Structuralism in Romania

Sorin Alexandrescu

Translated by Andreea Paris-Petre, Alistair Ian Blyth

pp. 1

Publication details

Full citation:

Alexandrescu, S. (2019). Structuralism in Romania. Acta Structuralica 3, pp. 1.

Structuralism in Romania Alexandrescu Sorin; Archiving of XML in sdvig press database Open Commons December 6, 2019, 1:01 pm

Historical introduction1

1Having been born in Romania, where I lived for many years, I used to think that everything that came from the Soviet Union would end up being merely yet another economic, political or cultural burden on the country. At that time the only sources of inspiration we countenanced were alternatives to communism springing from internal democratic developments such as those that took place in Hungary during the 1956 Revolution, which Romanian students, including colleagues of mine, unsuccessfully attempted to support in a tank-surrounded University square in Bucharest, and in Czechoslovakia during the peaceful 1968 Prague Spring. Such reforms, despite their initial official approval, were later shrewdly hijacked by Nicolae Ceauşescu, General Secretary of the Communist Party at the time and later President of Romania. Some of them, greeted with considerable public expectation, nevertheless survived as a real cultural opening to western values and alternative sources of inspiration abroad.

2Much to our surprise, Ceaușescu even released the pre-communist-period intellectuals who filled the country’s prisons, and distanced himself from the Soviet Union by implementing a national type of communism. His regime allowed contacts with the West (within limits), permitted the circulation of a number of international publications, and did not censor general scientific and artistic debate, although keeping it under close surveillance. In July 1971, however, Ceaușescu reinstated ‘Party control’ over society and culture, while still allowing, to a certain extent, Romanians to travel to the rest of Europe and permitting European books and ideas to circulate within Romania. This ‘grey communism’, which was neither Stalinist nor democratic in the Dubček sense of the word, but which rather drifted in a nationalist direction, was to be maintained until the democratic revolution of 1989, which led to the overthrow of the Ceaușescu regime and the reintegration of Romania within a politically and culturally liberal Europe.

3This political thaw led to a reduction in the use of the previous Marxist political jargon and also, I think, fostered a greater awareness of the use and abuse of language in society in general and in literature in particular. This may be said to have been the social background in the 1960s, when there was a sudden revival of interest in the study of poetic language, including the older stylistics.

4As the modernising Romania of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was influenced by France, Germany, and, to a lesser extent, Italy, most of the country’s historians, anthropologists and linguists were less inclined toward Central and Eastern European languages and therefore read Russian, Polish and Czech authors only in translation. I should state from the outset that this was a major difference between Romanian structuralism and the structuralism that developed in the Slavic countries. Moreover, the careers of Brancusi and Tzara in France, as well as those of numerous other Romanian artists and writers, prove that both before and after 1918, the French and German route whereby the Romanian avant-garde was disseminated to the rest of Europe also worked in the opposite direction. Such was the case later in the century, when Romanian philosophers, anthropologists or linguists, such as Tudor Vianu,2 Mihai Pop,3 Alexandru Rosetti,4 and Iorgu Jordan,5 travelled to France or Germany to assimilate new European trends, subsequently returning to pass down the new knowledge to their own students. This process of transmission was by no means automatic, but in both directions it included many new trends and these I shall try to highlight in the following.

Modern Poetics and Literary Criticism

5The term ‘poetics’ was understood in various ways in Romania in the 1960s and 70s. In the beginning, this catch-all term was limited only to the proper sense as employed by Roman Jakobson, but later its meanings expanded to include other verbal approaches to texts, ranging from post-war stylistics (Tudor Vianu) to linguistic analysis of literary texts (Al. Rosetti, Al. Niculescu), anthropology (Mihai Pop, who, in a way, followed on from Lévi-Strauss), narratology (Barthes, Greimas, Tzvetan Todorov), and even general semiotics (Barthes and Greimas, again, but also Bakhtin, Lotman, Kristeva and, to a lesser extent, Peirce) and the American ‘New Criticism’ (Wellek and Warren). The Romania of the 1960s and (in part) the 1970s absorbed these different approaches without separating their followers into rival ‘schools of thought’. Collaboration and mutual tolerance were the rule, rather than polemics, because all affiliated researchers felt they first of all had to defend a common (new) ground of research against not only conservative Marxists, who were interested only in propaganda, but also older proponents of the traditional ‘aesthetic criticism,’ who were obsessed with the expression of the ‘beautiful’ in poetry and prose or in art in general, as in the criticism propounded by Valéry and Croce, among others, or by Romanians Eugen Lovinescu6 and, in particular, George Călinescu.7 The latter two critics fervently sought the expression and intuitive experience of the beautiful while simultaneously advocating an urban prose and opposing other cultural trends centred mainly on traditional, rural, and Orthodox values. Interestingly enough, both of these interwar attitudes resurfaced during the communist period, albeit having been adapted to the new political context. The place of traditionalism was taken by Party literature in the 1950s and by made-to-order nationalist literature after 1971, aimed at a lowbrow mass readership. The old criticism was passed down to a whole series of admirers, led by the subtle Nicolae Manolescu8 and the less subtle Eugen Simion,9 who took on the role of strongly upholding the principles of aesthetic criticism, as well as a type of literature that ‘reflected the reality’ of socialism in a comprehensible, but also implicitly disapproving manner, although never as accusatorily as Russian samizdat. In a way, this type of criticism upheld a certain literary dignity in Romania, but struck only a precarious balance given its disapproval of both radical avant-garde forms and the new theoretical ideas promoted by the emergent structuralism.

