Mundus Inversus

N. D. Cocea (1880-1949): The Psychological Analysis of Infidelity"What got into you, saleslady? / How come you hold your head so high / Over a black patch?" That's how an old suburban song goes. Pentr-un petec de negreata / Over a Black Patch is also the title of the novel written 1934 by N. D. Cocea. The author approaches in a straight way the attempts of the modern couple to discover and understand the harmony that it is longing for.Since "everything in our sweet country is a matter of skirts and tricks" (p. 230), the main character of the novel, Andrei Vaia, believed in a sentimental fulfillment through the innocence and purity of the country girls, far away from the city. Yet he would experience something completely different than that when Muja, a daring country girl, entered the room of the young master, all prepared for the unpredictable and showing a disarming ardor. "She made him look up to her, as she was looking at him, surprised, naïve and smiling as if she didn't understand what was going on. Her look slid through the eye, along his body, right to his heart, making it melt. Her hot breath, that smelled like fresh bread, just drawn out of the oven, was driving him crazy." Paradoxically, he awoke from this preliminary erotic mirage in the usual situation: "Look, you tore my shirt." Hearing him promise that he would buy her another shirt, "a prettier one, from Bucharest", the young girl "put her arms around his neck", showing that she didn't feel offended at all by what had just happened. Then "they got up and acted as if they had been best friends forever." N. D. Cocea is no stranger to this kind of games. According to Constantin Beldie, the writer Cocea had bought for a small amount of money the hunting pavilion of a count, far away from the town, where he had gathered a few crazy girls, picked up who knows where, depraved in time and kept there like in a seraglio." Apart from this, he looked as if he were "buzzing with intelligence, like all great erotic men." (C. Beldie, Memoirs, p. 323) Young Vaia may have been, in certain intimate fragments, the very author of the novel. Sometimes Bucharest was a completely feminine city, especially at that "divine time", when women would appear "in a great hurry or standing on the spot, like thunderstruck, in front of some shop window with small things in it, with violently red lipstick on and looks poisoned by desires, which drained under their painted eyelashes… They were approachable and fastidious, candid and pervert, red in the face because of the paint, because of their good health and their vices… From their kiss-me-quick, the tip of their cheeky nose, the nipples of their aggressive breasts, to the Louis XV heels and the tip of their doll-like, lizard-like or snake-like bended shoes, they would pass by Calea Victoriei, approachable and dreaded, virgin and impure, our fidgeting girls. After all, Bucharest is the capital city! It has theatres, museums, science, arts, traditions, rulers with love for their city or at least clean and honest hands to handle public funds with. But above all, it has something which no other city in the whole wide world has: a roguish girl on each square meter of the street and, on sunny mornings, more delicious and fidgeting girls than any Vienna's Prater, Berlin's Unter den Linden or Paris' boulevards and squares will ever have." (pp. 217)Back in town, Andrei would fall in love with a girl named Mira. And she would fall for him as well, for she'd often tell him: "I love you, Andrei… I love you and I am happy… happier than words can say… I'll be beautiful for you… no one will be more beautiful than your Mira in Bucharest… I want you to be proud of me… When I'll be yours, I want you to feel that I belong to you… with body and soul, with skirt and embroidery on it…" When Andrei showed his desire with an ardor that could hardly be repressed, she would detach herself in an ironic way: "Is my little master in a hurry?... Is my little master anxious?... Can't my little master wait? Don't rush, darling. You won't lose anything while waiting… What's yours is put aside for you."Instead, Mira rushed her lover's friend, called Bergher, a hunchback with bulging eyes. Catching them by surprise, Andrei was shocked to see the show developing before his very eyes: Mira lay rolled on her back in bed and on top of her, on top of her uncovered body, was the hunchback, naked, deformed, and frightening because of its ugliness, like a frog on its fours. Bergher justified his position after the episode as follows: "What women do for a dozen stockings… for three cubits of silk… for a limo." Meanwhile, Mira was embracing her cheated lover and whispered: "I'm unworthy, I'm a bitch, I know, but… I love you." Should this be considered hypocrisy? Not at all! N. D. Cocea considers that "woman's heart is a mystery that can be unraveled. Yet their body is impenetrable and inviolable. One can have it, but without knowing what is inside. One can penetrate and possess it." And, what's more, is that "one will never know whether the supreme spasm of copulation was due to joy or deception, pure pleasure or simulation." (p. 294) Apart from literature, the Viennese psychiatrist Wilhelm Stekel asserted in his work The Psychology of Female Eroticism that a female patient of his "separates sex from love. She loves her husband very much and yet, she may have already offered her love to someone else on some occasion." Besides, Stekel considered the problem of fidelity to be "more complicated than one might think because people should have the possibility to choose. One should be able to fall in love for a few times, until he finds his soul mate."Petronius tells in Satyricon the story of a woman who was mourning over her husband next to his grave. A soldier who was just passing by attempted to soothe her pain by caressing her. And she gave in to him right on her husband's grave. The story was the subject of an exam for the admission to the department of classical languages at the Bucharest Faculty of Letters in the 1970s. Professor Eugen Cisek asked the examinee: "When was the woman honest? Was it when she would mourn over her late husband or when she gave in to the soldier?" The examinee replied: "On both occasions!" and got the highest degree. Octav Şuluţiu (1909-1949) – A Chronicler of the Underground Bucharest"There are so many beautiful women! And I am a poor and ugly man. If I had both a bald head and money, I could cover the first with the prestige of the second." (p. 47) That's how the author laments over his erotic destiny in the forgotten novel called Epicene. If only he had had more guts to use simple words, or just to be more aggressive. "But when is the feminine pole stronger than the masculine one? Why hasn't the philosopher postulated this possibility as well? Are there women who are more like men, and men who are more like women? Of course there are. I hear a soprano whimpering inside me. If I placed the revolver under my fourth rib, it would all be over. But that's impossible. She doesn't want to die. And I can only do what she wants. Inside myself there is a whole household under the woman's domination. I wouldn't know why." Possibly, because of an excessive delicacy whose feeble attempts are being sabotaged by an extreme shyness. Of course, "people are horrid. I am astonished by their will power. Everyone is like a stretched coil spring. That's why they fight so much against each other and trample the shy ones. People with will power hate the delicate ones, push them aside and make them hurt. It's terrible to be timid. You become the object of attention and the ball in front of everyone's legs. The loner is being refused by all the others, as if he were a leper, for fear he might contaminate them." (p. 79)The novel Epicene, published in 1935 (and re-published in 1992), depicts Bucharest as the city of shy and lonely men facing fast social changes after the Great War. Octav Sulutiu experiences his own intimate tragedies, starting at the age of 9, when he loses his main confidant, his father, and continuing into a mature age, when he loses a long-lasting and intense dispute over the woman of his life in front of the giant Zaharia Stancu. We find him feeble and shy especially in reality, when Octav Sulutiu dwells in the bedrooms of the apparently rejected women from the hidden world of Bucharest's brothels. It is the story of his life, trammeled in the spider web of all kinds of contradictions. Sulutiu was convinced that "women have to be forced to love us. This was of course, what she was expecting and I often noticed at her the strain of that expectation mixed with anxiety and curiosity… I was not stupid. But I couldn't understand how one was permitted to impose his own will in order to tie a woman to a future without being sure that he could make her happy. What an exaggerated concern for the future, what practical concern of the man tormented by mean financial needs, how I hate them!" (p. 41)Although the shy man represses his wishes and gestures, he manages to understand the depths of a second because "women have an annoying sense: even when they are being looked at without seeing you, they are aware of it. When a woman suddenly turns her head on the street in order to look behind her, somebody must have been watching or following her. The woman's tactile nerves must have visual properties. Either the touching nerves of the spine can see, or the rays of the man's look can sting. There are pairs of eyes that stir one up, strip one and thrust themselves into the flesh with a material staunchness. And women feel the looks from behind." (p. 34)In the underground Bucharest of the 1930s, "the charm of womanhood and romantic poetry" lost their meaning because "the harshest form of this womanly manhood consists in the professional turn. Woman has invaded chairs, bureaus, laboratories, court rooms… Woman is busy, woman is working. A woman who works cannot be a good woman. She is a working animal, a serious element of social efficiency, but thus she loses both