Is There A Romanian Postmodernism? Romanian Fiction from 1979-1989

August 18, 2008
Author: Carmen Muşat
Translated by: Elena Gabriela Căprăroiu


The battle for canonical status in Romanian literature has been fought along traditionalist/modernist lines, an action in the war between generations. On top of that, in the early 80s the Communist Party treated any novelty or joint undertaking with suspicion so that postmodernism’s asserting itself as an art movement took on the colors of a political dispute. This history of Romanian postmodernism looks at the moments in the debate when one side credits the movement or the other rejects it, often on the ground that postmodernism is something like a tempest in a teapot—form without content. Beyond any controversy though, beyond any statement, nuance or denial (maybe even as a result of the effervescent critical back and forth), Romanian postmodernism not only came into existence, but also tended to move from theoretical concept to literary reality, as is confirmed by a large number of written works—most printed after 1989.1When we look at the years leading up to ’89, however, it has to be said that the dialogue on postmodernism moves foreword in a reticent way (at times, anyhow)—probably because chances to publish came few and far between. The editorial climate hardly favored beginners, and writers seeking affirmation turned to journals—mainly student publications—or readings at established literary circles, a distinctive feature of Romanian literary life.
Beyond that, though, significant novelists of the 80s began to talk about a major change in how literature was written and thought about, long before postmodernism made its way into Romania’s literary vocabulary or critical conscience. "Signs of a shift in attitude and a mentality in the conception of the relationship text-reality, author-character"2 appear—in the theory of fiction, not just in practice after 1979, a period coterminous with the first interventions and markedly theoretical texts of Mircea Nedelciu, Alexandru Vlad, Ştefan Agopian, Gheorghe Crăciun, Ioan Lăcustă, Bedros Horasangian, Daniel Vighi, Cristian Teodorescu, Adina Kenereş, Ioan Groşan, Gheorghe Iova, Gheorghe Ene, Maria Mailat, Constantin Stan, Vasile Gogea, Carmen Francesca Banciu, Nicolae Iliescu, Viorel Marineasa, Hanibal Stănciulescu, and Emil Paraschivoiu, among others. In an article written in 1980, Mircea Nedelciu draws a line between "the realism of the transcription method" and "the realism of the attitude toward the real." For the first time, the article points to the new direction in prose and to the difficulties that genre classification faces when confronted with texts by Mircea Horia Simionescu, Costache Olăreanu, Radu Petrescu, Tudor Ţopa or Petru Creţia. These difficulties arise from the writers’ challenging the reader to reconstitute not only narration as such, but also the world. Mircea Nedelciu writes that the dialogic of the new literature that "turns the reader into the main character of his work" and the authenticity of the discourses—author's, narrator's, and characters'—represent distinctive features of these narratives: "The document, the act, and the direct transmission of an event that occurred in reality can enter the economy of the literary text where they will no longer be artistically transfigured, but authenticated. The statute of the character changes because the sentences previously attributed to it are mere traces of real people, left in the texts."3
The authenticity alluded to by the author of Amendament la instinctul proprietăţii (Amendment to the Property Instinct) "is inevitably connected with the transcriber or the writer's personal identity without bracketing the interlocutor's identity for good." For his part, Gheorghe Crăciun—probably Romania’s most substantial and subtle theoretician of the new way of writing—turns to the etymology of the word authentes which, in ancient Greek, designated the author. Crăciun correlates authenticity with the author's unconcealed presence in the text. In this way, autobiography becomes "symptomatic, essential material" for theoretical articles and in the novels and short fiction of the 80s. In his pioneering Acte originale, còpii legalizate (Certified Documents, Original Copies) as well as in Compunere cu paralele inegale (Composition with Unequal Parallels) and Frumoasa fără corp (Disembodied Beauty), Crăciun routinely uses biographemes and inserts his own name in the fabric of the narration. Crăciun attempts to "experiment with compositional formulas that prove the natural discontinuity of the narrative act; initiate syntactical patterns based on a more analytical awareness of the language; problematize to the point where the narrative stimulus essence of the character's statute is proven; re-examine the author's standpoint toward his writing process; and be open to 'material' and devices external to the genre."4
As a matter of fact, as early as 1982, Crăciun referred to the writers of the eighties’ interest in the "mechanisms through which a narrative text comes into existence and operates," a concern that singled out the young writers of those years, placing them closer to the representatives of the French nouveau roman or to the American experimental prose of John Barth, Donald Barthelme and Kurt Vonnegut (among others) than to their Romanian contemporaries, with Mircea Horia Simionescu, Radu Petrescu, Costache Olăreanu or Tudor Ţopa as notable exceptions, along with the members of “the oniric group,” which was, however, largely ignored by the literary press during the grace period of the 80s when the only continuously active oniric was the poet Leonid Dimov. Prose writer and theoretician, Crăciun (like Nedlciu) proposed—in his 1982 essay Arhipelagul '70-'80 şi noul flux (The '70-'80 Archipelago and The New Tide)—a highly synthesized, generational portrait which features several of the traits of postmodern prose that Ihab Hassan discussed around the same time in the 1982 edition of The Dismemberment of Orpheus,5 although the term postmodernism doesn’t appear in Crăciun’s essay.
