Police Aesthetics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times

By Cristina Vatulescu | Go to book overview

Acknowledgments

This project, like many others, has its beginnings scattered in different places. Part of it probably sprouted, together with my grandmother’s tomato seedlings, in her kitchen, as she instructed me in the first household task I can remember. Long before I was trusted with dusting, my grandparents taught me how to turn the radio dial from the static-covered sounds of Radio Free Europe to the official Romanian radio station Programul 1; I was to do this every time the doorbell rang and they hurried to the door to welcome visitors. From those forbidden radio shows and from countless more or less oblique references I learned that people’s lives were recorded in secret police files whose words came back to haunt them. This awareness that our lives were continuously written somewhere, as we talked, slept, or listened to the radio, webbed in and out, often muted by the louder events of one’s private life but sometimes stridently brought back by a slip of a tongue: my husband still remembers the panicked tears he cried at the age of four while confessing to his parents that he had somehow slipped to his friend Larsi, also four, the forbidden news of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. For those given to worrying about the denouement, let me say that it was a happy ending, of sorts: nothing happened. Larsi was a good friend, too busy going about his four year old business to do much with this piece of Afghanistan news. Others, however, spent considerable energy trying to influence the secret police account of their lives and the lives of others. Who knew? If this or that fact got noted in a file, maybe one would finally get that promotion or at least put an end to a grueling commute. Most people I knew seemed intent on keeping themselves just below the radar, making themselves invisible and inaudible, with the ultimate hope of passing unwritten. I feared these secret police texts long before I knew that people’s lives could also be written as autobiographies, or memoirs, or novels, indeed long before I had any real concept of literature. But when, in 2000, I finally got to read the secret police files of the Romanian Securitate, these texts already belonged to the previous century, and I had a hard time deciphering them other than through analogy with the literary texts that I now read for a living in a different

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