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Ana-Karina Schneider


In a culture marked by rapid change, nothing changes more frequently than ihe past.
Evan Carton and Gerald Graff, "The
Emergence of Academic Criticism" (281)

ne of tbe most striking features of Romanian literary studies is

the divorce between theory and criticism. In tbe West that rift
has been healed of late, under the influence of poststructuralist
theories proposing the "text" as the basic object and result of
all critical interventions. In Romania, however, it remains very much in
place, with theory (beavily impacted by Western readings) undertaking a
recuperative protocol meant to retrieve tbe ideological underpinnings of
pre-1989 Romanian culture, while literary criticism continues along the
same lines that it bad followed before, minus the propagandistic distortions. Much of tbe ideology-oriented theory published in Romania in recent years is the response to a deeply felt need to reassess the critical inheritance bequeatbed by previous generations and find tbe points at wbicb
postcommunist literary studies can insert itself into a tradition tbat is botb
thoroughly Romanian and synchronous witb developments in Western
culture and theory.' The rupture that persists between tbeory and its practical application is diachronic, tbe latter still following the modernist model
of criticism. This conservative model foregrounds the category of tbe aesthetic and regards the Faulkner text as contemporary with the moment of
its interpretation rather than as a culturally- and temporally-circumscribed
artifact. A significant shift in focus is nonetheless in effect in recent literary
studies: wbile promoting a Nobel Prize winning novelist like Faulkner was
a double-edged gesture of snobbishness and open-mindedness for communist cultural dictators and for aesthetic critics it was a point of honor,
no sucb preoccupations with high literature can be discerned in postcommunist criticism. Instead, consistent with a tendency that took shape in
tbe 1980s, postmodern and contemporary writing is at present displacing
"canonical" literature as the preferred object of academic research, abandoning earlier traditions in the critical muddle in which they were left by
communist scbolarsbip.
'See recent work by Balota, Oloiu, Crneci, lefter, md Corni-Pope, among others.



Ana-Karina Schneider William Faulkner and the Romanian 'Vritism of Survival"

William Faulkner was one of the Western novelists enjoying comparatively wide critical acclaim in late-twentieth-century Romania. The reprinting
of translations of and criticism on Faulkner's books after 1989, his inclusion
in academic curricula, and the impressive number of translations from his
work all indicate that Faulkner's distinctive place was not affected by an earlier superimposition of ideological perspectives. What is so surprising, however, is the paradox that, although recent editions are accompanied by new
prefaces or introductory essays, the overwhelming mass of criticism published
after 1989 remains slightly modified old material, rather than new interpretations. There are of course exceptions to this rule: Mircea Mihie's Cartea
e^ecurilor (Book of Failures) and Didi-lonel Cenu$er's Faulkner's Larger Mean
ings for example. As well as providing an indication of the status and range of
Faulkner studies in Romania, this reflects directly on the different critical and
theoretical trends, phases, and methods at work in Romanian literary scholarship. From this evidence 1 extract two theses regarding Romanian criticism.
My first allegation concerns the paradigmatic evolution of the past four
decades, from a thawing of ideological control (in the 1970s), through a decade of economic and sociocultural crises (in the 1980s), to the problematic
demise of communism. I propose that not only is contemporary criticism
heir to many of the methodological principles set out by pre-1989 critics, but
that it is also heir, albeit with some ambivalence, to a certain forma mentis
which selectively obliterates aspects of the cultural scene, such as the distinction between communism and Marxism. In Faulkner criticism, this becomes
apparent especially in the reprinted critical editions of the 1990s, from which
references to Faulkner's political allegiance and to his social critique, as well
as derogatory allusions to capitalism, have been carefully expurgated rather
than reconsidered with the investigative tools of neo-Marxism or New Historicism.
My second proposition concerns pre-1989 literary criticism, in which,
despite state control and internalized censorship, the dominant move was
away from the monolithic discourse of Stalinist ideology towards a thorough
synchronization with kindred Western developments. Thus, it is German
Hermeneutics, French Formalism(s), and American New Criticism rather
than their Russian homologues that have had the strongest impact on Romanian textual analysis. Moreover, in the 1980s, shortly after its legitimation in
Western cultures, postmodernism entered the Romanian scene of literary debate and, due to local socioeconomic and cultural circumstances, acquired a
range of meanings and taxonomies unprecedented in the West (see Crneci).
In this context, a careful, open-minded, and holistic reading of Romanian
literary criticism in relation to kindred Western studies would prove informative. A comparison of Sorin Alexandrescu's 1969 Faulkner monograph with
Myra lehlen's 1976 discussion of class and character, for instance, would be
particularly fruitful, both in methodological terms and in terms of their findings on the psychological complications arising from ideological and social
situatedness in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha. Similarly, in the field of textual

