused into a galaxy of avant-garde magazines. What in Fundoianu's discourse was only "language buzzing" melted into the Romanian avant-garde's boisterous option for the (essentially futurist) vocabulary of the industrial age: airplane, wireless telegraphy, radio, television, h(orse) p(ower), match, factory, etc. Historical time accelerates, and the war acted as a developer of all the evils of the century. The Romanian poets and artists – some of them, more exactly those to be implicated later in the avant-garde adventure, and who had not emigrated (like Tzara and Iancu) – were driven to put an end to their previous existence, by a sort of voluntary "assassination". While in wait, they were strangely leading a double life, between their previous culture and their awakening to modernity. Neither did Fundoianu escape that mandatory passage. And, while polishing the poems of his collection (PrivelistiPanoramas, to be published only in 1930, in order to "do away with a past I wish I were not ashamed of"), together with his brother-in-law Armand Pascal, he laid the foundation of the theater Insula (Island), designed to be a "school of taste", as its founders claimed in the Manifesto edited on the occasion, which also gave a new "Decalogue" for actors' use."School of taste" indeed, and for initiation into Issues of Poetics (the title of an article published 1922), such were the objectives of Fondane the messenger. The self-educated youngster closely surrounded his subject, to wit the spiritual values of modern man, which he considered in the context of a historical process: classicism, romanticism, naturalism, symbolism, decadentism were at the core of a passionate debate in a discourse made of nuances and subtleties – "subtlety, his patent vice," Cioran[4] says. "To be excessive, that is the only way to be novel" – classicism used to be just that, with "the triumph of intelligence over sensitivity", and so used to be romanticism and "the individual's insurrection in art" specific to it. Symbolism, to which he felt closer (and sometimes had to defend it and himself behind the shield "we, the symbolists"), was also novel, because excessive: it struggled against imitation, bad taste, familiarity with life and the reader's taste. It claimed – and obtained – for poetry the right to be "obscure and profound, isolated and particular, flowery and unreal, the right to idealize, even in excess."[5]Anti-mimesis, anti-sentiment(alism), violence, the provocation of the reader – that was the vocabulary of the avant-garde spreading throughout Europe like a spontaneous contagion. And it was for the first time that terms of poetic art or esthetics were no longer used, but manifestos, the support of a genuine strategy of communication that often blended words, images, shows, events that were (occasionally) constraining. Yet Fundoianu had the structure of an intellectual who, first of all, must understand; he could not accept an idea unless he was able to trace back its history, its course. In his opinion, the prehistory of the avant-garde was Mallarmé. A good theorist, the poet for whom the world existed only to end in a book understood that poetry had to exist without a model; the words were liberated from the bondage of sense, composition, model, reality. The same held true for art, in the creation of Braque, Lipschitz, Picasso (he had not learned about Brancusi's works yet). According to Fundoianu, that theory which only responded to the sensitivity of the artist was still "creative" with Mallarmé, whereas Marinetti and Dada, who prolonged it, were "outside art"[6]. But that was not Fondane's last word. As usual, he tried to comprehend, and he added more nuances to his judgment. In a text left unpublished until 1996, Fundoianu gave his explicit, concentrated opinion on various avant-garde trends:cubism: "a great, deep revolution inside a single art, something like an autocephalous church…"futurism: "much less and a lot more; […] it was not a movement of destruction, but a substitution, sometimes violent, of spiritual values already brought up to date by the mechanical changes of the contemporary world."But futurism left everything in its place, and the whole place to "constructive man, homo faber"[7].One had to wait for Dada, which brought along a sketchy answer to the "metaphysical despair" of man, during and after World War I. That is when the great series began of "methods" shaped in the human soul to elude, in Freud's words, "the constraint of suffering". What were those methods? Madness, neurosis, drunkenness, excessive self-contemplation, rapture, humor. However, these were not new realities, or recent discoveries, only the 20th century began by systematizing everything: