- Job’s Reading Job
I am about to tell you a story of several interwoven readings and re-readings. My main character is Matei Călinescu. In a seductive and illuminating book he put forward the challenging assumption that any reading is, unavoidably, a rereading. And so I must rephrase my first sentence: this will be a story about rereading only, thus a run of snapshots.
First Snapshot: Me, in a corner
A sunny afternoon, in the central square of Timişoara, a (formerly) bourgeois city close to Romania’s Western border. I am sitting on the terrace of a small Konditorei, alone, sipping my coffee, with a book on the table, trying to focus on the printed lines.
I am supposed to think about a paper about Matei Călinescu and I am, as usual, short of time. And I need so much time to travel upstream and downstream in order to get my thoughts clear before I start writing! “And I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep!”
I am reading (rereading) Viaţa şi opiniile lui Zacharias Lichter [The Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter]. I have with me the 2004 Polirom Publishing House ne varietur edition. Am I looking for something specific in this book? The first chapters, which I had read before leaving Bucharest for Timişoara, had already given me a warning—or was it a clue?—that the booklet is not exactly what I expect it to be. That is, what I remember it to have been. [End Page 125]
The fluttering wings of the pigeons circling now and then around the terrace, stirred by invisible unexpected events, make me raise my eyes from the page and let my sight adrift, feeling the bulky stature of the buildings edging the square. In the middle of it, a stone column, decorated with allegoric statues, like the Pestsäulen, scattered all over the place in the towns of the former Hapsburg Empire. Around the column, a small lawn, crossed by narrow paths, with a few tourists taking their pictures and a few youngsters waiting for their dates. A place where time seems to have been frozen forever, under the shy sunbeams of a late Indian summer. And, all of a sudden, I have the queer impression that I am expecting to see the extravagant figure of Zacharias Lichter on the lawn, coming towards me, talking aloud to himself or to some unseen listener, accompanying his words with large gestures, pacing forward undisturbed by the bewilderment of the other witnesses of the scene.
An uncanny apparition. Not too often do literary characters suddenly catch flesh and blood. But, after all, Zacharias Lichter himself was imagined alongside with a declared “model,” “the most flamboyant personality” Matei Călinescu was acquainted to by the middle of the 50’s in Romania (ZL, 193). The thing that bewilders me, nevertheless, is to catch sight of Zacharias Lichter in a place which,—how should I put it?—I hold most inappropriate for that: in a place out of time.
The Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter was certainly one of the books that strongly impressed my teenage years. Accordingly, it became more or less a private property of my own life story. Likewise, its hero became my own companion in my journey towards adulthood. What has turned wrong? Why would he all of a sudden wish to get out of his time—my time!—, and join me in a timeless spot?
Well, the fact is that the “Lichter” I was now, in October 2011, supposed to re-encounter had been floating with the time, without my being aware of it, side by side with myself. The character I remembered was a Stalker, a guide like the one in Andrei Tarkovsky’s famous film (1979), leading my way in the gloomy times of the communist regime—and the flickering times of my youth. Is he still playing a similar part?
In my mind, the short book entitled The Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter remains strongly bound to two movies of the time: the Romanian Reconstituirea [Reconstruction], directed by Lucian Pintilie...