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Norman Manea

Aesthetics as East Ethics

Claudiu Turcuș

The book offers the very first critical biography on Norman Manea, a widely respected writer and multiple Nobel Prize Nominee. It follows two main objectives: an aesthetic interpretation of his literature and a contextualization of his ethical discourse. Manea's aesthetics is seen also as an Eastern European ethics, significant for the writer’s status while living and working under the Communist censorship in a totalitarian state and in the global context of World literature.

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Chapter II. Socialist Reality outside Socialist Realism

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1. The Antinovel of the “Obsessive Decade” (The Apprenticeship Years of Augustus the Fool, 1979)

Norman Manea’s first books form a cycle that bears the title Variations on a Self-Portrait. If we consider the second term of the expression, the emphasis falls on the evolution of the protagonist, on the metamorphoses he undergoes. These are rendered as the myriad, provisional facets of his existence. Exploring the avatars of the individual in his works from Captives to October, Eight O’Clock, we can see that Manea appears to be (re)writing narratives about the preservation of humanity at times of (de)formation, of alteration. However, with The Apprenticeship Years of Augustus the Fool, the novelist acquires the advantage of perspective, since discipleship can only be lucidly discussed with hindsight, and the advantage of freedom. The second edition of The Black Envelope (1996)60 and the short fiction of Compulsory Happiness (1997) undertake a disquieting survey of Romanian socialist realities. Thus, the writer highlights not only trauma-filled individual lives, but also the unbearably absurd social context that marked his own youth and maturity. As Kundera suggests in The Art of the Novel, the significance of such a project resides in the fact that the documentary value of literature is often superior to that of a history treatise, because its burlesque details, duplicitous ambiguities and perplexing quotidian hustle and bustle create a particularized network of meanings that facilitate the readers’ access to the reality (turned into the “fiction”) of the...

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