Romanian Joyce

From Hostility to Hospitality

by Arleen Ionescu (Author)
©2014 Monographs 267 Pages


This study makes Romania’s largely unknown Joycean heritage visible to an international readership. Reviewing Joyce’s critical reception and translations, as well as the writer’s influence on Romanian prose, it brings Derrida’s notion of «hostipitality» to comparative literary and translation studies in order to theorize the impact of politics and ideology on fiction. After an original survey of the links between Romanian modernism/postmodernism and Western literature, it focuses on alternate trends of hostility and hospitality towards Joyce, especially his techniques and style. It examines how translations dealt with themes prone to communist censorship (politics, sexuality, religion, food), before discussing Joyce’s impact on Romanian writers such as Eliade, Biberi, Bălăiţă and Oţoiu.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Acknowledgements
  • A Short History of Literary Romania: From Early Twentieth Century to the Post-Communist Age
  • Demarcations
  • The Advent of Romanian Modernism
  • Modernist Revolutions
  • A Glimpse behind the Iron Curtain
  • Joyce’s Critical Reception in Romania
  • Interwar Hos(ti)pitalities: The Intriguing Interior Monologue
  • Stalinist and Ceauşist Schizophrenias: Political Hostility versus Cultural Hospitality
  • Hos(ti)pitality in Translation: Joyce into Romanian
  • Hosts and Guests in Translation
  • (Un)welcoming Censorship: Checkpoint Joyce
  • Filtering Joyce’s Religion and Politics
  • Sexuality in Translation
  • Making a Meal of Joyce: Food and Drinks
  • Breakfast
  • No Lunch but a Quick Bite Instead
  • Dinner
  • From Translation to Re-Creation
  • Experimenting with Authenticity: Mircea Eliade
  • Joycean Influence on Trial: The Case of Ion Biberi
  • Postmodernist Reworkings
  • Bibliography
  • Index

List of Abbreviations

Citations from Joyce’s works and letter, and from Richard Ellmann’s biography, are from the following standard editions:

D Dubliners, Robert Scholes in consultation with Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1967).
P Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: The Definitive Text, corrected from the Dublin Holograph by Chester G. Anderson, Richard Ellmann, ed. (New York: Viking, 1968).
U Ulysses: The Corrected Text, Hans Walter Gabler, ed. (New York: Random House, 1986).
FW Finnegans Wake (London: Faber and Faber, 1975).
JJ Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, rev. edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).
Letters I, II, III Letters of James Joyce, vol. 1, Stuart Gilbert, ed. (New York: Viking, 1957); vols 2 and 3, Richard Ellmann, ed. (New York: Viking, 1966).
SL Selected Joyce Letters of James Joyce, Richard Ellmann, ed. (New York: Viking Press, 1975).

Translations of Joyce’s works are abbreviated as follows:

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This study was born from the conviction that, although the overall reception of James Joyce in Europe had been well documented, Romania’s particular place and contribution still deserved a more systematic treatment. I am grateful to all those who have encouraged me to pursue such a project, in their belief that the specific ways in which Joyce was read, published, reviewed, translated and recreated in Romania were worth investigating.

This monograph would not have been possible without the effort, generosity and dedication of many people and institutions. First I wish to thank Sorin Alexandrescu, an outstanding and inspirational Romanian scholar, for offering me constructive feedback on my analysis of Mircea Eliade; Vladimir Tismăneanu for all his encouragement and trust in my work, as well as his invaluable advice on Romanian communism; and Erika Mihálycsa for our numerous fruitful exchanges on our common academic hobby, Joyce and translation.