Stylistics, Linguistics and Poetics

6Broadly, the new perspectives on language and literature took shape from 1960 onwards. They emerged via the study of the language used in literary works, proceeding from the assumption that poetic or narrative effects may more accurately be analysed linguistically than otherwise. From the identification of archaisms and neologisms to the construction of epithets, metaphors, and symbols, such detailed studies explained various local effects within the text, but were less concerned with the effects of the text as a whole. Like Spitzer before him, Tudor Vianu signalled the ‘dual intent of language’ by distinguishing between its transitive and its reflexive effects Vianu 1968 32 pub-229348 Linguistic expression had been a concern in Romania ever since the interwar period, as evidenced by the works of Dumitru Caracostea and Ovidiu Densușianu,10 although such works did not succeed in inspiring much public interest. Some philosophers strove to discover stylistic features even in cultures as a whole.11 Vianu combined linguistic analysis and the discovery of cultural effects, continuing the ground-breaking work of Spitzer, Walzel, and even Spengler, according to whom style expressed the fundamental character not only of individual works but also of individual cultures and their historic periods, taken as meaningful wholes. His 1942-44 lectures on stylistics were followed by Vianu 1955 Research into Style pub-229638 , in which the focus of the analysis shifts toward the human and the personal and thus discreetly but resolutely turns away from the ‘sociologism’ of the time, i.e. communist propaganda through literature, as well as from the previous ‘bourgeois’ critical impressionism. This resulted in countless stylistic studies of specific periods Vianu, Iordan & Rosetti 1956-1962 pub-229352 and their representative writers Vianu 1968 pub-229427 . However, most of these convincingly described how particular meanings were inscribed in language, but seldom coalesced into cohesive profiles of writers Alexandrescu 1968 17 pub-229353 . In any event, at the time it was widely believed that it was urgent first of all to demonstrate the practical application of the method, leaving demonstration of its intellectual complexity until later.

Roman Jakobson

7Following in Tudor Vianu’s footsteps, several scholars nonetheless believed that a more systematic approach to language was urgently needed in order to overcome this rather narrow philological framework. It first became evident that the ‘expressiveness’ of language could be analysed with equal fruitfulness in both folklore and modern literature. The only question was: how? In other words: by what means? This was the point at which we discovered, very much to our surprise, that an important breakthrough had been already achieved by Roman Jakobson and other Russian ‘formalists’ within the alternative and free thinking culture of 1920s and 30s Russia, a country thitherto familiar to us only as source of political and cultural interdictions. If avant-garde poets and painters seemed already familiar to us thanks to their similarity to German and French kindred spirits, the linguistic thinking of Jakobson and others offered nothing less than a profound alternative to what we so far knew. Further, we saw Jakobson’s timely departure from Moscow to Prague as a symbolic gesture: it had been the only way to escape the Communist persecution to which his colleagues had fallen victim.12 Likewise his later well-timed decision to leave Prague in order to escape Nazism. This migration to the West thus became for us, the younger generation of the 1960s, a symbol not only of personal escape, but also of the fact that although new ideas could spring up anywhere in Europe, they could take root and become an academically accepted fresh view of the world only within the academic freedom and well-stocked libraries of the West. Many of us were to remember this some ten years later, when confronted with the same choices. Besides, it also seemed that 1930s Czechoslovakia had been the lieu de formation of Mihai Pop, who was then quite close to Jakobson and various Czech friends. Some of these ideas resurfaced in 1960 Bucharest debates.

8In fact, Jakobson discovered a system of language functions, the only logical and methodological framework whereby linguistic expression could be convincingly analysed. The poetic function is turned toward itself rather than directed at the referent. While art is part of a social whole, the poetic function is autonomous. The evolution of poetry is marked by changes in the hierarchy of functiring the years of the Ceaușescu regions, as one or other function (not always the same one) becomes dominant in different historic periods.13

La fonction poétique

9Questions de poétique, an anthology put together by Tzvetan Todorov, provided us with an innovative attitude both in literary analysis and in linguistics. One of the essays Jacobson wrote in 1933-4, published first in Czech and later translated as ‘Qu'est-ce que la poésie?’, contains the following statement:

Le rapport entre la poésie et le journal, est-ce le rapport entre Dichtung et Wahrheit? Certainement pas, les deux aspects ne sont également vrais, ils ne représentent que des significations différentes, ou pour employer un langage savant, des niveaux sémantiques différents d’un même objet, d’une même expérience. Un cinéaste dirait qu’il s’agit de deux prises distinctes d’une même scène(Is the relationship between poetry and diary the same as the relationship between Dichtung and Wahrheit? Certainly not: the two aspects are not equally true; they merely represent different meanings or, to put it scientifically, different semantic levels of the same object, of the same experience. A filmmaker would say that it is a question of two separate takes of the same scene). Jakobson 1971 pub-100832

10The foregoing quotation provides a fundamental clarification. Whereas an aesthetician or a literary critic would have focused on a difference in genre, thereby situating the poet’s ‘vision’ in opposition to the journalist’s ‘truth’ and perpetuating the general convention according to which a literary text is substantially different from a scientific one, Jakobson merely distinguishes two semantic levels of the same language, a difference analogous to taking two photographs of the same object, but from different viewpoints. This shift in viewpoint is a major one: rather than two irreconcilably different objects, we are dealing with two perfectly comparable versions of the same object. Hence, different functions of the same language produce different meanings. Moreover, reality itself is no longer unitary. As it comes to be perceived in multiple different ways, we are no longer interested in knowing how many metaphors, for example, are employed in presenting a situation, rather we are interested in determining which concrete tools are used for which purpose. Reality diversifies. We no longer know how it is, but only how it appears to somebody in a given situation. What Impressionism had demonstrated in painting is now expanded in order to describe any reaction on the part of any person with respect to the world. The fact that one storyteller may see the world in a certain way, while another storyteller sees it quite differently, is not only characteristic of him personally, but also of the endless complexity of the world he sees. The world ceases to be unique; it can be depicted in whichever way it is perceived. Expressionism and all avant-garde trends finally establish their legitimate right to take the stage over from the so-called realists.

11As Toma Pavel recalls, ‘Jakobson’s visit to Bucharest gave a strong impetus to all of us. However, the poetics he recommended was confined to the formal aspects of literary works. The poetic function consisted, he said, in the emphasis placed on the message as message when, in fact, any reader of literature knows very well that the content, the subject, the conflicts and the ideas developed by literary works are equally important” ( S.A., personal communication, 2017). Mihaela Mancaș: ‘Of course I have always taken Jakobson as a model, not so much for his methodology, which was, in fact, very personal, but not very modern, but rather for his formidable intuitions in the textual interpretations that his studies put forth. I never parted with poetics’ (personal communication, 2017).

