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'Nu, Nu and Nu': Ionesco's 'No!' to Romanian Literature and Politics

Jeanine Teodorescu Journal of European Studies 2004 34: 267 DOI: 10.1177/0047244104046384 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Journal of European Studies

Nu, Nu and Nu
Ionescos No! to Romanian literature and politics
JEANINE TEODORESCU Lexington College, Chicago

Nu (Non), a volume of critical essays, was Eugne Ionescos first publication in Romania in 1934. In this work he reveals contempt for Romanian literature, literary politics and, indirectly, politics itself. At the same time Ionesco the critic already displays his unique characteristics: humour, spontaneity, playfulness, recalcitrance and theatricality. His views on literary criticism and its extra-aesthetical motives would remain influential for his French career as a playwright and essayist. In Non, Ionescos contradictory spirit demolishes traditional values and respected literary figures. The iconoclast enjoys overthrowing hierarchies and challenging the Romanian literary milieu; he demonstrates that any point of view can be valid when writing a critical essay. Non is also interspersed with journal entries in which Ionesco mischievously analyses his own motives as a critic. Later, in France, Ionesco will continue to write journals, a literary form for which he already demonstrates affinity in Romania. Non, with its ferocious criticism of Romanian literati, presages the tragicomical playwright, novelist and journal-writer, Eugne Ionesco. Keywords: criticism, Ionesco, Nu, politics, Romania The intelligentsia of the provinces Le plus grand critique roumain? Cest encore, cest toujours tre le parent pauvre de lintelligentsia europenne (Ionesco, 1986).

Journal of European Studies 34(3): 267287 Copyright SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) [200409] 0047-2441/10.1177/0047244104046384



Eugne Ionescos antipathy for his contemporaries found its first public expression in a 1934 collection of essays, published in Romania under the curt and oppositional title Nu, and translated into French a half-century later as Non (1986).1 This compilation of articles on literature, literary critics and criticism reveals that Ionesco was no less theatrical as a literary critic than he was as one of the founders of the Theatre of the Absurd. For Ionesco, theatricality is as much a tool of the critics trade as it is the dramatists, and even the journal entries of Non are replete with it. With his trademark theatricality, Ionesco breathes life into his criticism as he performs his brash, straightforward and obstinate rejection of everyone and everything. Several critics have analysed Ionescos Romanian career. The first book on this subject was Gelu Ionescus Anatomia unei negatii (The Anatomy of a Negation, 1991).2 An extremely informative study of Ionescos articles and essays, and especially of Nu, with numerous references to Romanian critics and important authors of the time, the book is of particular interest to scholars of Romanian studies. Another excellent study is Ecaterina Cleynen-Serghievs La Jeunesse littraire dEugne Ionesco (The Literary Youth of Eugne Ionesco, 1993). This work offers a detailed analysis of the literary and cultural context which shaped Ionescos writing, both in Romanian and in French. In particular, the chapter on Ionesco, les critiques et la critique situates Ionescos criticism within the Romanian and European trends of the time and points to the way that Ionescos Romanian writing foreshadows his writing in French. Deborah Gaensbauers Eugne Ionesco Revisited (1996) briefly covers the same territory and offers a fine treatment of Ionescos Nu and of his fellow Romanian writers. However, I shall focus in more detail on a textual analysis of Ionescos criticism of his contemporaries, which conveys humour, spontaneity, playfulness and theatricality. This article examines those aspects that become enduring traits of Ionescian writing on the international scene, and it also highlights Ionescos rebelliousness against Romanias literature and politics. The author of Non subjects both the authors criticized and even his own criticism to Ionescian deconstruction. Ionescos debut in literary criticism was as scandalous as his debut as a playwright: everyone felt insulted. In Non, the twenty-five-yearold Ionesco assailed norms, received ideas, political trends, literary fashions and tradition itself. In a paradoxical statement for an aspiring literary critic, he wrote: I, too, am convinced of the futility of criticism, which lacks the metaphysical significance of literature (Ionesco, 1986: 161). Like many a manifesto written by an ambitious young writer, Non revolted against conservatism and repudiated



complacency. However, one reason Non remains worth reading is that Ionescos revolt and repudiation did not end with his youth, but rather set forth a host of problems that he would continue to confront throughout his career: his relationship to Romania and to France, the role of critics and criticism as political weapons in literature and society, and the technique and functions of contradiction. Does Ionesco portray in Non a spirit systematically contradicting his time, his fellow Romanian writers, and their established set of values? Or does he merely launch his own career by attacking the status quo? He does both. In Non he states that even if he were the greatest Romanian critic . . . it would still mean, it would always mean [that he] would forever remain the poor relative of the European intelligentsia . . . What tangle of cursed circumstances could consign Romania to the role of a stand-in on the stage of [world] culture? (p. 84). To the extent that this bitter lamentation actually acts as a refrain that would resonate throughout his life, Ionesco is undoubtedly in tune with other critics of Romanian culture at the time (Cioran, among others), yet his aim is to perform the leading role on stage. Ionesco and Romanian literature In a parody of contrasts, Ionesco arranged Non in two equal parts: Moi, Tudor Arghezi, Ion Barbu et Camil Petrescu and Faux itinraire critique. In the first part he lampoons two Romanian poets and a novelist as bland imitators of French literature. The pages of his criticism are interspersed with literary politics and journal entries. The second part of Non is devoted to criticizing critics and criticism, and to analysing and satirizing his own multiple personae. Chapters entitled De lidentit des contraires, La critique, les critiques littraires et autres accidents, Critique littraire et scrupules sentimentaux and Tu seras un grand crivain are juxtaposed with journal-like interludes such as Intermezzo no. 1 (a collection of penses ionesciennes) and Intermezzo no. 2, as well as a pastiche of Voltairean contes in Intermezzo no. 3. In the first three chapters of Non, Ionesco focuses on literary politics while drawing portraits of writers and critics that border on caricature. Literature as politics comes to life in theatrical sketches whose protagonist is more often than not Ionesco himself. Tudor Arghezi or the provincial would-be Baudelaire The first section of Non, which is divided into six sub-chapters, focuses on an acclaimed contemporary poet, Tudor Arghezi



