Published in Word and Text. A Journal of Literary Studies and Linguistics. II. 1 (June 2012): 13–26. http://jlsl.upg-ploiesti.ro/documente/documente/Arhiva/Wordandtextno3/01Stefanescu.pdf
Applied social, human and political sciences
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013
“Narratives of the Emerging Self: Romania's First Years of Post-totalitarian Cinema”
(co-author Sanda Foamete)
Published in Cinemas in Transition in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989. Eds. Catherine Portuges and Peter Hames. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2013.
(co-author Sanda Foamete)
Published in Cinemas in Transition in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989. Eds. Catherine Portuges and Peter Hames. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2013.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
1. PRELIMINARY REMARKS: THE SCOPE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROJECT
The current economic and financial crisis has made it more difficult for countries of the former communist block to exit their transition from a state-controlled to a market economy and from a totalitarian to a democratic political regime. The national reconstruction in these countries has become increasingly awkward. Against this insecurity, the public intellectuals in
once more are playing an important role in shaping public opinion, as they did in the first years that followed the fall of communism. Arguably, the voice of opinion shapers conditions the public representations of the present and future of the country, as well as the sway of political sympathies. The discourse of public intellectuals can often outline the immediate course for the nation by certain discursive tactics which go hand in hand with distinct ideological stances. These varied discourses generate alternative portraits and narratives of the nation whose interplay generates such a country’s historical and political dynamics. It remains for ordinary citizens to choose their favorite account of the nation and to empower the political figures who claim to be able to translate these stories into reality. And so today’s words are tomorrow’s deeds. It, then, becomes imperative for us to understand the mechanics of public discourse on reconfiguring the nation that we may evaluate and predict its impact on society. Romania
Given the premise that the discourse of public intellectuals is one of the most significant shapers of the collective self, this study undertakes to classify and analyze the most noticeable national self-imaging discourse types from public intellectuals in post-1989 Romanian cultural periodicals.
I am using discourse in the pragmatic and post-Foucauldian sense of the term to implicate the relationships between thought, speech and action, between the various domains and instances of discourse in society, between communication and disputes for power, status and legitimacy. Precedence is given to one particular interdependency, that between modes of enunciating and ideological stances as suggested by Hayden White (see Methodology section below).
I take the phrase ‘public intellectuals’ to refer to educated personalities who are well-known outside their own specialism who undertake to discuss issues of general interest for a lay yet relatively educated audience through the channels of the public media (Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals, Harvard University Press, 2001).
The analytical instruments (detailed below) come from postcolonial, subaltern, and cultural studies, falling largely within the poststructuralist paradigm. The methodological transfer is grounded in the relative compatibility between the postcolonial and the postcommunist situation. In both cases, we are dealing with victimized cultures whose identities suffered the aggression of a foreign oppressor and are experiencing a post-traumatic historical interval.
Accounts of postcommunism usually come from historians, economists, sociologists, and political scientists. By contrast, the contribution of discourse scholars to this subject is rather modest. And postcolonial analyses are even scantier, although this is a repository of exemplary accounts of historically traumatized cultures, which were occupied and mutilated by foreign powers, and which eventually gained their freedom and faced the surprisingly difficult task of recovering their cultural identity—which is precisely the condition of former communist countries. This project sets out to compare the two situations and to associate them methodologically for a better understanding of the two hypostases and of the dynamic of post-1989 Romanian culture.
2. THE AIMS OF THE STUDY
v To identify and classify the ideological discourses on national identity by which public intellectuals secure their legitimacy in the reconstruction of post-1989 Romanian society and shape the public imaginary.
v To analyze rhetorical alternatives for the reconstruction of postcommunist national identity.
v To catalog the prevalent themes and images of the discourse of decolonization and scrutinize how they are inflected in the homologous context of decommunization. This will implicitly validate the methodological transfer between postcolonial and postcommunist studies.
v To document how ideological matrices operate in relative autonomy from historical conjunctures and how doctrines operate differently in dissimilar contexts.
v To compare the inventory and behavior of national identity discourses with those of postcolonial cultures.
By following these routes I hope to evince certain discursive ideological types, that is, an arsenal of categories of self-representation, which function differently in unlike cultural contexts.
3. THE METHODOLOGY: THE THEORETICAL BASIS, CRITICAL INSTRUMENTS, AND INTERPRETIVE FRAMEWORK
The premises of my study are constructivist along the line of such studies as B. Anderson’s Imagined Communities, E. Hobsbawm’s The Invention of Tradition, or E. Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism. Like these scholars, I take national identity to be imagined or invented, rather than given. I will be working with a modified version of Hayden White’s tropology (developed in Metahistory and Tropics of Discourse) in conjunction with the theoretical positioning and the analytical instruments provided by poststructuralist postcolonial critics such as Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak.
The corpus will consist of samples of national identity discourse from the cultural postcommunist press where public intellectuals discuss the repositioning of Romanian culture in relation to the West. Such texts will be compared with their pre-1989 genealogies and with their (post)colonial equivalents.
Adopting the methodology commonly used in accounts of postcolonial emancipation in order to analyze postcommunism will ensure a contrastive study of post-traumatic cultures whose shared genus, I argue, is postimperialism. I aim to document both the structural discursive homologies and the different historical conjunctures that define the role of public intellectuals in postcommunism and postcolonialism.
4. ORIGINAL CONTRIBUTION OF THE RESEARCH
v Nationalism and national consciousness are usually tackled by ‘hard’ approaches that focus on economic, political, and social contexts. I am proposing a new soft approach that is concerned with discursive modalities of expressing subjectivity. The quaternary analytical grid I employ (the modified White model) is instrumental in avoiding the simplifying bipolar typologies like civic/liberal/good/Western nationalism vs. ethnic/bad/Eastern European nationalism, or traditional humanism vs. radicalism.
v Though I support Anderson’s thesis regarding the imaginary construction of national identity, I am reserved as to his dealing mostly with objective, hard, material aspects (print capitalism, Protestantism, the lay state and its institutions etc.) and with the instruments of identity construction, while ignoring the constructing/constructed subject and the manner in which such a human subject conceives his/her identity. I, therefore, propose to bring back to the fore of constructivist interpretations their long disregarded protagonist, human subjectivity and discourse as the medium of its expression.
v I am modifying Hayden White’s explanatory scheme by introducing new and more appropriate master tropes like simile and antithesis (along the lines of François Hartog’s study of the representations of otherness in The Mirror of Herodotus), as well as by reconfiguring the correspondences between the master tropes and the ideological archetypes.
v There is almost unanimous opposition to associating postcolonialism and postcommunism coming from traditional historians, or historians of the imaginary, postcolonial critics, and postcommunist scholars. My research articulates a plea for the inclusion of the two hypostases under the same category or genus and a demonstration of the viability of a conceptual and methodological transfer between the two fields.
