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Felix Nicolau–On Romanian Poetry Manifestos of the 1990s and 2000s

Poetic turmoil and half-fledged creativity

 

What degree of independence from the social context can poetry reach? When I say “social” I mean politics as well. All along the 70’s to 80’s interval, the late phase of postmodernism, political turmoil boiled over and few poets could stand aloof from that. In the East-European bloc they were forced to sift their inspiration and chaff away contemporary references. One escape was to delude censorship using irony, as the Romanian poets did in the 80’s. The end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third one were quasi apolitical in what we call western civilization. The Gulf war and the Afghanistan guerrilla war were not in our proximity. These were decades of political correctness disturbed only by a few terrorist attacks of a dubious nature.

Times are achangin’ now. Conflicts, revolutions and anti-corporatist riots set afire the whole world. That is why I think the near future of poetry is bound to be political.

In the following paragraphs I intend to offer an outlook on the Romanian poetry of the last decades. The organizing principle will be the literary manifestos of various groups. I have to stress the fact that after the fall of the communist regime the first step taken by the literati was to enlarge the scope of their vocabulary and range of inspiration. The freshly liberated literature oscillated between two poles: the new Russian School (of literature) and the American Beat. Both influences contained a massive cargo of slang, violence and scary fantasies. The uninitiated public was aghast.

 

Fractures

There is another angle on all these. In 1990, two young writers, Marius Ianuș and Dumitru Crudu, concocted the Fractures Manifesto on the night of 10 to 11 September 1998 as a consequence of a street fight. Whence the fractures… Their aim was twofold: on the one hand they wanted a less conventional style of writing, with harsh words and juxtaposed, non-discursive verses, able to render the psychic and bodily torments; on the other hand, they repelled those older writers well-accommodated into the establishment. Writers should live as they write and the other way round! This was their slogan. Twenty years later, Ianuș secured himself a position at a newspaper and after being dumped by his wife (a poetess herself) he turned to a fiery religious poetry. Crudu, in his turn, became famous especially due to his theatrical plays and novels. Both of them somehow ballyhoo characters.

Being written in a ferocious disposition, the manifesto throws the blame of the full-contact situation on the institutionalization of culture. The fake Marxist-anarchists, as they call themselves, are angry at the people who “destroy the spiritual values of humanity”. That is why they yell: “Down with the prize-winning poets! Down with the ‘mobsters’ who take profit of their literary victories and lay hand on rewarding jobs! Down with the literary small bourgeoisie!” As we can see, innovative stuff…

Wordier than ever is the rhetoric: “Fracturism won’t kill anybody, unless necessary”. They go on with finding their ancestors between foreign poets and they even produce a list with proselytes. The fracturists wage an uphill war against all the political promotions before them. They get to grips with their predecessors because these ones are not able to feel the authenticity of the common life any longer and mask this handicap by using a sophisticated, impenetrable language. In the same line with Chimerism, but for different reasons, Fracturism calls for the abolishment of postmodernism. The poetry of transitiveness and literality will remain too-high a peak to settle on. Some poets, in some moments, managed to conquer it, but the rash winds of imagination and intelligence made them climb down and go for a burton. Again and again, the theorizations included in these manifestos cannot be tracked down to ensuing creations.

 

Delirionism

Another manifesto, quite different from the first one, is Ruxandra Cesereanu’s Delirionism or the Concise Textbook on how One Shouldn’t Get Stuck in Reality. This is a neo-onirical way of escaping reality and it envisages a more intense “alteration of reality, a much more traumatizing dream”. The author could have acquired the “technique of delirium” from Leonid Dimov’s “unbridled imagination”, while Angela Marinescu could have lent her the “neurotical poetry”. From their conjunction emerge the gap and the trance induced through shamanistic techniques. The purpose is the “re-signifying of madness”, while “the metaphor and the image suited to the delirious poem are those of a sunk and flooded submarine”. Later on, Ruxandra Cesereanu collaborated over a massive poem (The Forgiven Submarine) with Andrei Codrescu.

The reference to G. C. Jung’s theory of archetypes reveals the underlying structure of the delirium. Freud’s repressed memories, transformed into phantasms, are also invoked. Let’s not forget that the phantasmatic is different from phantasm. A phantasm creates the (fake) image of reality. A demi-illusion, so to say. Enlarging upon delirium, Jung used the term “inflation”. All these allow for an expansion of personality up to archetypes.

The delirionism remains silent as to the artistic stimuli able to blur lucidity: pills, mushrooms, herbs, potions. Nothing about these intensifiers of extrasensory perception! One clue could be the musical records played during several workshops. Indeed, delirionism seems a trifle different from onirism: less literaturized and somehow riskier than the surrealist movement. I think a reference point could be Carolos Castaneda’s novels and his science of dreaming. Corin Braga, Ruxandra Cesereanu’s hubbie, wrote about the Mexican writer’s works. A close reading of the Forgiven Submarine would hint at the intelligence and humor substantial to the complex game which is delirionism.