(18801967), considered by some critics second only to Mihai Eminescu (185089), one of the last great Romantics. In fact, Ionesco complains that Arghezis work is second-rate in comparison to French poetry. He clearly believes that Arghezi (and later Barbu) will always stand in the shadow of the great literary traditions, and this of course inherently affects Ionescos own aspirations for international recognition. Romanian literatures inferiority complex resonates as a characteristic theme through several generations of writers. Ionesco begins by demonstrating that the critics who eulogize Arghezi are not trustworthy, since they are not even in possession of the qualifications required of them as critics. Ionesco continues by attacking several of Arghezis poems, applying what he describes as his personal method of critical analysis (p. 31) an approach which, in his view, differs substantially from the anarchical method of his colleagues. What is involved here is first ascertaining the technical process of writing followed by a discovery of the meaning of fundamental lyrical accents (p. 31). In fact, he leads the reader, step by step, through the demonstration of a theorem that concludes with a subjective quod erat demonstrandum. In his opinion, Arghezis poems are saturated with banality, and the poets technique is elementary and inauthentic. In his commentary, Ionesco systematically dismantles Arghezis verses, reconstructing them so that they appear comical and even ridiculous. In order to demonstrate what he considers the facileness and risibility of the Arghezian style, Ionesco also creates his own poem pastiches. His dissection of Arghezi is scattered with passages of excellent dramatic humour. This is how Ionesco, mimicking an actor gratifying his audience with an apart, renders Arghezis imagery hilarious: Symbolic infinite Symbolic infinite? The infinite can be neither symbolic nor absolute. At most, we may have symbols of the infinite and the absolute. And then: Demonic infinite Homeric laughter of the lucid reader. Laughter that turns into a scream of horror when: Gods eyelashes Are falling into my inkpot (p. 103). Ionesco guides his readers through various theatrical postures: first, he reads one line seriously, then reveals its flaw, and finally he



prompts an ideal reader, a lecteur lucide, to react just as Ionesco does to Arghezis poems. Such manipulated reactions belong to theatrical extremes: Homeric laughter turns into a horrified scream. Thereafter, several concidences La cantatrice chauve avant la lettre! reveal the influence upon Arghezi of Mallarm, Baudelaire, Maeterlinck and Eminescu. As he mentions other influences on Arghezis poetry for example, that of Romanian precursor poets Alecsandri and Bolintineanu3 Ionescos unflattering comparisons gradually culminate in insults, finishing with the influence of minor Romanian poets.4 How could one ever hope to reverse such a verdict? Ionesco makes fun of the mechanical artificiality of Arghezis poetry, and furthermore what he considers to be the poets metaphysical ineptitude. Analysing Arghezis volume Flori de mucegai (Flowers of Mould),5 he reveals some of the theatrical aspects in the poems, and concludes that Arghezi lacks the qualities of a truly great poet. While emphasizing Arghezis theatricality, Ionesco takes advantage of his own thespian talent: the Arghezian mise en abme requires that he should simultaneously maintain a permanent dialogue with his readers, and un dialogue de sourds with Arghezi, whose lines, once quoted, are immediately censured. Another example of Ionescos lively dramatic criticism is the collateral attack on Arghezi and on the critics who appreciate him, integrating him with literary currents of the time behind a veil of objectivity: Recognizing that Arghezi possesses some of the skills of a true poet does not at all imply that we should keep him in this literary empyrean, on this throne at whose foot the adoring and ecstatic Romanian critics come in succession to prostrate themselves and to deposit offerings, myrrh and incense (p. 60). Myth, literary empyrean, Arghezi on a throne and Romanian critics as a myrrh- and incense-offering crowd in a temple honouring the poet-god describe the Ionescian theatrical picture of the state of poetry and criticism in his native country. His conclusions, in Chapter 6, emphasize several characteristics of Arghezi: superficiality and simulation, rhetoricism and Hugolian theatricality. One could find in Arghezis writing neither spine nor inner rigour, but only the flaccid flesh of disintegrated words (p. 63). Arghezis downfall results from his own rhetoric and his metaphysical poetry aborted by eloquence (p. 62). The enthusiasm of those adoring critics, set on stage and on the page by Ionescos dramatic discourse, could only prove another Ionescian theory one that harks back to his indictment of the Balkans and its provinces: Romanians



