Tracing the Gaze in the fiction of Gheorghe Craciun

Gheorghe Crăciun | September 01, 2008
Critic: Carmen Muşat


Because the gaze plays a central role in postmodernist fiction, description takes over many narrative functions. What is seen and how a character looks at reality is a recurrent obsession. Visual imagination doubles and augments narrative subjectivity. Here, as in Roland Barthes and Alain Robbe-Grillet, the objective is the object focused on, the one toward which or whom the gaze is directed. With the eyes that perceive the object as the most important element in the fiction, narrative space comes to be generated by a complex interplay of views. The subject disseminates him or herself into the disparate fragments of the world by looking at the surrounding reality. Postmodernism therefore replaces the intimate, solitary, coherent subject of Romanticism and Modernism with a rhyzomatic subject, de-centered and multiple, whose origins are to be found in the baroque age .
Begin with Leibnitz. For Leibniz, reality is performance in the theatrical sense, an illusion (produced by a set of rules and techniques described by Andrea Pozzo [1642-1709] in his treaty on perspective in painting and architecture1.) As person and as character, the baroque individual is therefore sited in the very center of what seems to be a never ending “reality show,” in which he is both actor and spectator, free to assume any role. The postmodern character inherits the passion for theatricality and for successive metamorphosis and anamorphosis from the baroque. Since his reality is an illusion and a show, his life resides in “the eye,” the main portal that leads toward the external and the inner worlds. This single intersection between the two spectacle-spaces it is the point where reality and fiction come together. Simultaneous recipient and producer of the illusion called “reality,” the eye reveals and conceals as well. And thus it is that in the postmodernist narrative we have as much reality as fiction and as much fiction as reality –another point in common with the baroque.
Commenting upon the “aesthetics of heterogeneity and transition” in the baroque period, Giovanni Careri2 underlines the corporeal pattern of sensibility and intellect in aesthetic mimesis. The same corporeal pattern is to be found in the magnificent descriptions of landscape in Compositions with Unequal Parallels by Gheorghe Craciun (Composititon aux parallèles inégales, translated by Odile Serre, Maurice Nadeau, 2001). Rewriting the antique novel Daphnis and Chloe, Craciun conceives the landscape as an extension of the characters and enhances the essential (or constitutive) role of the sensitive body within the fictional universe. For Craciun, as for Merleau-Ponty, the body does not find itself within a space but it is made of space, and there is barely any distance between the body that perceives and the world that is perceived. Each and every perception is an embodied perception, dependent on a context that derives both from the real world and from one’s own body. In such a context, the eye is not merely a bridge connecting the inner world of the body with the world outside3, it is the point in where two “realities” meet and contaminate.
In Craciun’s realm, seeing the world means inventing its material consistency, starting with bodily sensations, and that is precisely what Daphnis does in Craciun’s novel. In Épure pour Longus, Daphnis and Chloe are the two main reflectors of the world, and it is through their sensitive bodies that the world is constituted. The sensory experience has as an immediate result the creation of a possible world in which the gaze plays a crucial role: „Souvenirs, rêveries, Daphnis racontait son histoire, elle l’écoutait et se représentait tout ce qu’elle entendait, mais ses yeux ne pouvaient oublier son corps nu, sa beauté et la fraîcheur de la source dans laquelle elle aussi s’était baignée. Souvenirs – rameaux poussant sous le ciel de cette histoire. Elle l’avait vu, plus enfant qu’il ne paraissait, plus vigoureux que ne le laisseraient entendre les vêtements qui le couvraient, fier et plein de charme, souple et délicat, ignorant de ce qu’il avait, indifférent à ce qu’il était. Et depuis lors? Elle-même ne comprenait pas ce qui se passait. Le feu, la glace et les heures sans sommeil. L’attente du matin, pour retrouver son compagnon, ses paroles, son chant, ses cheveux ébouriffés, son sourire, son nom. Tantôt elle pleurait, tantôt elle riait, elle fermait les yeux et se réveillait en sursaut, elle était blême, elle était rouge comme le feu quand elle le regardait, quand elle l’entendait, elle était dénuée de force ou bien plus vive que jamais, incitant Daphnis à l’attraper quand elle courait sur le sentier qui descend vers la mer.“4
