The Transfiguration Of Romania

Chapter 3Romania's Psychological and Historical Voids If it were true that the Romanian's spiritual disposition does not surpass the one evinced in the past and that the future is not going to uncover any hidden sides to the Romanian soul, then any attempt to lay the corner stone of tomorrow's Romania would be futile. No country is born and developed from outer, but from inner conditions. Even if these obey some formal patterns, the specific psychological determinants impose nonetheless a mark and an individual character. The sense of a country's becoming has so many roots deep in that respective people's psychology! And if psychology cannot explain the social forms, the objective crystallization of a people's fate, the voids, the insufficiencies, the dark side of a destiny can nevertheless be fathomed. There is a vice of substance to the Romanian's soul structure, an initial void from which the whole string of failures in our past was derived. At the dawn of Romanianness there was no shaped soul – for a people is revealed to itself as well as to the world by a long process – but only dispositions, virtualities, which, in their entirety, can show the meaning of a revolution or a destiny. There must be some inadequacy in the psychological potential of the Romanian people, some non-conformity of resources, which takes the shape of a deficiency of substance. While with so many peoples there was an innate spontaneity, an original, active irradiation, an uncontainable explosion, the Romanian life form suffers from the lack of primordial dynamism. Romania has an original sin, of an indefinable nature, but identifiable in all the voids of the past. The necessity of the historical leap becomes all the more imperative when the overcoming and defeat of these original insufficiencies are the condition for our coming out into the world. Whatever is positive and creative in Romania's primordial soul will urge us onward regardless of the obstacles. Everything that has been accomplished so far is owed to some dynamic impulse, which, unfortunately, has been almost absent compared to the negativity inscribed in our premises and which has kept us deep in the one thousand year long historical slumber. The present deficiencies of the Romanian are not the product of his "history"; on the contrary, it is this history which is the product of some psychological deficiencies of structure. The specificity of historical conditions and their gravity did but deepen the initial dispositions and shed light on our a-history. The wicked times that we have been through were so because we were not strong and capable enough to defeat them. Had we had in us a drive to shape our individuality and assert ourselves unequivocally, we would have overcome the wickedness of the times long ago, like all the "great" peoples have – in destiny and not in number. A people makes a difference through numbers, but even more so through its aggressive force. The demographic issue becomes tragic if the decrease speaks of a biological deficiency. This is why a young people with a small but growing population is more creative and more feared than a large but dwindling one. The military and combative instinct gives a more poignant historical configuration than the reality of numbers. Prussia, cut off from the rest of Germany, can at any time constitute a country, which would be no less feared, for all its small population. Prussia alone equals the whole rest of Germany; which explains why it imposed its life style, through Hitlerism, on the entire country. Irrespective of the political organization, Germany will always bear the Prussian mark. The only altar mankind has ever worshipped is power. We have knelt before this altar, too, but only to humble ourselves and adulate the power of others. Romanians have always been too lukewarm. With their hate of extremes and radical solutions, they did not oppose to the flow of events the reaction that characterizes an individuality, but went around the events, so that everything happened in their spite. Our equilibrium was by no means the expression of a harmony, but of a deficiency. It did not even conceal latent inner contradictions, but the miserable tranquility of an unfulfilled soul. Besides, equilibrium only makes sense in the classical époques of the grand cultures, when it is the fruit of an inner fulfillment and a roundness of style. With the minor forms of culture, equilibrium is unrevealing and compromising. It is not through equilibrium that peoples have cut a way for themselves. History is made through a never-ending and tormented seeking, which likens a drama and never a discovery. A kindred must put to risk not only its energies, but its essence, its being. By its unfulfillment it commits a sin before its own nature, precisely like a man's unfulfillment, which is a suicide in stages. The Romanians should have heeded the sun rising above their country and should have responded to light through action. A tumultuous history is a people's gratitude to the heavens. The world is not a justification of God's; history, however, is one of man's. We will have to see what is Romania's national specificity, which has kept it immobile for a thousand years, in order to be able to eliminate it together with the ridiculous pride that binds us to it.