Study sustained at the XVIth International Symposium of Science, Theology and Arts, ISSTA 2017, at Alba-Iulia, May 8-9, 2017: ARS LITURGICA - From the Image of Glory to the Images of the Idols of Modernity,
and published in the proceedings of the symposium (pp. 327-338, Editura Reîntregirea, Alba Iulia, 2017)
1. Introduction: What is Poetry? The Classical Paradigm
In order to understand the situation of contemporary poetry, we should remind the essence of poetic creation in its classic paradigm and the changes of this paradigm from classicism to modernism and postmodernism.
In its essence, poetry is the freest of the arts, because it is the least related to a material support. In our times, when arts are increasingly subservient to technology, poetry remains the art that is the least subject to industrialization. Being the least dependent on technology, poetry is the most free art and, by the other hand, the art that most faithfully reflects the inner aspirations of the creator's ego. Therefore, at least since modernity, poetry is the art that best reflects the trends of the creative spirit and the state of mind of a particular epoch. Progressive industrialization of society has deepened this feature. Thus, poetry is the art that most directly reflects "the avatars of the (sacred) image", a fact that is specific to the phenomenology of postmodernity. So, until nowadays, poetry is the best spiritual barometer of an epoch, and the best indicator of the relationship between the individual and the symbolic world in a certain cultural epoch. The desemantisation, that is the break of the relation with the symbol, specific to the phenomenology of postmodernity, reflects particularly accurate in contemporary poetry.
This substantial change of paradigm from classicism to modernism and postmodernism is closely bound with the change of the paradigm of the author. The role and social responsibility of the writer, especially of the poet, had radically changed in the last three centuries.
The classical (or so-called traditional) paradigm, issued in Greek Antiquity, considers the poet to be the prophet, the visionary, the minstrel, and the spiritual educator of the society. His moral influence and contribution to the coagulation of local and national cultures were very significant. Such models have crystallized in Greek and Roman Antiquity, and they continued in the European Middle Ages, up to Romanticism; but we find them practically the same in Eurasian and Far Eastern cultures and everywhere in traditional cultures. This classical model penetrated with minimal changes until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Europe, up to the literary Avant-garde trends.
The quasi sacerdotal elevation of the author, proclaimed in Antiquity, continued almost unchanged until modernity. We can enumerate consistent lists of very different landmark authors, from very different epochs and cultures (from Homer and Ovidius to Hafiz, from Petrarca, Shakespeare, Goethe, Byron and Victor Hugo, to Shota Rustaveli, Sayat Nova and the japanese Basho, from Pushkin and Lermontov to Eminescu and Lucian Blaga). Their common denominator is the artistic genious, materialized in the ability to access and synthesize the permanent spiritual values, but also the civic consciousness, the feeling of responsibility for the peoples and countries they belonged to, and sometimes the responsibility for the whole humankind. Sometimes the image of the prophet-poet was replaced by that of the citizen-poet or the poet-as-a-hero, or all the three were joined into a single image of the exemplary poet, the poet par excellence (like Byron, Sayat Nova, both Pushkin and Lermontov, and Eminescu). That’s why their strong artistic personality was able to irradiate through ages and cultural borders, and to enrich with elevated ideals the cultural and moral climate of their epoch, and even of subsequent ages.
2. A More Recent History of (East-European) Poetry
2.1. The Conservation of the Traditional Paradigm
Even in the twentieth century, important artists, and especially poets and writers, have morally supported with their talent, courage and personality the resistance against the totalitarian regimes from Cuba to Spain, Eastern Europe and Africa. Many of them have paid a high price for their heroism; in Eastern Europe, especially in the years of the bolshevik dictature (like Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Boris Pasternak in the USSR, Ciabua Amiredjibi in Soviet Georgia, Radu Gyr, Sandu Tudor, Dinu Pillat, Nichifor Crainic and other poets of the communist prisons in Romania, and so on).