 

Chimerism

In 1999, Vasile Baghiu published in “România Literară” The First Manifesto of Chimerism. Chimerism focuses on the social condition of writers and on their delusions of epic grandeur. The manifesto is a remote relative of Gerard de Nerval’s Les Himeres (1854).

In a nutshell: to be a writer is the highest position in the world. Literature is an “ailing passion, as if one would catch hepatitis or AIDS”. Vasile Baghiu is proud of having succeeded in implementing “the theme of sanatorium in Romanian literature”. In the interbellic period the sanatorium was a constant presence in the art of many writers, many of them evolving under French influence. Illness may stimulate delirium or compensatory fantasying based on the books one read. Sanatorium bovarism equates to imaginative wanderings in space and time. The author even manufactured a human embodiment of this attitude: Himerus Alter. This alter-ego loathes the postmodernist irony and parody. He dreams about the re-instauration of magic and illusion. The Imagination of “parallel realities” and “the taste of alienation and the Fever” needed a frame.

The chimerism contends provincialism using “the need of utopia” and the historical and spatial evasion. Summoning it all up: a heroic opposition to the world with the help of culture. Of course, culture is at odds with the shallow forms of entertainment.

The story goes on with The Third Manifesto of Chimerism on the Live Experience of Fictional Reality (“Poesis”, no. 6-7-8, 2006). The main ideas are resumed obstinately and the birth date of the movement is boastfully retained: “about 16.30 on the 21st of August 1988”. As in the case of delirionism, no stylistic or narrative innovations are homologated. The only point of reference is the irritation provoked by the postmodern parody and demythization.

 

The Depressive

With the inauguration of the new millennium, sprouts of fresh manifestos pop up. An interesting one is The Depressive Manifesto by Gelu Vlașin. In a solemn voice, we are informed that poetry remains “the personal release of a state of mind at an existential level”. He proceeds, then, with attacking mannerism, minimalism and imitation. “The colleaguewise writing” and “the hypocrites who manufacture poems as if they wrote recipes for domestic wives” push Vlaşin out of his wits.

The inceptive clarity is getting hazier and hazier. First, the depressive manifesto is endowed with a definition: “a literary movement which branched out from the new wave zone” that is “defined by the thematic approach of reality, based on the suppressing the concept of individuality and on its imprisonment into a globalizing system”. The charm dwindles and the language is getting priggish, engineer-like. To get the full Monty we are ingratiated with some indications about form: “The dispersion of blanks all over the space of the poem”. It is exactly how the pages look like in Vlașin’s volume Panic Attack (Atac de Panică): anxiety and energy are made visible with the help of emphatic blank spaces between words.

Utilitarianism

Another challenging manifesto was launched by Adrian Urmanov, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and who, a few years later, converted into a monk. Presented as a foreword to The Utilitarian Poems (Poemele utilitare, Pontica Publishing House, 2003), the manifesto envisaged the absorption into poetry of the techniques of communication and advertising. If the Fracturism absorbed into “the equation of communication” the context of writing, the addressee’s perspective didn’t matter too much. Conversely, the utilitarian art will assume the specificity of advertising slogans and it will focus on readers. Persuading the reader means to carve the message into the receiver’s memory. Thus, the utilitarian poetical text is not literature any longer, but an obsessive Morse signal. It is useful to the receiver owing to the facility with which it can be assimilated. It is a type of poetical inoculation. The poems in the volume offer samples of persuasion: the fluency of the text (simple, declarative and full of compassion) is severed by brackets between which the teller confesses his empathy with the existential torments of the receiver. The advertising strategy is used (again between brackets) to turn the page and read further. Beyond the programmed humbleness and empathy flickers the temptation to manipulate. Urmanov’s enterprise is more effective in practice than in theory. Among his literary brethren, only Andrei Peniuc exercised a less hesitant-and-routinely-metronymic utilitarianism.

 

A bout de souffle

All these manifestos appeared at the delayed end of postmodernism. Some of them wanted to shun the problems of immediate reality, others, on the contrary, targeted exactly these ones. Communication is an important asset for the new poetry, too. These were the golden years for manifestos, but the iron ones for literary programs, on the other hand. With the advent of post-post-modernist literary trends, manifestos lose their edginess, while creativity is dismissed without much social fuss. As Michel Foucault once insisted, nothing escaped ideology in postmodernism.

 

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Felix Nicolau is the author of four collections of poetry, two novels, and five books of literary and communication theory: Homo Imprudens, 2006; Anticanonice (Anticanonicals), 2009; Codul lui Eminescu (Eminescu’s Code), 2010; Estetica inumană: de la Postmodernism la Facebook (The Inhuman Aesthetics: from Postmodernism to Facebook), 2013; and Fluturele-curcan: specii ameninţătoare (The Turkey-Butterfly: Dangerous Species), 2013. He is on the editorial boards of Poesis International, The Muse–an International Journal of Poetry, and Metaliteratura. Nicolau is Associate Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Communication, The Technical University of Civil Engineering in Bucharest, Romania. His areas of interest are: Comparative Literature, Translation Studies, Theory of Communication, Cultural Studies, British and American Studies.
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