The Faulkner Journal

Fall 2008 01

criticism, Mihie's Carlea e^ecuror, a hermencutic inquiry into what, how,

and especially why Faulkner rewrote, has mucb in common with Waher Slatoffs Quest for Failure and John Bassett's Vision and Revisions.
Tbe ab.sence of such comparisons often originates in the deplorable scarcity of metacritical texts interrogating the canonicity, relevance, and function
of both literature and criticism witb specific applicability to contemporary,
postcommunist Romania. Anotber major hindrance to adequate critical studies is the reluctance, shared to a certain extent by East and West alike, to discuss
communism in relation to Marxism. Not only is a thorough investigation of
tbe sociocultural and philosophical underpinnings of the communism/capitalism dialectic shunned, but in insisting on promoting a rhetoric of postcommunism, contemporary thinking risks repeating the disastrous mistakes of an
unanalyzed past. Thus, for instance, Faulkner scholarship as valuable as Alexandrescu's structuralist monograph is indiscriminately discounted because of
its excessive and now obsolete ideological commitments. The exclusions performed by proletkult policies in tbe 1950s and early 1960s are thus re-enacted.
As most ot the Romanian criticism written before 1989 was, by choice or by
force, "communist," a comparison with the Western Marxist and historicist
accounts of Faulkner's oeuvre is necessary in order to establish points of reference. Furtbermore, since communism is fundamentally an ideology, it is necessary to outline the definition that is operative here.
The definition of ideology in communist countries differs significantly
from tbe definition of the term in the West. As J. Hillis Miller explains, in
Communist countries "'ideology' is (or was) a set of beliefs and practices consciously promulgated by the state" (254). The connection between ideology and
ethics in Eastern Europe under the communist regimes is therefore a tenuous
one stemming from the fact that tbe possession of truth is delegated to a higher
authority (the State), which is thus empowered to make decisions consistent
with what is "best for tbe people" (a programmatically Utopian twist given to the
utilitarian "the greater good for the greater number"). Tbus, communism became
for many of its subjects, and to a large degree, a way of evading responsibility.' In
being programmatically prescribed by the dominant political class, this type of
ideology more evidently comes to bear upon the definition and ethics of interpretations and canons, and consequently on the responsibility of theoreticians and
critics alike in inscribing and circumscribing tbe reading public's understanding
of and responses to cultural phenomena. It does not, however, exclude the diffusion of ideology into the institutions, mentalities, and bebavioral automatisms of
civil society, as theorized by Altbusser and Gramsci. But to tbe extent tbat active
resistance to this type of ideology is feasible, it entails potentially dangerous (even
suicidal) rebellion against the political system.
In this context there is something to be said for those critics who chose to
ignore the dictates of communist propagandist ic and didactic prescriptions, while
at the same time the inevitability of the programmatic promotion of certain writ'By the same lokcn. the rebellion against the omniscient, omnipotent State signalled the decision to
resume political responsibilityand thus, was an ethical choice.

102 Ana-Karina Schneider William Faulhier and the Romanian "Critism of Survival"

ers and of certain aspects of their work becomes more evident. This perhaps explains why Faulkner was not as popular in Romania as his contemporaries, Steinbeck and Hemingway for instance. Steinbeck's interest in
the plight of the dispossessed and in social injustice, like his affiliation to
left-wing politics, made him particularly amenable to ideologically saturated criticism in our country. Moreover, his simple, straightforward, occasionally allegoric or parabolic narrative, and his concern with simple,
uneducated laborers appealed to the proletarian readership throughout
the world. At the opposite pole, Hemingway proposed a brutal male ethos
of endurance, nonconformism and individualism, and an epos of sheer
physical force and adventure. While he offered no explicit social commentary other than the impossibility of adapting to imperialist capitalism, the
insidious appeal of his work might have been constituted by the promise
of escapism. Faulkner, with his obscure and convoluted experimental style
and ambiguous politics, has always been much more difficult to digest
by lay readers; he has also been more difficult to be made digestible by
critics. Concurrently, his obliquity and ambiguities invite and accommodate a wider range of interpretations, just as they also preserve him fresh
for every new consumption, even when Steinbeck and Hemingway have
faded from view. In the late 1960s this protean quality made it possible for
translators and critics to introduce the Southern novelist to the Romanian
reading public in a variety of guises: as the linguistic experimentalist, the
eccentric aesthete, the cryptosocialist, the liberal humanist as moralist,
and the mythopoeic pseudohistorian.- All these guises were both faithful
to what they disguised and ideologically acceptable, achieving a compromise that allowed for the promotion of the aesthetic consequence and universally valid ethos of Faulkner's work while obscuring his objectionable
connection to Western capitalism.
Fundamentally, Faulkner's reception in Romania has been conditioned and informed by the regional-universal duality. Faulkner's work is
crucially grounded in his native South, and an understanding of this ontological relationship has proved highly instructive in a.ssessing his literary
achievement. At the same time, the Southern writer's main characterological and situational prototypes are essentially illustrative of the human
condition everywhere in time and space. Much Romanian criticism before
1989, written in circumstances of severe censorship and thorough Stalinist
indoctrination, pivoted around the writer's regional identity, emphasizing
his preoccupation with the life of the lower classes in the agrarian South
and the social injustice and mobility typical of a community in the process
of redefming itself. These aspects of the Southerner's oeuvre resonated
with the major social and economic changes that our country was under^For more on Faulkner as the linguistic experimentalist, see Lupan and Munteanu. For Faulkner as the
eccentric aesthete, see Balota, Lupan, and Tacu. Tor Faulkner as the cryptosocialist. see Alexandrescu, Lupan,
and Cartianu. For Faulkner as the liberal humanist as moralist, see Balota. For Faulkner a.s the mythopoeic
pseudohistorian, see Alexandrescu, Flftmnd, and Prvu.

The Faulkner Journal Fall 2008 103

going at the time, as well as with the dominant doctrine of the communist
party in power. They also shed light on the dialectics of ideology and aesthetics, authority and responsibility. After 1989, on the other hand, what
had hitherto appeared to be Faulkner's obsession with the disposses.sed
and the downcast has becorne of secondary interest, while criticism has
been overwhelmingly stylistic. Faulkner's very portrait, both as a man and
as an artist, ha.s changed in proportion to the dramatic de-emphasizing of
his political commitments.^
Furthermore, in fairness to truth it must be recalled that there were
critics in communist Rotnania who started from the assumption of the
primacy of aesthetic value but enhanced the writer's political stand in order to recuperate and promote plain good literature. When all culture and
criticism had to be Marxist-Stalinist in order to be published, critics often
intentionally underscored the treatment of social and economic relations
in Western literature at the expense of other aspects and considerations.
Many of Faulkner's works would have been censored if they had not been
offered as potentially revolutionary critiques of capitalism. Although
such criticism ran the risk of imposing a restrictive interpretive grid on
Faulkner's work, the critics' convictions and intentions were generous and
comprehensive. While their political agenda was ostensibly Marxist of the
Stalinist persuasion, they embraced values that were reminiscent of liberal
humanism and informed by current Western formalist and structuralist
readings of literature. What enabled such ambivalence was the belief that
while literary studies can add decisively to the understanding of history,
left-wing politics can liberate criticism from traditional standards of canonicity and convention. The exegetes of communist Romania deployed
this ambivalence cogently, to the great advantage of literature, acquiring a
hard-won autonomy from state ideology that did not obtain in any other
scholarly discipline. Their present reluctance to confront socioeconomic
themes with the tools of Marxism or historicism is still a residue ofthat
The legitimacy of ideological readings of Faulkner's work within the
Western critical establishment thus became an object of contention for
the Romanian critical readership. Its reverberations echo through three
Faulkner monographs by Sorin Alexandrescu, Mircea Mihie, and Didilonel Cenuer; a book on the literature of the American South by Virgil
Stanciu; and a number of prefaces, afterwords, reviews, essays, and articles
dealing with specific novels by Faulkner. The late 1960s and early 1970s
witnessed a surge of translations and reviews in the wake of Faulkner's
death, thanks to the many translators and reviewers available but also,
crucially, to the current ideological thaw and the comtnunist snobbishness
which itnpelled thetn to foster world cultutal values with little regard for
the country of provenance, nominally under the aegis of populist dogma.
Altogether, these were highly favorable circumstances; Faulkner's fame
^St-e Cenuer, Fnulkncr's Larger Meanings 94-96.

