The Destiny Of Old-Court Philanderers

"In a recent French translation Old-Court Philanderers have made quite a sensation. Different from Panait Istrati whose epic caught our attention, Mateiu I. Caragiale is not so good at describing a certain medium; his force lies in his rhythm, his intimate thrill, his sentence with scholarly articulations. This particular tone catches our eye. For a laborious creator, such as the descendant of Ion Luca was, art becomes obsession, an almost tragic stubbornness. The effort to write Old-Court Philanderers paid off, his capacity to reconstruct, better said to suggest – through the help of some fragmentary strokes, smoked by time – the atmosphere of a decrepit Bucharest is exceptional. The Balkanism, seen as a space for Turkish and Greek interference with the echoes of a far away Occident, gets in Mateiu's vision a unmistakable aesthetic expression. In order to emphasise the touch of authenticity, the narrator, who is not only an observer, speaks in the first person, pretending to be one of Pashadia and Pantazi's partner. His relations with these two are somewhat ambiguous, oscillating between a suspect sympathy and detachment. Every new episode, pretext for a character study, gives us the impression of an epic-psychological experiment. The narrator cultivates a technique of mystery, so that the imprecise portraits remain impenetrable; on certain occasions Old-Court Philanderers seem some Buddhists veiled in thin smokes. Just as in Remember the nocturnal represents a perfect setting for occult, out of the ordinary events. "Obviously, the author, a younger companion of Old-Court Philanderers, is himself an original type of man. A snob, crazy about historic genealogies, lonely and proud, he associates to his heraldic knowledge an extraordinary imagination; the cabinet character is abstract but at the same time he is a direct connoisseur of the sordid, morally degraded ambiences. From his descriptions we get a permanent alternation of sumptuous to decadence, the novel being a mixture of intellectual refinement and collapse into physiology. Due to the lack of moral conscience and their hedonism, Old-Court Philanderers continue the Greek spirit of enjoyment; on the other hand, some cultural preoccupations visible with Pashadia and Pantazi (who read Cervantes and Camöes in original) don't match some positive examples from the same climate. We can also mention stigmata specific to the last century decadents, still the interior tension is missing, and Old-Court Philanderers' actions show sensational elements. Through their incoherence they are desperados, time refractors, people for whom alcohol, detachment and singularization represent way of escape. Affective and poetic impulses, not some drama or some failure feeling, show an adventurous tendency in them. Neither does the Eros, another way of escape, change the lines of the masks. Music, keeping a diffuse melancholy, is the only one that catches in her fluidity some of the secrets of these aboulics. "Besides the Balkanic picturesque, Mateiu's eye discovers the grotesque, which bores a deadly irony, sometimes very direct, other times hardly visible at a minute reading. The sentence changes from intellectual vibration to shameless jargon, full of Turkish-Greek obscenities. A certain culinary or clothing detail – in the style of I. L. Caragiale's Abu-Hassan – belongs to the realist style; fabulous details break the story, directing the attention in unpredictable directions, making us more and more curious. To be quite frank, his preference for the unusual shows his pleasure to charge up till unbelievable. Turned into a norm this 'rottenness' of Byzantine descent, reaches its climax, but the narrator avoids a black, tragic tone, making an experience out of his own presence at Old-Court Philanderers debaucheries – a journey into the depths of a terrestrial inferno."

by Constantin Ciopraga