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Ruralism and Literature in Romania

by Ștefan Baghiu (Volume editor) Vlad Pojoga (Volume editor) Maria Sass (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 314 Pages

Summary

Ruralism and Literature in Romania proposes a series of academic studies of rural literature and cultural portrayals of peasantry. The topics range from re-readings of canonical works to ideological readings of modern Romanian literature, rural novels of the Romanian socialist realism and post-communist literary trends centred around rural life. The three sections of the volume, "The Novel," "Literary Criticism and Social Action," and "Poetry" focus on the intervention of the nineteenth and twentieth-century cultural elites in the discussions of peasantry, on the role of ideology in portraying the peasant during the interwar period and postwar literature, and on off-centre topics such as zoopoetics and artificial intelligence in the rural literature.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgment
  • Disclaimer
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Contributors
  • Ștefan Baghiu, Vlad Pojoga: Ruralism and Literature in Romania: An Introduction
  • The Novel
  • Cosmin Borza: How to Populate a Country. A Quantitative Analysis of the Rural Novel from Romania (1900–2000)
  • Andrei Terian: Liviu Rebreanu: Zoopoetics in a Rural Environment
  • Maria Sass: The Image of the Transylvanian Village in the Novels “Fünf Liter Zuika” by Paul Schuster and “Ion” by Liviu Rebreanu
  • Daiana Gârdan: Interstitial Spatiality in the Romanian Novel of the Interwar Period: Mute Rurality and Subverted Urbanity
  • Anca-Simina Martin: The English Translation of Romanian Rural Novels in Communist Romania: Skopos Theory in Action
  • Alex Goldiș: The Ideology of Ruralism in the Thaw Prose: The Case of Marin Predaʼs Moromeții
  • Ștefan Baghiu: Rural Idiocy and Ugly Feelings: Muffled Brutality in the Socialist Realist Novel
  • Mihai Iovănel: Peasants and Intelligent Machines
  • Ramona Hărșan: Specters and Counter-sites: Of Alternative Rural Geographies in Mircea Nedelciu’s Fiction
  • Snejana Ung: The Border Village: A Path to Transnationalism
  • Literary Criticism and Social Action
  • Valer Simion Cosma: Inventing the Romanian Peasant in Transylvania during the Nineteenth Century1
  • Cosmin Koszor Codrea: Science Popularization and Romanian Anarchism in the Nineteenth-Century1
  • Teodora Dumitru: Social Class Difference and the Evolution of Romanian Literature from Lovinescu’s Perspective (1924–1929)
  • Dragoș Sdrobiș: From Science to Action: Professionalizing Social Work in Greater Romania
  • Ovio Olaru: Diasporic Nationalism. German Regional Literature from Romania
  • Poetry
  • Emanuel Modoc: Negotiating the Rural and the Rustic in the Romanian Avant-Garde
  • Radu Drăgulescu: Linguistic Imaginary, Ruralism and Rurality in George Coșbuc’s Writing
  • Mihnea Bâlici: New Ruralism: From Village to Globe
  • List of Illustrations

List of Contributors

Ștefan Baghiu, Teaching Assistant, PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Faculty of Letters and Arts, Department of Romance Studies.

Mihnea Bâlici, BA Student: Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of Letters.

Cosmin Borza, PhD Researcher: Romanian Academy, Sextil Pușcariu Institute of Linguistics and Literary History in Cluj-Napoca.

Valer Simion Cosma, PhD: Zalău County Museum of History and Art.

Radu Drăgulescu, Assoc. Prof. Habil.: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Faculty of Letters and Arts, Department of Romance Studies.

Teodora Dumitru, PhD Researcher: Romanian Academy, G. Călinescu Institute of Literary Theory and History.

Daiana Gârdan, PhD Candidate: Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of Letters, Department of Comparative Literature.

Alex Goldiș, Lecturer PhD: Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of Letters, Department of Romanian Literature and Literary Theory.

Ramona Hărșan, PhD: Senior Lecturer, Henri Coandă Air Force Academy, Brașov.

Mihai Iovănel, PhD Researcher: Romanian Academy, G. Călinescu Institute of Literary Theory and History.