anxiety, neurosis, rapture, the unconscious, desire, and even the irrational. "The rational exploitation of the irrational" was, as a matter of fact, his major reproach to surrealism. What was then left as the most widespread and suitable resort? Humor. Humor tinted with eschatology, as defined by Freud: the man sentenced to death, led to the guillotine on a beautiful Monday morning, quips: "This week doesn't make such a bad start after all." This type of humor, to which Fundoianu assigned the attributes of an ontology, became one of Dada's emblems: the domain "of the joy of doubt" wherein "the void can only beget void"[8].In fact, Fundoianu (who, in France, became Fondane after 1923), never ceased to question himself on man and modern art, in his own manner: with methodical lucidity, in a discourse always pursuing a just measure. His queries took the shape of a Faux traité d'esthétique (False Treatise on Esthetics)[9], his most complete book on the matter, but also the essay on Brancusi[10], his standpoint on the fate of writers in a totalitarian society[11], or his writings for and about cinema, "the only art that has never been classical"[12] .In Bucharest, in 1922, on the eve of his final departure to France, the "lean, bony, green-eyed youngster who came from Jassy" had turned into "the standard bearer of the youngest generation of iconoclasts and rebels", most of them twelfth-graders: "Around him were grouped those euphoric youth who thought they had something to say. They revolved around him like butterflies around a flame"[13]. The youngsters' names were Ion Calugaru, Ilarie Voronca, Mihail Cosma (Claude Sernet), Stéphane Roll, F. Brunea, future actors of the Romanian avant-garde. That group wound up joining Tzara's former companions, Ion Vinea and Marcel Iancu, when the two of them issued the Contimporanul magazine, in June 1922. The avant-garde was born.The magazines published by Fundoianu's friends – and somewhat disciples – beginning with 1924 became effectively involved in the continental debate on the renewal of art and the way to think art, and their pages hosted writers and artists from round the world: Hungarian, Czech, Russian, Italian, Serb, Belgian, French, etc. From France, his new land, Fondane also contributed articles, mostly to Integral (whose Parisian editor he was), he "conveyed" ideas, books, and writers – Cocteau, Delteil, Aragon, Eluard, Pierre Reverdy, Paul Valéry, Tristan Tzara, an anthology of the latest French poems, or an opinion on "surrealism and revolution"[14]. Even if Fundoianu/Fondane may not be the leader of the gang (as he appeared in Sasha Pana's memoirs), nor the "gray eminence" of the Romanian avant-garde movement or a section of it that regroups in successive years the founders and collaborators of 75HP, Punct, Integral and Unu (though one may wonder if the reticence about surrealism observed then was not owed to him), he remains one of its voices. Together with – among others – Tristan Tzara and Constantin Brancusi, he is one of those who opened the windows of Romanian culture to the world, favoring exchanges, dialogue, enrichment. A messenger.
[1] Spiritul critic in cultura romaneasca II, in Sburatorul literar, November 10, 1922.[2] Epilogul meciului Carpentier-Dempsey, in Sburatorul literar, September 25, 1921.[3] Le Carnaval est mort, in Rampa, May 5, 1921.[4] Cioran, Exercices d'admiration, Paris, Gallimard, 1986, pp. 151-158.[5] B. Fundoianu, Probleme de poetica: decadenta, in Sburatorul literar, June 10, 1922.[6] Ibidem.[7] Signification de Dada, in Benjamin Fondane, Le voyageur n'a pas fini de voyager, texts and documents anthologized and presented by Patrice Beary and Michel Carassou, Paris-Méditerranée, L'Ether Vague-Patrice Thierry, 1996, pp. 32-36.[8] Benjamin Fondane, Ibidem.[9] Benjamin Fondane, Faux traité d'esthétique, presented by Ann Van Sevenant, Paris-Méditerranée, 1998, first edition 1938.[10] Benjamin Fondane, Constantin Brancusi, first published September 1929, in Cahiers de l'Etoile, issue II,11, Paris, reedited 1995 by Fata Morgana.[11] Benjamin Fondane, L'écrivain devant la révolution, Discours non prononcé au Congrès international des écrivains de Paris (1935), preface by Louis Janover, Paris, Paris-Méditerranée, 1997.[12] Benjamin Fondane, Trois scénarios, with two photos by Man Ray, Les documents internationaux de l'esprit nouveau, 1928.[13] Sasa Pana, Nascut in 02, memoirs, Bucharest, Minerva, 1973, p. 112. [14] Fundoianu's relations with the avant-garde in Romania and France, in addition to an anthology of texts on the subject, in Petre Raileanu and Michel Carassou, Fundoianu Fondane et l'avant-garde, co-edited by the Romanian Cultural Foundation and Paris-Méditerranée, Paris, 1999.

by Petre Răileanu