But the model of the Citizen-poet did not dissapear together with the violent opression of the totalitarian regimes. It survived in the period of political thaw, when the opression was not evident, but was still present, being perceived through the censorship, which controlled all the fields of the culture. During the Thaw of the seventies in Romania and the Perestroika of the eighties in the USSR, the dissident poets and writers and the bard-poets appeared (like Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotski in the USSR, Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Adrian Paunescu and Ana Blandiana in Romania, and so on). Despite the fact they dared to criticise the regime in their poems and songs (a courage which before was paid with jail or even with life), they were tolerated by the communist regime, as long as their critique was benign, that is was moderated and did not manifest too often; and as long as their critique did not urge to social rebellion, but only to a certain revival of society and exit from the lethargy, into which the brutality of the proletcultist regime had thrown it. In order to protect their image of democratic regimes (the so-called “socialist democracy”), the communist ideological apparatuses realized that they need the disident poets and bards. It is true that some of them had to make small compromises with the regime, but still kept their voice, their identity and ability to inspire the masses. This period of relative freedom of expression in the Eastern Block led to the synchronization with the Western European artistic trends.
In Romanian poetry, this led to the birth of the generation of the eighties, which nourished from a civic and artistic paradigm, that was radically different to that of the “Citizen-poets”. They were anti-heroic, apolitical, not socially subservient, and were allergic to the so-called “engaged art”, but also to the humanist and metaphysical ideals of the previous generations. They cultivated the so-called “concrete poetry”, as the artists inspired by pop art and abstract expresionsm cultivated concrete art. A fragmentary poetry, operating with fragments of reality, drawn from the immediate proximity of the poet, and cut off from any symbolic or metaphysical connection. A pseudo-automatic dictee, close to that that was practiced by some avant-garde poets, but lacking the enthusiasm and the overflowing eccentricities of the former. The forthcoming poetic trend of fragmentarism will inspire from here.
2.2. The Opposite, Anti-iconic Paradigm
The situation radically changed since the fall of the communism in the Eastern-European Block: since the freedom of speach was now for all, the disident artist and the hero-poet were no more needed! Their myth increased for a short time, together with the declassification of the Security records, but declined gradually and irreversibly. After the 90s, the model of the “Citizen-poet” hopelessly fall into desuetude. The prominent poetic personalities of the sixties and the seventies (like Marin Sorescu, Ștefan-Augustin Doinaș, Cezar Ivănescu, Mircea Ivănescu, Ioan Alexandru, Dan Verona) were still active and influential, but they were growing old, and, step by step, some of them physically disappeared from the literary scene, or felt into silence (like Dan Verona). So, their place was taken by the newcomers. A few “veterans” succedet do adapt to the new epoch of freedom of expression, generated by the social and politic freedom (like Nora Iuga, Ana Blandiana, Mircea Dinescu – for a short time). The best adapted those, whose poetic programme did not contain political, nor social goals. But even so, after the nineties the public audience of the poetic discourse considerably diminished. And, despite the freedom of the publishing, the circulation and visibility of the books and magazines that published poetry considerably decreased.
The generation of the eighties, continued with “the poets of the nineties” and the so-called “poets of the year two thousand” (“douamiiști”), expressed now freely in post-communist Romania, practically without any ideological, nor artistic opposition. Despite they did not distinguish too much from each other, despite the fact they never gained a numerous public, they gradually conquered the university chairs, the editorial boards of the literary magazines, penetrated into the juries of poetry contests and into the organising boards of the new-born poetry festivals. All this tacit, but rather aggressive self-promotion was made under the banner of generational cliques (in accordance with the unwritten law “who is not with us is against us”), and not on the basis of the artistic abilities of the new poets and of their power of vision – attributes, which they programmatically avoided, for the simple reason that they (the atributes) would have been disqualified them. So, gradually, they became the most visible and the best internationally promoted Romanian poets, the official trend and landmark of contemporary Romanian poetry abroad. And all these, under the banner of no political or social commitment, and under a dogma of artistic laxity and “democracy”, as pretended forms of freedom of thought and expression.
3. Two Case Studies of the Anti-iconic Paradigm
3.1. Marius Ianuș, Dumitru Crudu and “The Fracturist Manifesto”
But how sounds this dogma? Of course, there is not a unique code. Here is, for example, a fragment of a manifesto of the geneation of “nineties” (“nouăzeciști”), “The Fracturist Manifesto”, signed by the poets Marius Ianuș and Dumitru Crudu, the initiators of the “fracturist” trend in Romania. It was initially published in Monitorul de Braşov in October 19981 1. Like most literary manifestoes of the twentieth century (because those of the XXI century are much less), it is full of pretentious and radical formulas, contradicting each other in the following paragraphs, of authorial vanities and spirit of revenge against the previous generation, of the “poets of the eighties”, but also it contains historical and autobiographical inaccuracies or mystifications. However, it was treated seriously by the literary critics, who did not note the abundent and hilarious “logical fractures” of the “Fracturist Manifesto”.
