- Romanian Joyce: From Hostility to Hospitality, by Arleen Ionescu
In the past decade, there has been a significant upsurge in Joyce's reception histories from particular national critical responses (such as Robert K. Weninger's The German Joyce or Patricia Novillo-Corvalán's Borges and Joyce: An Infinite Conversation1) to comprehensive critical surveys of Joyce's heritage in Europe and beyond (including the two volumes of Joyce's reception in Europe and TransLatin Joyce: Global Transmissions in Ibero-American Literature2). Arleen Ionescu's Romanian Joyce comes into this field as the first book-length study of Joyce's literary heritage in Romania. It is a special treat for Joyceans interested in a lesser-known angle of Joyce's legacy: "the long enduring history of Romanian hos(ti)pitality towards the Irish writer" (17). The book cover presents a sketch of Joyce's portrait in half black and half white by Alicia Milesi-Ionescu to represent the ambivalent responses to Joyce in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Romania. Ionescu argues that Joyce's reception in Romania can be best understood through Jacques Derrida's notion of "hostipitality," which incorporates both a hostility and a hospitality towards the guest: in this case, Joyce's texts.3 She explores this ambivalence of "hos(ti)pitality" to discuss questions of critical reception, translation history, and Joycean influence. Romania and the Romanian language become the Irish writer's hosts and guests (just as Joyce is both a host and a guest), a reciprocity which Ionescu carefully examines in the four chapters of her book. She positions Joyce's texts in a complex web of critical and creative rewritings, providing a closely argued and compelling account of "Romanian Joyce."
By bringing key Romanian figures (Ion Biberi, Mircea Eliade, Mircea Cărtărescu, and Adrian Oțoiu, among others) to the attention of Anglophone readers, Ionescu discusses Romanian literary history and Joyce's reception in the context of European modernisms and postmodernisms. In the first chapter, she presents a clear and accurate picture of Romanian cultural and political realities from the early twentieth century to the post-communist age. Ionescu draws on and redefines Gabriela Omăt's classification of modernism found in Omăt's recent anthology Modernismul literar românesc în date (1880-2000) şi texte (1880-1949) (Romanian Literary Modernism in Dates [1880-2000] and Texts [1880-1949]) and Eugen Lovinescu's 1937 Istoria literaturii române contemporane (History of Contemporary Romanian Literature),4 offering an alternative critical framework for the study of Romanian modernism. The three phases of Romanian modernism according to [End Page 726] Ionescu's timeline were influenced by "French symbolism between 1880 and early 1900s, then [Marcel] Proust and [André] Gide, and to a minor extent the Anglo-Modernism of Joyce and [Virginia] Woolf" (25). Ionescu also explains that Romanian critics' opinions about Joyce were largely determined by the French literary scene, both linguistically and critically. Moving on to post-war Romania, Ionescu outlines communist political hostilities, propagandistic literature, and cultural isolation—essential in understanding Romania's hostipitality towards Joyce—and ending the chapter with the 1980s and the "death of communism in Romania" (75).
The second chapter focuses on the changing critical attitudes towards Joyce's work, illustrating Ionescu's astute observation that, in the 1920s, Joyce was first met with hostility in a "culturally prosperous and politically stable environment," and "after the Second World War," he was greeted in "a thoroughly hostile political context" (17). Due to Romania's Francophilia explained in the previous chapter, Joyce was mostly read in French translation, as well as interpreted in relation to French novelists and in the light of French criticism. Thus the "first gesture of welcoming Joyce" (77) was the translation of Valery Larbaud's review of Ulysses in three literary journals and several immediate responses to Larbaud's essay. Ionescu contends that critics valued Ulysses mostly for its literary techniques (particularly the interior monologue) and rejected it by rehearsing western pronouncements about Ulysses's obscenity and incomprehensibility.5 She goes on...