i 04 Ana-Karina Schnder William Faulkner and the Romanian "Criticism ofSunval"

would never again reach similar peaks, although it resurged in tbe 1990s,
when the sharp shift in national and cultural politics in our country called
for a reinterpretation of tbe major literature of the West.^
Consequently, in the early 1970s, Radu Lupan could write, by way of a
foreword to his translation of Light in August, a chronicle of his trip to tbe
heart of capitalism, and Virgil Stanciu could submit bis translation of "Golden
Land" from Nortb Carolina wbere be was temporarily conducting researcb.^
In the context of this doctrinal thaw, to the extent to which it was ideologically
oriented, criticism was largely consonant witb the Western literary studies of
the late 1970s, and the approach to Faulkner's politics was at times shaped
by what the Russians, in a concessive mood, might have called the reactionary socialism of French formalism and structuralism. Virgil Stanciu's Orientri
in literatura was obviously tbe result of deep immersion in Anglo American
practical criticism, as both its lack of political involvement and its style and
language reveal; Ana Cartianu was conversant with Italian treatises on tbe Renaissance and tbe Baroque, to wbich she alludes in ber discussion of Faulkner's
grotesque; Sorin Alexandrescu was familiar witb Englisb, French, and Italian
Faulkner criticism. Such cosmopolitanism, however, is the exception rather
than the rule; the strongest overall influence remains, no doubt, that of tbe
Russian communist, post-Trotsky scale of literary values, reinforced by state
The most complex analysis in Romanian of Faulkner's literary output is,
in many ways, Alexandrescu's early monograph, William Fatdkner. Like Myra
lehlen in America seven years later, Alexandrescu sets out to devise a critical
method that combines current structuralist textual analysis witb Marxist insights into tbe world of Faulkner's prose. Keenly aware of tbe sheer bulk of
Faulkner criticism already in circulation, both American and European (espeA brief synopsis of the evolution of Faulkner criticism in the West, however, will reveal thai Romanians have always been slighdy out of step. John Bassett. for instance, shows that .serious appraisals of
Faulkner, as of the other modernists, began in Ihe kite 1940s and reached a climax in the lyOs; between
1959 and 1969, only forty books and eighty doctoral ihescs were written on the Southerner's work ( WiWiam
Fnulkner 39). This revival, largely owed to his receiving the Nobel Prize in 1950 and then to hi.s death in
1962, was followed by a lull in the early 1970s, the natural course of any writer's fame before it is put into
proper perspective and can settle in its definitive place in the history of world literature (42. .^8). A quarter of
a century later, Donald Karliganer had the bibliographical data and hindsight necewary to establish that the
most signilicant Faulkner studies were conducted and publi.shed in the late 1970s and the 1980s ("Faulkner
Criticism" 83). By then, the New Critical contributions of the 1950s and 1960s appeared to have at best a
"custodial" value, in their attempt to fix the literary object into an aestheticized icon (82). Conversely, more
recent assessments still shape contemporary Faulkner crilicism and reinscribe his canonic position by recontextualizing and allernalely .subsuming the liierary tcxl under a number of comprehensive social and political "issues" (95). Such approaches have the advantage not only of rediscovering the freshness and relevance
of the Faulknerian text with every new reading, but of redefining relevance itself.
"^Ironically, in one oihis lectures al the University of Virginia, Faulkner presents one of his many tlieories
ahoul combating communism. If he could have his way, he says, rather than having the State Department send
Americans abroad, he would bring communists to America to live diere for a year. H is thesis is that they would
always want to come back and forsake their communist country and its ideologies (Faulkner, "Session Nineteen" 154). The other method of combating communism is by opposing it with what he calls "individualism," a
more than usual Utopian notion constituted mainly offinancialindependence and refusal to accept any kind ol'
social benefits fi-om the state (Faulkner, "Session Thirteen" 102). Trade unions are the only compromise with
communal organization that he accepts, and only on the grounds tht "t nukes things easier" (H)2).

The Faulkner Journal Fall 2008 105

daily French and Italian), which he details in his prologue, the Romanian exegete expresses his intention of shedding all knowledge of previous opinions in
favor oan "innocent" reading in order to discern the novelist's design (23).^
This is in fact Alexandrescu's ostensible aim: to approach Faulkner's oeuvre as
a whole, with the most recent tools of structuralism, in an attempt to capture
its essence (23). Although he admits that there cannot be final interpretations
of literary works that are as protean and alive as Faulkner's, in approaching the
work from a variety of angles he intends to come close to a definitive sum of the
"predictable problems raised by the Faulknerian creation" (24). His method
aims to he synthetic rather than analytic, unlike much of the criticism that went
before him (25). While obviously familiar with structuralism, Alexandrescu
also insists that his monograph will be derivative of no man's theory or school,
but will remain "within the limits of a moderate 'structuralism*... and therefore constantly subordinated to an aesthetic analysis of the literary work" (26).
Yet Alexandrescu feels called upon to emphasize that Faulkner felt quite
strongly about issues such as racial and social injustice, in keeping with his general center-left, essentially liberal and democratic (but then again, ostensibly
so was communism) political orientation. Faulkner's position vis--vis interracial relations, though presented as essentially consonant with the "separate
hut equal" policy, is regarded as more than benign, Alexandrescu seeming to
approve of the novelist's moderate pronouncements, unaware of any potential offense to the black minority. Overall, the exegete suggests in his second
chapter, the Southerner was openly critical of the sell-out of democratic values
represented by the bourgeois democracy of a reactionary age and "recognised
the seduction exercised by the socialist systemthe only one that has a solid
ideology and economic doctrineon underdeveloped countries, 'disoriented'
by the contradictions [especially racial] that characterise American society"
In spite of its author's obvious appropriation of the rhetoric and concerns
of the political dominant, William Faulknerhi\s clear merits that have to do with
its aligning of Romanian criticism with current trends and standards, pulling it
out of the mire of populist impressionism. As Alexandrescu points out, this is
Ihc first structuralist monograph ever in Romanian, and it demonstrates thorough knowledge of Faulkner criticism to 1969 and contemporaneous trends in
monographic studies, even though it carefully avoids any mention of cultural
theoreticians and anthropologists (28). At the same time, in predicting that
criticism will in the future tend to be more and more specialized and restrictive
in thrust, the book evinces the author's apprehension that structuralism itself
might be coming to an end without having attained its purpose of discovering
the structuring of thought behind the creative process (21-22). Nonetheless,
Alexandrescu lucidly repudiates the goal of attempting to give the ultimate interpretation of Faulkner: his ambition is rather to write a corollary of critical
knowledge in the field to date. The last part of his book in particular seems to
be comparable in quality and approach to much contemporary criticism in
unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