are in fact lazy in everyday life, lyrical in poetry, imbecilic in politics and impressionistic in literary criticism (p. 62). Ion Barbu, the Balkan Monsieur Teste The chapter dedicated to Ion Barbu (18951961) provides another occasion for Ionesco to continue his diatribe against the provinciality of Romanian literati and critics. Ionesco resents their second-rate quality personally, since this provinciality impedes his own acceptance on the international scene. Ionesco realizes he belongs to this provincial milieu and can only respond with explosive anger and hostility to this irredeemable condemnation. Romania, its writers and its critics thus become (like Rome in Camilles eyes) the sole object of [his] resentment.6 Ionesco defines Ion Barbus poetry as hermetical, and hermeticism as facile virtuosity: an accumulation of masks. He also considers pure poetry a sort of testisme, a form of narcissism, that is to say of the poets isolation in his own universe, a form of non-communication (p. 89). Therefore, hermeticism, ironically, becomes the democratic manifestation, for the pleasure of the masses, of an aristocratic destiny (p. 90). Although Ionesco seems as narcissistic as he thinks Barbu is, his diatribe remains picturesque and lively. For his audience, Ionesco creates dramatic scenes in which he comments ironically on Barbus critics and on the poet himself. His theatrical eye transforms Barbus poetry into Oriental puppetry whose strings Ionesco wants everyone to notice. Barbus world is a Balkan version of Valrys Monsieur Teste Nastratin Hogea in Isarlk is Monsieur Teste in shulwars7 on Turkish ground (p. 93) and his vulgarity is that of a Boccaccio zoologist, as Ionesco wonders rhetorically: Boccaccio zoologist, my word! (p. 94). But Ionescos playfulness does not stop here. He sets out first to deconstruct Valrys character, and then, to show how Teste failed, he issues his verdict: Barbus failure is twofold by turning himself into a character, the poet deprives his own poetry of its originality: [I]t is Mr Testes fault. The moment Mr Teste expresses himself, he abdicates. The moment he speaks, he fabricates a poetical formula, he produces models, clichs: he founds a literary school. Teste: complete non-communication. Barely does one penetrate the Testian universe, hardly is communication established, before Teste vanishes into thin air and dies. Hermeticism is a compromise between silence and expression. In order to be true to itself, poetry should keep silent, refuse to express itself, not



exist. However, Mr Teste-Ion Barbu has the pride of an abdicated silence With Ion Barbu hermeticism is nothing but borrowed philosophy expressed through tricks and riddles. Ion Barbu can be reduced to the picturesque on the one hand, to surrealism on the other, then to Mallarm and finally to the allegorical (pp. 901). According to Ionesco, who uses the same comparisons as the fellow critics he maligns, Barbu is easily integrated into the MallarmValry school; however, because he never matures, he remains but an interpreter of little Bremondian music (p. 95).8 Ionescos attack is carefully calculated, and his tactics demonstrate a keen narcissistic pleasure: I could use here some of Jacques Maritains ideas for condemning a certain Barbian cartesianism that is Testian and narcissistic as a form of angelic knowledge (p. 97).9 Barbus poetry has no redeeming quality: old, didactic two-penny philosophy, ornate and flowery eloquence interrupted by hiccups (p. 90). The rhetorical questions abound: Therefore, if symbols, ideology, and meaning are borrowed, what is there left for Ion Barbu? The decor, the picturesque, the anecdote (p. 93). The notes end with a coup de thtre by the future playwright who already excels at entertaining his audience. Just at the time his fellow critic Ion I. Cantacuzino was about to publish his own unfavourable review of Barbus poetry, Ionesco the contrarian announced his intention to write a second review, this time defending Barbu in order to antagonize Cantacuzino, stating that he would interrupt his work on Barbu and, if Cantacuzinos article was successful, begin writing an essay rehabilitating him (p. 102). Ethics and aesthetics part ways for Ionesco. Consequently, he proves the truth of his own accusation against other critics: that extra-literary reasons play an important role in criticism. He succeeds in presenting two performances: on the one hand, the performance of destroying his target the poet or writer whose work he tears apart; on the other hand, the performance of his own strategies, revisions and narcissistic and destructive tendencies, permanently contrariant attitudes and pleasurable premeditation, as well as his reactions vis--vis himself and the others. Ionesco reveals himself as an tre en mouvement: an opportunist demanding to be everyones centre of attention. La critique de la critique As he immerses himself in the ethnicity complex of Romanian writers, Ionescos irritability about being stuck with a second-rate culture reaches new heights, and he blames his national heritage for



preventing him from becoming an important figure on the international stage. This complex is reinforced by the Western attitude toward minor cultures: I am reading Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley. Lucy Tantamount, the female protagonist, is writing a letter: In the evenings a little pub-crawling in Mont Parnasse through hordes of Americans, Poles, Esthonians, Rumanians, Finns, Letts, Lapps, Wends, etcetera, and all of them (God help us!) artists. Huxley thus places Romanians between Letonians and the Lapps! (p. 84). In fact, the provinciality of Ionescos literary milieu originates, in his opinion, in its lack of serious criticism, which he gracelessly resents. Since this provinciality reflects upon Ionesco himself, his urgent task is to reveal this unfortunate condition to his contemporaries, all the while demonstrating his superior lucidity and sense of criticism. Ionesco harshly admonishes his fellow critics and the entire tradition of criticism: Divine punishment, literary shame, culture fallen into a stumbling search, into a futile and tragic quest for itself! (p. 71). Ionesco pursues his diatribe with such invectives as Absence of lucidity in the critics judgement juvenile enthusiasm a long tradition of blunders established by our bland predecessors a deplorable lack of confidence justified, unfortunately, by a century of poorly assimilated culture (pp. 723). Yet, in Romantic contrast, Ionesco compares the disappointing, if not decaying, present to the promising criticism and literature of the nineteenth century. Exasperated by his contemporaries, he can but yearn for renewal and spiritual regeneration. The pages of his criticism teem with irony and sarcasm. Ionesco outlines the confusion and dilettantism plaguing the critics. He reproaches them not only for their lack of standards when drawing parallels between Romanian and universally recognized poets e.g. Vacarescu had been compared to Goethe by Heliade Radulescu, and Tudor Arghezi to Paul Valry by Ion Barbu (p. 74) but also finds fault with their focus on criticism and on poetical technique whole set of impersonal procedures (p. 74) without differentiating each poets individuality. The absence of proper criteria only leads to incoherence, according to Ionesco. Using some of the very approaches he criticizes, Ionesco establishes and justifies the setting for his own critical method. Ionescos critique de la critique outlines the clichs and methods limiting the Romanian critics ability to discriminate: Pompiliu