Seeing that Romanian writers of the 80s are in synch with contemporary western literature and thought, Crăciun held that the following problems are present in the theoretical consciousness: "the de-literaturizing of perception and narrative discourse; the inclusion in the dialogue of certain relationships of 'aesthetic production' not dealt with before, such as writing-reading,énoncé-énonciation, author-narrator-character, linguistic permorfmance-linguistic competence, description-story, story-presentation; the re-examination of the nature and significance of categories such as 'species' and 'genre'; the new practical consideration of concepts such as 'invention' and 'representation'; and the 'text' seen potentially as an open structure."
According to Crăciun, these obvious changes in the narrative structures are motivated by a rapid evolution of the surrounding world, which makes prior narrative formulas useless: "At a time when social structures are undergoing an unprecedented dynamic, when stress, RTS, information overload, the aggressive impact of technology on our senses, and syncopated mental process constitute evidence of daily life, the exploration of this remarkably complex world often seeks to create working tools on the fly; to re-condition pre-existing literary methods or do away with them; to change the standpoint of perception and discourse; to resort to the raw document and specialized vocabulary; to focus on the patterns through which oral language manifests; and to adapt syntax to the rhythm of the story or analysis, ultimately to the rhythm of 'textualization'. Irony, pastiche, parody, quoting, and self-quoting are connected to the same particular way of raising issues in a world in which, as we know too well, culture has become second nature for man." 6
Again, no explicit reference to postmodernism—although all the traits of new prose listed here are part of the postmodernist paradigm as it is described not only by Ihab Hassan, but also by Matei Călinescu or Brian McHale, to name only the very well-known among the numerous commentators of the phenomenon. The elements of the new poetics gradually stand out among the young writers' remarks in the press: the negation of the novel as a genre and the resurrection of short fiction; the concreteness of imagination and the absorption of the real into the imaginary (Stelian Tănase)7; the use of nonspecialized narrators whose role is to give testimony; the rethinking of the relationship between author and text (Cristian Teodorescu)8; the unmasking and reconsideration of the conventions of the epic genre; the correlation between tragedy and irony; the cultural pseudo-demystification, farcitura, as defined by Paul Zumthor,9 and the use of the variety show, the specific sign of present civilization (Nicolae Iliescu10); minimal, tel-quel, progressive, psychedelic prose or new-romance; new mannerism and kitsch (George Cuşnarencu)11; "ease in stylistic exercise; experimentation—even though exclusivist, negativist, autarchic—with various narrative methods; implicit and sometimes explicit debates about the text, about the act of writing and creation by means of metatexts that confess, if not the attitude of greatness, confidence in their own accomplishments—at the least an acute awareness of creation understood as irrevocable fact” (Daniel Vighi)12; literature and life; expression and content, like the sides of the Mobius strip; a visionary quality and indeterminacy; the poetic I as biographical reality (Ioan Buduca)13; the (bookish) tragedy/”tragism” of the human condition, bought about by the fact that "in today's world, where power is textual, man feels himself written and knows he is written" (Gheorghe Iova)14; paraphrase, re-creation, de-composition and re-launching of the quote; "ambiguity, gliding between text and reality;" and intertextuality (Simona Popescu)15. All in all: a self-portrait via abstraction of a group that captures the main aspects of innovative 80s fiction—without the benefit of label.