106 Ana-Karim Schneider William Faulkner and the Romanian "Criticism of Survival"

America: Nortbrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic, Ibab Hassan's Radical InnocencCy and Wayne C. Bootb's Rhetoric of
Fiction come to mind. Tbe measure of Alexandrescu's achievement is given
not only by tbe fact tbat the monograph was translated into French in 1974,
but especially by the impact it had on later Faulkner studies: directly or indirectly, Alexandrescu is cited, emulated, or challenged by a number of later
reviewers and critics.
Tbe year 1972the seventy-fifth anniversary of Faulkner's birth and the
tenth of his deathrepresents a critical peak: in this year alone, one of his
greatest novels. As J Lay Dying, as well as a shorter text, "Golden Land," were
translated into Romanian, while another translator was already at work on
Light in August and planning a pilgrimage to Oxford, Mississippi, for early
1973. The translation of As I Lay Dying, alongside that of The Souttd and
the Fury published the previous year by tbe poet Mircea Ivnescu, was attended by an array of reviews and followed by more general critical articles
on Faulkner's place in world literature. By tben, the largest part of Faulkner's
literary output was known to Romanian readers. Between 1964, when Intruder in the Dust marked the beginning of Eugen Barbu and Andrei Ion
Deleanu's translation series (accompanied by a preface by Radu Lupan), and
1974, wben Mircea Ivnescu published bis Romanian rendering o Absalom,
Absalom! no fewer than seven other novels, Faulkner's best, were translated.**
Furthermore, Sorin Alexandrescu's influential 1969 monograph sanctioned
Faulkner's inclusion in university curricula. The rest of the 1970s and the
1980s were relatively quiet, awaiting the 1990s to complete the picture with
the welcome addition of further translations botb of novels and volumes of
short stories and a resurgence of critical interest in the Southern novelist's
In Ana Cartianu's 1973 volume of essays on English and American literature, the American section comprises only tbe two pieces on Faulkner and a
few references in tbe last chapter to the idea of system in literature according
to the New Critics. The author discusses Faulkner's gothic and baroque writing as inspired by the late- and post-Elizabethan theater and draws a learned
parallel between tbe historical circumstances of the two. She emphasizes the
shared imagery of violence and tbe general vacuum of moral values arising
from the similar social and economic realities of two worlds on the brink of
transition from the feudal to tbe capitalist order. The violence and amorality
are a function of tbe artist's implied critique of both the past and the current changes undergone by their respective societies. As Gartianu thinks ot

"The Astra Library catalog lists the following translations between 1964 and 1974: Nechemat hi (rin
M/ieDHjrJ, trans. Eugen Barbu and Andrei Ion Deleanu (196-1); Ursiil. Niivele {Go Down, Moses)^
tr^ns. Radu Lupan (1966); Cturiul (The Hatnlcl). trans. Kugen Barbu ami Andrei Ion Deleanu (1967);
Oroful IThe Town), trans. Fgen Barbu and Andrei Ion Deleanu (1967); Casa ai colonne (The Mansion),
trans. Eugen Barbu and Andrei Ion Dcieanu (1968); Zgomotul ^i furia (The Sound and the Fury), trans.
Mircea Ivnescu {\97\); Pepatulde moarre (As I iMy Dying), trans. Horia-FloHan Popcscu and Paul Goma
(1972); Lumina de august (Light in August), trans. Radu Lupan (1973); Absalom, Absalom! trans. Mircea
Ivnescu (1974).

The Faulkner Journal Fall 2008 107

Faulkner as her contemporary, it would be instructive to learn to what extent

she identifies with the novelist's ostensible critique of capitalism."* Her emphasis
on Faulkner's debunking of the Old South's myths and illusions and of Puritan
dogmatism, along with her rhetoric, suggests a more than superficial appropriation of the dominant discourse in Romania and iiimiliarity with its key concerns.
Virgil Stanciu's contextual study of the literature of the American South,
Orientri in literatura, includes an early attempt to view Faulkner in relation to
Southern culture and is probably the result of the critic's sojourn at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The chapter devoted to Faulkner,
like the entire book, is structured around the conflict between the Old and
the New South and their respective socioeconomic organizations. The tension in Faulkner's fiction is said to be mostly between the old landed pseudo-aristocracy and the rising financial bourgeoisie, between the Sartorises and
the Snopeses (whatever their actual names in the novels), and between the
responsibility and ethics of the former, and the immorality and inhumaneness of the latter (217). Yet Stanciu emphasizes the undesirability of regarding
Faulkner's work as a static image of contemporary Southern society: the novelist's ambition was, on the contrary, to render the psychological complexity
of living human beings in motion and the mentalities of a society in the making (204-06). More important than a straightforward portrayal of a region is
the dynamic "telling" of the story of that region in the process of becoming
itself, the effort of understanding the forces that have shaped its mentalities
and its spirit (206). To broad generalizations about Faulkner's racial and social agenda, Stanciu opposes a narratological proposition: the novelist's main
themes are a young man's attempt to come to terms with his cultural heritage,
torn as it is by incongruities and contradictions, and the South's right and
duty to solve its own problems. While evidently aware of current ideology
and critical preoccupations, Stanciu chooses to dismiss all approaches that
impose an interpretive grid on the Faulknerian text and avoids generalizalions in favor of a disengaged, if slightly impressionistic, descriptive synopsis
of the novelist's thematics.
Twenty years later, Stanciu wrote another essay on Faulkner, later reprinted in Rzhoiulgihulului cu itrele (Thought Warring Against Letters). The text
does not contribute anything new in terms of argument or themes and issues
dealt with, although the approach is substantially different. Rather than discuss
Faulkner as the cornerstone of Southern literature and emphasize his achievement as regional, this time the critic focuses on the novelist's singular position
among the modernists and the uniqueness and permanence of his achievement
( Orientri in literatura 204). The title of his essay, "Gate to Yoknapatawpha," is
from the novel Sartoris, the book that opened up for Faulkner the most prolific
and rewarding thematic territory (while it also departed from the tradition of
local color I"La portile Yoknapatawphei" 35]), along with the prospect of formal and technical experimentation. At the same time, Stanciu insists that the
ic Faulkner W3s publisbing Absalom, Absalom! in 1936, Ana Cartianu, together wth Professor
Dragos Fratopopescu, wa.s establishing the English DepartmenI at ihe University of Bucharest.