5. TOPICALITY AND EXPECTED IMPACT OF THE PROJECT
I believe the alternative perspective that my study proposes will generate a fresh understanding of the postcommunist phenomenon and it may also trigger revisions of postcolonial theory. The discourse of public intellectuals has been analyzed so far from the perspective offered by media and communication studies or by political science. Submitting this subject to a tropological examination would be a first. The present research aims to generate an interdisciplinary field at the crossroads between rhetoric and discourse analysis, narratology, the study of ideology, history, nationalism studies, postcolonialism, and postcommunism.
In order to fully grasp the importance of such a novel critical site, one must size the current difficulties. The understanding of postcommunism has been hindered by the parochialism of the case studies presented by critics and the desire to work within confined and outdated models. Moreover, communication between the various postcommunist cultures has been scarce in the absence of a lingua franca and of translations between these vernaculars.
Perhaps the language is the very key to a solution. My project suggests there are common deep structures of the discourses of national reconstruction whatever the domain, topic or political allegiance. Ignoring the discursive mechanisms which shape political, economic, spiritual or any other representations might preclude a genuine understanding of the postcommunist phenomenon. Discourse analysis might offer the suggestion of a common conceptual idiom for converging the various disciplinary angles.
An additional problem for the study of postcommunism is the belief in a single ultimate truth entertained by social and human scientists, as well as by political contenders. Being impervious to alternative discourses and interpretations obstructs the dialog and the ability to conjugate explanatory efforts. In the West, cultural studies with their poststructuralist take on self-imaging discourses have generated new knowledge and a change of mentality that led to a reorganization of society. Postcolonial cultural studies focus on the power of discourse in self-representations with the aid of a rich and multidisciplinary analytical arsenal. They have given up all universalist claims and have called for tolerance.
It is in this spirit that I propose to approach my topic. I hope that by striving for a non-partisan treatment of apparently irreconcilable theories and ideologies I may foster new insights and a pluralist climate.
6. PRIOR EXPERIENCE AND RESEARCH
v ‘On the Discrimination of Nationalisms’, in Krytyka, no. 11/Nov. 1999, Kiew,
. (The article sketches the principles of tropologism and suggests ways in which it can be used in the study of nationalism.) Ukraine
v Review of R. Brubaker et al., Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town, in The Bloomsbury Review vol. 28/No. 1/Jan-Feb 2008.
v ‘On the Inconvenience of Being Born a Romanian, or A Third Discourse from the
Second World: Postcommunist Dilemmas in the Age of Postimperialist Emancipation’. A chapter on the theoretical and ideological relationship between postcommunism and postcolonialism in Transatlantic Dialogues. Eastern Europe, The and Post-Cold War Cultural Spaces. Eds. Rodica Mihaila and Roxana Oltean, Editura Universitatii din Bucuresti, 2009. US
v Dictionary items/articles on ‘colonization’, ‘colonialism’, and ‘postcolonial studies’ in Dicționarul de termeni culturali (A Dictionary of Cultural Terms). Ed. Mircea Martin (to be published by Paralela 45 in 2011).
v ‘Narratives of the Emerging Self:
’s First Years of Post-Totalitarian Cinema.’ Chapter on postcommunist Romanian cinematography in Cinema in Transition. Eds. Catherine Portuges and Peter Hames (to be published by Temple University Press, Philadelphia in 2011). Romania
Guest of the Rector grant by
New Europe College in 2003-2004 with a research project on the contribution of public intellectuals to nationalist discourse in post-1989 . Romania
v Joint MA course on The Rhetorical Construction of National Identity at the
British Cultural Studies Center, the American Studies Center, and the Canadian Studies Center, . http://stefanescu-nationalism.blogspot.com/ University of Bucharest
v MA course on Postcommunism/Postcolonialism. Siblings of Subalter(n)ity at the
. http://postcommunism-postcolonialism.blogspot.com/ British Cultural Studies Center
Conference organizer and contributor:
v Co-organizer of the Postcolonialism-Postcommunism joint conference of the Romanian Institute for Recent History and the
British Cultural Studies Center at the held on 29 June 2004. Contribution: one of three keynote speeches on ‘The relevance of postcolonial studies for research on Romanian postcommunism’. University of Bucharest
v Co-organizer of the Postcolonialism/Postcommunism: Intersections and Overlaps international conference of the
Canadian Studies Center at the held on 23-24 April 2010. Contribution: ‘Noica's Nook, or How the Marginalized Intellectuals May Use Reverse Philosophy in a Communist Country’. University of Bucharest
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Published in Dilema veche, no. 357, 16-22 Dec. 2010
On the Honor of Dishonoring History.
Hayden White in
This may well be the first time that the
grants a doctor honoris causa to a troublemaker. For that is what Professor Hayden White is, an eternal troublemaker. University of Bucharest
Many questioned the merits and accomplishments of this sparkle-eyed, prestigious 82-year-old critic with a teenager’s appetite for inflammation, yet none has been able to shake the stature of this provocative and renowned personality of postmodern theory.
In the conferences and roundtables he has attended in
Bucharest at the Central University Library and the , the voice of the venerable Professor White picked up in scherzando the staid ideas of the greenhorn White, the young critic who, almost half a century ago, looked back in anger at the tradition of historiography. After all, he owes his fame to his pioneering work in the late 60s and early 70s when Hayden White started causing havoc among historians. New Europe College
The door was opened by ‘The Burden of History’, his revolutionary 1966 article in History and Theory, vol. 5, no 2, 1966, pp. 111-134 (later included in Tropics of Discourse. Essays in Cultural Criticism.
Baltimore and London: The Press, 1978). Here is a brief and plain list of his claims in that legendary text. Johns Hopkins University
First, that historians are rigid, yet lacking rigor, that they are impressionistic, yet devoid of sensitivity, that history has become a second-hand art and a third-hand science (after the exact and the natural sciences). Here White scratches open old scars by recollecting scornful portraits of historians by Nietzsche’ (The Birth of Tragedy and ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’), George Eliot, Ibsen, Gide, Th. Mann, Camus, Sartre etc.
Then, that historians are hypocrites and theoretically infantile when they profess to be exempt from both the requirements of experimental science and the standards of stylistic excellence and artistic intuition, while claiming that theirs is both a scientific and an artistic endeavor. In fact, historians insist on operating within an outdated Romantic schism between artists who despise science and scientists who ignore art. White demands of historians that they acknowledge history to be no more than a nineteenth-century historical accident which needs to be radically reconsidered in the middle of the twentieth century.