The inventory of postmodernist devices proposed by Matei Călinescu inFive Faces of Modernity merits attention here precisely because it allows us to compare the 80s narrative typology with that of post modernism “certified” by theory: "a new existential or 'ontological' use of narrative perspectivism [...]; duplication and multiplication of beginnings, endings, and narrated actions (one recalls the alternative endings of Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman); the parodic thematization of the author (the reappearance of the intrusive or manipulative author, but now in a distinctly self-ironic vein); the no less parodic but more puzzling thematization of the reader (the 'implied reader' becomes a character, or a series of characters, as in Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler); the treatment on an equal footing of fact and fiction, reality and myth, truth and lying, original and imitation, as means to emphasize undecidability; self-referentiality and 'metafiction' as means to dramatize inescapable circularity (as in Borges's "Circular Ruins" and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"); extreme versions of the 'unreliable narrator,' sometimes used, paradoxically, for purposes of rigorous construction (the perfect crime that Nabokov recounts in Despair in the voice of a self-confessed but also self-deluded mythomaniac)."16
Nowhere in the texts quoted do the authors make use of an umbrella-concept under which the works of "the new wave" might be placed. Nicolae Manolescu, one of the critics best-informed about the young fiction of the time, doesn't come up with such a term either in his 1985 article about Bedros Horasangian’s short prose – Curcubeul de la miezul nopţii17 (Midnight Rainbow) and Închiderea ediţiei18 (The Final Edition)— in which he mentions five essential traits of the "new style":
"1) observation of daily reality through minute description and photographing of its components; 2) exact, recording of street language, as if on tape with use of street language, of the non-literary, of slang or jargon with its switchboard-like intersecting 'voices'; 3) combination of the most diverse, avant-garde techniques and devices in an often experimental manner; 4) absence of story-line with its classical stages: plot, climax, and the rest, 5) humor, an ironic attitude toward the real and toward literature, and thus the use of intertext, references to books and metalanguage in different doses—these traits can be found in all writers of the 80s. " 19
Cristian Moraru is one of the first writers to talk about "the impact of postmodernist sensitivity" on Romanian literature. In a 1985 article, using the term the way Ihab Hassan and other western theoreticians had when referring to the postmodern phenomenon, Moraru connects the narrative discourse of the Romanian writers of the 80s with the distinguishing marks of postmodernist writing: the pseudo-conspiratorial denunciation of the mise en abyme, of text symbolism, of textuality, the self-denunciation of writing and the preference for irony and self-irony, stylistic polyphony, intertextuality, paratextuality, the use of quotation, interpolation, cultural allusion and the text inside text.20 The same year, Mircea Cărtărescu announced postmodernism as a possible regenerating force for of Romanian prose, calling it "refined textualism—implying devices for creating metatext, paratext, hypertext, and self-referentiality—a tendency toward prosaic biographical writing, ultimately a stylistic synchronism—a stylistic Babel using, under the disguise of tradition, all available historical styles." As for Moraru, he goes beyond profiling the new literary paradigm to outline the Levant project, a book to be published a few years later.21 In Levant, Moraru rewrites Romanian literary history in parodic tones.
Once the "postmodernist" gauntlet is thrown down, the concept starts to gain ground and soon gathers enthusiastic advocates and vehement opponents. Among the first, Mircea Martin—in his 1986Singura critică (The Only Criticism)—Mircea Mihăieş and Ion Bogdan Lefter stand out as the most nuanced commentators on Romanian postmodern literature, able to argue, in an informed and lucid manner, for the need to place the latest prose and its interpretation in a universal context.