Constantinescu strictly limits himself to exegesis; E. Lovinesco and Perpessicius to elegant, gracious lyricism and theory; Serban Cioculesco to myopic scepticism; Petru Comarnesco to unbridled generosity excessive to the point of paroxysm; and, finally, Paul Sterian whose criticism is restricted to an orthodox enthusiasm as graceful as a cow in a tutu or an elephant in a china shop (pp. 756). Knowledgeable in French criticism,10 Ionesco quotes Thibaudets study of Mallarm, and accuses Perpessicius of being influenced by the banal, stereotyped ideas of his French colleague: His theoretical approach amounts to several banalities on hermeticism, banalities which had been in circulation ever since the first edition of Thibaudets study on Mallarm, banalities disguised as dogma; banalities concerning the effort of the reader, who must collaborate spiritually with the poet; [banalities] on idealism, Platonism and other scruples in the dull, impenetrable and heavy style of the prose poem (pp. 778). In portraits of other critics, Ionesco employs comically idiotic expressions reminiscent of those uttered by Caragiales cretin characters11 (at the same time for and against). He also presents a list of systematic errors (pp. 801) perpetrated by critics whom he ridicules as he demonstrates that their critical arguments and conclusions are false. Whenever he approves of critics (e.g. George Calinesco or Lucian Boz), it is for their negative criticism, and his praise for them is typically Ionescian: that is, contradictory or ambiguous. Here are some examples: Eugen Lovinesco pleads neither for nor against Barbian poetry, unless [he] pleads both for and against it G. Calinesco seems to be the most lucid of Ion Barbus commentators. He develops in a convincing manner the notion of picturesque and geographic vocabulary first formulated by E. Lovinesco. He correctly senses the deficiency of a solemn and sententious tone Calinesco is mistaken in imagining that Ion Barbus poetry escapes contingency when, in fact, it is only a simple geographic evasion [Isarlk] or rather a humble submission to circumstances, accidents, and a thousand little ups and downs and other dregs of the world (pp. 812). No critic, however good or agreeable Ionesco might consider him, is exempt from his judgement. In everyone elses criticism,



Ionesco discovers contradictions, evasions or even an unfulfilled mission: All Mr. Calinescos articles plead (yet only between the lines) against Barbian poetry. But his attitude remains timid, prudent, full of all kinds of detours, of sotto voce affirmations, of circumvolutions and apologies (p. 83). The humour is obvious when, in a footnote, Ionesco recognizes the coincidence of his sharing some ideas with one critic, Ion I. Cantacuzino, to his own obvious advantage because of his selfproclaimed superiority: some of my ideas are congruent with those expressed by Mr Cantacuzino in his essay entitled Ion Barbu. My own essay, written in fact some days earlier, distinguishes itself from his not only by the fact that my position is clearer, but also that my rhythm, my verve and my talent succeed whereas Mr Cantacuzinos lack of logical cohesion and his confused style fail (pp. 823). This note exemplifies another trait of Ionescos writing: his selfundermining through caricatured self-portraiture. The focus on his aggrandized ego shifts the limelight from other critics to his own selfrighteousness, which not only places him among authors worth criticizing, but also adds to his bag of tricks and to the playful touch of his criticism. Expressing outrage, condescension, irony or sarcasm on topics ranging from serious literary criticism to attacks on critics themselves, Ionescos writing depicts critics as characters without personality in Caragialean comic situations. Ionesco plays with scenes, rules and dialogue to sustain Nons vivacity. All the ingredients are there for the future playwright, one of the founders of the Absurd: a keen eye for banal or bizarre behaviour; an ear for clichs, idiotic statements, or humorous conclusions; an alert rhythm which sustains the readers interest; a collision of voices; and a sense of performance or even guignol keep Non in constant motion. Literary politics and politics of literature Non provides Ionesco with the occasion to uncover the motivations that energize criticism. Such motivations transcend aestheticism in Non. Although Ionesco does not deny his own participation in this process, he takes obvious pleasure in the details provided by the politicization of Romanian literature. After defining each type of