In describing the world, the author focuses on the synaesthetic perception that reveals the way senses intercommunicate, giving us only a hint of the all-embracing depth of the lovers gaze5. What we have here is a symphony of perceptions that does not describe a landscape, but imagine it – that is it transfers the external world into a subjective image of it (ekphrasis would be a proper term for this transfer). The sumptuous materiality of colors, sounds, tastes and smells of the real world is translated into words with a powerful evocative effect. But is there really such a thing as “the real world”, or this is just an intersection of embodied perception and external stimuli? In his poetic prose, Craciun exalted the corporeal vision of reality produced by what I think to be a “fusion of images” since reality is “in the eye of the beholder”. In his pages, description undertakes many of the functions of narrative and in rewriting the novel of Longos, Craciun succeeded to maintain the epic dimension of the antique story while enhancing the role of description. What distinguishes the postmodernist rewriting from the antique narrative is precisely the emergent subjectivity that fully articulates the actual narrative. Such sensitive and at the same cognitiveagency is the ground of experience from which the perceived and the imagined world derives its own “reality”. The speculative goal of my paper will thus be to suggest that the intensity of the gaze determines the “aesthetic quality” of the real world, which is in fact its complex corporeality. Daphnis and Chloe have a bodily relationship with the surrounding world that they perceive with all their senses. The discourse of desire is an indirect one, since erotic desire transgresses the boundaries of being and seems to overflow into nature. For Daphnis to be in love with Chloe means to sense the whole world as part of his own self, his whole being spreading all over the perceived space. In Daphnis’ mind, memories and reveries mingle with new perceptions, while Chloe’s eyes do rememberwhat they have seen moments before (see p. 37). Visual memory functions as a filter for the objects of the perceived world and has a major contribution to the shaping of it.
Gheorghe Craciun subverts the idea of authorship by challenging text’s paternity and genre – is this a pastoral and if the answer is yes, then we have to redefine the notion of pastoral, adding a new subjective dimension to it – and by attributing the rewriting of the antique novel to one of his characters. Craciun’s method consists in diegetic fidelity and stylistic infidelity, since for him the novel is no longer a mirror carried along a road, but a resonant space where echoes of life and of literature, of inner an external world mingle and interact. Through rhetoric devices he transforms the well-known heroes of Longos into contemporary lovers for whom their senses are the only measure of reality. Furthermore, where Longos offers a story, highlighting the erotic initiation of Daphnis and Chloe, Craciun reveals the ontological dimension of eros.
Craciun repeatedly confesses that for him writing is an adventure of body searching, a desperate quest for an irreducible corporeality that may even coincide with my real person. Rewriting the novel of Longos, the Romanian writer “fills the gaps” of the antique text, not only by expanding some episodes that were slightly outlined in it, but by imagining a world exultant with sensuality. Daphnis does not just look at the world surrounding him, since it is his gaze that produces and transforms each and every element within it. There is no tension and no distance between sense perception and rationality in this fiction engendered by an embodied mind.