More generally, I owe a special debt to scholars and friends in the large Joyce community, namely Valérie Benejam, M. Caneda Cabrera, Daniel Ferrer, Geert Lernout, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Sam Slote, Wim Van Mierlo and especially Fritz Senn and the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, who provided so much intellectual stimulation while I held a Scholarship there in 2000; to Alexander Baumgarten, Ivan Callus, Stefan Herbrechter, Vladislava Gordić Petković, Laura Marin, my ‘spiritual sister’, Christopher Müller, Manuela Rossini, Chris Weedon, and Emma West for graciously debating with me several aspects of modernism and critical theory. In Romania, Adrian Oţoiu and Silviu Lupaşcu, two great critics and writers but also dear friends, are to be thanked for allowing me to discuss their creative work with them; their nudges and comments were useful contributions to Chapter Four. My deep gratitude also goes to my former teacher of Applied Linguistics and kindred soul, Carmen Popescu, whose generosity and positive thoughts always helped me become what I am today.

I am also happy to acknowledge scholars whose comments and suggestions contributed to the progress of my work, in particular my former teachers Ion Bălu, Gabriela Duda, Dumitru Micu, Domniţa Tomescu, those colleagues from the University of Bucharest, the University of Braşov, the University of Craiova and the University of Ploieşti with whom I exchanged views on various aspects of English and Romanian literature as well as the translation of Joyce’s works, Iulian Băicuş, Anca Dobrinescu, Octavian Gordon, Lucia Ispas, Ionela Neagu, Marius ← 11 | 12 → Nica, Adina Nicolae, Loredana Netedu, Emilia Parpală Afana, Diana Presadă, Alina Roşca, Diana Rînciog, Răzvan Săftoiu, Bogdan Ştefănescu, Mihaela Trifan, and my former students, Alina Vlad and Camelia Constantin. I am also grateful to the former President of the National Agency of Research, Dragoş Ciuparu, and to my dear friend and colleague, Dana Volosevici, for urging me to persevere with this monograph in difficult times, after the research allocation originally granted by the Ministry of Research to write this book was cancelled. I would like to thank the editors of Peter Lang for their invaluable help and, last but not least, my institution, the University of Ploieşti (UPG), and especially the Vice-Rector for Research, Ion Bolocan, for awarding me a research prize in 2012 and 2013 in recognition of the international visibility of my work.

My love and gratitude to my daughter Alicia, who, with the help of her drawing teacher, Adriana Voinea, sketched her own version of Joyce’s portrait in black hostility and white hospitality for the book cover.

Finally, I owe a special gratitude to my husband, Laurent Milesi, for his unwavering support and belief in this project at each stage, his astute criticism and countless suggestions throughout its gestation, and, more generally, for our enriching spiritual relationship ever since we met at the International Joyce Symposium on ‘Joycean Unions’ in Budapest, 2006.

Some of the ideas and critical developments in the present study appeared previously in several journals and edited volumes and I would like to thank the editors for permission to use and rework this material:

 Chapter Two: the part on inter-war criticism was first published as ‘Inter-war Romania: Misinterpreting Joyce and Beyond’, in The Reception of James Joyce in Europe, vol. 1, Geert Lernout and Wim van Mierlo, eds (London and New York: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), pp. 214–18; the part on Ion Biberi appeared previously as ‘Joyce’s Reception in Romania (1935–1965)’, in Philip Sicker, Moshe Gold, eds, Joyce Studies Annual (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), pp. 277–85.

 Chapter Three: the section on censorship and sex was published as ‘Un-sexing Ulysses: The Romanian Translation “under” Communism’, in Mauri Furlan, Gustavo Althoff, eds, Scientia Traductionis, 8 (2010): James Joyce & Tradução I, 223–38; the part on the application of Derrida’s notion of ‘hostipitality’ to Joyce and translation was published as ‘Romanian Hos(ti)pitality in Translating Joyce’, in Gustavo Althoff, Mauri Furlan, eds, Scientia Traductionis, 12 (2012): James Joyce & Tradução II, 57–71; the part on translation of food terms was ← 12 | 13 → published as ‘Food for Thought: On Hostility in Translation. Joycean Food Terms in Communist Romania’, Annual Review of The Faculty of Philosophy, Novi-Sad XXXVIII–I, 2013, pp. 11–25.