12 Thanks to this ‘shock of discovery’, when interpreting a text, we moved from a stylistics blithely regarded as appropriate to any text or author to a poetics of a text now all of a sudden read as strange, fragmented, and self-contradictory. Accordingly, we felt as if we were required to explain the unsuspected ruptures in the text’s meaning rather than emphasise the old ever-recurring aesthetic effects. Although we did not realise it at the time, this difference in attitude resided in the relationship between Jakobson’s political statement of 1931 and his methodological statement about poetics, quoted above, which he wrote two or three years later, around 1933 or 1934. This relationship was not mentioned as such either by the author or by Todorov in his introduction to the French edition of Jakobson in 1973, nor do I remember having discovered it in Bucharest in the early 1960s. However, reading his books of political commentaries published after the fall of communism in Bulgaria, I suspect this oversight either as having been influenced by the dominance of Marxism in Paris during those years, or as having been a case of what, in other contexts, is defined as a Nachträglichkeit effect, or a deferred action, as theorised by Freud and by Lacan in particular, and which Hal Foster later applied to the history of the American Avant-garde Foster 1996 pub-229354 . According to such theories, the effect of an action or event may occur much later, due to the subject’s incapacity in that moment fully to understand its meaning or realise that his identity has in the meantime changed.

13When Jakobson wrote those essays he might not have realised their deeper connection, or may not have wanted to express it publicly. However, he did suggest it implicitly. Later in the same article, Jakobson confessed that he, Shklovsky and Tynyanov, to whom he added Mukařovský—an indication of the entente between Russian formalists and Czech theorists at the time—only appeared to praise art for art’s sake, as they followed the path of ‘l’esthétique kantienne,’ whereas in fact, ‘Ce que nous soulignons ce n’est pas un séparatisme de l’art mais l’autonomie de la fonction esthétique’ (What we emphasise is not art’s separateness but rather the autonomy of the aesthetic function). Two lines below he renames it the fonction poétique or poéticité Jakobson 1973 123 pub-100432 . How does it manifest itself? By virtue of the fact that ‘le mot est ressenti comme mot et non comme simple substitut de l’objet nommé ni comme explosion d’émotion’ (the word is experienced as a word and not merely as a substitute for the named object or an outpouring of feeling) Jakobson 1973 124 pub-100432 . In a lecture from 1935, delivered in the same milieu and subsequently published Jakobson 1973 145-151 pub-100432 , Jakobson argues that a literary text has several functions, but also that one of them is regarded as dominant: ‘L’œuvre poétique doit en réalité se définir comme un message verbal dans lequel la fonction esthétique est la dominante’ (The poetic work must in reality be defined as a verbal message wherein the aesthetic function is dominant) Jakobson 1973 147 pub-100432 . Over the course of time, various kinds of texts alter the internal hierarchy of their functions, and such change is seen as évolution poétique Jakobson 1973 148 pub-100432 .

14Of course, my comments on Jakobson’s texts could continue indefinitely. I would only like to make it clear that although our group in Bucharest was to learn many such details only later, thanks to Mihai Pop and the French works cited above, not only did we openly employ them as technical reasons to move away from Vianu’s stylistics and closer to Jakobson’s poetics, but also we found in them hidden arguments to interpret a literary paradigm in a completely free way, which thus suggests that such a discussion could stand in for an impossible social-political one. The freedom to talk about literary fictions was consequently seen as a deferred action that ran counter to the lack of social and political freedom. The availability of the unique truth in art seemed to herald future permissibility of alternative discourses in society and acknowledgement of the very existence of manifold truth in the world. Nevertheless, it was our in our interest to establish a new strategy of interpretation as such and our later theoretical passion for structuralism and/or semiotics were the driving force of our reflection as much as this political hope. The open intellectual excitement might also have been felt to be the prelude to political change, but it was nevertheless conducted as a passionate search for truth in texts and attitudes.

The Bucharest Poetics Circle

15At the beginning of the 1960s a group of young assistants and lecturers from the Faculty of Arts of Bucharest University accepted the invitation of professors Rosetti, Vianu and Pop to participate in an open seminar on poetics. Some of us were linguists (Sanda Golopenția, Alexandra Roceric, Mihaela Mancaș, Liliana Ionescu, Valeriu Rusu, Toma Pavel), while others were literary researchers (Mihai Zamfir, Virgil Nemoianu, Constantin Eretescu, Irina Bădescu, and myself) or anthropologists (Ligia Bârgu, Monica Brătulescu, Pavel Ruxăndoiu, Radu Niculescu).14 In fact, the members of each group were all from departments headed by one of the three aforementioned professors. It is also noteworthy that many marriages brought together linguists and literary scholars, or linguists and anthropologists, as if a bright future could be attained through a symbiosis similar to the function of poetics itself.15 Vianu shared this interest, but alas, he died in 1964, although our other two professors continued to be professionally active for a long period of time. An important role was also played by Boris Cazacu, who was a linguist specialising in dialectology and poetics and the co-author, along with Jakobson, of a study about Romania’s national poet Mihail Eminescu.16 Other participants were only temporary members, but some of them were remarkably active, such as linguist Al. Niculescu, classicist and philologist Mihai Nasta, and, in particular, mathematician Solomon Marcus, a legendary figure thanks to his vast knowledge of not only mathematics and formal philosophy, but also semiotics, as well as being the author of countless studies and the editor of a book on mathematics as applied to folklore studies.17 We were also occasionally in contact with literary critics active in journalism, such as Matei Călinescu, who nonetheless proved unable to move beyond the ‘ideal’ of ‘aesthetic’ criticism, despite his genuine interest in poetics. Our meetings were held at regular times and the relations between us were based on a perfect comradeship, as we lent each other all the books we could lay our hands on and ensured the free circulation of information within the group. As citizens of Romania at that time, we were not allowed to leave the country or take up scholarships abroad. A few of us, including myself, managed to attend the Urbino summer courses in semiotics, but only once, in 1967, mainly as the result of Mihai Pop’s friendly intercession. Particularly after the death of Tudor Vianu, Mihai Pop was our tutelary god, thanks to his academic training, which went far beyond the bounds of anthropology, his personal relations with leading international figures of the time, such as Roman Jakobson, and his generosity and unfailing light-heartedness.