For example, the current claims to be apolitical, more precisely, “anarchist”, but repeatedly uses Marxist terminology, criticizing the “petty bourgeois” spirit of the generation of its predecessors. The current criticizes the previous generation of poets for their “outdated, but fixed ideas”, but invokes himself Marxist ideas, which are also “fixed” for those who cultivate them now, especially in Eastern post-comunist Europe, and also “outdated”, since the generation of Louis Aragon and Vladimir Maiakovski (to which the authors of the “Manifesto” even do not refer, to define their separation). Ignoring its illustrious, but forgotten predecessors, so, the ideological reality from which it issues, the current pretends to be “a literary reflection of a new reality”. So, like other postmodern subtrends, it ignores his predecessors during the historical Avanguard, identifying only its synchronous influences (contemporary Polish and Eastern-European poetry in general). The authors of the Manifesto believe that Fracturism was “the first model of a radical break to postmodernism”, ignoring their affiliation de facto to this meta-current, since they define it as cultivating the fragmentation and the concrete, immediate reality – essential features for postmodernism. Finally, the authors of the Manifesto exhibit a typical and non-original allergy to culture as a source of poetic creation, as did all the Avant-gardists, ignoring, once again, their historical predecessors.
And the examples of logical inadvertencies and lack of originality can continue. But that isn’t the problem. The problem is that, under this mask of opportunism with Marxist polishing, hides the egoistic cult of auctorial, limited ego and the cult of the sensorial reality, as the only reality, both raised at the rank of literary dogma, ignoring man's connection with the universe, with his ancestors, and ultimately with the Divine. All these small impostures or sightlessnesses lead, in the plan of artistic creation, to the loss of the iconic dimension of the poetry.
Here are more arguments to this idea, extracted from the texts of the second signatory of the Manifesto, the Bessarabian poet Dumitru Crudu. As the renowned literary critic Marin Mincu observes, Dumitru Crudu states that “fracturism ... considers that no sacrament is hidden in everyday life” and “refuses to bind the immediate to a mythological world”, since “nothing can no longer be related to other things, because only what can be seen exists”2.
This iconoclastic, anti-metaphysical and antireligious perspective is fully valorised by Marius Ianuș, a poet who will have later the power to embrace faith and even become a brother in an Orthodox monastery2; but not to the religious age of his life we are referring here, but to his debut period, which was fully enrolled in the Romanian postmodern trends (assumed or not as such) of the years 1999-2000. His poetic approach from the first two volumes, which imposed him, entitled „Hartie igienica“ (“Hygienic Paper”, 1999) and „Manifest anarhist si alte fracturi“ (“Anarchist Manifesto and Other Fractures”, (2000), is analyzed by the literary critic Mihai Iovănel. He compares Marius Ianuș’s writing with that of the American poet Allen Ginsberg3, observing his “broad rhetoric, based on [...] a shocking, ideological, paranoid sincerity" [...]. In particular, a sequence of the first poem, entitled “Romania”, from his second volume, “provoked scandal, given the hardcore erotic register in which the poet, simultaneously projected in the violator and the vulnerable victim, approximates the image of the homeland, as Ginsberg in his poem “America””- the literary critic comments.
“Such verses and others, even stronger, although preceded by poets like Daniel Bănulescu and Mihai Gălățanu, provoked numerous outraged reactions […] Marius Ianuș' character is disputed relatively equally by neuropathy, uncensored aggression and chronic depression, by social and sexual fantasies: a member of the generation lost in the dawn of the post-communist transition, practicing self-analysis in the form of “shameful songs”. The criticics were, in the first instance, disoriented by the self-referentiality of Marius Ianus, who introduces in his verses, in a hip-hop style, the most trivial sketches of personal reality”3.
3.2. The Case of Mihai Gălățanu
Another case, typical of the deformation, up to mutilation and sacrilegy, of the word and of the image of man, of the homeland and of God, is that of Mihai Gălățanu. Debuted in 1983 and holder of two national poetry awards, the poet gained his visibility as a result of the scandal caused by his volume “A Night with Motherland and Romania with Nonsense” (“O noapte cu Patria și România cu prostii”, Vinea Publishing House, 2001). The violent sub-urban vocabulary and the dense pornographic imagery, simultaneously attacking the image of love, of the woman, and of the Motherland, made the tour of the literary press of the time. The poet, supported by most influential literary critics, like Nicolae Manolescu, Alex Stefanescu and Gheorghe Grigurcu, was labeled as “satanist” by the critic Octavian Soviany. All these had only increased his prestige and opened to him the doors into the most comfortable positions of the literary world. The quoting of his lyrics within this symposium, but also on the written page in general, is impossible, even for even for immune and experienced readers, for reasons of minimal decency.