Cosmin Koszor Codrea, PhD Candidate: Oxford Brookes University.

Anca-Simina Martin, Teaching Assistant, PhD Candidate: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Faculty of Letters and Arts, Department of Anglo-American and German Studies.

Emanuel Modoc, PhD Candidate: Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of Letters, Department of Comparative Literature.

Ovio Olaru, PhD Candidate: Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of Letters, Institute for Scandinavian Languages and Literature.

Vlad Pojoga, Research Assistant, PhD Candidate: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Faculty of Letters and Arts, Department of Romance Studies.

Maria Sass, Prof.: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Faculty of Letters and Arts, Department of Anglo-American and German Studies.

Dragoș Sdrobiș, PhD: History Teacher, Gelu Voievod Highschool, Gilău

Andrei Terian, Prof. Dr. Habil.: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Faculty of Letters and Arts, Department of Romance Studies.

Snejana Ung, PhD Candidate: West University of Timișoara, Faculty of Letters and History.

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Ștefan Baghiu, Vlad Pojoga

Ruralism and Literature in Romania: An Introduction

In 2012, Valer Simion Cosma started a series of conferences in Telciu, a village in the county of Bistrița-Năsăud, aimed at contextualizing Romanian rurality. Since 2015, when Cosma co-opted Freiburg-based Romanian researcher Manuela Boatcă—then a Professor at Freie in Berlin—the conferences in Telciu have been amongst the highest-ranking events in the contemporary Romanian academic landscape, and an important center of the Eastern European decolonial studies, reuniting figures such as Madina Tlostanova, Julie Klingerm, Daniela Gabor, Don Kalb, Julia Roth, and Vintilă Mihăilescu. After 2017, when scholars such as Cornel Ban joined the organizing committee, the series of events gained momentum. The conference had already begun to earn notoriety, as Cornel Ban himself heard about it from an American scholar who was talking about this small Romanian village at a book launch in New York. In other words, things turned global. This was unexpected, if we consider the relatively small interest Romanian literary studies take nowadays in the rural itself, despite the major role it played in nineteenth and twentieth-century literature and social praxis. Academics from prestigious universities in the United States, Europe, and all over the world were discussing decolonial theory, postcolonial frames of thought, and Marxist theory in a small Romanian village. The rural met contemporary theory, and theory now needs the rural more than ever, since postcolonial theory and decolonial theory felt obliged to include the rural as well in its sphere of interest.1

This is, in a way, the goal of the present volume: to propose a series of world literature and transnational frames for the debate of what seems to be the most autochthonous topic, namely rural life and ruralism within a national literature. And there were quite a few obstacles we had to overcome. In the nineteenth century, the rural was a fundamental topic for Romanian literary critics and intellectual discourse in general. In 1868 Titu Maiorescu, the foremost Romanian literary critic of the nineteenth century, published one of the most influential manifestos in Romanian culture, În contra direcției de azi în cultura română [Against the Contemporary Direction in Romanian Culture]. Through the theory of “forms without substance” (a top-bottom model of analyzing local cultural production and politics), he criticized the predisposition of Romanian culture to imitate Western models without proper assimilation. To this imitation tendency, Maiorescu opposes an organicist evolutionary schema, built on the urgency with which ruling elites had to assist and guide the rural demographic majority to emancipation, which modernizing theories of his time completely overlooked. The same literary critic published, in 1882, the article “Literatura română și străinătatea” [“Romanian Literature and ←13 | 14→the Foreign Countries”], in which he argues that Romanian literature had sparked interest abroad through its “national originality” and by representing “the finest part of its ethnic nature.” He praises the prose of Ioan Slavici, Gane, and Negruzzi for how they portray “the typical figures of the people” and identifies their works as “peasant novels.” He justifies his enthusiasm by referring to similar works of George Sand, Flaubert, Turgenev, Bret-Harte, Charles Dickens, and Fritz Reuter. Inspired by the Aristotelian thought, Maiorescu then goes on to argue that the main difference between tragedy and the novel lies in the social origins of the main character, as the novel favors the representation of the lower classes, especially the peasants. He calls the main genre on the rise “romanul poporan” [the peoples’ novel] and analyzes the way in which the protagonist is passive, does not control the social environment, and is merely a victim of external decisions.

