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May 17, 2022

What good the poets?


A young poet turned down a prize. Offered by a public institution of culture which the acting power assumed as a trophy in the prelude of the coup de force two summers ago. Not an uncommon gesture for a postmodern poet with endless white verses like a razor in the tissue of day-to-day life, plus a pamphleteer who wrote about the ‘interlopers’ Ponta and Basescu like Brecht about the `gangsters` that committed bloody acts of revenge (using the model of Hitler who eliminated his former partner Rohm), more recently a green ‘activist.’

Actually, ICR – the Romanian Cultural Institute, in its post-Patapievici formula, occasioned other ‘protests’ too, such as the masked performance at the Book Salon of Paris, where consecrated authors refused to participate and were replaced with the acolytes of the new leadership. And turning down some literary prizes is an opportune flat note at the festive celebration of popularity, as many celebrities resorted to such a gesture. Jean-Paul Sartre refused in 1963 the Nobel for literature, after just few years ago Boris Pasternak had been constrained by the Soviet power to do a similar gesture. There are refusals justified mainly on ‘professional’ grounds, like the recent case of a young Cluj-based novelist who turned down a prize and denunciated the Union of Writers as an obsolete and clientele-driven institution, conformist and politically influenced, opposite to the new literary trend.

But the aforementioned poet goes even farther. He politically delimits himself by denunciating a ‘left’ which does not represent him. And its young chief: ‘… the face of interloper Ponta inspires me even less confidence than that of interloper Basescu. I believe that he has fewer scruples, less shame and a more deteriorated sense of reality. His clan seems to me more dangerous…’ This certainly is a pamphleteering style, which uses the intuitions of subjectivity instead of ‘political analysis.’ Unfortunately, pamphlet is a much too compromised genre in Romania, by authors without scruples, which abused of his cynical and slandering side. The most ‘famous’ of them – who created a ‘school’ on some television that exercise a mix of denunciation and lynching – is C.V.Tudor, who delights many with his gift of finding infamous nicknames and express an abasing criticism. But there are also other ways of exerting the pamphlet, merging political satire, well-considered allusion and moral indignation. As Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote little before being slain (the thesis of a shadowy political murder is by no means to be ruled out) on a beach near Rome: ‘I know the names of culprits… [and he listed various tragic events from the recent political history of Italy, including several attacks and attempted coups]. But I do not have the evidence. Not even the hints. I know because I am an intellectual… who brings together disorganised and fragmentary pieces of a coherent political framework, who re-establishes logic where arbitrary, madness and mystery seem to reign.’ Well, where are our ‘intellectuals’ who, following the words of the same Pasolini, ‘are brave, while also not being compromised by the practice of power and, by definition, have nothing to lose’? Sometimes this satiric vein skidded on the slope of rude irony that can be subtly manipulated (the case of `Academia Catavencu`, once a very popular magazine). The early ‘90s were the golden age of the intellectual protest. The overwhelming majority of intellectual personalities took position against the ‘neo-communism’ of Iliescu (a cheating label that delayed the conscience of sliding toward a problematic capitalism). There followed a time of disappointment, when the leaders of Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) proved to be far from the ‘moral reform’ of the politics that have been so much praised by the ‘intellectuals,’ an idealism that often hid much irresponsibility or simple naivety, when it was not a pragmatic way of self-promotion leading to comfortable positions with state institutions (government, diplomacy, culture).

A new phase was that of ‘Basescu’s intellectuals,’ who – because of various reasons – supported a totally unintellectual president, but aware of the subtle propaganda role of cultural prestige. Meanwhile generations have changed and many younger intellectuals turned to the left. The right-wing ‘anticommunism’ and rapid synchronising with the West gave way to a left that is more ‘green’ than ‘red,’ yet equalitarian and ‘anti-capitalist’ to certain degrees. Communitarist, with archaic tendencies, hedonistic, environmentalist, sometimes animalist and vegetarian, the new left tries to start from a cultural prototype and forge a different kind of ‘ideological’ current (a concept considered as anachronistic by this new postmodern generation) with political implications.

This would be a different kind of humanism, which claims itself less intellectually predetermined and starts from less ‘classic’ and rigid sociabilities. It is the world – perhaps improperly, but suggestively named this way – of hipsters. Who like to live their lives against the boring habits of the ‘past,’ who enjoy not just ‘fancy’ clothes, but also a less tern day-to-day existence, who want to live their lives, instead of being ‘happy slaves’ on the new ‘office’ estates of multinationals.

Their comrades of generation, but not of political sensibility, caught the challenge in flight. The leader of a small party, who largely compromised his political future through a premature alliance with losing parties, thinks about how to counter the ‘hipster.’ And proposes an alternate model: the ‘knight.’ A person of elegance – not just in appearance, but also in politics – resorting to duel if necessary, firm but also ‘delicate’ and empathic. As the dignified neocon he pretends to be, the young ‘right-wing’ intellectual invokes the model of a much idealised Middle Age, where damsels dominated the souls and habits of otherwise very tough and violent knights. ‘Do you want to be a sexy man? Leave the club, the messaging with emoticons and the animal-inspired vision of women.’ This looks much like a piece of advice from a book of ‘personal development.’ And a return to illuminist salons (here the historical references go astray, as the illuminist immorality has little to do with the puritanism of the ‘right-wing’ intellectual).

Here we recognise a deeper ‘ideological’ dispute. Our author once denunciated the sexual promiscuity of today’s student hostels, at the antipode of those students revolted in ’68, who began their demands (which ended by paralysing France for a while) by demanding that boys are allowed to freely enter the hostels of girls. ‘Instead of the libidinous gesture, the educated man prefers the allusion and the compliment,’ this is a statement meant to discredit. Like if ‘leftists’ were brutes that practice ‘free love’ as in a brothel orgy. The target of this ‘rightist’ pamphlet is false and, above all, unproductive. Plus, ‘reactionary’ tendencies can be guessed under the crust of the elitist discourse (which is no stranger to the game of heroic mythology). It is however true that the future ‘political’ clash begins with this small cultural war.

What representative human typologies future has in store for us?

Waiting for more significant evolutions, let’s rejoice when intellectuals take public stance, be it by criticising in a very subjective manner. It is not to blame when an intellectual minds business that is not his own, but when he persists in supporting evil causes. ‘What good the poets?’ Heidegger wondered. Among others, at taking attitude when so many others lie in guilty conformism.


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