The Culture of (Im)Pudicity

A Romanian Case Study

by Petrea Lindenbauer (Author) Michael Metzeltin (Author) Florin Oprescu (Author)
©2018 Conference proceedings 200 Pages


Shame and pudicity are key concepts in our daily human interaction. Veiling and unveiling, showing or hiding are not only constitutive social conventions or public «laws» in our societies, but also a way of expressing our emotional structure in accordance to the nature of our inner Self and our relations within a group.
This book is concerned with the theoretical and practical approaches of the concepts of «shame» and «(im)pudicity». It responds to the eternal provoking question of how a ground concept could transgress its field of analysis and immerge within literature, linguistics, translation studies, philosophy and journalism. Featuring essays from specialists in these fields, this book is surprisingly defining for the formation of the Romanian modern culture, both past and future, demonstrating its European cultural vocation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Argument: Pudicity – An Archaic Emotion?
  • Shame and Pudicity: Constituent Factors
  • 1 An anthropological phenomenon
  • 2 Shame as passio
  • 3 Shame: a complex lexical and semantic field
  • 4 A propositional model of the notion of shame
  • 5 Shame as an antonym of national dignity
  • 6 Feminine shame regarding masculine conjugal immorality
  • 7 Instead of conclusion
  • How to Translate “Shame”: A Translational Approach
  • 1 Instead of an introduction
  • 2 What kind of text: the translational perspective
  • 3 The title and its translations
  • 4 On the semantics of shame
  • 5 Translating concepts
  • Pudicity and Nudity in the Relation between Human and Animal
  • 1 The phenomenological structure of shame
  • 2 Positive impudicity: the recovery of the paradisiac innocence
  • 3 The ambiguity of the shame towards the animal
  • 4 The zoology of (im)pudicity
  • The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Bohemian Culture in the 19th Century. Four Classics Facing Bohemianism, Amour and (Im)pudicity
  • 1 The portrait of the bohemian
  • Auctor Gloriosus: The Defence of B. P. Hasdeu in the Press Trial for the Short Story Duduca Mamuca
  • 1 When creation, moral and justice meet
  • 2 Plautus and Hasdeu, Pyrgopolynices and Toderiță N. N.
  • 3 Hasdeu, out of the educational system
  • 3.1 The 12th of April: anonymous letter
  • 3.2 The 18th of April: the Committee strikes
  • 3.3 The 18th of April–the 2nd of May: the situation is escalated
  • 3.4 The 2nd of May–the 8th of May: the Committee strikes again
  • 3.5 The 30th of April–the 4th of June 1863: justice steps in
  • 3.6 The 8th of May–the 18th of May: the rustle of paper
  • 3.7 The 4th of June: justice steps out of the game
  • 4 Hasdeu in court
  • 5 But where’s the catch?
  • 5.1 The narrative perspective
  • 5.2 Fictionality
  • 5.3 The thematic repertoire
  • 5.4 Ideological customs
  • 5.5 The stylistic repertoire
  • 6 For a better accusation
  • 7 Hasdeu and Flaubert in court
  • Signs of Shame and Lack of Shame in Herta Müller’s Work
  • 1 Shame as protection
  • 2 From the feeling of shame to fear of shame
  • 3 Shame as a form of control
  • 4 Shame as a cultural technique
  • 5 L’ère du soupçon (Nathalie Sarraute, 1956)
  • 6 From covering to lack of shame
  • 7 Conclusion
  • On (Im)Pudicity in the Romanian Press
  • 1 Preliminaries
  • 2 The interwar period
  • 3 The communist period
  • 4 The post-Decembrist period
  • 5 Conclusions
  • The Contemporary Bessarabian Novel: The Obsession of the Supreme Sincerity
  • De-Tabooing of the Young Romanian Prose during the Last Decade
  • The Aesthetics of Literary (Im)Pudicity: A Variable Typology
  • 1 About the actual status of pudicity
  • 2 About the virtues of ethical pudicity and aesthetical impudicity
  • 2.1 Extrinsic normativity (with reference to the public, social code)
  • 2.2 Intrinsic normativity (subjective)
  • 3 On literature as impudic discourse
  • 4 About the variable typologies of literary impudicity
  • 4.1 The aesthetisation of corporal impudicity (the erotic)
  • 4.2 The aesthetisation of the in-aesthetic (the ugly)
  • 4.3 The aesthetisation of immorality: moral impudicity (the immoral)
  • 5 Conclusions

Petrea Lindenbauer

Argument: Pudicity – An Archaic Emotion?