… Every time I look at the Romanian peasant I like to note, engraved in the wrinkles on his face, the painful voids of our past. I do not know of any other peasant in Europe more wretched, more sallow, more overwhelmed. I imagine this peasant cannot have had any consuming thirst for life if all the humiliations were carved in his face and all the defeats cut deeply into his wrinkles. However resourceful he may prove, the impression is not that of a biological freshness. A subterranean existence is his being and his slow, bent shuffle is a symbol for the shadows of our destiny. We are a people that have come out of burrows, out of mountains and valleys. We have looked at the sky out of the shadows and stood erect in the dark. We have kept cool for a thousand years. That is why fever alone can save us now…When will the Romanian peasant raise his head? For we have been looking down all our life.The physiognomic criticism of Romania has not only theoretical, but also practical grounds. As there are relatively few valid documents on the country's intimate being, all exterior documents revealing it to us must be used. The physiognomy of the French, German or Russian peasant discloses so many features of the respective countries' history. Only that France, Germany and Russia have presented themselves to the world to exhaustion and besides, they are not folk cultures as we are, therefore we might as well forget the peasants when referring to them. Any people should aspire to the creation of a "historical", not a folk, culture. The folk elements must be either subsumed or cast aside. To regard them as goals means to miss a culture's upward progression.A people who has created but a folk culture has not left behind the historical stage. And how could it, if all folk cultures equal values with ethnicity? A folk culture is a sum of creations, which sprang from the deep roots of the soul and remain bound to them, while with historical cultures the reflected effort of the spirit gives birth to values which take off into the world on their own. Folk cultures take their air from myths, from these premonitions of history. They perceive becoming substantially and thus renounce history in favor of eternity. They do not know of progress, but only of transformations; and in terms of authenticity these transformations are falsifications. Since value resides only with the primordial – that sum of telluric and chthonic elements in a people's aurora –, folk cultures are primitive and reactionary. They dwell in themselves. The point of a historical leap is to liberate them from their own curse. Will anyone pull Romania out of itself? Will it emerge out of itself?Romania's becoming lacks an upward meaning. The formal schema of our fate is the horizontal. We have been crawling through time. The happy peoples of the Earth are eruptions and that is why their fate invites implicitly the representation of a vertical. The Gothic is the style of verticality, of eager, but oriented impetus, of transcendent becoming. Individuality is determined by the Gothic elements in its soul. Their predominance characterizes its emphasis. A culture's impetus is the expression of the inner presence of Gothic pathos. For the Gothic is the vertical dimension of the spirit. Out of it derives the tragic, the sublime and the yielding, as a passion for another world. Its absence assimilates you calmly and cozily into becoming, leaving you prey to time. Destiny, like a horizontal gliding, is the negation of the Gothic and of the life complexes born from it. The Romanian kin has not been touched by the Gothic spirit. Hence: the passiveness, the skepticism, the self-disdain, the quiet contemplation, the minor religiousness, the a-history, the wisdom, which shape the negative and, sadly, central side of our national specificity. This is how we have lived our thousand years and this is how we will have to stop living the thousands to come.Only the becoming fury is vitalizing. When you yield to it passionately, up to folly or hysteria, it is impossible to be swallowed by time. For an exasperatedly arduous becoming takes you – by the force of passion – out of time. I would like for Romania to be alive with excitement and make a furnace of its heart. There is no other escape from sub-history, from our lost time.Our age-long resignation has made us wise. If individually wisdom can reach peaks, as a collective phenomenon it spells inertia. The Romanians are the wisest people in all of Europe; but it does not come from spirit but from lack of courage and self-assertion. "It is not the times under the man, but the poor man under the times" is a catastrophe for the people. And to think that this maxim is a symbol, the key to our destiny! Any proverb, any Romanian folk saw, expresses the same timidity before life, the same indecision and resignation. In the future this people should not be offended any more by having their wisdom praised! Truths derived from resignation are not something to boast about. No historical act has ever been born from wisdom, which can only be sub- or trans-history. Wisdom is the negation of history, because it is the distance from life, whereas history is the assertion of life. Even more than that: history is life's superstition, because it is the active and intense vibration