Throughout his Épure pour Longus Craciun involves a hybrid of languages with a particular dynamics, combining several types of amorous discourses ranging from the love elegy to the soliloquies of tragic heroes, from Sapphic lyrics (inserted into these pages) to pastoral and idyllic structures. Both Daphnis and Chloe have an aesthetic attitude toward each other and toward the world surrounding them and this is due to their love. Theirs is a discourse of desire revealing the aesthetic dimension of a corporeal space that is external and internal at the same time. Like the lover’s self, the world he or she is looking at becomes fluid, since love is the ultimate transgression and the most powerful way of finding out the truth about our tight relationship to nature. The whole body participates to produce the world it is a part of. In her very provocative study on discourses of desire, Linda S. Kauffman suggests that “the aim of all amorous discourses is to (…) explore a theory of knowledge based on the senses – loving as a way of knowing.”6 I shall add that loving is not only a way of knowing, but a way of exploring the depth of surfaces as well. In Craciun the body of the beloved has a textual dimension that the narrator is systematically exploring, thus blurring the boundaries between narrative and lyrics, exteriority and interiority, rational and sensual image, fictional and corporeal discourse: „Alors, quittant le sable humide, il se lève et le souvenir disparaît, l’esprit reste vide, le corps avance, bouge un bras, pose un pied, respire, entend et voit, le corps marche et laisse des traces, traverse l’air, les vagues palpitant à l’oreille, les couleurs griffues, l’ocre sombre des rochers, le jaune violacé, le blanc léger, le vert pâle et noir, roux et bleuâtre, l’herbe et les taches des fleurs, les petits calices et les lances, les grains brillants et les houppes desséchées, les digitales duveteuses, les arcs bruns aux épis écailleux, les langues fines et fragiles, les paumes rondes, les branches, les chapeaux et les ombres en gerbe, tige après tige et un bouquet près de l’autre, enchevêtrée et libre, bigarrée, lasse, enivrante, agitée par le vent, la végétationde la colline domine à présent l’inertie du regard. Il monte le sentier, s’arrête, l’œil regarde alentour. L’ œil tressaille, la pulsation du sang se fait tremblante, les buissons finissent doucement de brûler, un petit vent vif souffle, fumée, crépitements, silence. Ils sont venus et sont repartis. Les restes moribonds du feu, des cadavres de brebis, des traînées noires, sales, de sang, l’herbe brûlée, un désert. Il devrait s’approcher, tirer son couteau de sa ceinture, des ventres lacérés, la nacre de l’intérieur recouverte de graisse, écorchés, l’odeur chaude, écœurante, alourdissant la respiration. Des peaux sapoudrées de sel étendues à sécher.7
Gheorghe Craciun posits a significant identity between body and text, encoding in a postmodernist narrative – with its pregnant sensuous and lyrical intensity – the themes and structures of antique pastoral. It is this very image of a labyrinth of fictions and embodied perceptions that singles out Craciun’s novel within contemporary Romanian prose.
1 Andrea Pozzo, Perspectiva pictorum et arhitectorum (2 volumes, 1693, 1698).
2 Giovanni Careri, Artistul, in Omul baroc, Rosario Villari (editor), translated by Dragos Cojocaru, Polirom, 2000, p. 314.
3 Merleau-Ponty speaks about this inseparability of the object and the subject of perception: „The thing, and the world, are given to me along with parts of my body, not by ‚natural geometry’, but in a living connection comparable, or rather identical, with that existing between the parts of my body itself.” (in Phenomenology of Perception, translated by Colin Smith, Routledge, 1996, p. 205)
4 In Gheorghe Craciun, Composition aux parallèles inégales, traduit du roumain par Odile Serre, Maurice Nadeau, 2001, p 37.
5 It is worth citing here Merleau-Ponty’s remarks on synaesthesia as „relevant to the phenomenal body as a vehicle of being in the world” (ibid., p. 229)
6 Kauffman, Discourses of Desire: Gender, Genre, and Epistolary Fictions, Cornell University Press, 1988, pp. 60-61. She explains the way amorous epistolary discourse „substitutes ‚an unheardof’ language of the body as sign, as figure, as alphabet, as style”. Moreover, commenting upon Ovid’s Heroides, Kauffman considers that Ovid „offers a poetics that links the female body to style, postures and poses to composition, and sexual to textual pleasure.”
7 Craciun, op.cit., p. 115-116.

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