New Critical Studies, 1920

The programmatic article of THE NEW TREND, 1906excerpts …To start a war against foreign culture because we, in our barbarity, have taken the bad parts from it, is – an exaggerated but suggestive comparison – to do like mulattos in Liberia, were they, disgusted by their false civilization – falsified by them – renounce clothes, torch their cities and take refuge in the forest… Had the admirable insular population in the east of Asia had the misfortune to have given birth to a Iorga in its midst, he, full of affection for ancestral customs and of hatred against European civilization, would have placed himself at the head of a Boxer rebellion, and today Japan would be a Muscovite province. What the Romania of today must do with all haste is not "to blow the dust off the mediaeval chronicles", not "to revive the glorious past", not "to go back to the ancestral language and customs" – to the language of three hundred years ago – but rather, on the one hand, to demolish the walls of the oligarchic citadel through electoral reform and, on the other, to assimilate the spiritual culture of the nations of the West, which is the source of their material and moral state. It would seem that the literati of The Sower have deliberately taken upon themselves the task of illustrating and bringing to light the deeper conceptual vice of the theoreticians who have guided them. Whereas the often exaggerated criticism of the Junimea school was, in fact, like the harsh chiding of a parent saddened to see his child taking the wrong path, the patriotism of today's "nationalist" school resembles rather the flattery of a degenerate towards a rich uncle whom he means to exploit. "Everything Romanian is good" – merely by the fact that it is Romanian! And thus, while the Romanian land has need, now more than ever, of a literature that will propagate regular and assiduous labor, the tranquil family life, honesty, economy, sobriety, diligent industry, and delicate sentiments – we instead find ourselves with a flood of novels, short stories and poems – for the people!… which openly idealize drunkenness, adultery, sexual promiscuity, vagrancy, banditry, brigandry, bestial impulse, murder and, above all, the warrior instinct as the highest virtue of mankind!… Amazed, one pauses before these monstrosities and wonders: How could it have been possible for such stories – which it would be most natural for us to hear from Albanians, armed to the teeth, standing around a campfire in the middle of the forest at night – to be published in Romania – as literature subsidized by the state for the cultivation of the populace! – in Romania, which is not Albania, or Montenegro, or even Serbia or Bulgaria – in Romania, which will, not long hence, at some time have its role in the concert of European culture – in Romania, which up to now has produced an Eminescu, a Caragiale, a Cosbuc, a Vlahuta, writers who might honorably figure in any literature of the West!… The reasons can be found, and are many: 1) The Transylvanians, who were cultivated by coming into contact with more advanced nations, see life through the prism of a moral ideology. Their economic condition is also superior. Their leaders, unlike ours, do not form a ruling class, but are the rulers, the servants of the people and, as such, they perform their role conscientiously, or else cease to rule. The Transylvanian writers are peasants too, often with peasant interests; however, they have purified the ideology of the people, and in their works one always finds, alongside calm criticism of evils to be righted, model human beings and portraits of ideal life, which might also, for example, serve education. Thus, with the Romanians over the mountains, a classic national literature has been born. Over here, on the contrary, up to now, since the crisis, the ruling class has never thought to do its duty. Our peasantry languishes in barbarism – in material and thus also moral poverty. The writers from The Sower, they too wishing to describe the same stratum, "which alone has been shielded from alienation", had but two good paths to choose: either to show it as it is, but with a profound compassion for its unhappy state, and always bringing to light the human sentiments that are hidden beneath all the errors, in the depths of those darkened souls – as the Russian novelists do, in order to awaken in the superposed classes a feeling of responsibility towards the people; or else to filter the reality through a moral ideology and thereby provide the peasantry with an ideal for life. However, they have chosen a third path, the bad one: to exalt all that is, or all that seems to them to be, a characteristic trait of the Romanian, regardless of whether this may or may not be to the benefit of society and regardless of whether it is in keeping with the most elementary morality or otherwise. Thus, they have come to sing precisely those defects of the Romanian peasant which people whose heart aches for the latter do not know how to wean him from: with the elements of a sad "naturalist" portrait they have insisted on composing a patriarchal idyll at all costs. 2) The writers from The Sower are also men of the people and, furthermore, they are among those whom foreign culture has not altered… But at the same time, they are also "proletarian intellectuals". As they are thus, they present in their being a dangerous mixture of defects from two distinct social categories: on the one hand, dominated by a violent, physical life that is not subdued by any ideology and, on the other hand, full of the desperate individualism of our romantic tradition. In the stories of Mr. Sadoveanu it can be seen what men with such a psychology dream about. 3) While, for example, the likes of an Ioan Pop-Reteganul has lived all his life as a peasant, possessing the same interests as all the other peasants, our improvised populists have nothing in common with the peasantry; when they come but into contact with the latter, of course it is not its daily and monotonous needs that will interest them, but the faits-divers that must fatally occur in any mass: beatings, murders, adultery etc. It is much easier, and more in keeping with our romantic traditions to interest the reader with such sensational and exceptional events than to breathe poetry and interest into ordinary everyday life. 4) The critics and inspirers of The Sower have devoted their lives to gathering historical documents and writing commentaries on them – a very handsome thing. But the passion for the past – where, in any case, they see wars more than anything else – has overwhelmed them to such an extent that the present appears to them only through the prism of those documents. They themselves imagine that the Romanian nation of today has nothing else to do except to take the distant past as its ideal, or even to spend its life in ecstatic admiration of the heroes of those times… This passion has also inspired their literary disciples, who, instead of describing past times either with impartiality, which is to say from the scientific and picturesque point of view, or idealizing and poeticizing them – which would have been less good – have chosen, as always, the worst path: they have depicted them as they are, in all their horror, but always showing themselves to be enthused by what inspires disgust and indignation in us, cultivated readers!