criticism with nuance and apparent objectivity, and demonstrating his thorough knowledge of Romanian criticism, he draws the portrait of a logician and of his blunder: A gentleman, a logician it seems, but certainly not a critic (the critic must be just, the logician must just reason properly, because he has no need for the notion of truth in order to establish his syllogism), affirms that Ion Barbus musical and Bremondian poetry is so vague that, while expressing nothing, it expresses everything This innocent blunder nullifies the geometrical precision and the cerebral lucidity which are our poets prerogatives (p. 76). This is not only an indictment of logic in general, but also of its popular exponent at the University of Bucharest, Nae Ionescu, who in the 1930s converted many of the younger generation to far-right politics.12 Young Ionesco detected the blatant untruths in the reasoning of this academic, who used his teaching to advance his own political purposes. Ionesco paints several profiles of critics against the cultural backdrop of the 1930s. Truncated quotations are followed by caustic remarks. Exclamation points and question marks indicate his amazement, and establish a rapport of confidentiality, mutual agreement on equal terms, and even conspiracy with the reader: Barbian poetry grows in the shadow of the Orient but it escapes the Turkish universe (!) and moves towards Christianity (!?), and rather than offering a candle to the idol of El-Gahel doesnt it seem more like he would like to do that on Golgotha? (p. 79). This is Ionescos way of unravelling the forced religious reading applied to a literary text whose type of spirituality could only have been Christian (in the criticized critics mind), in spite of its obvious oriental background and hero. Even as he punctuates his sentence with an allusion to Molires Tartuffe, using Orgons expression the poor man to describe Paul Sterian, Ionesco gives Sterian a condescending pat on the back:13 I will overlook the obvious fact that Paul Sterian applies to poetry an improper and unilateral dialectic. I will not insist on the fact that he never approached any articulation which permits understanding of Barbus work, but I notice an amusing thing Sterian, in utterly good faith the poor man completely ignores the chronology of Barbian poetry. The spiritual stages do not



correspond at all to the poems order in the volume (Joc secund, Uvendenrode and Isarlk) in fact the chronological order is just the opposite. Instead of hoping Mr Paul Sterian and Gndirea should despair: two inches from becoming a Christian at the beginning of his spiritual career, Mr Ion Barbu escapes Christianity (Isarlk) in order to end up in Uvendenrode. Transcendence rebours, my dear Paul Sterian! (p. 79).14

Camil Petresco, le Proust manqu of Romania, or how to climb the ladder of literary politics Another of the writers Ionesco takes to task in Non is Camil Petresco (18941957), one of the most highly regarded Romanian novelists of the inter-war period. Ionescos critical assessment of the celebrated author of Patul lui Procust (Procrustes Bed, 1933) is as unrelenting and outrageous as his treatment of Arghezi. In his effort to challenge Petrescos powerful position in Romanian literature, Ionesco analyses the novelists failure as a writer and questions the political tactics he used in order to gain recognition on the literary stage. Here again, Ionescos own aspirations for universal recognition are grudgingly posed against the perceived provinciality of his own countrys literature as represented by Petresco. This chapter is the most theatrical of the three devoted to demolishing contemporary literati, where Ionescos talent for dialogue and for comedy becomes most evident. Ionesco, sharing centre stage with his victim, participates energetically in the performance, while at the same time engaging, behind the scenes, in the same manipulations he accuses others of employing. These manipulations bring theatre and political tactics into close proximity. A ubiquitous presence whose main purpose is to upstage his victim and become the centre of attention himself, Ionesco succeeds in directing, performing, entertaining, analysing, sentencing, changing his mind and struggling to make a name for himself by antagonizing everyone else. For Ionesco, the antinomies between Proust and Petresco, his Romanian imitator, are unmistakable: Whereas in Proust there is unity, in Petresco there is lack of unity; whereas in the former there is construction and architecture, in the latter there is prolixity and laxity. With Proust, facility and chance are contradicted by the systematic exploration of all possibilities, while with Petresco, chance is



not abolished by a throw of the dice, as Mallarm would say, and nothing rises to restrain the rivers flow from the facile current (pp. 11415). However, Ionesco would later demonstrate that Petrescos originality lies in his very failure: that is, deficiencies in the erroneous or aborted application of the Proustian method (p. 110). Ionesco also recognizes in Petrescos novel the application of Lovinescos theory of synchronization. Unfortunately, it is only the Proustian technique and not the content that Petresco succeeds in borrowing (the recurring theme of form and content again plays a primary role in Ionescos criticism). Technique is never born in a vacuum, formulas are never devoid of content in the sense that any formal innovation, for instance, Proustian, rises from a vision pregnant with meaning (p. 115). In Ionescos view, Petrescos borrowings from Proust turn into recipes, clichs (p. 117). There is also an apparent Gidian influence, yet it is devoid of Gidian aristocracy (p. 117). Petresco not only sins by attacking problems such as the insufficiency of human reason already clearly dealt with by philosophers (e.g. Lon Chestov15), but also by not being metaphysical. Ionesco criticizes Petresco for his inability to create characters and for his lack of subtlety and psychological refinement. The best way to show the reader the shallowness and the lack of subtlety in Petrescos psychological analysis is a parody la Petresco of a dialogue in Alexandre Dumas Vingt ans aprs. Ionescos parody, in which he turns Dumas dialogue into a Petrescian type of narration, is then compared to a passage from Procrustes Bed. Another weakness in the novel is revealed by the over-detailed analyses that stand in stark opposition to Jean Cocteaus gift of suggestion (p. 124). Ultimately, Ionesco concludes that Petrescos banality can be reduced to a literary formula: Racine revised and corrected by Proust, with touches of D. H. Lawrence (p. 125). Here Ionesco anticipates Barthess On Racine: And all of that is Racines fault, a Racine revised and corrected by Proust (p. 125).16 Ionesco focuses not only on Petrescos writing, but also on the novelists tactics to make a name for himself, since, as Ionesco remarks, literary politics plays a preponderant role in certain delicate circumstances (p. 103). Here he is referring to Petrescos many years as a scapegoat, when he was the brunt of all the critics wrath, before he wrote Faux trait lusage des autorits dramatiques and immersed himself in tireless polemics. This event generated a legend as vacuous, or even as false, in Ionescos opinion, as the title of his essay