WS Ana-Karina Schneider William Faulkner and the Romanian "Critism ofSurvivaF

novelist was not an objective "chronicler of the South" and that the book itself
is rather "the novel... of an attitude" (30,34). Sartoris serves as a case study of
Faulkner's modernism, whose individualizing features are instantiated by bis
choice of universally valid myth over particularizing history, and diegesis over
This more recent critical text, urbane and sophisticated, makes frequent
references to current theoretical and critical pronouncements. Its purport is,
if anything, even more disengaged from contemporary ideologies and critical
theories and closer to the principles of liberal humanist literary history, tinged
with the New Critical exclusive reverence for the text as aesthetic object ("La
portile Yoknapatawphei" 37). A similar stance is more explicitly evinced by
the essay on Malcolm Cowley, "The Chronicler of a Generation," written in
1980 and included in the same 2004 volume. In commenting on Cowley's latest book. And I Worked at the Writer's Trade, Stanciu approves of the critic's
objection to the excesses and simplifications that resulted from ill-advised
Freudian-cum-structuralist attempts to explain tbe nature of Faulkner's epic
imagination. The Romanian exegete agrees with Cowley that John T. Irwin, in
Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner,

illustrates the way in which psychoanalysis taken to an extreme proves reductive and deprives the literary work of much of its public, historical, moral, and
intellectual interest (45-46).
Although the twenty-seven years between Virg Stanciu's two books did
not leave tremendous marks on his approach to literature in terms of ideological commitment, in Romanian criticism at large they were a time of ominous
silence, followed by a revisiting of older critical instruments and preconceptions. Roughly between 1974 and 1989, Faulkner's stubborn formal experimentalism must have appeared too obscure and reactionary to secure bis position as a populist novelist and thus make him ideologically acceptable. T'he
post-1989 years meant a return to the literary text per se> to literary history,
and to humanism as the only valid doctrine.
Post-Revolutionary criticism of Faulkner opens with a new monograph
entitled Cartea e^ecurilor {The Book of Failures) by novelist Mircea Mibiec, a

book mentioned by Stanciu as not having received the scholarly attention it

deserves ("La por{ile Yoknapatawphei" 28). As the title suggests, Mihie starts
from an apparent paradox that became one of Faulkner's fiivorite statements
about literature: achievement must be measured against the magnitude of tbe
failure, and the best writers are those who attempted the most and failed most
splendidly. In the twentieth century, Mihie observes, readers and writers alike
have become increasingly aware of the fact that books create their author to the
same extent he creates them: they establish dialogues that elucidate and bring
one another into existence as well as their author (28). At tbe same time, the
illusion of the perfect book has beeti dispelled, but not that of the perfectibility
of the book, which remains the central self-delusion of any writer (31). Under
these circumstances, Mibie points out, rewriting has become an imperative
for the modern writer who cannot apologize for bis failures, but cannot remain

The Faulkner Journal Fall 2008 09

monologic or demiurgic and prescriptive eitber (30). This is the symptom of

an obsession with imperfection, a radical loss of trust in words and in tbe imaginary (34); expression and clarification are the central preoccupations, while
interpretation is only secondary and incidental (28). Thus, rewriting is not an
aesthetically motivated decision, but an inevitability inherent in the very act of
creating great art. It is the imperative of tbe constant dialogue with himself and
his goals, of the need to leave everything open, Mibie? argues, unattached to
definitive, aggressive meanings and interpretations (31). Rewriting is a manifestation of the author's anxiety and insecurity, of his desire for self-assertion,
for becoming more tban a present absence in the text, but not of the hope to
attain perfection (33). It is a return to tbe pretext oravant-text, to potentiality;
a violent negation of the existing text, but also a second chance for the author,
the incentive to keep on writing (35). It is also the key to interpretation.
Mibie's book is an erudite hermeneutic study of Faulkner's poetics (theory about the writing of novels) and poieses (the process of producing novels)
as they emerge out of his writing protocol, out of how and especially wby be
rewrote certain stories. In tbe first two, theoretical, chapters, the critic evinces
thorough familiarity with twentieth-century literary approaches, from Reader
Response theory with its roots in psychoanalysis to Narratology and its filiations
in anthropological criticism and structuralism and beyond, well into postslructuralism's radical distrust of signification. His aim is notbing short of drawing a
complete portrait of the creator at work at bis craft. His thesis is that tbe modern author in general, and Faulkner in particular, secretly does not want to attain perfection because then tbere would be notbing left to aim for: he feels the
urge to rewrite because he wants to keep on writing. The next five chapters deal
separately with five instances of rewriting: the short stories "Barn Burning,"
"Spotted Horses," "Tbere Was a Queen," "Percy Grimm," and "Wash," and
the novels from which they emerged or in which they were later incorporated.
In each case, the short story encapsulates the direction in which the novel will
evolve, opening narration up to interpretation, laying bare the devices of creation only to suggest tbe plurality of valid interpretations, unmasking the author bebind the narrators only to invite critics to contribute tbeir own parasitic
texts. Tbe individual stories and episodic conclusions are constantly referred to
Faulkner's oeuvre as a whole, emphasizing, in good hermeneutic fashion, the
idea that it is only the whole opus that is perfect and meaningftil, and its perfection resides precisely in the recognition that no story can be given once and for
all {Cartea e^ecurilor 144). The demonstration is at once eloquent and compelling, carried out in a brisk, elliptical style. Tbe monograpb is ostensiblyalmost implausiblyuninfluenced by Sorin Alexandrescu's William Faulkner,
Walter Slatoff s Quest for Failure, lohn Bassett's Vision and Revisions, and John
T. Irwin's Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge; although it has much in
common with all of tbese, it never cites them.
In 1999, Mihie supplied the afterword for a new edition of Ivanescu's
translation o( Absalom, Absalom! The text is, again, a learned reading of the
i, written in an elegant language that echoes English in both vocabulary


