New Literary Sincerity

It was not easy for Romanian literature to evolve up to Ioana Bradea's novel, to its so provokingly violent title (itself a sophisticated, impudent blend of meanings and connotations as long as the dictionary designates just one object: a pipe)! And to think that once arrived at this point, there is no way for literature to take a rest. There is still a long way to go, to be sure. The young prose writer's book took a desperate leap and managed to correct the forced, and so far pitiable, effort to push taboos of the literary language out of the impasse. The leap has by now been taken, yet the straight-forwardness of such a book still renders one uneasy (therefore these lines will stay clear of extensive quotations), and puts off quite a few quality readers whom only curiosity could prompt to take up Pipe Ass. More than other authors who have tried their hand in this direction (from Radu Aldulescu and Nora Iuga to Cecilia Ştefănescu, Ruxandra Cesereanu and Ioana Baetica), Ioana Bradea is convincing by the consistent intelligence of the world described. What is most worrisome though is the book's air of an immense stylistic orgasm, which logically heralds a physiological respite of talent. If this is so, remains to be seen. Such are the risks of the debutant! Until recently it was only translators who noticed that literary Romanian is simply devoid of a layer: that of eroticism, of directly expressed sexuality, which uses a much too limited number of words, with vulgar connotations alone, and therefore instantly undermining all literary effect (with the exception of the easy manner, which awes nearly all readerships). A study of Romanian love literature in the 20th century would lead to flabbergasting conclusions. In the absence of an adequate idiom, the realities of a rather lax moral, infested by an instinct of duplicity, have prompted a dodging style of euphemism and metaphors, if not a downright warped syntax and narrative construction. Neither the Tale of All Tales tradition, nor avant-garde rebellions (Geo Bogza style), nor examples of public vexation turned vituperative (against Mircea Eliade for instance), nor the rustic idioms smacking of Romanian rednecks used by Gib Mihăescu, contributed much change. The road to Eugen Barbu's The Pit was not long, and from then on there emerged the solid, paved road swept by false communist Puritanism that drove everything into the gray area of repression. Psychological and falsely cerebral displays inundated the available literary space, bestowing on us, around the 1970s (with the disinterested assistance of the new French novel), the most unpalatable slice of Romanian prose ever. Under the circumstances (which deserve a more persistent review), it is easy to understand why it became almost an obsession after 1989 to recuperate sensuality, and subsequently sexuality, at the level of literary idiom. Almost every writer put a little pebble, more or less consciously, at the frail foundation of the new literary expression. Consecrated writers no longer repressed their language (Ştefan Agopian with Fric is one good recent example), while the new ones rapidly found a way to draw attention on themselves by refusing to gloss over outer, and inner, realities. Contested and equally applauded, the new literary earnestness equally repulses and attracts. Disinhibition exercisesIn the beginning there was an extreme hurry to reprint books including the licentious excerpts purged by the communist censorship before 1989 (Llosa, Fowles and James Clavell are touching examples of what a taste of freedom could mean 15 years ago!). Next came the attack of third-rate authors, then of commercial initiatives like Prostitution magazine (impossible to equal the pathetic effect of the respective publication!) It is clear though that the insistent vulgarization of the tone used by various television channels at the end of the decade crumbled serious reticence, and, paradoxically also had good results: it helped book lovers distinguish between public vulgarity ("public obscenity", as Andrei Pleşu put it) and the disinhibition of literature. Ioana Bradea is perhaps the only of the echelon of young writers experimenting with liberated language who does not put the need to shock before that of writing. Making a literary transcription of a personal experience, that of a hot-line employee, she discharges a huge psychological burden, which otherwise she could have swallowed only with difficulty. The many reviews existing spare me the presentation of the novel. I have to insist though that the literary situation is exceptional, which makes me fear that a second experience, so sexually intensive, will be hard for the author to reiterate in just one life. It is easy to see that Pipe Ass is an immense poem in disguise, and if the substance of this book had not jelled into so many situations and characters we would have been forced to ask ourselves if we are dealing with a prose writer or an alternate poet. Despite its premises, Pipe Ass is an irretrievable book for feminism. It includes so much pity for men and for women equally that there is no more room left for any ideology... Ioana Bradea does not pass judgment on the world she writes about, she does not loathe it. The energy of the narrating character is simply consumed in the zest to live as such, to wait for nothing, absolutely nothing, from the others. An upside-down eulogy of the integrality – not integrity – of the being. excerpted from 22 magazine, September 30-October 6, 2004

by Tania Radu