Inspite of their knowledge about the postmodern phenomenon and the latest theories, Monica Spiridon and Ştefan Borbéely, on the other hand, see the debate around Romanian literary postmodernsim as reflecting a desire to keep up with the latest fashion: "I don't believe we have a postmodernist literature, less a generation of postmodern authors," Spiridon writes.22 Borbély, for his part, subscribes to Spiridon's statement a year later. 23 Yet the most vehement refusal comes from some writers who, ironically, in 1982, had been the first to use the term, let it be said with an original significance that diffes widely from what English langlish critics and theoreticians have in mind when they refer to postmodernism. In Postmodernismul, o frumoasă poveste (Postmodernism. A Beautiful Story), published in April 1988 in the journal Astra,24 Alexandru Muşina, sanctioning (and rightly so) the confusion of terms created by the frenzy with which the word "postmodernism" was invoked in a series of critical articles, and he rejects any attempt to see signs of postmodernist literature in the prose of the 80s. Muşina is convinced that "postmodernism—as it is understood in the West—may describe certain Romanian literary phenomena, but that these are relatively marginal." Moreover, linking the art typology of a period to its economic, technological, and political background, Muşina speaks of the inadequacy of the term in the Romanian literary reality and gives warns: "We should not be deceived by how easy it is to discover the devices used by postmodernists in Romanian contemporary writers, particularly the young ones. In defining a typology or a literary current, the use of certain devices are not essential since, actually, the figures of speech are a common good of literature of all times. What matters is the attitude toward the act of writing, the relationship with the reader, the world outlook that can be discovered beyond the 'rhetorical surface.'"25
These are accurate observations, except that, a closer look at the literature of the School of Tîrgovişte and at the 80s generation (as well as at the theoretical interventions on these writers), a postmodernist reading of these writers is justified not only by the implementation of certain narrative but, especially by the new writers’ attitude toward the act of writing, their relationship with the reader, their world view.
Time and the publication of a significant number of works have led to a nuanced Romanian literary postmodernism. Ten years after the first important debate on this topic—Postmodernism in the Romanian Culture—the issue is brought up with greater theoretical rigor than in 1986.26 Meanwhile, critical studies around the phenomenon have increased thanks to the translation of some essential names—Lyotard, Linda Hutcheon, Steven Connor, Gianni Vattimo, among others—and to theoretical studies and articles by such Romanian authors as Liviu Petrescu, Mircea Cărtărescu, Magda Cârneci, Mircea Martin, Sorin Alexandrescu, Monica Spiridon, Ion Bogdan Lefter and Gheorghe Crăciun. Even if these authors often write from different theoretical and critical perspectives, they agree on one extremely important point: Romanian literary modernism is not and should not be discussed as a phenomenon of cultural mimetism. Liviu Petrescu describes Romanian postmodern model as possessing four characteristics, namely: the preference for short prose, the postulate of authenticity and the derisory, the non-mimetic poetics and the postulate of a "new humanism," promoted especially by poets Alexandru Muşina and Călin Vlasie. This postulate was less accepted by the 80s prose writers. Liviu Petrescu sees in the new paradigm "an organic model of postmodernism, not a cosmopolitan one" that "agrees with certain literary traditions and paths of evolution in Romanian literature." Petrescu claims that the literary 80s "constitute not only the most systematic theoretical model of postmodernism created in Romania, but also a version of current interest in the world."27
With respect to the relationships between Romanian modernism and postmodernism, Petrescu speaks about two epistemic categories, one substantiated on the principle of totality and the other on that of plurality. Borrowing the typological system used by Frederic Jameson in Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), Petrescu distinguishes, inside the modernist paradigm, between "early modernism," in which he includes the "scientific novel" and nineteenth-century realism, and "high modernism" or "late modernism" that entails the erosion of the mimetic theory.
