- Matei Călinescu – Ion VianuAn Epistolary History
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[End Page 196]
In the wee hours of a frozen day at the beginning of January 1973, I drove Adriana and Matei Călinescu, along with their daughter Irina, who had yet to turn eight, to Bucharest’s Otopeni airport. On the way, Matei turned to me and said, “We’re not coming back!” Although I had suspected this to be the case, up until that point they had not expressed their intention this clearly either to me or to Ioana. Our friendship was, after all, above any kind of distrust. But the fact that it was only at that last minute, on a road of no return, that this unflinching decision was announced, proves the extent to which the great police pressure of the regime hung over us. A few days before, on St. John’s Day, the Călinescu family had given us a present, all too symbolic: an English edition of Gulliver’s Travels, that Matei had signed, “For Ion, in the proximity of a journey that I hope will end in the Land of the Houyhnhnms.” Four decades have passed since, but this gift has been by my side all the while, and has taken a place in all our subsequent wanderings and dwellings. Matei has left this world without ever having disembarked on the shores of that equine land, while I’ve remained, thus far, here, on this side of the Pyrenees, without any hope of reaching a society so wise and good-natured. My friend had made a bitter joke, as he had done (or: would do) many a time, one that nevertheless contained, within its deepest kernel, an ounce of hope. [End Page 197]
So began—I still in Romania, he from exile—an exchange of letters quite dispersed over time, and steeped in the conviction that it was being read by (the powers of) censorship. Research should be undertaken as to the extent to which the belief in an intermediary reader—indiscreet by definition: the censor—the extent, that is, to which this belief can allow for a truly sincere exchange. “Unpleasance” might be the best word to describe such a diplopic gaze, shifting between the thing at hand and whatever might lie over the shoulder. Of course, what “sincerity” may mean, especially in the case of an exchange—this is another issue. Matei was, after all, a very discreet man, a follower of Alcestis, Molière’s Misanthrope: “Mais l’amitié demande un peu plus de mystère, Et c’est, assurément, en profaner le nom, Que de vouloir le mettre à toute occasion.” He had understood more quickly and better than I (something in his nature favored this type of goodwill) that there’s something about confidentiality taken too far which renders it provocative. The essence of friendship lies in doing good by and to the other, reciprocally, not in a type of “sincerity” which manifests itself as a continual assault of the other with your “problems” as weapons. To overwhelm the other with your moral squalor is not, and cannot be, good (by and to). Confidentiality is a form of indiscretion, an excessive appeal to the other’s tolerance and patience.
When, a year past, the Călinescu family’s decision not to return to Romania became public, our exchange morphed into something so schematic and conventional that we decided, in tacit agreement, to desist from writing one another. Of course, we would each receive news of the other, indirectly, but news that was relatively precise, and, in its relativity, sufficient to quell our curiosity. Nevertheless, there was a moment in which I broke this agreement and I wrote him a letter of protest, in which I expressed my indifference (an indifference I hoped he would share) as to the fact that we lived, since his exile, in two different worlds. Matei didn’t reply. There were too many things (for lack of a better word), too many emotions and thoughts that we could but keep silent about. I say all...