 Chapter Four: the section on Adrian Oţoiu was published as ‘Artifices of Construction: The Unlimited Space of Literature in Adrian Oţoiu’s Coaja lucrurilor sau Dansând cu jupuita’, in Ivan Calus, Laurent Milesi, eds, Word and Text – A Journal of Literary Studies and Linguistics, 1/2 (2011), 101–110.

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A Short History of Literary Romania: From Early Twentieth Century to the Post-Communist Age


If the first decade of twentieth-century Romanian literary criticism was dominated by an enduring habit to conflate ‘modernism’ and ‘modernity’, in the second half, two main Romanian critics set themselves the task of clearing up the terminological confusion: Adrian Marino, in his monograph Modern, modernism, modernitate (1969), where he attempted to make aesthetics and criticism speak a common language, and Matei Călinescu, whose Five Faces of Modernity (1987) comprised modernism, avant-garde, decadence, kitsch, and postmodernism. For Marino modernism could be applied to all innovating trends and movements in history, be they religious, philosophical or artistic, and it included symbolism, naturalism, expressionism, expressionist futurism, but especially the avant-garde, that superlative tendency of literary modernism which included Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstractionism, and Purism.1 In Călinescu’s view, with the exception of the Hispano-American version of literary modernism at the end of the nineteenth century, no literary trend was worthy of the label. Within a more wide-ranging re-evaluation of modernism than can be summarised here, he singled out Rubén Darío, who in an article published in 1888 in the Chilean Revista de Arte y Letras praised the ‘modernist’ qualities of the Mexican poet Ricardo Contreras (‘el absoluto modernismo en la expresión’).2 The movement of modernism represented by ‘a small but triumphant and proud group of writers and poets from Spanish America’3 dates as far back as 1890. From then on, the term would be used to describe those Latin American writers known for their innovations in the lyrical genre: Darío’s description of Ricardo Pala (1833–1919) as ‘espíritu nuevo’ (new spirit), his preface to Jesús Hernández Somoza’s book Historia de tres años del Gobierno Sacasa (1893), his conviction that Modesto ← 21 | 22 → Barrios, the Nicaraguan writer who translated Théophile Gautier, introduced the notion of modernism in his translation (‘traducia a Gautier y daba las primeras nociones del modernismo’).4 Being used by Spanish-speaking writers as well as critics, by the middle of the next decade, the label became both ‘less controversial’ and ‘less precise’ in Călinescu’s terms, or as Manuel Machado, asserted, it meant ‘something different to each person who utters it.’5 According to the Romanian scholar the aesthetic modernism of the twentieth century introduced a fissure in the fundamentally historical definition of modernity and modernism.

To date, five prominent critics have endeavoured more specifically to define Romanian or Eastern European modernism: Dumitru Micu (Modernismul românesc), Ion Bogdan Lefter (Recapitularea modernităţii. Pentru o nouă istorie a literaturii române), Gheorghe Crăciun (Aisbergul poeziei moderne), Sorin Alexandrescu (Privind înapoi modernitatea), Adrian Lăcătuş (Modernitatea conservatoare. Aspecte ale culturii Europei Centrale) and Paul Cernat (Modernismul retro). However, by far the most comprehensive anthology on the subject was published as late as 2008: Modernismul literar românesc în date (1880–2000) şi texte (1880–1949), edited by Gabriela Omăt, which brought together an ambitious collection of representative critical contributions on Romanian modernism. In line with similar recent classifications abroad which sought to extend the boundaries of modernism, Omăt’s taxonomy attempted quite unconvincingly to define historical frameworks capable of widening, rather than restricting, the ambit of Romanian modernism. Omăt’s gathering of dates and texts encompasses the notion of modernity understood by Susan Stanford Friedman as ‘a historical condition that intensifies […] hybridity and movement with the result of epistemological and representational dislocations that are characteristic of modernism wherever it flourishes, although the particular forms of those ruptures take different shapes in different locations.’6 For Friedman, instead of ‘positing a mosaic of different modernism, each separated from all others by the fixed barriers of geopolitical and cultural borders’, one should regard differences ‘as porous, boundaries as permeable, and borders as borderlands, where self-other confrontations and mingling are mutually constitutive’.7

