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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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Introduction. The Odyssey of Augustus the Skeptic

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“Are you looking back in anger?” This is the taunting Osbornian question the Romanian journalist Radu Mareş asked Norman Manea in an interview in 1977 (Manea, “Fidelitatea” 14). The writer’s digressive answer emphasized two defining aspects. On the one hand, for the author of The Black Envelope, it was inevitable that books should lag behind life, for “back means especially the years before 1969” (14). The writer’s biographical background prior to his artistic debut – his deportation as a child with a “guilt-ridden” identity to the Transnistrian gulag, his discovery of the miracle of life and books in the Eastern region of Bukovina, his conflicting identity as a teenager, the burlesque experiences and the enthusiasm of his years as a student in Bucharest, his career in engineering as an ineffective therapy – symbolically vertebrates the writer’s memory. Still, it is only through the lens of the “violent turn” (14) his existence took by immersion into writing that the act of remembering acquires meaning. Books tell the story of one’s life only when they suspend the claim that this is what they do, or when their sole claim is to their own literariness. The representation of Norman Manea tends thus to free itself from biographical references (duly valorized in his work), suggesting that existence is altogether different from memory. Moreover, in its turn, memory is dependent on acquiring expression – that literary form which presentifies absence, enshrining it as a trace of life. As the writer intimated, it is only in life...

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