Not the least of White’s accusations in ‘The Burden of History’ is that historians are content to mouth governmental slogans and patriotic platitudes while failing to prepare us for historical catastrophes (much less foresee them), as the world wars demonstrate. He proclaims that history has become a morbid burden for his contemporaries as it merely perpetuates and legitimizes anachronistic institutions by means of an antiquarian discourse replete with necrophiliac fixations.
White offers that historians should adopt the emancipated stance of the modern art critic. Unlike the traditional historian, the art critic acknowledges several versions of reality. Constable’s representation of life is neither more ‘correct’ nor less than that of Cézanne, it simply relies on a different figurative principle of internal cohesion. For history, the dominant metaphor of a text selects and organizes the historical material in accordance with a certain style of representing the past.
It may well be that ‘The Burden of History’ was the germinating prelude of an emerging work. The article put forth the main themes of a philosophical path that was unfolding.
The next and carefully prepared stride for White was the take-off step for his legendary jump into posterity. History recorded the event as Metahistory. The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973).
Here the American theorist tackles an illusionist’s act as spectacular and scandalous as the magic of the old alchemists. Under the suspicious eyes of the experts, White materialized a convict whose sentence had been life transparency: the language of history. Hitherto, historians had cried treason whenever the manner of narrating would distract the reader’s attention and had deported the culprits to the realm of belletrism.
White dares us embrace a doctrine as shocking as alchemic transmutation, to wit, that any history is at heart a poetic text. That narrating fact or fiction is no more than story-telling and, like any story, it can be told in various ways. He instructs us that there are four styles of historical thought grafted on four master tropes produced by a tradition that yokes together such improbable peers as Vico and Kenneth Burke, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. White is not talking of mere decorative embellishments, but of organizing principles of our representations of the past. When touched by the magic wand of one of these four modes of discourse coagulation, the narrative assumes one of the corresponding archetypes of emplotment taken from Northrop Frye: romance, comedy, tragedy, and satire. An initiate into the mysteries of the universe of discourse, White summons a table of correspondences invisible to the profane. Behind the four master tropes and the four narrative archetypes, loom Stephen C. Pepper’s four epistemological modes (formism, organicism, mechanism, and contextualism) and Karl Mannheim’s four ideological utopias (anarchism, radicalism, liberalism, and conservatism).
The theoretical groundwork is then followed by seductive accounts of the historical narratives of Michelet, Ranke, Tocqueville şi Burkhardt and of the tropical manners of philosophers of history like Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Croce. All of these surveys rest on the intuition that the style of these diverse authors consists in the tension between the tropological, narrative, epistemological, and ideological choices.
Most of his critics and fans have been smitten by Hayden White’s pioneering courage: he was a neo-historicist a decade before Stephen Greenblatt, he assumed a postmodern condition before Lyotard described it, he practiced poststructuralist discourse analysis before the Derrida and Foucault craze hit America, and he proposed the pluralism of interpretations and ironic perspectivism a few years before Rorty did.
White has done more than swim against the traditional tides. He has remained the opponent of any form of theoretical monotheism, of any inflexible critical jargon, even the revolutionary ones. An ironist through and through, White pushes irony to an act of ultimate lucidity by turning it on itself. Whenever he seemed to be an advocate of relativism, he proclaimed the need of moral imperatives, and whenever he seemed the champion of historiographic variations, he invoked transhistorical archetypes. This explains how he has managed to irritate the traditionalists and disappoint the postmodern. Free from any dogma, White holds that antidogmatic freedom is sacred. He is still eager to break the windows of any museum of ideas and allow the latter to breathe the open air again—live and grow once more.
A maverick of the interpretation of history, Hayden White has made history even outside his discipline. In 1972, one year before the publication of Metahistory, White helped inaugurate the age of academic autonomy and freedom of conscience when he won a Supreme Court lawsuit against the LA police, whom he accused of having undercover officers register for classes to infiltrate the campuses and spy on academics and students. Forty years later, White talked in
about the illegal nature of certain laws and about historians who learn nothing from history. Once again, he did what he has always been good at, scandalize and galvanize his public in the name of the freedom of thought and of human dignity. Bucharest
This is most likely how Hayden White will always be remembered in postmodern culture, as a seducer and a subtle debater—and as an eternal troublemaker.
Bogdan Ştefănescu is associate professor at the Department of English, University of Bucharest, editor-in-chief of University of Bucharest Review. Literary and Cultural Studies Series, and literary translator.
Published in Philologica Jassyensia no. 1/2011
The Regenerative Void: Avatars of a Foundational Metaphor in Romanian Identity Construction
Key-words: Romanian cultural identity, nationalist rhetoric, tropes, metaphor, resistance, void, dissenting discourse
There is an ultimate "paradox of
" (such a frequent phrase) which has to do with how the Romanians have constructed their personality by refusing to construct their personality. The palpitating core of this paradox is probably one of the most recurrent and meaningful tropes used by Romanians in speaking about themselves, that of the void. Romania
In the fateful December of 1989,
became identified with a new image, its revolutionary emblem was the old tricolor flag with a hole at its center. The gap was the result of the exuberant removal of what used to be the communist coat of arms. A photograph in Le Nouvel Observateur showed in its empty stead the faces of two young boys, their hands fingering a V sign: a symbol of rejuvenation, the rebirth of Romania . Romania
By the end of the year, the Romanian exile Andrei Codrescu, an American academic, a popular NPR personality and a surrealist poet, returned to his native country after twenty five years. The book he wrote to narrate this more than surrealist experience is called The Hole in the Flag. On his crossing the border between
Hungary and , he notes: Romania
[...] suddenly there, under the cold moon, there it was, the Romanian flag with the socialist emblem cut right out of the middle. It fluttered over a square brick building marking the frontier. It's through that hole, I thought, that I am returning to my birthplace. (Codrescu 1991: 67 )
But Codrescu’s book makes it plain that the hole in the flag is more than a fleeting eye-catcher for the media. It is an "objective correlative" for something that lies deep in his frustrated soul, somethings that pops up whenever he confronts the past. On visiting the old synagogue of
, with its "deserted yard", Codrescu, a Jewish ethnic, ponders how "a once-full world [...] was now empty, a deserted center that was also somehow at the center of my being. Something lost, gone, irretrievable." (Codrescu 1991: 59) Nor is it a mere idiosynchrasy, evidence of early personal drama. This is the echoing of an entire tradition that places emptiness and absence at the core of Romanian identity, a tradition that starts with Codrescu’s favorite writers, Blaga and Cioran, as I have shown elsewhere (Ștefănescu 2008). Budapest, Hungary
This paper catalogs a number of Romanian self-images of the regenerative void—probably one of the most persistent tropes to have helped shape Romanian identity—and their variations. There is, however, an unsettled significance of this founding figure of nationalist discourse which may be caused both by its intrinsic paradoxical nature and by the host of textual and ideological strategies it has helped articulate.