Romanian literature, especially in its early days, is generally perceived to have a rural topography. Most of the major literary critics, including E. Lovinescu, G. Călinescu, and Nicolae Manolescu, believe, at least in a way, that the literature written in the Romanian cultural space is either rural or in obvious need of urbanization. One of the pillars of Romanian modernism, for instance, as defined by E. Lovinescu, is the general effort to urbanize literature, to generate a mutation in the manner in which Romanian writers see and use space in their works. There are at least two main causes for this perception—that we will later prove a misconception: the general distribution of population in Romania, and the Romanian literary canon.

Firstly, if we look in-depth at how population is distributed between rural and urban in Romania over the past century and a half, we see a complete disbalance until the 1970s and 1980s. In the almost a hundred years spanning the 1859 Union of Wallachia and Moldova and 1950, the percentage of urban population grew by a mere 10 %, reaching the 25 % threshold that year. Ever since, it has grown steadily, with the rural areas currently undergoing fundamental changes due to massive emigration and witnessing an all-time low share of the general population at about 46 %. However, these population shifts were slower than the European average, which amounted to 48 % urban and 52 % rural in 1950, that is almost half more people living in urban areas than in Romania (25 % urban and 75 % rural). Therefore, Romania has constantly been one of the least urbanized countries in Europe, and the conclusion that this led to (in a rather superficial manner) was that literature must also be a faithful representation of the statistical reality.2

Secondly, the official Romanian high school literary canon—i.e., the list of authors included in the Baccalaureate syllabus—features 17 authors, whose works were published from mid-ninteenth-century to the 1980s. Of these, 7 wrote prose fiction (ranging from novels to short stories and folk tales), whose plot can be clearly located—as opposed to poetry where space does not play such an important role, or criticism, where it does not play any role whatsoever: Ion Creangă, Ioan Slavici, Mihail Sadoveanu, Liviu Rebreanu, Camil Petrescu, G. Călinescu, Marin Preda. Only two of them (Petrescu and Călinescu) set their novels in an urban landscape, with a third of the novels studied in high school unfolding ←14 | 15→in urban environments, and more than two thirds in rural settings. Therefore, the spatial focus of literature is, according to the canon, overwhelmingly rural.

On the other hand, as a recent study on the nineteenth-century novel shows,3 the actual proportion between rural and urban (based on the analysis of a corpus of 157 novels published in Romania between 1844 and 1900) is considerably different, with less than 25 % of the corpus having events placed in rural areas. Moreover, Cosmin Borza’s analysis in this volume suggests an even bigger discrepancy between rural and the other spaces, with only around 7 % of the novels being rural according to his criteria.

The chapters in the first section, “The Novel,” focus on the development of fiction in relation to peasants and the rural world. As Cosmin Borza shows, there was substantial debate during the interwar period, which prominent Romanian literary critic Eugen Lovinescu heavily promoted, on “the urgency of fighting against the cultural ‘monopoly’ established by ‘peasant mysticism’.” Such a monopoly was, however, never real, Borza suggests based on quantitative data in his “How to Populate a Country. A Quantitative Analysis of the Rural Novel from Romania (1900–2000).” The rural is more of an exception, Borza claims, while providing the reader with an insightful perspective on Maria Sass’s subsequent inquiry into Liviu Rebreanu and Paul Schuster’s rural writings. Moreover, as Daiana Gârdan shows in her chapter on “interstitial spatiality,” the interwar period witnessed some sort of a “muted rurality and subverted urbanity,” while a more important place of the plot may actually be the space between the rural and the urban. In respect to communist and post-communist Romanian fiction, the chapters signed by Anca-Simina Martin, Ștefan Baghiu, and Alex Goldiș portray the difficult task of translating rural fiction into English, the strange case of “muffled brutality” in the socialist realist rural novel, and the ideological criteria that the novelists had to conquer in order to integrate in the grand socialist narrative, while avoiding to compromise on their writing. As Alex Goldiș shows in the chapter titled “The Ideology of Ruralism in the Thaw Prose: The Case of Marin Preda’s Moromeții,” although “Moromeții does not conform to socialist realist rules of composition, (…) the novel was not met by Stalinist critics with hesitation or objections.” Furthermore, Ramona Hărșan and Snejana Ung’s chapters discuss the late communist postmodern experience of the rural and the post-communist understanding of border villages as paths to transnationalism in post-2000 fiction. Two other articles offer an unusual perspective of rural literature: Andrei Terian’s “Liviu Rebreanu: Zoopoetics in a Rural Environment,” in which the author analyzes “the representation of animals” in one of the best-known rural novels in Romanian literature, and Mihai Iovănel’s “Peasants and Intelligent Machines,” in which the author stresses the connection between “robots and the rural world” in twentieth-century literature.