on theatre, La tragdie de lintelligence. On this Ionesco resorts to raw sarcasm: Legend would have it that Mr Camil Petresco is terribly intelligent (Romanians is intelligent,17 is the title of [his] soon to be published autobiography). But [his] real place is abroad because he cannot realize his talent in our country [where] he does not even have adversaries of his own stature. Ovid-like, Mr Camil Petresco feels like an exile in these Scythian provinces (p. 104). It is interesting the way this short passage presages Ionescos own spiritual and geographic itinerary: an exile in Romania who, returning to the country of his childhood, will always feel an alien, and will always resist belonging to a country, to a trend or to a coterie, always experiencing isolation and exile. Ionesco considers Petrescos dynamism sterile as stone (p. 105). Tired of polemics, the literary scene began ignoring Petresco; this, as Ionesco remarks, signals a time for the writer to change his tactics. Adopting a new strategy, a new politics (p. 105), Petresco becomes everyones friend. Politics remains Ionescos primary focus. It seems to him that literary politics provides a vital battleground for status, a name in short, literary recognition; but at the same time it is inevitably connected to national politics. In fact literature and politics have always been interwoven in Romania. Titu Maiorescu, a literary critic, was also an important political figure who served several terms as prime minister. Another critic, C. Dobrogeanu-Gherea, publicly supported socialist ideas, and Mihai Eminescu, the poet par excellence, wrote scores of political articles in the conservative newspapers of the time. Obviously the details of Petrescos strategy strike a particular chord in Ionesco, since he would himself implement some of Petrescos tricks: In other words Petresco had at first figured out that he could be considered Romanias greatest genius simply by reiterating, indefatigably and at every turn, the fact that he was a great genius in a country where all the others are imbeciles (p. 105). Another example of Petrescos ingenious ideas was to found, in Ionescos ironical terms, in an anonymous association of advertisers (p. 106) in which Petresco rallied together a cadre of journalists and poets willing to adopt a common front under the motto all for one and one for all. Ionesco mentions in this context the tactics Petresco



used in his attack on Eugen Lovinesco, who had published his Memoirs: like a lamb sucking on all teats, but reserving his kicks for the ewe, from that time forward, old and sterile (p. 107).18 Ionesco calls Petrescos novels obvious literary frauds (p. 107) since he considers (with obvious mauvaise foi) the Romanian novelist entirely indebted to Proust. Petrescos originality can only be attributed to deficiencies in the erroneous or aborted application of the Proustian method (p. 110). This elicits from Ionesco a burst of indignant moral integrity this is extremely serious for the literary conscience in general and provides yet another opportunity for Ionesco to expand the target of his insults, leading him to line up the Romanian audience (i.e. readers) behind the editors and critics: The Romanian public is disoriented, easily influenced, capricious, blessed with dubious taste, so much so that editors can never establish laws or even formulate probabilities. This is why any book that makes it onto the market be it good or bad (something an editor is in no position to judge) always represents a great risk, a venture that could lead to bankruptcy or fortune. Our readers psychology obeys no law unless it is that of caprice. So the critic, inasmuch as he represents the public, must assume all the characteristics of the reader, exaggerated to the extreme; hence, the critic must be utterly disoriented, easily influenced, capricious and tasteless and lacking any theoretical training all this multiplied by the power of two (p. 108). This vitriolic portrait of the Romanian literary scene accounts for Petrescos success: clever politics on the one hand, complete absence of resistance and the catastrophic pusillanimity of the critics on the other (p. 109, my emphasis). Ionesco has a lapidary answer to a most sensible question concerning Petrescos success: But could not this success just as easily be explained by the quality of Mr C. Petrescos novels? No, no and no! (p. 109). This is Ionesco at his best. Confessions of an enfant terrible By acknowledging the personal motivations behind his statements, Ionesco subverts his critique. The reader is suddenly confronted with an inner stage where Ionesco reflects on his ego, and where he describes some of his obsessions his fear of death, his ideas about God and love, and his thoughts on vanitas vanitatis: I am tortured by all the vanities, all the ambitions. I suffer like a dog for not being



Europes greatest poet, the worlds greatest critic, Romanias strongest man, or, at the very least, a prince (p. 98). While writing his reviews, Ionesco actually discovers his indifference toward criticism. His introspective moments seem to reveal the human being, his motivations, and the Proustian discrepancy between the writing moi and the man himself: While beginning my study of Ion Barbu, I was horrified to realize the degree to which I am indifferent to the problems of literary criticism. My own efforts at self-deception are disconcerting. What does it matter to me whether Ion Barbus poetry may or may not be considered great judged against more or less arbitrary criteria? I wrote my study of Arghezi with more conviction than I put into this one. I cant believe it. Is it possible that I was actually convinced of what I wrote? Even so, in my study of Arghezi, the moment I launched into a vehement tone so apparently self-confident and so utterly negative and intransigent his poems again seemed to assume an incredible beauty. But there was nothing I could do about it at that point I had already written half of my study. I am writing this essay on Ion Barbu with the same strategy and the same goal in mind: to provoke scandal. And when it comes to provoking scandal, I am an expert (pp. 834). Such recognition of certain strategies, non-literary goals and an unanticipated honesty serves to undermine the self-assured writing persona we find earlier in the work, with its invention, wit, humour, exaggeration and pitiless critical judgements. Ionescos sharp and aggressive verdicts regarding Romanian literature and criticism disappear and disclose another possibility: that they too are flawed. All of a sudden the backstage strings and operations become visible. The confession continues to surprise: Am I sincere about my own criteria? Yes, of course but I do not in any way pretend that the ideas I express are profound and authentic, that they are anything but the fruit of chance. These are ideas that come to me out of the blue because I am afflicted by an irrepressible need to go against the grain of everything that I read. Whenever I take up my pen to write, it is in the spirit of contradiction (p. 84). Ionesco the critic executes a coup de thtre, and the coup is as unexpected, irreverent and humorous as his previous burst of honesty. He divests himself of the formal mask and presents his readers with



