American Critics at Work: Examinations of Contemporary Literary Theories

By Victor A. Kramer | Go to book overview

IMAGINATION AND MEANING: AESTHETIC ATTITUDES
IN
MIRCEA ELIADE'S THOUGHT 1

by
Matei Calinescu

Every exile is a Ulysses traveling toward Ithaca. Every real existence reproduces the Odyssey. . . . I had known that for a long time. What I have just discovered is that the chance of becoming a Ulysses is given to any exile whatsoever (precisely because he has been condemned by the gods, that is, by the 'powers' which decide historical, earthly destinies). But to realize this, the exile must be capable of penetrating the hidden meaning of his wanderings, and of understanding them as a long series of initiation trials (willed by the gods) and so many obstacles on the path which brings back to the hearth (toward the center). That meansseeing signs, hidden meanings, symbols, in the sufferings, the depressions, the dry periods in everyday life. Seeing them and reading them even if they aren't there; if one sees them, one can build a structure and read a message in the formless flow of things and the monotonous flux of historical facts.

M. Eliade, No Souvenirs ( January 1, 1960)

The term "aesthetic" is used here in a broad "existential" sense. It certainly refers to, but is not limited to, the experience provided by the arts. There is, in fact, an aesthetic way of apprehending the world and of structuring experience which sometimes has little or nothing to do with what we conventionally relate to the domain of the arts. It is known that Benedetto Croce considers Vico the true founder of modern aesthetics, although the author of La scienza nuova never specifically tried to define art and was preoccupied mainly, if not exclusively, with the problem of comprehending a forma mentis that he called "poetic" and that we now would call "mythic." Even if Croce's viewpoint seems somewhat exaggerated, there is no

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