16The reason for joining the Circle was more or less the same for all of us. Toma Pavel briefly defines it as follows: ‘The belief that structural poetics was a rigorous, if not scientific, discipline that was free of the compulsory stereotypes of the official ideology’ (personal communication, 2017). Sanda Golopenţía is more explicit: ‘Having internalised the principles and methods of structural linguistics, I felt the need to broaden my horizons . . . by expanding my analyses from dealing with language systems to tackling compact textural structures that were easier to approach and more appealing. There was also a strategic element to my scientific curiosity. Poetic analyses could be abstracted from quasi-compulsory ideological performance in theoretical studies or literary criticism’ (Personal communication, 2016). Mihai Zamfir cites similar reasons: ‘At the beginning of the 1960s, poetics and stylistics were the only way to evade the official ideology and carry out literary exegesis proper. The Bucharest Circle represented our only “space of freedom” in the field of aesthetics at the time’ (personal communication, 2017).

17Their recollection of the role played by the three professors is also more or less similar. Toma Pavel: ‘Alexandru Rosetti was always ready to support innovative trends, Tudor Vianu had his own background in stylistics as the author of The Art of Romanian Prose Writers, and Mihai Pop, who was culturally linked to Prague before the war, was personally acquainted with the work of the Prague Linguistics Circle.’ Mihai Zamfir: ‘Tudor Vianu was the spiritual patron of the group. Mihai Pop and Al. Rosetti provided only the venue and symbolic official cover’ (personal communication, 2017). Mihaela Mancaș: ‘The predominant area of concern within the Circle’s activities and discussions was not linguistics. I think that the dominant personality was Vianu, while Rosetti and Mihai Pop mostly took on the role of chairing the meetings’ (personal communication, 2016). Nevertheless, I think the role of Mihai Pop after the death of Tudor Vianu, and especially in international circles, was to become more important.

18The volume edited by the three professors, with myself acting as editorial secretary, was entitled Vianu, Rosetti & Pop 1966 Studies in Poetics and Stylistics pub-229356 . The term poetics in the title indicates the academic direction that most of us wanted to follow at the time. The second term, stylistics, however, indicates the older approach that some linguists from the middle generation, who did not attend our meetings regularly, such as Boris Cazacu, Ion Gheţie and G. Tohăneanu, still followed. The volume is structured according to the fields it covers: 1) general poetics (Vianu’s paper on refrains and Cazacu’s essay on the spoken language), 2) the poetics of folklore, and 3) the poetics of various Romanian writers. The paper written by Rosetti and Gheție, wherein they analyse Eminescu’s language and style according to its stylistic character (phonetics, morphology etc.) and quite predictably conclude that his language was one commonly spoken in his entourage Rosetti & Ghetie 1966 202 pub-229409 , falls within the first methodological category. Tohăneanu analyses a poem by Eminescu in the same manner. The second part of the volume, on the poetics of folklore, edited by Mihai Pop, comes within the new method of Jakobson’s poetics. Pop writes about the conative function, bearing on the contact with the addressee, and about myth in Lévi-Strauss’s sense. Liliana Ionescu underlines various forms of parallelism, starting from Riffaterre. Monica Brătulescu and Pavel Ruxăndoiu foreground the metaphor. Radu Niculescu focuses on the episodic structure of epic ballads. Valeriu Rusu carries out a lexical, rather than semantic, analysis of Arghezi's works. And the other authors centre their studies on Guiraud-style statistics. A further development was the tackling of the relatively unitary semantic fields that might characterise an individual poet. Good examples in this respect are provided by scholars such as Sanda Golopenția, who studied Bacovia’s poetry, following in the footsteps of Guiraud, as well as Alexandra Roceric, who studied the poetry of Magda Isanos cf. Vianu, Rosetti & Pop 1966 pub-229356 . These studies have the merit of quantitatively grounding the semantic orientations of a poet. However, the admittedly very precise determination of such orientations can also be achieved by means of mere reading, and this provided some traditional literary critics with a good opportunity to mock the ‘innovation’ of this type of stylistics. In fact, the first applications of Guiraud’s theory were carried out by linguists keen to demonstrate the usefulness of their own methods in achieving new goals.

19Nemoianu and Pavel stick to text analyses and perform them very persuasively, even if they do lack any notable methodological framework. As for myself, I took a rather separate approach, referring to American more than French models and writing on symbol and symbolism as a semiotic process in the poetry of Tudor Arghezi. Following René Wellek and Austin Warren, I made use of Beardsley’s distinction between symbol and quasi-symbol, both of which Kafka employed in his stories and novels, and demonstrated the need for an appropriate context in order to understand symbols, as opposed to metaphors. In trying to explain this difference as precisely as possible, I also drew on the studies of Polish logician and semiotician Jerzy Pelc, and his ‘means of symbolic emphasis of a term’ in a given context Alexandrescu 1966 pub-229408 337-338 . My conclusion was as follows: ‘Unlike metaphors, symbols do not emerge by means of a semantic transfer, but rather through a plurality of meanings which produces ambiguity. This plurality consists in the overlapping of the literary and the symbolic meanings of a term . . . which brings about a permanent state of tension’ Alexandrescu 1966 pub-229408 368 . I have dwelled on this paper of mine in order to underline the difference between a lexical analysis (such as Valeriu Rusu’s) and a semantic analysis (such as my own) of the poetry of Tudor Arghezi. I hope this difference will make clear the difference between stylistics and poetics. Furthermore, in addition to French sources, I also drew upon sources linked to the American New Criticism. Interestingly enough, in this period Pavel and, in particular, Nemoianu were also moving in the same direction, toward alternative sources and ideas, although they had yet to make use of them by the time the texts in this volume were published.

20Anyway, I do not wish to suggest that the papers on stylistics were of lesser academic value than the ones on poetics, but merely to state that in Bucharest at the time there were two different groups of scholars when it came to methodological choices and critical strategies,18 despite the fact that they published their work together. Besides, those alternative American models of criticism were also based on other, and more general intellectual values as I shall try to make more explicit in the following.