of becoming. Great cultures are peaks of time.The Romanian's every day truths are paralyzing. They tend to rob man of any responsibility. Fatalism is an instance of amorality of becoming. I can understand being urged by individual, interior fatality, the dynamism of the inner demon, but it is an anthropological deviation and disgrace to stoop before the times. We have been controlled by the times for a thousand years. This says a lot. Our people's fatalism is a curse that we have to eradicate with flashes of lightning. Down to the heart of hearts we must be struck by its dazzle.Romania's age-old plague has been skepticism. It is indeed astonishing how a belated people could have evinced a phenomenon characteristic of a culture's decline, saturation or exhaustion. When a culture's productive energy runs dry, as there is nothing left to create, it grows out of sterility an addition of lucidity, which nullifies its innocence and its freshness. […]Many Romanians, endlessly many, admit daily to Romania being the lowest country in the world. Many get a cold, indifferent satisfaction from this statement. But it is impossible that this should not hurt anybody and it is impossible that in the future it will not hurt everybody. Romania will be redeemed when we are all torn apart by fate, when we all tear each other apart for it. The shortcoming of our self-criticism is to have had none of a religious pathos, to have not made of messianism a soteriology. If the issue of our mission becomes a salvation doctrine, we are lost, that is, we will become lost in ourselves, because the world has never had us. What a gypsy fiddler once said to a group of Romanians: "You are lucky to have us, or you'd be lagging behind" defines a real situation and not a trivial exaggeration. If Romania does not make history it will be the last country in the world, the way it is lived by the ordinary imbecilic citizen. We ought to have lived our Romanian drama with a religious conscientiousness in order to atone for so many national sins. Romanians are too transparent to themselves. Few people will ever exist with less mystery to their soul; a heart open on to the world in the most perfect of familiarities. The lyrical intimacy with the being defines the Romanian's life feeling. How can it be explained, however, that there is no other country where Russian literature enjoyed a wider circulation? Can we possibly have been urged by our void towards the complexity of the Slavic soul, with all the attractions of a compensation, or may our whim have been flattered in its exterior analogies with the irrationality of Russian psychology? Someone used to say that Romanians loved Dostoevsky's novels only for the debauchery in them. Indeed, the exterior whim and the superficial complexity, so specific to the Romanian soul, are only stolen by Russian drama, by the appearances of interior tragedy. Romanians have of course less luminous spaces than the French, but their hides can hardly bring them close to the Russians' intoxicated nature. Debauchery is the natural climate of Romania. Our heart takes shape through broken lines. We lack the continuity of pulsation and, having no line, what fate could we oppose to others to generate conflicts? We do not exist through conflicts, not even in them. A people, if it lacks a historical idea, should at least have tragic-generating feeling. France would not be ahead of all peoples in modern history if, alongside the world of values to which it sacrificed itself, it had not developed to paroxysm the sense of glory. It is in the name of this grand gratuity that it set history in motion, rather than in the name of the idea or of the necessity. Still, for a people to be able to give birth to the superstition of a universal glory there has to be a universal dimension to its soul.The Romanian's lack of mystery makes him indiscreet beyond any limits; he always pours out his heart. What then is ever left in his heart? Can an indiscreet people believe in God? For an individual certainly cannot. The Romanian will let pass no opportunity to share his feelings. I wonder if this is not the source of a certain emptiness of ours. There is a great emptiness in Romania.Any complexity of the soul presupposes internal crushing, hidden pressures of the soul, enduring timidities and buried secrets. The secret corners of the soul always feed themselves on the dead bodies in our own past. Why should we take our dead bodies out into the daylight? What are the depths of the soul doing out into the open? There is no "soul" unless in darkness. Romania is no solar country: it is a subterranean country, yet without any great gloom. We are, perhaps, too simple or too clear in our obscurities. For I do not believe Romania to be shy either with its heights or its abysses. It is unfortunately too sincere and too brave with its voids. And it accepts them all too often, it is too often contemptuous of itself. It is very peculiar that a Romanian should not be able to make himself interesting among fellow Romanians other than by displaying his shortcomings and deficiencies. There is no people in the world that should make not working a virtue. In Romania, the intelligent and unanimously applauded type is the systematic truant player, for whom life is but a chance for subjective whim, for minor