… In order for some one to imagine the sinister impression I had when reading Mr. Sadoveanu's The Hawks, let them transpose a funeral march into the tempo of a waltz!… …There will also be other reasons. However, all have vied in the same outlandishly surprising result: namely, that the writers from The Sower, wishing to imitate the Transylvanians and produce a literature to cultivate and moralize the people, have given birth to a literature destined, on the contrary, to immerse it even deeper in the morass in which it languishes. Wishing to replace decadent romanticism with a classical school or, even better, classic realism, they have given us a new romantic literature, but one more dangerous than that before, the same as the chief of a gang is more dangerous than a corrupt aristocrat. This literature, poisonous for souls, and unprecedented for us – it would be shameful were it to reach the knowledge of foreign parts and were it known that it makes the rounds of our literary salons – has been consecrated by Mr. Iorga as the literature of the future, "of the generation that is recognized and fights together today, and tomorrow will be master over the destiny of this land"; and Mr. Iorga places its authors alongside, or even above, Caragiale!… We believe that the time has come to react against aberrations that vitiate souls and darken minds. Our programme is as clear as the light of day! Instead of the refined barbarism of the decadents, instead of the simple and brutish barbarism of our improvised populiststhe direct successors of Mr. N. D. Popescu – we want spiritual culture, the only thing which, by opening the fount of moral pleasures for man, emancipates him from bestial pleasures (…) and which, helping him to poeticize his life by means of an ideology, reveals to him the way to be happy on any rung of the social ladder. Instead of the immorality of some and the amorality of others, we want morality. Instead of decadent romanticism, which is now defunct, and instead of the peasant romanticism that came after it, we desire a classic realism, such as we have in embryo over the mountains and, on this side of them, in Duiliu Zamfirescu and Brătescu-Voineşti; such as we find, in consummate form, in English literature, in Dickens and George Eliot, who, by means of a broad understanding of life and a profound love of mankind, have managed to elevate the ordinary life of simple folk to the rank of the ideal, without falling into conventionality and without giving up social criticism, which is so useful to general progress. However, it will be necessary that we do not, unlike Mr. Iorga, demand high taxes on foreign literature, but rather to consider as our own all that is best in European science, art and literature. This is what civilized peoples have always done. A person must have very little knowledge of the history of universal culture in order not to know the influences that have exerted themselves between the literary schools of various countries at various times: Russian realist literature proceeds from Dickens and George Sand – in Russia, children are educated with Dickens – the German from Ibsen, and so forth. Even when nationalist movements have sometimes arisen elsewhere, it is sufficient for us to look at them more closely in order to discover a substratum of a different nature. Thus, Lessing vehemently combats the imitation of French courtly literature merely on the grounds that that literature is foreign, but at the same time, he himself is inspired by English democratic literature… Instead of the idealization of the barbaric past – have our nationalist writers ever thought that their peasant ancestors were beaten on the steps of the boyars whom they now praise to the skies?… – we, with unshakeable faith in the law of the advancement of human society, and following the greatest thinkers and the healthiest elements from the West, have for our ideal the future and regard all aspirations towards the past as regrets of the parasite classes for lost privileges. Did not the great Taine love his country too? And nevertheless, speaking of the French Middle Ages, he declared that he would rather live in a pack of wolves than in those times… Instead of the words patriotism and nationalism, which have been abused so much in our country recently, and by which are understood not duties, but rather I know not what rights to exploit the state and live without working, we shall take as our motto honesty and idealism. What honest man has not been useful to the society in which he lived and what idealist has ever lived for anything other than the good of his country? And have we not seen, from what has occurred in France during recent years, that the nationalist motto has served and continues to serve as a mask for retrogressive tendencies and the ignoble interests of the pseudo-aristocracy, of high finance, and of the Jesuits, interests and tendencies which can only prop themselves upon the ignorant peasantry of the most backward provinces?… And in our country, how many men putrid with vice, unworthy to tread the earth, do not believe that they absolve themselves of all sin by naming themselves nationalists?… And, lastly, we demand that at least we, the intellectuals, should no longer be terrorized by the ancestral law!… When, in Germany – which has two ancestral laws – the great philosopher Haekel purposely brings out an atheist book, The Riddle of the Universe, in a popular edition which sells two hundred thousand copies; when, in France, where the state used to maintain all religions, a severance of church from state is achieved; when, in the Far East, the marquis Ito, the Bismarck of Japan, declares that the Japanese people has no neighbor and needs no religion; when even in Romania there was formerly a minister, V. Conta, who wrote atheist books which were then published in popular editions – we, otherwise convinced that the faith of the Romanian peasant must not be touched and that, in general, it is not good to make anti-religious propaganda in our country, we demand only that in philosophical matters we should be allowed freely to state our opinions, those opinions which are today those of the entire thinking world, opinions which we have formed from all we have read, from all we have learned in school, from all that we have been told by our University teachers. In order to create the new movement, we rely on the support of men thirsty for the ideal and on the approval of all the healthy elements in the country. We are confident that, for the next few decades, Romania needs no other reforms than those which have everywhere been achieved by the ruling classes themselves; that, in the first place, what is needed is the demolition of the oligarchic citadel through the introduction of universal suffrage – the reform achieved, with the support of the people, in Germany by Bismarck, the representative of the feudal and aristocratic elements!… Some propagate the regeneration of the country for the healthy elements in the ruling class; others believe it necessary to organize the masses in order to obtain reform through pressure from below – it is our belief that the co-operation of both the one and the other is needed, all the more so given that the aim is the same, and the means to attain it, far from being in contradiction, support each other. The only elements consciously opposed to progress in Romania today are those whose existence is founded on the exploitation of the budget by means of political power.

by Henric Sanielevici (1875-1951)