Gabriala Adamestianu, Romania
We always wait for the West to recognize us instead of seeing ourselves our own worth
When looking back, can you clearly see the importance of the Rumanian and the Bulgarian book for you?
I happened to be a precocious child, I became an addicted reader of literature even in my early years. I used to read the books that were made available by the literary market in the ‘50s, such as “The Young Guard” by Alex. Fadeyev, Jules Verne, whose woks were brought home to me by my father, a teacher – but in those books I usually skipped over the technological and descriptive passages, Dickens, as well as a splendid illustrated two-volume edition of Greek Mythology (devoted to gods and heroes, respectively). I remember a book that I read passionately then, in my pre-adolescence, but I have never re-read it since: “Under a Yoke”, by Ivan Vazov. I despised the socialist realist literature, I had learned it from my family that it was being written under orders. So, until the beginning of the 1970s, I had not read literature written later than the inter-war period, whatever such volumes I could find. I can only remember poetry, from the Romanian literature. My parents were proud of my mechanical memory and I was able to learn by heart kilometers of verse, that I recited without really being aware of what I was saying. That is the way in which I knew by heart our great Romantic poet Eminescu, and it took considerable time for me later on to be able to read him, proper. But that is what built my sense of this special, close relation to this poet, in a way that is, in a way, more than familiar, almost physical.
Which books have given you the most and from which books have you been able to take more than you believed it possible?
There are books that had an impact on me as a conscious reader: Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, “The Last Day of Love, the First Day of War” and “Procrust’s Bed”, two inter-war novels by Camil Petrescu, Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, “A la recherche du temps perdu” by Proust – the latter was the topic of my BA paper at the University, at a time when Proust was far from being a widely available author in Romania. Later on, Faulkner’s novels, and Joyce’s “Ulysses” were some of my essential readings. I attended higher studies in philology, but successive cultural policies with their successive censorships made me work thoroughly on my readings, as a professional, not as a self-made individual. I read literary criticism extensively, too. Then, from 1990 to 1998, I only read press. Now I have started reading literature again, mainly novels, of course.
What is the destiny of fine letters now and what could this destiny be in the near and in the more distant future?
Following a period of total lack of interest in creative literature, Romania now witnesses a return - rather of editors and authors who try to find themselves and do not always succeed, than of the readers. We can expect to see this relative interest growing, and we can also expect to see creative literature in our area of Central and Eastern Europe gain a better position in the Western literary market. I do not believe that there is very much to be expected, though. Technological changes, which are both too quick and too radical, and the new century, which is so unpredictable, do not really let us imagine anything that would compete with or anticipate reality. I am sure of the fact that the young writers of today will still have readers – even if fewer than we used to have.
The cultural crisis of today has its causes and its signs, but it also has a remedy that is basically universal. Perhaps, the purely Rumanian specifics of this remedy remain out of focus?
I think that Romania would have chances to win a competition of who practices the poorest cultural policies in the region. Anti-selection, corruption, cliental networks etc. are millstones tied to the writer’s legs. This is, nevertheless, a mixed world of transition. I grew a bit tired of being an optimist after 1990.
There are many secrets to a book, and the author’s mastership tends to be among the most obscure. Have you reached a conscious explanation for yourself of everything that you have created – as creative art, besides a pure will, is also the product of the artist’s instincts, of the artist’s enigmatic and mysterious self that he deciphers only partially in his texts to the reader?
My impression is that I have to focus on my work, in order to find the sound of the book I am writing: I sometimes have the sense that exterior happenings of my life help, or even lead to it. Although I may have a clear idea in my mind, it could not be expressed in a sentence. When I am working on a book, I am governed by an obvious form of “mysticism”. If one page, one chapter or the whole book “succeed”, this is not due to my will, but to a will that is above me, from that high sphere that governs my life, too.
What has been the major source of hope and belief for you through the years?
Vitality does not need logical grounds, it will drive you on blindly, even through years when you do not seem to find any hope. Literature as a meaning of existence, as a religion was essential for my life by December 1989. After that, for a decade, I, alongside with others, lived the tenseness and hope that Romania would become a “normal” country. Now, either because this term is still far away, or perhaps because it is close by, I lost interest in this, while returning to creative literature after 2000. Either extreme clear-sightedness or depression can take away from you any reasons for hope or belief. But then, I hope to get there as late as possible, and to prolong my illusion.
What is your vision of Rumania at the end of the 21st century? What does Time mean to you?
I think that Romania will be a part of Europe at the end of the 21st century, even if, maybe, paler and still showing some deficit – but a part of the European continent, living by the same rules as the whole continent. Nevertheless, I do not think that I can imagine the Europe of those future days, and even less so the global world containing it. I have never been a fan of SF literature, and that’s the genre that figures the world-to-be. As far as Time is concerned, this is a hazy obsession of mine – all the titles of my books so far refer to time: I had not even noticed it – those who reviewed my books did.