I am making it my aim here to show that the empty, deserted center is not, however, just any kind of void, but rather a paradoxical one because full of meaning: a creative, (re)generative void. This is why the void is not a mere emblem; it is a central and recurring prefigurative metaphor in one type of discourse on Romanian cultural identity. The metaphor of the regenerating void may take several guises and the few images and themes with which I will be dealing in the following pages are such avatars of this one fundamental metaphor. Resting on constructivist premises, my effort is part of a category of cultural studies that operates in the framework of discourse analysis and cultural rhetoric. The premise of this study, which I have derived from Hayden White’s analysis of historiographic discourse, is that accounts of our past and of our communal selves are informed by a structural trope which conditions the way in which we construct these representations and that these tropes are consistent with certain ideological and narrative patterns. The present critical effort details how different tropical structures dictate various inflections of one and the same overarching image, the void, to fabricate one of the most interesting, most versatile, and most prolific versions of Romanian national identity.
The process of "inventing" a modern national identity in
was painful and had to run against immeasurable hardships. The feeble flower of national self-consciousness experienced few and short-lived genial seasons, and was most of the times besieged by historical cataclysms and adversities. In order to survive, it had to study the devious art of resistance, which is another form of dissimulation. In the process, the regenerative void became one of the most popular compensating strategies for the traumatic self-imaging of a marginal culture. Romania
The obsessive recurrence of images of absence in national self-representations seems to be symptomatic for marginal cultures. Cultural historian Alexander Kiossev claims that the absence of a civilizational model plays a central part in grounding Bulgarian identity in a traumatic sense of lacking:
Thus, in the genealogical knot of the Bulgarian national culture there exists the morbid consciousness of an absence - a total, structural, non-empirical absence. The Others - i.e. the neighbors,
Europe, the civilized World, etc. possess all that we lack; they are all that we are not. The identity of this culture is initially marked, and even constituted by, the pain, the shame - and to formulate it more generally - by the trauma of this global absence. The origin of this culture arises as a painful presence of absences and its history could be narrated, in short, as centuries-old efforts to make up for and eliminate the traumatic lacks. (Kiossev 1999: 114)
He explains that, whenever Bulgarians think of who or what they are, one of the most frequent answers is “we are not European (enough)” or “we are not like the Others”. The image often translates as “we are neither this (identity), nor that” and in this part of the world, it means neither Eastern, nor Western. Falling in between the more secure and stable identities of Western and Eastern cultures engenders a traumatic ambiguity as Bosnian writer Ivo Andric suggested in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1961:
My homeland is truly ‘a small country between worlds’ as one of our writers has put it, and it’s a country which is trying in all fields, including culture, at the price of great sacrifices and exceptional energy to compensate rapidly for all that its unusual stormy and difficult past has denied it. (Hawksworth 1984: 6)
also has an entire lineage in its traditional construction of cultural identity that seems is lodged in the archetypal image of absence. What is worthy of note, though, is how significant voices in Romanian culture invest this founding trope with duplicitous meaning and treat it both as a painful paucity and as a nurturing nook. Such treatment turns this symbolic void into an ambiguous image that indicates both the inability to construct a viable collective identity and the compensating mechanism to turn this failure into an unexpected success. Romania
The topos has been carried over historical boundaries from interwar through communist and into postcommunist literature. In a different article to which I have previously alluded, I have submitted a brief survey and a discursive typology for this tradition that spans no less than three consecutive periods in modern Romanian culture (from pre- to post-communism). My analysis there documents a discursive affiliation between negative versions of the void in the Radical-Antithetical mode from Tristan Tzara, Urmuz, Eugen Ionescu, Emil Cioran, Petre Țuțea, and Horia-Roman Patapievici. Similarly, I find positive reversals of the void by Lucian Blaga, Gh. I. Brătianu, Mircea Vulcanescu, Mircea Eliade, Constatin Noica, and Andrei Codrescu are related within the same Metaphoric-Anarchist discursive paradigm (Ștefănescu 2008: 14-9).
In the following sections of this paper, I will register some of the thematic variations of the founding trope of the void used as a compensating mechanism.
2.The Void of Historical Action and Diction
One of the most traumatic and debated instances of the symbolic void appears in the notorious theme of
's absence from history. This means that the Romanians seem incapable of making their own history, either in terms of asserting themselves through a remarkable destiny or in recording their historical exploits, although there seem to be plenty of memorable things in Romania 's past. Romania
Modern Romanian historiographers were confounded by the absence of historical records for much of the country’s premodern development. This historical scandal was signaled, among others, by Petar Mutafciev in his 1932 overview, Bulgares et Roumains dans l'histoire des pays danubiens, who protested that Romanians are "the only European people which has no history of its own until the end of the Middle Ages" (apud Brătianu 1996: 25). The embarrassment is, however, cleverly turned into a cause for pride by some historians and cultural philosophers. It takes Gh. I. Brătianu only a few years to come up with a clever response and to see in absence the opportunity to speak of a “miracle of history”. Four years later, in 1943, Mircea Eliade echoes Brătianu in his own version of the birth of a nation:
and when the first Romanian principalities emerged during the eleventh century, the miracle had already taken place; the Slavs had been assimilated, and the people living in the territory of Dacia was the Romanian people, who had preserved all the characteristic features of their forefathers, the Dacians, and were speaking a Latin language: the Romanian (Eliade 1992: 19).
In his contemporary meditation on the birth of Romanian culture, Lucian Blaga acknowledges the infamous “historiographical void” and responds by projecting it on a spatial level. In the absence of historical records,
is left as “blank spot” on the map of the region, but this blank spot lies at the very center of the Thracian and Arian space. (Blaga 1992: 32-33) Romania
Metaphors of emptiness, waste, and the void that refer to absence from historiography are equally employed to account for an absence from history itself, that is, for the unimpressive stature of Romanian civilization in world history. In apologetic discourses, evacuation has been presented as the main strategy of Romanian resistance throughout its history. The Romanian military doctrine of defense, devised in the milennary confrontation with sweeping migrations and oversized empires, consisted in scorching the lands and the crops, poisoning the wells and the springs, burning our own houses and retreating into the central regions of
, filled with mountains and forests. Romania
The backbone of this strategy was the mental reflex of vacating the external or peripheral and withdrawing towards an elusive center. With many Romanian writers this also meant a retreat into the spiritual core of Romanianness. Blaga spoke of Romanians “boycotting history”, Eliade embraced the notion and spoke of the “terror of history” in his own mythopoeic account of the origins of the Romanian people. Interestingly, the same strategy was chosen by Romanians to withstand a more ruthless and tenacious invader: communism. For a while, the anticommunist resistance fighters used the mountainous and woody retreats to launch occasional guerilla attacks on the communist authorities. When that eventually failed, Romanian cultural personalities switched to a more sophisticated defense: “resistance through culture”. They abandoned the marginal and superficial aspects of material civilization into the hands of the communist colonizer and withdrew into an ungraspable and immaterial spiritual center of their being.