Ana-Karina Schneider William Faulkner and the Romanian "'Criticism ofSunHva

and syntax. The analysis is perceptive and moderately enthusiastic, wavering

between formalism and structuralism, between laying bare the narrative devices and reconstructing the narrative and technical texture. It relies on bibliographical sources that are as old as the novel itself and as recent as 1995
(although the most recent ones are actually Thomas Inge's collection of the
early reviews and a new edition of Gwynn and Blotner's Faulkner in the University, both issued in 1995). Mihiec remains close to the text and relatively
untouched by poststructuralist ideologizing, foregrounding instead the finde-sicle, Wildean descriptive mood and decadent theme, the expressionism
of the incoherent structure, the romanticism of Quentin's quest for identity,
the gothic violence of the psychoanalysis of characters, the realistic demythologizing of the demonic and the legendary, the biblical-cum-Hellenic significance and symbolism of the tragedy. The recognition of these "thirteen
ways of looking at a blackbird" and of the characters' will to be acknowledged
as narrators is, I think, his greatest contribution, culminating in his highly
insightful demythologizing of the tension between facts and the atmosphere
created by the narrators, which deserves quoting in full:
Analysed in their direct significance, the events described do not by far possess
the overcharge of violence, the denionism that the writer ascribes to them. In fact,
Faulkner's strategy aims to induce a sense of apocalypse, even though the evolution of the narration contradicts this perception flagrantly. If we were to reduce
everything to factuality. the final significance (manipulated by ihe author) is placed
under a question mark hy a strange process of de-energizing the facts. As if the
fuel necessary to maintain the meanings had exhausted all the resources of negativity possessed by the characters, we decipher, amazingly enough, a guilty attempt to
"bleach" them. (Mihie. Postfaja 346)"'

A very different approach to the Southern novelist's poetics and poieses is

undertaken by Didi-lonel Cenuer in his recently published essayistic monograph, Faulkner's Larger Meanings: "The Greek Conception, " written in Englis
while in residence at the University of Mississippi at Cape Girardeau. Appropriately based on the collection of class conferences delivered by Faulkner
while a writer in residence at the University of Virginia at Chariottesville and
collected hy Gwynn and Blotner, the book gradually decodes the novelist's
theoretical ideas by using the Platonic/Socratic dialogues as an interpretive
grid. In bringing together literature and philosophy, this strategy proves fruitful not only in foregrounding the tension between mimesis and poesis, but
also in explicating Faulkner's social creed. Thus, the novelist's metatextuai
statements on individualism, nonconformism, communism, etc., are shown
to belong to a Socratic humanist tradition. As distinct from much pre-1989
'"Anali/ale in semnificalia lor directa, eveni men tele descrise nu au nici pe departo incarctura
de violenta, demonismul prin care sun! descrise de catre scriitor. n fapt, strategic lui Faulkner
vizea7. nducerea unei senzaiici \sic\ de apocalipsa, chidr dac evolulia naraliunii conlrazite
flagrant acest punct de vedere. Data ar fi sa reducem totul la factologie. semnifiojia final (ci
manipulat de autor) e pus in dubiu de un straniu procs de dez-energizarc a taptclor. Ca 5
cum combustibiiul necesar mentinerii scmnificaiiilor ar fi epuizat toate resursek- de ncgativitate
aie personajelor, descifrm, cu uimire, o vinovat tncercare de "albire" a acestora. (346)

The Faulkner Journal Fall 2008 111

Romanian criticism, Cenuer demonstrates tbat Faulkner was far from upholding convictions belonging to the communist doctrine; indeed, his answers
to questions about politics are decidedlywhen not downright shrillyopposed to communism (94-96).
Perhaps tbe most consistent Romanian attempt to engage critically with
Western Faulkner studies so far has been tetan Stoenescu's afterword to
the 1997 edition of Mircea Ivnescu's translation of Vie Sound and the Fury.
Stoenescu's compendium of Western (mostly American) criticism, past and
present, includes a comprehensive list of monographs, essays, and articles, and
in a footnote he lists what be regards as their most seminal Romanian counterparts." The commentator seems to have chosen for himself the unenviable
task of offering an alternative to the misconceptions and misrepresentations
tbat bad invaded criticism, both local and Western. Stoenescu is bighly critical of the of ideological readings, especially of the poststructuralist
type, and his indictment of their conclusions is similar to Andr Bleikasten's
(whom be confesses to appreciate [268]) in "Faulkner and tbe New Ideologies," altbougb perhaps less rigorous and consistent. The Romanian critic's
targets are Cultural Materialism, neo-Marxism, New Historicism, feminism.
Reader Response theory, postcolonial studies, and often poststructuralism
indiscriminately, all of which are supposed to bave shed any interest in universal buman values and to bave unfairly superseded and dismissed earlier,
more universalizing readings. Their interpretive strategies deprive literature
of much of its relevance by foregrounding ruptures, inconsistencies, seif-exposure, and unravelling in order to demonstrate that literature does nothing but serve tbe hegemonic status quo of race, class, and sexual relations.
Stoenescu admits that in Western countries, and in the United States in particular, some of these readings (especially the postcolonial, but also some of
tbe more sophisticated Marxist approaches) are justified by internal imperatives such as debunking tbe Eurocentric canon and opening literary studies
up to multicultural ideas (269). Yet even here, Stoenescu makes a proviso: tbe
Western Hterary and exegetical tradition cannot be discarded. In Romania,
in contrast, the multicultural motivation does not obtain; moreover, given
our historical background, Marxist readings, especially of the Leninist-Idanovist persuasion, would prove, according to Stoenescu, not only irrelevant,
but unnecessarily masocbistic (267). The key principle in adopting critical
approaches, tbe commentator suggests, is always meeting tbe needs of tbe
receiving culture (270).
Wbile be rejects recent critical recontextuah'zatons of Faulkner's work,
Stoenescu does not dismiss more traditional concepts of social background; on
tbe contrary, be empbasizes the contribution of bistorical studies, but assumes
a vision of history that is essentialist and factual (271). Stoenescu proposes:
"Tbe mission of tbe novelist wbo creates recognizable alternative worlds is to
depict the non-fictional reality in its complex and complicated determinations
without allowing it to be infiltrated by political ideologies that always have re"7he most notable absence from the \aitcr list is Mihic.