another portrait, frankly and without any embarrassment. Instead of writing under the pretence of improving literary criticism, he criticizes critical pretensions. Ionesco writes comedy with a cause: Castigat ridendo mores. The spirit of contradiction can never stop: it must contradict even itself. Contradictions are contained in contradictions like a Russian Matryoshka doll encasing the very core of his being: This tendency (contradiction) is so profoundly rooted in me, so consubstantial with my being, that I catch myself contradicting even my own ideas when I encounter them in others The word true does not appear in the dictionary of my conscience. My goal? Might it be only to achieve that success I so disdain and yet which causes me to fan my tail like a peacock? (p. 84)19 Ionesco spies on himself and catches himself in flagrante delicto. Detective and crook, he assumes both identities, and plays one against the other: I am well aware of the fact that my arguments are neither valid nor invalid in and of themselves. My accusations can easily be considered neutral characteristics of Barbian poetry But the main thing is to recognize that Barbian poetry is bad poetry. The arguments that dissolve in the fire and brimstone of my rhetoric count for little. Faint echoes and the distant clamour will ring in the readers ears and the smoke from the battlefield will appear before their eyes (p. 87). Ionescos diary is a workbook of rhetorical artifices. First, he achieves the effect of Rossinis aria della calunnia and then ventures into a twofold quest: to ravage literary works, while at the same time creating a leading role for himself as the destroyer of false idols. He echoes the complaints of a whole generation eager to affirm itself beyond the borders of its own country, but which is acutely aware of the difficulty involved in such an enterprise. However, he adds his personal aspirations to this complaint. Steeped as they are in theatricality and vanity, these confer a comical streak to his lament. The step from the grandiose to the ridiculous has been willingly taken: I will die without having played the slightest role on the European scene that will sink into oblivion without having needed me! (p. 84). Ionesco has difficulties coping with death and guignol, and with the helplessness of the human condition and lifes absurdity: We are but wretched children, all alone in the world, abandoned



in this stable that is in the process of being demolished. We stand at the brink of the abyss, playing with dolls, pull-, pull-, pulling at the strings of the little puppets. What words, as yet unuttered, might I shout in order to be heard? (p. 86). Ionescos Shakespearean touch (reminiscent of Macbeth) already shows traces of Jarry and foreshadows La Cantatrice chauve, Les Chaises and Jeu de massacres. Like John the Baptist in the desert, his tragic lamentation underlines the incurable despair of a man tormented by lonely solitude: Would that the stalwart man arrive! The man who would ignore doubt, who would not cower, nor weep, nor wait. I am afraid to look through the window panes at the gaping holes. I close my eyes. Humbly I beseech you, I implore you not to force me to open my eyes to this abyss. Everything is on the verge of collapse. My scream, my wretched scream, resonates like a sigh (p. 86). Ionesco cannot help himself; he renders this Pascalian moment (the abyss, the void) humorously. Literature and criticism become mere divertissement a way of forgetting the misery of the human condition: There is nothing to do but close our eyes. Write literary criticism. And death will surprise us from behind while we are busy writing literary criticism (p. 86). In fact, the image recalls Montaignes attempt to tame death, and be struck by it while gardening: And I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but careless of death, and still more of my unfinished garden (Montaigne, 1957: 62). The ambition motivating the young critic contradicts his own evaluation of criticism. Ionesco seems to be simultaneously disappointed and self-indulgent with his moi and his inability to devote himself full-time to literature: [T]his is where my sole salvation lies: in letting one part of myself die so the other might live fully. I have to risk everything on a single card. But I am soft, indecisive. All I have are doubleedged opinions. I cannot commit to anything. It is always ME that I place at the heart of my interests and preoccupations. I cannot forget myself, leave myself behind (Ionesco, 1986: 88). The tone resembles the voice we find in Ionescos journals published later in France. The diary style was dear to Ionesco, this exhibitionist farceur. It originates in Non and develops throughout his career: I practise literary criticism instead of writing, telling stories but what is it that keeps me from doing what is most intimately



personal to me, what is most authentic in me? Is it the uneventful everyday routine, a stroll through the garden, a record on the gramophone, a conversation with a friend about something that is of no interest to the rest of the world, all the tours and detours my life takes as I wander astray and lose my way, and yet this is all I can do to secure my own personal immortality! (p. 88). The same entries introduce new ideas on criticism, with references to French literature: a refreshing perspective for a restless mind dissatisfied with itself, with Romania and with its times. Aware of his own paradoxes, Ionesco looks for them in the poetry he analyses. In contradicting himself, while at the same time pinpointing the contradictions of others, he remains true to himself. Acknowledgements
I am extremely grateful to three colleagues and friends for their enthusiastic help and support: Lilian Friedberg, for her energetic analysis of my essay, her astute comments and challenging ideas, and for our passionate discussions on Ionesco; Sarah Keller, whose valuable suggestions, stimulating conversation, and patience and encouragement inspired me to continue my research; and William Ford, for his thorough and professional reading of the text and his very useful observations.