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When Anker Gemzøe contended that ‘a main current as modernism is a movement of movements, always involved in a controversial interaction with other currents’,8 he had three main issues in mind: that modernism ‘stretches over a long period’, partakes of ‘a richly faceted prehistory’ and that it may bring about ‘many revisions’.9 In the same vein, in On the Margins of Modernism: Decentring Literary Dynamics, Chana Kronfeld asserted that ‘the salience of modernism’s own valorization of the universal and the incongruous, the common and the contradictory, gives pause to persistent critical treatments of difference and similarity as an all-or-nothing proposition.’10 Invoking alternative theories of meaning and categorization, modernism could be interpreted as ‘having a set of different senses’ without ‘the label ceas[ing] to signify altogether’, hence ‘contemporary theories of meaning and cognition suggest that critics may want to question their own methodological dichotomies and develop flexible procedures for determining the sematic structure of heterogeneous categories such as modernism.’11 Approving of René Wellek’s qualified critical stance on period labels, according to which ‘there is no such period that all individual works in it can be subsumed under the period term’, she takes as a given that ‘theorists dealing with periodization […] start from the premise that conventional periodizations in literary history do not reflect the entire literary production of a period but only that portion which for a variety of reasons became canonical and associated with the dominant literary grouping’.12

In tune with such recent debates and with a view to applying flexible definitions, Omăt conceded that her anthology could not do justice to the ‘mosaic-like ← 23 | 24 → assemblage of texts and historico-literary data’,13 and in her classification divided modernism as follows:

 1880–1889 – the emergence of an obsession with the term ‘modernism’

 1900–1910 – the beginning of the ‘modernist’ specialization of the notion of the ‘modern’

 1911–1924 – ‘modernism on all fronts’: modernism understood as the ‘unfettering of literary forms’

 1925–1935 – the coagulation of a contradictory physiognomy of modernism: canonical modernism

 1936–1944 – triumphant modernism and modernism in decline

 1945–1955 – disintegration and sociologist-vulgar demonization of modernism

 1956–1979 – the resurrection of modernism; its re-validation as a canonical grid

 1980–2000 – the Protochronist14 reaction and the postmodernist resurrection against the modernist establishment.

In spite of her own reservations, I wish to take up Omăt’s challenge in her accurate compendium of dialogues between various Schools and critics, which she saw as a simple ‘case opening’ awaiting other interpreters to start ‘from the white spots on the map of its cognition’.15 My contention is that, although the cultural lens of Romanian modernism may refract multiple visions, a line must be drawn in order to see a system of norms and aesthetic values that rose, spread and declined. Bearing in mind the revisions undergone by Romanian modernism, I wish to ← 24 | 25 → propose rather, as an alternative schema to Omăt’s, that Romanian modernism can be more critically and profitably reduced to the time span between the 1880s and 1945, with changing modalities of literary influence: first French symbolism between 1880 and early 1900s, then Proust and Gide, and to a minor extent the Anglo-Modernism of Joyce and Woolf. In this context, I am in full agreement with Sorin Alexandrescu’s gesture of considering Romanian modernism as ‘belonging to history’, that is to say, ‘the end of aesthetics and its canons.’16


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Romanian mdernism Romanian communism censorship in Romania Zensur Romanian translation
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 267 pp.

Biographical notes

Arleen Ionescu (Author)

Arleen Ionescu is Professor of English Literature at University of Ploieşti (UPG) and Editor of the leading Romanian journal Word and Text. Her major research fields are Modernist prose and Critical Theory. She has published widely on Joyce as well as on Beckett, Blanchot and Derrida.


Title: Romanian Joyce