her body's, and her soul's, tenderness. Up until today, the only profession for women was love. It was not the love of the honest ones, but the love of the ones from the brothel: it was professional love." Pricing and exploiting it proved to be the work of man, an effort of will-power, a serious calculation of risks and winnings, a discipline and, in the end, an activity that wears out that person. After being used in the brothel, woman had to be pensioned off because of sickness. The whore is a clerk. She might be a woman, but on the social level, she's a man. As an actress, woman wasn't yet professional… Profession is masculine in its essence because it demands confidence, will-power, discipline, mechanical repeating of mechanical actions, quickness, and all these are typically masculine qualities. And yet, woman shows that she possesses them as well. She possesses them because man might also possess the qualities of woman, but she was influenced by the social context in making man's roles and qualities her own… The woman who has handled the penholder can no longer caress a man. Her delicate fingers become imbued with ink, they get blunt… Woman hardens, her spine becomes stiff. She loses the wave of the serpent who reveals flowers in an embrace… Between the skinny walls of the office, woman loses the sense of the interior. Her house takes nude and boring shapes… The chamber of the clerk-woman turns into a waiting room. This is the modern style of the interior. From the baroque style, that used to burden the room, people shifted to the room seen as an extension of the street. And that's because woman has deserted the room… The lack of charm of the woman from the brothel is due to this security. She doesn't ask for protection any longer. She is simply doing her job. She doesn't possess any of the charms that have to be conquered and defended. She just gives and takes as an exchange. Her lack of grace starts to spread over the entire modern life. Girls are aware of the fact that men need their sex, and the other way round. And they offer their sex in order to protect men against perversion. Or they just embrace perversion. Both women and men. Homosexuality and Sapphic sexuality are proofs of the masculine turn of the century. Sexual intercourse has become merely an exchange of services nowadays. There is no art, no religion and no metaphysics involved." (pp. 64-66).Apart from this, "when I imagine the Sapphic act, I suffer from not being a woman. And as far as I am concerned, I can't think of any other possibility of achieving satisfaction than by squeezing the flesh unconsciously and fervently, in an unfinished and exhausting extension, without the ridiculous and horrible rhythm of possession…" (p. 55) Sulutiu lives out through the main character of the novel all the erotic contradictions of the well-read, but poor intellectual of the 30s, and ends up being the employer of a brothel – and married to a hooker. In reality, he dies suddenly after a stroke in 1949. He was a new victim of the new world that arose by literally devouring the old one. Ury Benador (1895-1971): The Psychological Analysis of EqualizationThe times we live in are a succession of "trite subjects" that our life absorbs unconsciously. When you wake up for a second from the ordinary, the occurrence defeats you for ever. The occurrence in this case is an unexpected focus of the look, or the attention on the immediate. But this happens very seldom and is a matter of providence. On the other hand, how can one escape from the ordinary life? Maybe by inventing a script in which one can graft his sordid existence in another way than the one in which daily life forces him to. Ury Benador has turned "the trite subject" of a daily life, whose every second can be inferred into a script whose main character was his own beloved wife. In order to complete the dialogue, he chooses a close friend, maybe his lifetime friend, whom he must have trusted for such a long time. How could the beloved woman gradually feel attracted to a stranger, in spite of the love that she feels for you? Maybe by noticing his good will, or who knows. By arranging dinner in the family the scene is set for the development of the script. Sometimes one can entertain thoughts that he cannot suppress, no matter how absurd they might be. "When I entered the house, the first thing I noticed was Hilda's body. As she was standing on her feet, next to the bookshelves, in profile, without hearing me enter the room (why did I sneak in, as if I was hoping to catch her with somebody?), and as she was alone in the house, I was struck by the idea that it could have been so easy for her to sleep with the first guy who might have come home in my absence in just a few seconds. "Then she would have welcomed me pure and calm, as if nothing had happened (and how could I be certain that nobody came before me?). She was dressed in that thin frock, all buttoned up, so she could have unbuttoned it quickly, and buttoned it up again, or even taken it off. A frock