Regarding their pragmatic behaviour, the Romanian and the Austrian sometimes behave differently. This behavioural alterity, which we can easily experiment, is due to an attitude induced by a different sense of shame/pudicity, which is inherent to both Romanians and Austrians. I have come to this conclusion due to the many occasions of institutional collaboration between me and my colleague and friend, Florin Oprescu, between a Romanian and an Austrian. Therefore, we asked ourselves how the phenomenon of shame is perceived within Romanian society, with its strong, powerful Orthodox traditions and a long communist period. This is the reason from which the idea of the theme of this book was born. The phenomenon in itself, as we will see, can be conceived under very different semantical aspects, from pride – shame ex negativo or lack of shame (of the women) that had to be punished harshly for their pride in conformity to the biblical thinking (apud Biblia Ortodoxă, Isaia 3, 16–26) – till humility, is related to remorse and the feeling of honour, but also contrasts with ambition and vanity (see Mădălina Diaconu in this volume). Coincidently, the concept of shame imparts a historical, moral, social, psychological and psychoanalytical dimension. Therefore, the multiplicity of this phenomenon would ask for a larger approach and research than can be covered in one volume. What we want to offer the readers are exemplifying cases, Fallbeispiele, which illuminate the question (thematic) of shame/pudicity in the context of Romanian culture. Although the emotion of shame/pudicity is different in all cultures, its universality is evident (Blume 2013) and is explained through its anchoring within the human brain. This connection has been psychologically explained through the first rejections of the child by the mother and the living of these moments by the child as a loss of life protection (Schüttauf et al. 2003, 42–43). The explanation of shame as old fear can be already found at Aristoteles (1911, Chapter 54)1. The development of the emotion shame-fear guaranteed, according to Wettlaufer (2016, 26), the cohesion between the members of a collectivity, therefore the survival of the individual. Till today, we can recognise the connection between the emotional state of being ashamed and visible gestures of “appease”. Such a gesture ←7 | 8→could be the lowering of the look (observable at ashamed children), which can be interpreted as subordination under the norms of a group (Blume 2013). In concordance to Wettlaufer (2016, 27), Blume (ibid.) sustains that shame would guarantee the individual the belonging to a social group till today and explains it as follows: A person who would be more bashful to refract some social norms would also be more sensitive to these. And, respecting the norms, would protect its name in front of the others2.

Since 1200 (since we have documents), till the end of the 18th century, different European states knew the practice of public shaming of some presupposed norm violators (see Wettlaufer/Nishimura 2013). Such norms served the purpose of presenting examples in order to impede other persons to commit the penalised transgressions. Still, Ute Frevert (2017), the history professor at the Max-Planck Institute in Berlin, specialist in the history of emotions, showed that states used honour punishments only within (some) bounds. On the other side, she points to an interesting analogy of the historical honour punishments (implicitly shame punishments) and the actual Internet shitstorms, aiming at punishing some persons from their own community (Becker 2017, 124).

The historicity of the sense has also been discussed, and especially the possible references in order to measure it, shame being a relational reaction triggered by an existent system of social norms. But we encounter problems about this relational phenomenon, especially when asking the question whether and how the emotion of shame has modified in time. In the first volume of his famous theory Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation (1939), Norbert Elias dedicated the volume to the change of the behaviour of Western aristocracy in the Occident. The theory of the German-Jewish sociologist was based, among others, on the study of simple behaviour of human from urination, defecation, flatulence, nose blowing, spitting, sexual behaviour or the use of a series of objects, such as the nightgown, the fork, the handkerchief, etc. (Elias 1939, 174–181, 195–207, 208–219, 219–2303, 2244). Norbert Elias signalled shame as a reason for a choice of one of ←8 | 9→these behaviours or not. Seeing a change in conduct, starting from the end of the Middle Ages till the 18th and 19th centuries – the period in which Europeans have passed from savage to civil society (furthermore, in order to subordinate the so-called uncivilised as civilised people; Duerr 1988, 10) – the sociologist noticed a growth of the sense of shame, Germ. Vorrüecken, in the mentioned period (Elias 1939, 172)5.

Another perspective on this process is offered by the German art critic Hans Peter Duerr who intended to contradict the author of the Theory of Civilization (in certain aspects), also in a five-volume work. In the preface of his first volume, Nacktheit und Scham. Der Mythos vom Zivilisationsprozeß (Duerr 1988), the ethnologist attracts attention on the (micro) social context as determining factor to be considered for respecting/non-respecting behaviour norms. In the traditional society of the Middle Ages, individual living would have happened in smaller social communities, signalizing a tight interdependence between the individual and his/her community. The impact would have been more powerful on the conduct of the human. Within the next centuries, the life of the individual would not have happened in such limited social interdependences. Especially in towns, people would have started living in larger social structures and especially anonymous, which liberated the human from a powerful social control. The deviation from the norm did not matter in such a measure. Therefore, the threshold of shame and pudicity, as known in the 20th century, would have decreased, in Duerr’s perspective (Duerr 1988, 11)6.