Theory of literature

21In 1967, Wellek & Warren 1967 Teoria literaturii pub-229357 , the Romanian translation of Wellek and Warren’s Theory of Literature (1949), was published by Univers, the most ‘modernist’ publishing house in Bucharest. I took part in the editorial process by translating some of the text and writing the notes and introduction to the Romanian version. In 1970, Univers published another work by Wellek: Wellek 1963 Concepts of Criticism pub-229359 , and I was involved to the same extent in the process. Born in Vienna, but educated in Prague, Wellek soon became a prototype of Central European openness to comparative literature and the history of ideas. At the time, this reminded Virgil Nemoianu, Toma Pavel and myself of Tudor Vianu, who had taught all three of us aesthetics and comparative literature, rather than of Roman Jakobson and the Russian Formalists. At the time, Nemoianu was working on his Radulescu & Nemoianu 1967 Structuralism pub-229639 , and explained this concept in relation to the history of a philosophical idea, in the spirit of Goethe, for example, rather than as a trend in linguistics and anthropology. As I have already mentioned above, his relative reticence when it came to the Poetics Circle might have been caused, although he never publicly said so, by our moderate interest in the history of the ideas and our frequent focus on the meanings of the text instead. On the other hand, Pavel published Pavel 1968 Fragments about Words pub-229640 , which was sooner a general essay on language and communication. As he recollects: ‘As far as I am concerned, thanks to Mihai Şora, with whom I had the privilege of engaging in lengthy conversations in 1965-6, I understood the limitations of formal methods in the humanities. The echoes of these conversations reverberate in his beautiful book The Salt of the Earth, (published in 1978), and in my Fragments about Words (personal communication, 2017).

22Therefore, one might conclude that at the time all these young scholars were fervently interested in various aspects of language—an almost universal subject of interest in 1960s Europe—although they did not develop it along the same lines. This diversity was quite evidently on show in our book, Studies of Poetics and Stylistics (1966), mentioned above.

23To come back to Wellek and Warren, I would like to recall that they defined the literary work as ‘a structure of signs serving a specific aesthetic purpose’ Wellek & Warren 1967 189 pub-229357 Whereas Shklovsky and Tynyanov paid more attention to signs as the origin of possible, unexpected and often unpredictable shifts of meaning, Wellek and Warren saw them as guarantors of ‘specific’ aesthetic values. Whereas the Russian formalists highlighted breaks in meaning, Wellek and Warren emphasised and tried to guarantee stable values by means of an attitude typical of Central European and (at the time) American scholars. Nemoianu was an obvious admirer of Wellek. Born in Timişoara and later to publish a book titled The Calm of Values (1971), Nemoianu regarded himself as a true Central European intellectual. Although I did not fully share his attitude, I was nonetheless in agreement with Wellek and Warren's balanced use of a concept that seemed capable of generating not only stable values, but also unexpected narrative and social innovations in modern Western civilisation. In the work of William Faulkner I was later to encounter a society structured in such a firm although often tragic way.

Concepts of Criticism

24As I have already said, the preface to the present volume suggests that the literary work is more than just a structure that can be analysed descriptively, in the way that the Russian and Czech Formalists did, but also a totality of values. Wellek had significantly altered the views he had held as a scholar in Czechoslovakia. He now criticised Jakobson and Mukařovský and instead supported the views of Yuri Tynyanov:

A work of art is not merely a member of a series, a link in a chain. It may stand in relation to anything in the past. It is more than a structure that may be analysed descriptively, as the Russian and Czech formalists maintain. It is a totality of values that not only pertain to structure, but constitute its very nature Wellek 1970 54 pub-229359 .

25Axiology and semantics seem to overlap here, or rather to form a double-edged movement, the impact of which might not have been entirely obvious to us at the time. At the beginning of the 1970s, our general idea was to free the study of literature from the grasp of the current literary criticism. Wellek’s above-mentioned definition seemed to be broad enough to provide us with support. We were aware that semantics also fostered some ideological aspects, just as literary criticism did, albeit different ones. As ‘poetologists’—if I may still use the term we employed at the time, in a polemical and ironic way—we were aware of the fact that both we and the literary critics who also worked within the official communist ideology were moved by different reasons and values and that this difference was in the long term doomed to render our groups ideologically incompatible.19 While we stood together against official communism, the alternatives we envisaged were not the same. By and large, most literary critics were nostalgic for interwar liberalism or the interwar village, whereas we were drawn to the new post-war democratic world and the aesthetic values that went with it. They were interested in modernism, often at the level of the 1960s Eastern European generation, whereas we were attracted, at least in part, to the avant-garde or to what would become, after 1980, the Romanian postmodernism of the so-called ‘Eighties Generation.’ Moreover, as I have already said, Nemoianu and Pavel in particular, and later also myself, admired a certain moral leaning on the part of the New Criticism, for which the concepts of ‘organic unity’ and ‘architecture of meanings’ therefore played an important role.20 In fact, all three of us were against traditional literary criticism as much as we were against communism, but structuralism, as an intellectual alternative, carried a different weight for each of us.

26In her recently published book, which, in my opinion, now takes its place as the best analysis of Romanian structuralism, Adriana Stan provides a thoroughgoing analysis of this mixture of attitudes, following in the footsteps Hayden White and his correct distinction between an inflationary criticism that revives the aesthetic, although still siting it within language, and the deflationary criticism that completely dispenses with the aesthetic Stan 2017 91 pub-229337 . Hence, we may say that the New Criticism belonged to the former trend, whereas some of us—perhaps, in a way, the more radical members of the Bucharest circle, later including myself—tended to embrace the second option. Taking into account this distinction, one might say that by the 1960s, and in the decade that followed in particular, after their emigration from Romania, both Nemoianu and Pavel embraced the New Criticism and definitely inclined toward its philosophical and moral values, whereas I set out from a more moderate inflationism, influenced first by Wellek and Warren, and then by the work of Faulkner, and after leaving Romania, I moved in the opposite direction, toward the deflationism I discovered in the works produced by French semiotics.