What is the weight of values created over the last hundred years, and what is the burden that these years have place on us?
I do not feel past values as a pressure on me, we can choose to relate to whichever we wish.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the destiny of the Balkans and mankind, and why?
I am optimistic with regard to the fate of Romania and Bulgaria in the short and medium term, but I am relatively pessimistic about the Balkans. There is a potential of explosion in an area close to us: Kosovo, maybe Serbia, maybe Macedonia, maybe Bosnia. I am neither optimistic, nor pessimistic about the fate of humankind: I am only puzzled – and even, however unpleasant this confession may be, afraid. It may be hilarious to say so, but this is my sentiment.
Is there any peculiarity of your character that you freely joke about in public? And does it happen frequently?
I have spoken in public very late, only over the past decade or so and I am not relaxed enough to joke, not even at myself. I know that this is a style that can make you popular, but I am very far from controlling it…
What would you choose – if you had to choose today – between a bag of gold and an eternal book? And what would have been your choice 30 years ago?
30 years ago, I would have chosen the eternal book. Today, I would like to receive at least 10% of a bag of gold, not only because values have changed: I no longer have eternal youth ahead of me – but old age, which, lived in poverty, is even more tragic.
Do you think that in these times when the path to the reader is difficult and uncertain, new names could emerge? Could the experience with your own public recognition be useful today? How did you gain recognition, was it easy?
New names do emerge, a generation of young film makers in Romania has come to be well known, now. Things seem to be more difficult for literature, but it would not be impossible if something like strong gets associated with great talent. Some of the editors seem to be prepared to receive them. The recognition by my public can only be useful to myself, but it is desirable also for me to also reach other readers, because my former public has now become rather older. And the publicity strategies have obviously changed as well, we have other literarycritics, who are, unfortunately, fewer and do not have a lot ofauthority. I do consider myself alucky writer, and I could not extrapolate anything like a publicity strategy starting from my experience: for, I was lucky enough to find careful, interested and generous readers, and I was not myself hungry for glory – so I havealways been content with what I received.
Would you disclose your own anthology or collection of names of masters of the prose whom you hold in highest esteem – names from the Greece and world, including Balkan, literature?
Homer (although that is poetry), Sophocles, Eurypides (although that is drama),Balzac, Flaubert, Tolstoi, Cekhov, Faulkner, Llosa, Joyce Carol Oates, J.M. Coetzee _ and I am sure to have forgotten some of the authors, at this level. I think that I do not know the literature of the Balkans – for, as is customary, our eyes search for the values far away, we do not become actively interested in values of our own area before they have been acknowledged by the West. Unfortunately, I am no exception to this rule.
Which authors – Rumanian, Balkan and world – would be essentialfor an imagined anthology of chauvinism?
I would not like to mention any names, but some of the classical writers in the Romanian literature – whose writing I like, in fact, for its enduring qualities – would be quite successful in finding a place in such an anthology. I do not know whether writers of other countries in the area wrote in the same way: of that was the case, I am afraid that, after WW II, the public discourse did change from this point of view – and quite a number of our predecessors will cause us now moments ofembarrassment, in this respect.
What cultural and literary complexes can you discern in Rumania and their neighboring Balkan peoples? To what extent is that the result of the fact that the Balkan peoples have missed the Reformation, the Englightenment, the great geographical discoveries?… How long will we continue to live as if we were alone in the world, as if nobody else existed but we?
Romanians have a serious sense of their inferiority complexes, and they have even succeeded to export such complexes through Cioran, now there is even a new school derived from his thinking. I think that the Romanian intelligentsia, doubtless with exceptions, has not been willing to accept their own country, with its lagging behind in administration, social organization and technological status. A considerable distance between the highly cultivated elites and the developing society has generated a constant cultural lack of balance, with consequences of many kinds. As a complement to the inferiority complex, there is also a superiority complex, which has been fuelled by the political power not only once – during communism and the during the time of transition, too. If such complexes are a reality among our neighbours too, this certainly originated in our similar history. I do not hope to see this solved soon, but I hope to see an improvement due to our joining the community of European states.
What bigger opportunities do you see in this initiative and what new partners and participants, besides your highly respectedinvolvement?
I think that the geographical proximity and historical as well as present-day similarities should lead to the initiation of visible and durable cultural partnerships, primarily between Romania and Bulgaria. The first institution that comes to my mind, because I have responsibilities related to it myself, is the PEN club – whichshould offer opportunities for our literatures to meet. I have had such occasions so far in several ex-Yugoslav countries: Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. Institutions in our countries are rather personalized, and I think that I could do more about this myself, too.