The most successful and popular example of cultural resistance was performed by Constantin Noica. Noica (1909-1987) was imprisoned for 6 years, was confined to a forced domicile for another 9 years, and was denied for most of this time the right to publish. Rather than defect and live in exile abroad, Noica chose a different kind of exile. He withdrew in a remote village in the center of the country and into the world of culture.
Gabriel Liiceanu, Noica's disciple, recorded in a journal his apprenticeship at Noica's secluded abode in Paltinis, up in the mountains of central
, and his fascination with Noica's self-inflicted exile: Romania
In Cimpulung he was found in his room, dressed in his overcoat, his rubber galoshes on, reading from
; the water in the pot had frozen. “The God of culture”... had no doubt blinded him, turned him into a medium, rather than a man, and gave him the right (as with all those who intrigued their contemporaries, prompting a community forward) to be measured by different standards. (Liiceanu 1991: 263) St. Augustine
Noica became a model for the younger generations and each of his books was a secret revolution of the Romanian mind. His books sold out immediately and circulated in clandestine photocopies at twenty times their market price. At a time when Romanians were famished by Ceausescu and butter (like almost all basic food) was an almost unattainable rarity, Noica's books were exchanged for four bars of butter. This probably indicates what type of survival Romanians cherished most.
Noica's strategy of a spiritual resistence to history was entirely cultural. He was accused of many things and some of his critics have claimed he indirectly endorsed the official totalitarian doctrine of national-communism. On the other hand, even the uncompromising opposers of communism acknowledged Noica as "the principle proof of a nucleus of live thinking in the ocean of dead thought" (Lovinescu 1994: 351 referring to Marxism-Leninism).
Paraphrasing Noica (and recycling the topos inaugurated by Blaga and Eliade), Liiceanu talks of a "will to culture" that prompts
[…] a lateral, discreet and unspectacular liberation, maybe even guilty in its intellectual egotism, but which always has been the form in which the best of the Romanian spirit survived to the present day... If by history we understand the series of events happening to us, but also without and beyond us, then culture for Noica meant, no doubt, a withdrawal from history [...] (Liiceanu 1991: 271)
Noica’s ideal of cultural resistance was a type of “subsistence without consistency” that lacked material substantiality. It was his way, one of many in the Romanian tradition, to turn the void of absence from history into a successful instrument of cultural survival and regeneration. Its relevance for domestic intellectual tradition is perpetuated after the fall of communism by a rising cultural personality who has joined the ranks of the Păltiniș group after the death of its founding figure and after the fall of communism. Horia-Roman Patapievici carries on the topos of the historical void in his meditations of the Romanian condition. "The void is evidence of presence, since fulness itself is an inflamation of absence," he glosses on canonical conversions of nothingness into being from Brătianu to Noica (Patapievici 1995: 118).
3.The Void of Personality
Absenting oneself from history results in a different kind of shortage, a lack of personality. In their self-portrayal, Romanians often resort to the topos of the personality void, either as anonymity, or as endemic modesty—something Romanians traditionally cherish.
In the 1980s, a U.S. Fulbright lecturer at the
liked to tell a joke that narrated his personal shock in confronting Romanian students. He claimed there was one great difference between American and Romanian students. When you walk into an American class and say “Good morning”, half of the class jumps up and shouts “What do you mean by ‘good’?” and the other half protests just as loudly “What do you mean by ‘morning’?” When you walk into a Romanian class and say “Good morning”, the whole class conscienciously makes a note of that in their books. University of Bucharest
There is a whole tradition behind the anecdotal modesty of the Romanian student. Modesty is one of the most treasured virtues in the Romanian tradition. Many folk tales praise humbleness and moderation. Andrei Codrescu feels the greatest shock produced by the 1989 Revolution was when Romanians realized that in his baudy luxury, so indecent when compared with the famine and unimaginable hardship forced on the masses, "Ceausescu had betrayed a quality Romanian people value very highly: modesty." (Codrescu 1991: 73)
The cult of anonymity is yet another guise for the personality void. Romanian critics insist that the anonymous folk poems and ballads of the oral tradition are among the most accomplished masterpieces of Romanian literature. Many a cultivated writer in the Romanian pantheon has been concerned with preserving the wisdom of modesty. Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889),
’s cultural Superman and a late Romantic, surprisingly cultivated in some of his texts the image of the modest creator that relinquishes his pride and subjectivity in order to attain artistic perfection. The reason: “we are not the masters of language, rather language is mistress of us all” (Eminescu 1993: 98). One of Eminescu’s romantic heroes dares think in the middle of his cosmic vision that he may be God himself, but never gets to finish the sentence because he is struck by God’s wrathful thunder. In many of his poems Eminescu resonates with the anonymous folk artists and he paraphrases or finds inspiration in folk poems and narratives. Romania
Nurtured by nineteenth-century canonical examples, Lucian Blaga’s cosmogonic philosophy conceives of the Maker as the Great Anonym. In his acceptance speech on joining the Romanian Academy in 1937, Blaga acknowledges the “anonymous powers” of his home village in shaping the stylistic determinants of his soul and repeats a thesis from Spațiul mioritic that the Romanian village is exemplary in its self-sufficient boycotting of history to retain its anonymous authenticity (Blaga 1994a: 4, 11).
A few years later, Mircea Eliade would also gloss admiringly on the cult of anonymous art and claim that Romanian classical culture (especially Ion Creangă) has the unique quality of being accessible even to an uneducated peasant, which is inconceivable in the case of a Dante, Shakespeare or Racine. He does not stop there, but tops it by professing that “a significant part of modern Romanian literature developed along the lines of folk creativity” (Eliade 1995: 24-5).