A third perspective regarding the measure or the status quo of shame in today’s society comes from the theologian, already cited in this contribution, Michael Blume. According to the author, this emotion would not be decreasing, but in transfer, change. Today’s youth, to give an example, would not be ashamed of deeds for which the anterior generation would have been ashamed, for example kissing in public. On the other hand, they would be ashamed not being able to ←9 | 10→handle a new mobile phone7. Therefore, shame remains a relevant emotion of the human being, only the triggering factors change. There are adolescents who, contrary to the existent traditions, would produce new limits for shame (not necessarily understandable for the anterior generations; Blume 2013).

The causes of the sense of shame seem to change in time (Becker 2017, 126–127) and can also be different. Confirming the first hypostasis, some actual German television programmes leave you speechless towards the protagonists, men and women, searching for a partner, all naked (Adam sucht Eva, Adam searching for Eva, dating people naked on television). Sexuality and nudity (still) seem to be a powerful universal motif (see also the chapter by Mădălina Diaconu in this volume). Not by accident, the German lexeme die Scham has two meanings, genital organs and pudicity. The nudity of the aborigines irritated massively the Christian cosmo-vision of the West Europeans in the New World. Therefore, in the journal of the first voyage of Cristopher Columbus, Diario de a bordo (11985), a journal probably rigidised by Bartolomé de Las Casas, the admiral from Genova documented his meetings with the first indigenous people in the space of the Caribbean. On the 11th of October, for example, he sees the first indigenes on the island now called Watlings (Island), then Guanahaní, remarking, as during his entire voyage, the nudity and lack of shame/pudicity of the indigenous men and women8.

The authors of this book, originals from the Moldavian Republic, Romania, Switzerland and Austria, approach the basic thematic starting from inherent conceptions of shame and pudicity from their specialist perspectives, as the lector will see. The approaches of the phenomenon of shame which follow are of philological, translational, socio-historical, political, literary orientations.

In the first chapter, Michael Metzeltin and Petrea Lindenbauer comment on shame as an essentially social phenomenon, already defined in the Antiquity as an al passio affect. Further on, they thematise the complex lexicographic and semantic field of shame. They decompose the basic propositional structure of the verbal action and the agents, actually their agents and patients, and finish their ←10 | 11→perspective of a linguistic analysis by giving some examples of context, social and semantic, in which, in the first half of the 19th century, the shame referring to the national dignity appears, such as the shame of a woman towards the “immoral” behaviour of her husband.

The second chapter, of an explicitly translational orientation, has the explicit aim of “examining the manner in which the concept of shame is translated, as well as the lexic built around it”. For this, Magda Jeanrenaud minutely analyses the possibilities and limits of the transfer of the lexeme and the concept of shame from one language to another. First, the excellent specialist of the mechanisms of translation observes a frequent lack of adequate Romanian terminologies in translated scientific works (the situation being different for other textual genres). At the same time, she remarks the fact that the actual theories of translation would accentuate the most the skopos of the translation, which would be to the detriment of it (that is why the categorical advice of the author that the translator of a specialised text does not poeticise it!). Starting with an illustrative example, the intitulation and translation of a famous psychological study, she brings clear evidence for the fact that different languages offer different lexico-semantical solutions as in our special case, which also offer aspectual connotations. As case study she has chosen the specialised work, Mourir de dire [subtitle] La Honte (published in Paris in 2010; the Romanian version in 2012 in Bucharest). On the basis of the translation of the title of the study in Romanian, German, Spanish and English, she observes with bright exactness and comments from a cultural point of view the different lexical, morphological, sintagmatical and parafrastic constructions (in each language) and how they induce and represent concomitantly different aspects of the phenomenon and the concept of shame.

Mădălina Diaconu approaches the thematic, at the beginning, through general aspects, such as the different nuances of the lexico-semantical field (to which also pride, humility, coquetry, etc., belong), the different reasons for shame/pudicity (nudity, facts, words, thoughts, etc.), first the sexual connotation of the meaning, the nomination of emotion as an affect (intrinsic) only to human being, and also the verbal semantics that are sent either to a transitive process (shame can surrender or invade someone) or to a quality state (“either you are ashamed or not”). She explains how the German sociologist and philosopher Max Scheler (1874–1928) understood shame as a phenomenon of delimitation or transition between two ontic structures. From the Schelerian perspective, emotion is born out of a negative perception of the body (Germ. Leibesscham), which has its own origin in a (self-) conception or hurt value of the self (Germ. Selbstbewertung). The critical and penetrating philosopher, still looking to describe (im)pudicity in the most “appropriate” manner, indicating the essential questions asked in ←11 | 12→the traditional metaphysical interpretation of shame, such as Why, for whom and towards whom do we feel ashamed? Then, Mădălina Diaconu brings the meaning and conception of shame in the discourse and their mirroring in three different religious contexts, the Genesis, the Epistle to the Romans and some legends about Onuphrius of Egypt and Mary of Egypt. She ends with an episode “at least apparently autobiographical” about Jacques Derrida. His shame towards his own nudity, triggered in front of and by a pet, is debated within philosophical reflections, which excites a smile.