Also in quest of local postmodern theoretical and literary points of reference, Crăciun returns to modernism, dissatisfied with the precariousness of the concept. Like Petrescu, Crăciun considers that "modernity as a coherent literary model shapes its characteristics almost simultaneously in poetry and prose during the second half of last century." Yet, in a movement that differs from the binary model proposed by Petrescu, Crăciun opts for a typological description of the modernist poetic model, in which he notices three main lines of force: "the transitive one, direct, denotative, prosaic [...], the reflexive (the Hugo Friedrich – Marcel Raymond – Carlos Bousono model) [...] and the avant-garde,experimental,manneristic,andludic line, where poets such as Tristan Tzara, Pessoa, Raymond Queneau, Peter Handke would fall."28
Perhaps in part due to its recuperative nature, postmodernism is seen both as a "culmination of certain evolutions unleashed during modernism," (Petrescu) and as a vehemently polemical reaction directed to it, initiated "from a vital impulse, from a nearly biological need for normality," as Caius Dobrescu writes in a 1987 essay included in the anthology Competiţia continuă (The Competition Goes On). Without aiming at discussing the concept of posmodernism, Ion Bogdan Lefter29 notices that "while the course of action followed by the 60s generation was rather recuperative than innovative, that of the 80s generation represented the first attempt to go beyond the modernist movement." According to Lefter, the polemical reaction of the writers of the 80s was brought about by an overwhelming feeling associated with the exhaustion of the dominant literary structures. In fact, this was the same feeling that "caused the transition to postmodernism in all the literatures of Europe and America in the last decades." Yet, the innovative course of action of the 80s generation is not strictly nihilistic, but essentially recuperative, as proven by the dialog, still on-going, that the 80s writers maintain with tradition. Even if they reject the literary formulas of the 60s or the 70s the 80s writers propose a new way of reading several important interwar writers, such as M. Blecher, Mateiu I. Caragiale, and Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu as well as their "marginal" contemporaries—the ones marginalized in relationship to the official canon—Gellu Naum, Mircea Ivănescu, Virgil Mazilescu, Leonid Dimov, Radu Petrescu, Mircea Horia Simionescu, Costache Olăreanu, Sorin Titel, and the list could, of course, go on. The natural consequence of rereading is a new configuration of the canon for the Romanian interwar and contemporary literature, which, as time goes on and the attitude of the most important representatives of this generation becomes increasingly radical, will in turn stir up equally diverse and vehement reactions. It should be added here that also very significant in the order of the cultural project offered by this configuration is the writers' preference for the works of a kind of liege lord, Caragiale, in whose “shop” many writers of the 80s writers served their apprenticeship.
Starting from a series of key questions about the way in which the aesthetic profile of the phenomenon takes shape in Eastern European countries, namely "how could/how can something similar to a postmodern symptomology exist in countries with a communist/postcommunist background?" and, therefore, "what can postmodernism mean in a small, marginalized, and isolated country?," Magda Cârneci formulates a hypothesis no less pertinent than interesting. Cârneci sees in "the vogue of postmodernism" that has caught on so fast in countries governed by communist parties, not only a "particular aesthetic way of overcoming aberrant political conditioning, anachronistic social difficulties, artificial cultural barriers," but also "a subtle symptom of a dim premonition of change." The subversive nature of the debate around local postmodernism becomes strikingly visible30 "in the fact that the pluralistic, antimonopolistic outlook, so typical of postmodernism, is possible only on the basis of an acute sense of freedom. But, as enough critics have noticed both from the inside and outside of the communist phenomenon, notwithstanding the countless limitations, constraints, and risks, there has always been a reserve of freedom in communist societies, especially in the arts—a degree of freedom even higher than what the authorities were willing to tolerate."
Certainly, the subversive-political dimension of Romanian postmodernism, like that of other ex-communist countries, contributes to the outlining of particular aesthetic structures, quite different from those of American postmodern literature—and I have in mind, first, the "new humanism" theorized by Muşina and that Petrescu considers a distictive mark of the 80s literary model. Romanian postmodernism is the outcome of a specific horizon of expectations and originates, not so much in an economic and political context, but, as Cârneci notes in her essay, in a series of socio-cultural and psychological causes, among which the opposition to the "new man" projected by the party ideology plays a very significant role. The novelists of the 80s show an unconcealed interest in the authenticity of language and daily life, in the common man, as well as in the highly sophisticated, refined, and erudite one. The "prise de réalité" or the "fidelity of representation," the "direct transmissions" or the "self-reflective standpoint," the "new sensitivity" obsessively geared toward daily experiences and the hustle and bustle of the city, the rediscovery of the human after decades in which literature seemed to be interested exclusively in generic individuals—pure abstractions when they were not mere sums of common places taken over from party propaganda—thispreoccupation with authenticity, detected in all the compartments of human existence, shows, to the highest degree, the symbiosis between the ethic and the aesthetic so characteristic not only of the literature of the 80s, as we see in the writing of Gabriela Adameşteanu who was clearly distinguishing herself as a prose writer at that time.
