- The Network of Modernities: Paul de Man–Matei Călinescu–Antoine Compagnon by Teodora Dumitru, and: Roland Barthes: Romanian Mythologies by Alexandru Matei, and: The Beautiful Stranger: Literature and the Paradoxes of Theory by Carmen Muşat, and: The Linguistic Bastion: A Comparative History of Structuralism in Romania by Adriana Stan
What is literature, and how should we read it? What are literature and literary criticism for? How have the changing assumptions of literary theory influenced critical practice? How do critical paradigms evolve and circulate from one geocultural space to another? How are literature, critical theory, and discourses of modernity related? What does it mean to be modern anyway? How do the ideas, values, and attitudes associated with modernity play out in different historical and cultural contexts? How do literary canons take shape? In what ways can both writers and critical theorists resist establishment ideologies?
Questions such as these are immediately recognizable because they are pivotal to all literary-cultural systems, but what makes their pursuit newly relevant to the authors of the books reviewed here—and hopefully to readers of this journal—has to do with the historical and cultural specifics of critical practice and theory in a former communist country like Romania, where the transition from dictatorship to democracy has been anything but smooth. In Roland Barthes: Romanian Mythologies, Alexandru Matei credits Alex Goldiş and Andrei Terian with having produced "two of the best literary studies published in Romania over the last decade." Their books—The Entrenchments of Literary Criticism: From Socialist Realism to Aesthetic Autonomy (2011) and Exporting Criticism: Theories, Contexts, Ideologies (2013), respectively—are said to offer an in-depth look at the complex relation between the Romanian critical discourse from the 1960s to the 1980s and Western critical discourses, a relation more often than not marred by divergences and distortions as a result of Ceausescu's nationalist-isolationist agenda (40). Within that toxic cultural-political context, Matei notes, a subversive thinker like Roland Barthes was bound to be (deliberately) misread, misunderstood, and—after 1989—all but "forgotten" (40). Matei's own book, along with Teodora Dumitru's The Network of Modernities, Carmen Muşat's The Beautiful Stranger, and Adriana Stan's The Linguistic Bastion deserve and reward the attention of specialists beyond the fields [End Page 342] of Romanian, Romance, or East European studies, as I intend to show in what follows, with the caveat that I cannot do justice to the depth and breadth of their arguments. My main goal is to consider how these members of the "2000 Generation" of Romanian scholars position themselves in relation to their country's literary and critical tradition, as well as to Western thinking that spans decades of highly diverse theorizing. Doing so, we can appreciate not only how contemporary Romanian critics establish a lineage for themselves by appropriating, adapting, and challenging their predecessors' ideas and methods, but also how much of Romania's critical culture consists of intellectual currents from elsewhere.
Both separately and together, these authors' sophisticated, wide-ranging interventions exemplify the comparative perspective and interdisciplinary scope so salient in the recently published critical-theoretical manifesto Romanian Literature as World Literature (Bloomsbury, 2017), edited by Mircea Martin, Christian Moraru, and Andrei Terian. "The world-as-world, the world as system," the last two say in their introduction "with a nod in the general direction of Immanuel Wallerstein's work, is becoming—has become a prime epistemological framework of literary and cultural analysis" (2). It is within this interactional and intersectional framework that Carmen Muşat and Teodora Dumitru, who have also contributed to Romanian Literature as World Literature, along with Adriana Stan and Alexandru Matei, operate and therefore need to be read. Their different emphases notwithstanding, all four scholars are deeply attuned to the worldly affiliations—"plural, shifting, litigious" (Moraru and Terian...