The topos was carried over into communist totalitarianism, as demonstrated by poet Marin Sorescu (1936-1996), a leader of the "generation of the 1960s", who picks up the trope of the peasant’s personality void and develops it in a savory postmodern parody of the myth of the flood, It’s Gonna Rain, with God featuring as a wise yet modest peasant who is not really the initiator of the deluge:
It’s gonna rain, God thought/Yawning and looking up at the cloudless sky,/This rheumatism of mine’s been testing me/For fourty days and fourty nights./Well, we’re in for some bad weather.//Noah—hey, Noah!/Come over to the fence: I’ll have a word with you.
Another leading poet of the same generation, Nichita Stănescu (1933-1983), though short-listed for the Nobel Prize for literature and awarded numerous distinctions, and although reputed for his highly innovative and idiosyncratic poetic style, was a champion of artistic modesty. For him, the poet was an anonymous presence, an absence of personality that engendered and made possible the self- generation of poetry.
In his acceptance speech for the Struga Prize for Poetry, he declared:
The critique of poetry—poetry being in our view a new frontier of the human soul—is something that we perform not as a star who issues brilliant pronouncements, but as a country midwife who helps the woman in the field give birth, yet never warrants a confusion between the merits of the housewifing business and the miracle of birth. We believe there are really no poets, but simply poetry midwives contrary to the sad and confused belief in the merit of poets, rather than in the miracle of poetry. (Stănescu 1981: 251-2)
He elaborates on the same theme of anonymity, or void of personality in a number of poems, such as The Poet Like the Soldier (“The poet like the soldier
has no private life. / His private life is ashes and dust. [...] // Never believe the poet when he weeps. / His tear is never his tear. / He squeezes tears out of things. / He sheds the tear of things.”) or Self-portrait (I am none other than / a bloodstain / that speaks).
has no private life. / His private life is ashes and dust. [...] // Never believe the poet when he weeps. / His tear is never his tear. / He squeezes tears out of things. / He sheds the tear of things.”) or Self-portrait (I am none other than / a bloodstain / that speaks).
It is small wonder that even modern artists share in this cult of anonymity. Though Romanian modernity helped shape the art of the 20th century, much of it stemmed from an anonymous culture. Such is the case, for instance, of Constantin Brâncusi (1876-1956), seen by many art critics as the father of modern sculpture. He was successful in his own time and, though no more than a Romanian peasant who was poor enough to have to cross Europe on foot to reach
, he was a very proud individual. He left the studio of his master and friend, the great Auguste Rodin, saying: “Nothing grows in the shade of great oaks” and did not hesitate to sue the U.S. Customs Office for their bureaucratic disregard of his art. Paris
Despite all that, he preserved his peasant modesty and discreetly withdrew his subjectivity from his work in order to allow the quintessential shape of things talk for itself. His only monumental works were destined for his home town of
Tirgu-Jiu, close to his birth-place . village of Hobița
4.The Void of Vitality
Finally, this monumental vacancy in Romanian culture seems to amount to an overall refusal of vitality. The forms of this type of generative void are mortification, symbolic suicide, abstinence, and ascesis.
The masterpieces of folk literature and the fundamental myths of the Romanians are Miorița (The Ewe Lamb) and Meșterul Manole (Master Manole). Miorita is the story of a shepherd whose life is threatened by his two envious companions plotting to kill him. Though warned by his miraculous ewe-lamb, rather than prepare his defense or flee, the shepherd launches on an allegorical description of his death as the ewe-lamb is to report it to the shepherd’s mother: a cosmic wedding. The ballad was read by many as another Jacques le fataliste, and the Rom anian anonymous creator was charged once more with defeatism. Yet, if read in the company of the Master Manole ballad, Miorița betrays a different significance: it is no less than a preparation for battle, an ascetic concentration to encounter one’s destiny such that everything negative may be converted into spiritual victory.
The beneficial effect of death becomes apparent in Master Manole, the story of a master builder whose construction (a monastery) fails to stand. In a dream, he realises the need for a human sacrifice and makes an agreement with his team that whoever should visit them first is to be sacrificed. Chance has it that it is Manole’s own wife. She is buried in the wall of the monastery, and the building is animated, it comes to life. In Mircea Eliade’s interpretation, these two ballads evince a Romanian tradition of “valorizing death”. He deftly connects the syndrome of cultural and historical trauma of south-east European nations with the topos of “creative death” which upturns what may seem like diminished vitality (Eliade 2004: 124).
A popular poem by Eminescu, Ode (In Ancient Metre), reiterates the concept of fertile death:
Never did I think I would learn to die,/Forever young, wrapped in my cloak,/I would raise my dreamy eyes to the star/Of solitude.//When suddenly you rose in my way,/Suffering, you, painfully sweet,/To the drains I drank the voluptuousness of death/The merciless.//[…] Let the troubling eyes vanish from my path,/Come back into my bossom, sorrowful indifference;/That I may die with a peaceful mind, to me/Restore myself!
Constaintin Noica has helped perhaps more than many of his peers turn this nineteenth-century topos of apathy and longing for self-annihilation into a cultural tradition which he upheld both before and after the advent of communism. Noica developed Eminescu’s somber Ode to death as self-fulfillment into a self-standing philosophical doctrine of beneficial apathy and mortification. From his debut book Mathesis (1938), Noica was fascinated by the virtues of non-being and non-action. There he claims one has to abstract from progress and change, avoid all things “consummate/consumable” (Rom. se consumă). He explains: “I have no need for the world that is. Life is only possible in the world that might be.” (Noica 1992: 57, 67)
In the late 1970s, Noica was still elaborating an apologetic philosophy that redeemed Romanians’ lack of civilizational drive. Starting from the Hegelian triad of the general, the individual and the determinations, Noica submits there are six “creative maladies” of the human spirit, of which the one whereby man refuses his worldly determinations and withdraws from the world, ahoretia (a term coined by Noica from the Greek horoi), appears to him as closest to the Romanian heart. In describing the Indian tradition of asceticism and passive resistance, he echoes the apologetic vocabulary of the birth and resilience of the nation typical of Romanian historiography:
The miracle of ahoretia, as of any spiritual malady, is that it yields the positive in the extreme form of the negative and that it acts efficiently through total pasiveness. (Noica 1978: 83)
His description of ahoretia as the waning of animal energies to be compensated by the wisdom of old age reveals, as in the case of Eliade’s comments on the founding ballads of “creative death”, the structural homology between the topos of the void of vitality and that of the historical void:
[Ahoretia is] conducive to a sudden illumination or lucidity of conscience which forces the subject to reject participation, to dominate his determinations, to perceive the positive in non-action and negativity, accepting defeat, assimilating it, and entering indifference, placing life and history under the order of reason, which annihilates novelty and proclaims the fruitfulness of non-travel. (Noica 1978: 103)
Noica’s guidance to his disciples is no different. He encourages them “to tame their animality [...] to teach them how to pass from the individual to the larger self [...] to forget ourselves”. Self-annihilation is the path to communing with the larger spirit. Relinquishing oneself is an act of ultimate rejoicing in a fulfilled love as well as in successful self-knowledge. A good student, Gabriel Liiceanu notes at the end of his Journal:
In the world of the spirit, ‘crime’ - desired by both parties and stipulated as a compulsory act in any paidetic scenario - becomes the highest form of affirmation and confers a moment of supreme beatitude to the victim who is granted through this new embodiment the occasion of a new life. (Liiceanu 1991: 277-8)
In Noica’s didactic scenario, the disciple has to finally kill his master, to assimilate and transcend him, only to realize that he has killed and transcended himself, his old self, as Cioran points out in a letter to Liiceanu:
Par là, le Journal dépasse les limites forcément discrètes d'un texte philosophique et révèle son dessein véritable: la recherche de soi-même. Le crime qui le couronne concerne moins le Maître que le Disciple: celui que vous venez de tuer en vous... (Liiceanu 1987: 13).