The question that appears as the title of this chapter—Is there a Romanian postmodernism?— finds an affirmative answer in Mircea Cărtărescu's Postmodernismul românesc (Romanian Postmodernism)31, a defense equally great in scope and objective. A very talented poet and writer of fiction, Cărtărescu offers an original overview of the Romanian literature in a postmodernist interpretation. The main argument in Cărtărescu's study is that "postmodernsim is not only a stage in the evolution of art forms, or only a literary movement, but an interruption of that social order in which the evolution of literary forms and movements is possible, a 'convalescence' following the modernist illusion, made possible by a shift in the civilization, not only in the culture."32
Cărtărescu defends the idea of a "relative independence of culture in marginal areas with respect to the socio-economical and political reality in the same areas," and, based on solid arguments, he does not see the need for establishing a direct relationship between postmodernism and postmodernity, as a postindustrial period; what matters, in Cărtărescu's view, is the fast traffic of ideas able to bring about a substantial change in the world.
An inside observer of the 80s phenomenon, Cărtărescu knows what an impact rock music, the hippie and Flower-power movements, blue-jeans, and television had on the artistic outlook of his generation. The most striking characteristic of the Romanian modernism and its Eastern-European manifestations is precisely the inversion of causalities. As a matter of fact, this is valid for all art movements in the history of Romanian literature, among which modernism in no exception. Even the Maiorescu revolt against form without content is ultimately caused by the perpetual lack of national synchronization between infrastructure and superstructure, which has not prevented Romanian literature—to the contrary, it has been a stimulus—from burning stages, out of an overwhelming desire to keep up to date with western literatures. Cărtărescu seems less convincing seems when, following didactic motivations, he simplifies the relationship modernity-postmodernity, and considers the world during the 50s and 60s "hardly different, in fact, from the interwar world"; and, similarly, when he sees in the 80s movement the first event of post-history. For reasons I have discussed at length elsewhere, I don't believe that what we have been living in the last two decades can be called post-history, as I don't believe the modernity of the 50'-70s and the modernity of the Romnian interwar period have much in common. And I sustain this simply because while Romanian interwar modernity was genuine and in synch with universal modernity, created in a democratic climate and in a socio-political context where the freedom of speech and expression lead to the emergence of diverse literary formulas and structure, while the second (Communist era) modernism of the 60s and the 70s was out of step and nostalgic, atemporal and eclectic from the aesthetic point of view, completely apolitical through its escape into the abstract, and, at the same time, paradoxically, extremely politicized in its attitude, given its opposition to the clear dogmatism of socialist realism. In the name of defending the aesthetic from the encroachments of every-day life, writers, entirely isolated from their fellows in the free world, rediscover interwar literature after several years in which the authors and works of this period had been on the black lists of Communist censors. Therefore, we cannot speak of an option for modernism, but a reflex—motivated, granted, by the nostalgia with which the young writers viewed the interwar period—at a time when any dialogue with the West was cut off and the only alternative in the country was the dogmatism of socialist realism.
Retrospectively, the 80s offer an entirely different intellectual climate, even if the ideological pressure was equally great and the cult of personality reached its climax in those years. A few years of relative relaxation of the system (1964-1971) were enough for barely foreseen freedom to take root, especially in the artistic and academic environments. In fact, the signs of postmodernism must be sought in the student-run literary circles established in the main university centers, Bucharest, Cluj, Timişoara, and Iaşi. Cărtărescu emphasizes their role in modeling the Romanian literary landscape, an emphasis equally underscored in the majority of studies and articles dedicated to the literature of the period. I will not insist on this characteristic of Romanian postmodernism, widely analyzed in nearly all writing about the 80s generation. What I find important is the variety of narrative formulas tried out in that decade. This is what sets 80s novelists apart in from their predecessors a fundamental way. Although Cărtărescu as poet, prose writer, and critic is one of the steadiest promotors of Romanian postmodernsim—Postmodernismul românesc can also be read as a manifesto of the 80s generation, a vehement and at times unfair pro domo defense— he resists the temptation to identify the 80s movement with postmodernism,33 convinced that "like the poets of the 80s, prose writers do not follow a single path either, but are distinct and versatile, 'filling out' the space of contemporary poetics from nearly 'traditionalist' prose to the most advanced avant-garde, dream-like, and postmodern experiences.
