Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

'Nu, Nu and Nu': Ionesco's 'No!' to Romanian Literature and Politics

Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

'Nu, Nu and Nu': Ionesco's 'No!' to Romanian Literature and Politics

Article excerpt

Nu (Non), a volume of critical essays, was Eugene Ionesco's first publication in Romania in 1934. In this work he reveals contempt for Romanian literature, literary politics and, indirectly, politics itself. At the same time Ionesco the critic already displays his unique characteristics: humour, spontaneity, playfulness, recalcitrance and theatricality. His views on literary criticism and its extra-aesthetical motives would remain influential for his French career as a playwright and essayist. In Non, Ionesco's contradictory spirit demolishes traditional values and respected literary figures. The iconoclast enjoys overthrowing hierarchies and challenging the Romanian literary milieu; he demonstrates that any point of view can be valid when writing a critical essay. Non is also interspersed with journal entries in which Ionesco mischievously analyses his own motives as a critic. Later, in France, Ionesco will continue to write journals, a literary form for which he already demonstrates affinity in Romania. Non, with its ferocious criticism of Romanian literati, presages the tragicomical playwright, novelist and journal-writer, Eugene Ionesco.

Keywords: criticism, Ionesco, Nu, politics, Romania

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The intelligentsia of the provinces

'Le plus grand critique roumain? C'est encore, c'est toujours etre le parent pauvre de l'intelligentsia europeenne' (Ionesco, 1986). Eugene Ionesco's antipathy for his contemporaries found its first public expression in a 1934 collection of essays, published in Romania under the curt and oppositional title Nu, and translated into French a half-century later as Non (1986). (1) This compilation of articles on literature, literary critics and criticism reveals that Ionesco was no less theatrical as a literary critic than he was as one of the founders of the Theatre of the Absurd. For Ionesco, theatricality is as much a tool of the critics' trade as it is the dramatists', and even the journal entries of Non are replete with it. With his trademark theatricality, Ionesco breathes life into his criticism as he performs his brash, straightforward and obstinate rejection of everyone and everything.

Several critics have analysed Ionesco's Romanian career. The first book on this subject was Gelu Ionescu's Anatomia unei negatii (The Anatomy of a Negation, 1991). (2) An extremely informative study of Ionesco's articles and essays, and especially of Nu, with numerous references to Romanian critics and important authors of the time, the book is of particular interest to scholars of Romanian studies. Another excellent study is Ecaterina Cleynen-Serghiev's La Jeunesse litteraire d'Eugene Ionesco (The Literary Youth of Eugene Ionesco, 1993). This work offers a detailed analysis of the literary and cultural context which shaped Ionesco's writing, both in Romanian and in French. In particular, the chapter on 'Ionesco, les critiques et la critique' situates Ionesco's criticism within the Romanian and European trends of the time and points to the way that Ionesco's Romanian writing foreshadows his writing in French. Deborah Gaensbauer's Eugene Ionesco Revisited (1996) briefly covers the same territory and offers a fine treatment of Ionesco's Nu and of his fellow Romanian writers. However, I shall focus in more detail on a textual analysis of Ionesco's criticism of his contemporaries, which conveys humour, spontaneity, playfulness and theatricality. This article examines those aspects that become enduring traits of Ionescian writing on the international scene, and it also highlights Ionesco's rebelliousness against Romania's literature and politics. The author of Non subjects both the authors criticized and even his own criticism to Ionescian deconstruction.

Ionesco's debut in literary criticism was as scandalous as his debut as a playwright: everyone felt insulted. In Non, the twenty-five-year-old Ionesco assailed norms, received ideas, political trends, literary fashions and tradition itself. …

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