can generally be taken off and put back on dangerously easy. And it is frightening how fast and without any complications, a woman can take off and put back on everything she is wearing. By the time you come back from buying a pack of cigarettes, she will have slept with the friend you left her with for a few seconds." (pp. 20-30)Were these thoughts covered by secret deeds? "I say pointblank: no! She was a modest and simple woman, who retired herself in the household, in the love for the child and for her mother that she was very fond of and, what matters in this context, in the love for me. It was a deep love, strong, yet held back. She wouldn't overwhelm me with bombastic and mostly public proofs of love, the way women who use to cheat on their men do, in order to ease the searchings of their heart, or to distract people's attention. Yet in bed she would show many initiatives, and great love impetus to which my robust build would always answer. (I mentioned my robust build in order to prevent any attempt of explanation for Hilda's fall)." (pp. 34-35)Yet Hilda is asked, having been caught suddenly unguarded, in four stages of hypothetical guilt: "Who did you cheat on me with? Should you answer that you didn't cheat on me, who did you almost cheat on me with? Should you answer this question also negatively, then whom did you want to do it with? Should your answer to this question be 'no one' again, then what man did you notice, without having any guilty thoughts about him, due to his intelligence or for other spiritual qualities – I repeat, spiritual and without any negative thoughts? All husbands should ask these questions to their wives, regardless of the results!" (p. 44)The author of the novel A Trite Subject (1935) makes a vast psychological analysis of equalization, that is, of the way in which a woman can replace one man, or another, by equalizing him. Also in question are aspects of the value system which matters in the process of women's decision-taking. The accomplished fact, or catching somebody red-handed, seems less degrading than the idea of being replaced or equalized. Thus, whom someone is being equalized with becomes a matter of great importance. Sometimes the question is "How come that she replaced a great personality like Theodor Lilienfeld with that imbecile? This means that she could replace him with an imbecile. In reality, this means that Theodor Lilienfeld replaced that imbecile. Further, it means that for her Theodor Lilienfeld was nothing else than a moron from the power station. Finally, this means that I am for Hilda nothing else than a moron, because if Hilda hadn't married me, she would have married him. And she could have been happy… He could have made her happy. So I am just a Joe… The important issue here is that I am also insulted by being replaced by a certain Ivanescu. So once again, I am no one else than Ivanescu, just another guy, just a moron from the power station. And there was one thought that was driving me crazy: It was the fact, that I was now hopelessly joining the long line of cuckolds who know, and submit to, their fate." (pp. 98-99)In short, it is less important that the beloved woman has just slept with an engine driver. What matters is that she has equalized you with an engine driver. And yet, prostitution exists in adultery. It doesn't consist "in the fact that she is sleeping with someone else, with someone she loves and respects, but in the fact that she is sleeping with the legitimate one, whom she loathes." (p. 132) The right question to be asked is rather "Why did she cheat on me?", instead of "Who did she cheat on me with?" (p. 105) Great flair is needed for the answer to be inferred, and tense waiting, as "women are damn strong! They are invincible, especially due to their ability to keep silent."All these, and many more things that rest untold, happened in the "immediate after-war period" in Bucharest, where "women who wanted to appear masculine, sporty and 'vicious', now started to become feminine by all means, and wished to appear as belonging to the past century: all pale, with clothes and hairdos 'von den alten schönen Zeiten', chastely in love, and Werther-like loved, they were hiding the excitement of bitches in heat behind that mawkish appearance." (p. 26)Less than twenty years afterwards, the nearly mature teenager would make you hold your breath, even though you were hardly breathing at all, caught in the thrill of expectation: "Listen, comrade, don't take me for a fool and don't beat about the bush. I know you want to sleep with me, and theoretically I wouldn't have anything against it, being a liberated woman and all. But since you are not a member of the Party, you can kiss that thought good-bye. We have our own morality." (Radu Tudoran, Sub zero grade / Below Zero Degrees, p. 83) Poor Ury Benador! How fast did the refinement of the psychological scaffold of masculine equalization collapse, and how fast it was replaced by a social substitute!

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)