Outcasts: Between Psychologism And Unjust Order

Romanians of more recent generations, but also some of the older ones, who were born before the Soviet occupation, and the instauration of communism in this country, without reaching then intellectual maturity, look to the period that was cut short in 1948 as a privileged one, when everything went, if not like clockwork, at least far better than before, and than what was in store for them. There is no doubt that, especially with respect to the years of terror preceding Stalin's death, the entire Romanian past seemed utterly paradisiacal, although it was also riddled with quite a few wars, political assassinations, coups, or peasant uprisings. Misfortunes seemed to have shunned the long reign of Carol I in particular, when excellent writers emerged who would soon become classics; consequently, it became commonplace that it was both a period of thriving civilization and a kind of Belle Époque of our turbulent history. This interval of relative peacefulness existed indeed, but at the same time, the newer Romanian society was troubled by genuine tectonic movements engendered by its own dynamism, not only by external political factors. Especially after 1829, the two Danubian principalities, Wallachia and Moldavia (Transylvania's lot was different), embarked on a vast, precipitated project of modernization and enrichment, after the model already in force in Central and Western Europe. It was a violent movement desired by one and all, but no less generative of confusion, distortions, lesser or greater tragedies, which were to breed a literature not only of satirical observation, but also of unhappy destinies.Thus, the realist most reputed as comedy writer, I. L. Caragiale, is to the same extent an inventor of tragic situations: suicide, madness, accidental killings, pitiful defeats, falls into abulia and decay. Through its very ambitious project of radical change and corner-cutting, accepted even by those who would become its incidental victims, Romanian society required great efforts of adaptation and the change of a prevailing oriental mentality. Mere incongruence in the results did not mean everything; in fact, everybody was required to jump out of their skins, not just enter other structures. Generally speaking, the process was an indisputable success, which Europe itself had to take heed of, but failures were many too, and could not be overlooked either.The literature of the period, especially after the first stages of this process, began to record the misfit type, which was not only the old-fashioned boyar, or the rural individual, captured in his traditional patterns, but also the ambitious washout, crushed before his time, defeated without having fought in dramatic battles (the less so the one banned – or withdrawn – from society, stretching out the psychology of onetime justice-seeking outlaws, like Panait Istrati's Codin, or bandits, like Lica in The Lucky Mill). A more frequent – and visible – type is the helpless, who can neither take on the course strewn with rivalries and dangers of the new society, nor create the steps offered by the new world he was called on to build.All these unpleasant events, even devoid of tragic tones, were placed by Marxist dogma (which ruled over, and blocked, Romanian literary research) under the sign of social conflict, of an "unjust order" specific to a world divided in "exploiters" and "exploited".It is true that a literature with a social content, depicting antagonisms, or mere frictions of this kind (from Tanase Scatiu to Rebreanu's The Uprising), existed and illustrated a real phenomenon. But this phenomenon was greatly softened – and surpassed – by the intelligent, opportunistic reformism of the political class, staving off "explosions" and dampening discontents. The will for enrichment, the transformation of some citizens into entrepreneurs animated by a mercantile spirit, represent a "progressive" phenomenon in the Marxist perspective, even if it occurs at the expense of other social categories, as communists would claim, instead of within the framework of general enrichment. A great deal more visible and productive in literature is a phenomenon that does not constitute a mere accessory of progress: the passage of millions of people from the condition of ruralism to a galloping process of urbanization, which in the socialist vision is a sure sign of progress and their reason to be, and to imagine future society, which is founded precisely on cities. Yet, the literature of imagination, the journalists' comments, the social and political scientists' judgments, and sometimes the philosophers', teem with curses on cities, especially the capital, seen as an inferno, a place of destruction and death – an attitude that gained momentum after World War I, offering interesting works such as Cezar Petrescu's Victory Road (1929) and Radu Tudoran's Seasons (1943); psychological issues come before the Marxist "scientific" explanation. This is a recurrent theme in Romanian culture, explicable through the great number of provincial and rural people who came to the capital to get rich, to build a career, or climb the social ladder; the size and diversity, even the "mystery" of the metropolis, turned it into a Moloch. But the situation continued throughout communism, without hostile, unfavorable comments, but with effects upon artistic representation, offered by the new series of rural migrants. In parallel with this process that, in time, becomes secondary, another discovery may be made: an intellectualist literature, of social refinement and exceptional psychology: young writers, like Camil Petrescu, Gib Mihăescu, Anton Holban no longer use the social issue even as background in their novels, and this is also true as far as the entire literature by Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu is concerned. "Participation", out of moral solidarity, to a national action is still to be seen with Radu Comsha, the hero of Cezar Petrescu's Darkening, but not with the confessing hero of Camil Petrescu's The Last Night of Love, The First Night of War, while in the case of Ragaiac, the narrator hero of Gib Mihăescu's The Russian Woman, the war episode is only a strictly personal adventure that has nothing to do with public ideals.At the same time, the "new generation", headed by Mircea Eliade, introduces in Romanian prose the extreme individualist type, the intellectual anarchist (widely expounded in The Return from Heaven and in the emblematically titled novel The Hooligans, a line to be ended right before the advent of communism with The Leaves Are Not the Same Any Longer by Mihail Villara, after Dinu Pillat's Daily Death and Strange Youth captured about the same psychologies in a group picture.The intimate, confession-like style, and withdrawal into oneself, dominate the new experiments which, in Interior by C. Fântâneru, Epicene by Octav Şuluţiu, and especially M. Blecher's prose, lead to the confusion between the single character and the narrator in an attempt at self-analysis, and self-representation that verges on the pathological.The social, or moral, standards by which the heroes of this literature may be judged as exceptions and deviances vanish, or are ignored to a great degree, thus being impossible to regard as term of comparison. Communism suddenly broke up this interesting, natural evolution, imposing, by using all its brutal means of constraint, a literature molded after its propaganda ideals: the characters, always seen in black and white, had to be "typical", i.e. illustrative in compliance with Party norms. Only after many years was the existence of "crackpots" permitted, especially of young people whose personality had not crystallized yet, but who followed the communist program, albeit with small, fanciful, harmless deviations (I. Băieşu, Fănuş Neagu), or who were lagging behind the others and their impetuous élan.The final years of communism saw the emergence of less obedient generations, but also the contribution of older authors (such as Şt. Bănulescu and I. D. Sîrbu), and the projection of their epical imagination beyond reality, sometimes in the realm of the fantastic, where oddity is the natural, expected climate.

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)