exercise of scorn, for superficial negativity. I have met nobody with a looser adherence to values than the Romanian's. All through the existence of Romania, no intellectual has ever died for an idea, what I mean is that none has substituted himself for an idea. Spiritual attitudes are erroneously identifiable through names; we find our way about spiritual history with the help of individuals. With us, the obsessed intellectual is a monster. Doubting sacrifice is a Romanian idiosyncrasy. The belief in the futility of sacrifice is so organic, that it would take a fever equal to that of the age of the martyrs of Christendom to convince this miserable people of the spiritual meaning of renunciation. We lack the destructive passion for an ideal. You can only impose values starting from rubble: ruins always signal the presence of spirit. The self-destruction impetus rising from the desire to give a contour to the world through self-liquidation presupposes the perspective of other worlds and the jealousy of them, which gives birth to the passion of transforming this world. The Romanian is only consistent when it comes to being lucid about the Romanian predicament. He knows that none of his fellow countrymen is enthusiastic about his fate as a Romanian. And then, there begins the confession of one's own deficiencies, interpreted and justified by means of Romania's vices of substance. No Romanian feels personally responsible. He holds Romania's voids accountable for all his personal failures and voids, thus fleeing individual responsibility. It is true that the transfiguration of the country cannot be achieved through divergent and disparate efforts, but it requires a structural modification grounded on collective orientation. If the entire Romania does not set out to conquer itself in a collective effort, the individuals who want to save themselves from a deficient Romanianness are sooner or later bound to fail, because they do not have the stamina of national substance as a prop. The frequency of the attempts of individual redemption is nonetheless symptomatic and it bears witness of the intensity that can be achieved by the desire to eliminate a national disaster that is written in the blood. When will we stop projecting our own voids in those of Romania?Had we developed an infinite passion and had we vented secret fervors, our life would not have been a series of false starts, we would have the support of glory and grandeur would be our solace and not a vague aspiration. We only internalized resignation and that is why we do not know the meaning of accumulation, with its inevitable, explosive discharges. Nothing is created that has to do with spirit without a certain degree of ascesis. The more restrictions on life, the higher the impulses of the spirit. Instincts must burn underneath conscience. The passions of the spirit are vital effervescences, which no longer serve life. The exasperation of biology between intensities and deficiencies constitutes the fundament of the spirit. To what idea have we devoted all the vital forces, how many times have we yielded the strength of the heart to the weakness of the spirit? Ascesis is a will to power grounded in biology but with focus on spirit. It is imperialism on a different scale, but of no less violent aggressiveness. The strains and vibrations of ascesis avenge everything that we have lived, everything that we have not consumed. All that Romanians have to avenge is their age-old somnolence. Individually, they have refused almost nothing, and that is why they are earnest with themselves, sincere with their nothingness. Unfulfilled desires are the source of inner dramatic character. We are only through what we have accumulated by not living. Could our non-history be our source of life? Could we be capable to create through what we have not done? Everything that has been created in Romania so far bears the stigma of fragmentariness. Apart from Eminescu everything is approximate. None of us has ever boasted with him. For did we not declare him, all of us, an inexplicable exception among us? What was he doing here, he of whom even a Buddha could be jealous? But for Eminescu we would have known that we could only be essentially mediocre, that there was no way out of ourselves and we would have adapted perfectly to our minor condition. We are too much indebted to Eminescu's genius and to the thrill he poured into our soul. […]There have been few countries that – like Romania – have known in their entire past no other means of spiritual liberation than religion. Anything at all can be said about Orthodoxy; but one thing is certain: if we did not have this, either, we would have been tabula rasa. Orthodoxy has never been dynamic; however, it has never ceased being national. It did not get us into the world, but it was the only one that, during all this time, has given us the presentiment of other worlds. Eminescu's thesis according to which had we been Catholics we would now find ourselves on a much higher position on the civilization scale might well be justified, but for one aspect: we might not have been at all. Romania's evolution deficiencies are not religious in nature. Orthodoxy is not to blame for our remaining immobile for so long: we are. It has done but close us within ourselves and watch over our