However, even his former defender, Alex Ştefănescu, reveals the increasingly abusive sacrileges that Mihai Gălăţanu uses to maintain his top position on the front page of literary magazines. Quote:
“The title of Mihail Gălăţanu's last book, “The Memorial of Pleasure” (Coresi & ASB Publishing, 2000) is an impiety.) The author makes a cheap game of words starting from a TV series that shook consciousness. The title was taken from a poem in which Mihail Gălăţanu, equally uninspired, finds a similarity between the paroxystic voluptuousness, generators of groans, of the sexual intercourse, and the tortures of the political prisoners in the communist prisons. […] The author has specialized in writing such texts to scandalize readers. He has done, as it is known, even from the homeland, the heroine of an imaginary pornographic film, drawing upon him the flashes of anger of the public opinion. Recently, a police officer even wanted to prosecute him, but the literary world reacted promptly, defending the terrifying poet”4.
Unfortunately, on the background of social depression and moral disorientation of the post-decembrist transition, both quoted cases created numerous precedents in recent Romanian poetry, even generating in the young poets the fixed idea that injuries to human, moral and national values, are the firm recipe for literary success. This has further diminished the climate of uncertainty, void of values and decadence of the today Roman literature.
Fortunately, however, this dangerous paradigm shift did not cancell the classical poetic paradigm, but just has put it into shade. From this shade, the classical paradigm of the creator launches challenges to postmodern paradigm, as in an invisible war, a spiritual war, led on the territory of arts.
This invisible war concerned us in this study. Operating a few brief comments on two opposite trends in Romanian poetry from the postwar period to the present, we tried to detect the anthropological model that underpins them. For the creative act is determined, beyond the factual material and the ideas of an epoch, by the relationship of the creative ego with his self, with his fellows and with God. Ultimately, the poetic creation highlights the relationship of the creative ego with the Divine Logos: a relationship either of dialogue, either corrupted by the isolationist or even sacrilegious monologue of the artist.
1. Dumitru Crudu, Marius Ianuş, „Manifestul Fracturist”, Suplimentul de marți al ziarului Observator de Constanţa, no. 85-86, 5 iunie 2001, http://asalt.tripod.com/a_086.htm / 10.04.2017.
3. Marin Mincu, „Fracturismul poetic – o negaţie neoavangardistă a optzeciştilor”, Suplimentul de marți al ziarului Observator de Constanța, http://asalt.tripod.com/a_086.htm / 10.04.2017.
4. Marius Ianuș, „De la Fracturism la Dumnezeu, Rezumatul conferinţei ţinută la Biblioteca Bucovinei din Suceava”, https://yanush.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/de-la-fracturism-la-dumnezeu / 10.04.2017.
5. An american poet, a leading figure of the Beat Generation and an energic promoter of the homosexuals’ rights.
6. Mihai Iovanel, “Marius Ianuș, de la „hârtie igienică“ la „fularul alb“”, Revista Cultura, nr. 347 din 27-octombrie-2011, http://revistacultura.ro/nou/2011/10/marius-ianus-de-la-%E2%80%9Ehartie-igienica%E2%80%9C-la-%E2%80%9Efularul-alb%E2%80%9C/) / 10.04.2017.
7. Claudia Minela, “Mihai Gălăţanu îşi aniversează ziua cu prietenii, amintindu-şi” (“Mihai Gălăţanu celebrates her day with friends, remembering”), Bocancul literar.ro, undated, http://www.bocancul-literar.ro/Forms/CreatieLiterara/DetaliiCreatie.aspx?id=28676 / 10.04.2017.
8. București, Coresi & ASB Publishing, 2000.
9. Lucia Hossu-Longin, „Memorialul durerii”, Romanian Television (TVR).
10. Alex. Ștefănescu, “Mihail Gălăţanu has lost his patience”, România Literară, no. 36/2000, http://www.romlit.ro/mihail_glanu_i-a_pierdut_rbdarea / 10.04.2017.