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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. The Separation from Totalitarianism (On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist, 1992)


As he was frequently invited to read the manuscripts of his friend Philip Roth, Norman Manea remembers replying to the American writer as follows: “Wouldn’t you say it is cruel of you, a rich and famous writer, who publish a book every other year, to ask another rich and famous writer, who publishes every twelve years, to read your volumes?” Playing the card of ironic resignation, the author of The Black Envelope admits that the rhythm he has maintained is not so much the rhythm of creation, as “the pace of self-interrogation” (Sertarele 444). In fact, this anecdote holds true only for the American period, for up until 1986 Norman Manea published, on average, a book every other year. It is true that exile led to a postponement of his literary projects, primarily because of his difficulties in adapting to a fundamentally different cultural environment. On the other hand, after fifty years spent under a totalitarian regime, in which the need to hypercodify his creations and the distorted official interpretations of his works had drained his resources, the East European who arrived in Washington in 1988 was driven by the impulse to talk openly about that experience. Still, however urgent and therapeutic such a venture might have proved, its protagonist felt the need to remain cautious. Therefore, Manea’s essays On Clowns, written between 1988 and 1992 and addressed to a foreign readership, unacquainted with their subjects, revealed that his approach to these issues was both allusive and sophisticated....

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