27In France, Barthes provided a strong reaction to Picard, the defender of traditional criticism, in Critique et vérité (1966), although he had also previously done so in Essais critiques (1964). At the time, I thought to myself, rather intuitively, that analysis or interpretation might be non- or even anti-aesthetic. To this end, a collection of textual analyses aimed at overhauling the teaching of literature, particularly at the high school level, was published in 1967, thanks to efforts on my own part and on that of Ion Rotaru, a colleague at the Faculty of Letters Alexandrescu & Rotaru 1967 99 pub-229361 . Ironised by Adriana Stan Stan 2017 99 pub-229337 as a book on two levels—a sophisticated one on the part of the first author and a simplistic one on the part of the second—the book was frequently reprinted after my departure from Romania, but significantly, it included only Rotaru’s contributions.21 After 1970, or even somewhat earlier, attacks on poetics multiplied, fuelled by both conservative theoreticians and old, recycled Communists.22 Adriana Stan’s excellent observation absolves me from any further comments of my own:

The literary criticism of the sixties and structural stylistics23 vehemently part ways, for the time being, in terms of audience, modus operandi, and even subjects of interest. But, when accounted for, their gains are complemented by a common undertaking to liberate from ideology the interpretation of our entire literature, starting from contemporary times and going back to its beginnings. Unfortunately, this shared cause does not prevent the deepening of a gap between academics, on the one hand, and reviewers, on the other, when it came to writing about literary studies in the late 1960s.

Structuralism and Faulkner

28I worked on my book about Faulkner between 1966 and 1968 and published it in 1969. This was in a way the highpoint of my ‘structuralist decade’, as I thought, without suspecting how dangerously close to an endpoint a highpoint can come. My idea was that a ‘theory’, attractive in itself though it might be, can be persuasive only if it reveals itself to be useful in practice.

29When reading a novel, we are usually able to discern the homogeneous paradigmatic unity beneath its syntagmatic richness. ‘Why then should we not be able to discern the hidden thematic unity of a writer’s complete work?’ I asked myself. The mere narration of events considered to be ‘real within fiction’ shows that certain Faulknerian ‘historical societies’, or successive civilisations, whether native Indian, white aristocratic (Sartoris)24 or middle-class (Snopes), undergo the same three phases of development, namely foundation (let us call this X), stabilisation (Y) and decline (Z). Even more interesting is the fact that these civilisations develop within the same fictional space—the region Faulkner called Yoknapatawpha and filled with places names on a map he himself drew— and within the same historic pattern of development: phase Y of a civilisation overlaps with phase Z of the previous civilisation as well as phase X of the following one. This let us say syntactic rule can be semantically articulated as following: ‘the stabilisation and crisis (or only one of them) of any civilisation coincides in time with the foundation of the following civilisation and the decline of the previous one' Alexandrescu 1967 148 pub-229362 I believe this back-and-forth reading of the narrative is an important principle of structural analysis.

30If the concept of historical cycles came to me from Spengler, perhaps—although I do not think I had read Faulkner before Spengler—the idea of reconstructing a work in accordance with an internal model of development might have been originated while reading the old Russian formalists, although I am unable to point to any specific source. This is indicative not of forgetfulness but of how exactly their influence worked. At the time, Shklovsky and Tynyanov (in prose) and Jakobson (as a general linguistic model) exerted on me and perhaps on all of us a diffuse influence , making me think differently, rather than concentrating on the obvious details. Perhaps this type of influence was at work throughout my entire book on Faulkner; perhaps it affected other ‘structuralists’ of my generation as well—who knows?

31In any event, in my book I assigned fourteen characteristic features to eight socio-historical types of character from the region and, by means of detailed analysis of multiple examples, I established various codes of behaviour. On the one hand, these are completely different from one another—for example, the Indian behaves differently than the old white aristocrat. On the other hand, there are also certain constants (pride, for example) that reoccur with various nuances within several social codes, for example in that of the Indian and that of the white aristocrat, but also occur in people of mixed race or modern intellectuals. In other chapters, structuralism surfaces in the narrative analysis, in the ‘frame story’ technique, or in the different ways of rendering the same narrative event: objectively, subjectively, or using the fondu technique—a French term that denotes the gradual blending of one image into the next, very much like a series of cinematic narrative frames. My book also includes a more traditional historical analysis of the tragic mode, the Protestant spirit, and myth, via attempts to shine a different theoretical light on the same scenes or characters spotlights.

32My book was received in Romania as an experiment, but also as ‘a model of literary analysis in the new style’, and as a result it was awarded the Romanian Writers Union Prize in 1969. This was a significant event in itself: the book had been probably accepted by both the ‘innovators’ and ‘conservatives’ of literary criticism, albeit for different reasons.

Poetics and Stylistics. Modern Directions

33The last major book launched by our group was Nasta & Alexandrescu 1972 pub-229363 Poetics and Stylistics. Modern Orientations edited by Mihai Nasta (chiefly) and myself. Intended to be very wide-ranging, the book comprised thirty-six texts and two long introductions (together totalling around one hundred pages), one by Nasta, on older theories of language and stylistics, including a note on the edition, and one by me, on modern poetics. The following classic authors were brought together in a single volume for the first time: Vossler, Spitzer, Terracini, Damaso Alonso, a number of Russian Formalists,25 major French authors (Barthes, Greimas and Genette), lesser-known anthropologists of the time, such as Veselovski and Sebeok, American literary critics, such as Wimsatt, contemporary Russian scholars, such as Jakobson and Lotman, Italians, such as Contini and Segre, μ groupe, Zumthor, Starobinski, et al. We omitted Bakhtin only because at the time we were unable to find anything by him translated into a Western language,26 and as I mentioned above, none of us spoke or read Russian.

34We now come to a more general but still very interesting aspect of how the Russian Formalists were received in Romania. Unlike in some Slavic countries of Eastern Europe, they were admired by many linguists and literary theorists, but not by scholars in Slavic studies, probably because the majority of the latter displayed a traditionalist bent, or even an old communist mindset, which was even worse than that of the above-mentioned ‘old-fashioned’ Romanian literary critics. Consequently, they were utterly uninterested in promoting the Formalists, while their genuine admirers were unable to read them in the original Russian! In the end, however, translations were produced, primarily thanks to the determination of Mihai Nasta, because both of us were impressed by the Russian Formalists’ originality after reading them in western languages. After 1971, a certain hardening of the political context led to occasional interference in our work. I remember, for example, that at one point, by which time I had moved to the Netherlands, Mihai Nasta told me that it had been ‘suggested’ to him that the book would enjoy better prospects if the Russian Formalists were redubbed ‘Soviet’ and if Shklovsky’s essay ‘Lenin the De-canoniser’ were added to the book. Written a few weeks after Lenin's death, this was in fact very apposite to our purposes, because it could be read as a plea for free analysis of Lenin’s texts, no matter how dreadful the author. Who came forward with this charitable ‘suggestion’ I have never been able to discover, but it was lucky he did not read the text as well!