Desant '83, a collective manifesto of the new sensitivity, is indicative of the multiple narrative poetics practiced by the 80s writers.34 For 80s prose, its significance is equal to that of Aer cu diamante35 (Air With Diamonds) and Cinci36(Five) in poetry. First of all a prospective anthology, Desant '83 marks, more than the editorial debut of specific writers, the innovative assault that a group of writers, unlike each other but sharing the same desire to invigorate literature, launch on certain literary structures perceived as obsolete. What followed after 1989 is the confirmation and consolidation of the generational project in which the postmodernist direction is amply illustrated. The novels and short stories published by the most representative authors established during the eighth decade undermines gradually but irreversibly the dominant structures of the postwar Romanian prose.
Thus, it seems evident to me that the question raised in the title of this essay can have only an affirmative answer, especially now, nearly two decades after the opening of this debate. I hope at a later date to offer a more nuanced image of the traits of the Romanian postmodernist poetics, both as they stand out in the analysis of some of the most significant works of the 80s, but also in those signed by writers from the School of Tîrgovişte, with whom they have countless (s)elective affinities. Gabriela Adameşteanu's work, located between neorealism şi postmodernim, cannot be ignored either. Both Dimineaţă pierdută (Wasted Morning) and the short stories from Vară-primăvară (Summer-Spring) are major accomplishments of the 80s prose. Moreover, I don't think postmodernism and the 80s phenomenon can be equated, even if the 80s writers played a major role in making the term gain recognition in Romania. The writing experience initiated by representatives of the School of Tîrgovişte—who composed postmodernist texts in the midst of socialist realism as naturally as Monsieur Joudain wrote prose without knowing it—constitutes, in my opinion, the first affirmation of an authentic postmodernist conscience for which the space of the World is mistaken for the space of the Library, for the world is "a book in which every sign sends you to another one," and "to read means to go as far as words lead. And where do words lead? To heaven or earth, to ourselves or the self of the surrounding things, to past and future, to the flight of a bird as well as the depths of a thought." 37
Through the discovery of the paradise of reading at a time when reality was hell, the Tîrgovişte writers find refuge in the Library, imagining books that proclaim martial law on common places and book arsenals, trains loaded with libraries and miraculous remedies taken from newly concocted old manuscripts, ready to heal the pain caused by hard contact with reality. Unlike them, equally fascinated by books but not really willing to withdraw into the library and ignore the world around them, the novelists of the 80s perceive the real as a text that generates itself in constant movement while their own existence—felt as textexistence—is systematically recorded in a laughable daily reality, undistorted by party propaganda.
1 The Romanian revolution took place around Christmas that year.
2 Gheorghe Crăciun, Acte legalizate, Còpii originale, Certified documents, Original copies (Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1982).
3Dialogul în proza scurtă, Dialogue in Short Fiction, 1982, in Gheorghe Crăciun, ed., Competiţia continuă. Generaţia '80 în texte teoretice, The Competition Goes On. The 80s Generation in Theoretical Texts (Piteşti: Paralela 45, 1999) 311. On the same topic, by Mircea Nedelciu, see the following texts published in the same anthology: Dialogul în proza scurtă. Transcriere şi construcţie, Dialogue in Short Fiction. Transcription and Construction (1980), Un nou personaj principal, A New Main Character (1987), Noile structuri şi limbajul, New Structures and Language (1988).
4Autenticitatea ca metodă de lucru, Authenticity as Work Method, in Gheorghe Crăciun, ed., op. cit.:271-272.
5Towards a Postmodern Literature (New York: Oxfort UP, 1982).
6Arhipelagul '70-'80 şi noul flux, The '70-'80 Archipelago and The New Tide: 215-216.