Over the past centuries, the rural has taken centre stage in social theories as well. Some articles in the present volume emphasize cultural constructs, putting forward imagined communities of the rural in Romanian literary criticism and culture. In his article, “Inventing the Romanian Peasant in Transylvania during the Nineteenth Century,” Valer Simion Cosma points out that peasants themselves ←15 | 16→were subjected to different portrayals at the dawn of the nation-states, and that “the images of the Romanian peasant are constructed and conveyed by the intellectual, administrative and political elite,” in a veritable quest toward “conquering the peasantness.” In her article on Romanian literary critic and culture theorist Eugen Lovinescu, entitled “Social Class Difference and the Evolution of Romanian Literature from Lovinescu’s Perspective (1924–1929),” Teodora Dumitru shows, in the same manner, that the main theories of modernism in interwar Romania were actually classist theories, discriminating against the peasants in order to achieve the much longed-for modernization. But not all articles ground their understanding on such phenomena, on condescending elites ‘inventing’ peasantry or classist theories claiming a ‘modernizing’ agenda. As Dragoș Sdrobiș argues in his chapter “From Science to Action. Professionalizing Social Work in Greater Romania,” although the rural space was an undesirable place for lawyers or physicians to work in during the interwar period, for sociologists such as Dimitrie Gusti, it was a shared space for research and theory, to study the balance between demography, means of production and capital. Sdrobiș uses examples from China and Russia to show some international connections between approaches to the rural space in social action. Similarly, Cosmin Koszor Codrea writes about the efforts of Romanian anarchists in teaching Darwinism to the peasants in order to counteract the influence of the Church in the region. What Ovio Olaru shows in “Diasporic Nationalism. German Regional Literature from Romania” is the way in which the rural becomes a very important element in defining interactions between different populations in the mutual space.

The three chapters dedicated to Romanian poetry and the rural stress out—we believe—three key elements in describing rural poetry’s relation to a transnational context. First, the historical Avant-garde. Nothing is more urban than the Avant-garde, one might assume. Yet, as Emanuel Modoc shows in “Negotiating the Rural and the Rustic in the Romanian Avant-Garde,” poets of Romanian origins and Romanian poets of the radical modernist trends had always integrated the rural in their literary consciousness, which points to the existence of a rural setting in this eccentric literature. Secondly, a profile of the “national” rural poet George Coșbuc. Although Andrei Terian has shown that there could be nothing more remote from world literature than “national poets,”4 a profile of the “the poet of the peasantry” felt important in balancing canonical figures of prose writing through an analysis of his work by Radu Drăgulescu, since the poet was connected to the most important populist movements of the early twentieth century.5 The last article in this collection, Mihnea Bâlici’s “New Ruralism. From Village to Globe,” brings attention to the latest poetry trends in Romania. Curiously, although part of a very globalized and urbanized medium, Romanian poets of the last decade have been attracted to the rural setting and the discrepancies between the civilized urban and the belated rural, sometimes just to work on “depicting a current social crisis, which is more acutely felt in the rural world.” What starts as a “periphery complex” in recent poetry ends as a way “to adopt a critical position towards an economically unequal and hypercapitalist Romanian society.”