The tropical conversion of the void into something beneficial and revitalizing is a compensating mechanism for traumatized cultural identities. It is a species of diversionist discourse which generates unexpected power for the weak. Other researchers have been aware of the rhetoric of resistance. James C. Scott investigated certain strategies of dissent in his Domination and the Arts of Resistance, but he is mainly interested in class relations and ideology as he lists pragmatic and immediate forms of "disguised popular aggression" such as anonymity and gossip, euphemisms, grumbling, oral culture, symbolic inversion, carnivals (Scott 1990: 142 passim).
But in Romanian culture the reversed symbolism of the void is both culturally comprehensive and historically consistent, it works at all levels of social life and it spans several historical periods. Unlike Scott's study object, it is a persistent metaphysics that constructs and preserves national identity, rather than a cautious subversive strategy of individuals or subnational groups.
A comparison of Romanian as opposed to East European (or any other anti-authoritarian) concept of anonymity should be edifying. In the Romanian tradition, the void of personality is the condition for any creation; in anti-authoritarian societies anonymity is just a hide out, a means of getting away with dissent.
Though it may be triggered by particular situations of oppression and denied alternatives, the Romanian strategy of converting voids into centers of regenerated meaning spills across historical and social boundaries to become a “tradition”. This rhetorical reflex is ubiquous and it has been invoked starting with the nineteenth century as a response to the traumas caused by ethnic, national, social, political or cultural discriminations. The remarkable result of this recurring founding trope is that it tends to create a continuum between a fundamental world view and the ensuing cultural practices, between the conceptual and the formal aspects of collective identity.
The Romanian monumentalizing of vacancy is rich in symbolic and ideological possibilities. The trope of the regenerative void displays an impressive rhetorical complexity and it can be viewed as a knot of potential ideological and textual scenarios that may include anarchist metaphorizations and lyrical scripting, radically-minded heroic narratives or conservative parables and ironic fables (Ștefănescu 2008 and 2010).
Analyses as the one performed here may also present methodological opportunities. Such studies help uncover the internal, discursive mechanisms of identity formation, which are more resilient and more basic then the economic and political contexts, the social and institutional frameworks commonly investigated by nationalism scholars. Instead of the instrumental and objective concerns of constructivist approaches to nation-building, my research hopes to promote a subjective constructivism whose focus is cultural discourse seen as a prefigurative field for the actual policies of instantiating the nation. A better understading of traditional discursive scenarios for Romanian identity such as that of fruitful withdrawals from history and of passive resistance may help explain the apathy and reserve of Romanians when confronted with external impositions whether from menacing empires or strategic Euro-Atlantic allies.
Blaga 1994a: Lucian Blaga, Elogiul satului românesc, reprinted as “Supliment al revistei Transilvania”, nr. 3-4 / 1994.
Blaga 1992: Lucian Blaga, Getica in Iordan Chimet, Dreptul la memorie, vol. 4,
Cluj-Napoca, Editura , pages 23-39. Dacia
Blaga 1994b: Lucian Blaga, Spatiul Mioritic, Bucureşti, Editura Humanitas.
Brătianu, An Engima and a Miracle of History: The Romanian People, transl. Patricia H. Georgescu, Bucureşti, Editura Enciclopedica. Gheorghe I.
Cioran 1990: Emil Cioran, Schimbarea la faţă a României, Bucureşti, Editura Humanitas.
Codrescu 1991: Andrei Codrescu, The Disappearance of the Outside. A Manifesto for Escape,
, Addison-Wesley (1990). Reading
Codrescu 1991: Andrei Codrescu, The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution, New York, W. Morrow & Co., Inc.
Eliade 1992: Mircea Eliade, The Romanians. A Concise History, Trans. Rodica Mihaela Scafeş, Bucureşti, Roza Vînturilor.
Eliade 1995: Mircea Eliade, The Fate of Romanian Culture, Trans. Bogdan Ștefănescu, Bucureşti, Editura Athena.
Eliade 2004: Mircea Eliade, Comentarii la la Legenda Meșterului Manole, București, Humanitas.
Eminescu 1993: Mihai Eminescu, Opere, vol. XV, București, Editura Academiei Române.
Hawksworth 1984: Celia Hawksworth, Ivo Andric: Bridge Between East and West,
, Athlona Press. London
Kiossev 1999: Alexander Kiossev, Notes on Self-colonising Cultures, in B. Pejic. & D. Elliott (eds.), Art and Culture in Post-communist Europe,
, Moderna Museet, pages 114-8. Stockholm
Liiceanu 1991: Gabriel Liiceanu, Jurnalul de la Păltiniş. Bucureşti, Humanitas.
Liiceanu 1987: Gabriel Liiceanu, Epistolar, Bucuresti, Cartea românească.
Lovinescu 1994: Monica Lovinescu, Est-etice. Unde scurte IV, București, Humanitas.
Noica 1978: Constantin Noica, Spiritul românesc în cumpătul vremii. Şase maladii ale spiritului contemporan. Bucureşti, Univers.
Noica 1992: Constantin Noica, Mathesis sau bucuriile simple, Bucureşti, Editura Humanitas.
Patapievici 1995: Horia-Roman Patapievici, Cerul văzut prin lentilă, București, Humanitas.
Scott 1990: James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance,
New Haven and London, Press. Yale University
Stănescu 1981: Nichita Stănescu, Ars poetica, in “Secolul 20”, nr. 11-12 / 1981.