35However, such indirect means of communication did not hinder contacts between the (old) formalists and those Romanians who had either met Jakobson in Prague, like Mihai Pop before the war, and Rosetti in Paris later on, or those who just discovered them in the late 1960s or the 1970s thanks to new translations by Todorov and Kristeva in France Todorov 1965 pub-229365 , Juri Striedter in Germany Striedter 1969 pub-229366 , Clara Strada Janovič in Italy Lotman & Uspenski 1973 pub-229367 and Carlo Prevignano, the author of the excellent anthology about semiotics in the Slavic countries Prevignano 1979 La semiotica nei paesi slavi pub-229368 . The same paths led us to Lotman, Propp, Ouspensky and other researchers from various Slavic countries. It was also Mihai Pop and Al. Rosetti who were able to resume direct dialogue a few decades later.27 Jakobson came to Bucharest in 1967 in order to attend an international congress of Romance Studies, and so was I also able to listen to him personally, as a young lecturer . . .

The old Russian Formalists, cautiously revisited

36Nevertheless, the selection of texts was, in a way, very much influenced by circumstances. For example, of Tynyanov’s essays we selected ‘The Notion of Construction’. It is certainly a very important text, but we were unable to add other, more controversial, if not downright ‘incendiary’ texts, such as those praised by Prevignano. Hence, the Formalists’ reputation in Romania was primarily as innovators, rather than avant-gardists in theory or art, as I later discovered on in Western publications on them.

37To illustrate this point, I recall one of Tynyanov’s concepts, quoted by Prevignano: The third thesis of Tynyanov and Jakobson’s 1928 manifesto states that the material used in literature, whether literary or non-literary, ‘può essere introdotto nel dominio della ricerca scientifica soltanto se lo si considera da un punto di vista funzionale’ (can be introduced into the field of scientific research only if it be considered from a functional viewpoint) Prevignano 1979 115 pub-229368 .28 The manifesto was not included in our anthology. Had it been included, I would have had to provide a stricter principle of systematisation in my book on Faulkner than I did. The expression ‘soltanto se’, only if, should have led to strict functional analysis in literature, comparable with what was usual in linguistics. I cannot now say whether it was then technically possible or not but, if it was, I am sure it would have been entirely unacceptable because literature was then still considered to be governed by the principle of infinite (aesthetic) freedom on the part of the writer and critic alike. But has anybody achieved in literary criticism such a difficult technical analysis? I wonder whether it is even possible to do so. An attempt in this direction was made by Prevignano in his introductory study on the existence of a modelling system in cultural production, analogous to the one at work in language, according to Saussure’s classic distinction between langue and parole.29 Prevignano also cites an early article by Eichenbaum, from 1922, which criticised monism in philosophy, and which provided Lunacharski, the political commissar for education and culture at the time, with an excuse strongly to accuse him of ‘disintegrazione metafisica’! Prevignano 1979 35 pub-229368 I would anyway like to conclude this section by reiterating that a certain solidarity between intellectuals in Slavic countries, obviously helped by the linguistic possibility of easily reading and understanding one another, facilitated the circulation of ideas between Moscow and Prague much more than Bucharest and perhaps also Budapest.30

The departure of the prodigal sons

38‘The departure of the prodigal sons’ is the phrase Adriana Stan employs in a separate chapter to refer to the departure in 1970 of some of the Romanian structuralists to Western countries. We had not discussed it beforehand; rather, we might recall instead a well-known political joke of the time about the verb ‘fled’ or ‘left’ the communist country having to be replaced with the expression ‘forgot to return to’. In fact, this was the case of all of us. Ceauşescu's 1968 decision to criticise the Soviet Union and other communist countries for the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the suppression of Dubček’s democratic revolution caused many of us to believe, as I already have said, that similar democratisation was possible in Romania. Permission to go abroad to take up scholarships was granted only for short while, and within a few short years the situation in Bucharest had deteriorated drastically. The regress had become total by 1971. In any case, our departure was not directly political, but rather cultural and academic. Toma Pavel went to Paris in 1969 and was awarded a Ph.D. for a very well-received thesis on semiotics, written in the spirit of his doctoral supervisor A. J. Greimas, Pavel 1976 pub-229372 La syntaxe narrative des tragédies de Corneille He also regularly took part in the international Semiotics seminar held by the French-Lithuanian professor. Adriana Stan rightly highlights Toma Pavel’s various articles and dialogues prior to his departure, published in the Romanian literary press, as well as a discussion with literary critic Cornel Regman and an article in the journal Tomis (Constanţa), where he mocked newspaper literary reviewers for not having discovered Thibaudet and Croce until the 1960s. He placed stylistics in opposition to such ‘episodes’ Stan 2017 111-113 pub-229337 . Gradually but definitively, however, Toma Pavel moved away from semiotics and, after moving to Canada and later the United States, he wrote a scathing piece of criticism on semiotics and linguistics, Pavel 1988 pub-229373 Le Mirage linguistique and gradually returned to literary and cultural history.31 He recalls,

Since I was interested in the development of a play or a novel, between 1975 and 1986 I examined the imaginary, fictional worlds projected by literature (Fictional Worlds, 1986). Later, I turned to literary history and the way in which, over the centuries, literature has represented human values (L'Art de l'éloignement, 1996; The Lives of the Novel, 2013)’ (Personal communication, 2017).

39Adriana Stan observes a conservative ethos in the literary sympathies of Virgil Nemoianu Stan 2017 117 pub-229337 , as well as a certain ‘hostility’ on his part in regard to ‘the ideology of State uniformity’ Stan 2017 118 pub-229337 , to which he seemed to oppose a type of relative New Liberalism in Europe, prevalent among various French nouveaux philosophes Stan 2017 119 pub-229337 . Nemoianu also left Romania in 1971, was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of San Diego, and gave courses in various American universities, before finally settling at the Catholic University of Washington in 1979. He then devoted himself to the study of comparative literature and aesthetics, adopting, it is true, a rather conservative political and ethical outlook. He has published numerous academic works,32 as well as numerous articles, which also began to appear in the Romanian press after 1989.