/ 2 Ana-Karina Schneider William Faulkner and the Romanian "Criticism of Survival"

ductive tendencies, even when they are fuelled by justiciary impulses" (273).''
He goes on to reiterate the perception of Faulkner as the "chronicler of the
American South at the time of its dusk and dissolution," assuming that the
chronicler can remain untouched by politics and that such an impartial rendering of reality remains compatible with the realism for which Faulkner is
revered (273). Whether or not one agrees with Stoenescu's premises, his text
makes for a complex urbane, often original and insightful, always stimulating reading, singular in comprehensiveness and metacritical penetration. It
strikes one as an appropriate summary of Romanian and Western criticism
of Faulkner, especially as it was written to celebrate the novelist's hundredth
anniversary. No subsequent critical inquiry interrogates the timeliness and
appropriateness of theoretically engaged Faulkner studies in Romania, and
among his predecessors, Sorin Alexandrescu stands out as the only Faulkner
scholar intent on devising a rigorous methodology.'-^
For all its comprehensiveness, Stocnescu's excursus does not resolve the
fundamental quandaries of contemporary literary studies: what is the extent
to which criticism is and can be allowed to be influenced by its proponent's
social, cultural, or ideological persuasions and background without becoming an unprofessional statement of personal preference? Is total disengagement
from politics ever possible, or indeed, even recommendable? At the high tide
of communism total disengagement was simply not a good idea; after the end
of the communist era it seems unavoidable. Both before and after, the nuances and degrees of ideological contamination have often been so subtle as
to render honest devotion and open resistance almost indistinguishable from
each other. Moreover, they have very complex counterparts in Western literary
criticism, in spite of the sharply distinct political environment. For instance,
the only noteworthy difference between early American-Marxist readers
(Granville Hicks, Maxwell Geismar) and Romanian communist propaganda
would appear to be that the former were detractors of Faulkner's work on the
grounds of its lack of involvement with the most ardent social-racial issues of
his time and place. The Romanians, in contrast, sought to demonstrate that
Faulkner was deeply committed, perhaps even more so than he wished to show
publicly. According to them, this was actually part of his realism in addition
to the merit of being a great humanist. To illustrate, according to Alexandru
Ivasiuc, a well-known communist novelist, Faulkner's universal significance
resides in the lucid way in which he deals with social injustice, but also in his
constant tendency to give both sides of the story, to create binaries and polarities, and to render tension (2). What with such ambiguous assessments of social
involvement, and what with translators Lupan and Stanciu seeking information
and inspiration in the US in the early 1970s and Alexandrescu later repudiating
his early ideological monograph, one suspects that many critics were not more
'-"Misiunea romancicrului creator dc lumi alternative recognostibilc e.ste de a surjirindc realitatea
ncfictional in complexele 5 complicatele ei delerminri fr a permite infiltrad din ideologiile politice ce
au intoldeauna tcndinje reduclivc, chiar dacS sint alimntate de impulsuri ju.stitiare" (273).
"I dwell on ihe ethics of ideological approaches elsewhere, without, however, insisting on ils local
compatibility. See Schneider.

The Faulkner journal

Fall 2008 113

devoted to communistn than we are now. Nonetheless, Faulkner's ostensible

communist sympathies as foregrounded by pre-Revolution critics, whether
genuine or not, were, in effect, his passport to Romania.
A general consensus has survived among Romanian critics that Western
poststructuraiist methods of literary exploration are irrelevant, relativizing,
and altogether better left alone or relegated to the still imperfectly delineated
realm of "cultural studies." The consistency with which the latter position is
pursued by scholars such as Cenuer or Stoenescu, to name but two, indicates
a certain residual reluctance to do away with tbe classical separation of the
aesthetic and the ethical spheres, of art and politics. For at the root of tbis
schism between theory and practice lies an older prejudice according to which
theoryconcerned with the nature, literariness, and function of literature
belongs with philosophy rather than literary analysis, with the sociomoral sciences rather than the art-related disciplines. In tbis view, poststructuralism
is defined generically as that which followed structuralism, including all approaches that come to literature with the instruments of other disciplines and
attempt to recontextualize it outside literary canons, while rejecting aesthetic
criteria conducive to value judgment. Conversely, by focusing on the ways in
which aesthetic form covers the epistemological rift between Eastern European
and Western culture, Romanian critics hope to heal the ideological fractures
between experience and value.
Perhaps more difficult to account for is the resistance, on the one band,
to psychoanalytical, and on the other, to deconstructive approaches (witness
Stanciu and Stoenescu, respectively). In the case of the former, what is activated again is a conception of the autonomy of the text that harkens back to
formalism and the American New Criticism, but which is also akin to a certain
suspicion, shared by communist readings, that psychoanalysis is trivializing in
its subjectivistn, deflecting attention from the "larger meanings" of the literary work. Deconstruction, in its turn, has a more ambiguous position: it is
both embraced as the next level after hermeneutics in terms of approach and
after structuralism in incorporating semiotics, and rejected as relativizing and
inconclusive. That is to say, its partial and potential adoption is conditioned
by the same criticism/theory dichotomy. Moreover, the designations that have
been attached to various readings (structuralist, poststructuralist, libera! humanist, etc.) are somewhat arbitrary; the critics themselves very seldom claim
more tban a negative allegiance (not a poststructuralist, etc.) and the vast majority prefer to be aligned with liberal humanism or hermeneutics.
In what is widely regarded as the most comprehensive and sophisticated
analysis of the contemporary literary scene in Romania, Noah's Ark (1980-82),
Nicolae Manolescu describes the post-World War 11 novel as a type of fiction
characterized by self-reflexivity, formal parody and rupture, self-doubt, and
social disenchantment. He explains, "This is a novel of lost ingenuity. We no
longer deal with the sublime of tbe original creation but with its postdeluvian
substitute. Tbe novel becomes a Noah's Ark packed with wretched creatures
saved from drowning, a world of survivors" (qtd. in Corni-Pope 89). I argue