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Notes

1 1. More recently, Romanian rural novels and rurality itself have been subjected to impressive attention from international scholars such as Manuela Boatcă and Anca Parvulescu. See Manuela Boatcă, Anca Parvulescu, “Creolizing Transylvania. Notes on Coloniality and Inter-Imperiality,” History of the Present. A Journal of Critical History, 10th anniversary issue (2020); Anca Parvulescu, Manuela Boatcă, “(Dis)Counting Languages: Between Hugo Meltzl and Liviu Rebreanu,” Journal of World Literature (2019); Anca Parvulescu, Manuela Boatcă, “The Longue Durée of Enslavement: Extracting Labor from Romani Music in Liviu Rebreanu’s Ion,” in Literature Compass. Forthcoming; Anca Parvulescu, Manuela Boatcă, “The Inter-Imperial Dowry Plot: Modernist Naturalism in the Periphery of European Empires,” Interventions: A Journal of Postcolonial Studies. Forthcoming.

2 2. For a more complete statistical overview of urbanization in Europe and Romania, see Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, “Urbanization”, published online at OurWorldInData.org. (2019). For statistical details regarding Romania before 1900, see Leonida Colescu. Analiza Rezultatelor Recensământului General al Populației României dela 1899 (București: Institutul Central de Statistică, 1944).

3 3. See Ștefan Baghiu, Vlad Pojoga, Teodora Susarenco, Radu Vancu, and Emanuel Modoc, “Geografia romanului românesc în secolul al XIX-lea,” Revista Transilvania, no. 10 (2019): 29–43.

4 4. Andrei Terian, “Mihai Eminescu. From National Mythology to the World Pantheon,” in Romanian Literature as World Literature, ed. Mircea Martin, Christian Moraru, and Andrei Terian (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018).

5 5. A accurate description of these movements in connection to literary translations can be found in Cosmin Borza, “Translating Against Colonization. Romanian Populists’ Plea for Peripheral Literatures,” in The Culture of Translation in Romania, ed. Maria Sass, Ștefan Baghiu, and Vlad Pojoga (Berlin: Peter Lang, 2018), 31–45.

Bibliography

Baghiu, Ștefan, Vlad Pojoga, Teodora Susarenco, Radu Vancu, and Emanuel Modoc. “Geografia romanului românesc în secolul al XIX-lea.” Revista Transilvania, no. 10 (2019): 29–43.

Boatcă, Manuela, and Anca Parvulescu. “Creolizing Transylvania. Notes on Coloniality and Inter-Imperiality.” History of the Present. A Journal of Critical History, 10th anniversary issue (2020): forthcoming.

Borza, Cosmin. “Translating Against Colonization. Romanian Populists’ Plea for Peripheral Literatures.” In The Culture of Translation in Romania, eds. Maria Sass, Ștefan Baghiu, and Vlad Pojoga (Berlin: Peter Lang, 2018).

Colescu, Leonida. Analiza Rezultatelor Recensământului General al Populaţiei României dela 1899 (București: Institutul Central de Statistică, 1944).

Hannah Ritchie, and Max Roser. “Urbanization.” Published online at OurWorldInData.org (2019). Accessed October 30, 2019. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/urbanization [Online Resource]

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Parvulescu, Anca, and Manuela Boatcă. “(Dis)Counting Languages: Between Hugo Meltzl and Liviu Rebreanu.” Journal of World Literature Vol. 5, no. 1 (2019): 47–78.

Parvulescu, Anca, and Manuela Boatcă. “The Inter-Imperial Dowry Plot: Modernist Naturalism in the Periphery of European Empires.” Interventions: A Journal of Postcolonial Studies: forthcoming.

Parvulescu, Anca, and Manuela Boatcă. “The Longue Durée of Enslavement: Extracting Labor from Romani Music in Liviu Rebreanu’s Ion.” Literature Compass: forthcoming.

Biographical notes

Ștefan Baghiu (Volume editor) Vlad Pojoga (Volume editor) Maria Sass (Volume editor)

Ștefan Baghiu, Literary Critic, Teaching Assistant of Romanian Literature and Literary Theory. Vlad Pojoga, Research Assistant, Editor, Translator. Maria Sass, Germanist, Professor of German Literature and Romanian-German Literature. Professors and researchers at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu.

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