William Faulkner and the Romanian "Criticism of Survival"

By Schneider, Ana-Karina | The Faulkner Journal, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview
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William Faulkner and the Romanian "Criticism of Survival"


Schneider, Ana-Karina, The Faulkner Journal


In a culture marked by rapid change, nothing changes more frequently than the past.

- Evan Carton and Gerald Graff, "The Emergence of Academic Criticism" (281)

One of the most striking features of Romanian literary studies is the divorce between theory and criticism. In the West that rift has been healed of late, under the influence of poststructuralist theories proposing the "text" as the basic object and result of all critical interventions. In Romania, however, it remains very much in place, with theory (heavily impacted by Western readings) undertaking a recuperative protocol meant to retrieve the ideological underpinnings of pre- 1989 Romanian culture, while literary criticism continues along the same lines that it had followed before, minus the propagandistic distortions. Much of the ideology-oriented theory published in Romania in recent years is the response to a deeply felt need to reassess the critical inheritance bequeathed by previous generations and find the points at which postcommunist literary studies can insert itself into a tradition that is both thoroughly Romanian and synchronous with developments in Western culture and theory.1 The rupture that persists between theory and its practical application is diachronic, the latter still following the modernist model of criticism. This conservative model foregrounds the category of the aesthetic and regards the Faulkner text as contemporary with the moment of its interpretation rather than as a culturally- and temporally-circumscribed artifact. A significant shift in focus is nonetheless in effect in recent literary studies: while promoting a Nobel Prize winning novelist like Faulkner was a double-edged gesture of snobbishness and open-mindedness for communist cultural dictators and for aesthetic critics it was a point of honor, no such preoccupations with high literature can be discerned in postcommunist criticism. Instead, consistent with a tendency that took shape in the 1980s, postmodern and contemporary writing is at present displacing "canonical" literature as the preferred object of academic research, abandoning earlier traditions in the critical muddle in which they were left by communist scholarship.

William Faulkner was one of the Western novelists enjoying comparatively wide critical acclaim in late-twentieth-century Romania. The reprinting of translations of and criticism on Faulkner's books after 1989, his inclusion in academic curricula, and the impressive number of translations from his work all indicate that Faulkner's distinctive place was not affected by an earlier superimposition of ideological perspectives. What is so surprising, however, is the paradox that, although recent editions are accompanied by new prefaces or introductory essays, the overwhelming mass of criticism published after 1989 remains slightly modified old material, rather than new interpretations. There are of course exceptions to this rule: Mircea Mihäies's Cartea eçecurïlor (Book of Failures) and Didi-Ionel Cenuser's Faulkner's Larger Meanings for example. As well as providing an indication of the status and range of Faulkner studies in Romania, this reflects directly on the different critical and theoretical trends, phases, and methods at work in Romanian literary scholarship. From this evidence I extract two theses regarding Romanian criticism.

My first allegation concerns the paradigmatic evolution of the past four decades, from a thawing of ideological control (in the 1970s), through a decade of economic and sociocultural crises (in the 1980s), to the problematic demise of communism. I propose that not only is contemporary criticism heir to many of the methodological principles set out by pre- 1989 critics, but that it is also heir, albeit with some ambivalence, to a certain forma mentis which selectively obliterates aspects of the cultural scene, such as the distinction between communism and Marxism. In Faulkner criticism, this becomes apparent especially in the reprinted critical editions of the 1990s, from which references to Faulkner's political allegiance and to his social critique, as well as derogatory allusions to capitalism, have been carefully expurgated rather than reconsidered with the investigative tools of neo-Marxism or New Historicism.

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