Stolojan 1996: Sanda Stolojan, Nori peste balcoane. Jurnal din exilul parizian, Bucureşti, Editura Humanitas.
Ștefănescu 2008: Bogdan Ștefănescu, Voices Of The Void: Andrei Codrescu’s Tropical Rediscovery of Romanian Culture in The Hole In The Flag, in “University of Bucharest Review “, vol. X, no. 2/2008.
Ștefănescu 2010: Bogdan Ștefănescu, Noica’s Nook, or How the Marginalized May Use Reverse Philosphy, paper presented at the international conference of the Canadian Studies Center, University of Bucharest, 23-24 April 2010 (to be published in the proceedings volume Postcolonialism / Postcommunism: Intersections and Overlaps, București, Editura Universității din București, 2011).
White 1973: Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe,
Baltimore & London, The Press. Johns Hopkins University
Abstract: This paper catalogs a number of Romanian self-images of the regenerative void as a tropical conversion of the void into something beneficial and revitalizing is a compensating mechanism for traumatized cultural identities. It aims to illustrate how in Romanian culture the reversed symbolism of the void is both culturally comprehensive and historically consistent, spanning several historical periods. Though it may be triggered by particular situations of oppression and denied alternatives, the Romanian rhetorical strategy of converting voids into centers of regenerated meaning spills across historical and social boundaries to become a “tradition”. This rhetorical reflex is ubiquous and it has been invoked starting with the nineteenth century as a response to the traumas caused by ethnic, national, social, political or cultural discriminations. Resting on subjective constructivist premises, my effort is part of a category of cultural studies that operates in the framework of discourse analysis and cultural rhetoric. It documents how the internal, discursive mechanisms of identity formation are more resilient then the economic and political contexts or the social and institutional frameworks commonly investigated by nationalism scholars.
 This work was supported by the strategic grant POSDRU/89/1.5/S/62259, Project “Applied social, human and political sciences. Postdoctoral training and postdoctoral fellowships in social, human and political sciences” confinaced by the European Social Fund within the Sectorial Operational Program Human Resources Development 2007-2013.
 La Cîmpulung a fost găsit în cameră, îmbrăcat în palton, cu şoşoni şi cu căciulă, citind Augustin; apa din ligheanul care se afla în mijlocul camerei îngheţase. „Dumnezeul culturii“, singurul în care credea şi la judecata căruia era încredinţat că va fi chemat, laolaltă cu toţi trebnicii şi netrebnicii acestei culturi, îl orbise, desigur, făcînd din el nu un om, ci un mediu, care dobîndise dreptul — asemenea tuturor celor ce şi-au intrigat contemporanii, împingînd o comunitate înainte — de a fi măsurat cu o altă măsură. (The English translation is mine as with all other quotes from Romanian editions.)
 Nu noi suntem stăpâni limbei, ci limba e stăpâna noastră. (MS 2275B)
 O să plouă/Își zice Dumnezeu, căscând,/Și privind la cerul fără pic de nor,/Mă cam incearcă reumatismul/De vreo patruzeci de zile și patruzeci de nopți./Ehe, se strică vremea!//Noe, mă Noe,/Ia vino până la gard să-ți spun o vorbă.
 Critica poeziei - poezia fiind socotita dupa parerea noastra, ca o noua frontiera a sufletului uman - noi nu o facem din punct de vedere al vedetelor producatoare de fraze geniale, ci din punctul de vedere al moasei de tara, care, ajutand taranca pe cimp sa nasca, nu da loc confuziei de merit intre meseria moasei si miracolul nasterii. Noi credem ca nu exista poeti, ci moase ale poeziei si ca este o trista confuzie aceea care s-ar putea face sperand in meritul poetului iar nu in miracolul poeziei.
 One of them is called “Table of Silence” (yet another kind of void in Romanian culture, the void of vocality - one more way in which absence becomes positive, creative.
 Românii, ca şi vecinii din sud-estul Europei, şi-au regăsit în acest mit central al „morţii creatoare" propriul lor destin. Nu este deloc întîmplător că cele două creaţii de seamă ale spiritualităţii populare româneşti—Mioriţa şi Balada Meşterului Manole — îşi au temeiul într-o valorificare a morţii. [...] Prezenţa morţii în centrul spiritualităţii populare româneşti nu înseamnă însă o viziune pesimistă a lumii, o rarefiere a debitului vital, o deficienţă psihică. Un contact direct cu viaţa ţărăneasca infirmă hotărît aceste supoziţii; românul în genere nu cunoaşte nici teama de viaţă, nici beţia mistagogică (de structură slavă), nici pesimismul religios, nici atracţia către asceză (de tip oriental). Şi, cu toate acestea, cele două creaţii capitale ale spiritualităţii populare româneşti poartă în miezul lor o valorificare a morţii. Dar prezenţa morţii nu este, aici, negativă. Moartea din Mioriţa este o calmă reîntoarcere „lîngă ai săi". Moartea din MeşterulManole este creatoare, ca orice moarte rituală.
 Nu credeam sã 'nvãț a muri vr'odatã;/Pururi tânãr, înfãșurat în manta-mi,/Ochii mei 'nãlțam visãtori la steaua/Singurãtãții.//Când de-odatã tu rãsãriși în cale-mi,/Suferințã tu, dureros de dulce .../Pân' în fund bãui voluptatea morții/Ne 'ndurãtoare.//[…]Piarã-mi ochii turburãtori din cale,/Vino iar în sân, nepãsare tristã/Ca sã pot muri liniștit, pe mine/Mie redã-mã!
 Nu am nevoie, nu am ce face cu lumea care este. Nu se poate trăi decât în lumea care ar putea fi.
 Miracolul ahoretiei, ca al oricărei maladii spirituale dealtfel, este că a obținut pozitivul chiar în forma extremă a negativului, sau acțiunea eficace prin totală pasivitate.
 [Ahoretia] este maladia […] ducînd la o bruscă iluminare sau luciditate de conștiință, ce face pe subiect să își interzică participația, să-și domine determinațiile, să vadă pozitivul non-actului și al negativului, acceptînd înfrîngerea, asimilînd-o și intrînd în indiferență, iubind tot ce se desprinde de lume ca atare, de la asceză și poezie pînă la matematici și sepctacolul revoluției tehnico-științifice, punînd viața și istoria sub ordinea rațiunii, care desființează noul și proclamă rodnicia non-călătoriei.
 În lumea spiritului, crima – dorită de ambele părți și prevăzută ca act obligatoriu în orice scenariu paideic – devine cea mai înaltă formă a afirmației, conferind victimei un moment de supremă beatitudine și acordîndu-i, prin această nouă întrupare, prilejul unei alte vieți.