7Idem, Conul de umbră, The Cone of Shade (1983) 317-320.
8Idem, Proza tinerilor – încotro? The Prose of the Young—Where To? (1983) 329-331.
9 Zumthor's Definition – "The inclusion of passages under the form of insertions or tropes in a classical text” – is quoted by Nicolae Iliescu in his text. (See infra, note 4).
10Proza tinerilor – încotro? The Prose of the Young—Where To? (1983), in Gheorghe Crăciun, ed., op. cit.: 331-333.
11Idem, 333-334.
12Idem, 335-336.
13Idem, Mobius Strip (1984), op. cit.:14-17.
14Idem, Cititorul, The Reader (1985), Acţiunea textuală, Textual Action (1989) 293-304.
15 Idem, Compendiu despre noua proză, Compendium About the New Prose: 246-252.
16 Matei Călinescu, Five Faces of Modernity (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987) 303-304.
17 Bucharest: Albatros, 1984.
18 Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1984.
19Literatura română postbelică. Lista lui Manolescu, Postwar Romanian Literature. Manolescu's List, vol. 2 – Proza. Teatrul, Prose. Theater, (Braşov: Aula, 2001) 275.
20 I must point out that I am not interested here in the "innocent" uses or the personal meanings of the word, which, as a matter of fact, can be found quite often in the literary press of the 80s. These occurrences have been analyzed by Ion Bogdan Lefter in Fişe pentru analiza unui concep ( Index Cards for the Analysis of a Concept), published in two stages,both in 1986, and republished in Gheorghe Crăciun, ed., op. cit.. I will return to this article in the following pages and in Postmodernism. Din dosarul unei „bătălii culturale/ Postmodernism. From the Archives of a Cultural Battle (Piteşti: Paralela 45, 2000).
21 Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990.
22Mitul ieşirii din criză, The Myth of Coming Out of Crisis, in Caiete critice, Critical notebooks, 1-2 (1986): 78-92.
23Postmodernismul – un model (cultural) oportun?, Postmodernsim—A Timely (Cultural) Model?, in Gheorghe Crăciun, ed., op. cit.: 388-394.
24 Republished in Gheorghe Crăciun, ed., ed. cit.: 423-441.
25Ed. cit.: 423-441
26 In Euresis journal, nr. cit.
27 In Poetica postmodernismului, The Poetics of Postmodernsim (Piteşti: Paralela 45,1996) 143, 148.
28 In Între modernism şi postmodernism, Between Modernism and Postmodernism, art. cit.: 22.
29 In Introducere în noua poetică a prozei, Introduction to the New Poetics of Prose (1989), in Gheorghe Crăciun, ed.,Competiţia continuă, The Competition Goes On, ed. cit.: 223.
30Dezbaterea în jurul postmodernismului în România anilor '80, The Debate Around Postmodernism in Romania During the 1980s (1994), in Magda Cârneci, Arta anilor 80. Texte despre postmodernism, Arts in the 80s. Texts About Postmodernism (Bucharest: Litera, 1995) 99.
31 Bucharest: Humanitas, 1999.
32Idem: 207.
33Idem: 404.
34 Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1983, Introd. Ov. S. Crohmălniceanu.
35 Mircea Cărtărescu, Traian T. Coşovei, Florin Iaru, Ion Stratan,Aer cu diamante, Air with Diamonds (Bucharest: Litera, 1980).
36 Romulus Bucur, Bogdan Ghiu, Ion Bogdan Lefter, Mariana Marin, Alexandru Muşina, Cinci, Five (Bucharest: Litera, 1982).
37 Costache Olăreanu, Cu cărţile pe iarbă, With the Cards on the Grass (Bucharest: Editura Militară, 1986) 46.

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This July, The Observer Translation Project leaves its usual format to present a special CRISIS ISSUE. Things are tough all over. Hard Times suddenly feels like the book of the moment. The global economic crisis impacts life as we know it, and viewed from Bucharest the effects reverberate in domains that include geo-politics and publishing in Romania and abroad, with the crisis at The Observer Translation Project as an instance of a universal phenomenon. read more...

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