Europeanism And Traditionalism, 1924

excerpt We have finally got our own "querelle des anciens et des modernes." Several traditionalist publications are once again demanding clear, classical art. Others ask for authentic Romanian art, that is, inspired from national velleities and potential. Finally, some denounce Romanian modernist inspirations as borrowed from the endeavors that are being made today in the German world, in Munich or Vienna, these centers that, since 1916 onwards, have been recalling the dread of the patriots, of the mothers and of the general security agency. Let us try to reconstruct this process genetically. When the war was ended, Romania had run out of supplies, was bereft of colonial merchandise, silks and Western books. A process of importation then started, almost officially, that is with treasury bonds, of figs, pajamas and expressionism. Two years of war had wearied the most inexhaustible sources of patriotism. We craved for the West and for exoticism, some way or another, but at any cost. The avidity for imports was the homage our isolation brought to the rest of the planet.The same period also witnessed the strongest cultural immigration towards European capitals. Around 1920, Paris alone reckoned with more than 3,000 Romanian students. After acquiring some scanty information over there, many of them returned, carrying in their luggage samples of Western models. Some took it upon themselves to reform the theatre, others the magazines, others the syntax. The latter managed to reconcile Miron Costin with Rainer Maria Rilke or F. Werfel, thus engineering a chronicler's language poured into the most authentic expressionist mould. Others turned their attention to the theatre, achieving stagings that were all the more hilarious as they were meant to be tragic. Painting was not without its own shipment of nonsense, half born out of naivety, half of charlatanry, that an uninitiated or bemused public admires out of fear, lacking the legitimate advice of an – it has to be said – altogether absent art critic.And like any other nation of epigones, we overdid it. While in the West the Dada mentality died down after a short-lived flare, making way, at least in France, for a strong Neo-Classic reaction, we went on to cultivate an artistic trend that had sprung up in the West before the war and was by that time completely surpassed.Time was ere it could first be spied,We see now what is ended[1].It is the tragic fate of the province as compared to the capital; it can never simultaneously adopt the same fashion. When short dresses are du jour in Bucharest, women wear them long in Mizil. For modern principles are fleeting – no sooner does the province adopt a new set of values than the capital has passed on to the next.Let us be wary, however, lest our stand be deemed traditionalist. Our magazine has today, as it did in the past, a middle position between tradition and Europeanism. We are opposed to any Chinese wall. We want daily contact with the light of the West, which has everything to teach us. We believe that all that is good and generous in this country has come from abroad, due to those "bonjour-men" who did not for a moment forsake their school years sufferings in favor of good times elsewhere. Our past is wanting in culture, art and ideology and, apart from the peasant layers, too little ours. Traditionalism per se is the megalomania of squalor. Nietzsche's words, referring to the German people after 1870, "we've got neither yesterday, nor today, just tomorrow," are only too true of us. We wish to import values from abroad. But let us clearly discern which values. Definitely not marginal fumbles discredited in their own countries. We are disgusted with that imitation of boorishness which goads some peasant son, usually the first in the family to have come out of illiteracy, to no longer be able live without the perverse sensations of opium, of cocaine, of Cocteau's verses or Van Dongen's canvasses.And, thank God, there is no shortage of things to be imported. We are insanely devoid of the ideological systems that give meaning to life and to the world, we have, in our painful inconsistency, no logic. We are completely and urgently in need of syllogism. We lack morality altogether, not the false morals of collective foppishness, but personal morality, which is a matter of excuse for one's own conscience, of conciliation with oneself, of honest revolt, of flawless dignity. We lack the taste, yardstick of measure, of tact and decency towards all corruption, monstrosity and excess. And, finally, we have a painful, stifling lack of the democratic sentiment of liberty and justice, of respect for others who should be anything but a means of daily exploitation. And amid such void, sensorial refinement was all what we lacked.We have always demanded contact with the West: in politics, in science and technology. Literature, however, is a different story. There are countless reasons why the artist can only be national. Being the product of a society, he writes for a given society. His highest quality is specificity. And it can only be national. Forced inspiration, coming from a bunch of sensations unknown to our life, as well as exotic reactions to these sensations, can only produce a greenhouse literature or, in the most fortunate of cases, a literature of ability. Grand literature, or at least genuine literature, it will never produce.(…) An age that mimics literary techniques from elsewhere can only hope to elicit interest as a symptom. It spells a crisis, a provisional state which, sooner or later, is bound to bring on something new. Viaţa românească (Romanian Life), 1924, no. 3
[1] Translated by Corneliu M. Popescu.

by Mihail Ralea (1896-1964)