silence or our woe. Its destiny bears all the marks of Romania's destiny. It explains why it has taken part in almost every form of nationalism and why it can only be nationalistic. It is nonetheless doubtful that its strength, its poor resources could help her stimulate a Romania born out of a modern vision. It is not so strong as, by opposing resistance, to become reactionary; it is however weak enough to become an anachronism. Orthodoxy has kept us warm through the centuries of subterranean waiting. Its warmth has long since begun to fade and if today it is mild tomorrow it will be neutral or cold. Apart from the fact that no form of the spirit can maintain its values bound – for a long time – to the soul and this crystallizes autonomously, constituting an uprooted and dead world, the deficiencies of Orthodoxy can be explained by our approximate religiousness. There are many people in Romania who believe in God; I do not think there has ever been a doubter in our past. Only that Romanian religiousness is minor, dispassionate and, more importantly, non-aggressive. So many people have made our tolerance a merit and have turned an insufficiency into virtue! True religiousness is fanatical, prophetic and intolerant; it was to be found with the first Christians, the Inquisition and the Holy Synod of Czarist Russia. (That is why militant atheism exists only in Spain and Russia.) He who is touched by a revelation can no longer tolerate anything but its absolute and its institutional occurrences. A religious person – one who defines the moments of his life through religion – is the most difficult person to accommodate, the most inhuman imaginable. For this reason a religious people – that is a fanatical, prophetic and intolerant one – even when lacking political acumen, finds a path for itself in the world through its religious passion. In last century's Russia, the Church proved incapable to adapt to the needs of the Russian people; it understood nothing of the tragic character of the Russian social issue and transformed itself – against revolutionary trends – into an autocratic tool. However, it had enough energy so as not to give in and, turning its inertia into tyranny, revealed so many resources of strength.Our own Orthodoxy is circumstantial, lessened and non-dangerous. Our religious style is labile and gelatinous. Not having anything irruptive in it, it can no longer constitute an intervention into our destiny. In the future Orthodoxy will be crawling at Romania's tail. We have never had a dramatic religious destiny. It is actually good to be Orthodox. Nae Ionescu once said that the Romanian people is resting in Orthodoxy. I wonder if it is not rather Orthodoxy that is resting in it. Our Christianity is pastoral and, in a certain sense, non-historical. It manifests itself, it is true, on a collective level: but it does neither stimulate nor determine an upward drive in the collectivity. There is nothing Gothic about the local religiousness. The prevailing tone is the gray characteristic to Byzantine painting; our religious soul dresses in smoke-stained colors. If we were truly active believers, today we should have been much advanced in our progress. But pulsations in andante define all the domains of our life. A sensitivity in a minor key could only have associated with a static thinking and a passive outlook on life. It is nevertheless reassuring to see Romania trying – through an instinct of its becoming – to rid itself of the traditional misfortune which is the contemplative spirit. Who could say now that we are a contemplative people? Everybody agrees that we used to be. The shift towards the politic defeated the plague of sterile dreaming, devoid of any profound interiority, without the excuse of profundity and interior dynamism. The transition from the contemplative to the politic is one of the felicitous conversions this country has undergone. In fact, if we are to compare the past with the future ideal we are forced to make an entire series of conversions. On the one hand, the age-old ankylosis, on the other hand, the roads to freedom; everything that has been stopping us from becoming a nation and everything that is going to help us; things that have secured our position among the small cultures and those that will liberate us from it; our destiny as a subjugated country and the access to great power, etc. […]Romanians are generally too humble and not sufficiently pious. Piousness is the ultimate form of seriousness before the invisible order of things. When it affects a human, immanent character, life is changed into a value equivalent to transcendence. It is as if all aspects of reality were permeated with a divine breath and were sharing, in their diversity, the same absolute source. Out of piousness there springs a solemn sentiment of life. All acts unfold and are consumed as religious services, in an elegant graveness. Piousness gives eternal meaning to vanity. Hence its discreet charm. The Catholic world stands for so much grave seriousness and so much historical responsibility because, like no other, it has nurtured in itself an active piousness with its inherent ceremonial and temperate grandeur that have secured Catholicism so justified a dominion. Political spirit was added and so the other world was well turned to good account