114 A na-Karina Schnder William Faulkner and the Romanian "Oitism of Survival"

that post-war Romanian criticism, too, is "a world of survivors," in which opposing forces have shaped a complex panorama of critical discourses. On tbe
one hand, there were the ideological state apparatuses tbat engulfed tbinking
by using methods far less subtle and diffused than those described by Althusser; on tbe otber, there was resistance. On tbe one hand, there was conformity
to acceptable fashions; on tbe otber, tbere were ironic distance and disillusionment. Or perhaps these were all on tbe same sidesurvival strategies.
Post-Revolution Romanian culture, too, is tbe site of multivalent resilience: literature survived the communist persecution fairly intact, and so did
criticism and tbeory. To paraphrase Manolescu once more, ours is a tradition
of survivors, wbose exemplars are perhaps neither better nor worse than the
wretched creatures on Noah's Ark, but equally foundational. But wbat bave
also survived are traces, traditions, psychological and bebavioral patterns,
traumas from the past, and spectres tbat demand vindication. Tbere is a paradox at tbe beart of this condition: wbile a valuable heritage has been salvaged,
tbe most powerful impetus is centrifugal, moving away from tbe cultural circumstances tbat created it. With one hand we rescue a set of ingrained assumptions about the definition, autonomy, and worth of tbe aesthetic, while
with the other we reject restrictive identifications of culture with high culture.
We both foster and repudiate the work of the past: we reprint it, but only
after thorough pruning. We continue to translate and adopt tbe literature of
the Westthougb not its critical tbeorybut do not manage to popularize
our own abroad. In Faulkner studies this hesitanc\' blocks not only a fruitful
interrogation of the Southern novelist's relevance to the Romanian audience,
but also precludes any interrogation of tbe legitimacy of alternately superimposing unwarranted ideologized or deideologized interpretive grids on texts
wbose relevance and value might ultimately be revealed to lie elsewhere than
in their alleged social "message."
Yet my comparative analysis of Romanian critical theory and Faulkner
studies pre- and post-1989 shows that critical readings often reflect neither a
political commitment on the part of their autbors, nor a generalized doctrinal
determinism. Rather, they instantiate the impact of, or resistance to, a number of superimposed (often unexamined) ideological assumptions regarding
the nature and role of literature in the world, the function of criticism, tbe
definition of culture, the demands of national identity (vis--vis globalization), social responsibility, political coercion, freedom of expression, and
the autonomy of tbe aesthetic. The definition of ideology applicable here is
the Western rather tban the communist one. Why, tben, is pre-1989 criticism shunned? Paradoxically, rather than encourage reformulation and debate around cultural issues, the present suspicion of canonic validation has
stalemated critical discussion; it has also broadened the breach between criticism and theory. In this context, and in the case of Faulkner studies, criticism functions anachronistically, in vacuo, as it were, unable to creatively and
critically internalize ongoing developments. The victim of these obliterations
is Faulkner studies: imposing such limitations precludes tbe formation of a

The Faulkner Journal

Fall 2008 115

foundation for a meaningful critical tradition. Theory-grounded Western

readings, at the opposite pole, reveal that Faulkner still has much to say to
early-twenty-first-century readers.
fn this paper I have attempted to stage an alternative reading of Romanian criticism devoted to Faulkner's novels. In claiming that Western Marxist
criticism has much in common with pre-1989 Romanian ideological exegeses
I have performed a programmatic sitnplification. That is to say, I have selectively ignored the particularities of regionally-inflected definitions of both
Marxism and ideology and focused only on similarities in order to recuperate a part of Romanian criticism that has been repudiated for unsupportable
political reasons. The truth of the matter is that the similarities reside strictly
al the level of analyzing themes and character types, and very seldom cover
foundational aspects. Thus, the theories of l.ukcs, Benjamin, and Althusser,
are rarely, if ever, mentioned, and there are few systematic readings of texts in
the Marxian tradition besides Sorin Alexandrescu's early tnonograph {which,
however, remains primarily a structuralist undertaking). Nonetheless, uncovering both similarities and dissimilarities could constitute a starting point for
a consideration of the impact of ideology on critical interpretation and in the
process begin to clear criticism of undeserved and traumatizing discrediting
My picture of Romanian scholarship is also partial in being based on a
selective body of Faulkjier criticism and only on post-1989 cultural theory.
It is probably also informed hy both a Westernizing tendency and interest
in the tiew, and by unacknowledged ideological bias. Ultitnately, it might
even he conditioned by a generational lack of empathy with earlier cultural
circumstances. At the same time, however, my analysis originates in the unwavering faith that the Romanian potential for and openness to self-reflexion
will eventually lead to a solution to the contradictions at the core of cultural
scholarship, without occluding national self-assertion. This awareness is already shared by a large number of scholars, and Manolescu and others have
started to incorporate it in their work. Once the imperative for regeneration
becomes clear enough, I have tio doubt that Romanian criticism and theory
will, as always, find the resources for negotiating its own situation within the
larger context of global culture, rooted in local traditions and circumstances, yet synchronous with Western developments. Then, perhaps, Rotnanian
Faulkner scholarship will be given the place it no doubt deserves on the bookshelves of foreign universities; then, also, the Romanian readership will gain
fuller, fresher access to world literature.
Lucian Blaga University


Ana-Karina Schneider

William Faulkner and the Romanian "Criticism of Survival"


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