The excellent specialist of the Romanian 20th century (and not only), Ioana Pârvulescu, starts from a conception of (im)pudicity understood in terms of (in)discretion in the relationship man–woman this time, asking herself what the amours that break the rules of the 19th century are like. She observed that this century was totally changed, regarding the questions of shame and pudicity, when compared to the classicist and restrained 18th century. As evidence the author send here to the multiplicity or pudic transgressions visible for all readers – as instance the new – press.

Due to the fact that “Pudicity and impudicity gain surprising nuances for bohemians, who generally oppose bourgeois pudicity and impudicity”, she aspires to capture the taboos of bourgeois decency by studying this social group. But she is, unexpectedly, confronted with the problem that there are no clear definitions of the Romanian bohemianism (“the topos of la bohème, so clearly identifiable in the art of the 19th century, did not exist in any Romanian dictionary of literary terms”). That is why, based on creations from different fields of art, Ioana Pârvulescu first makes a portrait of the bohemian, as it is constructed in the intimacy and society of the 19th century. It is designed, according to the author, detailed in age categories, way of living, accessories, house, furniture, relation with women, etc., observing that “playing la bohème is a life and death game”. Established as the character of bohemianism, the author commences to present four classicised authors whose images are loaded “with prejudices and clichés” in order to set, as Ioana Pârvulescu says, “a literary amour in front of the bohemian mirror”. She presents the classicised characters of Romanian literature, choosing Alecsandri, Odobescu, Eminescu and Caragiale. She determines the true quality of being bohemian (or not) and confronts them based on a single “dangerous liaison” in the eye of the 19th century (we cannot say here, and not out of shame).

Liviu Papadima offers in this book a surprisingly compelling analysis of the first literary process in the Romanian culture. It is the famous juridical and mediatical process against B. P. Hasdeu, provoked by the publication (as feuilleton) of the first part of his novel, Duduca Mamuca, in 1863. The reader will be ←12 | 13→presented a (probably) unexpected ending. Which, at first, will seem an outrage for a moral transgression (of behaviour and attitude), which will prove, in the end, as one against an innovation in the field of aesthetics! (Not less serious for Hasdeu himself and not less regarding questions of morals.) In order to be able to come to this unsuspected conclusion, achievable only by a brilliant knower of the aesthetical paradigms of literature in time (proved here), Liviu Papadima dismantles all the events step by step, but especially the argumentation manners in this singular and atypical process. He shows, based on precise very good documentation, the whole amplitude and deepness of the cause through which we, lectors, are invited to assist in the different phases of the process. Liviu Papadima analyses at the same time the attitude – not at all wise the whole time – of the defendant Hasdeu during the inquiry and the whole trial, the “tone” of the diverse discourses, the accomplished manner of self-defence of the defendant, such as his self-plea for his innocence (acquittal), as the court proceeded, not at all questionable as a case law, and the winning of the process by Hasdeu. An analysis-commentary follows, which shows the immanent characteristics of Hasdeu’s creation (narrative perspective, fictionality, love as topic of the moment, etc.), therefore his position between the norm of the time and its surpassing. We are further offered a brilliant interpretation to the question of the author’s responsibility (and of human being, at the same time) for those written. Liviu Papadima ends his contribution with a short comparison (of those comparable as those incomparable) between the process of B. P. Hasdeu and that of Gustave Flaubert in 1857, for Madame Bovary.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Literary (Im)Pudicity Cultural (Im)Pudicity Shame Romanian Culture Romanian Literature and Linguistics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 199 pp., 3 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Petrea Lindenbauer (Author) Michael Metzeltin (Author) Florin Oprescu (Author)

Petrea Lindenbauer is a linguist in the field of Romance Philology at the University of Vienna. Her research domain is Spanish and Romanian Linguistics and Culture. Michael Metzeltin is Professor Emeritus at the University of Vienna. His expertise concerns Romance Linguistics and Didactics having a rich publishing activity. Florin Oprescu is a specialist in Romance Literature and teaches at the University of Vienna and West University of Timisoara, Romania.


Title: The Culture of (Im)Pudicity
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201 pages