1. Although this study (as well as the English language translations included here) draws from both the Romanian and French language texts, citations will be provided parenthetically according to their location in the French edition (1986). 2. The book was first published in French as LAnatomie dune ngation (1989). 3. Vasile Alecsandri (182190) was a poet and politician, who lived both in Romania and in France. He played a diplomatic role regarding Wallachia and Moldavias unification into Romania, a unification which was supported mainly by Napoleon III. Dimitrie Bolintineanu (181972) was the author of historical poems which played a nationalist role at a time of struggle for the unification and autonomy of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. 4. Like Panat Cerna, St. O. Iosif and Al. Vlahuta. 5. The title was inspired by Baudelaires Les Fleurs du mal. 6. Pierre Corneille, Horace, Act IV, scene 6. 7. From Persian shalwar, meaning loose trousers. 8. Brmond (abb Henri) (18651933) was a French critic and historian of religious ideas, academician (1923), and author of Histoire littraire du sentiment religieux en France (191632), Apologie pour Fnelon (1910) and Pour le








14. 15.


romantisme (1923). In Prire et posie (1927) he debated the essence of poetry with Paul Valry, and he defended la posie pure, based, he thought, on an instinctive intuition of the universe, which was opposed to intellectualism and neoclassicism (De la posie pure, 1926), and he debated the essence of poetry with Valry in Prire et posie. Jacques Maritain (18821973) was a French philosopher and essayist, and interpreter of Thomism (Thomas Aquinas). Critical of materialism and Bergsonism, he was a Christian humanist who wrote on religious philosophy, aesthetics and politics: De la philosophie chrtienne (1933), Humanisme intgral (1936), Intuition cratrice et art en posie (1962), Principes dune politique humaine (1944). Ionesco was familiar with the following French critics: Albert Thibaudet, Jean Larinotte, Jean Prvost, Hippolyte Taine, Ferdinand Brunetire, Julien Benda, Sainte-Beuve, Paul Valry and Henri Brmond. The Italian Benedetto Croce was also one of his favourites. I. L. Caragiale (18521912) was a nineteenth-century journalist, writer and playwright, whose main satiric targets were the bourgeoisie and the political parties in Wallachia. Among his best-known comedies are A Stormy Night (1879) and A Lost Letter (1885). Nae Ionescu (18901940) was the charismatic professor of philosophy and logic at the University of Bucharest, who studied in Germany and used a maieutic method of teaching. He was influenced by Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Chestov, Spengler, Keyserling and Dilthey, and was described as an antiCartesian and a promoter of mysticism and Orthodoxism, who opposed contemplative philosophy. In his view, history is what thinks, not the philosopher. Opportunism in politics became his philosophic principle. Ionescus volume of essays Roza vinturilor (The Weather Vane) made a modus vivendi of going along with any current. He was called a Balkan sophist and a superior ham by George Calinescu, a prominent literary critic (1941: 9534). Nae Ionescu, by his example (he became a member of the Iron Guard in 1933), influenced other Romanian intellectuals (Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Constantin Noica and others) to support this nationalist, mystical, and virulently anti-Semitic fascist movement. In Tartuffe, Molire satirizes a group of seventeenth-century religious zealots. Like Tartuffe, these people were, in fact, hypocrites trying to take advantage of all those who believed in their feigned religious devotion. Orgon is Tartuffes dupe. His comical inflation of Tartuffes very profane everyday behaviour as gestures of sacred proportion is evident in the way he repeatedly says the poor man with reference to Tartuffe. This may also allude to Huysmans famous novel A rebours (1884). Lon Chestov, or Lev Shestov (18661938), was a Russian writer and philosopher, influenced by Tolsto, Dostoevski, Nietzsche, Pascal and Kierkegaard. He set the tragic and the absurd experiences of the human condition in opposition to the reassuring truth of reason, which he denounced. He was one of the promoters of Christian existentialism and the author of LIde du bien chez Tolsto et Nietzsche (1900) and Athnes et Jrusalem (1938). Barthes (1992: 24) concludes: The essential relation is one of authority,



love serves only to reveal it. This relation is so general, so formal, one might say, that I should not hesitate to represent it in the form of a double equation. A has complete power over B. A loves B, who does not love A. 17. This lack of agreement between subject and verb in the title is the most common Romanian joke about uneducated people. 18. Ionescos zoological imagery will continue to develop in his plays, e.g. Jacques ou la soumission, Lavenir est dans les oeufs, Rhinocros. 19. Ionescos entertaining self-analysis and peeling back of impulses are redolent of Rimbauds je est un autre.

Barthes, Roland (1992) On Racine, trans. Richard Howard, Berkeley: University of California Press. Calinescu, George (1941) Istoria Literaturii Romne (History of Romanian Literature), Bucharest: Editura Fundatiilor Regale, pp. 9534. Cleynen-Serghiev, Ecaterina (1993) La Jeunesse littraire dEugne Ionesco, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Gaensbauer, Deborah (1996) Eugne Ionesco Revisited, New York: Twayne Publishers. Ionesco, Eugne (1986) Non, trans. Marie-France Ionesco, Paris: Gallimard. Ionescu, Gelu (1989) LAnatomie dune ngation, trans. M. Nedelcu-Padureanu, Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universittsverlag. Montaigne, Michel (1957) Essays, Book I, trans. Donald Frame, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Jeanine Teodorescu is an Adjunct Professor in French Language and Literature at Lexington College in Chicago. Address: 2700 N Hampden Ct., Apt. 22D, Chicago, IL 60614, USA [email:]