in this world. Humility will always place you under things. Through it you cannot even recognize yourself at the level and in the plight of current becoming. Humility is the most a-historical sentiment conceivable. Life's ebb is its cradle. If, individually, it is not incompatible with a detached spirit, expressed collectively it is discouraging. Humility is a vice. For it robs man and the world of charm and value.Among the many causes of Romanian skepticism is the dissolving influence of humility, this feeling that has cast a shadow over us, Romanians, since the dawn of time. It is as if, for centuries on end, we had only opposed to the troubles coming from other peoples the passive wisdom of the peasant: "Let it be!" There is no being more human than the Romanian. This is precisely the disaster. To any monstrosity the peasant will invariably answer: "All sorts of things happen among people." Excessive understanding, coming from the avoidance of conflict and of drama. This is the meaning of skepticism in general.Romanians have almost no concept of history, to which they substitute the notion of destiny. And what is the idea of destiny? The logic of the irrational. An inward direction in a world of contingencies, a fatality in a sea of variables. However, while modern cultures have abandoned the metaphysical idea of destiny, we, Romanians, have stuck with the metaphysical meaning of fate. For a German or a Frenchman destiny means no more than some inner, irreducible element that gives us a form in life. Fatality grows from the soul and remains on its margins. But if it does go beyond the psychological domain it affects the form of a mechanical determinism, with no bases in ontology. The Romanian, however, assigns a universal source to the essential reality that is destiny. Fatalism is determinism grounded in metaphysics.The notion of destiny has the great merit of being able to explain everything and nothing. The blind force that has the immanent limits of a specific logic satisfies our taste for searching for an unseen basis that generates all life contents; but it cannot explain their diversity and divergence. The phenomenal exuberance rises, autonomous, above the monotony of fate. The historic context remains foreign. The moment the Romanians forsake the idea of destiny as reality underneath which man suffers, incapable to move they will understand history and perhaps become part of it.We are too kind a people, too warm-hearted and too composed. I can only love a delirious Romania. […]Romanians have never suffered from too much naiveté. Living not so much in things as under them, they have always had the upward perspective; the excessive lucidity of the Romanians can only be explained this way. It has never been the fruit of spiritual knowledge, with a view from above, from the heights of spirit; its view has always been from our isolation beneath the flow of life. Decadent lucidity has its roots in the air. Any kind of lucidity is a distance from being.Naiveté is a paradisiacal reflex in immediacy. The empirical data of life are experienced in themselves and, even when transposed into myth, are directly connected to the participation of the soul. We must not however imagine the naïve style of cultures in Fra Angelico's blue because naiveté, presupposing the original, involves an entire complex of primitive, bestial eruptions. Only that bestiality is, in this age, irresponsible and it affects more readily a character of freshness. And besides, the ethics of naiveté is biology.That we have never felt the delights of naiveté as a cultural stage is proof once more that we have been leading a bare existence on the edge of history and that a unique condition defines our tragedy. The Romanian peasant is more lucid and older at heart than the Italian or the German peasant. If from a biological point of view he is above the French peasant, he is also so mature in his soul that we ought to be sad. The Romanian peasant knows a little too much about life and death, although he understands nothing of history. One might think that who knows what age-long, intense life experience of immemorial tradition compels him to so much doubt and bitterness. The Bavarian, Dutch or Swiss peasant is a suckling compared to our peasant. Perhaps all of us, Romanians, are but some old children. Could it be that we were born out of the Romans' exhaustion and the Dacians' tears? It is not pleasant to add any more knowledge to the immensity of local lucidity.We have lacked the psychological requisite of naiveté. Apart from that we should not complain, for Romania's organic un-differentiation evinced the concrete premises for a naïve kind of life. Were we not too much of a people and too little of a nation, more of a society than of a state? And from the point of view of the rationality of cultural forms, is it not that the organization of our life expresses an excess of irrationality? But if we have been denied the delights of naiveté, all we have left is to give our conscious entry into culture a touch of frenzy unknown to Romania. It would be a luxury for the primary spirit of our culture to worship the auroral expressions of culture. We have to tend to the ultimate, essential finalities of the becoming of a culture. We have too long been a people. 

by Emil Cioran (1911-1995)