- Matei Călinescu and Ion Vianu in Dialogue
Matei, you published, or rather, you wrote the preface to an anthology of the Romanian avant-garde in 1969; I remember very well the moment when this anthology was published, which was, at that time, an event. It was an event because during the ideological censorship it seemed to be a flower heralding the beginning of spring. I want to ask you—what memories do you have of the publication of this anthology at that time, during the height of communism, in relation to the way in which the avant-garde was perceived when it was active, during the 20’s and 30’s.
I remember I wrote this preface after doing research in the archive of Saşa Pană’s, who, in fact, was also the editor of the anthology. I went over to his house, he had an extraordinary archive, comprising all the published works of the Romanian avant-garde and I worked there for a few weeks, I saw all the movies, much better than at the Library of the Academy.
What kind of man was Saşa Pană?
Saşa Pană was a very discreet man, a little taciturn, solemn and prudent. [End Page 223]
He was a doctor if I’m not mistaken!
I don’t know, we didn’t speak about his profession. He was the archivist of the avant-garde and we became somewhat close during this time—he offered me a few of his books, including The Romanticized Life of God, with a dedication “to Comrade Matei Călinescu”…
He was a communist.
He was a conformist rather than a communist, although it is possible that at one point he had sympathized and had been, maybe still was, a party member. But at the time he was most likely prudent; he didn’t always know with whom he was dealing, he was a bit scared. The anthology was very interesting because in it were published for the first time, besides Ion Vinea, Gellu Naum, Geo Bogza, authors who had left the country, like Paul Păun, D. Trost or Gherasim Luca, who was living in Paris and whom I had the opportunity to meet in 1968, when I went to Paris with a UNESCO bursary. I remember seeing Paul Celan and going with him to visit Gherasim Luca—a very melancholy man, just like Celan. In fact, both of them committed suicide…
The same way.
Jumping off a bridge into the Seine. So the publication of this anthology was an important moment, as it signified an opening: it appeared during the so-called “mini-liberalization” between 1964 and 1971. In 1964, I remember well, the political prisoners were released from prisons and a period of semi-liberalization followed, a hypocritical one, to be sure, but at the same time one when censorship was relatively relaxed. The avant-garde writings didn’t seem to be dangerous at that point. After 1971, things changed a lot. The nonconformism of the avant-garde had become dangerous.
But what was the meaning of the avant-garde in Romania when it was born?
The Romanian avant-garde has older roots. We can trace it back to the period before the First World War, to the time when the young Tristan Tzara together with Ion Vinea published the magazine The Symbol, which was somewhat symbolist in nature, but with a juvenile aggression which anticipated the later avant-garde. Tristan Tzara, in fact, published a series of poems in Romanian which he then translated [End Page 224] into French himself and he asserted that there wasn’t any form of continuity between what he wrote in Romanian and what he wrote later on in French. Afterwards, the Romanian avant-garde included, evidently, the enigmatic Urmuz, who even during the time of Romanian neutrality during the first World War was writing his own absurd prose pieces, published later by Tudor Arghezi in The...