40On the other hand, I must say that his outlook seems to be rather conservative only if we consider the new French theories of the time as belonging, en masse, to the new left. However, this was not true. Obviously, Tel Quel advanced such views and, surprisingly, so did Kristeva, who had left communist Bulgaria, and Althusser certainly did, but their differences of opinions were significant. Moreover, not every leftist stances was Marxist, since many intellectuals did not identify with Marxism. The important semiotics group that formed around Greimas, a Lithuanian scholar living in Paris, where he had obtained his Ph.D. before World War II, was not Marxist at all, nor were Lévi-Strauss, Genette, Todorov, Ducrot, Bourdieu, or Louis Marin. Even Barthes took a leftist stance that was sooner democratic than Marxist. I myself collaborated with Greimas and his group for several years, without ever hearing any political allusions.

41However, another issue was I think much more important to the group. As a professor at the University of Amsterdam from 1969, I was able to see that in the 1970s the paradigm shifted in relation to the previous decade from structuralism to semiotics proper. The linguistic model that was now followed was no longer Jakobson’s exactly, nor even Lévy-Strauss’s structural model, but rather Chomsky’s transformational grammar. The focus was no longer on structure, but on generativity, or, later, it was on Austin and Searle’s language acts and pragmatics. On the other hand, via Greimas, narrative and discourse became the fundamental object of research, leading to a new sémiotique du discours. In this new context, the old formalists and even Jakobson were overshadowed by Lotman and the newly rediscovered Bakhtin. The Russian Formalists no longer provided models of analysis, but became mere precursors of the new models. For many scholars, Greimas and his school seized the centre stage in the field of textual analysis. Like Pavel, but for a longer period of time, I worked for many years with this group and published in various anthologies,33 but I never felt his need to break away from the ‘linguistic mirage’. At the same time, I tried to move from semiotics to logical analysis of the construction of roles in Faulkner’s narratives, which I undertook in my first volume on the American writer, and now wrote a new book entitled Alexandrescu 1974 pub-229388 Logique du personnage. Réflexions sur l'univers faulknérien , publishing it in a semiotics series overseen by Greimas.

42It was not until the 1990s, and after the death of Greimas (1992) in particular, that I felt the need to move towards visual studies and then, gradually, via deconstruction, towards cultural studies, where the models were no longer rooted in linguistics at all, but in anthropology.

43Sanda Golopenţia has taught in the Department of French Studies at Brown University since 1981, dealing mainly with pragmatics.34 She recalls, ‘Written from a pragmatic viewpoint, the studies in poetics I later wrote focused on folkloric or theatrical texts’ (personal communication, 2017).35

44Mihai Nasta went to Brussels and there published numerous essays and his book Les êtres de paroles (Brussels: OUSIA, 2001).

45The most prodigious career has, of course, that of Solomon Marcus, who has extensively and mathematically tackled meaning. Unfortunately, however, I do not consider myself apt to discuss his work in greater detail. We should also add Mihai Dinu, Stanca Fotino, and others Stan 2017 117 pub-229337 . Marcus has also been the most internationally well-known Romanian semiotician, as well as a great friend and supporter to all of us Stan 2017 226 pub-229337 .

46Apart from that, after 1970, according to Adriana Stan, literary criticism regained its rightful place, all in line with Manolescu’s aesthetics, the old (now narrower) ideological path of ‘trustworthy comrades’, such as Savin Bratu, or more up-to-date theoreticians, such as Paul Cornea Stan 2017 227-239 pub-229337 .

Poetics at home in the seventies and later

47Mihai Zamfir, who teaches at the University of Bucharest, was one member of the Poetics Circle who stayed in the country.36 Alternating traditionally stylistic with poetic analyses, he dealt with the history of modern Romanian literature, but also with Proust, displaying equal critical resourcefulness. In so doing, he continued to share the Russian Formalist viewpoint, according to which the text is ‘made of words’ rather than pre-existing feelings or ideas, as posited by traditional literary criticism. For example, when dealing with a prose poem, ‘he insisted on studying it only as a language structure’ Stan 2017 278 pub-229337 . In the preface to the second edition of his principal work, The Other Side of Prose, Zamfir confessed that his perseverance in stylistics was the only way of saving himself during the years of the Ceaușescu regime Zamfir 2006 83 pub-229391 .

48Mihai Zamfir's wife, Mihaela Mancaş, another linguist in the Circle, says the following with regard to poetics: ‘I have applied it as much as possible to studies on poetry and Romanian prose, analysing metaphors, symbols and synaesthesia, partly published in the Cahiers de Linguistique,37 a sort of history of rhetorical figures used in poetic language and narrative processes, in the volume Modern Romanian Artistic Language: An Outline of Its Evolution (2005), the analysis of description in relation to narration, in the volume Picture and Action: Description in Romanian Narrative Prose, (2005), and the role of certain semantic categories of terms in the language of poetry, in the volume The Lexis of Affectivity and Modern Romanian Poetry (2015)’ (personal communication, 2017).

Conclusions

49In conclusion, I am convinced that the ten to twelve years of teamwork at the Bucharest Poetics Circle had a great influence both on its members and on Romanian culture in general. The type of stylistics that had come into fashionable before Tudor Vianu seamlessly blended with the poetics promoted mainly by Mihai Pop and Roman Jakobson, albeit of Russian and Czech inspiration. It is true that the members of ‘Russian Formalism’, who became known in the West only later, such as Bakhtin or Lotman, had a belated impact on the practice of the members of the Circle, given the fact that it was impossible for them to read the texts in Russian, as I said above. Nevertheless, those ten to twelve years were extended by many of the Circle’s members in various universities in Western countries, where they emigrated after the 1970s. They often used this experience as a springboard in their local teaching careers. In Romania, after 1970, scholars in the field of poetics were less active, both because the literary criticism ignored it and because the international research models had in the meantime gradually changed.

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